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.


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.


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

  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.


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 entitled "Google Wants to Tell You How to Run Your Website."

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 post) enters the fray . . .

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.


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