Can Google Be Trusted?

Sep 16th
posted in


They are a world-leading enterprise, employing over 22,000 people. Fortune named them "America's Most Innovative Company". They also run various online marketplace services, through which a vast amount of money flows. They are a trusted name in households across the country. It is the year 2000, and that company is Enron.

Less than a year later, Enron would collapse under the weight of institutionalized fraud. And hubris.

The lessons learned from the Enron collapse were the dangers of monopolistic power and lack of transparency.

Google In 2008

Google is the darling of the tech world. In fact, they're pretty much the darling of every world, given their massive market reach and the usefulness of their services. Google occupy a position of enormous power. It is fair to say Google has nothing in common with Enron, other than the fact they are a big company, and for the most part, Google has done a good job in terms of gaining and maintaining trust with a wide range of stakeholders.

But for any company the size of Google, especially one that has grown in such a short period of time, questions of trust - and anti-trust - will eventually surface.

Should We Trust The Machine?

Take for example the recent case of United Airlines stock. An old story about the airline's bankruptcy was published online, resulting in $1B being wiped off the value off the value of the stocks within minutes. The finger pointing started soon after, with Google blaming the originator of the piece, The South Florida Sun-Sentinel, whilst the Tribune Company, who publishes The Sun-Sentinel, pointed the finger right back.

To be fair, the mistake was largely due to a chain of human errors, and most of the mistakes made were outside of the control of Google. Questions of blame aside, this issue comes down to a matter of trust. Clearly, people trusted the information they saw on an automated news service, and acted accordingly. The lesson learned is that we should not be so quick to place trust in the machine.

From Trust To Anti-Trust

There is another trust - actually, anti-trust - issue of late, and this issue goes to the heart of Google's business model - online advertising.

Google's proposed Yahoo partnership is raising fresh antitrust woes. Regulators are starting to look more closely at Google's role in the world of online advertising. Will this deal give Google too much control of the online advertising space? Yahoo claims this partnership will create more market access, and provide better ROI, to advertisers. Advertisers fear that Google could use market dominance to set higher prices for search ads.

Forward-thinking SEOs may be licking their lips at that prospect, but I doubt many small website owners who rely on PPC will be too happy.

Smoke & Mirrors

In a related example, Aaron reported on a feature in The New York Times about how Google refused to tell the owner of a directory why his bid prices had skyrocketed.

"When I pressed Mr. Fox about Sourcetool, he refused to tell me why the algorithm had problems with the site. When I asked him why the site was in the algorithm’s good graces but Sourcetool’s wasn’t, he wouldn’t tell me that, either. All I got were platitudes about the user experience. It wasn’t long before I was almost as exasperated as Mr. Savage. How can you adapt your business model to Google’s specs if Google won’t tell you what the specs are?"

A similar dual-tier system appears in to be in operation in the organic search results. Greg Boser has a great post about this entitled "Why Big Brands Should Spam Search Engines".

"I wouldn’t hesitate because I understand that if a search engine happens to stumble upon what it considers improper SEO techniques all on their own, they will more than likely contact us directly to discuss the matter. Getting kicked out of the database won’t even be a consideration. If our improper SEO tactics happens to get outed publicly by some gung-ho blogger, or one of the many competitors competing for our terms, I know that all we’ll get is a tiny slap on the wrist to show the world that the particular search engine is serious about web spam. And once our public scolding is completed, we will instantly be allowed to cut to the front of the confessional line".

We all remember the BMW incident.

Google may well enjoy a significant trust level, but they couldn't exactly be described as transparent, or consistent. The Adwords and Adsense systems have become a hall of smoke and mirrors, where some players get a free ride, whilst others get hammered. There is often little or no explanation given as to why. With transparency comes trust, and the often secretive Google could do a lot more to provide clarity.

Cases of this nature are always complicated and it is unlikely much will change in the short term. Many of us simply wish that Google would be a lot more transparent about how webmasters can use, and build upon, their platform.

I suspect that, going forward, saying "Trust Us!" won't be good enough.

Tested Advertising Strategies Respun For SEO

Sep 15th
posted in

Testing Strategies For SEO

"I have seen one advertisment sell 19-1/2 times as much goods as another" - John Caples

I've been browsing through a pile of my old marketing books looking for tried-n-true techniques that could be applied to SEO in 2008. Here are some examples of ads that worked last century:

"They laughed when I sat down at the piano - but when I started to play!". And "When thin film covers teeth, smiles lose fascination" . A personal favorite "How a strange accident saved me from baldness".

Trouble is, in 2008, these ads come across as hokey.

