Google Search Censorship for Fun and Profit

Growing Up vs Breaking Things

Facebook's early motto was "move fast and break things," but as they wanted to become more of a platform play they changed it to "move fast with stability." Anything which is central to the web needs significant stability, or it destroys many other businesses as a side effect of its instability.

As Google has become more dominant, they've moved in the opposite direction. Disruption is promoted as a virtue unto itself, so long as it doesn't adversely impact the home team's business model.

There are a couple different ways to view big search algorithm updates. Large, drastic updates implicitly state one of the following:

  • we were REALLY wrong yesterday
  • we are REALLY wrong today

Any change or disruption is easy to justify so long as you are not the one facing the consequences:

"Smart people have a problem, especially (although not only) when you put them in large groups. That problem is an ability to convincingly rationalize nearly anything." ... "Impostor Syndrome is that voice inside you saying that not everything is as it seems, and it could all be lost in a moment. The people with the problem are the people who can't hear that voice." - Googler Avery Pennarun

Monopoly Marketshare in a Flash

Make no mistake, large changes come with false positives and false negatives. If a monopoly keeps buying marketshare, then any mistakes they make have more extreme outcomes.

Here's the Flash update screen (which hits almost every web browser EXCEPT Google Chrome).

Notice the negative option installs for the Google Chrome web browser and the Google Toolbar in Internet Explorer.

Why doesn't that same process hit Chrome? They not only pay Adobe to use security updates to steal marketshare from other browsers, but they also pay Adobe to embed Flash inside Chrome, so Chrome users never go through the bundleware update process.

Anytime anyone using a browser other than Chrome has a Flash security update they need to opt out of the bundleware, or they end up installing Google Chrome as their default web browser, which is the primary reason Firefox marketshare is in decline.

Google engineers "research" new forms of Flash security issues to drive critical security updates.

Obviously, users love it:

Has anyone noticed that the latest Flash update automatically installs Google Toolbar and Google Chrome? What a horrible business decision Adobe. Force installing software like you are Napster. I would fire the product manager that made that decision. As a CTO I will be informing my IT staff to set Flash to ignore updates from this point forward. QA staff cannot have additional items installed that are not part of the base browser installation. Ridiculous that Adobe snuck this crap in. All I can hope now is to find something that challenges Photoshop so I can move my design team away from Adobe software as well. Smart move trying to make pennies off of your high dollar customers.

In Chrome Google is the default search engine. As it is in Firefox and Opera and Safari and Android and iOS's web search.

In other words, in most cases across most web interfaces you have to explicitly change the default to not get Google. And then even when you do that, you have to be vigilant in protecting against the various Google bundleware bolted onto core plugins for other web browsers, or else you still end up in an ecosystem owned, controlled & tracked by Google.

Those "default" settings are not primarily driven by user preferences, but by a flow of funds. A few hundred million dollars here, a billion there, and the market is sewn up.

Google's user tracking is so widespread & so sophisticated that their ad cookies were a primary tool for government surveillance efforts.

Locking Down The Ecosystem

And Chrome is easily the most locked down browser out there.

Whenever Google wants to promote something they have the ability to bundle it into their web browser, operating system & search results to try to force participation. In a fluid system with finite attention, over-promoting one thing means under-promoting or censoring other options. Google likes to have their cake & eat it too, but the numbers don't lie.

The Right to Be Forgotten

This brings us back to the current snafu with the "right to be forgotten" in Europe.

Google notified publishers like the BBC & The Guardian of their links being removed due to the EU "right to be forgotten" law. Their goal was to cause a public relations uproar over "censorship" which seems to have been a bit too transparent, causing them to reverse some of the removals after they got caught with their hand in the cookie jar.

The breadth of removals is an ongoing topic of coverage. But if you are Goldman Sachs instead of a government Google finds filtering information for you far more reasonable.

Some have looked at the EU policy and compared it to state-run censorship in China.

Google already hires over 10,000 remote quality raters to rate search results. How exactly is receiving 70,000 requests a monumental task? As their public relations propagandists paint this as an unbelievable burden, they are also highlighting how their own internal policies destroy smaller businesses: "If a multi-billion dollar corporation is struggling to cope with 70,000 censor requests, imagine how the small business owner feels when he/she has to disavow thousands or tens of thousands of links."

The World's Richest Librarian

Google aims to promote themselves as a digital librarian: "It’s a bit like saying the book can stay in the library, it just cannot be included in the library’s card catalogue."

That analogy is absurd on a number of levels. Which librarian...

Sorry About That Incidental Deletion From the Web...

David Drummond's breathtaking propaganda makes it sound like Google has virtually no history in censoring access to information:

In the past we’ve restricted the removals we make from search to a very short list. It includes information deemed illegal by a court, such as defamation, pirated content (once we’re notified by the rights holder), malware, personal information such as bank details, child sexual abuse imagery and other things prohibited by local law (like material that glorifies Nazism in Germany).

Yet Google sends out hundreds of thousands of warning messages in webmaster tools every single month.

Google is free to force whatever (often both arbitrary and life altering) changes they desire onto the search ecosystem. But the moment anyone else wants any level of discourse or debate into the process, they feign outrage over the impacts on the purity of their results.

Despite Google's great power they do make mistakes. And when they do, people lose their jobs.

Consider MetaFilter.

They were penalized November 17, 2012.

At a recent SMX conference Matt Cutts stated MetaFilter was a false positive.

People noticed the Google update when it happened. It is hard to miss an overnight 40% decline in your revenues. Yet when they asked about it, Google did not confirm its existence. That economic damage hit MetaFilter for nearly two years & they only got a potential reprieve from after they fired multiple employees and were able to generate publicity about what had happened.

As SugarRae mentioned, those false positives happen regularly, but most the people who are hit by them lack political and media influence, and are thus slaughtered with no chance of recovery.

MetaFilter is no different than tens of thousands of other good, worthy small businesses who are also laying off employees – some even closing their doors – as a result of Google’s Panda filter serving as judge, jury and executioner. They’ve been as blindly and unfairly cast away to an island and no one can hear their pleas for help.

The only difference between MetaFilter and tons of other small businesses on the web is that MetaFilter has friends in higher places.

If you read past the headlines & the token slaps of big brands, these false positive death sentences for small businesses are a daily occurrence.

And such stories are understated for fear of coverage creating a witch-hunt:

Conversations I’ve had with web publishers, none of whom would speak on the record for fear of retribution from Cutts’ webspam team, speak to a litany of frustration at a lack of transparency and potential bullying from Google. “The very fact I’m not able to be candid, that’s a testament to the grotesque power imbalance that’s developed,” the owner of one widely read, critically acclaimed popular website told me after their site ran afoul of Cutts’ last Panda update.

Not only does Google engage in anti-competitive censorship, but they also frequently publish misinformation. Here's a story from a week ago of a restaurant which went under after someone changed their Google listing store hours to be closed on busy days. That misinformation was embedded directly in the search results. That business is no more.

Then there are areas like locksmiths:

I am one of the few Real Locksmiths here in Denver and I have been struggling with this for years now. I only get one or two calls a day now thanks to spammers, and that's not calls I do, it's calls for prices. For instance I just got a call from a lady locked out of her apt. It is 1130 pm so I told her 75 dollars, Nope she said someone told her 35 dollars....a fake locksmith no doubt. She didn't understand that they meant 35 dollars to come out and look at it. These spammers charge hundreds to break your lock, they don't know how to pick a lock, then they charge you 10 times the price of some cheap lock from a hardware store. I'm so lost, I need help from google to remove those listings. Locksmithing is all I have ever done and now I'm failing at it.

