How Many Search Engines?

Apr 15th

Consumer Search Insights.

How many search engines do you typically use in a given month?

Most people only use 1 or 2 search engines in any given month.

Vote All (1223) 
1 48.9% (+3.1 / -3.1)
2 26.2% (+2.9 / -2.7)
3 9.1% (+2.2 / -1.8)
4 4.7% (+2.0 / -1.4)
5 or more 11.1% (+2.3 / -2.0)

There isn't much difference between men & women on this front.

Vote Men (669)  Women (554) 
1 49.4% (+4.0 / -4.0) 48.4% (+4.8 / -4.8)
2 25.5% (+3.6 / -3.3) 26.9% (+4.6 / -4.1)
5 or more 10.6% (+2.9 / -2.3) 11.7% (+3.8 / -3.0)
3 9.7% (+2.8 / -2.2) 8.5% (+3.6 / -2.6)
4 4.8% (+2.5 / -1.7) 4.5% (+3.6 / -2.0)

Surprisingly, older people are more likely to use a variety of search services while younger people are more likely to stick with their one favorite. I would have guessed that to be the other way around.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (295)  25-34 year-olds (300)  35-44 year-olds (165)  45-54 year-olds (204)  55-64 year-olds (182)  65+ year-olds (77) 
1 54.9% (+5.5 / -5.7) 57.7% (+5.7 / -6.0) 45.6% (+7.7 / -7.5) 50.4% (+6.9 / -6.9) 48.1% (+7.3 / -7.3) 35.8% (+11.5 / -10.1)
2 23.0% (+5.1 / -4.4) 23.0% (+5.4 / -4.6) 23.1% (+7.1 / -5.8) 22.5% (+6.3 / -5.3) 29.2% (+7.1 / -6.2) 36.8% (+11.3 / -10.1)
3 5.8% (+3.3 / -2.1) 5.5% (+3.4 / -2.2) 13.7% (+6.0 / -4.4) 10.5% (+5.0 / -3.5) 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 7.0% (+8.0 / -3.9)
4 6.8% (+3.5 / -2.4) 4.7% (+3.3 / -2.0) 4.2% (+4.7 / -2.3) 4.9% (+4.3 / -2.3) 2.1% (+3.8 / -1.4) 5.4% (+9.1 / -3.5)
5 or more 9.6% (+3.9 / -2.8) 9.1% (+3.9 / -2.8) 13.4% (+6.2 / -4.4) 11.7% (+5.3 / -3.8) 9.0% (+5.2 / -3.4) 15.0% (+9.7 / -6.3)

Here is the geographic breakdown.

Vote The US Midwest (260)  The US Northeast (320)  The US South (374)  The US West (269) 
1 53.6% (+6.5 / -6.6) 45.1% (+6.1 / -6.0) 47.0% (+5.8 / -5.7) 50.4% (+6.4 / -6.4)
2 22.7% (+6.2 / -5.2) 27.1% (+5.7 / -5.1) 26.8% (+5.5 / -4.8) 27.9% (+6.1 / -5.4)
3 8.7% (+4.9 / -3.2) 11.4% (+4.8 / -3.5) 8.6% (+4.4 / -3.0) 8.2% (+4.8 / -3.1)
4 3.5% (+5.2 / -2.1) 5.3% (+4.3 / -2.4) 5.7% (+4.1 / -2.5) 3.8% (+5.4 / -2.3)
5 or more 11.5% (+5.5 / -3.9) 11.1% (+4.7 / -3.5) 11.9% (+4.5 / -3.4) 9.7% (+5.2 / -3.5)

Here are stats by population density.

Vote Urban areas (608)  Rural areas (107)  Suburban areas (499) 
1 48.1% (+4.5 / -4.5) 50.2% (+9.8 / -9.8) 47.2% (+4.7 / -4.7)
2 26.4% (+4.1 / -3.8) 21.2% (+10.6 / -7.8) 27.8% (+4.5 / -4.1)
3 9.1% (+3.6 / -2.7) 14.2% (+10.7 / -6.6) 9.6% (+4.0 / -2.9)
4 5.3% (+4.0 / -2.3) 6.5% (+12.0 / -4.4) 3.8% (+4.4 / -2.1)
5 or more 11.0% (+3.8 / -2.9) 7.9% (+11.4 / -4.9) 11.6% (+4.2 / -3.2)

Here is data by income groups. No obvious pattern here either.

Vote People earning $0-24K (132)  People earning $25-49K (673)  People earning $50-74K (326)  People earning $75-99K (70)  People earning $100-149K (27) 
1 45.0% (+8.9 / -8.6) 47.7% (+4.2 / -4.2) 50.2% (+6.1 / -6.1) 42.1% (+12.3 / -11.4) 48.3% (+17.9 / -17.5)
2 29.1% (+9.0 / -7.6) 26.3% (+3.8 / -3.5) 23.1% (+6.2 / -5.3) 35.2% (+12.2 / -10.5) 37.4% (+18.8 / -15.6)
3 8.7% (+9.1 / -4.7) 8.6% (+3.2 / -2.4) 11.6% (+5.8 / -4.0) 9.7% (+11.7 / -5.6) 0.0% (+12.5 / -0.0)
4 6.1% (+9.5 / -3.9) 5.2% (+3.2 / -2.0) 4.3% (+6.3 / -2.6) 2.6% (+17.0 / -2.3) 3.4% (+22.2 / -3.0)
5 or more 11.0% (+8.9 / -5.2) 12.1% (+3.3 / -2.7) 10.9% (+5.8 / -3.9) 10.4% (+11.9 / -5.9) 10.9% (+16.7 / -7.1)

Search Again or Click On the Second Page of Search Results?

Apr 15th

Consumer Search Insights.

If you use a search engine but don't find what you are looking for, which are you more likely to do?

People are more likely to search again with a new keyword than they are to click onto the second page of search results.

Vote All (1189) 
search again with a different word 55.7% (+3.2 / -3.3)
go to the second page of the results 44.3% (+3.3 / -3.2)

The split is fairly consistent among men and women.

Vote Men (651)  Women (538) 
search again with a different word 55.4% (+4.0 / -4.1) 56.1% (+5.0 / -5.1)
go to the second page of the results 44.6% (+4.1 / -4.0) 43.9% (+5.1 / -5.0)

There isn't an obvious pattern among age either.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (284)  25-34 year-olds (309)  35-44 year-olds (144)  45-54 year-olds (195)  55-64 year-olds (150)  65+ year-olds (107) 
search again with a different word 52.1% (+5.7 / -5.8) 56.7% (+5.7 / -5.9) 51.7% (+8.0 / -8.1) 57.5% (+6.7 / -7.0) 61.4% (+7.7 / -8.4) 54.2% (+9.4 / -9.8)
go to the second page of the results 47.9% (+5.8 / -5.7) 43.3% (+5.9 / -5.7) 48.3% (+8.1 / -8.0) 42.5% (+7.0 / -6.7) 38.6% (+8.4 / -7.7) 45.8% (+9.8 / -9.4)

People in the west & midwest are more likely to change keywords, whereas people in the north east & south are roughly equally likely to change keywords or go to page 2 of the search results.

