From AdSense to SpamSense to Spam Cents

Google announced they rolled out their anti-overly-aggressive-ads algorithm. They didn't give a specific % on how much of the above the fold content can be ads, but suggest using their browser preview tool. Using that tool on Google.com's search results would of course score it as a spam site, but for some small AdSense webmasters that avoided Panda, Google may have drew first blood.

Much Quicker Updates

With a limited number of recoveries nearly a year after Panda, the first bite might seem like a big concern, however the "too many ads" algorithm updates far more frequently than Panda does:

If you decide to update your page layout, the page layout algorithm will automatically reflect the changes as we re-crawl and process enough pages from your site to assess the changes. How long that takes will depend on several factors, including the number of pages on your site and how efficiently Googlebot can crawl the content. On a typical website, it can take several weeks for Googlebot to crawl and process enough pages to reflect layout changes on the site.

And for those who got hit by Panda then tried to make up for those lower ad revenues with more AdSense ad units, they probably just got served round #2 of Panda Express. ;)

Is it Screen Layout, or Something Else?

In the past Google suggested to a nuked AdWords advertiser that more of his above-the-fold real estate should be content than ads.

However Google has such a rich data set with AdSense that I don't think they would just look at layout. If I were them I would factor in all sorts of metrics like

  • AdSense CTR
  • average page views per visitor
  • repeat visits & brand searches
  • bounce rate
  • clickstream data from Chrome & the Google toolbar (so even if you are using other ad networks, they can still sample the data)

Some sites are primarily driven off of mobile views while other sites might be seen on large monitors. When Google sees every page load & measures the CTRs, tacking actual user response is better than guestimating it.

They could come up with some pretty good metrics from those & then for any high traffic/high earning site they could manually review them to see if they deserve to get hit or not & adjust + refine the "algorithm" until those edge cases disappeared. Google's lack of credible competition in contextual & display ads means they can negotiate pretty tough terms with publishers that they feel are not adding enough value to the ecosystem.

It's Not Just Algorithms Cleaning Up AdSense

In addition to these sorts of algorithms, over the past year they have manually hit networks of sites with the doorway pages label & disabled ad serving on sites or entire accounts where they felt there was a bit too much arbitrage. One of our SEO Book members pointed me to this thread where a lot of Pakistani AdSense accounts got torched last October & another sent me a sample termination email from Google similar to this one:

Notice that in the above:

  • There was no claim of click fraud, copyright issues, or anything like that.
  • There was no claim of advertiser complaints.
  • Google offers no customer support phone number, no "you might want to work on this" advice, doesn't list which of the sites in the account they felt could be improved, and RETROACTIVELY nuked past "earnings" ... depending on where it is in the schedule that can amount to anywhere from 30 to 50+ days (I remember Teeceo mentioned how they waited until the day before the AdSense payday to smoke his stuff way back in the day to have maximum impact!)

On Google's latest quarterly earnings call they highlighted how year on year Google's revenues were up 25% but the network revenues only grew at 15%. They also explained the slower network revenue growth as being associated with improved search quality & algorithm updates like Panda.

Left unsaid in such a statement was that until those algorithms rolled out, Google admitted they funded spam. ;) The whole AdSense & content farm problem was created through incentive structures with unintended consequences.

Is the Garbage Disappearing, or Just Moving to a New Landfill?

If you track what is going on with the Google+ over-promotion (long overdue post coming on that front shortly!) or how Google is still pre-paying Demand Media to upload video "content" to Youtube, Google still may be funding the same model, but doing so while gaining a tighter control of relevancy so they can better sort good stuff from crap (when you host content & track user response you have all the metrics in the world to determine how relatively good you think it is). If they over-promote these sites then in the short run they create the same skewed business model problem.

Sure hosting the user experience makes it easier to sort the wheat from the chaff, but the other big risk here is the impact on the rest of the publishing ecosystem. There will be lots of thin spam from popular people on Google+ (anyone launched a celebrity-focused Pay-Per-Plus site yet?) & in-depth editorial content might not be economically feasible in certain categories where there literally is no organic SERP above the fold.

I will complement them on their efforts to clean up some of the worst offenses (from the prior generation of "bad incentives"). If you were hit by it, Panda was every bit as big/brutal as the famous Florida update. If this update is anything near as significant as the Panda update (in how it impacts smaller independent webmasters) then it is going to force more of them/us to move up the value chain.