There are entire sectors of the offline economy being reshaped by Google policies.

When those sectors get coverage, the blame always goes to the individual business owner who was personal responsible for Google's behaviors, or perhaps some coverage of the nefarious "spammers."

Never does anybody ask if it is reasonable for Google to place their own inaccurate $0 editorial front and center. To even bring up that issue makes one an anti-capitalist nut or someone who wishes to impede on free speech rights. This even after the process behind the sausage comes to light.

And while Google arbitrarily polices others, their leaked internal documents contain juicy quotes about their ad policies like:

  • “We are the only player in our industry still accepting these ads”
  • “We do not make these decisions based on revenue, but as background, [redacted].”
  • "As with all of our policies, we do not verify what these sites actually do, only what they claim to do."
  • "I understand that we should not let other companies, press, etc. influence our decision-making around policy"

Is This "Censorship" Problem New?

This problem of control to access of information is nothing new - it is only more extreme today. Read the (rarely read) preface to Animal Farm, or consider this:

John Milton in his fiery 1644 defense of free speech, Areopagitica, was writing not against the oppressive power of the state but of the printers guilds. Darnton said the same was true of John Locke's writings about free speech. Locke's boogeyman wasn't an oppressive government, but a monopolistic commercial distribution system that was unfriendly to ways of organizing information that didn't fit into its business model. Sound familiar?

When Google complains about censorship, they are not really complaining about what may be, but what already is. Their only problem is the idea that someone other than themselves should have any input in the process.

"Policy is largely set by economic elites and organized groups representing business interests with little concern for public attitudes or public safety, as long as the public remains passive and obedient." ― Noam Chomsky

Many people have come to the same conclusion

Turn on, tune in, drop out

"I think as technologists we should have some safe places where we can try out some new things and figure out what is the effect on society, what's the effect on people, without having to deploy kind of into the normal world. And people like those kind of things can go there and experience that and we don't have mechanisms for that." - Larry Page

I have no problem with an "opt-in" techno-utopia test in some remote corner of the world, but if that's the sort of operation he wants to run, it would be appreciated if he stopped bundling his software into billions of electronic devices & assumed everyone else is fine with "opting out."

{This | The Indicated} {Just | True} {In | Newfangled}

A couple years ago we published an article named Branding & the Cycle, which highlighted how brands would realign with the algorithmic boost they gained from Panda & leverage their increased level of trust to increase their profit margins by leveraging algorithmic journalism.

Narrative Science has been a big player in the algorithmic journalism game for years. But they are not the only player in the market. Recently the Associated Press (AP) announced they will use algorithms to write articles based on quarterly earnings reports, working with a company named Automated Insights:

We discovered that automation technology, from a company called Automated Insights, paired with data from Zacks Investment Research, would allow us to automate short stories – 150 to 300 words — about the earnings of companies in roughly the same time that it took our reporters.

And instead of providing 300 stories manually, we can provide up to 4,400 automatically for companies throughout the United States each quarter.
...
Zacks maintains the data when the earnings reports are issued. Automated Insights has algorithms that ping that data and then in seconds output a story.

In the past Matt Cutts has mentioned how thin rewrites are doorway page spam:

you can also have more subtle doorway pages. so we ran into a directv installer in denver, for example. and that installer would say I install for every city in Colorado. so I am going to make a page for every single city in Colorado. and Boulder or Aspen or whatever I do directv install in all of those. if you were just to land on that page it might look relatively reasonable. but if you were to look at 4 or 5 of those you would quickly see that the only difference between them is the city, and that is something that we would consider a doorway.

One suspects these views do not apply to large politically connected media bodies like the AP, which are important enough to have a direct long-term deal with Google.

In the above announcement the AP announced they include automated NFL player rankings. One interesting thing to note about the AP is they have syndication deals with 1,400 daily newspapers nationwide, as well as thousands of TV and radio stations..

A single automated AP article might appear on thousands of websites. When thousands of articles are automated, that means millions of copies. When millions of articles are automated, that means billions of copies. When billions ... you get the idea.

To date Automated Insights has raised a total of $10.8 million. With that limited funding they are growing quickly. Last year their Wordsmith software produced 300 million stories & this year it will likely exceed a billion articles:

"We are the largest producer of content in the world. That's more than all media companies combined," [Automated Insights CEO Robbie Allen] said in a phone interview with USA TODAY.

The Automated Insights homepage lists both Yahoo! & Microsoft as clients.

The above might sound a bit dystopian (for those with careers in journalism and/or lacking equity in Automated Insights and/or publishers who must compete against algorithmically generated content), but the story also comes with a side of irony.

Last year Google dictated press releases shall use nofollow links. All the major press release sites quickly fell in line & adopted nofollow, thinking they would remain in Google's good graces. Unfortunately for those sites, they were crushed by Panda. PR Newswire's solution their penalty was greater emphasis on manual editorial review:

Under the new copy quality guidelines, PR Newswire editorial staff will review press releases for a number of message elements, including:

  • Inclusion of insightful analysis and original content (e.g. research, reporting or other interesting and useful information);
  • Use of varied release formats, guarding against repeated use of templated copy (except boilerplate);
  • Assessing release length, guarding against issue of very short, unsubstantial messages that are mere vehicles for links;
  • Overuse of keywords and/or links within the message.

So now we are in a situation where press release sites require manual human editorial oversight to try to get out of being penalized, and the news companies (which currently enjoy algorithmic ranking boosts) are leveraging those same "spammy" press releases using software to auto-generate articles based on them.

That makes sense & sounds totally reasonable, so long as you don't actually think about it (or work at Google)...

Getting Granular With User Generated Content

Apr 24th

The stock market had a flash crash today after someone hacked the AP account & made a fake announcement about bombs going off at the White House. Recently Twitter's search functionality has grown so inundated with spam that I don't even look at the brand related searches much anymore. While you can block individual users, it doesn't block them from showing up in search results, so there are various affiliate bots that spam just about any semi-branded search.

Of course, for as spammy as the service is now, it was worse during the explosive growth period, when Twitter had fewer than 10 employees fighting spam:

Twitter says its "spammy" tweet rate of 1.5% in 2010 was down from 11% in 2009.

If you want to show growth by any means necessary, engagement by a spam bot is still engagement & still lifts the valuation of the company.

Many of the social sites make no effort to police spam & only combat it after users flag it. Consider Eric Schmidt's interview with Julian Assange, where Eric Schmidt stated:

  • "We [YouTube] can't review every submission, so basically the crowd marks it if it is a problem post publication."
  • "You have a different model, right. You require human editors." on Wikileaks vs YouTube

We would post editorial content more often, but we are sort of debating opening up a social platform so that we can focus on the user without having to bear any editorial costs until after the fact. Profit margins are apparently better that way.

As Google drives smaller sites out of the index & ranks junk content based on no factor other than it being on a trusted site, they create the incentive for spammers to ride on the social platforms.

All aboard. And try not to step on any toes!

When I do some product related searches (eg: brand name & shoe model) almost the whole result set for the first 5 or 10 pages is garbage.

