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  • Presentation: SEO for Web Developers

    On the most recent edition of the Barcamp Belfast conference I did a 20-minute talk about the mistakes some web developers make when building search engine friendly websites. Much of the content in that talk came from a blog post I did for State of Search about the same topic – SEO for Web Developers. Below are the slides: SEO for Web Developers

  • The Dangers Of Corporate Jargon

    Their main mistake was that in their eagerness to differentiate, they adopted a different type of jargon. Instead of calling their products ‘barcode scanners’ they began referring to them as ‘image scanners’ and, even worse, ‘imaging devices’. This lingo was soon used extensively in their print material and on their website. The problem is that nobody without intimate knowledge of the barcode industry knows what an ‘imaging device’ is. Your potential customers usually aren’t intimately involved in your industry, so you have to assume they haven’t learned the lingo. Keep this in mind when you write copy for your website. Whenever you use a term or phrase that’s common in your industry, ask yourself whether an average 15 year old (if such a creature exists) would understand what it means. If the answer is no, try a different way of wording it. Sometimes you can’t escape using corporate lingo and industry jargon on your website, but it pays to keep it to a minimum. After all, few people will type “imaging device” into a Google search box. Most will type “barcode scanner”.

  • The Adversarial Relationship between Google and SEO

    At the start of 2011 I wrote a post about the relationship between Google and SEO. Specifically, I made the case that Google is not an ally of SEO, but is our enemy. I got mixed responses to that post. Many SEOs agreed, but many more said that they did not consider their relationship with Google to be adversarial. It’s 19 months later and we’ve had to endure a few heavy-hitting Google updates. First Panda, then Penguin, and a whole slew of minor changes, all aimed at reducing the effects of what Google calls ‘webspam’. Since I wrote my original post, I’ve seen a shift in attitudes in many SEOs that once considered Google their ally. Relationships definitely seem to have soured. A criticism I received – and debated hotly in several online communities such as the SEO Training Dojo – was that Google simply didn’t care about SEO and that they just went on with their business of running a search engine rather than waste energy trying to make life harder for search engine optimisers. However, I believe Google definitely devotes some of its resources to thwart SEO, making sure we’d never come to full grips with the workings of their ranking algorithms. A recent patent filing titled ‘Ranking Documents’, analysed here by Peter Da Vanzo, has proven me right: “A system determines a first rank associated with a document and determines a second rank associated with the document, where the second rank is different from the first rank. The system also changes, during a transition period that occurs during a transition from the first rank to the second rank, a transition rank associated with the document based on a rank transition function that varies the transition rank over time without any change in ranking factors associated with the document.” […] “During the transition from the old rank to the target rank, the transition rank might cause: a time-based delay response, a negative response a random response, and/or an unexpected response” In short, Google has devised specific algorithms intended to deceive SEOs, thwarting any attempt to monitor SERPs to gauge the effects of specific SEO tactics. “All war is based on deception”, Sun Tsu said over two and a half millennia ago, and Google has taken this creed to heart with its intentional manipulation of search results to deceive SEOs. Another point I made in 2011 was that Google sees pretty much all SEO as webspam: Matt Cutts is the Google employee who most directly and visibly deals with the SEO industry. Through blog posts and comments, webmaster videos, conference appearances and interviews, Matt is spreading the Google gospel among the SEO crowd. In case you didn’t know, Matt Cutts is the head of Google’s webspam team. Let that sink in for a moment. The Google guy most involved with the SEO industry is responsible for dealing with spam in Google’s web search. That right there tells you all you need to know about how Google perceives SEOs. We’re spammers. We’re evildoers who pollute Google’s immaculate search results with our vile schemes and devious tactics. Google sees us as its enemy. For some that was a contentious statement in 2011. Nowadays, though, the evidence is piling up. In the same ‘Ranking Documents’ patent filing, Google states the following: “The systems and methods may also observe spammers’ reactions to rank changes caused by the rank transition function to identify documents that are actively being manipulated. This assists in the identification of rank-modifying spammers.” And from their 2004 IPO filing: “We are susceptible to index spammers who could harm the integrity of our web search results. There is an ongoing and increasing effort by “index spammers” to develop ways to manipulate our web search results.” In a pretty explicit way, Google equates any attempt to ‘manipulate’ their rankings to spam. Every SEO out there is trying to manipulate Google’s rankings. It’s what we do. I don’t think there can be any doubt that in Google’s eyes, we’re all spammers. The evidence is overwhelming, from Matt Cutts’ job title, the increasing contempt with which Google treats us, to the explicit language it uses to describe us in its official documents. While an attitude of cooperation towards Google might have been forgiveable at the start of 2011, you must be capable of truly astounding levels of cognitive bias to still cling to the belief that Google and SEO are on friendly terms.

