Google Taking Action Against Automated SEO Software

Apr 20th

I just got an update email from Leslie Rhode of OptiLink...

A few days ago, Google began to employ a "spyware detector" that will in some cases block OptiLink through the use of a cookie and a human visible "ransom note".

The use of Google from "normal" browsers is not effected -- it is only specialized programs such as OptiLink that are targeted by Google's change with the result that OptiLink can be blocked
from Google for two or more hours.

While this is not a terrible problem as no lasting impact has been found, I am not comfortable with Google being able to discover the use of OptiLink no mattter how "gentle" the counter-measures
might be.

So, OptiLink's Goolge interface has been REMOVED pending a solution to this problem. This has been done for your safety, and for the safety of all other OptiLink users.

Rest assured that this problem will be solved and Google access restored as soon as possible, but in the meantime, you should use the Yahoo and MSN interfaces for your Google ranking analysis.

I am a bit curious if Google is going too far with all of their recent anti-SEO moves. I can't even count how many times I have read that search relevancy is similar at Yahoo! and Google. Webmasters have undoubtedly helped to build Google's brand.

With the extensive filtering that Google does on its linking information, the loss of the Google interface in many cases is not that important.

In general, you can do your linking analysis using the Yahoo or MSN link databases and safely assume that Google has these links as well, but are simply not showing them. The exception to this rule is of course the "banned domain" which appears to be a uniquely Google concept.

Google does provide useless linkage data. Some of the other engines, especially Yahoo!, provide useful linkage data.

The connectivity measurement (or PageRank) that Google shows in it's toolbar is outdated. July of last year I talked to a Yahoo! Search employee and asked why they were not making a reliable Yahoo! connectivty measurement available?

A large part of how Google gained their brand was by creating concepts that were somewhat easy to explain, like PageRank. Why not force them to keep that data updated or take that market position from them by providing across the board better tools that are easier to explain? This also could help Yahoo! gain a much larger installed toolbar base, which may allow them to

  • gain market share

  • collect more market data
  • improve relevancy algorithms

MSN has also been significantly more supportive of the SEO industry than Google, even allowing people to subscribe to search results via RSS.

I understand running automated systems add to system load time and has associated costs, but could that cost be a cheap form of marketing your high margin search service over competing services?

On many fronts I do like Google as a company, but I think their idealism is at least as much of a hindrance as it is a strength.

Leslie also had the following to say in his update:

My Thoughts on the Future

It is certainly well known that Google does not look with favor upon SEO tools in general, and most especially tools that make use of its interfaces, so some sort of reaction is not totally unexpected.

OptiLink has been in very active use and continuous development since May 22, 2002, and has been on Google's "short list" since the moment they called me (true story) just 10 days after it was announced.

Google Fixes 302 Error?, Tivo Chatting w Yahoo! & Google

302 Redirects:
Claus over at ThreadWatch is reporting Google may have solved their problem.

Tivo:
TiVo is in talks with Google and Yahoo over a possible deal aimed at bridging television and the web. The deal would likely be exclusive, which means whoever partners with Tivo may get stuck overpaying if a bidding war ensues.

Interview:
Of me. I could have answered a couple questions better. Interviewing people is an exceptionally easy way to build links.

It is fairly rare that marketers turn down an interview opportunity if you approach them nicely.

SEO Friendly Affiliate Programs:
May not be so friendly if you grow your link popularity too quickly.

Ethical SEO:
I got this great comment via email:

I think when people talk about ethics in business they are concerned about someone cutting into their profits or threatening their profits. It has nothing to do with human rights or suffering (which is wrong). Either way, business people will continue to talk about ethics all day - even while they own sweat shops - because sweat shops have very little to do with ethics.

That comment was the foundation for a quick article I just jotted down. Please leave comments and hate mail below. :)

Stanford Daily Sells Links to ANYONE

Apr 18th

The Spamford Daily:
I realize that many sites sell links to help pay for their costs, but you would think the college that owns the PageRank patent would be a bit courteous of their search buddies. You would be wrong!

I think a friend said they sell the links directly, charging like $300 per link per month selling to ANYone. Currently I believe the site has about 80 links on it. This T shirt shows it :)

Lots0 recently posted on them at the SEW forums.

In my opinion the entire Stanford online news is a bunch of SE spammers. I have even mentioned this before here in another thread, where the Stanford news was promoting viagra, debt consolidation, payday loans, credit cards and online casinos.

I even wrote the Dean's Office at Stanford to ask them if they were aware of the activities of their online news, I never got a response. Odd way for the holder of the google patents to behave in my opinion.

It really makes you appreciate some of the things search engines have to balance / deal with when those who own some of their patents will sell a link to anyone with $300.

SEO Inc Removed from Google?
In other Google & SEO news, Google stars seems not to be shining on SEO Inc. Recently Gary Grant, the SEO Inc CEO, posted they have 65 employees, and that has to hurt.