  • Blogspot.com subdomains
  • Appspot.com subdomains
  • YouTube accounts
  • Google+ accounts
  • sites.google.com
  • Wordpress.com subdomains
  • Facebook Notes & pages
  • Tweets
  • Slideshare
  • LinkedIn
  • blog.yahoo.com
  • subdomains off of various other free hosts

It comes without surprise that Eric Schmidt fundamentally believes that "disinformation becomes so easy to generate because of, because complexity overwhelms knowledge, that it is in the people's interest, if you will over the next decade, to build disinformation generating systems, this is true for corporations, for marketing, for governments and so on."

Of course he made no mention in Google's role in the above problem. When they are not issuing threats & penalties to smaller independent webmasters, they are just a passive omniscient observer.

With all these business models, there is a core model of building up a solid stream of usage data & then tricking users or looking the other way when things get out of hand. Consider Google's Lane Shackleton's tips on YouTube:

  • "Search is a way for a user to explicitly call out the content that they want. If a friend told me about an Audi ad, then I might go seek that out through search. It’s a strong signal of intent, and it’s a strong signal that someone found out about that content in some way."
  • "you blur the lines between advertising and content. That’s really what we’ve been advocating our advertisers to do."
  • "you’re making thoughtful content for a purpose. So if you want something to get shared a lot, you may skew towards doing something like a prank"

Harlem Shake & Idiocracy: the innovative way forward to improve humanity.

Life is a prank.

This "spam is fine, so long as it is user generated" stuff has gotten so out of hand that Google is now implementing granular page-level penalties. When those granular penalties hit major sites Google suggests that those sites may receive clear advice on what to fix, just by contacting Google:

Hubert said that if people file a reconsideration request, they should “get a clear answer” about what’s wrong. There’s a bit of a Catch-22 there. How can you file a reconsideration request showing you’ve removed the bad stuff, if the only way you can get a clear answer about the bad stuff to remove is to file a reconsideration request?

The answer is that technically, you can request reconsideration without removing anything. The form doesn’t actually require you to remove bad stuff. That’s just the general advice you’ll often hear Google say, when it comes to making such a request. That’s also good advice if you do know what’s wrong.

But if you’re confused and need more advice, you can file the form asking for specifics about what needs to be removed. Then have patience

In the past I referenced that there is no difference between a formal white list & overly-aggressive penalties coupled with loose exemptions for select parties.

The moral of the story is that if you are going to spam, you should make it look like a user of your site did it, that way you

  • are above judgement
  • receive only a limited granular penalty
  • get explicit & direct feedback on what to fix

Native Advertising

Mar 21st

Native advertising presents opportunities for SEOs to boost their link building strategies, particularly those who favor paid link strategies.

What Is Native Advertising?

Native advertising is the marketing industries new buzzword for....well, it depends who you ask.

Native advertising can't just be about the creative that fills an advertising space. Native advertising must be intrinsically connected to the format that fits the user's unique experience. There's something philosophically beautiful about that in terms of what great advertising should (and could) be. But first, we need to all speak the same language around "native advertising.

Native advertising is often defined as content that seamless integrates with a site, as opposed to interruption media, such as pre-rolls on YouTube videos, or advertising that sits in a box off to the side of the main content.

It’s advertising that looks just like content, which is a big part of Google's success.

Here’s an example.

Some high-profile examples of native advertising include Facebook Sponsored Stories; Twitter's Promoted Tweets; promoted videos on YouTube, Tumblr and Forbes; promoted articles like Gawker's Sponsored Posts and BuzzFeed's Featured Partner content; Sponsored Listings on Yelp; promoted images on Cheezburger; and promoted playlists on Spotify and Radio.

One interesting observation is that Adwords and Adsense are frequently cited as being examples of native advertising. Hold that thought.

Why Native Advertising?

The publishing industry is desperate to latch onto any potential lifeline as ad rates plummet.

Analysts say the slowdown is being caused by the huge expansion in the amount of online advertising space as companies who manage this emerge to dominate the space. In short there’s just too many ad slots chasing ads that are growing, but at a rate slower than the creation of potential ad slots.

This means the chances are dimming that online ad spending would gradually grow to make up for some of the falls in analogue spending in print. ....staff numbers and the attendant costs of doing business have to be slashed heavily to account for the lower yield and revenue from online ads

And why might there be more slots than there are advertisers?

As people get used to seeing web advertising, and mentally blocking it out, or technically filtering it out, advertising becomes less effective. Federated Media, who were predominantly a display advertising business, got out of display ads late last year:

“The model of ‘boxes and rectangles’ – the display banner – is failing to fully support traditional ‘content’ sites beyond a handful of exceptions,” wrote Federated Media founder John Battelle in a recent blog post. He explained that the next generation of native ads on social networks and strength of Google Adwords make direct sales more competitive, and that ad agencies must evolve with the growing trend of advertisers who want more social/conversational ad campaigns.

Advertisers aren't seeing enough return from the advertising in order for them to want to grab the many slots that are available. And they are lowering their bids to make up for issues with publishing fraud. The promise of native advertising is that this type of advertising reaches real users, and will grab and hold viewers attention for longer.

This remains to be seen, of course.

Teething Pains

Not all native advertising works. It depends on the context and the audience. Facebook hasn’t really get it right yet:

Facebook is still largely centered around interactions with people one knows offline, making the appearance of marketing messages especially jarring. This is particularly true in mobile, where Sponsored Stories take up a much larger portion of the screen relative to desktop. Facebook did not handle the mobile rollout very gracefully, either. Rather than easing users into the change, they appeared seemingly overnight, and took up the first few posts in the newsfeed. The content itself is also hit or miss – actions taken by distant friends with dissimilar interests are often used as the basis for targeting Sponsored Stories.

If you’re planning on offering native advertising yourself, you may need to walk a fine line. Bloggers and other publishers who are getting paid but don’t declare so risk alienating their audience and destroying their reputation.

Some good ways of addressing this issue are policy pages that state the author has affiliate relationships with various providers, and this is a means of paying for the site, and does not affect editorial. Whether it’s true or not is up to the audience to decide, but such transparency up-front certainly helps. If a lot of free content is mixed in with native content, and audiences dislike it enough, then it might pave the way for more paid content and paywalls.

Just like any advertising content, native advertising may become less effective over time if the audience learns to screen it out. One advantage for the SEO is that doesn’t matter so much, so long as they get the link.

Still, some big players are using it:

Forbes Insights and Sharethrough today announced the results of a brand study to assess adoption trends related to native video advertising that included senior executives from leading brands such as Intel, JetBlue, Heineken and Honda. The study shows that more than half of large brands are now using custom brand videos in their marketing, and when it comes to distribution, most favor “native advertising” approaches where content is visually integrated into the organic site experience, as opposed to running in standard display ad formats. The study also shows that the majority of marketers now prefer choice-based formats over interruptive formats.

Google’s Clamp-Down On Link Advertising

So, what’s the difference between advertorial and native content? Not much, on the face of it, except in one rather interesting respect. When it comes to native advertising, it’s often not obvious the post is sponsored.

Google has, of course, been punishing links from advertorial content. One wonders if they've punished themselves, of course.

The Atlantic, BuzzFeed and Gawker — are experimenting with new ad formats such as sponsored content or “native advertising,” as well as affiliate links. On Friday, Google engineer Matt Cutts reiterated a warning from the search giant that this kind of content has to be treated properly or Google will penalize the site that hosts it, in some cases severely.

