Friday, 20 April 2007

Google/DoubleClick Deal Being Challenged over Privacy Concerns

A complaint has been filed with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) that challenges Google's proposed purchase of DoubleClick.

The complaint has been filed by consumer protection groups the Electronic Privacy Information Center (“EPIC”), the Center for Digital Democracy (“CDD”), and the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (“U.S. PIRG”). Their main concern is that

the increasing collection of personal information of Internet users by Internet advertisers poses far-reaching privacy concerns that the Commission should address. Neither Google nor DoubleClick have taken adequate steps to safeguard the personal data that is collected. Moreover, the proposed acquisition will create unique risks to privacy and will violate previously agreed standards for the conduct of online advertising.
It is interest to note that their main concern is in the area of privacy rather than any concerns regarding monopolization of the industry.

Red the entire complaint, which outlines their privacy concerns in great detail and makes for an interesting read!

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Google Introduces Account Snapshot Page for AdWords

Google has a released a Beta version of its new Account Snapshot page for summarizing the information from your AdWords account. The snapshot page looks something like this:



The page is divided into 3 main sections.

  1. The top-left portion is for Alerts, Status Notifications and Announcements
  2. The bottom-left portion contains links to Help and Tips
  3. The right-hand side contains configurable campaign performance summaries and an interactive graph illustrating either Cost, Clicks, Impressions, or CTR data
You can also select whether to make this page your starting page when logging in, or the familiar Campaign Summary page.

Personally, although the Snapshot page does contain some useful information, I don't see it being of any real benefit to serious AdWords users. The data it contains is too general and I shall be surprised if I ever use it as everything I need is on the Campaign Summary page.

Having said that, it's good to see that Google is continually seeking to improve the AdWords experience by its ongoing efforts to add new functionality, services and an improved interface.

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Thursday, 19 April 2007

My Comments on "Lost Rankings Due to Site Redesign or Spam?"

Jill Whalen has just published an interesting Q&A in her well-known "High Rankings Advisor" newsletter entitled "Lost Rankings Due to Site Redesign or Spam?" This article, which I recommend you read in its entirety, contains some very interesting and provocative points worthy of discussion.

Summary

To briefly summarize the scenario Jill described, Company X had their web site redesigned and, afterwards, their Google rankings went way down. Jill discovered that the SEO company they had hired was using some pretty questionable SEO practices.

Jill made two statements in particular that I would like to look at further.

"I don’t believe in relying on search engine rankings in order to successfully run your business"

Thank you Jill for reaffirming what I have written about previously (see under the heading "Don't Put All Your Eggs in One Basket" in my article "A Holistic Approach to Internet Marketing"), that any business that is dependent on being found in organic search results is being built on shaky ground. As I also mentioned in a recent post regarding Paid Links,

Google owes site owners nothing when it comes to organic search results and is free to rank its search results however it sees fit.
Now, I certainly don't condone the practices employed by the SEO company that Jill mentioned in her article. However, I also think Company X was wrong in making its business dependent on achieving certain rankings from Google and it is sad that someone had to be laid off as a result of their rankings dropping.

It needs to be remembered that Google's mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful," not to provide free marketing avenues to the world's businesses. It is generally recognized that Google has been actively trying to devalue commercial web pages in its search results so that informational pages are ranked higher. This is so that users of its search engine actually get information rather than commerical promotion when they search but it's also a way to encourage businesses to use the tool that Google has supplied for marketing via search, AdWords.

If you are building your business on Google's (or Yahoo's, or anyone else's) search results, think again because it is very shaky ground and not good business sense.

I’m quite sure that . . . there will be lawsuits based on this kind of bad SEO

Well, as you'll know if you're a regular reader of this blog, legal issues are a particular love of mine so this comment was just too provocative for me to ignore.

So, is this a realistic possibility and, if so, what would someone need to establish in order to successfully file such a lawsuit (in the U.S., that is)?

Well, I'll try to avoid getting too "legalesey" on you. In order to win such a lawsuit the action would probably be one based on negligence and one of the key elements you would need to establish (among several others) is as follows:
If the defendant undertakes to render any service in a recognized profession or trade . . . she is held, at a minimum, to the standard of care customarily exercised by members of that profession or trade--whether or not she personally possesses such skills. (Emphasis in original.)
(Quoted from Heath v. Swift Wings, Inc, 1979 in Gilbert's Law Summaries: Torts).

What this means in practice is that you would need to establish that your SEO company engaged in (bad) practices that would not generally be engaged in by members of the SEO profession. However, there are 2 key points here.

1. Is SEO a "Recognized Profession or Trade?"

Without engaging in some full-blown legal research to discover whether any court has ever held that SEO is a recognized profession, this really is an open-ended question. However, in my opinion, given the vast number of SEO professionals and SEO companies that exist around the world, I would find it hard to imagine that this profession wouldn't be recognized.

Do you think SEO is a recognized profession? Why? Why not?

2. Is there a set of practices that are generally held to be acceptable and unacceptable among SEO professionals?

This point is really where the rubber hits the road. In order to establish a set of "generally acceptable SEO practices" you would probably need to consult some expert witnesses that were leading lights in the SEO field, such as Jill Whalen herself! However, do the well-known names in SEO agree as to what are and are not "generally acceptable SEO practices?" Another pretty open-ended question.

Personally, I think there are some generally recognized "good practices" and some generally recognized "bad practices." Between those extremes is a gray area or practices that may be categorized more as "personal preferences" or practices that some people believe work, perhaps even with good reason, but that others believe are merely SEO superstitions.

It certainly will be an interesting day in court when an SEO company is being sued for losing a company business due to its bad SEO practices and I can't wait to see what happens! Also, as Jill indicates, it really is just a matter of time before this happens, so if you're working for an SEO company or are an SEO professional yourself, make sure that you find out which practices are acceptable in your profession and make sure you use them, and only them, or you could eventually find yourself on the wrong end of a negligence lawsuit.

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Wednesday, 18 April 2007

Most Popular Posts in February-March

This blog's most popular posts in February-March were as follows:

  1. What Every AdWords Advertiser Should Know About AdSense - A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the seamier side of AdSense

  2. Joel Comm or Joel Con? - Questions Joel Comm's integrity with specific reference to a hyperlink on his blog to Agloco.com

  3. H1 – What Role, If Any, Does the H1 Tag Play in Effective SEO? - An overview of the use of the Hn tags and what role the H1 tag plays in SEO, if any.

  4. Google PPA Ads: Pros and Cons - The pros and cons of Google's new Pay-Per-Action advertising.

  5. AdWords & Checkout Icons - My view of the repercussions of the Google Checkout icon appearing alongside AdWords ads.
Again, these were the 5 most popular "regular" posts. The 5th most popular page, apart from the home page, was my "About Me" page!

Yahoo Is Such a Copycat

Is it just me, or does Yahoo just seem to be copying everything Google does these days?

Here are some examples of things Yahoo has been copying in the online marketing world:

  1. Yahoo Search Marketing (YSM) has copied Google's terminology for the structure of its advertising campaigns
  2. It is adding quality score functionality
  3. It is making available its own equivalent of Google Analytics
  4. It is going to be limiting ad descriptions to 70 characters (the same as AdWords 2 x 35 character limit fields)
  5. And now, it has announced that PayPal buttons are going to appear on it's sponsored search listings in just the same way that Google Checkout buttons appear alongside AdWords ads.
Come on Yahoo!, how about doing something original!