However, much of the underlying psychology of these time-tested techniques is pure gold, and can be directly applied to search marketing and social media. Over the next few days, I'll look at strategies that can help you grab and hold visitor attention. Some of this will be old-hat to SEO pros, but hopefully it will help those new to the game :)

First up - the value of testing.

The Key To Success Lies In Perpetual Testing Of All Variables

John Caples, author of "Tested Advertising Strategies", outlined two classes of advertising:

1. The Testers
2. The Non-Testers

The idea is simple: decide on a desired action you wish the user to take i.e. making a purchase; then link this action back to the advertising spend/keyword term. You also test the wording of one page against another. Run with the winners, and cut the losers. Repeat.

This is known as split-run testing. This process was developed by direct marketers, and has a natural fit with search marketing. An ocean of material has been written about how to do this, so I won't reinvent the wheel by repeating it.

Here are three great resources regarding split-run, and more accurate, but complex, multivariate testing:

There are problems with this type of testing, however. You've got to watch out for small sample sizes and statistically small variations. Sometimes measuring the exact same page against itself produces different data!

The payoff in split/run testing is in the big swings in user action. If you're not seeing big improvements, then you've probably got your landing pages about right, and split run testing will offer incremental value, at best.

SEO: What Data Do I Test?

We're spolit for data.

The speed at which we can test and obtain data regarding visitor behaviour patterns is unprecidented. Before the internet, direct marketers used to run a series of trial campaigns in print. Can you imagine how difficult it was to measure response? And how much time it all took? These days, we've got detailed, automated analytics in the form of server stats, and we can build, test and analyse campaings, often within hours.

One trap those new to SEO often fall into is using the wrong data and metrics. One terrible, but often-cited metric, is ranking, as ranking doesn't tell you anything about utility. For example, how much traffic will the ranking generate? If the ranking does result in traffic, is it the type of traffic I need to fulfill my objectives?

We can find this information out by running a few simple tests.

How Can Testing Be Applied To SEO?

Keyword Testing With PPC

How do you know if the keyword you intend targeting is really worth targeting? A keyword term may have considerable volume and little competition, but if those searchers are intent on research, and you are trying to sell something, then your effort is wasted.

One way you can test user intent is with a short PPC campaign.

PPC offers you some valuable data points. Firstly, you can test actual search volume, as opposed to estimated volume, simply by running an ad. The Google data provides these numbers.

Secondly, you can measure the intent of the query by measuring click activity.

Determining searcher intent is important. If you aim is to sell via your site, then you want to target people who buy. Often, this information is contained within the keyword query itself. For example, the intent behind "buy x online" is clear. However, the intent behind "San Francisco Houses", less so. How do you measure intent if it is unclear from the search phrase?

You can do this by crafting different adwords ads - i.e. some commercial in nature, some informational - and testing them against one other. You can further test visitor intent by crafting landing pages that demand the visitor commits to an action that causes them some level of "pain". i.e. filling out a form. If they aren't prepared to engage after clicking a PPC ad, they're unlikely to do so just because they found your pages in the organic listings, either. If you find a PPC term with a high level of user engagement, chances are that keyword term is gold on the organic side, too, and therefore a great keyword to target.

After you've validated keyword phrases in this way, you can then set off on your SEO campaign, armed with the knowledge that your keyword terms should underpin your business objectives.

One flaw in this approach is that the searcher has clicked on a PPC ad vs an organic listing. This very action tends to indicate a commercial intent as people who do not have a commercial intent tend to ignore search advertising altogether. However, it will give you a ballpark idea and could save valuable time and effort, especially if you're targeting generic, non-specific keyword terms that don't clearly convey intent.

Keyword Spinning

I spotted this technique a while back on BlueHatSEO. It is a fantastic technique for testing and refining SEO on big sites.

It can be difficult to know what keyword variant attracts the most visitors. For example, does "Myspace Pimps" get all the traffic, or does the variant "Pimps On Myspace"? Keyword tools often aren't sensitive enough to reveal this data, and it can be time consuming to monitor, test, and change thousands of individual web pages.

Instead, try adding a counter to each page and decide on a delimiter. Say, 5 visits per page per month. If the page views are less than this figure, use an automated script to scramble the title tag and the headings to produce a different keyword order. Reset the delimiter, and see if the new keyword order receives more page views than the previous order. Your site will self-optimise, based on the results of each test.

This is an excellent application of an established advertising method - it's an automated split/run test - and applying it to SEO.

Useful Tools & Resources

The Profitable Art Of Listening

Sep 12th
posted in

Used Car SEO

"Wanna buy a car?

I got great cars for sale!

I've got the cheapest cars. I got the best deals in town! You won't get better!"

