As a comparison, Yahoo! is worth about $21 billion, but that includes over $3 billion in cash AND equity investments in Yahoo! Japan + Alibaba that are likely worth close to $10 billion. In other words, Google might be offering to buy Groupon for 75% of the value of Yahoo! (excluding their cash on hands & foreign investments). $6 billion would be more than Google paid for DoubleClick and Youtube combined.
Groupon is a discount site that offers one major deal per day. Some are saying Groupon would be an unusual purchase for Google, as Groupon has no leading edge technology that Google is desperate to get their hands on. On the contrary, a Google employee could probably knock together a similar site in day or two.
Groupon offers something much more, however. Groupon offers something that has evaded Google, and every other search engine, for quite some time now.
Groupon has tentacles deep into local businesses advertising budgets, and on a massive scale. Groupon have a large sales force that hand-holds local businesses into online advertising, and reduces risk by offering win-win deals.
Contrast this with Google, who have found it difficult to get small businesses to spend up large on Adwords. The reality is that search marketing is just too cryptic and time consuming for a lot of small business operations.
Google has never really been able to do direct sales well at all," Ambrose said, citing Google's failed attempt to sell and market the Nexus One smartphone on its own site. And, he added, Google's revolutionary AdWords product is not intuitive for many of the small-town businesses that have caught the Groupon fever. "AdWords for a local business is really, really hard," Ambrose said and pointed out the number of AdWords "experts" and consultants offering their services to brick-and-mortar businesses
At the time of writing, nothing official has been announced, however.
Regardless if Google buys Groupon or not, Google's on-going march into non-traditional content arenas is unmistakable. There used to be a separation between search and state - heh - but there isn't anymore.
Google's recent moves should be a wake-up call to anyone involved in the following areas:
If a company like Google combines coupon offers with local search data, they make local search a lot more enticing. Given Google Place-driven search results are already pushing other local results down the fold, expect to see the same thing happen in coupon searches, too, especially if the Groupon sale goes ahead.
Google launches Boutiques.com and there's no Google logo to be seen anywhere! There's nothing "Google-y" about it.
There is a tiny link at the bottom of the About Us pages which states:
"Boutiques.com charges merchants to include products on this website in most cases"
Retailers sign up directly, and Google gets rid of various middlemen in the process. Fashion is a fairly innocuous place to start. It looks like a test run, but expect Google to roll out a lot more vertical "affiliate/paid inclusion" sites, especially if Boutiques.com does well. It is not hard to do well when your public relations blitz means you rank in a day. And you can sell yourself free ads!
There are a few common themes in evidence here.
Google is making it easier for the small LOCAL retailer to get into search marketing by providing more options. There is a much greater degree of hand holding evident, especially if you compare this approach with the alternative up until now, which is building a site and then promoting it with SEO or PPC.
I suspect Google have learned a thing or two from Facebook i.e. you've got to make it click-and-point easy. The network effects take care of everything else, and Google will largely control those. For the rest, there may be a great deal more hand-holding. Increasingly, vendors will want to be part of the Google platform.
Is it all doom and gloom for SEO?
Google can't own everything. It may be able to provide scalable tools and platforms, but it can't become a publishing house that covers every topic and every industry. The long tail of search is, well.....long.
SEOs need to stay away from competing directly with Google. Instead, they need to provide value that Google can't provide easily, but will still need to display in order to be considered useful i.e. deep content, relationships, customer service, community, and unique-ness.
And let's not even get started on this or that.....
If Google is smarter than humans, we must accept that it should be able to help us answer the difficult questions about life that are vital toward making humans reach their full potential, such that we may help computers become smarter, so that we may reach the singularity.
"The development of search as a technology has become commoditized. To continue to invest our own resources to do web search doesn't make sense because that development is expensive and doesn't give you a differentiated product," Ask President Doug Leeds said by telephone.
My contention is that their is no value spending the engineering resources to fight auto-generated spam if Google is paying you to create it. At some point one stack of money becomes much larger than the other.
Then again, speaking of differentiation, I wonder if Doug Leeds would care to comment on if answers content "has been commoditized" at all by them skirting around the intent of fair use laws (much like Youtube did to video content). Are they offering a "differentiated" service by turning tons of their sites into giant answer farms?
Ultimately this is much like Mahalo, but on a grand scale. At least they are not pointing expired redirects into their site (like eHow did) but if this trend continues look for thin answer sites wrapped in AdSense to become the equivalent of the auto-generated affiliate feed powered website of years gone by. The model is infinitely more scalable than content mills since the companies doing it don't actually have content costs: throw a keyword list in the hopper, send your scrapers out to "add value" & watch the money come in. Wherever something is working simply throw more related keywords in the hopper.