If native advertising proves popular with publishers and advertisers, then it’s going to compete with Google’s business model. Businesses may spend less on Adwords and may replace Adsense with native advertising. It’s no surprise, then, that Google may take a hostile line on it. However, publishers are poor, ad networks are rich, so perhaps it's time that publishers became ad networks.

When it comes to SEO, given Google’s warning shots, SEOs will either capitulate - and pretty much give up on paid links - or make more effort to blend seamlessly into the background.

Blurring The Lines

As Andrew Sullivan notes, the editorial thin blue line is looking rather “fuzzy”. It may even raise legal questions about misrepresentation. There has traditionally been a church and state divide between advertising and editorial, but as publishers get more desperate to survive, they’re going to go with whatever works. If native advertising works better than the alternatives, then publishers will use it. What choice have they got? Their industry is dying.

It raises some pretty fundamental questions.

I have nothing but admiration for innovation in advertizing and creative revenue-generation online. Without it, journalism will die. But if advertorials become effectively indistinguishable from editorial, aren’t we in danger of destroying the village in order to save it?

Likewise, in order to compete in search results, a site must have links. It would great if people linked freely and often based on objective merit, but we all know that is a hit and miss affair. If native advertising provides a means to acquire paid links that don’t look like paid links, then that is what people will do.

And if their competitors are doing it, they’ll have little choice.

Seamless Integration

If you’re looking for a way to build paid links, then here is where the opportunity lies for SEOs.

Recent examples Google caught out looked heavily advertorial. They were in bulk. They would have likely been barely credible to a human reviewer as they didn’t read particularly well. Those I saw had an "auto-generated quality" to them.

The integration with editorial needs to be seamless and, if possible, the in-house editors should write the copy, or it should look like they did. Avoid generic and boilerplate approaches. The content should not be both generic and widely distributed. Such strategy is unlikely to pass Google’s inspections.

Markets will spring up, if they haven’t already, whereby publications will offer editorial native advertising, link included. It would be difficult to tell if such a link was “paid for”, and certainly not algorithmically, unless the publisher specifically labelled it “advertising feature” or something similar.

Sure, this has been going on for years, but if a lot of high level publishers embrace something called "Native Advertising" then that sounds a lot more legitimate than "someone wants to pay for a link on our site". In marketing, it's all about the spin ;)

It could be a paid restaurant review on a restaurant review site, link included. For SEO purposes, the review doesn't even need to be overtly positive and glowing, therefore a high degree of editorial integrity could be maintained. This approach would suit a lot of review sites. For example, "we'll pay you to review our product, so long as you link to it, but you can still say whatever you like about it". The publishers production cost is met, in total, and they can maintain a high degree of editorial integrity. If Jennifer Lopez is in a new movie with some "hot" scene then that movie can pay AskMen to create a top 10 sexiest moments gallery that includes their movie at #9 & then advertise that feature across the web.

A DIY site could show their readers how to build a garden wall. The products could be from a sponsor, link included. Editorial integrity could be maintained, as the DIY site need not push or recommend those products like an advertorial would, but the sponsor still gets the link. The equivalent of product placement in movies.

News items can feature product placement without necessarily endorsing them, link included - they already do this with syndicated press releases. Journalists often interview the local expert on a given topic, and this can include a link. If that news article is paid for by the link buyer, yet the link buyer doesn't have a say in editorial, then that deal will look attractive to publishers. Just a slightly different spin on "brought to you by our sponsor". Currently services like HARO & PR Leads help connect experts with journalists looking for story background. In the years to come perhaps there will be similar services where people pay the publications directly to be quoted.

I’m sure you can think of many other ideas. A lot of this isn’t new, it’s just a new, shiny badge on something that has been going on well before the web began. When it comes to SEO, the bar has been lifted on link building. Links from substandard content are less likely to pass Google’s filters, so SEOs need to think more about ways to get quality content integrated in a more seamless way. It takes more time, and it’s likely to be more costly, but this can be a good thing. It raises the bar on everyone else.

Those who don’t know the bar has been raised, or don’t put more effort in, will lose.

Low Level Of Compromise

Native Advertising is a new spin on an old practice, however it should be especially interesting to the SEO, as the SEO doesn't demand the publisher compromise editorial to a significant degree, as the publisher would have to do for pure advertorial. The SEO only requires they incorporate a link within a seamless, editorial-style piece.

If the SEO is paying for the piece to be written, that's going to look like a good deal to many publishers.

How Rich Will Listings Get?

Feb 19th

As Google has went from ad platform for illicit content (both ways) to host of illicit content & reseller of legit content, they have cracked down on competitors & are now trying to police the ability of other sites to accept payment:

The web search giant, which is embroiled in a long-running row over the way it deals with pirated material, is considering the radical measure so that it can get rid of the root cause instead of having to change its own search results.

Executives want to stop websites more or less dedicated to offering links to pirated films, music and books from making money out of the illegal material. The plans, still in discussion, would also block funding to websites that do not respond to legal challenges, for example because they are offshore.

While Google is partnering with big media (that has long had a multi-polar approach to copyright) Google continues to gain in a game of inches.

Last month Google announced a new format for their image search results, where they pull the image inline without sending the visitor onto the publisher website. At the same time they referenced some "phantom visitor" complaint from publishers to justify keeping the visitor on Google & highlighted how there were now more links to the image source. If publishers were concerned about the "phantom visitor problem" we wouldn't see so many crappy slideshow pageviews.

Google's leaked remote rater guidelines do mention something about rating an image lower under certain situations like where the author might want attributed for their work that they are routinely disintermediated from.

On Twitter a former Google named Miguel Silvar wrote: "If you do SEO and decide to block Image Search just because it's bringing less traffic, you can stop calling yourself an SEO expert."

Many "experts" would claim that any exposure is good, even if you don't get credit for it. Many clients of said "experts" will end up bankrupt! Experts who suggest it is reasonable for content creators to be stripped of payment, traffic & attribution are at best conflicted.

One of the fears of microformats was that as you add incremental cost to structure your data, the search engines may leverage your extra effort to further displace you. That fear turned out to be valid, as in the background Google was offering vertical review sites the "let us scrape you, or block Googlebot" ultimatum.

Google Shopping has shifted to paid inclusion & Google has made further acquisitions in the space, yet people still recommend that ecommerce sites get ahead by marking up their pages with microformats.

As Google continues to win the game of inches of displacing the original sources, they don't even need you to mark up your content for them to extract their knowledge graph. Bill Slawski shared a video of Google's Andrew Hogue describing their mass data extraction effort: "It's never going to be 100% accurate. We're not even going to claim that it is 100% accurate. We are going to be lucky if we get 70% accuracy ... we are going to provide users with tools to correct the data."

If you as a publisher chose to auto-generate content at a 70% accuracy, pumped it up to first page rankings & then said "if people care they will fix it" Google would rightfully call you a spammer. If they do the same, it is knowledge baby.

Eric Schmidt recently indicated that Google was willing to sacrifice relevancy to collect identity information. Their over-promotion of Google+ has become more refined over time, but it hasn't went way.

Google pays for default placement in Safari & Firefox. Former Google executives head AOL & Yahoo!. Google can thus push for new cultural norms that make Microsoft look like an oddball or outsider if they don't play the same game.