That may mean pain in the short run, but (for those who take it as a wake up call to develop brand & organic non-search traffic streams) far more rewards in the longrun for those who remain after the herd is thinned.

Working for "The Company"

Larry Page's view on working for the company:

My grandfather was an autoworker, and I have a weapon he manufactured to protect himself from the company that he would carry to work. It's a big iron pipe with a hunk of lead on the head. I think about how far we've come as companies from those days, where workers had to protect themselves from the company.

I think for many SEOs the idea of starting over is painful, but the best SEOs often enjoy the forced evolution & the game of it all. They don't roll over & play dead or forget SEO. And if Google didn't put hard resets in every once in a while, then the big hedge funds would be mopping up the SERPs and cleaning our clocks with the help of Helicopter Ben.

Areas For Improvement

Of course this could be taken as a positive post toward Google (and it mostly is), but I don't want to come across as a fanboi, so I thought I should do a shout out to a couple things they still need to fix in order to be consistent:

  • If Google is going to tell people that thick deep content is needed to gain sustainable exposure then they shouldn't be ranking thin + pages in the SERPs just because it is a Google product. Even people who have *always* given Google the benefit of the doubt (full on fanbois) found the Google+ placement in the SERPs distasteful.
  • Google's AdSense is still sending out some of those automated "you are leaving money on the table" styled emails reminding publishers to use 3 ad units. If such behavior may lead to a smoke job, then the recommendation shouldn't be offered in the first place. Right below the "use 3 ad units" there needs to be a "proceed with caution" styled link (in red) that links to the recent "too many ads" post.
  • Old case studies that are no longer in line with best practices in the current market should have some sort of notice/notification added to them so new webmasters don't get the wrong idea.
  • Some of the AdSense heatmaps are roadmaps to penalization. These should have been fixed before yesterday's announcement, but if they are still up there next week then Google is willfully & intentionally trying to destroy any small business owner that follows that "best practice" advice.

Your Feedback Needed

Since this update impacted far fewer sites than the Panda update, there are fewer sample/example sites. Did any of your websites get hit? If so, how would you describe ...

  • your ad layout
  • your ad CTR
  • you mode of monetization (AdSense, other, both)
  • the level of impact on your site from the update

Is Google Selling Investors Private Search Data?

Jan 18th

This is an interesting play:

BBVA, Spain’s second-largest bank by assets, is teaming up with Google to use its search engine results to provide advanced forecasts of hotel and tourism demand in the country, part of a plan to market real-time economic indicators to its clients.

The bank and internet group will announce on Monday a scheme called the “BBVA-Google tourism activity in Spain indicator”. The first pilot project has focused on measuring advance demand for hotel stays and tourism interest in Spain by using search engine data.

Private investors get to see that search data before anyone else does. If you have a retirement plan invested in stocks, then you are at an asymmetrical information disadvantage because Google is providing an in-depth look at that search data to competing investors who can trade on the information before it is public.

Is search traffic a big deal? Is there enough signal there to matter? Yes. And yes.

I read an investment report earlier today about a company where the hedge fund's rating & valuation was largely based on / justified by the SEO strategy of the underlying company & their current Google rankings...the report even had keyword ranking charts in it!

Was Google paid for giving BBVA access to the above data? Or was it thrown in as a freebie in exchange for getting over 100,000 BBVA workers to switch to the cloud & go Google on the enterprise software front?

If Google has over 90% search marketshare in many EU countries & is willing to leverage proprietary search data to win contracts in other fields, how does anyone compete against that data bundling?

Further, think of all the damage hedge funds & huge banks have done to societies the globe over this past decade & now Google is directly helping the bad guys.

That is Google's approach to their proprietary information: if you invest in their ecosystem and use their analytics tools you can't get your own analytics data (as they have to protect "user privacy"), but they will gladly sell that same data off to someone else.

If there is no public outrage at this "test" then the data units will start getting more granular. Rather than measuring categories Google may sell data on a per-site or per-company basis. Looking at how Google has consistently disintermediated "partners" everywhere else, if Google is feeling bold they may suggest that selling the data to others also permits Google to trade on the data as well.