The lack of cost to the model means you can build thousands of pages around misspellings and yet still have it be profitable...the cost of creating each page is under a cent.
Who funds the creation of all this garbage? Google, via their AdSense program. It's a bit of Southern Hospitality from Google, if you will.
Own a forum website or answers website & are sick of seeing Ask outrank you by leveraging their domain authority + "fair use" of your content? Here is how to block their bot in robots.txt:
With great power comes great responsibility, however working on the Google spam team must feel a bit like the movie Brazil when watching this stuff unfold.
Remember how all kinds of affiliates were given the boot by Google for not "adding value"? How are lander pages like this one adding any value? 10 of 10 above the fold links are monetized. And it looks like their sites are using content spinning too!
The promise of the web was that it could directly connect supply and demand to make markets more efficient, and yet leading search engines are paying to create a layer of (g)arbitrage that lowers the utility and value of the network for everyone else, while pushing even more publishers into bankruptcy as the leeches grow in size & number.
My guess is that unless this short term opportunism changes, some of the star search engineers will leave in disgust within 12 to 18 months. Mark 2012 on your calendars, it will be a good year for clean search plays like Blekko and DuckDuckGo. ;)
I already mentioned this to our subscribers & affiliates, but we are pausing the ability to subscribe to our membership site so we can perform upgrades.
We want to update Drupal, launch the new site design, and switch out the membership management software from what has become sorta big and hairy to a platform that is pre-packaged & thus more manageable. Doing this will allow us to accept payments on-site, offer a couple different tiers of access, allow me to segment some aspects of customer support to make some of the account management stuff easier to do by staff.
The end goal of this upgrade is to make the site look more modern & cohesive, and make it so we are spending more of our resources on creating new content & tools and less on management of the underlying software & such.
When we shifted to a membership site a couple years ago I didn't appreciate the level of success it would achieve & I didn't realize how some of the smaller bugs would become larger issues as our site grew. Most of those bugs have been fixed, but there are still a few ghosts & we are sorta limited by spending resources on re-creating the wheel, rather than buying wheels & then layering more value on top. :)
I still intend to be involved in the site daily, but for my health (and sanity) it really makes sense to leverage division of labor on some of the administrative stuff, rather than burning myself out trying to manage every aspect of everything. Our employees are great & now we just need to implement systems that help them be greater(er). :D
We are aiming to open back up sometime in mid-January. The blog and site will still continue, but given the number of databases the site currently has & how it syncs up with Paypal it is likely best for us to close off new subscriptions while we are changing stuff around.
We could try switching stuff while keeping everything active, but the big issue there is if any weird anomalies happen then that is probably more stress than I would care to deal with. I love the site & I want to keep it that way (vs pull my hair out due to putting too much stress on myself). :D
If you want to be notified when we re-open please comment on this post & we will email everyone who commented once we have relaunched under the new system & tested everything out. :)
Hope the holidays go well for you & more to come when we make some significant progress with these changes.
According to Matt Cutts, speaking at a recent PubCon, Google will be looking at why exact domain matches rank so well. For example, if you have a site at blue-widgets.com it may rank a bit too well for the keyword phrase [blue widgets].
Don't Google know? ;)
More likely, Matt would not make a concrete statement, one way or the other. "Yes, exact Match domains rank better!", is not something Matt is likely to say.
Secondly, the implication is that exact match domains are a problem.
Why Use Exact Match Domain Names
Exact match domains names, as the name suggests, are domain names that match the search keyword term. i.e. Hotels.com, shoes.net, planetickets.org etc.
Is it a good idea to adopt this strategy for SEO? Ask ten different SEOs and you'll likely get ten different answers.
On the plus side, an exact match may help you target one, specific keyword phrase. Your link text and domain name match up naturally. The domain name will likely be highlighted in Google's search results, thus giving the listing more visibility. There may be ranking advantages, depending on who you ask.
On the negative side, an exact match only "helps" you target one keyword. It may be too generic for wider applications, such as brand building. Exact match domains may be over-hyped, and not worth a premium. There are, after all, many domains ranking #1 that aren't exact match, so it is debatable how much SEO advantage they actually provide, particularly as Google keeps pushing brand.
Is There A Problem With Exact Match Domains?
So why would Matt imply exact match domain names might be a problem?
It is understandable that some in the SEO community - perhaps an SEO working on client sites, or those who don't own any exact match domains and see others ranking above them - would have a vested interest in making a noise about the competition. If webmasters make enough noise about it, then Matt Cutts may feel a need to respond.
