Paid Links and SEO – game over dudes

It has now been over two years since Google started their crusade against paid links.  I first understood this crusade back in 2005.  It was the first time I’d met Matt Cutts, and we were sitting at the hotel bar during the New Orleans WebmasterWorld PubCon with a handful of SEO folks. I asked about the practice of paid links.  “Don’t buy links”, he said.  Matt was a bit vague about the consequences and other details, and the the Google guidelines back then were not very clear on this point.   In fact a substantial paid link economy had developed and continues today.  However over time Google has become very clear about paid linking.

In my opinion this this recent post from Matt Cutts, Google’s uberMeister of spam tricks and SEO, should sound the death knell for this strategy even for those willing to take the risks that have been associated with paid linking strategies for some time.   Clearly Google is dedicated about this, and will continue to crack down severely enough that the risk outweighs any likely gains.  Certainly any of the sites and folks I’m familiar with in Travel and Tourism should *not* use this practice to raise their pagerank.     I’ve been advising this for some time, but I knew the practice was still fairly common among some elites in the SEO community which meant it was still working.   I’m sure there are some exceptional cases but the basic advice here is easy – don’t buy links.

Like Graywolf, one of the most vocal critics of the Google anti-paid-link jihad, I have a lot of concerns about fairness, best practices, and how much pleasing Google has come to distort the production of good content.   But jousting at Google’s windmill has probably become a waste of time, especially given that many of their concerns about buying and selling links are legitimate.  That practice certainly did distort the relevancy of rankings in a significant way.   In fact Google’s core brilliancy – the pagerank algorithm – put in motion a variety of online linking practices that have reshaped  web content in dramatic, mostly negative ways.    People used to link freely and often as a matter of course because links are the heart of the web and commercial concerns were not in play.  Now, free links are doled out by many very sparingly in an effort to preserve pagerank at their own websites and to deny others a competitive advantage.    I hope Google is considering this factor as they revise the algorithm.  e.g.  linking out to other sites should tend to *boost* ranks for a given term more than it lowers the rank due to leaked pagerank.

Blog Tag Game

James Kim Search Discussion – Click here | Mount Hood Climber Search

Aaron Shear tagged me to share five things people don’t know about me. It’s tempting to make up some some impressive stuff (but I won’t lie!) since the other folks are all very interesting, namely Google’s Adam Lasnik, International SEO Consultant and speaker Joseph Morin, Search Engine Watch Forum’s Jessica Bowman, and Scottish SEO/SEM Scott Boyd.

Here are five things from my little world:

1) My lab, Chico the Wonder Dog, has been working hard to nab the top Google spot from a Chihuahua by the same name. I told him NOT to buy any links or I’ll sick Matt Cutts on him.

2) A recent blog post about the Kim Family Search here in Southern Oregon now has over 1000 comments and has spawned a new project that will combine blogs and a database to help facilitate future search and rescue info coordination.

3) For a time I was a good Touchscreen Kiosk guy, working in the 90’s on a US Forest Service/Tourism project that had multimedia kiosks in travel spots all over the state. I now volunteer on the project I designed that replaced that one, with internet connected stations at the state welcome centers and other travel spots.

4) I can talk like a Duck. No, not the stupid way, the good way. I started talking duck so I could tease my sister by swearing at her without my parents understanding the conversation. I still feel guilty about it, but time shall heal this.

5) I have a double major in Botany and Psychology from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. I don’t know why. Therefore, naturally, I do travel internet publishing and blog about most anything that pops into my head.

I’m tagging these five bloggers because they are all very interesting AND educational folks:

More Tech Memes

James Kim Search Discussion – Click here

Yikes – I leave town for a few days and can hardly keep up with all the interesting tech news items. In addition to the fun Jeremy v. Matt copycat debate we’ve got:

Jason on Digg Rigging This is just a tiny part of the HUGE number of upcoming stories which will showcase how complex the relationships are between SEO, social networking sites, and …. money.   I actually contacted the Digger Jason is effectively accusing of abuse and it does not appear to me he’s taken any money at any time.   Here’s a great summary of that “Digg Ban” case.   But his innocence does not suggest to me that there is not a huge and growing issue with Social media SEO uses and abuses.  At PubCon many were discussing how powerfully social networking can help with organic optimization as well as straight traffic generation to a site that gets “dugg” or creates a compelling (including stupid but popular) YouTube video.

Jim at Microsoft apologizing in a very web 2.0 way. Scoble would be proud of this “naked conversations” approach to corporate blogging. Too bad Microsoft didn’t see how making Robert the semi-official corporate blogmeister with the huge salary increase he deserved for “getting Web 2.0” before the suits did (most MS suits don’t even get it now) would have returned 100x on the investment.