What's far scarier than an angry search engineer looking at your large paid link buy or a rogue Google "contractor" hacking up your site? A Google hedge fund with a substantial short position on your stock. :D

Recall that Eric Schmidt has stated:

"One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try and predict the stock market..." Eric Schmidt continues, "and then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that."

Based on Mr. Schmidt's above comment, is it reasonable that Google now profits off leveraging their data for securities analysis? What made the above clearly illegal & what is going on now above board? What's the difference between them? Perhaps a "contractor" layer?

At the same time Google runs sweeping ad campaigns reminding people how Google protects them online, while hosting banking data in the cloud & making themselves a juicier hacking target.

Google warns publishers against using paywalls because it is a poor user experience while wiping out competing lead aggreagtors with new guidelines that are likely impossible to comply with. Sites like Highbeam Research get smoked by algorithms like Panda & the Google works with the folks who already have the legislature in their pocket to get them more data. The lesson here from Google is to provide a clean front end user experience and then sell the data back out the other end.

Everything is fine. Keep shopping (on Google.com + your Android phone)...Google will ensure the data is monetized to its full potential.

Was Google Caught in a Sting Operation in Kenya?

Jan 13th

Wow...this is pretty...um...transparent.

According to this post, Google was caught scraping Mocality, calling the listed businesses, soliciting that they move to Google "Get Your Business Online", disparaged the directory they were scraping in the client call, and then lied about having the permission of the directory they were scraping to try to con businesses into working with Google.

A few select quotes:

There are absolutely no costs, and this will be agreed on before it’s put on… No one will come and tell you like Mocality used to do, someone tells you it’s free and then they come to ask for money. You know that Google doesn’t fool around here.
...
Mocality used to charge people and many of the people who used to be in Mocality we have taken them and transferred them here. Didn’t we also find you on Mocality?
...
Ai…they used to…but some people didn’t used to pay. They [Mocality] used to go and ask people to pay them around Ksh. 20,000 and people refused. It was things like that.)

Google's business model *is* buying or building things that are free and then later pulling back features and/or sneaking costs in on them. Whether it be clubbing Android carriers with compatibility, saying search ads are evil then placing them everywhere, Google Maps API terms changes, terms changes on the Google AdWords API, Google hotel place listings with endless price ads, or keyword (not provided) in web analytics while trying to force you to register in Google Webmaster Tools to get any keyword data at all!

As if that wasn't bad enough, when the fake business asked Google if Mocality was ok with this, this was the exchange:

