What if Matt Cutts told you all his secrets?

On Saturday in Alon Shvut I tend to spend some time schmoozing in the park while my kids play. It’s one of the main reasons I enjoy living here. So yesterday someone asks me about Google’s secrets and how much it would help me if I just knew Google’s secrets.

My answer? Not that much. I don’t think that knowledge is the biggest issue in SEO Success. I feel like we know what needs to be done – getting real sites to talk about our company and products in the correct context – getting links from the right kind of natural sites etc. When we’re not doing these things we are trying to make it look like we did these things. The most interesting information that Matt Cutts and his Webspam team have is probably information on how people are trying to beat the system – all the shtick that people pull etc. But that stuff won’t really get you far because presumably those are the holes they are filling as they become aware. Also you can’t create a long-term business based on using some loopholes.

I don’t feel like there are secrets out there that would help me all that much. I think that SEO’s would probably do better just building their sites and doing everything they can to make them either popular or make it look like they are popular (hint: sometimes it’s easier to actually do something interesting than to pretend to do something interesting…) and leave the chase after Google’s secrets to someone who is bored!

It would be interesting to know what Bing has in store for us – I am personally hoping the after Bing and Yahoo combine there will actually be a significant competitor to Google in the Search Engine space. I never like all my eggs in one basket.

Sphinncon Israel 2010

Sphinncon SMX Jerusalem 2010
This past Sunday afternoon Barry Schwartz hosted a mini-SMX in Jerusalem, Israel. Vanessa Fox joined him from the US as well. A short, relaxed version of SMX. Nice event – loved that it was so close to our office! It was good seeing my friends and colleagues from various places in Israel who made their way through the mountains to Jerusalem on what turned out to be a beautiful springlike day!

I spoke about Reputation Management Pitfalls and I will share the main points.
Note: when I say reputation management I mean getting negative results for your keyword out of the top 10 in Google.
1) Understand what your client really wants – it’s not always what they tell you at first. Dig deeper.
2) The goal is to “own” the top ten in Google and other search engines by working with Google – create and promote sites full of relevant content and get authoritative and/or topic-relevant links.
3) Don’t confuse Rep Management with SEO – it’s not a good idea to overdo the linking process – you will end up making your job more difficult – you will need to compete with yourself to move more sites into the top ten.

I will post the presentation on Slideshare soon.

SEO Dark Matter

For about a year my company has been utilizing a new set of techniques to help us in our online marketing efforts. While the techniques are not unique our results are in some cases singularly unique and valuable.

Even if you are new to online marketing you probably already know that some of the main “types” or areas of SEO are:

1. On Page – things you can do on your site to make your site rank better (think rich on-topic text, titles, descriptions, keyword choice, site structure, interlinking etc.)
2. Off Page – things that can be done on other people’s sites to make your site more popular (think linking and creation of pages and content on other sites that influence the search engines and push your efforts forward)

Aside from these, there are actually many other, sometimes equally important arenas where you can act to increase your site’s popularity and rankings for specific keywords. These include:

  • Properties of the website itself – the age and provenance of the site (getting the right site may involve finding an existing site with the right qualities and purchasing it from the current owner, or finding an expired domain that is either for sale or even dead and building it back up)
  • Redirects – taking sites or pages that are popular especially if they are popular for your target keywords, and redirecting them using linking 301 redirects or other redirects to concentrate their linking/power toward your target site
  • Behavior on tracked sites, search engines, etc. Search engines are capable of seeing lots of activities and inferring real popularity of a website- think bounce rates, CTR – basically the same things that Google uses to determine “quality scores” in adwords.
  • Location of of your site/server – this means IP Address, the identity of your domain registrar, the geographic location associated with your IP Address, Hosting neighborhood, unique IP vs. Shared hosting, Hosting and OS environment, and the like

Looking at this incomplete list, it stuck me that aside from the very visible link acquisition and site building activities there are a lot of very valuable activities that contribute to a site’s dominance of a keyword, but which are much harder to see. I call these activities SEO Dark Matter because we can sense they are there but we may have some difficulty actually detecting and monitoring them.