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Google's New URL Removal Tool

Google has just added some new functionality to its Webmaster Tools at Webmaster Central that allows you to remove certain URLs from Google's search results. Let's take a closer look.

Verified Sites Only
The most important point to note is that you can only remove URLs of sites for which you have verified ownership.

Located Under Diagnostics
The option itself is labeled "URL Removals" and is located under the "Diagnostics" tab.



Four Options
You are given 4 options for URL removal:
  1. Individual URLs - that is, individual web pages, images, etc.
  2. An entire directory (including all contained files and subdirectories)
  3. Your entire site
  4. A cached copy of a Google search result


Effective for 6 Months
Removals are effective for 6 months. You also have the option of undoing the removal. When the six months is up
if the content is still blocked or returns at 404 or 410 status message and we've recrawled the page, it won't be reincluded in our index. However, if the page is available to our crawlers after this six month period, we'll once again include it in our index.
Removal From Search Results
A final important point to note is that this functionality removes the specfied files from Google's search results NOT from Google's index. As mentioned above, removal from the index can only occur once the six-month period is completed.

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Tuesday, 17 April 2007

New AdWords Feature: Preferred Cost Bidding

Google announced today a new bidding option called "preferred cost bidding." This option allows AdWords advertisers to set their desired average price rather than a maximum bid.

First impressions indicate that this involves getting Google to manage your bidding for you so I am cautious about the real benefits of this new option. However, it's early days yet, in fact, this option isn't rolled out to all advertisers yet.

For full details, check out the official blog post.

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Google and Paid Links

As you've probably seen, there has been a lot of discussion lately about Google and their opposition to Paid Links. Rather than discuss this exact issue though, I'd like to share my thoughts in response to a post on seoclass.com entitled "Google Wants to Tell You How to Run Your Website."

Background
However, first of all I think a little background is needed. This whole topic has come to the forefront after a set of posts by the well-known Matt Cutts on the topic of hidden and paid links (post 1, post 2, post 3). The thing that has really caused an uproar is that Matt has requested that the general public report sites that contain paid links, even if they only suspect the links are paid. In addition, Matt is requesting that sites using paid links actively disclose them in both a human-readable and machine-readable manner. Which is pretty much where "graywolf" (the author of the seoclass.com post) enters the fray . . .

Discussion
Graywolf (aka Michael Gray) writes

So the question remains; does Google have the right to tell you how to run your website and dictate how you are allowed to make a living?
He also quotes a comment from Andy Beal on this issue
I don’t like to impose on others, my thoughts on disclosure (I personally disclose any relationships in our disclosure policy), but I think Google is going too far with this “best practice”. What business does Google have in dictating the disclosure of any business relationships on others?
I challenge Graywolf's basic premise, that Google is in any way telling us how we should run our websites.

Basically, all Google is saying is that they want to know which links are paid for so that they can discount them in its search results algorithms and that if you don't want to be penalized for them, you should disclose them. What's wrong with that?

Google has the right to use whatever algorithms and penalties it likes. No-one's forced to use Google or to submit to its demands. If Google wanted to rank pages simply according to the number of spelling errors on a page, or the number of 3-letter words on a page, it has every right to do so. Google owes site owners nothing when it comes to organic search results and is free to rank its search results however it sees fit. If people don't like it, then they should start using other search engines so that market forces come into play to effect change.

Now, that doesn't mean that I'm happy with what Google is trying to do and I also don't think it's being logical in the way it's going about this issue. However, Google is perfectly within its right to rank web pages in whatever way it sees fit and if that means penalizing pages containing undisclosed paid links, so be it.

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Monday, 16 April 2007

Happenings While I Was On Vacation

Well, it's been interesting to catch up on all the news that took place while I was away on vacation. Below are some of the main news stories that occurred while I was gone (in no particular order!):

  1. Google Checkout was made available in the U.K.
  2. Google bought DoubleClick for $3.1 billion (that's $3,100,000,000)
  3. Google played two April Fool Jokes - TiSP and Google Paper
  4. Google formally released new formats for AdSense ad units
  5. Google introduced a new format for ads that appear directly above the search results
  6. Yahoo announced that it will soon require a short description for all ads, limited to 70 characters

Monday, 26 March 2007

Off On Vacation

Hmmm . . . not sure how you can be both "off" and "on" vacation, but anyway . . .

Tuesday my family and I are leaving the U.K. for 2 weeks back in Northern California, visiting friends, family and all of our favorite haunts and taking in as many Mexican restaurants as possible en route!

I may have time for an odd post while we're away . . . but on the other hand, I may not!

Saturday, 24 March 2007

Google PPA Ads: Perhaps the Biggest Pro of All

Yesterday I wrote about the Pros and Cons of Google's new PPA (Price-Per-Action) pricing model for AdWords, which is currently undergoing beta testing. However, I neglected to mention what may possibly be the biggest pro of all for PPA advertising, as compared to the standard Cost-Per-Click (CPC) model: negating the click fraud problem.

Click Fraud and PPA Advertising

Probably the single biggest drawback of CPC (aka PPC) advertising is the issue of click fraud. This serious problem has resulted in lawsuits involving both Google and Yahoo and various studies have estimated that fraudulent clicks make up between approximately 14-30% of all CPC advertising clicks. Those figures make it clear that click fraud is a significant hidden cost for advertisers.

This really is where PPA advertising comes into its own. Because under the PPA model, advertisers only pay when a predefined action occurs, it makes no difference whether the clicks on the ads are genuine or not, because the advertiser does not have to pay for them. Thus, for any action that involves a financial transaction that is beneficial to the advertiser, the effect of click fraud is, to all intents and purposes, eliminated.

Click Fraud and Non-Financial Transactions
However, PPA advertising doesn't entirely do away with the click fraud problem, though it certainly does reduce it drastically. This is because not all actions for which advertisers are prepared to pay will necessarily produce a financial benefit to the advertiser. If the predefined action involves no cost to the "customer," click fraud may still occur.

For example, suppose I want to advertiser my site so that visitors will subscribe to my free weekly email newsletter, on the basis that x% of subscribers end up making a purchase of a product or service advertised in the newsletter. In this case, the predefined action would simply be completing an online registration form, an action that costs the subscriber nothing. In this case, if someone clicks on my ad in a fraudulent manner and then registers for my newsletter, with no intent of ever even reading it, I will have paid for that action with no actual benefit to myself.

However, the vast majority of desired actions will be ones involving financial transactions, so even this scenario is of limited concern.

Conclusion & Reaction

PPA advertising is certainly a big gun in the aresenal against click fraud and has, for that reason, an obvious appeal to online advertisers. However, even this new pricing model is not without its critics. For example, in a recent post entitled "Is Google doing advertising evil with new model?," Donna Bogatin of ZDNet's Digital Markets blog, examines the questions "Is Google compromising the integrity of the advertising it serves? Is Google now doing advertising evil?"

Sources

  1. Click Fraud - Our Research, MarketingExperiments.com (2005)
  2. Industry Click Fraud Rate Climbs to Year’s Highest Level at 14.2 Percent, ClickForensics.com (2007)
  3. Study: Click fraud could threaten pay-per-click model, CNet News.com (2006)
  4. Web of deceit hides behind Google's success, GulfNews.com (2007)
  5. Is Google doing advertising evil with new model?, Donna Bogatin, ZDNet (2007)

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Friday, 23 March 2007

Google PPA Ads: Pros and Cons

Yesterday I blogged about the pros and cons of Google's PPA ads from the ad publishers' persepctive on my MoneyTies blog. Today I want to look at the pros and cons from the perspective of the AdWords advertiser.