… and speaking of “getting Web 2.0”. Yahoo does but can’t seem to get the mileage they deserve for retooling the corporation as a community internet extravaganza. This set of leaked Yahoo internal documents about the potential Facebook aquisition provides a fascinating glimpse into how big deals are analyzed. As a Yahoo shareholder I think they should save the billion and just get their stupid ass in gear with the excellent social network stuff they already own like Flickr (which should be the template for other social applications, (OVERHAUL the INTERFACE and yes, you can rename this URL monstrosity! ), Yahoo Video, Yahoo 360, Answers, groups, etc, etc. As I’ve noted before Yahoo suffers from giving people so many options they tire of the decision making and go to Google’s simple interfaces, search, and simpler suite of choices. Google expects us to act like the sheep we are. Yahoo expects us to do too much mental work choosing how we relate to the internet.

Whoops, we missed Web 2.0 at Pubcon!?

I’ve enjoyed Pubcon Las Vegas and I’m looking forward to the big bash today to wrap it all up.   Still, for the first time I’m leaving with a feeling of the growing disconnect between the really neat  developments in Silicon Valley I’ve been seeing at Dave and Doug’s Mashup and Startup Camps and what the mostly SEO focused and new business folks are up to here.

(Notable exception was Lawrence’s presentation which was excellent and addressed several key points like the coming Gadget/Widget revolution and user content challenges and opportunities).   He’s in SF so I think he “gets it” more than a lot of the folks here who seem stuck in what have become “old school” concepts of highly manipulative SEO work, link networking, arbitrage and often risky SEO tricks.

I think the big story in computing right now at many levels are the issues that surround content ownership, content use, mashups, and gadgets.    Not much discussion of those here and I think that lack of awareness may come back to haunt those who don’t pay attention to the “new” internet, aka “what happened yesterday?”.

But hey, I’m in the cheap hotel so what do I know?

WebmasterWorld Pubcon – Danny Sullivan Keynote

Everybody in search is wondering what Danny Sullivan‘s going to do after Search Engine Watch. Arguably the most knowledgeable guy in SEO and certainly the best connected, Danny is at Webmaster World for the first time I think.

The answer is: Search Engine Land where Danny, Chris Sherman, and Barry Schwartz will be doing “longer, original content on key events, developments, and issues” in search. Feeds or daily newsletter.

He’ll also continue with th daily SearchCast via WebmasterRadio at Daily Search Cast

Google’s “Best Bets” party = Meet the Engineers

Another eventful day here at WMW wraps up with the Google party. I’m afraid it’s going to be mobbed with some 1600 in attendance here, but the New Orleans Google party was the highlight of that WebmasterWorld conference.

And for all those fans I can say for sure that Matt Cutts has entered the building. He just flew in from California.

Pubcon Las Vegas – Duplicate Content Session with Google and Yahoo

OK, I lost power and couldn’t blog the beginning of the session which is wrapping up but I’ll try to get a link to the simply excellent presentation by Tim Converse at Yahoo which detailed many aspects of the Duplicate Content issue. This is probably a major problem for Travel site Online Highways despite a huge investment in editing over the years. We still have lots of thin content pages and this appears it could be all or part of our problems ranking at Google and (very recently) Yahoo.

Amanda Watlington, Bill Slawski had good presentations and Brian White of Google also gave a PPT with similar but less detailed coverage. Brian did indicate that the info presented by Tim was in line with Google’s thinking about this complex topic that IMHO affects a growing percentage of the web’s total pages, and kills off many inappropriately. It was suggested that the ideal is thought of as a single page, removing all the duplicate content. [I’d argue that queries are too vague to define things this specifically, and often the “best” site will have hundreds of “similar” pages that are best left to user’s choice. Unfortunately this approach would be too spammable so I think lots of collateral damage ensues.]

RE: Citation tag – sounded like Brian and Tim hadn’t even heard of this tag, so I’m now skeptical it’ll help remove duplication penalties for a site that had been scraped heavily.

Wow – It was just suggested by Tim that in some cases it’s best to start a new site if you’ve been penalized, but first he said to clean up the site and then get it reviewed.   This is the first “official” recognition I’ve seen for the idea that a URL can be so poisoned it must be abandoned.

Great session – Kudos to Tim for a super helpful PPT and other presenters for tackling this complex topic so well.

Pubcon – ad optimizing session

Jenstar is giving a great talk about the importance of testing, saying it can impact the publishing bottom line by as much as 10x current earnings. YPN vs Adsense –

Most of her testing uses the custom channels at Adsense.