The supposed ranking power of exact match is probably a red herring. The problem Google may be hinting at is that exact match may be more likely to be involved with spam, thin affiliate, or other low value content than other types of domains. In other words, it becomes a quality signal.
If that is the case - and I'm not saying it is - then that may be the reason Google would look closer at exact match domains, not the fact that a domain matching a keyword is somehow evil.
Because it isn't.
There is nothing wrong with owning an exact match domain.
It comes down to business fundamentals. If you're trying to build a unique brand, and resulting keyword stream, then an exact match domain name will be a hindrance rather than a help. You'll forever be competing with generic search traffic. Keyword domains names aren't particularly memorable.
The premium that an exact-match domain name commands, when sold on the after-market, may not be worth it. You don't need an exact-match domain name to rank well, so the money may be better spent getting a new $10 domain name to rank. Or, alternatively, you could buy an existing site that already ranks well for your keyword, and others, for similar money as an inflated exact match domain.
Finally, if you're competing with a clear market leader, then generic isn't going to help you much. i.e. owning searchengine.com isn't going to make Google lose any sleep. You may also be over-looking an opportunity to differentiate your offering against the market leader in terms of brand. Think Blekko vs searchengine.com.
"Matt recommends SEOs do not “chase the algorithm” and instead try to predict where Google will be going in the future". Matt was addressing PubCon.
Good advice, methinks.
Trying to predict where Google is going is something we do a lot of at SEOBook.com. Whilst no one has a crystal ball, it's good practice to keep one eye on the search horizon.
So, where do we think Google might be heading?
Google Will Continue To Dominate Search
Easy one, huh.
Their biggest competitors appear clueless when it comes to search. Bing may make some inroads. Maybe. It's hard to imagine anyone eating Google's lunch when it comes to search, for many years to come.
Is Facebook a threat? I doubt it. Search is difficult, and I can see no reason why Facebook - which has a media focus - could own the search channel any more than Yahoo could.
Search is, after all, an infrastructure problem. Google's infrastructure would be very difficult to replicate.
Google Won't Be Doing All That Much About Blackhat Sites
A search result set only really contains spam if the Google users think it contains spam i.e. they don't see the answer they were expecting.
The fact a website may fall outside Google's guidelines might get competing webmasters' knickers in a knot, but it probably doesn't matter that much to Google, or anyone else.
Even though Matt Cutts says Google will devote more resources to this, I suspect Google's efforts will largely remain focused on outright deception i.e. misrepresentation, hijacking and malware.
The Web Reflects Power Structures
We can forget the San Fran techno-hippy ethos of the web. It will not be a free-for-all democracy, if it ever was. History shows us that power tries to centralize control in order to maintain it.
Google may try to keep users on Google for longer. They do this by owning more and more verticals, and extracting data and reformatting it. When they send visitors away from Google, they'll try to do so more and more on their own terms. Watch very carefully what type of sites Google rewards, as opposed to what they may say they reward.
Expect less competition in the market as a result. Some people are already getting angry about it.
Be Where Your Users Are
Google follows users. So does Facebook. Anywhere your users are, you've got to be there, too. On Google Maps. On YouTube. Wherever and whenever. Think beyond your website. Think in terms of getting your data out there.
Social media can drive tons of attention, awareness and traffic. But the search box is the best way to navigate to stuff you want. Now what will drive those results - if I type in "pizza", what should I get? The answer can be very different depending on whether the results are coming from the web, Yelp, or Facebook. So I guess my answer is that I still see search being the core way to navigate, but I think what gets searched is going to get a lot more structured and move away from simple keyword matches against unstructured web pages
A Shift To Localization
Microsoft Research found that people tend to organize their memories in geographic terms i.e. where they were when something happened.
If you want to know where Google is heading, then watch Marissa Mayer. Marissa has been responsible for much of what you see in Google in terms of how it is organized. Marissa has just moved to head of Geographic and Location Services.
Google Earth. Google Maps. Google Local. Google Street View. Mobile location data and targeting. Expect more data to be organized around locality.
SEO hasn't changed all that much in years. We still find an audience (keyword research), we publish content, we build links to the content, and then we repeat it all over again.
The changes come around the edges, especially for big companies like Google. There is a lot of risk to Google in making radical changes. Shareholders don't like it. Why risk breaking something that makes so much money, and is so popular?
The biggest changes in the way we do things on the web are probably going to come from the upstarts. They're probably hard at work in their garage right now.