My question is does Mocality know that you’re getting their con…our contacts from their directory?
~~~
Yah. They know. They know that very well. They have agreed with Google when they were on that thing.

I have long stated that the difference between spam and quality content is who is spamming. With the recent widely criticized over-promotion of Google+ in the search results and this sort of scrape, lie & disintermediate the source Google's true character is shining through.

Facebook & Twitter are smart not to leave the barn door open for Google.

All information wants to be free and wrapped in Google's ads. Or so the saying goes. But until they can be trusted it won't be. They have done A LOT of brand damage to themselves in the past couple months.

Update: Google was mortified that they got caught doing this:

We were mortified to learn that a team of people working on a Google project improperly used Mocality’s data and misrepresented our relationship with Mocality to encourage customers to create new websites. We’ve already unreservedly apologised to Mocality. We’re still investigating exactly how this happened, and as soon as we have all the facts, we’ll be taking the appropriate action with the people involved.

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Scalable Link Outreach with Gmail and Boomerang

Jan 10th
posted in

Sometimes it's the little things in life....Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook) is an incredibly useful, lightweight, powerful link outreach app.

Link building has a special place in the SEO industry. Beyond being one of the harder skill-sets to master and acquire, link building is likely the most important element of an SEO campaign.

Link building can also be the most difficult job to:

  • Scale internally and externally
  • Train someone to do efficiently
  • Outsource
  • Hire someone for

How to hire link builders and how to train them are certainly worthy of their own (upcoming) blog posts but this post is going to sing the praises of a Gmail and Outlook plugin that is essential for my link building workflow.

Boomerang for Gmail (and Outlook)

Outside of the really cool name this plugin makes my workflow much more streamlined and efficient.

I don't use Outlook so I'll be focusing on the Gmail plug-in here. The Outlook plugin has most of the functionality of the Gmail edition (minus the Send On options) and you can check out the Outlook version here.

The key benefits to using Boomerang (referencing the Gmail app going forward) are:

  • Schedule emails to be sent at a later date/time
  • Set reminders on emails so they pop back up at a specified time
  • Set email reminders from your smartphone

Send Emails Later

You can install Boomerang for Gmail here. You can use this for Gmail and Google apps and you'll need to use Firefox or Chrome.

You'll manage Boomerang in two places; you can get to it in your Gmail toolbar:

From here you can access your scheduled messages to make any changes and access various help and how-to's.

The other area where you access Boomerang is in the email dialogue box. When you go to compose a new message or click to reply to one you'll see the Boomerang button and see all the options available for sending the message:

If you click on anything other than the specific time option at the bottom, the message is scheduled straight away.

If you need to access your Boomerang-ed messages, just go back to the top Gmail toolbar, click Boomerang, and click access Scheduled messages.

The other cool option when composing a new message is listed right below the subject line. From here you can have Boomerang return the message to your Inbox if no one replies or even if they do (marked as unread, starred, etc; these options can be changed in the "access scheduled messages" option on the top Gmail/Boomerang toolbar option):

You have the exact same option when replying to messages as well.

This is incredibly useful for a variety of link building actions such as:

  • Tracking the effectiveness of email pitches
  • Scheduling a bunch of pitches to line up with various promotions and outreach campaigns, in one shot
  • Using in conjunction with Gmail's canned responses for scalable link outreach and management
  • Never forget about a link prospect
  • Make Gmail a self-contained link outreach system for staff members
  • Avoid awkward time zone issues on email deliveries if you have staff outside your targeted market's location

Email Reminders

While the Send On features are the most useful for link outreach, the Reminder functions can be useful as well.

Boomerang has Gmail-like functionality in the way it auto-offers a solution. Here you can see I've got a Staples coupon that expires on January 16th. Boomerang is asking me if I'd like to return this to my inbox on that date:

Outside of that functionality you can click the Boomerang reminder icon in the toolbar to get the reminder options available to you:

So rather than setting something in your calendar or in your task management application, you can use Boomerang to re-populate the email when needed.

You can add a condition to this and say that you only want to be reminded of the message at the selected time "IF" no one responds, simply by checking that option above. Otherwise, it will come back whether someone responds or not.

You can also use your iPhone, Blackberry, or Android to set up a message for yourself to arrive in your inbox at a certain time with their mobile option.

Privacy Concerns

Letting an app access your data on mail.google.com shouldn't be taken lightly. Here is what they say about privacy:

Why does Boomerang for Gmail need access to my email account?

Like most other Gmail plugins, we need access to the full email data to be able to move and send messages. In our queries, we only store the headers of the message (subject, sender, time) so that we can uniquely ID the message you want to schedule. We don't store any message text.
Does it mean you have my Gmail password?

No, we don't have access to your Gmail password. You are authorizing through Google's official OpenID system.

Sign Up for Boomerang