What is wrong with this picture?

This is how sales used to work. The salesperson worked to a script. The complex desires and concerns of the customer mattered a whole lot less than the need to push a generic solution. There is little in the way of relationship development or needs assessment.

Fast forward to 2008, and we live in a very different world. Due to rich, deep product and services markets, the customer has near infinite choice and options. The power has shifted to the consumer, albeit the downside is often confusion and inaction. This is why it is important to listen.

What Does The Customer Really Want?

In my opening paragraph, the salesman hasn't really bothered to find out what the customer really wants. All he knows is they probably want a car. He has made assumptions about the rest, and launched straight into benefits.

Many websites make the same mistake.

Here is a market research questions format you can incorporate into your SEO and copy writing. The aim is to find out if the benefits you are selling are the benefits the customers actually want. This is known as the SPIN selling method, and it was devised by Neil Rackham.

  • Situation Questions: These ask about facts or explore the buyer's present situation. For example, "How big is your family?"
  • Problem Questions: These deal with the problems, difficulties, and dissatisfactions that the buyer is experiencing with the present situation and that the supplier can solve with its products and services. For example, "What mile per gallon is your car old getting?"
  • Implications Questions: These ask about the consequences or effects of a buyer's problems, difficulties, or dissatisfactions. For example, "How much is it costing you to run your car each week"?
  • Need-Pay Off Questions: These questions ask about the value of usefulness of a proposed solution. For example, "How much extra money would you have for other things if we could reduce your weekly transport costs?"

Can you imagine how focused your pitch would be if you had the answers to these questions? You'd know exactly what your visitor wanted, and you'd have a good chance of closing the sale. However, it can be difficult to get this level of engagement from web visitors.

There are a few strategies we can adopt to get closer to those answers. It can help our SEO, too.

1) Path Your Visitors

On your landing page, write some copy, then ask the visitor a few questions. Keep the SPIN methodology in mind. Make each question a link to another page. Depending on how the visitors answer, they will be taken through a series of different pages that help address their needs. This will lead them closer to desired action. This has a great payoff for SEO, too. You can incorporate hundreds of pages into your site, all asking slightly different questions about pretty much the same thing. These pages become natural, interlinked keyword variations on a theme.

2) Overload With Answers

Sometimes pathing isn't appropriate.

One of the potential risks is the visitor may tire of the questions, and drop out of the sales process. Always be sure to make it easy for the visitor to complete the desired action (e.g. make a purchase ) at any step.

Another approach you can use is to overload your sales pages with keyword copy in an attempt to answer most buyer needs on the one page. In the direct marketing world, it is an established fact that long copy produces more sales than short copy. Part of the reason for this is because people are at different stages in their buy cycle, and their needs and desires will vary. You see this approach on sites such as, and some pretty horrid examples on hard-sell sites where this technique is taken to the extreme.

Try making long copy from a series of independent short copy units. One obvious example of this is a FAQ. A person doesn't need to read all the copy to get their questions answered, but can jump to the appropriate place to find their answer. Another can be seen in the Amazon page structure. Those who like customer reviews know to scroll down to the bottom of the page. Those who want a description look in the middle section. Those who want to price compare can do so against second hand copies. And so on.

If you're thinking this point is obvious, you're right. It is. But it underscores the need to always consider your visitors needs and how they may vary. Orient your strategy around the idea that there will be multiple questions and answers, needs and wants, and work this into your copy and site structure.


AIDA stands for Attention, Interest, Desire, and Action.

These are the things you must do, in terms of web information structure, in order to get your visitor to the close.

Capture attention and interest. Create desire by sweetening the deal (one day offer, bonus gift, discount today only, etc). Help visitors complete the action by overcoming objections (money back guarantee, etc) You lead the dance, but you're always listening out for the visitors wants and needs. Create funnels in your analytics programs. See where people are dropping out and ask "why"? Sales used to be about talking. These days, it's about listening.

Eventually, your sales copy will meet the varied desires and needs of your visitors.

I'll be making further posts about AIDA, but the important thing for now is to think about how listening can be used in terms of information structure, and the ways in which you need to respond. SEOs are already good at listening. They "listen" for keyword queries, and orient their copy accordingly.

Think of the process less as a sales funnel, and more of a buy path. The buy path is a relationship, consisting of questions and answers. That process starts on the search engine, and ends when you provide a visitor with the answers, and the solutions, they need.

Further Reading:

  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
  • An exclusive interactive community forum
  • Members only videos and tools
  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

Black Hole SEO

Sep 11th

Black Hole SEO

There is a black hole forming.

A few of them, actually.

