Archive for the ‘Search Engine News’ Category

Web SPAM – Should We All Snitch For Google?

To snitch or not to snitch, that is the question.

Should we report our competition or sites we come across for Web SPAM, or is it Taboo? Does it make you a snitch or a rat? Is it OK to publicly point it out but not in a private report?

I think everyone would have a somewhat different opinion of what the Utopian Web would be like. Ask 100 people the question, “What is Web SPAM?” and see how many answers you get. Some will tell you it’s the ocean of scraper sites that steal data for content so they can run ads. Others say it’s the numerous sites that come up top 10 for unrelated content or that come up top ten but have little or no content, just a big funnel towards AdSense. Just like we won’t all agree on that question we also don’t agree on how to police the web and whose job it is to fight webspam. This is another example of  how SEO and search mirrors politics.

What are SPAM reports?

Matt Cutts recently asked for SPAM reports but what are they? Are they reports that show people buying links? Is Web SPAM really sites that buy or sell links? Maybe indirectly, because people buying links can, in many cases, have their sites rank higher than those that don’t. I’m sure by now you have heard some stories about what kind of links you can buy for the price of a MacBook Air 🙂

SPAM is not just those buying links and in many cases a purchased link should not be considered a bad thing, in my opinion. I’m sure there are a lot of people who paid to be in Best of the Web that don’t actually use the site or expect others to, they just wanted the link.

Should content scraping and 100% pure funnel to AdSense type SPAM sites be included and addressed in SPAM reports too? Is Google’s AdSense partly responsible for creating the Web SPAM they claim they want to get rid of?

Can the community police itself?

If Microsoft’s Bing Team and Google’s Web SPAM team listen then I think so. When the MacBook issue hit TechCrunch the pages that may have benefited were pulled down (as far as I know), and I think this can be credited to the web community and peer pressure, partly. Score one for the community. Now there is a ton of talk about Mahalo and SPAM. Some claim that something is being done, others say no. I like to think that Google has acted as Big Daddy and contacted Mahalo and we are in a holding pattern, just waiting to see the response. This is speculation on my part and many will argue that this isn’t fair because their little $500 per month MFA site would just get burned down without warning if they violated the terms of service. Let’s not be naive, you aren’t Mahalo, you don’t count and the big boys always play by different rules. That said, we do expect after numerous warnings have not been addressed that action will be taken. If not, the community will not be capable of policing itself. Bing and Google must listen and take action for that to work. If they don’t, the top 10 search positions for all but the smallest niche markets will eventually be filled with corporate built, Made-For-Adsense or advertising websites. Don’t get me wrong, not all MFA sites are SPAM. There are some bright people building useful sites and their original intention was to make money from AdSense or other ads; they chose to do it by providing “real” content.

Let me know, should we snitch publicly, privately, or not at all? Tell me what you consider to be the worst type of Web SPAM or at least what your definition is.

—David Blizzard

Google Under Attack – Serious Money!

News and Search – The Winner Is?

Recently Google has been taking heat from some of the media moguls like Mark Cuban and Rupert Murdoch. If you are out of the loop on this one then read “Rupert Murdock to Block Google“. The question is how will it affect search? Will they get shut out from some content? Is it just a ploy, a business tactic to get Google and Microsoft to pay up? For the small players and the general public it’s hard to comprehend the size and scope. I see a lot of chatter and opinions but it reminds me of a day trader trying to give Warren Buffett advice. It’s the same when average bloggers try to debate the likes of Cuban and Murdoch on big business. Some of it is obvious Google fanboy speak or on the other end the haters, but in the middle are some really smart bloggers in the search community that are giving opinions based on zero experience in the big game. You may have helped a million dollar company but we are talking, in Rupert’s words “serious money“. We will see what happens but for now I’m not completely counting out a paywall business model although I don’t see it being good for either side. I would push my chips toward Google and Bing paying up for the feeds just like they did with Facebook and Twitter. That looks like a profitable model that the big boys could work out. But it’s all a crap shoot to me, I have zero experience with “serious money“.

Raw Data and Privacy – What’s the Value?