Google isn't the only company playing the scrape-n-displace game.

"The innovation in search is really going to be on the user interface level" - Marissa Mayer



It's worth keeping an eye on Yahoo! (the above types of scraped rich listings, lead generation forms in the organic search results, contextual ad partnership with Google) to see where Google will head next.

Comparing Desktop vs Mobile Usage

With so much interest and buzz around mobile and its impact on search, this recent study by the Harris Poll was telling and helpful from an SEO and link building standpoint. 

Harris asked smartphone users about their habits and which appliance they used when performing certain online tasks like reading email and researching goods.   They polled 2400 adults, 991 of whom use a smartphone.  Here are a handful of interesting results from the survey with potential to influence SEO:

Uses a computer (desktop/laptop)   %

Uses a smartphone   %

 

 

 

 

Take surveys

86%

Take surveys

24%

Research good or services

81%

Research goods and services

45%

 

 

 

 

Read work emails

59%

Read work emails

38%

Send work emails

60%

Send work emails

32%

 

 

 

 

Read social media on sites/apps such as Facebook & Twitter

62%

Read social media on sites/apps such as Facebook & Twitter

56%

Share social media

51%

Share social media

44%

Research/Surveys

The fact 81% of the people polled use a computer to research or take a survey isn’t surprising, both tasks are easier from a visual and aesthetics view when done on a large screen.   But… 45% mobile users is not a number to dismiss.  Both numbers reinforce a number of SEO points:

  1. Keep your visual and written content separate so anyone using a smartphone can easily click to what they want to find. Good case for building a presence on Pinterest or Flickr if you have a lot of visual products.
  2. Keep producing descriptive, informative and up-to-date content for your website. (Don’t send it away!)  Promote what you write through social media, email distribution lists and on your blogs, forums, etc.  
  3. Use a “social media” type press release when announcing new products and major content additions to your site.
  4. For affiliate marketers:  A growing number of shoppers use bricks and mortar stores as “showrooms” before going back online to make a purchase.   Keep your best promotions and discounts on your site rather than on sites like Coupon Cabin.  Create an app to alert people when new products and discounts are available. 
  5. Add RSS sign up options on all pages especially those with content and discounts.
  6. Promote new content through an app as well!

Read/Send eMail

If you use email in any way to build links, know more people use computers to read and send work email than mobile devices. 

  1.  If you are contacting people for content or link placement and doing it after business hours, know more people will see your message on their smartphones.  Keep the email short and to the point, if you need to use images link out rather than embed.
  2. Keep in mind most people using smartphones do so when they are on the move or after business hours.  Either scenario means you need to hook their attention the second he/she opens the email.  Work hard to make subject lines pop and state your mission in the first sentence or two. 

Social Media

Based on the percentages shown here, people like their social media no matter what device they are on! 
  1. Include social media share elements on everything you publish (even PDF’s)
  2. Create a Google Plus account and establish authorship
  3. Use niche social media sites as well as the big boys
  4. Mix up the type of content you use, create contests for Twitter and polls on Facebook

Final Tip:

Although this wasn’t included in the Harris Poll, the fact people are using their smartphone 45% of the time to research goods and services  warrants a mention:  add a click-to-call option and/or telephone number on all your mobile pages as well as links to your full website and email.

The full version of this post can be found in our SEOBook forum.

No Effort Longtail SEO Revenues, from FindTheBest

In our infographic about the sausage factory that is online journalism, we had a throw away line about how companies were partnering with FindTheBest to auto-generate subdomains full of recycled content. Apparently, a person named Brandon who claims to work for FindTheBest didn't think our information was accurate:

Hi Aaron,
My name is Brandon. I have been with FindTheBest since 2010 (right after our launch), and I am really bummed you posted this Infographic without reaching out to our team. We don't scrape data. We have a 40 person+ product team that works very closely with manufacturers, companies, and professionals to create useful information in a free and fair playing field. We some times use whole government databases, but it takes hundreds-of-thousands of hours to produce this content. We have a product manager that owns up to all the content in their vertical and takes the creation and maintenance very seriously. If you have any questions for them about how a piece of content was created, you should go to our team page and shoot them a email. Users can edit almost any listing, and we spend a ton of time approving or rejecting those edits. We do work with large publishers (something I am really proud of), but we certainly do not publish the same exact content. We allow the publishers to customize and edit the data presentation (look, style, feel) but since the majority of the content we produce is the factual data, it probably does look a little similar. Should we change the data? Should we not share our awesome content with as many users as possible? Not sure I can trust the rest of your "facts", but great graphics!

I thought it was only fair that we aired his view on the main blog.

...but then that got me into doing a bit of research about FindTheBest...

In the past when searching for an issue related to our TV I saw a SERP that looked like this

Those mashed sites were subdomains on trusted sites like VentureBeat & TechCrunch.

Graphically the comparison pages appear appealing, but how strong is the editorial?

How does Find The Best describe their offering?

In a VentureBeat post (a FindTheBest content syndication partner) FTB's CEO Kevin O’Connor was quoted as saying: “‘Human’ is dirty — it’s not scalable.”

Hmm. Is that a counter view to the above claimed 40 person editorial research team? Let's dig in.

Looking at the top listed categories on the homepage of Find The best I counted 497 different verticals. So at 40 people on the editorial team that would mean that each person managed a dozen different verticals (if one doesn't count all the outreach and partnership buildings as part of editorial & one ignores the parallel sites for death records, grave locations, find the coupons, find the company & find the listing).

Google shows that they have indexed 35,000,000 pages from FindTheBest.com, so this would mean each employee has "curated" about 800,000 pages (which is at least 200,000 pages a year over the past 4 years). Assuming they work 200 days a year that means they ensure curation of at least 1,000 "high quality" pages per day (and this is just the stuff in Google's index on the main site...not including the stuff that is yet to be indexed, stuff indexed on 3rd party websites, or stuff indexed on FindTheCompanies.com, FindTheCoupons.com, FindTheListing, FindTheBest.es, FindTheBest.or.kr, or the death records or grave location sites).

Maybe I am still wrong to consider it a bulk scrape job. After all, it is not unreasonable to expect that a single person can edit 5,000 pages of high quality content daily.

Errr....then again...how many pages can you edit in a day?

Where they lost me though was with the "facts" angle. Speaking of not trusting the rest of "facts" ... how crappy is the business information for SEO Book on FindTheBest that mentions that our site launched in 2011, we have $58,000 in sales, and we are a book wholesaler.

I realize I am afforded the opportunity to work for free to fix the errors of the scrape job, but if a page is full of automated incorrect trash then maybe it shouldn't exist in the first place.

I am not saying that all pages on these sites are trash (some may be genuinely helpful), but I know if I automated content to the extent FTB does & then mass email other sites for syndication partnerships on the duplicate content (often full of incorrect information) that Google would have burned it to the ground already. They likely benefit from their CEO having sold DoubleClick to Google in the past & are exempt from the guidelines & editorial discrimination that the independent webmaster must deal with.

One of the ways you can tell if a company really cares about their product is by seeing if they dogfood it themselves.

Out of curiousity, I looked up FindTheBest on their FindTheCompany site.

They double-list themselves and neither profile is filled out.