Vote The US Midwest (244)  The US Northeast (320)  The US South (363)  The US West (262) 
search again with a different word 58.6% (+6.6 / -6.9) 52.2% (+6.3 / -6.4) 51.7% (+6.0 / -6.1) 61.8% (+6.2 / -6.6)
go to the second page of the results 41.4% (+6.9 / -6.6) 47.8% (+6.4 / -6.3) 48.3% (+6.1 / -6.0) 38.2% (+6.6 / -6.2)

Suburban people are more likely to change keywords than to click on to page 2.

Vote Urban areas (590)  Rural areas (109)  Suburban areas (468) 
search again with a different word 51.8% (+4.6 / -4.6) 48.0% (+9.3 / -9.1) 61.1% (+4.8 / -5.0)
go to the second page of the results 48.2% (+4.6 / -4.6) 52.0% (+9.1 / -9.3) 38.9% (+5.0 / -4.8)

There isn't much of an income correlation either.

Vote People earning $0-24K (123)  People earning $25-49K (638)  People earning $50-74K (319)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (22) 
search again with a different word 57.9% (+9.3 / -9.9) 55.9% (+4.4 / -4.5) 58.8% (+5.8 / -6.1) 54.5% (+9.3 / -9.6) 50.0% (+21.4 / -21.4)
go to the second page of the results 42.1% (+9.9 / -9.3) 44.1% (+4.5 / -4.4) 41.2% (+6.1 / -5.8) 45.5% (+9.6 / -9.3) 50.0% (+21.4 / -21.4)

It would also be interesting to run this question again & include the option of trying another search engine as an answer.

General Consumer Awareness of SEM & SEO

Apr 11th

Consumer Search Insights.

Which of the following have you heard of?

More people have heard of paid search / AdWords than have SEO / link building. One of the big issues with this question is that since it had numerous check boxes it had a lower response rate (roughly 10% vs an average of closer to 16% to 18%) & took longer for the answers to come in. In the future I can see Google adding quality score styled factors to quizes where pricing is in part based on response rate & they charge premiums for quicker responses. Anyhow, on to the results...

Vote All (1501) 
Pay Per Click 45.8% (+2.5 / -2.5)
AdWords 32.7% (+2.4 / -2.3)
SEO 21.3% (+2.1 / -2.0)
Link Building 15.9% (+1.9 / -1.8)
Ad Retargeting 14.9% (+1.9 / -1.7)

Men tend to have slightly greater awareness of SEO than women. That sort of makes sense given that most SEO conferences are heavily dominated by male attendees.

Vote Men (755)  Women (543)  Gender unknown (203) 
Pay Per Click 45.2% (+3.6 / -3.5) 45.7% (+4.2 / -4.1) 48.3% (+6.8 / -6.8)
AdWords 33.4% (+3.4 / -3.3) 32.2% (+4.0 / -3.8) 31.5% (+6.7 / -6.0)
SEO 24.8% (+3.2 / -2.9) 18.6% (+3.5 / -3.0) 15.3% (+5.6 / -4.3)
Link Building 18.9% (+2.9 / -2.6) 12.2% (+3.0 / -2.5) 14.3% (+5.5 / -4.2)
Ad Retargeting 16.4% (+2.8 / -2.5) 13.1% (+3.1 / -2.6) 13.8% (+5.4 / -4.1)

People in the 25 to 34 age range tend to be more aware of these terms than other age groups.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (229)  25-34 year-olds (316)  35-44 year-olds (162)  45-54 year-olds (227)  55-64 year-olds (182)  65+ year-olds (99) 
Pay Per Click 30.1% (+6.2 / -5.6) 50.3% (+5.5 / -5.5) 48.8% (+7.6 / -7.6) 44.9% (+6.5 / -6.3) 51.1% (+7.2 / -7.2) 51.5% (+9.6 / -9.7)
AdWords 37.1% (+6.4 / -6.0) 40.5% (+5.5 / -5.3) 32.7% (+7.6 / -6.8) 33.0% (+6.4 / -5.8) 22.0% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.2% (+9.0 / -6.7)
SEO 21.4% (+5.8 / -4.8) 32.6% (+5.4 / -4.9) 29.6% (+7.4 / -6.5) 14.1% (+5.1 / -3.9) 13.2% (+5.7 / -4.2) 18.2% (+8.7 / -6.4)
Link Building 17.0% (+5.4 / -4.3) 17.4% (+4.6 / -3.8) 16.0% (+6.4 / -4.9) 15.9% (+5.3 / -4.2) 15.4% (+6.0 / -4.5) 12.1% (+7.9 / -5.0)
Ad Retargeting 12.2% (+4.9 / -3.6) 16.1% (+4.5 / -3.6) 17.3% (+6.6 / -5.0) 18.9% (+5.6 / -4.6) 11.0% (+5.4 / -3.8) 16.2% (+8.5 / -6.0)

The map is sort of all over the map...there are no easily definable regional patterns.

Vote The US Midwest (320)  The US Northeast (415)  The US South (432)  The US West (316) 
Pay Per Click 43.8% (+5.5 / -5.3) 47.5% (+4.8 / -4.8) 43.1% (+4.7 / -4.6) 48.7% (+5.5 / -5.5)
AdWords 33.1% (+5.3 / -4.9) 30.6% (+4.6 / -4.2) 33.1% (+4.6 / -4.3) 34.5% (+5.4 / -5.0)
SEO 18.1% (+4.6 / -3.8) 24.3% (+4.4 / -3.9) 19.2% (+4.0 / -3.4) 22.2% (+4.9 / -4.2)
Link Building 15.3% (+4.4 / -3.5) 13.5% (+3.6 / -3.0) 18.5% (+3.9 / -3.4) 16.1% (+4.5 / -3.6)
Ad Retargeting 13.8% (+4.2 / -3.3) 14.2% (+3.7 / -3.0) 17.1% (+3.8 / -3.3) 13.6% (+4.2 / -3.3)

People in urban areas tend to be more aware of SEM terms than rural people are. This is not particularly surprising since in smaller towns word of mouth and word around the town goes a long way (I used to live in a town of 1200 people) and in cities there is a lot more options than any one person can try & there is far greater noise/competition in the marketplace, both from a consumer and business perspective.

The "unknown" density category only had 32 total responses, so that is just noise.