These black holes aren't the result of the CERN Hadron Collider. They are forming for two reasons: the desire to keep people on site longer; and to hoard link juice, in order to dominate the SERPs.

Increasingly, top-tier sites are becoming cagey about linking out. They are more than happy to be linked to, of course, but often the favor is not reciprocated. Check out this post by SEOBlackhat.

What Does A Black Hole Look Like?

  • Uber-black hole, The New York Times, seems reluctant to link to anyone but themselves. This is especially annoying when they write about websites.
  • Wikipedia no-followed their links some time ago, thus forming a PageRank variant of the black hole.
  • The mini-me black hole, as practiced by TechCrunch. Rather than directing you to a site mentioned in an article, TechCrunch would direct you to their own CrunchBase entry instead, thereby keeping you on-site longer, and passing link authority to their own web pages. As a result, a search on Google for a sites' name may well bring up the CrunchBase entry. To be fair, TechCrunch does also link out, and there is an explanation as to why TechCrunch aren't as bad as the New York Times here.

The result is a link-love black hole. Sites using such a strategy can dominate the rankings, if they are big enough.

So if you wanted to create a blackhole, what would you do?

  • Don't link to anyone
  • If you must link out, then No-Follow the links, or wrap them in scripts
  • Direct page rank around your own site, especially to pages featuring your competitors names
  • Buy a motherlode of links
  • Become a newspaper magnate :)

Now, if you're an SEO, you might be feeling a tad conflicted about now. Why wouldn't every SEO do this? What if you owned a black hole? Isn't that the ultimate SEO end game?

In the long term, I doubt it.

If this problem becomes too widespread, Google will move to counter it. If Google's results aren't sufficiently diversified, then their index will look stale. If you search for a site, and get third party information about that site, rather than the site itself, then this will annoy users. Once confidence is lost in the search results, then users will start to migrate to Google's competitors.

I'm not certain such a move will be entirely altruistic, however. After all, what is the point of Knol? No, really - what is the point of Knol? ;)

The Advantages Of Sharing The Love

Consider what you gain by linking out.

  • Webmasters look at their referalls, and may follow the link back to check out your site
  • Outbounds may count for more in future, if they don't already
  • Your users expect it. Don't fight against their expectations else you'll devalue your brand equity
  • Any site that looks "too-SEO'd" risks standing out on a link graph
  • There is social value in doing so. Black hole sites start to look like bad actors, can receive bad press, and risk damaging their relationships with partners, suppliers, and communities.

Create More Value Than You Capture

Tim O'Reilly put it well:

"..... The web is a great example of a system that works because most sites create more value than they capture. Maybe the tragedy of the commons in its future can be averted. Maybe not. It's up to each of us".

The phrase Black Hole SEO was used by Eli on over a year ago to describe various aggressive SEO techniques.

Brand Building Tips (On A Budget)

Sep 11th

Coke Bottles

It's all very well for Coca-Cola.

Everyone already knows who they are. They have an established, iconic presence. They have mega-bucks to spend. They hire very expensive people to make very expensive noises in every market-place in the world.

But what do you do if you're a web entrepreneur trying to build a brand, from scratch, from your couch?

I've put together a list of brand building ideas, strategies and resources that can help you enhance and establish your brand on a limited budget.

1. Own Your Keyword Name

An obvious example of this strategy is

I recall Aaron describing how there was no search volume for "seo book" when he started, although there was a market for books on SEO. By building up that brand name, Aaron sparked brand searches, and forever owns the search term.

SEOs will be aware of the power of incorporating keywords into your brand name itself. The trick is not to be too generic, else you'll forever compete with everyone else who targets generic keyword terms.

2. Tell A Consistent Story

You walk into a luxury hotel. The street frontage and reception and first class, but as you explore, you notice the hallways are shabby. The rooms are top notch, but the bathrooms are dated and there are cracks in the bath.

The brand is not telling a consistent story - well, not a story that says "luxury" - and will suffer as a result.

Everything you do on your site must tell a consistent story. Everything you do is your brand. Great design is of little use if the copy writing is sub-standard, and vice-versa. Get all those little, but important, details right. Broken links, 404s, slow load times, confusing navigation, unexpected surprises - they all part of your brand experience.

3. Tell A Great Story

You'll hear this a lot in modern marketing. Businesses often say "we have a great story to tell".

Stories can be very powerful brand building exercises because people like being told stories. Stories are easy to remember, they capture the imagination, and they engage people.

Learn how stories are constructed. In a nutshell, stories move from a point of equilibrium, into chaos. The central character faces a series of challenges, which s/he overcomes. A new status quo is established.

How could this be used for a brand?