[When] we roll[ed] out Google Finance, we did put the Google link first. It seems only fair right, we do all the work for the search page and all these other things, so we do put it first... That has actually been our policy, since then, because of Finance. So for Google Maps again, it's the first link. - Marissa Mayer
If they gain certain privileges in the marketplace by claiming to not abuse their power and that their algorithmic results are neutral, but those algorithmic results may be pushed below the fold, then is it "only fair" for them to put themselves in a default market leading position in any category they feel they can make money from by selling ads in? Or is that an abuse of power?
To give a visual of how dire this situation was for some webmasters, consider the following graphic.
The blue line is Google search traffic and the gray is total unique visitors. And since search visitors tend to monetize better than most other website visitors, the actual impact on revenues was greater than the impact on visitors. And, if you figure that sites have fixed costs (hosting, maintenance, new content creation, data licensing, marketing, etc.) then the impact on profits is even more extreme than the impact on revenues.
Hence in the search game you can go from hero to zero fast!
Search is one of the highest leverage business functions around today.
When stuff heads south like that, what do you do? Do you consider it game over and try to lower costs further?
My approach to such events is to take it as a warning shot. To take it as a challenge. In the above example the traffic came back...
...but algorithms sometimes get rolled in using phases. Sometimes stuff that gets tripped up and later restored is being set up for a second fall when they refine their relevancy algorithms again. Sites that get caught in snags are sites which are fairly weak. So if you take any set back as motivation to create something better and work hard then you at least know that if you failed you tried and it just didn't work. Most likely, if you try hard, you will be able to make the site much better and not only reach your old traffic levels, but exceed them.
Even though the traffic came back for the above site, it has been getting a lot more effort. And it will continue to for months and months. The fear of loss is a great motivator to push people to create something better. Sometimes I think Google should mix up the results a bit more often just to drive people to create better stuff. :)
I'd love to purchase a text link ad on one of your pages such as ____
The link would be going to a finance or MBA site.
My budget is $100 and can pay via PayPal. I can give you a call about the
details or email you more information, let me know.
As a marketer, you want anything you do to pass the sniff test. So if your stuff looks anything like this fake scammy crap garbage then you are not going to have much success with it. Largely because the folks who are sending out millions of emails are going to sterilize the market and turn the web cynical toward even more marketing techniques. So you need to make your marketing efforts that much more personalized, and it also helps to have a real presence in the field, that way bloggers won't dismiss you as just another scam, like they might those folks promoting the fake charity angle.
This is another reason why it also helps to create things in entirely unique formats. The gamers exploiting stuff burn out one opportunity after another, but most of their new & creative slants are simply extensions of things that worked for others. Getting out in front of the scammers on a new trend & format is far more profitable than following in their footsteps. But be aware that marketing ideas have a curve to them. An idea which starts off pure and is successful & profitable will end up coming under the eye of scammers at some point. And most forms of fraud are based around trying to look like the real thing, so eventually a format that was once profitable eventually loses its potency and you must move on.
The best forms of marketing which help you differentiate yourself from the scammers are those which build trust over time: branding, awareness, social interaction, etc. The person holding up a puppet might be able to compete with you here and there from time to time, but if you build something with depth and substance they will have a hard time competing on a sustainable basis.
As market niches get saturated, the winners are typically those with the deepest pockets.
Up until the last few years, the little guy has been able to prosper with SEO. The little guy didn't face much competition from big companies, because the big companies didn't get SEO. However, Google's current algorithmns and corporate strategy often have the side effect of benefiting large companies.
According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the Internet is a "cesspool" where false information thrives....Brands, he said, are the way to rise above the cesspool
There is a danger in reading too much into Schmidt's words, however this statement mirrors a lot of what happens in the search results. A big company or brand, with a crawlable site, will find it easy to dominate the search results. A big company will be linked to, discussed in the media, and have established keyword query volume - all factors which Google rewards. All these factors are becoming increasingly difficult for the small guy to emulate.
Factor in Google's ongoing moves to "own" verticals, and many more little guys will be crushed underfoot. It doesn't matter if your site is white hat, grey or black, if your site competes directly with a big company, or with Google - who are now a big company themselves - you'll almost surely lose.
This isn't just true in the SERPs, of course. It's also true in Adwords, which essentially rewards those with deep pockets. It's true in print. It's true across all media. It's true in politics, in money markets, and in life.
Power is like that.
Even if you don't face competition from big operators, you'll face competition from a million other little guys, especially if there is no barrier to entry. This is often the case on the web. Check out this article by Tim O Shea, founder of the short lived UK group buying site Snippa. Snippa was similar to Groupon.