On a smaller scale we also have some chatter about raw data and the cost. Some of the industry leading SEO and SEM talent are  talking about the value of the data that is being given away for free. When someone types in a search term it is mind boggling what gets crunched and how fast the results are produced. Plenty of these result algorithms have been built with personal data and business data from a number of sources. Google builds free services and “trades” them for your data, in a sense. People are starting to ask which party is getting the better deal. Free mail, free analytics, free apps, not really. You are trading privacy and numbers that are worth more than the time and effort it takes Google to build the “free” products.

There is also the concern that giving up your data on a PPC account can cost you more money. Think about it, without Google Analytics then G only knows when someone clicks your ad and where it lands. With GA script on your site they can see the entire transaction process after the click. Like they say, nothing is free.

AdSense and PubCenter

A new battle is brewing between rivals Google and Microsoft. Microsoft is now in Beta for their competing product that could rival AdSense. With the hope of better customer service and higher payouts this could bring some much needed competition. Currently publishers are playing with fire if they depend on AdSense for most of their revenue. If you wake up one day and you are deactivated by Google then you are out of business. Currently Google prefers to be vague and for the most part, ignore those that have their accounts deactivated. It would be great if the competition opens up new channels of support and a little help when you truly don’t know why they deactivated you. Looking at Microsoft’s AdCenter site you can easily find customer service and support numbers and they encourage the use. There have been complaints about recent AdSense payout cuts too so this might be a plus for Microsoft. If Microsoft can get enough advertisers to choose their ad network then this is really big news and could result in “serious money”.

Support Experience

Microsoft AdCenter (Good): A warm body answered within 30 seconds and was able to answer a question about linking accounts without transferring the call.

Google AdWords (Slow): We have waited 4 days for a level 2 to determine why there is a landing page glitch for a client where they can’t get an ad to show at any price. Google’s own tools say the keywords are targeted and relevant. The first thing we did was to verify they are within guidelines. They run a legit vacation rental web site with their own rental property. They are not resellers and have zero ads on their site. As I’m writing this I find out that the issue has been resolved. How did I find out? I checked the campaign and sometime after my second request for an update the ads started showing but guess what? Not a single reply or response from Google. Forget finding out what was wrong, they didn’t even acknowledge it was fixed. This small business had no ads for 5 days.
Note: I changed the rating to slow from poor. We did finally receive a response and Google admitted the landing page was evaluated incorrectly by the system. Everything is working now.

Google AdSense (Poor): No answer to requests about disabled accounts. Repeated attempts to get a reinstatement go unanswered. Google implies that everyone is disabled for click fraud when they might be disabled for poor content or maybe something as simple as having the words “pick a link” as link text. Please fix this system before it becomes “serious money“.

Update: Another Blow? Microsoft extends their search deal with FaceBook, adds Bing features and will power search for FB outside the USA too. Read more about it at Search Engine Land

—David Blizzard

Is Twitter The Future of Search?

After reading the interviews BusinessWeek did this month with Google execs I started thinking a little more about search, where it’s headed and what effect it will have on SEOs and search marketers. You get the feeling that Twitter has search in turmoil. Both Microsoft and Google are trying to cut deals with Twitter to license Twitter feeds. In the Business Week interview Matt Cutts makes a comment that Google had crawled BusinessWeek 7 minutes before he visited it. Sadly he tried to imply that this was unique to using Google, going as far as saying other search engines could be 4 or 5 days. In my research Bing has been crawling news sites nonstop for a while. The point is that Bing and Google are very concerned with real time, Twitter has proved that real time is where it’s at.
When asked about an option to request Google results for the last 5 minutes Udi Manber, vice-president of engineering and head of the search quality group, responds “we already have that” but in the very next breath he says it’s 24 hours not 5 minutes. It’s obvious the reality of Twitter’s appeal is on his mind. tweety Does the fight for Twitter feeds mean we will see #1 and #2 results dominated by inane comments from Twitter in the future? Let’s hope not.
Amit Singhal runs the core ranking team at Google and in his interview with NewsWeek he does calm some of my fears but he also has Twitter on his mind. When answering the question “what about truly real-time search?” Amit includes in his answer “it’s not just Twitter”. Yes, it appears Twitter is on everyone’s mind. He does say that just because something is said right now doesn’t mean it should be put in front of the search results.
Who knows, maybe quality will remain the goal and we won’t see search dumbed down to reality TV.
What about Eric Schmidt? He has something to say about Twitter too. His concern is how to rank the data and include it in results. He makes the comment that “Twitter and Facebook aren’t the last things we’ll see”.
So what does all the chatter and concern about Twitter and Facebook mean for the SEO business? I can see a real issue if the search giants don’t have the resources for real-time. They might reduce the crawl on the small business sites to weeks or months so they can increase crawl times for popular sites to minutes. We might find it takes much longer to get a new site listed or a new design or content indexed. It could also be the next blow to quality. We saw what AdSense did to the web so I can imagine the SPAM tactics that will evolve once real time is indexed.