It really makes you appreciate some of the things that SEO firms have to balance / deal with when Google can randomly remove your site from the index.

Click Fraud Click Fraud Click Fraud

Clickity click click click...

In the past few days there have been a great number of articles, posts, and threads about click fraud. Today I woke up with an inbox that had a few emails about click fraud.

[update: Fantomaster found a blog about ClickFraud]

eMarketer says Click Fraud Is Starting to Scare Marketers

Advertisers should be able to opt in or out of advertising on specific sites.

Joe Holcomb, SVP at BlowSearch, recently wrote these articles:

Scott Blum, of Buy.com also has some type of click fraud patent.

News Losing Ad Revenue:
Despite the claims of PPC fraud Wall Street Journal was hit by lower ad spend, and yet financial ads account for 20% of online ads.

[update 2: Gary Stein found this 15 minute real audio file about the death of mass media advertising.]

This Wall Street Journal article (sub req) talks about Yahoo's small and nimble new search service which is outpacing most of the giants. Even Rupert Murdock knows he is behind the curve.

Other PPC News:
Yahoo! Buys Brazilian PPC Search Network

Google is testing placing a third ad in the premium position. BAD CALL. Andrew Goodman also feels their bid optimizer is a bad call.

ThreadWatch finds sites about cheap clicks and expensive clicks.

The Dow Jones Industrial average is down 4% in the last 3 days. Yahoo! will be announcing quarterly results Tuesday & Google will be announcing their Q1 2005 results Thursday.

.JOBS & .TRAVEL Domain Names, Spam Research Papers

.JOBS and .TRAVEL:
to come late 2005

Cheap Promotional Technique:
throw some political ad on Google. after you get a ton of press coverage say it was an accident.

Direct Answers:
Google adds direct answers to SERPs.

Keyword Research:
Statistically Improbible Phrases (found by Ploppy)

Words which rarely occur in a search index likely are more likely to be more descriminant than common words and thus likely have greater term weight.

Search Research & Spam Papers for AIRweb:
Intallment #1
Gary Price also stated that A Taxonomy of Web Spam (PDF) was recently updated, and they covered that in the forums here. Here is a list of some of the newer Stanford research papers.

Tailoring Technology:
Jeff Weiner, VP of Yahoo! Search, chats about search and customizing software.

Webmaster Radio:
Audio archives now online. thanks to StuntDubl

Good Forum Thread:
about Google's new patent.

Encarta:
accepts user feedback and editing, although I can't imagine it is as appealing to add content next to their ads.

Oil & You:
The Long Emergency

Cool:
Stor Troopers are back :)

Google Screwing with SEO Search Results?

Apr 9th

Recently SEO Inc stopped showing in Google for the term search engine optimization.
As stated on the Stepforth blog, allegedly several SEO firms received spam emails trying to get people to three way link exchange with SEO Inc.

Not sure if that was part of the problem for them, or if they were behind it, but if they were they really need to get a grip on the whole risk vs reward concept.

SEO Inc also rented a ton of links and may have hit a filter there. I think they were probably more aggressive at link renting than any other SEO site, and if you are risky with that eventually it eventually catches up with you.

Surely a bad deal for SEO Inc as they likely will now get to pay $15 a click for search engine optimization, a term which Google itself is also advertising on.

[update: NickW noticed that SEO Inc has a new forum and the CEO said they were not behind (and know nothing about) the link spam emails.]

Why do Sites Rank for "Search Engine Optimization?"
I look at the search results in this space a good bit, as a hobby and to see how creative others are as much as anything else, but these are some of the reason I think the top ranking sites are ranking where they are:

  • by just being old. Some still see significant benefit from ranking there a long time ago (that whole filthy linking rich thing).
  • some of them provide bonus link to me stuff that some .edu sites love to point links at. like "submit your site to 1,000,000 engines for free". There generally is no value to it, but it is an effective link building technique.

  • some of them created link to me type stuff that other consultants or SEO nubs might link to. like the Bruce Clay code of ethics. For a while when I was all new I linked into that.
  • SEO Chat rents links from some sites but they also get a ton of support by having a good number of seo tools and a community that also links back at their site.
  • Jill Whalen's High Rankings has one of the stronger brands in SEO and lots of friends who link at her. Writes articles for other sites and has a large number of subscribers to her newseltter. She also is known as "the content seo" or "the seo content writer" which of course helps her get a bunch of links from people who agree or disagree with that position.

A few sites on the first page, and more as you get down into the second and third pages you see a few more sites that really ring the bell for things like:

  • Wired is an amazingly respected authoritative site.

  • There is an SEO organization site. Bound to get many links from it's supporters.
  • Google's official SEO guidance.
  • Lots of reciprocal link trading.

  • Renting a ton of links.
  • Placing links to the SEO firm on clients sites.

Is there Value in Ranking for Search Engine Optimization?
I tend to think that there is too much competition to justify the opportunity cost of actively trying to rank for that term in Google. You need to get a good amount of linkage data and build up over an extended period of time. Significant investment both in time and money.

