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Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Potential Google Exploit: News Re-crawling Issue

If you are fortunate enough to have one of your sites considered as a reliable news source and are included within the Google News service, you know of the traffic that can be generated when your story is the lead on a topical search. And maintaining the lead position within the “Universally” placed Google News result on Page 1 for a specific key phrase is highly desirable. Given the level of competition for certain topics, maintaining that lead spot, at times, can be fleeting at best.

With Google News’ Andy Golding and Kiran Gunda both posting on the Google News Blog that the system will now re-crawl news posts, in an effort to put forward the latest information. This all sounds good and reasonable to me; however, this feature does present some exploitable opportunities for sites that are willing to jeopardize their status within the Google News system.

For example, I’m noticing that some sites are publishing content, and given the freshness of that content, are securing the lead story spot within the Google News feature. But as soon as another site publishes a similar story, using a similar headline, the first story is then pushed down the list. Upon seeing that their story no longer holds the lead position, the original group then quickly goes in and changes something on the page -- quite often all they change is the title -- and viola, they once again have the lead spot for that topic. (Now, there are time constraints involved.)

I first discovered this flaw back in November when I changed the publishing time on a story I published. The reason I changed the publishing time was because this story was more important than a few of the subsequently posted articles, and I wanted that story to be the top post on my magazine-styled site. The site uses Word Press as a CMS, and the fastest and easiest way to change the order in which a story is displayed is to simply adjust the publishing date or time.

After I had changed the publishing time of the story, I noticed that my story was once again the lead story in Google News for that subject, and it displaced the story that had originally displaced my story. At the time I had attributed this to a flaw in the Google News site mapping system because the only thing that had changed was the time stamp. I was using a Google News Site Map generating plugin that automatically updates the XML file whenever you publish or update a page. Not wanting a plugin to be responsible for getting my site removed from the Google News, I stopped using it and pondered on how best to deal with this discovery.

Well, before too long, Google made their announcement about its re-crawling feature, which certainly explained a few things. However, I think that there are some real potential problems with this feature.

While it may be difficult to actually determine the importance of re-crawled information and where re-crawled content should be displayed within the scope of freshness, it’s less difficult to determine what should happen to sites that abuse the re-crawling feature. Regardless of what happens to offending sites who abuse this feature, it’ll be interesting to see how the Google News team addresses these issues.

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Monday, December 14, 2009

Google Personalized Search Uses Negative Marketing Strategy

As some of you may already know, I am not a huge fan of Google and their business practices. Far too often the company will tell us one thing while secretly doing another. Take last June for example, during the SMX Advanced show in Seattle Matt Cutts stunned the attendees by informing us that Google now picks and chooses how it deals with the NoFollow tag.

While it is completely OK for the company to react to that or any other tags for that matter, what is not OK in a lot of people’s minds, is how long it took them to inform us about this change. I suppose they never really had to disclose this information but seeing as Google requested that webmasters adopt this tag in an effort to help them clean up link spam, they really should've been up front about their changing views regarding this tag, so we could make informed decisions on how to move forward with the NoFollows on our sites. So typically, webmasters were treated to another huge helping of “don’t do as we do; do as we say” from Google.

Now we find out that Google is once again up to some more shenanigans, this time regarding Personalized Search. PS has been around since about 2005 as an “opt in” service. As long as you were signed in to a Google account (in most cases from a Gmail or YouTube account) your search data and history was collected, then fed back to you in your future search results. To avoid this from happening, it was a simple matter of signing out of your Google account. That is no longer the case any more.

Recently, Google adopted a negative marketing strategy, whereby it forced personalized search results on every single user. Granted they do give us the option of “opting out” of the personalization search results, but seeing as most people are unaware that they are being force fed these types of results, why would they think they needed to “opt out” of anything. Negative marketing techniques don’t usually last very long, mainly because this tactic pisses people off, case in point Microsoft.