Due to the number of players, commission levels are being eroded far from the 40-50% that Groupon achieves down to 0% just to get the deal (at Snippa our deals averaged around 10-20%). Merchants are getting numerous phone calls from prospective group buying companies and the conversation with many is more about the commission level charged rather than how they could offer a great discount for a group of new customers. This will continue until a clear leader emerges that can demonstrate a large customer base allowing them to negotiate better deals and commission levels. Many companies chasing the same deal is counter productive for the end customer.
Too many competitors errode margins to zero. Eventually, the biggest operator wins.
How To Protect Yourself And Win
When you're looking for a niche to get into, how do you evaluate it?
Do you look at the search volumes and look to position a site top ten for that search volume? An ok strategy, and one used by many in the SEO business.
However, lets take it a step further.
If you're thinking long term, you need to consider other factors, especially competitive threats. Ask: is this niche likely to be so lucrative that it will attract big companies? If so, then you may need a strategy to become one, or be bought out by one. You may win such a fight for a while, but the big company will invariably win in the end through greater reach and purchasing power.
Are you the cheapest, or are you the best?
The little guy is almost always better off aiming to be the best at what they do. Being the cheapest requires volume, and is very difficult to sustain. Many companies, both big and small, get locked in a downward spiral of price cutting. Again, you'll last being the cheapest until a bigger company turns up. Bigger companies can get price advantage through volume. If the internet equivalent of Wal Mart is your competition, you're in trouble if you compete on price.
Zappos was a small company, that eventually became a big company, not by competing on price, but by competing on service. They aimed to be the best at service. Had they competed on price, they wouldn't have got anywhere. The big shoe and clothing chains would have crushed them.
Is SEO your only strategy to dominate a niche? If so, then you're vulnerable to the whims of Google. Instead, think about ways you can develop a brand. I use the term brand in the widest possible sense. Being the best guy in the world to talk to about, say, the eating preferences of neon tetra fish - is a brand. Whatever it is you do, if you're not competing on price, aim to be the very best. If you have to carve a niche even finer, do it, at least until the costs outweigh the benefits.
Think about ways you can lock in customers/visitors and keep them coming back. If you only ever have search volume, then you rely on people who haven't seen you before. Encourage visitors to bookmark you, or sign up for a newsletter. Hook them in some way. Above all, be memorable. Being memorable will create search volume out of nothing (how many people searched for Zappos years ago? Or SEOBook? ). Building an audience may not be enough to fend off big companies, but it will help you fend off other small companies and new entrants, especially if they only rely on SEO.
* If you think otherwise, do you care to debate the following video?
"Perhaps the only lessons learned by the banks in the crisis is that the rules don't apply to them." Ain't that the truth. The video is completely accurate:
Richard M. Bowen, former chief underwriter for Citigroup’s consumer-lending group, said he warned his superiors of concerns that some types of loans in securities didn’t conform with representations and warranties in 2006 and 2007.
“In mid-2006, I discovered that over 60 percent of these mortgages purchased and sold were defective,” Bowen testified on April 7 before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission created by Congress. “Defective mortgages increased during 2007 to over 80 percent of production.”
Everyone else is forced to eat the socialized losses that mirror the "profits" generated by the banks in years past. We have a central bank holding rates at 0 while running the printing presses in overdrive. That is destroying pension accounts and the living standard of the elderly as their life savings is literally stolen from them to prop up a bunch of criminal thugs on Wall Street.
The goal is not to create value or stability, but rather to engineer instability, with sharp market moves which can be profited from on the way up AND on the way down:
Bubble, Crash, Bubble, Crash, Bubble ...
We will continue this cycle until we catch on. The problem isn't only that the Fed is treating the symptoms instead of the disease. Rather, by irresponsibly promoting reckless speculation, misallocation of capital, moral hazard (careless lending without repercussions), and illusory "wealth effects," the Fed has become the disease.
If you are in debt for consumption driven reasons it is worth noting that the game is rigged. These people have done, are doing, and will continue to act as criminals to rip you off. There is no reason to go out of your way to make yourself easy prey.
Are you anti-American? Do you have an axe to grind? Did you somehow fail at life? These are questions we are trained to think when anyone complains about scams embedded in the political economy.
Speaking for myself, I have never been as successful as I am today, and much of that success comes from the free market ideals that have been preached (and meeting my wonderful wife). The issue I have right now is that we still preach those free market ideals, but are doing nothing to follow them (and are actively undermining them). If I was born 5 years or 10 years later I might be a street beggar, simply because my opportunity to succeed had been marginalized by the market corruption of the bankers. Maybe I still would have done ok, but a lot of people are being driven to the margins and off a cliff. Many of them are even sadly conned into believing it is their own fault.