Apple started in a garage. Two misfit teens overcame the might of the corporate world to produce one of the worlds most successful, technology brands.

That's a David vs Goliath story.

But what if you don't have such a glorious story yet?

Tell a series of small stories.

"I was always getting frustrated because I often had to yell over a crowd when there was no PA available. So I started using and selling cheap, mobile PA systems. Now everyone can hear me, whether they like it or not!"

Not a great story, but it illustrates a benefit.

What is your story?

4. User Experience Is Your Brand

Site structure and usability are as much part of branding as site design. Learn the lessons of Google. The user experience is the brand i.e. fast, simple, uncluttered. Brand recognition is largely created by the accumulation of experiences and associations the user makes with your company.

There is often no need to hit people over the head with convoluted mission statements. People don't care about you. They care about them. If you make their experience a good one, they'll reward you.

5. Brand Partnership

Partner with someone who has an existing brand.

An example of this strategy was mentioned on recently. Approach authors of well-known how-to books and provide an online learning resource. The author puts his/her name to it, and receives a share of the revenue. You run the online learning resource. You have the benefit of starting with a pre-established brand and audience.

Also consider licensing brands and product marks.

6. Let Your Customers Tell You What Your Brand Is

In the 4-Hour Work Week, Timothy Ferris outlined a strategy using Adwords to decide the title of his book. He placed Adwords text ads, varied the titles, and chose the title with the highest click-thru rate. His potential audience decided his title, which is also his brand: "The Four Hour Work Week".

This strategy is useful in that it can help identify untapped niches in markets.

7. Clarity

Why is your product better than the others?

Answer that question, and you have a brand.

8. Reputation

Without it, you don't have a brand.

Move heaven and earth to maintain your good standing.

9. Become The Brand

Be your brand. Live your brand. Tell everyone, and tell them often.

It seems obvious, but I've seen many a presentation where I couldn't recall the names of most of the companies by the end of the day, mostly because people didn't do the simple thing of repeating their brand name often enough. Chances are that you need to repeat this information five times before most people will remember it.

As an aside, Jason Calacanis had a piece of advice in one of his recent newsletters. "If you don't *really* believe in your product on a deep, intrinsic level, it's going to come across *immediately* to the bloggers and press you're pitching".

The simple, most powerful thing you can do is to believe in your brand. Everything else flows from there.

10. Viral Baby

If you're reading this site, chances are you're already ahead of the curve when it comes to the huge potential the Internet offers the little guy. Multi-national businesses can now be run from a bedroom.

Look at Digg. YouTube. Facebook. Flickr. They all started from relatively humble beginnings, then went supernova very quickly. Why? There are many reasons, but they all have one thing in common.

They built viral into the brand.

They rely on one person telling another person. They facilitate it. They encourage it. They make it almost impossible not to do it.
Can your brand be made viral? Can you twist it so that people will engage with it and pass it on to their friends?

11. Time To Advertise

Once you've got your messages down, then it is time to advertise. You'd be surprised how many people do this the other way around!

Some corporates are especially bad at this, possibly because the marketing department isn't talking to the sales department, but therein lies the opportunity for the nimble entrepreneur.

One tip is to use banner ads, where you pay per click. Click-thru rates on banner ads are notoriously low, whereas they do generate brand awareness. Also seek out sites that aren't in direct competition with you, but have a similar, established audience. You can leverage off their brand by association.

Whatever channels you choose, the key is to repeat a single, simple, compelling message, over-and-over again.

Further Reading:

Predictably Irrational Web Marketing Strategies

Sep 9th
posted in

I'm reading a book called "Predictably Irrational", by Don Ariely. It's about the hidden, irrational forces that shape our decisions, and it's a great read.

There are a few interesting case studies in this book that can be applied to web marketing. I'd like to look at two aspects which might help those of you involved in e-commerce.

Relative Pricing Structures

The first experiment looks at relative pricing structures. How do you structure your prices in order to achieve higher returns? Often, it can be a simple case of making an offer no one in their right mind will accept.


Here is an example.

The Economist presented readers with the following subscription offer:

1. Internet only subscription for $59
2. Print only subscription for $125
3. Print and Internet subscription for $125

Notice something odd about option 2 and 3? Why would anyone take up option 2?

They wouldn't. And that's the point.

It turns out humans rarely choose things in absolute terms. We work out how much things are worth based on what other things are worth and compare them. In the above example, the "Print and Internet" offer is better that just the print offer. The "Internet Only" offer might be better than both, however there is no point of relative comparison for that offer. The relative comparison is made between offers 2 and 3, which makes option 2 look poor, and option 3 look like a steal. Ariely ran real tests to measure take-up, and sure enough, most people took option three.