Vote Urban areas (793)  Rural areas (113)  Suburban areas (563)  Urban Density unknown (32) 
Pay Per Click 45.4% (+3.5 / -3.4) 38.9% (+9.2 / -8.5) 47.8% (+4.1 / -4.1) 43.8% (+16.9 / -15.6)
AdWords 35.6% (+3.4 / -3.3) 27.4% (+8.9 / -7.4) 29.3% (+3.9 / -3.6) 40.6% (+17.1 / -15.1)
SEO 24.7% (+3.1 / -2.9) 15.9% (+7.8 / -5.6) 16.9% (+3.3 / -2.9) 31.2% (+17.3 / -13.3)
Link Building 15.5% (+2.7 / -2.4) 17.7% (+8.1 / -5.9) 16.2% (+3.3 / -2.8) 12.5% (+15.6 / -7.5)
Ad Retargeting 14.6% (+2.6 / -2.3) 19.5% (+8.3 / -6.2) 13.3% (+3.1 / -2.6) 31.2% (+17.3 / -13.3)

There are not many clear patterns among income (that surprises me as I would have thought there was a strong correlation). However, once again, the data is skewed to exclude most people with higher incomes, as there was only 1 response at > $150,000 / year.

Here is the opening chart, followed by the same chart

Vote People earning $0-24K (178)  People earning $25-49K (828)  People earning $50-74K (371)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (24)  People earning $150K+ (1)  Income unknown (11) 
Pay Per Click 43.3% (+7.3 / -7.1) 44.2% (+3.4 / -3.3) 48.8% (+5.1 / -5.0) 52.3% (+10.1 / -10.3) 50.0% (+18.6 / -18.6) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 45.5% (+26.5 / -24.2)
AdWords 34.3% (+7.2 / -6.6) 31.9% (+3.3 / -3.1) 35.0% (+5.0 / -4.7) 28.4% (+10.2 / -8.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6) 100.0% (+0.0 / -79.3) 45.5% (+26.5 / -24.2)
SEO 21.9% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.4% (+2.9 / -2.6) 23.7% (+4.6 / -4.0) 13.6% (+8.7 / -5.7) 29.2% (+20.0 / -14.3) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 36.4% (+28.3 / -21.2)
Link Building 19.1% (+6.4 / -5.1) 16.3% (+2.7 / -2.4) 14.6% (+4.0 / -3.2) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 12.5% (+18.5 / -8.2) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 9.1% (+28.6 / -7.5)
Ad Retargeting 13.5% (+5.8 / -4.3) 14.1% (+2.5 / -2.2) 17.0% (+4.2 / -3.5) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6) 0.0% (+79.3 / -0.0) 27.3% (+29.3 / -17.5)

Here is the chart again with those last 2 columns lopped off

Vote People earning $0-24K (178)  People earning $25-49K (828)  People earning $50-74K (371)  People earning $75-99K (88)  People earning $100-149K (24) 
Pay Per Click 43.3% (+7.3 / -7.1) 44.2% (+3.4 / -3.3) 48.8% (+5.1 / -5.0) 52.3% (+10.1 / -10.3) 50.0% (+18.6 / -18.6)
AdWords 34.3% (+7.2 / -6.6) 31.9% (+3.3 / -3.1) 35.0% (+5.0 / -4.7) 28.4% (+10.2 / -8.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6)
SEO 21.9% (+6.6 / -5.4) 20.4% (+2.9 / -2.6) 23.7% (+4.6 / -4.0) 13.6% (+8.7 / -5.7) 29.2% (+20.0 / -14.3)
Link Building 19.1% (+6.4 / -5.1) 16.3% (+2.7 / -2.4) 14.6% (+4.0 / -3.2) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 12.5% (+18.5 / -8.2)
Ad Retargeting 13.5% (+5.8 / -4.3) 14.1% (+2.5 / -2.2) 17.0% (+4.2 / -3.5) 12.5% (+8.5 / -5.4) 20.8% (+19.6 / -11.6)
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Paid Placement in Search Engines

Apr 10th

Consumer Search Insights.
In the below poll we didn't make any distinction between AdWords & organic SEO investments. If we did I am not sure how it would have impacted the voting.

How do you feel about people paying for placement in search engines?

Nearly 2 in 3 people dislike money manipulating search results.

response All (1201) 
I think it is deceptive 65.4% (+3.3 / -3.5)
It is good if it is relevant 34.6% (+3.5 / -3.3)

Women tend to dislike it slightly more than men.

answer Men (813)  Women (388) 
I think it is deceptive 63.6% (+3.6 / -3.8) 67.2% (+5.4 / -5.9)
It is good if it is relevant 36.4% (+3.8 / -3.6) 32.8% (+5.9 / -5.4)

Older people tend to think money influencing search is manipulative, as do younger people who have not had their idealism beaten out of them by the harshness of the world. However the people in the 25 to 34 range who grew up with the web tend to like paid search far more than other groups do.

response 18-24 year-olds (350)  25-34 year-olds (266)  35-44 year-olds (164)  45-54 year-olds (194)  55-64 year-olds (148)  65+ year-olds (80) 
I think it is deceptive 61.3% (+5.0 / -5.2) 47.9% (+6.6 / -6.6) 63.8% (+7.0 / -7.7) 72.5% (+5.8 / -6.7) 72.8% (+6.9 / -8.1) 70.6% (+9.9 / -12.3)
It is good if it is relevant 38.7% (+5.2 / -5.0) 52.1% (+6.6 / -6.6) 36.2% (+7.7 / -7.0) 27.5% (+6.7 / -5.8) 27.2% (+8.1 / -6.9) 29.4% (+12.3 / -9.9)

People in the south tend to dislike money influencing search than any other region & people out west are more accepting of it. Perhaps the audience from California is more likely to understand how search impacts the local economy?

answer The US Midwest (267)  The US Northeast (333)  The US South (355)  The US West (246) 
I think it is deceptive 64.3% (+6.9 / -7.5) 66.4% (+5.9 / -6.4) 69.5% (+5.6 / -6.2) 59.8% (+7.4 / -7.8)
It is good if it is relevant 35.7% (+7.5 / -6.9) 33.6% (+6.4 / -5.9) 30.5% (+6.2 / -5.6) 40.2% (+7.8 / -7.4)

Rural people dislike money influencing search more than urban people do.

response Urban areas (620)  Rural areas (109)  Suburban areas (460) 
I think it is deceptive 63.2% (+4.4 / -4.6) 70.9% (+8.9 / -10.8) 65.3% (+4.9 / -5.2)
It is good if it is relevant 36.8% (+4.6 / -4.4) 29.1% (+10.8 / -8.9) 34.7% (+5.2 / -4.9)

Income has essentially no impact on the perception of the influence of money in search (though there was insufficient data at the upper end of the income range).

response People earning $0-24K (135)  People earning $25-49K (675)  People earning $50-74K (307)  People earning $75-99K (71)  People earning $100-149K  People earning $150K+ 
I think it is deceptive 65.1% (+7.4 / -8.2) 65.8% (+4.3 / -4.6) 65.4% (+6.1 / -6.7) 66.5% (+9.2 / -10.7) Insufficient data Insufficient data
It is good if it is relevant 34.9% (+8.2 / -7.4) 34.2% (+4.6 / -4.3) 34.6% (+6.7 / -6.1) 33.5% (+10.7 / -9.2) Insufficient data Insufficient data

Content Locking Ads

Apr 10th

Consumer Search Insights.