Certainly consumers are to blame for some stuff, but they had no idea how much fraud was embedded in the financial engineering going on beyond the headlines. They didn't know that the central banker believed that there was no reason police fraud. Most people are too busy to be macro-economic experts on the side, and yet if you made the mistake of trusting the bankers in some cases they may have destroyed your life savings or left you living a meager life as a debt serf.
The federal government sided with the criminals on the way up. And it is siding with the criminals on the way down. They would rather debase the currency and steal your savings than let their criminal buddies on Wall Street go bankrupt.
Society is nothing more than a system of laws and the culture they promote. Betray someone's trust and they become less trusting toward everyone else. That creates friction in the marketplace which shrinks the economy and living standards. Make heroes out of criminals & at some people a lot of people are going to say "screw it, the laws do not apply to me either." When that happens (as it will) then at some point there will be a sharp increase in violence.
This is not about promoting communism, or some other such label. What we have now in the capital markets is far worse than communism, as they have privatized profits AND socialized losses. If you believe in capitalism OR communism then what is happening now is broken.
And yet the people who just privatized the profits and socialized the losses are to be worshiped and followed. You should be thankful that the government bailed them out & you should just suck it up. The role of government is to protect the wealth of the opulent from the stupid majority. It has always been.
The stupid thing about it is that all (or at least most) of that pain & suffering is easily avoidable by letting the people who preach free market values to eat their losses and fail. By pushing those off onto everyone else, ultimately the government just creates uncertainty and makes people less trusting. And as society breaks down, the government won't be able to sort out the issues, as they already gave away all the money to a bunch of brigands on Wall Street.
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies . . . If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] . . . will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered . . . The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs." —Thomas Jefferson
When you get to *really* competitive keywords the results typically tend to be fairly stable because the cost of entry into the game is so high & many of the top players keep building additional signals of quality. You might get minor fluctuations from time to time, but large fluctuations on highly competitive keywords are fairly rare.
Over the last day or 2 Google has done yet another algorithm change (the 3rd or 4th noticeable one in 2 weeks), where on some searches they are ranking an internal page over the homepage. It is almost as if the best mental model for the algorithm that is doing this is...
find the top SITES that deserve to rank well & rank them based on that criteria
however, rather than ranking THOSE PAGES, instead do internal site searches & back in other relevancy factors to look for other popular & relevant pages on those sites
test to see how well searchers respond to them
Here is a pretty overt example, where Google changed 2 of the listings for "SEO" to internal pages.
I have seen other examples, some where Google also highlighted a new information-less blog post with only a couple automated backlinks pointing at it. I don't want to "out" that site though, but this is the type of image Google was showing beneath that entry
I have no problems keeping up with the increasing complexity of search, but Google is setting up some serious barriers to entry for new players. It is hard to explain in a straightforward manner that page A might be ranking due to relevancy signals pointing into page B, but these are the SERPs through which we make a living. And it is only going to keep growing more complex. ;)
Depending on how far Google pushes with this, it can have major implications in terms of rank tracking, SEO strategy, site architecture & conversion optimization. More on that stuff in the community forums.
When Bing launched, one of the interesting things they did to make the organic search results appear more relevant was to use link anchor text to augment page titles (where relevant). This would mean if people searched for a phrase that was mostly in your title (but maybe your page title was missing a word or 2 from the search) then Bing might insert those words into the page title area of your listing if they were in some of the link anchor text pointing into your page.
Before being switched over to Bing, Yahoo! would sometimes display the H1 heading as the clickable link to your site (rather than the page title). Bing also uses on page headings to augment page titles.
Historically if Google has thought it would appear more relevant to searchers, sometimes they have shown a relevant machine generated piece of your page displaying those keywords in context rather than the meta description in the snippet, but typically Google has been far more conservative with the page titles. Sometimes Google would list the ODP title for the title of a page, most until recently they have generally typically just listed the page title as the clickable link to your site.
Recently Google has grown more experimental on this front, being willing to use link anchor text and on-page headings as part of the listing. In addition, if the page title is short, Google may add the site's name at the end of the title.
Here is an example in Google of the page title being replaced by part of an on-page heading & also showing the site's name being added to the end of the link
And here is the associated on-page heading for the above
I have also seen a few examples of the link anchor text being added to the page title in Google, however it was on a client project & the client would prefer that I didn't share his new site on an SEO blog with 10's of thousands of readers. :D
Last November Matt Cutts recently did a video on the topic of Google editing the page titles for relevancy & how it was a fairly new thing for Google. Even back then Google was quite conservative in editing the clickable link ... I think they have only grown more aggressive on that front in the past month or so.