Introducing Google PPA Ads

But first, a brief word of introduction about this new advertising model.

In a press release on Tuesday of this week, Google announced a limited beta test of its new Pay-Per-Action ads. This new pricing model is initially available only to U.S. advertisers. PPA ads will be shown on the AdWords' Content Network.

Under the PPA pricing model, advertisers only pay when the customer completes some predefined action on their web sites, such as completing a sales transaction, registering for an online course, etc. It is also the advertiser who determines the values of these actions.

In addition to this new form of AdWords advertising, Google is also taking this opportunity to introduce a new type of advertisement: text link ads. This is in addition to the standard text and image ads, which are also available to PPA advertisers.

So, what are the pros and cons of this new form of AdWords advertising for you, the advertiser?

Pros

Greater Cost Control
Under the PPA pricing model, advertisers only pay when a desired action occurs. Futhermore, the value of the action is determined by the advertiser. This gives advertisers much more control over their advertising costs. In addition, this model provides a solution for one of the most common complaints of the existing pricing options (CPC and CPM), particularly CPC. That is, that advertisers have to pay even if no customers ever buy what the advertiser is selling.

Ease of Cost Management
As well as greater control of costs, the advertiser also knows in advance what the profit per conversion will be because it has already been predetermined in setting the value of the action. Thus, advertisers using this pricing model will not need to continually monitor their ROIs ("Returns On Investment") in the same way that is necessary under the CPC pricing model in particular.

However, it goes without saying that advertisers who have previously used conversion tracking will need to monitor the overall effectiveness of their PPA compaigns as compared to their prior CPC or CPM campaigns as it is possible that these previous campaigns could have produced a better return.

Increased Choice
The introduction of PPA ads increases choice for advertisers in two ways.

First, the very introduction of this new pricing model gives advertisers another means of advertising in addition to the existing CPC and CPM ads.

Second, the introduction of the new text link ad format (with apologies to Text-Link-Ads.com - I sense a potential lawsuit there!) gives advertisers a new and exciting ad format to experiment with.

Cons

Lack of Control
There are three ways in which PPA ads provide advertisers with less control as compared to the standard text or image CPC ads.

Over Web Sites
First, PPA ads will only be made available on the Content Network, that is, as AdSense ads. This means that your ads could end up being shown on any site in the Content Network and the only way you can prevent your ads from being on particular sites would be with the site exclusion tool. However, it is unclear at this time if the site exclusion tool will be available for PPA ads. In fact, given that

AdSense publishers are able to choose whether they want to serve pay-per-action ads on their sites. Publishers can select between an individual ad, a shopping cart of ads, or a specific term or phrase that is relevant to their site’s content . . . publishers [have] control over which pay-per-action ads are shown on their site,
I will not be surprised if PPA advertisers will be unable to prevent their ads from being shown on certain sites. This is certainly the case with comparable advertising platforms for affiliate advertising, such as Clickbank.

In addition, the very fact that these ads will be AdSense ads is a potential source of problems, as I've written about before!

Over Adwords Networks
Second, the fact that PPA ads will only be shown on the Content Network means that advertisers will not have the choice to display their ads either on Google.com or other sites in the Search Network. Google.com and the Search Network are arguably better advertising platforms in most cases but they will not be available to PPA advertisers.

Over Ad Exposure
Third, it is possible that no-one will actually choose to display your particular ads on their web site. The choice to display PPA ads, and which PPA ads to display, is with the AdSense publishers. Thus, even if your ads are relevant to hundreds of AdSense web sites, if the owners of those sites do not choose your ads, you will not be able to advertise using the PPA pricing model at all.

This issue also raises another con of the PPA pricing model . . .

The Problem of Price Setting
There are three elements of the problem of price setting that will affect PPA advertisers.

1. Competing Advertisers

First, the price (aka "value") you set for your actions will be competing against the values set by other, competing advertisers. This, effectively, introduces a pure auction for exposure. However, given that the choice is ultimately with the AdSense publisher, an ad with a lower value may still be chosen over one with a higher value. However, how Google will handle the situation when an advertiser chooses "a specific term or phrase that is relevant to their site’s content," remains to be seen.

2. Competing Demands

Second, the advertiser will also need to balance carefully the competing demands of setting a value that is low enough to produce a reasonable return for each completed action while, at the same time, needing to set a high enough value to attract the AdSense publishers who are, effectively, affiliate advertisers.

3. Competing Pricing Models

Third, advertisers will need to try to determine in advance whether the PPA model will produce a better ROI than the CPC or CPM models. If the advertiser has been using conversion tracking, this should be relatively straightforward. However, it will still be of great importance for PPA advertisers to test the effectiveness of these ads as compared to the CPC and CPM options.

Conclusion

PPA ads are certainly a long-awaited solution to one of the biggest complaints against the CPC pricing model and, even though they give advertisers greater control over their costs this control is not without its own problems. However, I sense a bright future for PPA ads and I shall look on with great interest as the Beta test progresses.

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Thursday, 15 March 2007

Ads By Google - New Look

I just noticed another interesting variation of the "Ads by Google" text that appears alongside the AdSense ads on this blog:



This variation is quite stylized and fitted quite well with the ads on this blog!

Little-Known AdWords Features: Bid Multiplier

One lesser known feature of AdWords is the ability to automatically have your bid adjusted at different times of the day, as part of the Ad Scheduling functionality. Thus, if you would like to bid less from, for example, midnight until 7:00 a.m., you can do so using the Bid Multiplier.

The Bid Multiplier is available through AdWords' Ad Scheduling functionality. To access this feature, select a campaign and click on "Edit Campaign Settings." Then, depending on whether you've had Ad Scheduling enabled in the past or not, you will need to click on either "Turn on Ad Scheduling" or "Edit Times and Bids." Either of these links will bring up the Ad Scheduling screen.

From the Ad Scheduling screen, in order to access the Bid Multiplier, click on the "Switch to Advanced Mode" link. From this page, whenever you select a time range in which to display your ads you are also given the ability to adjust your default bid by a particular percentage.

Thus, if you wanted to bid only 3/4 the amount of your usual bid between midnight-7:00 a.m. on Wednesday you would first click the "Edit" link by Wednesday. Then select the start and end times from the drop-down time selectors. Finally, enter "75" in the "% of bid" box. This will cause your ads to run at 3/4 their normal bid during those selected ads.


When you have finished entering your schedule, simply click the "Save Changes" button and "voilĂ !"

You can enter as many of these percentage ranges as you like per week. A great way to control you bidding throughout the day, in peak and off-peak periods.

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Inconsistent Information from AdWords and AdSense?

Yesterday I was listening to the AdWords Learning Center multimedia lesson on Ad Distribution when I heard something that immediately caused me to sit up and take notice.

In a discussion of the Content Network (aka AdSense), the "lecturer" stated that ads are ranked on the Content Network in the same way as on Google.com. Thus, to put it simply, if my ad ranks above yours for a Google.com search, it should rank above it on the Content Network.

However, if you take a look at AdSense help, you will read:

please know that all eligible ads will compete to be displayed on your pages, and our system will automatically show those that will generate the highest revenue for you.
I believe the official AdSense blog also discussed this topic a while ago, which clearly stated that Google puts the best-paying ads, as far as the AdSense publisher is concerned, first on the page.

Do you see the inconsistency here?

On the AdWords side, we're hearing that ads are ranked according to Bid (max cpc) x Quality Score AND that ads on the content network are ranked in the same way. However, on the AdSense side we're hearing that Google will display the highest paying ads first.