The Google Personalization works like this: if you do regular keyword searches for a specific topic that result in you frequently visiting the same site, that site quite possibly will now show at the top of your results. Now this may be fine for some people; however, for power users such as myself -- it blows. I don’t want to be force-fed results based upon a bunch of stranger’s social activities; I want some diversity in my results. But most importantly, I want to make my own decisions on the sites I visit based upon my mood at that moment, not what it was yesterday and or the day before.

Personalized Search is going to force some of the relevant results to page 2 and beyond. When you couple this with the so called “Universal Search," which is comprised of other Google products, one really has to wonder what the search giant’s true motives are here. To provide an unbiased service based upon relevancy -- or a service that forces us to see the Internet through Google-colored glasses.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

Link Exchange Requests 2010 Style

It has been a while since I have posted anything in this here blog and seeing as we just uploaded our new redesign, I figure that it is about time I did a post. As I was sitting here thinking about what to blog on I got a rush of link trade requests so it only made sense to do a post on that topic, again.

Now I don’t know how any of you feel about link trading, whether you abandoned the practice when it became unfashionable or if you kept on attempting it in spite of the diminishing returns. Regardless, I am sure that you, like me, have continued to receive those types of emails.

Dear (Insert Name Here),

I recently came across your site and found the quality to be complimentary to my own and thought we could both benefit from exchanging links. If you agree please place our link (see below for our preferred linking code) and send the link location, and your preferred link code. Upon verification we will place your link in an appropriate location.

Signed
This is not a form letter I promise.


For me this is completely the wrong way to go about setting up any kind of link exchange relationship. First of all seeing as the requester is the one interested in exchanging links, I believe that it is up to them to offer a gesture of faith by placing your link first. This tells me that they are sincere in there attempts to develop a linking relationship. Also, it allows me to properly evaluate their offer before committing too much time.

The biggest problem with link exchanges is how inequitable the trades tend to be these days. If it is a 3 way link exchange the request usually completely favours the requester and it generally looks like this: If you place a link to my site on your home page I will give you a link back from one of my link farm sites or some super thin affiliate site that gets no traffic. Of course they don’t offer you any level of disclosure first and if you don’t verify the value of the sites involved, you end up with the dirty end of the chain.

Unfortunately exchanged links still carry some weight with certain search engines and likely will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. As such we are going to continue to receive link exchange requests and I, like most of you, will continue to delete them unopened unless some things changes in this old and tired SERP manipulation strategy.

To you people who still send out link exchange requests you need to stop being so bloody one sided. Quit asking for everybody to place your link first and place theirs prior to sending the request. Show that you are truly interested in helping both sites improve their link popularity instead of just paying it lip service.

Make sure that the offer you are making is of a benefit to the other site simply by offering something that you yourself would accept. If you wouldn’t accept the deal why would anybody else? Stop wasting your and their time by sending the one sided link exchange requests.

The days of trying to trick people into giving you a one way link through dishonest link exchanging practices is hopefully just about over. If everybody simply offered equitable value in their link exchange requests it might revive the practice and stop being a waste of everybody’s time.

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Thursday, June 04, 2009

2009 SMX Advanced

Well it has been a while since I posted anything in here so I figured I might as well do so now.

I just got back from the 2009 SMX conference in Seattle and I had a great time and met some interesting people.

I couldn't make it down for the SMX Meet & Greet but from what I heard there was a bit SEO one-upmanship going on and it didn't sit well with some of the folks. Although I wasn't there for that I will say this about it... come on SEO people, let your SERPS settle this shit.

On day 1 I did attend a Birds-Of-A-Feather lunch and chose the "Anything But SEO With Matt Cutts" session. Matt was a good guy to talk with and was quite friendly and open. I can't speak for the other people at our table but I had fun as well shared some laughs.

The SMX Expo Hall Reception was sponsored this year by Bruce Clay Inc and the snacks were good and I even had a couple of beers. I didn't stay too long as I wanted to try to catch the last of game 3 between the Wings and the Pens. I should have stayed as I couldn't get the game back at my hotel.