For example – if you see a site rise in Google’s rankings for a tough keyword like “contact lenses”, checking its backlinks and the pages of the site itself will not allow you to see that the strength came from an old on-topic website that you redirected to the new site – you wont see the 10,000 incoming links that give it strength and you will probably be fooled by the 20 incoming directory links that have been purchased for the sole purpose of fooling you.

Another example – imagine your site falls for a target keyword – even you may have trouble detecting that the reason was that someone was generating a lot of erroneous search engine traffic to your website and has suddenly stopped that activity – sending the search engines a clear signal that your website no longer deserves the rankings it has.

That’s SEO Dark Matter – it’s harder to detect and it’s the next frontier of online marketing. At least for me.

Google is becoming my mother-in-law

I love Google, but I have to say lately Google has started to remind me of my Mother-in-law.

Here’s what I mean.

Google announced recently that they are going to be personalizing search results even if you are not logged into a Google account.
Presumably this means they will use your own search and surf patterns (or the ones of your PC – ever heard about shared PC’s?) and perhaps extrapolate from your IP Address (maybe people in your area or using your ISP have certain patterns of interest?) anyway Google will use this to give you more of what they think you like.

Let me tell you a story. My in-laws live in California, and are terrific people. When my wife and I got married my mother-in-law apparently really liked me and the first time I visited she went out of her way to find out what I liked so she could get it for me. I am fond of blueberries. Well, MIL found out and Boom! – 2 lbs of fresh blueberries. every day. So I branched out. I also like raspberries. Boom! raspberries and blueberries. You get the idea.

Sometimes I’m polite and I say something like, “thanks, the Hungarian goulash was really good.” even when I don’t actually love goulash. Next thing you know, “yep, Sam loves goulash, I’ll make him goulash every time I see him.”

So I end up eating a lot of blueberries and goulash and less of things I might really enjoy, like ribs, lasagna, etc.

So now I am more than a little weary of trying new things when my Mother-in-law is around – she’ll probably decide it’s my favorite and serve it up to me again and again.

Personalization should be a choice – when you go to your favorite eatery – the place where they know you – they usually don’t serve you that thing you always order – first they ask, “You havin’ your usual today?”

So Google, if you dont want to be my mother-in-law, please don’t decide what I like based on what I liked in the past, or what people like me usually like. There’s a lot to be said for exposure to new ideas, new websites etc.

The beetle and the online marketer

SEO BeetleI bike to work when the weather is decent. It’s only 5km but the route is pretty hilly so I get some real exercise on the way.

Today when I was on the last incline before reaching the office – I saw what appeared to be a beetle crossing the road.

In any case I swerved to miss him since President Obama recently showed us that to get the full effect of killing annoying bugs you need to be filmed…

Then I started thinking how if I had run him over I might have effected the whole population of his species in the area. Maybe this bug was destined to mother of millions… True – if this one was dumb enough to cross the road while thousands of her comrades were in the grassy fields – she probably wasn’t the most brilliant of the bunch, but there is a vulnerability when a single event can knock you out completely. Nassim Taleb call’s these unexpected devastating events “Black Swans”. I highly recommend his books on Randomness.

Of course with bugs they have it all worked out – they presumably diversify their activities and locations enough so that one event wont knock out their population completely.

Recently my cell phone website http://www.younevercall.com was penalized by Google, probably for overly aggressive linking and what we now know was a concerted effort to get the site penalized by a much wealthier competing website. (They actually reported their efforts on Twitter – but that has since been removed…)

YouNeverCall was run over by a Google penalty and appears to be in intensive care – possibly to awaken in a few weeks.

Much like the beetle, our company is set up so that that single event does not end our company – though it does have a big effect.

To learn from the beetle would mean:

  1. Stopping to rely on lower quality links and sites to aid in SEO
  2. Expect the unexpected – be prepared for the penalty before it comes
  3. Make logical rather than emotional decisions of what to do when crisis strikes.

I think the last one may be the most important one. At each juncture it makes sense to look at the resources: people, websites, available tactics, etc. and make intelligent decisions about where to go next.

This is the third time that YouNeverCall has suffered a penalty over the past 6 years and each time the website and the business as a whole has come out stronger.