Given that it's possible for an ad with a lower bid to appear above one with a higher bid on a Google.com search results page, as a result of different quality scores, how can this possibly be consistent with AdSense's claim of displaying the highest paying ads first - unless Google pays a higher percentage for a click on the ad with the lower bid/higher quality score than on the one with the higher bid/lower quality score?

The Learning Center lesson also stated that Google stops displaying ads on particular sites that don't produce results for that ad. Thus, there is much more going on here than a simple AdWords "bid x qualty score" auction.

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Monday, 19 February 2007

Interesting Professional SEO Suggestions

I am currently doing some web development work for a client and was asked to implement some changes that he has been advised to make to his web site by a local professional SEO company. I thought their recommendations made interesting reading given some of the the topics that I have written about in this blog.

  1. Ensure there are 15 keywords in meta name/description tags [Aside: I think that must mean title and description]
  2. Use H1 tags for headings and H2 tags for subheadings
  3. Change internal hyperlinks to incorporate relevant keywords rather than using generic terms such as "order online."
Now, I'm all for putting keywords in page titles and meta descriptions but I've never come across the magical number 15 before. Have you? If so, please leave a comment!

As far as H1 and H2 tags are concerned. When it comes to accessible web sites and just plain ole good practice, I'm all for using the Hn tags for their intended purposes but, as this previous post on the role of H1 tags indicates, I'm still not convinced one way or the other whether it has any benefit for SEO purposes.

Finally, using keywords in internal hyperlinks does seem to be a generally accepted "good practice" in SEO circles. For example, SEO guru Jill Whalen recently responded to the following question in her High Rankings forum with a clear unequivocal "Yes,"
can anyone tell me if it will help my search engine rankings if I have links going back to my home page (from my own pages) with the anchor text containing my main keyword phrase
I always find it interesting to see what other SEO organizations are advising their clients to do and how adamant many of them are that their methods are all essential and valid.

Personally, I certainly think there are some "must do" SEO tactics, such as optimizing your title tags, but I also think other methods happen to be successful on some sites and not on others. Therefore, as always, the bottom line is that you just have to try all of these methods and if they work, great; if they don't, scrap them and try something else!

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Saturday, 17 February 2007

AdWords Minimum Bids Have Been Fixed

It appears that Google has fixed many of the weird minimum bids that were appearing earlier today.

For example, the keyword "norfolk church" that I wrote about earlier as having a minimum bid of £5 and classed as poor, now has a £0.02 minimum bid and is classified as great!

However, it's not all good news, my "mortuary management software" keyword that I referred to earlier still has a $10 minimum bid!

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Friday, 16 February 2007

Even Less Happy with the New Quality Scores!

Ohmygosh!!!!!

I just looked at another account I manage, it's for funeral home/mortuary management software.

The keyword "mortuary management software" (phrase match) is now listed as poor and has a $10 minimum bid!!! How can a keyword that accurately describes the product be considered poor and demand a $10 bid!!

I hope Google is prepared for the upset they are causing.

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Stupid New AdWords Quality Scores!

Well, today I felt the effects of the new AdWords Quality Score algorithms and I'm not happy. I'm not just "not happy," I think their assessment is just plain stupid!!

I run a small AdWords campaign for my church, Proclaimers Church in Norwich , U.K. The church is called Proclaimers Church and the web site is www.proclaimerschurch.com.

Today I discovered that 3 of my keywords are now inactive for search and the minimum bid has been raised to £0.50 and they are classified as "Poor." Prior to the new changes, these keywords were costing me £0.03 or less!!

So what are these poor quality keywords for Proclaimers Church in Norwich? Well you might ask!

They are:

  • "proclaimers church" (phrase match)
  • proclaimers church (broad match)
  • proclaimers church norwich (broad match)
Now, I guess that I can just about understand the logic behind the broad match keywords, because synonyms of "proclaimers," "church" and "norwich" wouldn't necessarily apply to this particular church. However, the following keywords are considered "OK":
  • proclaimer's church (broad match)
  • "proclaimer's church" (phrase match)
What's more, I even have one "GREAT" keyword, which is:
  • proclaimers church norfolk
Now, that really is confusing, and here's why.

First, the church's name is "Proclaimers Church" NOT "Proclaimer's Church" yet the version with the apostrophe ranks higher!

Second, Norwich is the city in which this church is located and Norwich is in the county of Norfolk. However, the broad match proclaimers church norfolk is considered great whereas the broad match proclaimers church norwich is considered poor, even though it more accurately describes the church!!

What's more, in another ad group, the following keywords are also considered great:
  • christian norwich (broad match)
  • jesus norwich (broad match)
  • church norfolk (broad match)
Yet this keyword is considered poor and now has a £5 minimum bid (which is nearly $10!!!):
  • "norfolk church" (phrase match)
How can this make sense when the keyword "norfolk churches" (phrase match) is considered OK and has a £0.10 minimum bid.

So, take a look at the church's web site and see if you think those keywords warrant Google's assessment.

I wonder if there's a way to appeal these ratings because they sure are STUPID!!!!

Now, I gather that Google is aware of a bug in their new algorithm, I can only hope when they fix it these keywords assessments will make more sense, otherwise I see a fury ahead that will make the outcry against the last update seem like nothing in comparison.

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Thursday, 15 February 2007

AdWords & Checkout Icons

As you may have noticed, Google is now displaying Checkout icons by advertisements for advertisers who use Google Checkout. According to their blog post on the subject, "[w]hen people begin shopping by searching online, they're looking for places to shop that are convenient and secure. The Google Checkout badge makes it easier to find these places . . . ."

I see two possible repercussions of the Checkout badge.

First, those ads with the badge may get higher CTRs simply because the badge will draw people's attention to those ads, in the same way localized ads have an extra line of text. This could be a good thing for those advetisers, but not necessarily . . .

Second, those advertisers with higher CTRs may find their conversions dropping simply because their ads were clicked on out of curiosity regarding the Checkout icon, rather than the content of the ad itself.

My gut feeling, at this stage, is that the Checkout icon may well be a good thing for those advertisers. However, whether anyone will want to sign up with Google Checkout just so they get an icon by their ads remains to be seen.

The bottom line is that really Google is just trying to get more users of a system that pales in comparison to its well-established competitor, PayPal!

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CPC Site Targeted AdWords Ads

Google has just announced it will soon be beta testing CPC site-targeted ads. Up until now, all site targeted ads have been on a CPM (cost per thousand) basis.

According to the announcement, "CPC bidding has often been requested by advertisers who would like to utilize site targeting, but are not comfortable bidding on a CPM basis."

I find that an interesting statement. My gut feeling is that, in most instances, CPC site-targeted ads will end up costing more than CPM ads. Furthermore, if advertisers are really uncomfortable with CPM ads and would prefer CPC ads, that implies to me that those advertisers are not expecting many clicks and feel they are, therefore, more likely to spend less on CPC ads than CPMs. In fact, this could possibly benefit advertisers who are not hoping for clicks but are merely wanting to be seen for brand awareness, or some other reason.

This change also indicates a change to the way Google AdSense will work in future. AdSense is on the flip-side of Site Targeted ads so we can only assume that, in future, AdSense publishers will be able to earn on a CPC basis for such ads rather than the current CPM-only basis.

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AdWords: More Quality Score Changes

The official AdWords blog yesterday posted a message outlining two new changes that are going to be taking place over the next few days.

New Quality Score Column

The first change, which was first mentioned a while ago, is that there is soon going to be a new column in the AdWords interface. This column will display the minimum bid required for each keyword as well as a description of each keyword as "great," "OK," or "poor."