Rich Skrenta has been at the core of search longer than I have been in the SEO market. He is famous for launching sites like DMOZ and Topix. His most recent project is a search engine called blekko, and I recently had a chance to chat with him about blekko, the web, and marketing.
Most start ups fail. And yet you have multiple successes under your belt and are going at it again. If you could boil success down to a few points, what really separates what you have done from the statistics?
Paul Graham said that the most important thing for a startup is to not die each day. If you can keep existing, that's survival for a company. Generally I like to keep costs low and hire carefully. Also, the first idea doesn't always work. We had to pivot Topix several times to find the right model. For blekko, we just want to make a site that a segment of people will find useful. If we can do that we'll be happy.
It seems openness is a great marketing angle to use online. Why do you feel that it is so under-utilized by most companies?
It feels counter-intuitive to take all our your company IP and secrets and just put them all out there. Little companies also tend to be insecure and want to be appear to be larger and more successful. They want to put on a big company face to the world, but being honest and transparent about who they are and letting the public see "behind the curtain" can often win people over better than a facade of success.
From my perspective, it seems your approach to marketing is heavily reliant on organic, viral & word of mouth strategies. What is broken with the old model of marketing? Is its death happening slower or quicker than you expect?
The internet and social media have made word-of-mouth stronger and stronger, and in many ways they eclipse traditional marketing channels now. This started with blogging and has accelerated with Twitter and Facebook. Everybody is media now. You used to fly around and do a 2 week media tour to launch a product. The aperture to get in the trade press was small, there was a handful of reporters you had to go pitch. Now there are thousands of people who have audience for every trade niche, so it's easier to get the word out about something new. But it has to be genuinely interesting, or your message won't get pickup.
A lot of people who are good at programming make ugly designs. Likewise many people are either programmers or marketers. What formal training or experiences have you had that have allowed an engineer to become such a sophisticated marketer? What strengths do you have that allow you to bridge the disciplines so well?
We joke that we have always made ugly web sites. Fortunately I was able to hire a good designer for blekko and he's been doing a great job taking our early ugly versions and making them a lot more attractive and workable.
I read a lot of stuff about marketing and positioning that we're trying to apply at blekko. I'm a big fan of Trout & Ries. I loved Kathy Sierra's stuff when she was writing. There is some fantastic material also in Kellog on Branding. We also worked with some great positioning consultants that tested various ideas on focus groups to see what would resonate with users best as a message. Every product has a bunch of features, but you want to find the one to talk about that's going to stick in people's heads the best.
I noticed you baked many social elements into your marketing strategy (friend us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter) as well as baking many social elements into your product (personal slashtags, allowing people to share their slashtags, etc.). There is some talk on the web of apps or social stuff replacing search as the center of the web, however from a marketing perspective I see much higher traffic value in search traffic. Do you think that one day social and apps will largely replace global search? Or do you feel it will generally continue to play a secondary role to search?
Social media can drive tons of attention, awareness and traffic. But the search box is the best way to navigate to stuff you want. Now what will drive those results - if I type in "pizza", what should I get? The answer can be very different depending on whether the results are coming from the web, Yelp, or Facebook. So I guess my answer is that I still see search being the core way to navigate, but I think what gets searched is going to get a lot more structured and move away from simple keyword matches against unstructured web pages.
A good number of the social sites are doing redirects for security purposes & to some degree are cannibalizing the link graph. Do you feel that links from the social graph represent an important signal, or that most of that signal still gets represented well on the remaining link graph?
There is very definitely signal in social graph links - potentially more than in the web graph. In 2000, a hyperlink was a social vote. Most links were created by humans and represented an editorial vote. That's no longer true - the web today is inundated with bulk-generated links. To the extent that humans can be separated from bots, there's more true signal in social graphs. The challenge is to get enough coverage to rank everything you need to rank. Delicious had great search results for the corpus of links they knew about, but it wasn't nearly big enough to be comprehensive. Facebook and Twitter are certainly a lot bigger, it will be interesting to see if they start to apply their data to ranking and recommending material from outside of their own sites.
When Google was young Sergey Brin at an SEO conference stated that there was no such thing is spam, only bad relevancy algorithms. When I saw some of your talks announcing Blekko you mentioned that you never want to see eHow in your personal search results. Do you feel that spam is largely down to a personal opinion? If you had to draw a line in the sand between spam & not spam, how would you characterize the differences?
Search must serve an editorial function. You can call this editorial position "relevancy", but that's hiding behind the algorithm. Of course someone wrote the algorithm, and tinkered with it to make some sites come up and others not to come up.
The web has grown 100-fold since 2000. There is most definitely spam out there. Let's take a clear-cut example, like phama links being injected via exploits into unpatched WordPress blogs. Then there is gray-area stuff, like eHow.com. Some people like eHow. Some don't. That's why we let users develop their own /spam filters.