I don’t think that can be said for the beetle.

Evolution of the Internet and what it says about us

Recently I was reflecting on how the internet has developed – following roughly the following stages:

  • Libraries and Universities post their information online – Internet as extension of the library
  • Corporations and Organizations build websites – Internet as extension of advertising space
  • Sophisticated users build their sites – Revenge of the Nerds – Meritocracy allows smart people to be heard louder
  • Everyone can build a site – Power to the people, internet is like flea market anyone can set up a table and peddle their wares.
  • Early Social Networking – We all create our own channels and tune in to the networks only occasionally
  • Everyone is Networking – Twitter – We are the network – continued decentralization of flow of information.

Note that even in today’s situation – many of the tweets and blogs point to content which is traditional media – this has not been displaced – but it definitely seems that there is a higher bar to meet. There may no longer be room for 200 newspapers in the US – perhaps only 20 can survive in their full glory.

What’s with the hyperactivity?

It’s interesting that as we have gone from the first graphical web browser (Spyglass Mosaic) to Firefox 3 and Internet Explorer 8 (does anyone use that?) each successive step has been characterized by shorter attention spans and more linking.

Twitter is the epitome of short attention span – get it all down in 140 characters or less. No room for a whole link – suddenly bit.ly and tinyurl are a service everyone needs! I came to the realization last week (at about the same time as SarKE) that internet marketers as a group seem to be blessed with Attention Deficiency. Or perhaps they have the ability to be very focused on many different projects for very short periods of time. In any case, rather than being a disability – having a short attention span and being somewhat impulsive seems to be related to success in internet marketing.

Twitter makes perfect sense to people like me (Hyperactive Sam) who can’t wait until you finish your sentence – we are already on to the next thing. Sometimes 140 characters seems like an awful lot of characters when all you want to do is share a link 🙂

Explaining Twitter to a Newbie…

tweetbird2Until recently I believed that Twitter was a very odd pastime for people who were narcissistic or lonely. That was until my friend Kelli Brown who’s a Twitter expert gave me a few tips. The truth is that I already believed there might be some value in Twitter a year ago – that’s when I started my first twitter account, on the advice of my friend Mayer Reich at RankAbove. At that time I took a very popular website that had a lot of updates on a daily basis, but did not have a twitter account. I made a twitter account with their name and then used TwitterFeed to automatically feed updates from the sites RSS directly to the twitter account. That was about a a year ago – now I have over 45,000 followers. Seriously. I haven’t made any money from this yet – well maybe $20 from ad clicks… By the way – I get tens of messages daily from this account and I don’t exactly know what to do. I suspect that the company itself probably wants to control the twitter account that I created for them. The problem is that if they try to contact me via a direct message I won’t read it because I have hundreds of messages waiting to be read, oh well….

Anyway, Fast forward to now. This is what I want  to say:

I divide the Twitter experience into two parts:

– Friends and Followers

– Realtime information

In the realm of Friends and Followers I can only make sense of people who are careful about who they follow and keep their group of “friends” very relevant to them. In this realm I see Twitter as a way  to listen  in to what your circle of friends is saying – a little like being on an email list where people share links and short thoughts – but with more latitude.

As far as Realtime Information – this is where I see the real value. Google is no doubt a great search engine, but Twitter adds 2 very important things that Google misses out (so far).

  1. Real People
  2. Right Now

Google tells you what websites say, it includes some news and blogs and even shopping, but its not “regular people” who don’t have a website or a blog. Google is really fast – we have seen them cache pages in a minute or so, but for most searches – the results on Google seem to be months old.

Why do we care?

Say you wanted to take a vacation to Italy – if you search on Google you will see tour companies and official sites. Try searching on Twitter. Now you see tweets about renting a houseboat in Venice, staying at a cottage, etc. Twitter gets you past the corporate sites and down to real people. Even when you end up on a corporate site via Twitter, your chances of having a real person to answer questions is very high.

So, for me, Twitter is a reflection of what real people are saying right now.

Now imagine interacting with real people, right now – you can ask them questions – make them offers – communicate with them. And they opt in to your conversation, either by following you or by searching a term that you tweeted about.

Think about it…