Time will tell, tweet on.

—David Blizzard

SEO Meets Politics

I check my email this morning and I have a link to a political piece titled Nowhere Else To Go and then I hit Twitter and I find a link to a new post by Aaron Wall about how the SEO industry went corporate. Aaron could have easily titled his post “Nowhere Else to Go“. The crossroads in these two articles are alarming. One difference is that you have two political parties that are the same but sell themselves as representing two different cultures and in the SEO article you realize we really only have Google. Some people pray for Bing or Yahoo or a combination to catch up with Big G but will it matter? Or will we just have two parties that play favorites to Corporate America while stepping all over the little guy and our Internet freedom? With Google we already have things like the dreaded eviction notice from AdSense:

“While going through our records recently, we found that your AdSense account has posed a significant risk to our AdWords advertisers. Since keeping your account in our publisher network may financially damage our advertisers in the future, we’ve decided to disable your account”

You have just been declared an Internet terrorist, try to figure out why. If you are a scammer then you know why but what about all the poor saps that don’t have a clue why they were banned? You can’t get any information from Google other than a canned response on their website. Basically their claim is that they can’t tell you what you did wrong or everyone would stop doing it and search wouldn’t be as safe. What? Their advice is to admit in an email that you broke the rules and promise never to do it again. First you have to undo what you did that you don’t know about? Cop a plea to a charge you disagree with when they have provided no evidence.

A friend of mine jokes all the time “Google is the CIA“. Sometimes I laugh, but only sometimes.
Aaron quotes Google as saying “the reason that so many people come to Google is that for the last decade, we’ve worked really hard to protect our users“. Ahh, the infamous we only step all over you to protect you, there will be long lines and forms in triplicate but it’s for your own good.
Someone I follow on Twitter mentioned an issue with a key phrase dropping in the SERPs after some link building and I can only wish him luck and feel his pain because we have to guess what it takes to fix the issues. Once again Google can’t tell us what we did wrong (in their eyes) because we might stop doing it. I can tell you. You know what you did? You tried to compete with Corporate America, you bastard.

Now we have the Government asking everyone to spy on his neighbor and rat him out for anything “out of the ordinary” and we have Google begging the little SEO to rat out his competition. The weaklings will be indoctrinated and sell their own freedom so they can be “friends” of Google (or the Feds).
What can we do? Nothing, you have already lost, you just haven’t figured it out yet. You are still moving your chess pieces around but the big boys left the table a long time ago. They only play with each other now. Enjoy the left overs.

—David Blizzard

Interest-Based Advertising

Peeping Tom

Internet privacy watchdogs have recently raised their hackles in response to what Google calls “interest-based advertising.” Basically it allows advertisers to target your interests, choosing what ads to show you based on your browsing and search history. If you are a sports nut that loves to search statistics, team schedules, and watch sports related You Tube videos, then you would be tagged with a cookie that represented your interest in sports. This cookie could then be used to allow advertisers in the AdSense network to target you specifically for the Sports Memorabilia  store they started online. In Google’s document entitled, “How does Google Determine user interest categories?” they state that they will not show ads based on sensitive information or interest categories, such as those based on race, religion, sexual orientation, health, or sensitive financial categories. They also state that users are in complete control of their participation in the program and their interest categories through the Ads Preference Manager. AOL, Yahoo!, and Microsoft already have similar programs as Google used to disavow the practice. Google has informed its AdSense content partners regarding the new program and asked them have their privacy policies updated by April 8th, 2009.