  • The 2012 Google Clusterfuck Countdown

    Google’s not making things easy for themselves. Many people want to like the search giant for the great search engine it offers and all the cool things it builds. But Google makes so many mishaps, from small oversights to major PR catastrophes, that even their most dedicated fans are having a hard time staying loyal. 2012 has been a hallmark year for Google, when the world woke up to the fact that Google is just another profit-chasing corporation. Its products and services are not there purely for the betterment of mankind, but there’s a growing element of commercialisation inherent in Google’s offerings. For SEOs and digital marketers, this has of course been blatantly obvious for years. For the general public, not as much. But 2012 changed that, through a range of media storms that caught the world’s attention. Below I’ve listed the 34 perception-altering events that befell Google in 2012: 02 Jan: Chrome Link Buying Google is caught buying links to promote its Chrome browser, a practice which is against their own search quality guidelines. 10 Jan: Selling Illegal Ads After expensive legal settlements for earlier offenses in 2005, 2009 and 2011, Google is yet again caught selling AdWords ads for illegal products, including cannabis, fake IDs, and fake Olympic tickets. 10 Jan: Search Plus Your World Google launches ‘Search Plus Your World’ and is greeted by widespread criticism for favouring its own Google+ product and decreasing search result relevance. 13 Jan: Google Kenya caught in SME scam Google’s ‘Getting Kenyan Businesses Online’ programme is caught red-handed scamming small businesses. 16 Jan: Open Street Maps Vandalism Google contractors are caught vandalising Open Street Map data. 25 Jan: The Google Sting A WSJ article reveals more damning details of Google’s business practices that lead to the 2011 $500m DOJ settlement. 29 Jan: Google’s New Privacy Policy Google announces a new unified privacy policy which receives widespread condemnation. Microsoft seizes the opportunity to launch an anti-Google advertisement. 02 Feb: Google Maps fined in France A French court convicts Google of abuse of its dominant market position with its Maps service and fines it €500,000. Google appeals the judgment. 17 Feb: iPhone Tracking Google is caught circumventing Safari’s built-in privacy settings to place tracking cookies in mobile users’ browsers. 20 Feb: Internet Explorer Tracking In light of the 17 Feb iPhone tracking issue, Microsoft investigates how Google’s tracking cookies behave in their Internet Explorer browser and discover a similar problem. 01 Mar: Google’s Privacy Policy As Google’s new unified privacy policy takes effect, the European justice chief issues a warning and France asks European data authorities to investigate. 30 Mar: Expedia files an antitrust complaint Online travel agency Expedia accuses Google of breaching EU rules with a formal complaint to EU antitrust regulators. 03 Apr: TripAdvisor complains to EU about Google Holiday review site TripAdvisor joins travel firm Expedia and 11 others in accusing the search giant of abusing its dominant position in Europe. 03 Apr: Australian court find Google ads ‘misleading and deceptive’ The Australian Federal Court has found Google guilty of allowing false and misleading advertising and orders it to institute a compliance programme. Google is considering an appeal. 16 Apr: Google fined by FCC for impeding investigation The Federal Communications Commission fines Google $25k for deliberately impeding a US investigation into its collection of wireless network data for its Street View project. 27 Apr: Google under investigation in Argentina and Korea A regulatory filing reveals Google’s business practices are under investigation by the Argentinan antitrust agency and the South Korean Fair Trade Commission. 30 Apr: Shareholder sues Google over stock split Google is being sued by one of its shareholders in an attempt to block the company’s announced stock split, which the shareholder feels would give too much power to Google’s founders. 21 May: EU gives Google last chance to end antitrust concerns The European Commission commissioner has written to Google warning there are four areas “where Google business practices may be considered as abuses of dominance”. 12 June: Google to be investigated over data cover-up claims The UK’s information commissioner launched an investigation into claims that Google orchestrated a cover-up of its capture of emails, passwords and medical records of people in the UK. 22 June: Texas accuses Google of withholding information The Texas attorney general is accusing Google of improperly withholding evidence to hinder an investigation into whether the company has been abusing its dominance of web search. 05 July: Google criticised for hiring former UK data privacy official Google UK’s privacy policy manager held a senior role at the UK’s data privacy watchdog ICO during the time of its original investigation into Street View. 27 July: Google fails to comply with ICO order After having been ordered in 2010 by the UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office to delete all data illegally gathered in its Street View privacy breach, Google admits it has still failed to do so. 08 August: Google criticised for tax avoidance Having paid just £6 million in corporation tax on £395 million of UK profit in 2011, Google once again faces criticism about tax avoidance. 09 August: Google fined over Safari privacy breach Google is to pay a $22.5m fine to the FTC after it circumvented privacy protections on the Safari web browser to track users of Apple’s iPhone, iPad and Mac computers. 21 August: Google fails to comply with Judge’s disclosure order On August 7th Google was ordered to disclose any paid journalists or bloggers writing about the ongoing Oracle-Google patent dispute. Upon receiving Google’s submission, Judge William Alsup stated it failed to comply with the order. Google then filed a new submission on August 24th listing their paid bloggers and commenters. 04 September: Google accused of racial profiling in ad targeting After repeating an experiment conducted by the Huffington Post in 2011, a Telegraph journalist argues Google still uses racial profiling in its Gmail ad targeting. Google vehemently denies the charges. 16 October: Google forced to change unified privacy policy EU data privacy regulators have told Google it needs to make changes to its unified privacy policy if it wants to avoid legal action. 18 October: Google shares suspended after earnings leak Google’s shares were suspended after its third-quarter earnings results were accidentally released early and showed a radical slowdown in revenue growth. 27 November: GWT security bug re-opens access to old accounts A bug in Google Webmaster Tools allowed previously authenticated accounts renewed access to webmaster tools data. Google fixed the bug approximately 12 hours after initial reports. 28 November: Italy launches a tax investigation against Google Italian police launch a probe in to Google’s tax affairs, investigating an alleged failure to declare over €240 million of income and a potential tax debt of €96 million. 03 December: Google’s tax evasion practices scrutinised The pressure on Google’s tax evasion practices continues to grow as investigations in to how Google minimises its tax payments are launched in Australia and the UK. 10 December: Google’s global tax avoidance scrutinised Bloomberg reports that Google – headquartered in California – has avoided paying over $2bn in taxes by funnelling international revenues to off-shore accounts in Bermuda. When queried about these practices, Google’s chairman Eric Schmidt simply calls it ‘capitalism‘. 12 December: Consumer Watchdog seeks Senate hearing In response to Google’s unapologetic tax avoidance schemes, the American Consumer Watchdog organisation is calling for a Senate hearing to investigate Google’s “morally bankrupt” practices. 19 December: Google given EU anti-trust deadline Google has been given a month by EU regulators to address complaints that its search results unfairly favour Google’s own services. Failing this, Google could face a fine of up to $4bn. Google Noose image credit: freelance SEO Alex Moss