Eric Schmidt mentioned that sharing their ranking variables would be disclosing trade secrets that could harm Google. Yet you guys are sharing your web graph publicly. Are you worried about doing this impacting your relevancy in a negative way? Or do you feel the additional usage caused by that level of awareness will give you more inputs into your search relevancy algorithms?
When I first moved to Silicon Valley I worked in computer security. In security there's an idea that "security through obscurity" isn't very good. What this means is that if you have some new encryption algorithm, but don't let anyone see the details of how it works, it probably is full of holes. The only way to get a strong encryption algorithm is to publish all of the details about how it works and have public review. Once the researchers can't punch any more holes in your algorithm, only then is it good enough to trust.
We see search the same way. If this magic 200-variable equation is so sensitive that if it leaked out the results would be completely overrun with spam, well then the algorithm doesn't actually sound that strong to me. We'd rather work towards a place where there can be public review of the mechanisms driving ranking, and where many eyes can make the spam problem shallow.
Certainly the big search engines have hundreds of human raters that help identify spam and train their algorithms. These are contractors that are the knowledge workers behind the scenes. As a little startup, we asked ourselves how we could get many more people helping us to make our results better, and also be a lot more open about the process. Formerly we had experience running a big crowdsourced search site with the Open Directory, where we had 80,000 editors classifying urls. What if we could get 80,000 people to help us curate search verticals, identify spam, and train classifiers? That would be cool.
You had a blog post comparing pornographers to SEOs. Do you feel the SEO game is mostly adversarial? Or do you feel that paying attention to the SEO industry is a great way to quickly improve the quality of a search product? Or both? :)
I think my comparison noted that pornographers have often been early adopters of new technology. :-)
There is aggressive seo, and then there is what I call appropriate discoverability. Aggressive seo can go over the line - if someone hacks your server to add links, that's borderline criminal activity. But if you have great content and it's not showing up, that's a shame. After we sold topix to the newspapers, we spent some time evangelizing seo within their organizations. Think of all of the movie reviews and restaurant reviews the US newspaper sites collectively have. Wonderfully written material by well-paid professional journalists. But you don't see their content anywhere for a restaurant or movie search. That's a shame.
Recently Ask sorta rebranded away from search & towards more of a QnA format, and Yahoo! bowed out of search through a Bing partnership. Are the cost scales that drive such changes just a legitimate piece of the business model, or were those organizations highly inefficient? How were you able to bring a competitive product to market for so much less?
I was a fan of Ask's Teoma technology, and what Jim Lanzone had been doing with the site. And Yahoo was delivering very high quality results, and had interesting initiatives like the BOSS apis and SearchMonkey. This was all great stuff. I'm disappointed that they lost heart. Running a big company that has been around for a long time is not an easy job.
From an SEO perspective I think that Google tends to have a large index, but crawling so deeply likely allows a lot of junk into their index. Bing seems to be a bit more selective with their crawling strategy. How would you compare Blekko against the other major search engines in terms of depth? Do you feel that relevancy boosts offered through vertical search (via your Slashtags) allows you guys to provide a similar or better experience without needing as large of an index?
Our crawler tends to go into highly ranked sites more deeply than poorly ranked sites. We have a 3 billion page crawl, and so we need to choose the best content to include. This starts at crawl time - should we crawl this url or that url? There are a whole set of heuristics which drive what crawl budget an individual site gets.
The web keeps getting deeper and deeper - the challenge is how to return the good stuff and not sink. This is why we believe human curation needs to be brought back to search. Only by curating the best content in every vertical can the most relevant results be returned.
Amongst SEOs the issue of "brand" as a relevancy signal has been a topic of heated debates. How important do you feel brand is as a signal of relevancy & authority?
One of the things we look at is how natural the pattern of mentions of a site looks. Real brands tend to have a natural pattern of mentions on the web.
You had a blog post a few years back titled "PageRank wrecked the web." How do you feel about paid links? What editorial actions do you guys take when you find paid links?
If links have an economic value, they're going to be bought and sold. It's that simple. What happens in our ranker is that we classify different sources of signals, and then let the machine learning figure out what the signal is telling us. Is this a good source of anchortext? Or maybe a certain class of links even has a negative contribution to rank, if what the links are telling us doesn't correlate with the direction we want the ranker to be going.
How hard is it to detect paid links? What has been the most challenging part of launching a world class search engine?
The whole thing has been hard. Search has so many sub-components, and even things that sound trivial like DNS turn into big projects when you need to scale them up to billions of web pages.