Sometimes borders work better than borderless. Hyperlink blue” is generally the best link color. Second is the same color as other links on page. Try image ads enabled as test. Mix ads up to avoid “banner blindness”. AVOID right upper corner = low conversion.

I missed lots of good info here her blog is great for this stuff.

Cody Sims from Yahoo – What motivates publishers to publish? 4 things:
Lifestyle, Community Aspect, Technology enthusiastics, The “game” of publishing.

Measure of success = maximizing revenue and increasing traffic = same as Yahoo’s own goals.

Article text on the page is the most important in terms of contextual matching. Robots choke on i frames, flash, etc. as one of the best optimized environments on the web = high signal to noise ratio.

Do’s: Write the way a user thinks. Creates relevant content and ad matching.
Optimize key areas. Keep tags relevant to content.
LIMIT low content pages.
Don’t use unnecessary code.
Limit page to one or two topics.
Walk in the advertiser’s shoes – “would I want my ad here?”
Integrate keywords into URL structure. Permalinks>using IDs in links.
Strong keywords in anchor text.

Tom from Google: Shift in Media Consumption= opportunity. Approaching 40% of time online which will shift more ad money online soon.
Adsense: 76% reach via adsense publishers. 110 monthly page views per user
—Missed some of this —

Jay from ContextWeb, now 25th largest ad supported property online. Venture backed by same firm that brought Overture to market. Like Federated, looking to better match ads and publishers than can be done by the big players. Decision making engine works on the fly. Keyword sensing plus category taxonomy disambiguates the search. (got that?).

Google is NOT real time, but Context Web is. Dynamic content is therefore better targeted by Context Web. (the Samsonite Suitcase ad at Suitcase murderer story problem)

Quigo‘s introduced by Yaron Galai as another “cream vs milk” advertising optimizer.  I missed his very interesting slide suggesting how crappy publishers are effectively subsidized by current pricing models – hope to ask about that later.   I met Yaron in Boston I think and was really impressed by Quigo, but soured on it after talking with somebody else at SES San Jose who had a negative sort of pitch.  Probably a case where the founder’s a better salesman than the salesman.

John Battelle at Pubcon

John Battelle, author of “The Search” is talking about “The New Age of Advertising” and making the case that search is the new computer navigation tool.

Search: Allows adverts to focus on “intent over content”. Shifting from pre-search to post-search world is frustrating, but essential, for advertisers. Google is that nexus.

Marketing as dialog. Attention is increasingly controlled by users, not distributors. Content is once again king and landing page is the queen. John says marketing is now an opportunity to engage the customer in a dialog.

Case studies: Microsoft dinosaur heads vs Wifi awareness. Changing the pitch to acknowledge the reader’s interest (wifi aware vs dinos) increased response 60%.

Cisco – Wikipedia happiness from respect by not posting company propaganda, rather waiting for a natural listing to appear.

Dice: Invited surly IT peeps=most IT peeps, to rant. Tech news “hummingbirds” became sticky stickarounds.

Demo of Federated media campaign manager. Hmmmm- keynote as a pitch?
I guess this is OK because John …. has a PhD.
Federated = bundling of quality sites with advertisers who want targeting.
750 million ad impressions from 100 sites booking a million per month in ads, 60% of which goes to publishers [ummm – why is this lower than adsense rev share of about 70%?].
Here’s the answer – they devote lots of staff time to take care of authors needs?

How to separate editorial from advertising?: Blogging allows transparency and trust in a way print does not. Disclose and don’t sell words, but OK to blog about things you like/know/use etc. Ultimate test is whether audience stays with you.

Google radio vs Federated CPM advertising. Quotes Beth Comstock from Web 2.0 about needed humans in the equation. FM is in the “cream” biz where Google’s in the milk biz.
Federated will work to make sure every impression on the site is monetized in the best way.

What’s most unique thing you’ve seen a blogger do to increase traffic?
Lists are good. Blogoscoped asked for posts with most comments. But need the core essense of passion. High integrity voices always win.

Jason Calcanis suggests you should do in-house ad sales after 1 million page views (per month?).    John says he does not agree and thinks the Federated model is very viable as an intermediary.

Pubcon – Opera Browser Keynote by Jon S. von Tetzchner

Jon S. von Tetzchner is giving the last talk today about the Opera Browser, which he co-founded. Opera is used by 39 million (based on this year’s downloads I think). 340 people working *only* on browsers. “We dream about browsers” and have been for 12 years.
Wiki on Opera

Seems to me that Opera is fairly quickly capturing the key growth market in browers which are those needed for mobile and gaming devices. They’ve got the DS and Wii launches shortly. Good going in this explosive niche!