That is like having 2 sentence of text on your "about us" page surrounded by 3 AdSense blocks. :D

I think they should worry about fixing the grotesque errors before worrying about "sharing with as many people as possible" but maybe I am just old fashioned.

Certainly they took a different approach ... one that I am sure that would get me burned if I tried it. An example sampling of some partner sites...

  • analytics-software.businessknowhow.com "BusinessKnowHow ended the relationship with find the best as soon as we realized how spammy they were." - Janet Attard
  • accountants.entrepreneur.com
  • acronyms.sciencedaily.com
  • alternative-fuel.cleantechnica.com
  • antivirus.betanews.com
  • apps.edudemic.com
  • atvs.agriculture.com
  • autopedia.com/TireSchool/
  • autos.nydailynews.com
  • backup-software.venturebeat.com
  • bags.golfdigest.com
  • beer.womenshealthmag.com
  • best-run-states.247wallst.com
  • bestcolleges.collegenews.com
  • bikes.cxmagazine.com
  • bikes.triathlete.com
  • birds.findthelisting.com
  • birth-control.shape.com
  • brands.goodguide.com
  • breast-pumps.parenting.com
  • broker-dealers.minyanville.com
  • businessschools.college-scholarships.com
  • camcorders.techcrunch.com
  • cars.pricequotes.com
  • cats.petharbor.com
  • catskiing.tetongravity.com
  • chemical-elements.sciencedaily.com
  • comets-astroids.sciencedaily.com
  • companies.findthecompany.com
  • companies.goodguide.com
  • compare-video-editing-software.burnworld.com
  • compare.consumerbell.com
  • compare.guns.com
  • compare.roadcyclinguk.com
  • comparemotorbikes.motorbike-search-engine.co.uk
  • congressional-lookup.nationaljournal.com
  • courses.golfdigest.com
  • crm.venturebeat.com
  • cyclocross-bikes.cyclingdirt.org
  • dealers.gundigest.com
  • death-record.com
  • debt.humanevents.com
  • design-software.underworldmagazines.com
  • destination-finder.fishtrack.com
  • diet-programs.shape.com
  • digital-cameras.techcrunch.com
  • dinosaurs.sciencedaily.com
  • dirt-bikes.cycleworld.com
  • dogbreeds.petmd.com
  • dogs.petharbor.com
  • donors.csmonitor.com
  • e-readers.techcrunch.com
  • earmarks.humanevents.com
  • earthquakes.sciencedaily.com
  • ehr-software.technewsworld.com
  • fallacies.sciencedaily.com
  • fec-candidates.theblaze.com
  • fec-committees.theblaze.com
  • federal-debt.nationaljournal.com
  • fha-condos.realtor.org
  • fha.nuwireinvestor.com
  • financial-advisors.minyanville.com
  • findthebest.com
  • findthebest.motorcycleshows.com
  • findthecoupons.com
  • findthedata.com
  • firms.privateequity.com
  • franchises.fastfood.com
  • ftb.cebotics.com
  • game-consoles.tecca.com
  • game-consoles.venturebeat.com
  • gin.drinkhacker.com
  • golf-courses.bunkershot.com
  • gps-navigation.techcrunch.com
  • gps-navigation.venturebeat.com
  • green-cars.cleantechnica.com
  • guns.dailycaller.com
  • ham-radio.radiotower.com
  • hdtv.techcrunch.com
  • hdtv.venturebeat.com
  • headphones.techcrunch.com
  • headphones.venturebeat.com
  • high-chairs.parenting.com
  • highest-mountains.sciencedaily.com
  • hiv-stats.realclearworld.com
  • horsebreeds.petmd.com
  • hospital-ratings.lifescript.com
  • hr-jobs.findthelistings.com
  • inventors.sciencedaily.com
  • investment-advisors.minyanville.com
  • investment-banks.minyanville.com
  • iv-housing.dailynexus.com
  • laptops.mobiletechreview.com
  • laptops.techcrunch.com
  • laptops.venturebeat.com
  • lawschool.lawschoolexpert.com
  • locategrave.org
  • mammography-screening-centers.lifescript.com
  • mba-programs.dealbreaker.com
  • medigap-policies.findthedata.org
  • military-branches.nationaljournal.com
  • motorcycles.cycleworld.com
  • mountain-bikes.outsideonline.com
  • nannies.com
  • nobel-prize-winners.sciencedaily.com
  • nursing-homes.caregiverlist.com
  • nursing-homes.silvercensus.com
  • onlinecolleges.collegenews.com
  • phones.androidauthority.com
  • pickups.agriculture.com
  • planets.realclearscience.com
  • planets.sciencedaily.com
  • plants.backyardgardener.com
  • presidential-candidates.theblaze.com
  • presidents.nationaljournal.com
  • privateschools.parentinginformed.com
  • processors.betanews.com
  • project-management-software.venturebeat.com
  • projectors.techcrunch.com
  • pushcarts.golfdigest.com
  • recovery-and-reinvestment-act.theblaze.com
  • religions.theblaze.com
  • reviews.creditcardadvice.com
  • saving-accounts.bankingadvice.com
  • sb-marinas.noozhawk.com
  • sb-nonprofits.noozhawk.com
  • scheduling-software.venturebeat.com
  • scholarships.savingforcollege.com
  • schools.nycprivateschoolsblog.com
  • scooters.cycleworld.com
  • smartphones.techcrunch.com
  • smartphones.venturebeat.com
  • solarpanels.motherearthnews.com
  • sports-drinks.flotrack.org
  • stables.thehorse.com
  • state-economic-facts.nationaljournal.com
  • steppers.shape.com
  • strollers.parenting.com
  • supplements.womenshealthmag.com
  • tablets.androidauthority.com
  • tablets.techcrunch.com
  • tablets.venturebeat.com
  • tabletsandstuff.com/tablet-comparison-chart
  • tallest-buildings.sciencedaily.com
  • technology.searchenginewatch.com
  • telescopes.universetoday.com
  • tequila.proof66.com
  • texas-golf-courses.texasoutside.com
  • tires.agriculture.com
  • tractors.agriculture.com
  • tsunamies.sciencedaily.com
  • us-hurricanes.sciencedaily.com
  • video-cameras.venturebeat.com
  • volcanic-eruptions.com
  • waterheaters.motherearthnews.com
  • wetsuits.swellinfo.com
  • whiskey.cocktailenthusiast.com
  • whiskey.drinkoftheweek.com
  • white-house-visitors.theblaze.com
  • wineries.womenshealthmag.com



we have seen search results where a search engine didn't robots.txt something out, or somebody takes a cookie cutter affiliate feed, they just warm it up and slap it out, there is no value add, there is no original content there and they say search results or some comparison shopping sites don't put a lot of work into making it a useful site. They don't add value. - Matt Cutts

That syndication partnership network also explains part of how FTB is able to get so many pages indexed by Google, as each of those syndication sources is linking back at FTB on (what I believe to be) every single page of the subdomains, and many of these subdomains are linked to from sitewide sidebar or footer links on the PR7 & PR8 tech blogs.

And so the PageRank shall flow ;)

Hundreds of thousands of hours (eg 200,000+) for 40 people is 5,000 hours per person. Considering that there are an average of 2,000 hours per work year, this would imply each employee spent 2.5 full years of work on this single aspect of the job. And that is if one ignores the (hundreds of?) millions of content pages on other sites.

How does TechCrunch describe the FTB partnership?