If you are close to ranking for it then it might be worth trying to capture it if it has little additional cost, but many sites that optimize for highly competitive generic terms end up getting filtered out of the search results in the process.

The whole concept of optimization is to get the most bang for your buck and if your site gets filtered out from ranking for the more targeted terms because you were trying to rank for such a generic term then that cuts deep into the return on investment numbers.

Additionally many people are inclined to want to beat down an SEO firm when they are down. I saw a decent number of hate threads about SEO Guy and my site when our sites were filtered most likely based on link text and run of site links. Of course now that my site quickly ranks again those people are silent waiting for their next turn to attack.

In any case I hope SEO Inc comes back soon. If an SEO site does not rank for an extended period of time eventually that can start cutting into brand value.

Affiliate marketing, profit share partnerships, selling services on a per click basis, and personal branding seem to be the best ways to build profitable SEO service business models.

When most of the market is hype and hucksters its hard to be properly compensated without a strong brand. Since the services are invisible until the results show and most clients do not undersand the process brand in SEO is HUGE! Brand is probably the top reason I have done well so far.

On a related note:
I like the Google search results for SEO. 20 of the top 30 ranking sites are not in English. < goes off to learn Japanese to rank better :) >

Google AdSense Tracking Referrals

Google's recent temporal and behavioral patent talks a decent amount about tracking advertising and site visitors.

With AdSense they can also track the referrals which gives them another way to understand percent of market share and who your leading referals are if you display AdSense ads on your site.

their ad code shows:
google_referrer_url = document.referrer;
google_append_url_esc('ref', w.google_referrer_url);

Google could likely use this data for their AdSense SmartPricing, fraud detection, and might even use it as an additional quality check on linkage data and sites.

If you link to a site participating in AdSense and nobody ever follows the link does that mean the link, page, or site could potentially have little to no value to humans?

If you have links from a ton of sites all using the same AdSense account could that be suspicious? If thousands of sites link to you and none of them dispay AdSense could that be suspicious?

It seems as though Google is trying to financially incentivize various webmasters in the concept of building its web of trust. Maybe it is part of the reason they don't mind having shoddy sites in AdSense, as it helps them track relationships?

It is mind boggling how much traffic data Google has access to. WMW has a thread covering the topic of AdSense price based on referral data.

Google Shows ODP Info, Google Maps Integrates Keyhole, Google Steals Customers from SEMs

Apr 7th

Google Showing Dynamic Titles:
If exact search query matches a relevant site's ODP details Google may use ODP data in the search results.

Google Maxi:
Google adds more definition languages, and adds KeyHole satelight images to their maps product.

Google Mini:
So cheap everyone should buy one ;) that is of course, unless

Excuse me, I'll Take That:
rumour of Google stealing large AdWords clients. WTF is that?

Danny Sullivan also wrote an article (sub req) about how some large advertisers get additional SEO support from search engines.

Google is known to tell some large advertisers that it is OK to do things that are against their official webmaster guidelines.

If you selectively boost some sites it has the same net effect of manually penalizing or filtering others, which goes counter to that "democratic nature of the web" "we don't manually..." "don't be evil b/s."

Google AdWords Launches Budget Optimizer

What's the Google Budget Optimizer(TM) tool?

The Google Budget Optimizerâ„¢ campaign management tool automatically adjusts your keyword Max CPCs on your behalf. All you need to do is set a target budget, and the Budget Optimizer will actively seek out the most clicks possible within that budget.

The Budget Optimizer helps you reach your target spend every month without requiring a lot of work on your part. You can save time, eliminate the guesswork related to setting your CPCs, and enhance your return on investment.

(Please note that the goal of the Budget Optimizer is simply to help you receive the highest number of clicks possible within your budget. The Budget Optimizer will not help you achieve a specific ad position.)

They certainly are going out of their way to make the ads as "self serve" as they possibly can. I do not manage many AdWords campaigns so I probably am not the best person to test this out, but it would be interesting to hear what effect this tool actually has on ROI.

With how far off Google is with day to day search volume / ad clickthrough suggestions it is interesting that they think people will trust a system which automatically adjusts bids for them based on a metric other than ROI. Of course some marketers do not want to share ROI data with Google.

I also believe that if a campaign is self funding there is no reason to put an arbitrary budget cap on it. Buy as many ads as you profitably can.

I am guessing that if you enable this feature you will want to enable it in ad groups where the keyword max CPCs and lead values are similar.

Mikkel spoke out against the use of budgeting tools recently (as older ones overspent on CPC), so it will be interesting to see if this one actually delivers on its claims.

A while back Danny Sullivan said search engines want to sell traffic on a per lead basis more than a per term basis, and clearly this is a step in that direction.

Google AdSense Real Time Channel Stats

Real time channel stats and other fun stuff now at AdSense.

Also improved reporting: ad unit impressions vs. page impressions, & 2 new languages: Russian and Hungarian.

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