  • 15% off SMX Advanced London 2011

    You can get a special discount on your SMX Advanced London pass by using my special blog partner code. Simply fill in BARRYADAMS011 as your promotional code and you’ll get 15% off your registration price! Super Early-Bird registration further lowers the price, but this is only valid until March 1st. So don’t hesitate and get your SMX Advanced London registration done today! Update: SMX Advanced 2011 has come and gone. To all who attended, I hope you had a great time and learned much!

  • Grab Attention With A Great Headline

    One of the issues I come across most often when reviewing the websites of our clients, is that the website doesn’t immediately make clear what its purpose is. The average web user has a very short attention span. Your website has about 4 to 6 seconds to make an impact, or the user will click that back-button and go somewhere else. So you need to grab that user’s attention and not let go. The first thing a user will look for when he lands on your site’s homepage is the headline. That headline will tell the user what kind of site he’s on and if it fits with his current needs. If the headline falls short, chances are the user will go somewhere else. So the headline on your homepage is very important. It needs to describe what your site’s goal is and how a user can benefit from sticking around. Just putting your company slogan there is usually a bad idea, unless you have a really good slogan that perfectly nails your core business. Usually this is not the case. Let’s use an example. Imagine you’re looking for a special travel arrangement to take your spouse on for your 10th anniversary. You come across a website that has this headline: Simple Enjoyment This might work fine as a company slogan, but it doesn’t tell you anything about what that site’s purpose is and whether or not you can find what you’re looking for. Now let’s try a different headline: Great Travel Arrangements For A Unique Holiday That already tells you a great deal more. It’s obviously a travel site and it sells arrangements. Seems like this is a worthwhile site to take a closer look in. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different headlines to see which one works best. Many aspects of building a better website aren’t an exact science, it’s about trying out different things until you hit the right formula. There are many more factors that come into play when turning a user into a customer, but it starts with getting the user’s attention. And a great headline does just that. P.S. A good headline that contains relevant keywords will also help you with getting found in search engines.

  • Are You Ready For Social Media?

    Social media is a catch-all phrase that encompasses all websites that offer interactive functionality and user-generated content. Social media ranges from social networks (Facebook, LinkedIn) to video sharing sites (YouTube, Vimeo), social news sites (Digg, Reddit), social bookmarking (Delicious, StumbleUpon) and everything else that claims the tag ‘social’. Social media is often hyped as a means of generating a lot of buzz for little money. And part of the hype is certainly founded in truth. Every company of respectable size needs to have a profile or group on social networks, and if you do anything with video at all you’ll need to upload it to YouTube at the very least. But social media is not a replacement for a good website. On the contrary, your presence on social media sites should stimulate visits to your website, not replace them. If your website isn’t as good as it can be, you should invest your time and money into making it better first before you start experimenting with online projects. The core foundation of all your online activities should be your own website. A social media project isn’t something you should just jump in either. A successful entry into social media requires a solid grasp of what social media is and what it isn’t, and realistic expectations of what you can achieve with it. Generally speaking, social media doesn’t lend itself very well to commercial exploitation, as the very nature of the phenomenon is non-commercial. Don’t expect users to come flocking to your social media presence unless you’re willing to throw some serious incentives at it. A recent blogpost from B.L. Ochman about social media myths delivers some much-needed realism – read it and consider if you’re willing and able to step into social media just yet. If you’re in doubt, it’s probably better to spend your efforts on improving your website and gaining traffic the old-fashioned way: SEO, SEM and good content.

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