Google recently launched a consumer insights survey product, which quizes users for access to premium content.

How do users get access to these poll questions? Google locks premium content behind them, likeso:

Google has long stated that "cloaking is bad" and that it was deceptive & users didn't like it. Earlier this year Google also rolled out an algorithm to penalize sites that were too ad heavy:

We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience.

Also recall that the second version of the Panda update encouraged users to block sites & many programmers blocked Experts-exchange due to disliking their scroll cloaking. That in turn caused Experts-exchange to get hit & see a nose dive in traffic.

Between the above & seeing how implementation of this quiz technology works, I had to ask:
How do you feel about ads that lock content behind poll questions like this one?

Response Vote
Hate them. A total waste of time 63.7% (+3.3 / -3.4)
I am indifferent 30.8% (+3.3 / -3.1)
I love them. These are fun 5.5% (+2.5 / -1.7)

There isn't a huge split between men & women. Men hate them a bit more, but they also like them a bit more...they are just less indifferent.

Vote Men (811) Women (409)
Hate them. A total waste of time 66.1% (+3.4 / -3.6) 61.5% (+5.4 / -5.7)
I am indifferent 27.2% (+3.4 / -3.2) 34.2% (+5.6 / -5.2)
I love them. These are fun 6.7% (+2.3 / -1.7) 4.3% (+5.1 / -2.4)

Young people & old people tend to like such quizes more than people in the middle. My guess is this is because older people are a bit lonely & younger people do not value their time as much and presume it is more important that they voice their opinions on trivial matters. People just before their retirement (who have recently been hosed by the financial markets) tend not to like these polls as much & same with people in their mid 30s to mid 40s, who are likely short on time trying to balance career, family & finances.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (359) 25-34 year-olds (267) 35-44 year-olds (151) 45-54 year-olds (200) 55-64 year-olds (158) 65+ year-olds (83)
Hate them. A total waste of time 62.1% (+4.9 / -5.2) 62.6% (+6.0 / -6.4) 69.4% (+6.9 / -7.9) 64.5% (+6.5 / -7.1) 68.3% (+6.3 / -7.1) 62.3% (+10.2 / -11.4)
I am indifferent 28.9% (+4.9 / -4.5) 32.1% (+6.2 / -5.6) 24.0% (+7.6 / -6.2) 30.8% (+7.0 / -6.2) 28.4% (+6.9 / -6.0) 28.7% (+11.3 / -9.1)
I love them. These are fun 8.9% (+3.4 / -2.5) 5.3% (+3.7 / -2.2) 6.6% (+5.3 / -3.0) 4.7% (+3.7 / -2.1) 3.3% (+4.4 / -1.9) 9.0% (+9.7 / -4.9)

People out west tend to be more indifferent. Like, whatever man. This may or may not have something to do with California's marijuana laws. ;)

vote The US Midwest (280) The US Northeast (331) The US South (363) The US West (246)
Hate them. A total waste of time 65.2% (+5.6 / -6.0) 69.0% (+6.2 / -7.0) 65.6% (+5.9 / -6.4) 55.6% (+7.2 / -7.5)
I am indifferent 29.7% (+5.9 / -5.3) 25.6% (+6.8 / -5.8) 28.7% (+6.2 / -5.5) 38.7% (+7.4 / -6.9)
I love them. These are fun 5.1% (+4.5 / -2.4) 5.4% (+5.9 / -2.9) 5.7% (+4.8 / -2.7) 5.6% (+7.4 / -3.3)

Rural people tend to like such polls more than others. Perhaps it has to do with a greater longing for connection due to being more isolated?

vote Urban areas (608) Rural areas (117) Suburban areas (477)
Hate them. A total waste of time 62.6% (+4.6 / -4.9) 53.6% (+10.1 / -10.4) 63.8% (+4.8 / -5.1)
I am indifferent 32.2% (+4.8 / -4.4) 37.5% (+10.4 / -9.3) 29.1% (+5.0 / -4.6)
I love them. These are fun 5.2% (+4.4 / -2.5) 8.9% (+9.5 / -4.8) 7.2% (+5.2 / -3.1)

There aren't any conclusive bits based on income. Wealthier people appear to be more indifferent, however the sampling error on that is huge due to the small sample size.

vote People earning $0-24K (151) People earning $25-49K (670) People earning $50-74K (303) People earning $75-99K (77) People earning $100-149K (20) People earning $150K+
Hate them. A total waste of time 69.0% (+7.7 / -8.9) 62.1% (+4.4 / -4.6) 69.7% (+5.5 / -6.1) 69.7% (+9.1 / -10.9) 53.8% (+19.3 / -20.5) Insufficient data
I am indifferent 26.0% (+8.5 / -7.0) 32.6% (+4.6 / -4.3) 23.6% (+5.8 / -5.0) 26.0% (+11.1 / -8.7) 41.7% (+20.6 / -18.1) Insufficient data
I love them. These are fun 5.0% (+6.8 / -3.0) 5.3% (+4.0 / -2.4) 6.7% (+5.7 / -3.2) 4.3% (+11.8 / -3.3) 4.4% (+27.1 / -4.0) Insufficient data

So, ultimately, Google was right that users hate excessive ads & cloaking. But the one thing users hate more than either of those is paying for content. ;)

Some of the traditional publishing businesses are dying on the vine & this is certainly a great experiment to try to generate incremental revenues.

...but...

How does Google's definition of cloaking square with the above? If publishers (or a competing ad network) do the same thing without Google, would it be considered spam?

Ad Retargeting

Apr 10th

Consumer Search Insights.

How do you feel about companies tracking your online behavior to target ads?