You can get a full-featured pro account trial for free, for 30 days here. I am anxious for them to release the open/click tracking for even deeper link outreach analysis.

If you are looking for a more enterprise level solution, with team-wide tracking and monitoring, please check out our reviews of Buzzstream and Raven Tools.

Transparency vs Asymmetrical Information

Jan 8th

"All things are subject to interpretation. Whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." - Friedrich Nietzsche

Everyone Except Me Should be Open

Being labeled as open or transparent is a great public relations strategy. Executed effectively it gets ditto heads to feel like they are part of a movement and spread your propaganda.

However actually being transparent is often a poor business strategy.

When WordAds opened up someone in the comments suggested that they should win by being open like Google. I read that and laughed. Where Google is losing you can count on them pushing the open label in order to build momentum & destroy the asymmetrical information advantages of existing market leaders. But where Google leads non-transparency is the norm.

A few examples & comparisons:

  • Claiming to run an open auction, while running obfuscated quality metrics that price gouge advertisers.
  • At the same time Google is trying to push social sites to offer transparent data, they decided to block some Google search referral data (unless you are paying for the clicks, then you get that data).
  • When planning some of the features behind Google+ one of their employees wrote a book about the social circles concept with Google's blessings. Then, after he wrote the book, Google revoked permission to publish it!
  • Nuking affiliate links of some websites & then investing in Viglink, a network that automatically turns links into affiliate links.
  • Burning some networks of websites for being doorway pages & then investing in the Whaleshark Media roll up & launching Google Places.
  • Nuking some UK financial comparison sites for link buying & then buying BeatThatQuote.
  • Suggesting 60 or 90 days of penalty is a reasonable penalty for sketchy links & allowing BeatThatQuote to rank 2 weeks after penalizing it without cleaning up any of the paid links.
  • Android is open but internal Google emails revealed that carriers were getting wise to Google using compatibility as a club.
  • Not sharing revenue share stats with AdSense partners for a half-decade.
  • When websites are nuked they are frequently given no explanation. Worse yet, their content often re-appears in the search results on some other domain that stole it, in many cases while being wrapped in AdSense ads.
  • Arbitrarily making it hard to export AdWords campaigns to other services (& making it against the TOS to do same via the API).
  • The Panda update was needed to rid the web of garbage content. And yet Google is pre-paying Demand Media to post videos on YouTube. Since the Panda update downstream Google traffic to YouTube has more than doubled & YouTube is serving over a trillion streams per year!
  • In spite of not having permission to do so, Google has been scanning books for nearly a decade now. Yet whenever Google goes to court they try to get the court documents sealed so that their statements couldn't be used against them.

Judge, Jury, Executioner

Calls for "transparency" in SEO may sound great on their face, but once you peal back the covers the absurdity is laughable. If Google didn't discriminate against certain types of players & if Google didn't compete in the very markets that it judges then perhaps transparency would be a good idea.

However Google is perhaps the single biggest direct competitor in many markets, so to be fully transparent with them when they are the opposite with you is a naive business strategy:

I also disagree that outing each other would make the industry less like a mafia, because SEOs aren't the mafia. SEO is a symbiotic marketing channel reliant on Google, until the next big search engine/method comes along. In a mafioso analogy, Google would be the mafia - as they control the market. Removing all webspam wouldn't necessarily create better search results or a fairer market, as Google still decides who wins and who loses. The biggest winner being Google itself, the next level being their friends.

Secrecy is also the cornerstone of all marketing channels. Social Media for instance works in a similar way to SEO, except they have secret voting methods rather than secret linking methods. You don't see major social media companies outing a rival's voting methods, as it would shine a torch on their own methods. Even outside of marketing, McDonalds probably worked out KFC's magic blend of herbs and spices decades ago, but it's not in their best interest to tell everybody.

Outing webspam helps an SEO blog to keep their UVs up and their VCs happy. It helps a failing newspaper to appear modern and edgy, whilst allowing the contributor to launch a protection racket off the back of another company's misery.

Do You Want SEOs to Seem More Professional?

How often do you see tier-1 public relations firms marketing themselves by smearing other PR firms?

You don't.

You might see a company like Google hire a PR firm to push a bogus study to smear the security of a competitor, but you rarely (if ever) will see one PR firm smear another in the media.

While some of the more intellectually challenged members of the SEO industry associate search spam with molesting children (talk to Google about that after their recent Chrome fiasco), those with a bit of intelligence and/or experience realize that many of the issues are gray and murky. What one person considers as spam one day they later sell as "advanced" months or years down the road. The ecosystem isn't some static black & white code:

The question is less whether black hat and webspam are a good thing or not, but if Google is the unbiased and benevolent instance who shall make the rules. Google is a business and persuits its very own interestes, since it is aware of its market power with a lot of arrogance, aggresivity and obviously double standards. That was also Aaron's point, but seomoz has been missing the point completly in the last time.