Quality Changes

The second change is that the quality score algorithm is being refined again. In theory, this change is supposed to encourage high quality ads and discourage low quality ads. This change essentially has two parts to it: the way the minimum bid is calculated and the actual quality score algorithm.

According to Google, these changes should result in some keywords having lower minimum bids and other ads having higher minimums.

Discussion

I am glad to see that Google have responded to their users' requests for more transparency regarding the quality score. However, having a simple 3-value scale is hardly transparent, but at least it's better than nothing!

As far as the algorithm changes are concerned, it's hard to predict at this point whether these changes will really be for the better. Personally, I don't think that Google has any means of accurately assessing the quality of many keywords and their "narrow targeting" approach is not always, in my opinion, the optimal means of advertising in some niches.

I can only hope, however, that these changes quell some of the outcry against high minimum bids for campaigns that, at face value anyway, appear to be well optimized and targeted.

I have to admit, I've lost some faith in the whole Quality Score mechanism, which is worrying given that Yahoo are introducing a similar methodology. I wait with bated breath to see the results of these latest changes.

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Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Google Thinks This is a Spam Blog!

When I went to create a post today, I discovered that Blogger is now requiring a Captcha entry before I am able to publish. Clicking on the little question mark that appeared by the Captcha, I discovered that "Blogger's spam-prevention robots have detected that [my] blog has characteristics of a spam blog."

Blogger goes on to describe a spam blog as one that

can be recognised by their irrelevant, repetitive or nonsensical text, along with a large number of links, usually all pointing to a single site.
I guess the Blogger spam bots have detected that this blog frequently links to posts that I have written on other blogs and that behavior is considered as potentially spamming.

I have now initiated the process of getting this blog's good name cleared, which seems like a relatively straightforward process but we shall see.

So, if you have multiple blogs and regularly link between them, beware, you too may get classified as a blog spammer . . . or is that a spam blogger?

Thursday, 1 February 2007

Most Popular Posts in January

This blog's most popular posts in January were as follows:

  1. Joel Comm or Joel Con? - Questions Joel Comm's integrity with specific reference to a hyperlink on his blog to Agloco.com
  2. What Every AdWords Advertiser Should Know About AdSense - A slightly tongue-in-cheek look at the seamier side of AdSense
  3. H1 – What Role, If Any, Does the H1 Tag Play in Effective SEO? - An overview of the use of the Hn tags and what role the H1 tag plays in SEO, if any.
  4. AdSense Publishers, Don't Forget Who Really Pays You - A call to all AdSense publishers to remember that it's not Google but regular advertisers who ultimately pay them.
  5. Internet Marketing Predictions for 2007 - My not-so-serious predictions for the coming year
Actually, those were the 5 most popular "regular" posts. The most popular single page, apart from the home page, was my "About Me" page! Also, the 5-things blog tag meme post was in the top 5 but I don't think that one really counts!

Saturday, 27 January 2007

Pagerank Updated

Well, it appears Google has released the latest Pageranks today. This blog, which has only been up for a couple of months, now has a PR of 3 and my MoneyTies blog, which was begun even more recently, is PR2. Now, as I've said before, Pagerank in and of itself doesn't necessarily mean much in terms of your position in search results but it still kinda makes you feel validated! :-)

Friday, 26 January 2007

Down to Earth SEO: An Example of What's Worked for Me

There are so many theories about search engine optimization (SEO) floating around, most of which are proffered with nothing to support them. You can spend hours and hours reading countless blogs and forums and discovering how you need to get your title and description tags correct, use H1 tags, bold text, n keywords per page, so on and so forth. However, how often do you find anyone saying, "I made these specific changes to my pages and I'm now on the first page on Google for these keywords."

So, I thought I'd provide you with one real-life example of an SEO success.

My task, to get organic search traffic to the web site esedirect.co.uk for particular product ranges. I decided to concentrate on bicycle shelters, with particular emphasis on the phrases "bicycle shelters" and "bike shelters."

Before I go any futher, here are the google.com rankings for this site as at the time of writing, when searching from the U.K.

"bicycle shelters" - 3 (2nd web site but 3rd result)
"bike shelters" - 2
"cycle shelters" - 13 (9 on google.co.uk)

The Yahoo.com ranking are:

"bicycle shelters" - 4 (2 for U.K. only sites)
"bike shelters" - 7 (3 for U.K. only sites)
"cycle shelters" - 9 (8 for U.K. only sites - and one of the sites ranking higher is a sister site to esedirect.co.uk that I also worked on!)

Note, these results are for a page that I created on a relatively new site that had a pagerank of zero at the time and even now has a pagerank of only 2. (This site had essentially been a duplicate of an older, sister site, that now has different content, so all pages were using 301 redirects from the sister site). In fact, even now, the page in question still has a zero page rank!

So, how did I go about improving the organic traffic for these phrases?

Well, the main problem with this site was that it was a pure ecommerce site with precious little text. So, I decided to create text-heavy pages for the product ranges in question, beginning with the Bicycle Storage page. These pages, which also needed to provide useful information to potential customers and not just be SEO gateway pages, simply outlined the different bicycle storage product ranges for sale, with more textual information than in the ecommerce pages. The page title was also unique to the page and both the title and body of the page were "liberally sprinkled" with keywords, using many different permutations of bike/bicycle/cycle and shelters/storage/racks and so on.

The page also contained a gallery of images of the products, each of which linked directly to that product range. The image alt attributes contained keywords, as did the title attribute of the hyperlinks for those images.

Also, the main page heading was in an H1 tag . . . I wonder if that made any difference!

Finally, I created a Google sitemap that referenced all of the new product pages.

Now, I'm aware that there are definitely improvements that could be made to this page to improve rankings even further and my brief wasn't to "get to #1" but to improve the amount of organic traffic the site was receiving. This goal has been realized as the amount of organic traffic resulting from these pages has increased exponentially (unfortunately, I am no longer privy to this site's stats to give precise figures).

So, to summarize, these are the changes I made:

  1. Created text-heavy pages with useful content for visitors
  2. Used keyphrase variations throughout the title and description tags
  3. Used keyphrase varations throughout the body of the page, including headings and subheadings
  4. Used key words in image alt attributes and hyperlink (<a>) title attributes
  5. Created a Google sitemap
Note, I did also use the keyphrases throughout the keywords meta tag, though I personally don't believe this has any effect whatsoever. Sometimes you have to do what people expect of you too!

So what didn't I do? I did not:
  1. Actively seek incoming links
  2. Stuff the pages with multiple keyword variations in a small font at the bottom of the page
  3. Add competitor's names as keywords to the page
  4. Put keywords in bold (b), strong, i or em tags, unless necessary for usability or page design reasons
  5. Put keywords in comments apart from normal usage for defining my page structure (useful from a developer's point of view!)
One further conclusion to draw from this tale, PageRank doesn't mean diddly-squat, at least, you don't need a high Pagerank to get good organic traffic to a web page.

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More on HTML Heading Structure

Earlier this month I wrote a post about the role of the H1 tag in SEO. This post contained an overview of the correct usage of the Hn tags.

For anyone interested in reading a superb exposition of the role of Hn tags in your overall document structure, Kevin Yank of Sitepoint.com has just written a must-read article on the subject entitled "The Hard Facts about Heading Structure." If you are an HTML coder concerned with accessibility issues and standards compliance, you need to read this article!