Surprisingly, nearly 1 in 11 people like ad retargeting. However, over 3 in 5 people dislike it.

response All (1250) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 62.3% (+3.1 / -3.3)
I don't care either way 29.3% (+3.1 / -2.9)
I like more relevant ads 8.3% (+2.3 / -1.9)

Women tend to think being stalked by ads is creepier than men do.

vote Men (822)  Women (428) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 60.6% (+3.7 / -3.8) 64.1% (+5.0 / -5.3)
I don't care either way 30.0% (+3.6 / -3.4) 28.7% (+5.1 / -4.6)
I like more relevant ads 9.5% (+2.6 / -2.1) 7.2% (+4.2 / -2.7)

Younger people who are old enough to be starting families tend to be more financially stressed than most other age groups, so they are likely more appreciative of relevant ads tied to discounts & such. Younger people have also used the web for so much of their lives that they are not as creeped out by tracking & privacy issues as older people are. People in retirement also like relevant ads, perhaps in part because they are feeling the Ben "printing press gone wild but no inflation" Bernake pinch & see their fixed income retirements collapse under artificially low interest rates tied to money printing game.

age 18-24 year-olds (372)  25-34 year-olds (270)  35-44 year-olds (150)  45-54 year-olds (217)  55-64 year-olds (164)  65+ year-olds (77) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 60.2% (+4.8 / -5.0) 52.3% (+6.3 / -6.4) 65.1% (+7.2 / -8.0) 66.0% (+6.1 / -6.6) 66.6% (+6.9 / -7.7) 55.7% (+11.2 / -11.8)
I don't care either way 33.6% (+4.9 / -4.6) 35.0% (+6.4 / -5.9) 25.5% (+7.6 / -6.3) 27.9% (+6.4 / -5.6) 26.9% (+7.5 / -6.3) 33.5% (+11.9 / -10.1)
I like more relevant ads 6.2% (+2.9 / -2.0) 12.7% (+5.1 / -3.8) 9.5% (+5.9 / -3.8) 6.1% (+3.9 / -2.5) 6.4% (+5.2 / -2.9) 10.7% (+9.1 / -5.2)

People from the west coast are perhaps slightly more aware of the risks of online tracking. People from the south couldn't care either way. In the midwest the stereotype of the mom who clips coupons is shown in the data (though the sample size is small).

vote The US Midwest (259)  The US Northeast (340)  The US South (404)  The US West (247) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 58.5% (+6.5 / -6.9) 61.8% (+5.9 / -6.3) 61.6% (+5.7 / -6.0) 67.2% (+6.2 / -6.8)
I don't care either way 29.9% (+6.6 / -5.9) 29.1% (+5.8 / -5.2) 32.4% (+5.9 / -5.4) 24.6% (+6.7 / -5.6)
I like more relevant ads 11.6% (+5.6 / -4.0) 9.1% (+5.0 / -3.3) 6.0% (+4.6 / -2.7) 8.2% (+5.7 / -3.5)

On everything outside of disliking online tracking the margin of error is wide enough that it is somewhat hard to notice any strong patterns based on population data.

vote Urban areas (636)  Rural areas (108)  Suburban areas (480) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 58.9% (+5.0 / -5.1) 61.1% (+9.0 / -9.8) 62.6% (+4.5 / -4.7)
I don't care either way 32.3% (+5.1 / -4.7) 33.9% (+9.9 / -8.6) 27.6% (+4.5 / -4.1)
I like more relevant ads 8.8% (+4.4 / -3.0) 5.0% (+8.7 / -3.3) 9.8% (+3.6 / -2.7)

It is also hard to see much of a broad pattern based on income levels.

vote People earning $0-24K (150)  People earning $25-49K (691)  People earning $50-74K (304)  People earning $75-99K (88) 
I dislike it because it feels creepy 62.2% (+8.4 / -9.1) 60.2% (+4.2 / -4.4) 66.5% (+5.8 / -6.4) 55.1% (+10.2 / -10.6)
I don't care either way 30.0% (+9.2 / -7.8) 30.8% (+4.3 / -4.0) 25.9% (+6.1 / -5.3) 35.8% (+10.4 / -9.2)
I like more relevant ads 7.9% (+8.6 / -4.3) 9.0% (+3.7 / -2.7) 7.5% (+5.5 / -3.3) 9.2% (+9.0 / -4.8)

Google+ Integration

Apr 9th

Consumer Search Insights.
As publishers we tend to be quite concerned with the over-promotion of Google+ because it carves up the search landscape, is potentially another hoop that we have to jump through, and in some cases, the Google+ hosted version of a page will outrank the legitimate original source - which screws up the economics of online publishing.

But do users care about how Google+ was integrated directly into the search results? Generally no.

How do you feel Google+ integration has impacted Google's relevancy?

Under 1 in 5 people said it made the search results better, under 1 in 5 said it made the search results worse & over 3 in 5 didn't notice any material impact.

vote All (1260) 
no noticeable impact 64.7% (+3.3 / -3.5)
made it better 17.4% (+2.9 / -2.6)
made it worse 17.9% (+3.0 / -2.7)

Men liked it slightly more than women. However, that difference was within the estimated range of error. If this difference was more significant one might guestimate that women are better at socializing offline & have less need for artificial web relationships, given their relatively larger corpus callosum. ;)

vote Men (875)  Women (385) 
no noticeable impact 64.1% (+3.4 / -3.6) 65.3% (+5.5 / -5.9)
made it better 18.7% (+3.0 / -2.6) 16.2% (+5.2 / -4.1)
made it worse 17.2% (+2.9 / -2.6) 18.5% (+5.3 / -4.4)

Older people are less likely to have loads of online friends & relationships (as they spent most of their lives building relationships in the physical world, before the web or online social networks were popular). Older people also tend to be more set in their ways. Thus many older people won't be signed up for Google+ & won't notice as much of an impact from it.

Younger people are more likely to want to try out new technology, thus they are more likely to notice an impact from it. Some generations tend to be more isolated & individualistic (like the baby boomers) while millennials tend to like to work in groups & network more (it isn't an accident that Facebook started on a college campus & targeted college students), thus younger people are not only more likely to notice something like Google+, but they are also more likely to like its impact.

vote 18-24 year-olds (334)  25-34 year-olds (322)  35-44 year-olds (141)  45-54 year-olds (204)  55-64 year-olds (167)  65+ year-olds (93) 
no noticeable impact 59.8% (+5.1 / -5.4) 64.0% (+5.4 / -5.7) 66.6% (+7.3 / -8.2) 59.3% (+6.6 / -7.0) 65.7% (+6.9 / -7.7) 73.9% (+8.1 / -10.1)
made it better 26.6% (+5.0 / -4.4) 18.8% (+5.0 / -4.1) 16.3% (+7.2 / -5.3) 19.1% (+6.2 / -4.9) 16.4% (+6.7 / -5.0) 7.9% (+8.7 / -4.3)
made it worse 13.6% (+4.1 / -3.3) 17.2% (+4.8 / -3.9) 17.1% (+7.4 / -5.5) 21.6% (+6.0 / -5.0) 17.9% (+6.5 / -5.0) 18.2% (+9.9 / -7.0)

I didn't notice any obvious trends or patterns aligned with locations across the country.