To illustrate how powerful this pricing method is, let's remove option 2.

1. Internet only subscription for $59
2. Print and Internet subscription for $125

In this example, people are faced only with a cheap option and an expensive option. The point of comparison is largely about price. You can guess what option most people chose. They selected the cheapest option, as price becomes the key differentiator.

So, try splitting your offers. Create offers that are valuable compared to other - deliberately substandard - offers.

The Effect Of Expectations

In another chapter entitled "The Effect of Expectations", Ariely asks why the mind gets what it expects, and not necessarily the reality of a situation.

For example, Ariely conducts an experiment whereby researchers offer students a free cup of coffee, along with some rather unusual condiments, such as cloves, nutmeg, orange peel, anise and sweet paprika. Not the sort of thing you'd likely put in your cup of coffee! The students were asked to rate the taste of the coffee, and specify the maximum price they were prepared to pay for a brew.

From time to time, the researchers made one subtle change. They placed the condiments in a range of containers, from rough styrofoam cups, through to beautiful glass-and-metal containers. The condiments were never actually used, however the mere appearance of the serving bowls had a curious effect. When the condiments were placed in luxury containers, the coffee drinkers were more likely to say they liked the coffee, and whats-more, they were prepared to pay a lot more for it.

If people thought the coffee was upmarket, they convinced themselves the coffee was upmarket. The reality was that the coffee never changed. The coffee was of the same quality throughout the experiment.

Self-evident, right? So, can this theory be directly applied to web marketing?

Essentially, we're talking about branding. There is the logical first step of using upmarket web design in order to help convince people your product or service is more desirable. There is a trap, however, and this is the reason I think this case study needs to be adapted for the web environment. When it comes to e-commerce, upmarket, glossy sites do not necessarily result in higher sales. There are various reasons for this, but I think mainly it has to do with the level of trust. A slick website can sometimes feel impersonal, and people crave a personal feel on the web.

Trust, not slick graphical design, is the equivalent of the elaborate serving bowls.

In order to raise expectations, consider raising the level of design, but only if you do so without losing trust. Achieving a fine balance between excellent usability, trust metrics and excellent graphic design is a great target to aim for.

Consider the converse. Have you bought from sites that are unusable? Plastered with over-the-top Adsense? Such sites are less desirable as expectations are set low, primarily because of the low level of branding. The buyer is expecting "cheap". That's probably the only reason people buy from such a site.

Such sites are the web equivalent of broken styrofoam cups, compared to the elegant serving bowls.

Have your say

What do you think? Have you got any "irrational strategies" to share?

IE8 Beta Review: A Game Changer, Or More Of The Same?

Sep 9th
posted in

I've been trying out Google's Chrome browser. I like it. I really do.

I like Chrome mainly because it is fast. Faster than Firefox, anyway. However, I'll be alternating between the two browsers, because Firefox has a plethora of useful plug-ins that Chrome lacks.

Like many Firefox converts, I haven't looked at Internet Explorer for some time now.

Microsoft have recently released IE8, so I thought I'd evaluate it in terms of search, and contrast it with the functionality and positioning of Chrome. Many in the internet community have speculated that Chrome is going to eat Microsoft's lunch, and not just in the browser space, but with the ushering in of cloud computing. Is this plausible?

Let's take a look.

Internet Explorer 8

You can download IE8 Beta from here. As usual, you'll have to sign your soul, and those of your yet unborn children, etc, etc over to Microsoft, and then reboot.

Goodbye Google Toolbar

You run through the inevitable setup screens. The first search-related issue I noticed was that Google's toolbar wasn't compatible with IE8 beta, and asks me if I want to disable it. Is a bug, feature, or a market position? ;)

Next up, IE8 asks you if you want to use "Express Settings", which means that the search provider will default to your existing default, and just about everything else defaults to Microsoft products or services. Internet Explorer also wants to become your default browser. At this point, you can opt for Custom Settings, and modify each setting individually.

Welcome To Internet Explorer 8

Pretty flexible, really. If you want to opt out of Microsoft services, you can do so easily.

The Search Wars

My main reason for looking at IE8 is in terms of search. What functionalities do you get, and how is this browser positioned against Google?

Search Suggestion

One feature, called Search Suggestions, offers, naturally enough, search suggestions. Like the equivalent Google feature, IE8 will try to guess what keyword you are search for a prompt you with suggestions as you type. This feature works with many different search providers (Google, Yahoo!, Live) and large ecommerce and content sites (, eBay, Wikipedia), which makes the search box a nice keyword research tool, but nothing new to most of us, I'm sure.