Wednesday, 24 January 2007

What Every AdWords Advertiser Should Know About AdSense

Just as every major city, whether it be L.A., New York, London, Paris or Rome, has a seedy side, so too, hidden in the depths of AdWords is a seedy underworld ... an underworld that every AdWords advertiser should know about. That underworld is contained within a program that complements AdWords, and is called, AdSense. Again, like L.A., London, etc., some parts of the AdSense world are upstanding and respectable places but AdSense also contains a world of sleaze and squalor . . .

Introducing the Real AdSense

Before I introduce you to the sleazy side of AdSense, just in case you don't know where and what AdSense even is, let's begin with a quick primer.

AdSense is the name of Google's ad publishing program whereby web site owners can display Google Ads on their web sites. These ads are displayed automatically by Google in response to the site's content. This is known as "contextual advertising." Thus, the publisher (the person on whose site the ads are being shown) has virtually no control over the particular ads being displayed.

The publisher earns money every time a visitor to the web site clicks on one of the ads. Thus, AdSense is a great way for web site owners to "monetize" (i.e. generate income from) their web sites.

The ads that are actually displayed as AdSense ads are those that AdWords advertisers have chosen to run on, what is known in the AdWords world as, "the Content Network."

Thus, advertisements on the AdWords Content Network = AdSense advertisements.

AdSense: A Closer Look

Now, here is where things start to get interesting. On the one hand, you have your AdWords advertisers who are trying to maximize profits by getting the lowest price per click and also the highest rate of conversions. On the other hand, because profligate AdSense publishers earn money every time an ad is clicked on, they don't care about anything except getting clicks - and the higher cost per click the better. What's more, as I've discussed in a previous post entitled "AdSense Publishers, Don't Forget Who Really Pays You", many AdSense publishers seem to have forgotten that it's regular advertisers who are ultimately paying them, not Google Inc.

So, if you're an AdWords advertiser utilizing the Content Network, it's pretty important that you understand what happens to those ads of yours when they appear on John "I'm Desperate for Income" Doe's web site. It's also important to remember that pretty much any site that conforms to a few rules can be accepted into the AdSense network - including free web sites, free blogs (especially Blogger), so on and so forth. Furthermore, those sites could be run from anywhere in the world, in fact, you will find many of them are from "Third World" countries where AdSense offers more hope of a decent income than any local job could ever offer.

Thus, there are a ton of pretty useless sites out there displaying AdSense ads. What's more, to make things even worse, many of those sites have been created for the sole purpose of displaying AdSense ads in order to generate income (and often with no original content except for free articles or, even worse, articles and news copied with blatant disregard for the author's copyright. For an example, see this article by a regular poster to the official AdSense help forum, entitled, "Getting paid for copying content!").

In fact, there are plenty of people out there selling pre-packaged web sites for generating AdSense income (such as the well-known Joel Comm), even though this happens in violation of the AdSense Program Policies.

So, to summarize so far.

  • Pretty much anyone anywhere in the world could, in theory, be displaying your ads on their web site, no matter how good or bad their web site may be.
  • The people displaying those ads are, in many, many cases, desperate for clicks on those ads because it's often their sole source of income.
  • A whole slew of web sites have been created for the sole purpose of getting clicks on your ads!
To make matters worse, many AdSense publishers really don't care if (or don't realize that) they're ripping you off because:
  1. They have been distanced from you, the AdWords advertiser, the one who really pays
  2. They are driven by their desire for cheap and easy passive income from AdSense clicks
How the Content Network/AdSense Really Works

As I've mentioned, lowlife AdSense publishers are driven by the need for clicks. Just like a crack addict will do anything to get that next fix, so the AdSense publisher will do anything to get those next clicks. They do this by employing a practice known only to the AdSense insiders (hence the official Google blog name: "Inside AdSense") -- "optimizing."

This means they will place the ads and use a color scheme for the ads in such a way that the user clicking on the ads is often hardly aware they are ads at all. Thus, in many instances, someone clicking on your ad may not even really be consciously aware it is an advertisement. In my opinion, this means that those clicks are far less likely to lead to a conversion for you, the advertiser.

However, here's where you do get some good news! Thanks to Google's Smart Pricing mechanism, Google will actually give advertisers a discount on Content Network clicks if Google determines those clicks are less likely to result in a conversion than clicks on the same ad on the search network. Thus, it is my opinion that, AdSense publishers may possibly be shooting themselves in the foot when they engage in extreme forms of "AdSense optimization."

More Bad News

Well, you knew it wasn't going to be all good news, didn't you!

This is where things really hit rock bottom. But before I begin, let me just remind you that Google does check for illegitimate and invalid clicks on AdSense ads: such as repeated clicks from the same I.P. address, clicks by AdSense publishers on their own web sites, etc. Google also prohibits AdSense publishers from using artifical means of generating web site traffic and from actively encouraging visitors to click on the ads. However, Google cannot possibly determine in each and every case if a click is really a legitimate click by a potential customer.

So, what if AdSense publishers could offer "mutual clicks" in a way that Google couldn't possibly determine - "you click on my ads and I'll click on yours" - which is exactly what happens.

If you'd like to observe this sordid practice yourself, join Orkut and become a member of a few of the AdSense communities. If you can bring yourself to look, you will see several people offering to click on your site's ads if you click on theirs. It happens all the time, and it's theft. It's theft from you, the advertiser.

Conclusion

Now, even though this post is painting a pretty black picture of the Content Network (aka AdSense), it must be remembered that not every web site that has AdSense on it is doing anything wrong at all, in fact there are plenty of moral and upright AdSense citizens. However, there are also literally hundreds of web sites run by people who truly are desperate for those clicks. So, before you go launching into AdWords Content Network advertising, bear in mind how AdSense often works in the real world . . . the underworld of AdSense.

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Saturday, 20 January 2007

5 Things Blog Tag Meme

I was tagged by Richard Ball of Apogee Web Consulting a few days ago and, as a result, I have to write about 5 things that people probably don't know and then tag 5 additional bloggers. This has taken a few days as I've been sleep-deprived by our new baby, but I'm not complaining!

Here are my 5 facts:

  1. My wife and I met in the Christianity forum on Compuserve back in 1995. She was in California, I was in Felixstowe, U.K. We were one of the first "international" couples who met online to get married and certainly one of the first, if not the first, where one of them was a Brit. As a result we were featured in a few TV shows in the U.K., including the popular talk show "Esther," hosted by Esther Rantzen. At the time, that show was more popular in the U.K. than Oprah's.
  2. I am a serious collector of Elvis Presley recordings and have literally hundreds of albums, singles, CDs, videos and so on.
  3. When I was a child, up until the age of 7, I lived in a house with no inside toilet and no bathroom - we bathed in a tin bath in the kitchen and had what Americans would call an "outhouse"
  4. My favorite TV shows are The Waltons and Little House on the Prairie! (And I'm proud of it!)
  5. I can read Braille and another form of blind alphabet called "Moon," I also know some British Sign Language, two forms of shorthand and I can type at 80 words per minute!
I've decided to tag 5 fellow members of MyBlogLog.com who I have connected with, using their MyBlogLog user name
  1. rugjeff
  2. Cygnus
  3. mhuggins
  4. wma
  5. aryst

Thursday, 18 January 2007

Dynamic Keyword Insertion and the Content Network

I was looking at my MoneyTies blog earlier today when I noticed the following AdSense ad in the right margin of the page



This ad immediatly caught my eye because it is clearly an ad using dynamic keyword insertion (DKI), or at least, it was intended to do so. However, because it was being displayed as an AdSense ad via the AdWords Content Network, the title line was still using the DKI format.