Here’s one reason to be excited: In its own small way, it combats the recent flood of crappy infographics. Most TechCrunch writers hate the infographics that show up in our inboxes— not because infographics have to be terrible, but because they’re often created by firms that are biased, have little expertise in the subject of the infographic, or both, so they pull random data from random sources to make their point.

Get that folks? TechCrunch hosting automated subdomains of syndicated content means less bad infographics. And more cat lives saved. Or something like that.

How does FTB describe this opportunity for publishers?

The gadget comparisons we built for TechCrunch are sticky and interactive resources comprised of thousands of SEO optimized pages. They help over 1 million visitors per month make informed decisions by providing accurate, clear and useful data.

SEO optimized pages? Hmm.

Your comparisons will include thousands of long-tail keywords and question/answer pages to ensure traffic is driven by a number of different search queries. Our proprietary Data Content Platform uses a mesh linking structure that maximizes the amount of pages indexed by search engines. Each month—mainly through organic search—our comparisons add millions of unique visitors to our partner’s websites.

Thousands of long-tail keyord & QnA pages? Mesh linking structure? Hmm.

If we expand the "view more" section at the footer of the page, what do we find?

Holy Batman.

Sorry that font is so small, the text needed reduced multiple sizes in order to fit on my extra large monitor, and then reduced again to fit the width of our blog.

Each listing in a comparison has a number of associated questions created around the data we collect.

For example, we collect data on the battery life of the Apple iPad.

An algorithm creates the question “How long does the Apple iPad tablet battery last?” and answers it

So now we have bots asking themselves questions that they answer themselves & then stuffing that in the index as content?

Yeah, sounds like human-driven editorial.

After all, it's not like there are placeholder tokens on the auto-generated stuff

{parent_field}

Ooops.

Looks like I was wrong on that.

And automated "popular searches" pages? Nice!

As outrageous as the above is, they include undisclosed affiliate links in the content, and provided badge-based "awards" for things like the best casual dating sites, to help build links into their site.

That in turn led to them getting a bunch of porn backlinks.

If you submit an article to an article directory and someone else picks it up & posts it to a sketchy site you are a link spammer responsible for the actions of a third party.

But if you rate the best casual dating sites and get spammy porn links you are wonderful.

Content farming never really goes away. It only becomes more corporate.

Google Copyright Transparency Report

Aug 13th

Google timed a nice Friday evening release to update of their policy toward copyright infringement.

Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.

Wow. Sounds like trouble. Surely that means that YouTube's rankings are about to get torched.

Oh, nope. One quick exemption for the video king:

This data presents information specified in requests we received from copyright owners through our web form to remove search results that link to allegedly infringing content. It is a partial historical record that includes more than 95% of the volume of copyright removal requests that we have received for Search since July 2011. It does not include:

  • requests submitted by means other than our web form, such as fax or written letter
  • requests for products other than Google Search (e.g, requests directed at YouTube or Blogger)
  • requests sent to Google Search for content appearing in other Google products (e.g., requests for Search, but specifying YouTube or Blogger URLs).

Google does not state where the thresholds will be set & grants blanket immunity for themselves, yet they (illegitimately) emphasize that they are being transparent.

Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner. And we’ll continue to provide "counter-notice" tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated. We’ll also continue to be transparent about copyright removals.

YouTube vs Sites Cleaner Than YouTube

Courts have ruled that embedding a YouTube video is not copyright infringement. The EFF has mentioned that embedding a video is simply a link.

And yet, a UK student faces up to 10 years in jail in the US for founding a crowdsourced site which links to sites that allow you to watch TV online.

Kim DotCom suffered a militant raid on his house & had his assets frozen for running MegaUpload, which was a tiny spec of dirt compared to the size of YouTube.

On the copyright front YouTube was rotten from the start:

  • "In a July 19, 2005 e-mail to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote: 'jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.'"
  • "Chen twice wrote that 80 percent of user traffic depended on pirated videos. He opposed removing infringing videos on the ground that 'if you remove the potential copyright infringements... site traffic and virality will drop to maybe 20 percent of what it is.' Karim proposed they 'just remove the obviously copyright infringing stuff.' But Chen again insisted that even if they removed only such obviously infringing clips, site traffic would drop at least 80 percent. ('if [we] remove all that content[,] we go from 100,000 views a day down to about 20,000 views or maybe even lower')."
  • "In response to YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley’s August 9, 2005 e-mail, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen stated: 'but we should just keep that stuff on the site. I really don’t see what will happen. what? someone from cnn sees it? he happens to be someone with power? he happens to want to take it down right away. he get in touch with cnn legal. 2 weeks later, we get a cease & desist letter. we take the video down.'"
  • "A true smoking gun is a memorandum personally distributed by founder Karim to YouTube’s entire board of directors at a March 22, 2006 board meeting. Its words are pointed, powerful, and unambiguous. Karim told the YouTube board point-blank:
    'As of today episodes and clips of the following well-known shows can still be found: Family Guy, South Park, MTV Cribs, Daily Show, Reno 911, Dave Chapelle. This content is an easy target for critics who claim that copyrighted content is entirely responsible for YouTube’s popularity. Although YouTube is not legally required to monitor content (as we have explained in the press) and complies with DMCA takedown requests, we would benefit from preemptively removing content that is blatantly illegal and likely to attract criticism.'"
  • "A month later, [YouTube manager Maryrose] Dunton told another senior YouTube employee in an instant message that 'the truth of the matter is probably 75-80 percent of our views come from copyrighted material.' She agreed with the other employee that YouTube has some 'good original content' but 'it’s just such a small percentage.'"
  • "In a September 1, 2005 email to YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and all YouTube employees, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim stated, 'well, we SHOULD take down any: 1) movies 2) TV shows. we should KEEP: 1) news clips 2) comedy clips (Conan, Leno, etc) 3) music videos. In the future, I’d also reject these last three but not yet.'"

Broader Copyright Questions

There still are a lot of murky questions in Google's "transparency."

  • If a person embeds an image from Imgur, ImageShack, TinyPic, PhotoBucket or elsewhere & the page that has a hotlink gets a DMCA how does that count?
  • If a brand is large enough does it take many DMCAs to get hit?
  • Is there any analysis of the underlying business model of the site? What happens to document storage sites like DocStoc & Scribd, or even image sites like Pinterest?
  • What happens to sites that link at penalized sites too frequently?
  • What happens to ad networks that frequently fund such copyright violations?

HUGE Impact on the Web

Has anyone registered DMCASEO.com & DMCA-SEO.com yet? ;)

In terms of impact on the web for publishers, this change is every bit as big as Florida, Panda & Penguin. It may not seem so at first (as it will take time for market participants to consider the uses) but this is a huge deal. Consider some of the following scenarios...