Note that this type-ahead feature, like on all browsers offering type-ahead suggestions, will send your search queries to your search provider, even if you don't hit send. Matt Cutts, perhaps sensitive to the privacy concerns aimed at Google, makes the point in this comment he posted on GoogleBlogoscoped that " if "Suggested Sites" is on, "your web browsing history is sent to Microsoft, .... the addresses of websites you visit are sent to Microsoft, together with some standard information from your computer such as IP address, browser type, regional and language settings.....".

Internet Explorer 8 Search Bar

How Will This Affect SEO?

An aspect SEOs need to consider is how the widespread implementation of search suggest is going to affect SEO. In this post, Aaron talks about how search suggest is likely to force a consolidation around the most popular terms. This has implications for those going after the long tail, but also provides new SEO opportunities, especially if you have a brand that incorporates popular search terms.

Explorer also allows search suggestion from any provider, which can be a useful SEO tool, in itself.

Visual Search

IE8 also offer Visual Search, which provides pictures to help you select a result. This didn't seem to work for me, but I did notice that a search on "Seattle Weather", the search term suggested by Microsoft, did bring up a page featuring advertisements for Australian outdoor sportswear suppliers. Reminds me how far other providers have to go in this text ad space in order to catch up with Google. It wasn't until I dug around a bit further that I discovered that you need to install search providers. Even then, it wasn't playing well, giving me a string of error messages.

Still, problems are to be expected in a beta release.

Other improvements include search history matching, a useful "Find On Page" button added to the instant search box, and the ability to drag the search box in order to change the width. A few nice touches.

Forced Search Provider?

On the Microsoft global-domination conspiracy front, far from locking you in, Microsoft have made it rather easy to configure IE8 to incorporate your choice of search provider. It wants to default to Live Search, but you can easily select Google, or other services. The pull-down search box provides options to add more. So, good marks in terms of flexibility.

There are various other features, including InPrivate browsing, which supposedly blocks ads and prevents people tracking you across the web. As it isn't search related, I won't review it, other than to say it is good that the user has to jump through a few hoops to enable it. Love 'em or hate 'em, web ads enable the production of a lot of "free" web content. If ads were turned off by default, many sites would simply cease to exist, or start charging for content. Full marks to Microsoft for leaving this option to the power users.

IE8 Vs Chrome

Now, contrast these features with Google's Chrome.

Did you find Chrome noticeably faster than your existing browser, be it Firefox or IE?

I did.

Speed was the deciding factor for me. On the internet, speed is (nearly) everything. IE8 didn't strike me as being any faster than Firefox, and certainly a lot slower than Chrome.

In this respect, IE8 feels like an update to an existing product, as opposed to a game changer. Chrome feels like a game-changer, even though, when pushed, I can't put my finger on exactly why this is. I think it may come down to the usability gains of extra speed, especially if your day to day use orients a search function. IE8 is adding functions, desktop application-stylee, while Google is busy taking features out in order to simplify and minimize.

If cloud computing is to take off, then the browser is going to need to need the speed of an application, and it is going to need to be simple and transparent in order for people to bother migrating.

Application-Centric Vs Web Centric

Chrome explains itself better. The Google information pages tell a cohesive story, whilst Microsoft's story appears scattered and a little confused. I'd liken Chrome to an Ipod. It lacks features some users might demand, but it works right out of the box for most people. Microsoft IE8 is, well....Microsoft. It feels more application centric.

Perhaps that says something about the web strategy of the respective companies. Google wants to pull users out of their existing habits, and into the Google web, whilst Microsoft needs to integrate existing application users with the web.

A subtle difference, but there nonetheless.

Have Your Say

What are your thoughts? Have you tried both new browsers?

Google Chrome: Germany Not Impressed?

Sep 8th
posted in

Chrome, Google's new web browser, has made a huge splash everywhere this past week. User response has generally been favorable, however GoogleBlogoscoped is reporting that the German "Federal Office Of Information Security" may not be particularly happy with it:

"The Federal Office for Information Security warned internet users of the new browser Chrome. The application by the company Google should not be used for surfing the internet, as a spokesperson for the office told the Berliner Zeitung. It was said to be problematic that Chrome was distributed as an unfinished advance version. Furthermore it was said to be risky that user data is hoarded with a single vendor. With its search engine, email program and the new browser, Google now covers all important areas on the internet."

However, there appears to be no formal warning published on the Federal Office for Information Security's website. As various commentators point out, such an announcement would be odd, given that there has been no reported announcement about the IE8 Beta, which has also been released in a "unfinished advanced version".