I'm not sure if this is a temporary bug or is something that's been happening for a while as I've never seen it before. So, for the timebeing, if you're using DKI I'd recommend that you ensure the Content Network is turned off for those ad groups (something I'd recommend anyway!)

As an aside, it's also interesting to note that an add for Yahoo Search Marketing appeared on a page whose contents were primarily about Google AdSense!

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Tuesday, 16 January 2007

comScore December U.S. Search Engine Rankings

comScore has just released it's December U.S. Search Engine Ranking figures. The main points of interest are:

  1. The total number of U.S. searches in December was 6.7 billion
  2. Google sites increased by 0.4% since November, up from 46.9% to 47.3%
  3. Yahoo sites increased by 0.3% since November, up from 28.2% to 28.5%
  4. Microsoft, Ask and Time Warner sites all went down, with the biggest drop being for Microsoft, which dropped 0.5%, from 11.0% to 10.5%.
Thus, it seems Microsoft's efforts to be a serious player in the search engine world are just not working.

Some other interesting stats:
  • In December, Americans carried out 1,195 Google searches per second! That's the equivalent of 1 search every 0.00084 seconds (approximately!) .
  • In December, Americans carried out 709 Yahoo searches per second, which is 1 search every 0.0014 seconds.
  • In December, Americans carried out a mere 266 Microsoft/MSN searches per second, or 1 search every 0.0038 seconds
  • In comparison, McDonald's serves approximately 544 customers worldwide per second, that's 1 customer every 0.00184 seconds.
At the time of writing, the U.S. Census Bureau estimated the U.S. population at 300,981,361. Thus, for December:
  • On average, each and every U.S. citizen did roughly 10.6 searches on Google
  • On average, each U.S. citizen seached on Google every 70 hours.
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DMOZ Is Back, So What?

Several bloggers have recently been posting about DMOZ's troubles and how it's now accepting submissions again. Personally, I couldn't care less about DMOZ. Does anyone actually use DMOZ for any purpose other than trying to get highly weighted backlinks to their own site?

It seems to me that if anyone wants to find anything online one of the last places they'd look is DMOZ ... unless you're trying to improve your SEO rankings, that is. In fact, does anyone use online directories of this nature at all any more? I used to use Yahoo's directory quite frequently but now I can't even find it (not that I've looked particularly hard). If Yahoo still has its directory, it certainly places less emphasis on it and, if so, it's because they know people primarily use the search box now, whether it be on Yahoo, Google, or elsewhere.

To use some alliteration, the day of the directory has departed and DMOZ is dead . . . and, as far as I can tell, no-one missed it. It's served its purpose, may it rest in peace.

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Monday, 15 January 2007

MoneyTies Formal Launch

Today, I formally launched my "MoneyTies" blog. This blog primarily covers the world of web site monetization and includes such topics as AdSense and other similar programs (Kontera, Bidvertiser, Text-Link Ads, etc.), blogging, affiliate marketing, and so on. Initially I covered these topics in this blog, however, I soon felt that the audience for these topics was quite different so the MoneyTies blog came into being.

Thus far, the most popular posts on MoneyTies have been (in no particular order):

1. AdSense Optimization: Tricks that Harm AdSense Publishers?
2. eCPM, the Evil Twins of AdWords and AdSense
3. AdSense: A Bifurcated System

So, if you're interested in web site monetization, pay a visit to MoneyTies! (And if you're wondering about the blog's color scheme, all of the colors were sampled from a scan of a U.S. dollar bill).

This Blog's RSS Feed

As from today, this blog's RSS feed is a full feed rather than a short feed. I decided to make the change after reading a few posts by prominent bloggers encouraging full RSS feeds.

Dynamic Keyword Insertion May Lead to Trademark Infringement

As another blogger pointed out last year, when using AdWords "dynamic keyword insertion" (DKI) functionality, trademarked terms may appear in your advertisements because they are not automatically blocked.

Assuming this is still the case—and I have no reason to believe otherwise—if you are using trademarked terms as keywords, which several court cases indicate is acceptable, as well as Google's own policy in the U.S. and you are using DKI, those keywords could well end up in the actual text of the ad. This both violates Google's policies and could result in a trademark violation lawsuit against you.

So, my advice, either

a) Don't use trademarks as keywords
b) If you do, don't use DKI in any ads in ad groups that have trademarked keywords.

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Thursday, 11 January 2007

Internet Marketing Predictions for 2007

Well, everyone else seems to be posting about their predictions for 2007, so here are my 9 Internet Marketing predictions for 2007!

1. Some AdSense publishers will start getting paid for removing AdSense from their sites because Google no longer wants to be associated with the cr@p MFA ("made for AdSense") sites that are now cluttering the Web.

2. In response to public demand, Google will make the following changes to their search algorithm:

  • The keywords meta tag will become the most heavily weighted element in determining a page's position in the search results
  • Pages with multiple variations of keyphrases at the bottom of the page will be ranked according to (a) how close the font size is to 0 (zero) pixels and, (b) how close the font color is to the background color.
  • Pages will be given extra bonus rankings for (a) discreet (wahoo!, I chose the correct spelling, and not "discrete!") use of keywords in img tag alt attributes. However, sites whose alt attributes actually describe the images will be penalized unless they also contain keywords unrelated to the image in question
  • Sites who have spent time and money sending out "we just came across your site and have added a link to it on our site, please link back to us too ... oh, and by the way, if you don't we'll remove your site's link" emails will be rewarded in direct proportion to the amount of spam number of emails sent. In addition, the extra weighting given to these sites will be multiplied by an additional factor that is inversely proportional to the relevancy of the third party's web site to the spammer's email marketer's site.
  • Pages containing the following HTML markup (or similar) will also be given bonus points to boost their ranking: <b style="font-weight: normal;">keyword, another keyword, etc.</b>
  • Web sites that fail to employ any of these techniques, thereby highlighting the webmaster's complete lack of knowledge of effective search engine optimization techniques, will be penalized and, if Google becomes aware of this occurring across multiple sites owned by the same person, could result in being dropped entirely from Google's index. Indeed, there are rumors circulating around the "blogosphere" that Yahoo, Ask and Microsoft's Live Search are considering following Google's lead. Indeed, in order to sneak ahead of Google, Microsoft is also considering giving an additional boost to pages that contain deliberate common misspellings of keywords. Sneaky MS!
3. Google will publish complete instructions, that actually work, detailing how AdWords advertisers can increase their Quality Score (QS), particularly that of the landing page.

4. Futhermore, in order to boost the flagging interest in AdSense, landing pages with AdSense ads on them will (a) have an automatic increase in the QS and (b) have a discounted minimum cost per click, referred to as "Google Cashback."

5. In order to get a step ahead of Google and win back even more advertisers from Google, Yahoo will create an alternative to Yahoo Search Marketing that is only to be used by affiliate marketers. I have even heard from a secret sauce source that this will be known as naff-words. In addition, former AdWords advertisers promoting Clickbank products, will be given a special discount.

6. All the major players in PPC advertising will start rewarding advertisers in direct proportion to the number of keywords/phrases in their campaigns. This will be enhanced by an additional factor whereby, those advertisers who have clearly used lateral thinking in order to add extremely tangentially related keywords will be given a quality score boost (or equivalent, depending on the system in question).

7. AdSense publishers will be encouraged to click on their own ads in order to boost Google's waning income from ad revenue.

