CES 2010 in Las Vegas – identifying naïveté

First time at CES – I decided to go in order to understand better what I can do to expand our offerings on YouNeverCall.com and our other cell phone and tech websites. We get huge amounts of visitors but dont manage to turn enough of them into customers – yet. We think this is for two reasons.

1) The site needs a major upgrade – which we are doing.
2) We dont have the products that people want – many people just want to buy a cell phones.

In any case the show was interesting and I saw a lot of interesting technologies. – especially related to 3D TV in the home.

But the event also made me feel old. I could see so many young companies banking their future on what could best be summed up as a cute idea. Reminded me of my first few tech jobs.

Some examples: a ball-shaped mouse, various iphone stickers to personalize your iphone, plastics to put on your TV to make it appear to have more depth etc.

I feel like I have a much better sense of how likely a company is to succeed than I did some years ago…

So I feel like I have been around the block a few times – enough to identify other people’s naïveté about projects that will fail. Interesting that I still get into projects of my own that are bound to fail!

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.

At the 140 Conference in LA

Interesting conference. Lots about Celebrities and using Twitter!

Celebrities need to be twittering – it makes it real!!

1) Twitter is not mainstream enough yet if half of the speakers are still defining what twitter means to them.
2) Iphones are way more popular than Blackberries with the attendees of this conference.
3) Conferences where 90% if people are on their laptops are great for multitasking.
4) ADHD seems rampant at this conference.
5) The Kodak theater is smaller than I would have thought.

Why I love Craig’s List

When traveling to Houston last week to visit a client I picked up a copy of Wired magazine.
They kind-of trash Craig Newmark of Craig’s List. I met Craig – he’s a really nice guy – and he has done something very good. I would recommend not judging him as you would a founder of a big business. He’s just a guy with a list – that got big.

I wouldn’t run it the way he does – but I respect him.

And when we wanted to rent an RV a few weeks ago. Craig’s List was the best place to go.
Saved us a bundle. Very recommended.

Sometimes you gotta make your own.

For a few weeks a year I work from my company’s LA office – which is usually a real estate management office. Aside from being located above a Coffee Bean store (you gotta love $5 coffee!) and having wireless (plugged in my own wireless router last year – so it’s always here when I get here) there is also great bottled water. But today there were no cups. So I went online and found out that you can really make your own cup out of a piece of A4 paper – see: How to make your own paper cup.

It actually reminded me of when I was a little boy and I went to visit my Grandfather’s store in Philadelphia. My grandfather had a floor covering business – carpets and tiles. He also had a water machine that dispensed great water into little cone shaped cups made in about the same way as I made my paper cup today.

Anyway, the cup worked for a few “shlooks” but I think I’ll need to make a new cup soon…

Kudos to American Airlines – for doing nothing! (really!)

On Wednesday I experienced more flying and airports than I had every expected to, in a single day. It actually took more than 26 hours from takeoff – to final landing. I flew Tel Aviv – Barcelona – Madrid – New York – Los Angeles.

Aside from a very rude flight attendant who refused to allow me to bring my carry-on (the same carry-on that was allowed on 3 subsequent flights on other airlines – the same day!) my travels went fine.

The reason I got to Los Angeles in one piece was especially thanks to American Airlines.
On my final flight I chose a good seat from the electronic check-in kiosk. Back of the plane – empty row in the middle section. I ended up moving to the middle seat so that no one would try to take my staked claim.

American Airlines gets kudos for not even bothering to try to wake me up for landing – I actually slept sprawled across three seats with pillows and blankets – all the way to the gate!

Sometimes the best customer service is to just let the customer be!

( I was so tired I didnt even try out the in-flight wifi for $7.95 – that’s pretty tired…)

Israel’s Channel 2 reports: Headscarves Mandatory for all Gaza Women

The media is full of reports today that in Hamas-controlled Gaza, the local leadership has decreed that female lawyers must cover their hair. But on Israel’s channel 2 this evening there was a report that ALL women in Gaza are now forced to wear head coverings.

In the report Silman A-Shafi, the Arab reporter reports that there are now thugs roaming the streets both in uniform and out of uniform to enforce these laws.

They interview several young women some pro and some against the new law.

They show the beach and how women now have to go fully dressed into the beach, though they are swimming in women-only area.

Haaretz – a left-wing Israeli paper is reporting the same thing – in English.

The London-based newspaper Al-Quds al-Arabi reported that the organization’s Gaza government had recently approved a series of laws, a Muslim code of conduct of sorts, meant to guard Muslim religion and morals. These guidelines join an increasing amount of reports from Gaza residents saying that modesty patrols were forcing women to wear head coverings, especially at Gaza’s beaches, and that they were inspecting isolated cars in order to prevent unmarried couples being alone together.

I am confused – how is it that Israel’s media has such a different story than the rest of the media?

See for yourself: here.

This is the Google translation of the blurb on that page:

Is the world okay with a new Iran-style regime popping up?
I think it’s a disaster.