vote The US Midwest (267)  The US Northeast (360)  The US South (378)  The US West (255) 
no noticeable impact 65.5% (+6.7 / -7.3) 61.3% (+7.3 / -7.8) 67.6% (+5.6 / -6.1) 62.4% (+6.6 / -7.1)
made it better 16.2% (+6.2 / -4.7) 20.5% (+7.8 / -6.1) 17.2% (+5.0 / -4.1) 16.5% (+6.3 / -4.8)
made it worse 18.4% (+6.9 / -5.3) 18.2% (+6.3 / -4.9) 15.1% (+5.6 / -4.3) 21.1% (+6.6 / -5.3)

Suburban people were more likely to notice an impact, though they were not heavily skewed in one way or the other

vote Urban areas (669)  Rural areas (124)  Suburban areas (450) 
no noticeable impact 65.9% (+4.1 / -4.4) 66.8% (+9.0 / -10.4) 62.0% (+4.7 / -5.0)
made it better 16.4% (+3.7 / -3.1) 14.3% (+8.5 / -5.7) 20.4% (+4.4 / -3.8)
made it worse 17.6% (+3.9 / -3.3) 18.9% (+9.8 / -7.0) 17.6% (+4.2 / -3.6)

People who earned less were less likely to notice positive or negative impact from Google+ integration (somewhat surprising since younger people tend to skew toward lower incomes & younger people were more likely to notice & like Google+ integration). Outside of that, the data is too bunched up to see any other significant patterns based on income.

vote People earning $0-24K (162)  People earning $25-49K (698)  People earning $50-74K (312)  People earning $75-99K (71) 
no noticeable impact 71.1% (+7.8 / -9.2) 62.8% (+4.4 / -4.6) 61.9% (+6.3 / -6.8) 61.3% (+10.6 / -11.9)
made it better 14.8% (+8.8 / -5.9) 17.5% (+4.0 / -3.4) 18.9% (+5.9 / -4.8) 17.1% (+11.5 / -7.5)
made it worse 14.1% (+9.5 / -6.1) 19.7% (+4.3 / -3.7) 19.2% (+6.4 / -5.1) 21.6% (+11.2 / -8.1)

Editorial Objectivity

Apr 8th

Consumer Search Insights.

Should search engines be able to preferentially promote their own services in their search results?

Nearly 3 in 4 people think that search engines should not be able to preferentially promote their own services.

vote All (1226)
no, results should be objective 74.1% (+3.1 / -3.4)
yes, it is their search results 25.9% (+3.4 / -3.1)

There was essentially no split between men & women.

vote Men (827) Women (399)
no, results should be objective 73.7% (+3.1 / -3.4) 74.4% (+5.2 / -6.0)
yes, it is their search results 26.3% (+3.4 / -3.1) 25.6% (+6.0 / -5.2)

Older people tend to prefer/want more editorial objectivity, whereas younger people are more fine with search engines preferentially promoting their own services. Older people tend to be more fixed in their ways & younger people are much less so.

vote 18-24 year-olds (338) 25-34 year-olds (269) 35-44 year-olds (158) 45-54 year-olds (209) 55-64 year-olds (169) 65+ year-olds (83)
no, results should be objective 65.0% (+4.9 / -5.2) 76.0% (+5.1 / -6.0) 74.0% (+6.5 / -7.7) 71.2% (+5.7 / -6.5) 71.4% (+6.5 / -7.5) 87.2% (+6.1 / -10.4)
yes, it is their search results 35.0% (+5.2 / -4.9) 24.0% (+6.0 / -5.1) 26.0% (+7.7 / -6.5) 28.8% (+6.5 / -5.7) 28.6% (+7.5 / -6.5) 12.8% (+10.4 / -6.1)

Geographically, people in the south & midwest tend to be slightly more trusting, perhaps due to the lower cost of living & less competitive markets. However, any differences here are fairly minor & are within the margin of error.

vote The US Midwest (244) The US Northeast (367) The US South (352) The US West (263)
no, results should be objective 72.2% (+6.4 / -7.4) 77.7% (+4.5 / -5.3) 72.1% (+6.0 / -6.9) 75.9% (+5.7 / -6.9)
yes, it is their search results 27.8% (+7.4 / -6.4) 22.3% (+5.3 / -4.5) 27.9% (+6.9 / -6.0) 24.1% (+6.9 / -5.7)

People who are rural tend to be slightly more accepting of Google doing as it wishes, though this is also a small sample size & well within the margin of error.

vote Urban areas (647) Rural areas (106) Suburban areas (453)
no, results should be objective 74.3% (+4.3 / -4.9) 71.9% (+8.5 / -10.5) 74.4% (+4.2 / -4.7)
yes, it is their search results 25.7% (+4.9 / -4.3) 28.1% (+10.5 / -8.5) 25.6% (+4.7 / -4.2)

There isn't a strong correlation with income on this issue either. People cared a bit more at higher income levels, but there was also a wider margin of error due to small sampling size.

vote People earning $0-24K (142) People earning $25-49K (677) People earning $50-74K (316) People earning $75-99K (75) People earning $100-149K People earning $150K+
no, results should be objective 72.0% (+7.8 / -9.4) 76.8% (+3.7 / -4.1) 68.7% (+6.1 / -6.8) 83.1% (+6.9 / -10.2) Insufficient data Insufficient data
yes, it is their search results 28.0% (+9.4 / -7.8) 23.2% (+4.1 / -3.7) 31.3% (+6.8 / -6.1) 16.9% (+10.2 / -6.9) Insufficient data Insufficient data

Jim Boykin Interview

Apr 4th

Internet Marketing Ninja Jim Boykin has promoted link building since before I even knew what SEO was. Nearly a decade later so many things have changed in SEO (including renaming We Build Pages to Internet Marketing Ninjas), but he still sees links as a key SEO driver (as do I). I recently interviewed him about links & the changing face of SEO.

so, links links links ... these were the backbone of ranking in Google for years and years. are they still? Is social a huge signal, or something that has been over-hyped?

Yes, I do see backlinks at the backbone of rankings in Google. Every day I see sites that trump the rankings with links, and no social signals...but I've never seen a site that had "poor" backlinks compared to others, but a strong social signal, be ranked great.

There are other signal that I feel are more important than social, like content and user behavior, but then after those, I'd put social signals. Even though I don't think they're more important thank links by any stretch, I do feel that social has a place, in areas like branding, community building, and in assisting in organic search results. I always recommend that people have a strong social presence, even if for only sending additional signals to Google to assist in higher rankings.

Google recently nailed a bunch of lower quality bulk link networks. Were you surprised these lasted as long as they did? Was the fact that they worked at all an indication of the sustained importance of links?