8. Google will move the Googleplex to Eureka, Nevada, in order to boost the flagging local economy.

9. Towards the very end of 2007, Yahoo and Google will merge and become known as Yahoogle.

Some of these prediction are purely wild stabs in the dark, some are educated guesses, and some are based on insider information. If you are interested in finding out more, email me personally or leave a comment and I'll respond directly. Unfortunately, much of my information is too hush-hush as yet to disclose in this blog.

Monday, 8 January 2007

Can You Use Trademarks as Keywords? Another Court Says "Yes"

As I discuss more fully elsewhere, a Federal court in Pennsylvania has held that it is OK to use trademarked terms as both Adwords keywords and as keywords in your meta-tags. In the case J.G. Wentworth SSC Ltd v. Settlement Funding LLC, the court dismissed the case because it found "as a matter of law" that consumers would not be confused by such a use of trademarked terms, which is a necessary element of a successful trademark violation lawsuit. However, the court did find that such a use is a "use in commerce," which is another necessary element of a successful suit.

Generally, it seems to me that the weight of court opinions is moving more and more to the side of the advertiser rather than the trademark holder when the use of the trademarked term is as a keyword.

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H1 – What Role, If Any, Does the H1 Tag Play in Effective SEO?

I frequently read comments from supposed SEO experts regarding the importance of the H1 tag for search engine optimization. This has come from a variety of sources, from posts in various news groups to a formal report from an SEO company outlining its recommendations for various web sites.

However, my gut feeling about this has been that this tag is being over-emphasized, so I thought I’d ask around a bit and do some online research on the topic.

Again, I received some conflicting reports. For example, Jill Whalen of HighRankings.com felt that using the H1 tag doesn’t have much effect, if any (at least, as far as Google is concerned). However, Richard Ball of Apogee Web Consulting felt that using H1 (and H2) tags probably does make a difference.

Richard also raised a couple of other interesting points. First, whether there should only ever be one H1 tag on a page. Second, Richard speculated that, perhaps, Google prefers W3C compliant web sites and, as such, the structure of a page should possibly be undertaken by the correct usage of the H1, H2, etc. ("Hx") tags.

So, before we look further into the role of H1 in SEO, let's look further into the correct way to use the Hx tags.

Correct Usage of Hx Tags

First, I can find no authoritative text that states affirmatively that there should only be one H1 tag on a page. In fact, W3C simply states that H1 is for the most important headings, going down to H6 for the least important. Furthermore, the examples given on the W3C web site clearly presuppose multiple H1 tags on the page.

Second, when using different Hx tags, you should not skip numbers. Indeed, one page on the W3C web site states:

"Although the order and occurrence of headings is not constrained by the HTML DTD, documents should not skip levels (for example, from H1 to H3), as converting such documents to other representations is often problematic."
Third, using these headings in a logical and consistent manner, without skipping headings is just good practice and helps to define the logical structure of a document. This is particularly helpful for accessibility purposes. In today's CSS-oriented world, headings, subheadings, sub-subheadings, etc. are often indicated only by the use of visual cues, created with styles but often using the same basic tag, just with different classes. For example "div.heading", "div.subheading" and so on. Such markup provides no help whatsoever for visually handicapped users. Thus, if for no other reason, Hx tags should be used in the manner for which they were created in order to make your pages more accessible.

Fourth, and this is just my own personal belief, in an ideal, logical world, yes, there should be only one H1 tag per page. Thus, the ideal structure should be along the lines of

page title (using H1)
page subheading (using h2)
page sub-subheading (using h3)
page subheading (using h2)
page subheading (using h2)
page sub-subheading (using h3)
page sub-subheading (using h3)
page sub-sub-heading (using h4)
page subheading (using h2)

and so on.

However, what if your page doesn't have a main title/heading but, on the other hand, simply has multiple side headings of equal rank? On the one hand, there's the principle of one H1 tag per page but battling against that is the rule that you mustn't skip numbers. What to do?

In the past, I would probably have skipped the H1 tag and just used multiple H2 tags. However, my gut feeling now is that it is probably better practice to use multiple H1 tags in such a scenario.

It's also important to note that CSS now gives you the ability to control completely the look of your Hx tags. I have a feeling that, in the past, the rather pre-built look of these tags actually caused people to avoid using them because they didn't like their default appearance. However, today that reason is no longer valid; so I would ask you to reconsider using these tags for your section headings rather than DIV or P tags with associated classes and styles.

So, enough on the usage of these tags. Does H1 really play an important role in search engine optimization?

H1 and SEO

Again, my conclusion is an absolutely affirmatively definite "possibly." The reasoning behind this earth-shattering conclusion is as follows.

I am personally of the opinion that Google at least, and possibly other major search engines, really do give higher rankings, all other things being equal, to web pages with good HTML markup. I'm also a bit of an HTML purist (at least in theory, anyway) and I think that HTML tags should be used for the purpose for which they were initially created. Remember, HTML is really about document markup and the way to markup hierarchical headings in pure HTML is by the use of the Hx tags. That being the case, it is logical for search engines to give greater weight to H1 tags. However, if it were that simple, our documents would use no tags other than H1 (which is certainly possible given the power of CSS), so I'm sure there are spam triggers that evalute whether H1 tags are being used in the correct manner or for the purpose of spamming search engines.

I've also read some affirmative statements online that Google's algorithm does weight the text within H1 tags more highly. However, none of the places I read that were particularly authoritative and, without the necessary insider knowledge, I'm still on the fence regarding that particular point.

The second reason for my conclusion is that, to quote an old Elvis L.P., "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong." Or, to put it another way, despite Jill Whalen's opinion, there seem to be so many SEO professionals, gurus, and guru-wannabees that promote the use of the H1 tag in particular for SEO purposes that, surely, they must have some reason for this . . . surely they must, mustn't they?!

I have to admit, I do question this logic though. I've seen so many cases of the blind leading the blind and a brainless "lemming-like" mentality, where people just believe anyone who sounds knowledgeable when it comes to the mysterious world of SEO, that it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Jill Whalen's actually correct!

In addition, I would offer a few words of caution.

First, don't overdo the use of H1, whether by putting too many H1 tags on a page or blatantly keyword stuffing your H1 tags. Doing so will almost certainly trigger some SEO spam thresholds.

Second, don't think that simply using H1 tags is going to be the miracle cure for all of your SEO woes. It may help, but if it does, it's probably the result of an improvement in your overall document structure and correct usage of HTML elements than the actual H1/Hx tags themselves.

Third, even if Google does give more weight to text inside H1 tags, the overall effect of that weight on your page rankings may still be minimal. There are certainly other factors that carry more weight than your H1 tags.

Finally, I would encourage you to experiment. Create some similar pages, some with headings in Hx tags and others using DIVs and classes/styles, then see which ones are ranking more highly after a few months.

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Saturday, 6 January 2007

The Old Has Gone, The New Has Come

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you may have been wondering why things have been so quiet of late. Of course, with Christmas and New Year a recent memory, that would explain at least some of the time since my last post. However, as alluded to in this post's title, something new has come ...

On December 14th at 6:29 a.m. GMT, I became the father of my first (biological) son, Noah James Miller Feavearyear (I already have 3 adopted children). Noah was born just over 4 weeks early and was in the NICU of the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital right when an infection alert occurred that has made the national news here in the U.K.

Despite the "subperbug" scare, Noah was able to come home a few days before Christmas so the Feavearyear household has been in a state of near-chaos ever since. However, now that our other kids are back at school, things are slowly returning to normal, so hopefully, my various online endeavors will also start getting back to normal, including posting regularly to this blog!