Bing.com hosted the SMX conference bash at the Olympic Sculpture Park. The food was really good and I got talked in to trying this crazy martini and much to my surprise I quite enjoyed them. So much so that I must have had about 6 of them which is way above my usual none.

Bing.com provided some very interesting entertainment for this event and I was quite impressed with the performances and performers. Also I have to give thanks to all of the servers at this event as they went out of their way to make sure I tried everything, and I did.

To close the conference off I attended the SEOmoz party at the Garage. The food was good and plentiful and I am sure the booze would have been as well but seeing as I was driving back to Vancouver that evening I did not drink. Nor did I stay to long.

As for the conference itself, I really don't have to much to say about that as I was not really there to attend the tracks.

All in all I had a good time at the 2009 SMX Advanced both from a business and personal perspective.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Strange Google Results

Today I Googled the term NFL Week 4 as I wanted to see how certain sites were performing for that term. While I was looking at the results on page one I noticed that there were more than 10 listings but I didn’t really give it too much thought seeing as we live in a Universal Google world these days.

As I continued to hit the Next link I started to notice that I was getting less than 10 results per page, anywhere from 6 to 9 listings per page. Thinking this was odd I sent result page links to people I know and asked them how many listings they were seeing when they opened the page and they all replied with the standard 10.

I didn’t really spend all that much time on it as I figured it was just one of those things and went about my business. A short time later I went back to Google and tried that term again as I wanted to see if I could replicate those results and to my surprise it happened again, first page 11 listings followed by 6 to 9 listings when I hit the Next link.

Intrigued; I thought I would see if I would get consistency by navigating away for any particular results page and then return to that same page to see what I would get and for one visit to page 7 I got 8 listings and upon my return I got 6 listings. I took some screen captures of the results as I thought others might like to take a look.

The first questions that people might ask are; was I logged into my Google account and was I using any kind of custom search page. The answer to both questions is no, these were standard Google results pages. While I have a Google account I only log in to it when I am looking for specific information and always log out when I am done.

So with those two questions out of the way I have to ask if anybody else has had those kinds of results and if they have please let me know about it. Also if anybody knows why this might have happened please offer up your theories.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Social or SEO – Which is better?

There has been a lot of talk about social media and social book marking as taking over the tradition SEO industry. While it is true that some of the major social media sites are taking over the top listings in Google.

These days it isn’t unheard of to see multiple listings for the same content that has been linked to from the various sites like Digg and Boxxet. Sure these sites will help you get your content spread all over the search engines but is it the same as getting your page to rank high in the search engines? The short answer is no.

You see the reality is this; your content will rise to the top of the engines quite quickly but not for your site, it will be for the social sites that are hosting the snippets of content from your site. Good for the social site and if anybody actually visits those links, it could be good for your site as well.

Another way that this is different is in the amount of time that your content stays at the top of the search engines. At the time of this writing these social sites usually were ranking for about 2 weeks before they disappeared from any meaningful rankings. This is not too bad for content that has a short shelf life but what about content that has a longer shelf life… not so good.

Also, how long do you really think it will be before Google steps in to the fray to deal with what in essence is nothing more than duplicate content diluting their so called “quality results”? Does anybody truly need 20 or 30 listings to the same story spread over just as many social domains? I think not. Do I take advantage of it? I sure do!

Now what about SEO – is that going to disappear as a marketing tool? The quick answer is hell no. If you were given a choice on getting your site/pages to rank at the top of Google for years or weeks I am pretty sure which of way you would go.

Back in 2004 I obtained top 3 rankings for some fairly competitive gambling related terms in Google and those sites have had almost no updating or link building since then and yet they remain at the top of Google. You are not going to get that kind of sustained ranking with social book marking.

At this time the best thing one can do is to use the social book marking while it still works, to help your sites gain some ground in the search engines by combining it with solid SEO tactics.