Well...surprised...no... filtering out networks is something that's always going to happen....once something gets too big, or too popular, or too talked about...then it's in danger of being burned... the popular "short cuts" of today are the popular penalized networks of tomorrow... there will always be someone who will create a network (of others sites they control, or their new friends control, or of near expired domains, or blogger groups, etc etc) and that someone will start selling links, and advertising, and it will catch on, and they will sell to everyone and it will become so interconnected that it will cause it's own algorthymitic penalty, or it will get popular, and get the eyes of Google on it, and then it will get filtered, or there will be exact match penalties, or entire site penalties.

If that's the game you play, just understand the risks...or, don't play that game and give other reasons for people to link to you, and get permanent non-paid links, but that takes a lot of time and effort and marketing. That's the price you have to pay...because, yes, rankings in Google still comes down to #1, Links.

After such networks get hit, how hard is it for such sites to recover? Does it create a "flight to quality" impact on link building? Are many of them better off starting from scratch rather than trying to recover the sites?

We've worked with several people who have come to us with after being penalized by Google to some degree (either phrase based penalty, or entire site penalties). Probably the low budget people who got hit just started other sites and tossed their penalized site, but most of the people who come to us can't afford to toss their branded site away.

In almost all of those cases it takes someone removing all the paid and un-natural links that they can. They must understand then that their days of buying links are Over, and they Must create great things on their site that gets natural links....and they must forever give up the chase of being #1 for the big short tail phrases..unless you own the exact .com, or your brand name includes that phrase...In order to recover, they must purge the backlinks of the paid links and the networks, do a reinclusion request, and then start doing "natural things", and then wait and wait and wait...90 days is typical...it's the one Google gave to themselves after you pointed out that Google themselves were buying blog links.

Over time it has become easier to hit various trip wires when link building. You mentioned some things being phrse based or entire site & so on...how does a person determine the difference between these? Some of Google's automated penalties and manual penalties have quite similar footprints, are there easy ways to tell which is which?

A phrase based penalty work like this...let's say you've been targeting "green widgets" and "red widgets" for years...you have lots of backlinks with those exact anchor text....and you were in the top 10 for both phrases....then one day, you rank somewhere on page 3 or higher for those phrases.. you may still rank #3 for "cheap red widgets" or #7 for "widgets green" (reversed phrases)...but for the few exact phrases...it's page 3+ of the SERPS for you....nothing else changes, just those exact phrases.. on the other hand, a sitewide penalty is where pretty much nothing rankings on page 1 or page 2 in the SERPS, when the prior day you had lots of keywords rankings in there. I have no way of knowing which were automatic and which were hand done....sometimes I have a feeling in my gut...but it doesn't really matter...the solution is always the same...clean up the backlinks, and change your methods.

Earlier you mentioned foregoing the head phrase, in spite of things like Google Instant guiding searchers down a path, is there still plenty of tail to be had? Are tail keywords significantly under-rated by the market? How does one square going after tail keywords with algorithms like Panda?

I'm a big believer in the long tail. When we analyze content on a site we tend to grab ranking data from ahrefs for the client, as well as for several of their competitors, and we end up merging all the phrases and showing the search volume and the average cost per click for each phrase...we can always find a huge long tail, even if the clients site currently doesn't have that content (they have to add new original content), there is always a huge long tail to be had.

In 98% of the cases, there are no one or two or three main phrases that account for more than 2% of the total potential search traffic. Even with a sites existing content and existing traffic, the short tail tends not to be more than 5% of traffic for any sites I've been seeing.We often find that a site that may have 5,000 pages, but only 500 pages that site are of value via ranking for anything that has a decent search volume, and a decent worth in a CPC value in Google. If you look at those 500 urls, and you optimize each url for say 5 phrases on average, then you're looking at 2,500 phrases...of those, 50 phrases might be the short tail, and 2450 I would consider the middle tail. If you also add words like "shop" "store" "online" "sale" "cheap" "discount" etc to all those pages, you'll pick up tons more phrases. And from there, the more original content you can add, the more long tail you can get.... but..be careful...no one wants a site to be hit from a Google panda update...make sure the content is original, of value, and that it's of use to the viewers of the page.

When going after head or tail keywords...with one or the other do you feel that link quality is more important than link quantity?

Link quality always trumps. Otherwise, I'd buy those 10,000 backlinks for $100 packages that I see in Google AdWords... and my job would be a lot easier :)

With Google it is getting easier to hit tripwires with anchor text or building links too fast, does this also play into the bias toward quality & away from quantity?

I think it is easier to hit tripwires...but it's nice that Google sent out 700,000 "be careful" emails a few weeks ago... those were automatic....I think the "over optimization update" that Google has been speaking of will trip a lot of wires and people will have to mimic the natural web more and not focus on exact short tail phrases.

Those scammy AdWords ads proming link riches for nothing in part shape the perception of the cost & value of links. How do you get prospective clients to see & appreciate the value of higher quality links (while in some cases some of them will be competing with some of the bulk stuff that ranks today & is gone tomorrow)?

Well, luckily I'm not in sales calls anymore so I don't have to do the convincing :) but I'd say that if you can get links that you just can't buy (ie, a link from NASA.gov or harvard.edu/library/) then they're priceless. Each update Google will filter out some of the links from sites that it feels are artificial. If you can build things that stick and stand the test of time, and if you don't need to be #1 tomorrow, and are willing to invest in the sites content and the sites future, then think long tail and long term. If you're all about today, then do what you have to do today, but those cheap links won't move you much anyways & you'll just have a spammy backlink profile.

Building quality links that last isn't particularly cheap or easy. Even harder to do it in volume. What has allowed/enabled you to succeed where so many others have failed on this front? Is it that you care more about the client's well being, or is it that you have to tie together a bunch of clever bits to make it all back out?

Well, I have an army here....nearly 100 ninjas..the biggest group is the link builders, so I have a lot of link ninjas, we also have a lot of tools...tools that suggest the things we should write that has the highest probability of getting trusted backlinks, we have a content teams that knows how to write to get links from professors and orgs and government agencies, etc.

We have tools that help us to know who to write to after we've written the content..and we have tools that help us send out a lot of personal emails...between the tools and the people and the content, we manage to make it work. If we had to do all the work by hand, and by human guesses, it would never work, but with the tools (and human intervention along the way), we're able to get the links and scale it, while keeping the high quality.

When you talk about getting quality links that are priceless, those have that sort of value precisely because they are so hard to get. How big of a role does content play in the process? Is this something anyone can do?