  • You try to create something like YouTube for another form of content (Pinterest?) and it gets hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You offer a free blogging platform that competes with Blogspot, but it gets hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You decide to create a project like Google's book scanning project & you get hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You run an ad network & start growing quickly. As you grow some sketchier publishers enter your ad network. Like Google AdSense, a large portion of your ad network is filled with sites that have copyright violations on them. Suddenly working with your ad network gets people hit as spam because your business model is too similar to Google's.
  • You create a new social network & are struggling to compete with Google's preferential ranking & hard coded placements of their own network. You make your network more open to encourage growth & you get hit as spam.
  • If You are Amazon or eBay you can afford premium featured content to pull up your other listings. But if you can't afford their cost structure & hire freelance writers or work with outsourced workers to create some of your content & they use some copyright work without you knowing. But does Amazon now have to vigilantly review their reviews for plagiarism?
  • A competitor licenses some of their content as Creative Commons for years & doesn't mind wide use of it. Then you use it & one day they see you as a competitive threat and remove their Creative Commons license & bulk DMCA you. Or you have a lifetime syndication deal with a company, they later change the policy & claim that your documents are forged.
  • Getty images presumes you didn't license an image that you did & files a DMCA. At some point there is no purpose in targeting the webmaster or host...just go direct to Google knowing that you can create the equivalent of a "patent trolling" styled business model where you create a business model where it is cheaper for people to pay to have the issue resolved the quick way before they lodge a formal complaint. Some organizations might even have a subscription service set up where you pre-pay for immunity.
  • A former employee who wrote content for you claims you used it without permission. Or that same former employee used pirated images & longish quotes from other sources that they didn't disclose to you that they now highlight via DMCA.
  • You license data from a source & they do a mid-contract change leveraging the small print & have a bot lined up to send 40,000 DMCAs against you if you do not agree to the higher pricepoint.
  • Google is considering making an investment in your site & you want too much money. As an edge case near the threshold of this copyright limit you know you have immunity if you join the borg, but lack it if you don't work with them.
  • Big media players that play in the gray area will be fine, but smaller sites that try a similar model will be sunk by DMCAs and/or legal fees.
  • Your leading competitor realizes that your blog publishes comments by default with editorial review (and that even later has lax review) and then they file DMCA reports against you. Or they could just grab chunks of content from Google's leaderboard of complainers and post them into your web forum, knowing that those companies will file a DMCA report against you.
  • A site has some content public & some behind a paywall. With a page partially indexed, how does Google respond to DMCA requests when the alleged infraction is behind a registration wall or paywall?
  • A competitor (inspired by Google no doubt) hires off shore "contractors" to copy your site & then file DMCA reports against you in bulk. How long until people start uploading their own content to file their own DMCAs against certain sites with user generated content?
  • Even if your site is 100% legal, a combination of ignorance & crowd-driven vigilante justice can still take you down.
  • Any site that offers interactive features & has user generated content is at risk of being labeled as spam unless they have tight editorial control over user generated content. And at the same time, Google can enter vertical after vertical with scrape & displace garbage knowing that they don't have those editorial costs due to their self-granted blanket immunity.
  • If you do not register your sites with Google & counter claims (even bogus ones) then you are seen as being a spammer. And if you register with Google then when they don't like something one site does they can hit other sites all at the same time. No point going to the host or registrar, go direct to Google & start building up negative karma.

Why did Google feel the need to grant themselves blanket immunity from the policy?

That question was largely missing among the fanboi blogs & journalists who were encouraged by Google's "transparency."

24 Karat Pyrite On Sale for Only $100 an Ounce

If YouTube is going to win big, then that's a great place to invest, right?

Maybe not.

Some venture capitalists are investing in YouTube channels, but that is a fool's game.

  • Google is also investing in select channels (like Machinima). It is quite hard to outperform Google in returns while investing into a platform that they control & thus have better data on than you ever could.
  • As YouTube's dominance increases (and it will now that competing platforms with a similar business model will be smeared as spam), you can count on them offering premium partners crappier revenue share deals in years to come. They will offer nice deals to Warner Bros. & such, but the independent smaller players will get cut out of the ecosystem in much the same way as they did in Google's organic search results.
  • Google, prince of transparency (for everyone but Google), requires that premium publishers *not* disclose the terms of their deals: "The Partner Program forbids participants to reveal specifics about their ad-share revenue. Rates can vary depending on the size and demographics of the partner’s audience and an array of other metrics."

Note that I don't claim YouTube is a bad host for your own content, but that I am skeptical in applying the VC model to it with a belief that you can out-invest Google on their own site; particularly when they own the dominant platform, control the non-public revenue share rates, invest in competing channels & can offer free promotion + higher rates to anyone they invest into in order to dominate the category.

And the issue isn't just video either. The same dynamic can apply to just about any other infrastructural layer. For instance, Google could buy out a torrent site (say like uTorrent) and have that site gain immediately immunity for being part of the borg, while other sites that compete now absorb both greater editorial filtering costs & greater risks that destroy their ROI.

As Google continues to lock down search, you can expect more smart publishers to hedge investments in search and YouTube with investments in proprietary non-search applications that Google can't take away.

The Devil is in the Details

"We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe. We will be watching this development closely — the devil is always in the details — and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves." - Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

The concerned with Google pitching themselves as the preeminent authority on copyright is they have consistently played both sides of the fence.

When Google was competing against YouTube, this was how they viewed copyright internally.

Business Objectives Drive "Relevancy" Signals

Google is a big player in business online and off. They can sell private data exclusively & their online profits are so huge that they are now buying auto loan bonds.

Now that Google wants to sell premium content they (sort of) respect copyright (& are willing to hold the rest of the web to a higher standard than themselves to create this impression).

I have long believed that relevancy signals were often politically driven & that internal business development goals often lead or create various signals. Certainly that was obvious when Google+ was hardcoded in the search results. It was equally true when Knol outranked the original content sources. Google frequently pretends to be (belligerently) unaware of externalities, but when the issues impact their own business they gain an elevated sense of importance.

And these business objectives not only influence the relevancy algorithms, but also the editorial guidelines.

And even while Google is rolling out this "copyright violators are spammers" algorithm (which they are exempt from) they still chug on with their ebook offering:

They posted several of my 41 books up as free downloads (some were missing a few pages at most a single chapter) It took several e-mails from me pointing out that they were infringing copyright before they took them down. During the time my books were free on Google my sales of e-books fell dramatically. " - K C Watkins

When Google started scanning books an internal document stated: “[we want web searchers interested in book content to come to Google not Amazon” ... or, as put another way, in that same document, “[e]verything else is secondary … but make money.”

How is Search Spam Defined?

Aug 12th

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A Quick Look at Cell Phone SERPs & the Mobile SEO 'Opportunity'

Jul 27th

Mobile Ad CTR

Worstream recently put out an infographic where they suggested that 64.6% of search result clicks on highly commercial keywords are clicks on AdWords ads. Shortly before Google's quarterly announcement RKG put out their digital marketing report. In it they highlight how search ad CTR differs by device.

What causes a higher CTR on cell phones & tablets? A smaller search interface, which allows ads to dominate a larger portion of the screen real estate.

Screen Real Estate

Vertical iPhone = 1/3 of an organic listing above the fold.

Horizontal iPhone = all ads above the fold.

Vertical iPad is about 2/3 ads above the fold.

Horizontal iPad has about half of a single organic listing above the fold.

Vertical Kindle is about 2/3 ads.

Horizontal Kindle is 100% ads above the fold.

And the above interfaces are not going to look any less ad heavy as Google adds paid inclusion shopping results.

Controlling the Ecosystem

Google offers sitelinks when they think a search query is navigational in nature. In spite of that, for some brands they will still show 3 AdWords ads above the organic search results, in an attempt to force the brand to re-buy their own brand equity.

If you control what is above the fold (and can get away with serving nothing but ads above the fold) you can make a lot of money.

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