Meanwhile, Matt Cutts is busy fighting "conspiracy theorists" regarding Google Chromes Terms Of Service. Some people were less than happy with the wording, which appeared to imply Google may assert rights to any content you submit, post or display on or through "the Services". Check out all the updates Matt makes as Google struggles to find the right words.

Google subsequently changed their Terms Of Service to read:

"11.1 You retain copyright and any other rights you already hold in Content which you submit, post or display on or through, the Services."

SEO For Regional Domains

Sep 8th

Webmasters are often faced with the problem of how to approach SEO on websites which have a country-specific focus. As you may have noticed, the search engine results pages on Google's geo-targeted search services frequently display different rankings than those you experience on 

If you run a few queries on, say,, you'll soon notice distinct regionalization patterns. In order to make search results more relevant to local audiences, Google uses different sorting methodologies than those used on

Here is a guide to optimizing sites for the different regional flavors of Google.

Country Specific Local SEO Tips

  1. Get a local domain extension:  Google places a lot of weight on the domain name, so it is important to get the appropriate country-code domain extension. If you compare results across the different geo-targeted flavors of Google, you'll notice the weight given to the local TLDs. There are exceptions, but the local TLD tends to trump .com when it comes to local result sets. Different countries have different registration criteria for domain resitration. It is fairly easy to register a or a, whilst a can involve setting up a business entity in Australia. 
  2. Specify your country association in Google Webmaster ToolsGoogle Webmaster Tools offers a facility whereby you can specify a country association for your content. You can do this on a domain, sub-domain and directory level. More detailed instructions can be found on Google's Webmaster Tools Blog.
  3. Include local contact information: Specify a local address, business name, and local contact phone numbers. Whilst not critical in terms of ranking, every little bit helps, and by including local information, the site becomes more credible to a local audience. 
  4. Local hosting: Depending on who you ask, you'll get different answers as to whether the geographic location of the web host makes a difference in terms of ranking. I have,, and sites, hosted on US servers, and they rank well on the appropriate local versions of Google. Other people feel that location-based hosting is a must. Still others say the location of the name server is most important! It's fair to say that if you have a choice between hosting locally and hosting offshore, then it might pay to host locally. It certainly can't hurt, and there might be additional benefits, such as increased download speed. If you go this route, one thing to check is the servers physical location. Often, web hosts have a local office, but their servers are located in a different country. Use an IP lookup tool to determine the exact location of a server. 
  5. Spelling & Language: Ensure you use the appropriate spelling for your chosen region. There is a difference between "optimization" and "optimisation". Keep in mind that searchers will use the local vernacular. For example, if you are optimizing a travel site in the US, you might use the term "vacation". However, searchers in Australia, the UK and New Zealand, amongst others, tend to use the term "holiday". 
  6. Tone: Copy that works well in one geographic location may not work in another.  For example, the sales language used in the US is usually more direct than that typically used in the UK, Australia or New Zealand. Familiarize yourself with local approaches to marketing, or engage local copywriters.     
  7. Inbound links: Seek out local links. All links are good, but inbound links from local TLDs are even better. Approach your local chamber of commerce, friends, suppliers, government agencies, business partners, and local industry groups and ask them for links.
  8. Local directories: Get your site listed in local directories. Local directories still feature well in geo-targeted search results as the depth of content, in terms of sheer volume, isn't as great in the local TLD space as that published on .com. Obviously, you stand to gain from the local traffic that the directories send your way, and any local link juice the directory may pass on.  Here are some top local directories:
  • The local Yellow Pages i.e. Yellow Pages Australia, Yellow Pages New Zealand, and Yell (UK). Keep in mind that some of these directories may not pass link juice, however you can weigh this factor against their value in terms of local reach. You could also seek listings in the regional sections of the following global directories: DMOZ, Yahoo, and BestOfTheWeb.
  • Recommended regional directories:

  • is a prominent UK business directory.
  • is a comprehensive Australian directory.
  • Te Puna is a government run New Zealand directory.
  • Press releases: Try to come up with a local angle for your press releases, and submit them to local news and information channels. Small, local news outlets are highly likely to run local interest stories, which in turn may help your brand exposure and get you more local links. 
  • Avoid Duplicate content: If you market is in one country, then it makes sense to use the country-code TLD for that country. However, if you target multiple countries, consider creating different content on each domain. Placing the same content on multiple domains may risk duplicate content penalties. 
  • Off-line marketing: Don't forget to get your name out locally. If people search by you by your brand or business name, you'll always be well positioned in the serps. 
  • Have Your Say

    If you have some additional ideas that have worked well for you, please feel free to add them to the comments.


      Email Address
      Pick a Username
      Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

      Learn More

      We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.