Yesterday I wrote a quick little tongue in cheek article about the alleged Jessica Simpson Curse. Fairly topical these days given the NFL playoffs are quickly well underway. I added this to my sports betting blog and then I added the article to some social book marking sites. Within an hour not only was my blog ranking in Google but so was the social book marking listings.

When my blog got listed in Google there were a few sites that ranked higher for the search term “Jessica Simpson Curse” but not for long. Within 24 hours my blog page took over top spot in Google* for that term and the social book marking pages started to slide in the rankings. While it was good to have multiple page 1 rankings for my blog, I think I still prefer to have my actual page ranking in number 1 rather than somebody else’s social media site.

Social Media is the buzz right now but it can’t last as it is way too easy to exploit just like some of the other techniques of old – can you say keyword stuffing? Use it while it lasts but trust me – it ain’t going to replace solid SEO tactics. That will come later when there is a breakthrough in artificial intelligence brought on by semantic search but that is for another rant.

* results may vary depending upon datacenters

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Monday, November 19, 2007

Google Dance – But Who Pays the Fiddler?

November comes around and once again we all get our annual unwanted invitation to the Major Google Dance. It doesn’t matter if you had intended to join in the festivities or not as for all indexed websites; attendance is mandatory

The term Google Dance refers to a period of time when the algorithms are fine tuned in an effort to allegedly give a better result to searchers. As of late I am not so certain that this is the reason behind the updating. Prior to this last major GD the previous one brought us something Google likes to term “Universal Search”.

Universal Search, this was supposed to be something that was going to improve the quality of the results as it brought more options to the results such as Maps, Books, Video and the like. Interesting thing though is that all of these so called enhancements were nothing but a thinly veiled attempt to force feed us more of Google’s products instead of actually giving us results that we were looking for. Sure these things are all good and fine if you are actually looking for News, Books, Videos or Maps when you started your search but if you weren’t then these things are just in the way of you finding what you want.

Anyway, this latest Google Dance seems to be concerned with visible Page Rank. There are a lot of theories as to what the point is behind the down grading of the PR. Some folks think that it has to do with devaluing paid links in an attempt to quash the link economy while others think that this move was geared towards transferring Page Rank into something called Trust Rank.

Seeing as sites can easily influence search rankings through links the whole PR model is kind of useless so the theory is they changed it over to Trust Rank. Sell or buy links and guess what, you loose your trust rank. If you loose your trust rank well then you can’t affect other sites with your links. Problem is, how do you filter out the links on a website as paid links; who makes that decision and what if that person is wrong? The whole theory smacks of censorship to me

Regardless of the theory that you are following these days it seems that Google is up to something once again and as usual, we are supposed to accept it and for the most part it seems most of us do.

Over the years I have watched many a Google Dance unfold and as the dance continued to drone on, I would often go into the posting forums to read the threads concerning lost rank and SERPs. As I read the posts I always sat and marvelled at the fact that while Google was pounding out the tempo for their dances; it never was Google’s algorithms that were dancing, it has always been the webmasters who were the ones actually doing the dancing as they tried to stay in rhythm to Google’s cacophonic beat.

The only real question is how long are webmasters going to let this massive corporate entity rule their businesses? Google doesn’t care about your business short of wringing out as much money as they can prior to bleeding them dry. If Google was concerned about what actual people were searching for they wouldn’t force their products upon us with their Universal Search, they would let us look for what we want on our own instead of telling us what we want.

There is another rumour floating around out there regarding this latest dance, it has to do with how Google actually has to resort to hand editing the PR of sites that they suspect of engaging in the link economy. If this rumour is true then it should go a long way to discredit their so called “better search engine”. Strange how this better search engine can easily be manipulated through linking and the only way to fix it is by hand editing the results to weed out the paid linking dance crashers.

I don’t know about you guys but to me it seems that the Emperor is having a garage sale and we are all buying his “Used” New Clothes.

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