Content is Key to getting links. There's different types of links....there's the low hanging fruit..then there's the fruit that's way on the top of the tree....the things that tend to be harder to get, also tend to be the most valued and the most trusted. If I wrote to a college professor at Harvard and said, "Hey, Professor Bob, I just wrote a great paper on "The History Of Widgets", you should add it to your article in the Harvard library" then if the article isn't Great, they'll never link to it. It starts with a great idea that morphs into great content, and then we promote it to those we're targeting. Anyone can write this content, guess at what a gov page would link to, or a college professor..see what they currently link out to...write them an email that's been personalized...and with enough emails, you can get the links if your content is good enough. It's a long slow process, but anyone can do it. Thank goodness I have tool that make that process much easier and more accurate to getting links.

You mentioned thinking long term, how long does it usually take to start seeing results from quality link building? Do you ever work on new sites, or do you mostly try to work on older websites that tend to respond quicker? Also have you noticed newer sites being able to rank much quicker if they do a quality-first approach to link building?

With getting the trusted links we tend to see an increase in traffic during the first 3 months. I do the 3 month review phone calls here, and my goal is to show them the ROI via overall rankings increase of the long tail, and an increase in google's organic traffic. Sites tend to see much better increases in these if they also follow our internal linking strategies, and our on page optimization strategies. If someone does link building, on page optimization, and internal linking, after 3 months there's almost no way someone can not increase the traffic to their site.

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Thanks Jim!

Jim Boykin is the founder and CEO of Internet Marketing Ninjas (formerly We Build Pages, since 1999). Jim's team of marketing ninjas offer a full range of internet marketing services including link building services and social media branding, as well as they employ an in-house team of website designers. Follow Jim and the Ninjas on their blog, Facebook, Google, and Twitter, foursquare, and Linkedin.

Patience is a Virtue

Apr 3rd

Sorry I haven't blogged as much lately, but one of our employees recently had a child and Google sending out so many warning messages in webmaster central has created a ton of demand for independent SEO advice. Our growth in demand last month was higher than any month outside of the time a few years ago when we announced we would be raising prices and got so many new subscribers that I had to close down the ability to sign up for about 3 or 4 months because there were so many new customers.

Google has been firing on all cylinders this year. They did have a few snafus in the press, but those didn't have any noticeable impact on user perception or behavior & Google recently rolled out yet another billion Dollar business in their consumer surveys.

Google is doing an excellent job of adding friction to SEO & managing its perception to make it appear less stable, less trustworthy and to discourage investment in SEO. They send out warnings for unnatural links, warnings for traffic drops, and even warnings for traffic increases.

Webmaster Tools is a bit of a strange bird...

  • Any SEO consultant who has client sites tied into Webmaster Tools makes it easy to connect them together (making any black swan editorial decisions far riskier).
  • Any SEO company which has clients sign up for their own Webmaster Tools account now has to deal with explaining why things change, when many of the changes that happen are more driven by algorthmic shifts (adding local results to the SERPs or taking them away, other forms of localization, changing of ad placement on the SERP, etc.) than by the work of the SEO. This in turn adds costs to managing SEO projects while also making them seem less stable (even outside of those who were use paid link networks). Think through the sequence...
    • Google first sends a warning for traffic going up, and the SEO tells the client that this is because they did such a great job with SEO.
    • Then Google sends a warning for traffic dropping & the client worries that something is wrong.
    • The net impact on actual traffic or conversions could be a 0, but the warnings amplify the perception of changes.
  • Any SEO who doesn't use Webmaster Tools loses search referral data. It first started with logged in Google users, but apparently it is also headed to Firefox. Who's to say Google Chrome & Safari won't follow Firefox at some point?

Google has changed & obfuscated so many things that it is very hard to isolate cause and effect. They have made changes to how much data you get, changes to their analytics interface & how they report unique visitors, changes to how tightly they filter certain link behaviors, they have rolled in frequent Panda updates, and they have nailed a number of the paid link networks.

BuildMyRank shut down after leaving a self-destructive footprint that made it easy for Google to nuke their network, and some of the remaining paid link networks are getting nailed. Some of their customers are at this point driven primarily by fear, counting down their remaining days as the sky is falling. Fear is an important emotion designed to protect us, but when it is a primary driver we risk self-destruction.

The big winners in these moves by Google are:

  • Google, since they grant themselves more editorial leeway. If everyone is a scofflaw then they can hit just about anyone they want. And the organic search results are going to be far easier to police if many market participants are held back by a fear tax.
  • Larger businesses which are harder to justify hitting & which can buy out smaller businesses at lower multiples based on the perception of fear.
  • Sites which were outranked by people using the obvious paid links, which now rank a bit better after some of those paid link buyers were removed from the search results.
  • SEOs who out others & market themselves by using polarizing commentary (at least in the short run, whereas in the long run that may backfire).
  • Those engaging in negative SEO, which sell services to smoke competitors.

The big losers from these Google moves are:

  • some of the paid link networks & those who used them for years
  • under-priced SEO service providers who were only able to make the model work by scaling up on risk
  • smaller businesses who are not particularly spammy, but are so paralyzed by fear that they won't put in enough effort & investment to compete in the marketplace

One of the reasons I haven't advocated using the paid link networks is I was afraid of putting the associated keywords into a hopper of automated competition that I would then have to compete against year after year. Even if you usually win, over the course of years you can still lose a lot of money by promoting the creation of disposable, automated & scalable competing sites. If you don't mind projects getting hit & starting over the ROI on such efforts might work out, but after so many years in the industry the idea of starting over again and again as sites get hit is less appealing.

It is not just that the links are not trusted, but now they stand a far greater chance of causing penalties:

Dear site owner or webmaster of ….

We’ve detected that some of your site’s pages may be using techniques that are outside Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Specifically, look for possibly artificial or unnatural links pointing to your site that could be intended to manipulate PageRank. Examples of unnatural linking could include buying links to pass PageRank or participating in link schemes.

We encourage you to make changes to your site so that it meets our quality guidelines. Once you’ve made these changes, please submit your site for reconsideration in Google’s search results.

If you find unnatural links to your site that you are unable to control or remove, please provide the details in your reconsideration request.

If you have any questions about how to resolve this issue, please see our Webmaster Help Forum for support.

Sincerely,

Google Search Quality Team

If that doesn't change then negative SEO will become a bigger issue than paid links ever were.

What is hard about Google penalizing websites for such links is that it is cheap & easy for someone else to set you up. Shortly after Dan Thies mentioned that it was "about time" to Matt Cutts on Twitter someone started throwing some of the splog links at his site. It is safe to say that Dan didn't build those links, but there are many people who will be in the same situation as Dan who did nothing wrong but had a competitor set them up.

And there is no easy way to disconnect your site from those types of links.

If you go back a few years, it was quite easy to win at SEO by doing it in a "paint by number" fashion. One rarely got hit unless they were exceptionally excessive and stuck out like a sore thumb.

But after all of Google's recent moves, a few missed steps in a drunken stupor can have the same result.

Now more than ever, patience is a virtue!

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