I expect an SEO portal/community to focus on how stuff actually works/can work, not to propagate how the monopolist does it want to work. It is their risk of doing business if they decide for an algorithm, not ours. It is our risk however, to decide whether to stick to the rules or not. And it's not only about ethics but has several practical implications...

Full Disclosure Required, Except From Us

On paid links Google claims to require machine AND human readable disclosure. Then on their own site they use an ad color background that literally fades to white on many monitors. Maybe it is legitimate that they are only able to fool some of the users some of the time. But some of their ad initiatives have 0 disclosure at all. None.

That is now part of the "organic" search results, but is that a paid ad?

You wouldn't know by looking at it, but according to the WSJ it is: "Google lists booking links to the airlines as advertisements, but the company declined to comment on how much money it makes from the arrangement."

There is no disclosure that you are in a paid ad funnel until the very last click. And those who fail to pay are either unlisted, listed last, or have a broken booking process where their brand is arbitraged in an attempt to flip the click to somewhere else. According to Leocha, “Google and the airlines have a sweetheart deal with each other, and the consumers are getting screwed.”

In the hotel market Google is also testing comparison ads & price ads.

Notice how little they care about relevancy so long as they keep the click on Google or are paid for the referral. They rank the car rental company Avis as a top Las Vegas hotel! And even the ad links that are sold off of that do not line up. Priceline pushes the Plazzo Luxury Suites & Booking.com pushes the Venitian.

Retarding Investment in the Search Ecosystem

What do you suppose the above behavior does to cash flow & multiples of websites in that vertical? Of course it contracts them & retards investment. Who wants to start a new hotel website at this point? What other verticals have investment held back by the fear of Google's eventual entry?

If you only had to manage competing against other market competitors & staying inside Google's editorial guidelines then investment isn't that difficult, but if you have to stay within Google's guidelines in the short term yet try to build a business that is sustainable even after Google enters & destroys the market it is far more difficult.

Skimming the Cream

At any time Google can enter any market and skim off the cream: "An independent study from Leads360 showed consumers using Google’s comparison ads converted better than any other lead provider."

Other affiliate networks which do not own the search channel have to fight through quality issues if they try to build similar scale.

A Self-serving Bias You Can Count On

When Google enters a market it might buy out a competitor, buy out a supplier, bundle, use predatory pricing, grant themselves superior search placement, adjust the relevancy algorithms and/or editorial guidelines, violate IP, scrape 3rd party content, work with sketchy advertisers & publishers to undermine competing business models, or any combination of the above.

They are rarely transparent with their interests when they enter a market. Almost everything is labeled as "a beta" and "just a test." They promise to "act appropriately" & you may not be aware of the steamroller until you are under it.

Web Scrape Plus+ (Now With More Scraping)

When the +1 button & Google+ launched, Google highlighted how they would use the + button usage as a "relevancy" signal. Google recently started inserting + pages directly into the search results for brands & right from the very start they were using it as a scraper website that would outrank the original content source.

Google used the buy in from their promised relevancy signal to create a badge-based incentivized system which acts as a glorified PageRank funnel to further juice the rankings of these new pages on a domain name that already had a PageRank 10.

I recently read a blog post about how anyone could do the above & the opportunity is open to everyone. But the truth is, I can't state that something will become a relevancy signal that manipulates the search results in order to get buy in. Or, if I did something which actually had the same net effect, Google would likely chop my legs off for promoting a link scheme.

Recently the topic of Google+ as a scraper site came up yet again via Read Write Web & on Hacker News a Googler stated that it was "childish" to place any of the blame on Google!!!!!!

Google determines how much information is shown near each listing & can create "relevancy" signals in ways that things tied to Google get over-represented (look at the +1 count here). When they do that & it destroys other business models *of course* Google deserves 100% of the blame.

It may be more profitable for Google to squeeze out some of the players, but if Google's quest for free content manages to destroy business models & the ecosystem as a whole, then they are not "doing what is best for the user."

Things We Do Not Approve...

Google can bundle themselves into markets, but when others do the same it is a big no no:

A Google spokesman said "applications that are installed without clear disclosure, that are hard to remove and that modify users' experiences in unexpected ways are bad for users and the Web as a whole."

Google's founding research highlighted how bad ad-driven search engines were & then Google's core revenue engine of paid search was built on their violation of Overture's patent. They keep buying swaths of patents to protect against their other violations.

The business model of "violate & then buy protection" has helped lead to a protection-racket styled marketplace in patents that makes the risk of innovation for smaller players so expensive that it drives them under.

Where Google has gained a dominant position in a marketplace they can begin misdirecting for profit. Let's say you link to your own location on Google Maps to drive traffic to Google & help your users locate your office. Well in some cases they then reciprocate by confusing users by putting an ad in your location bubble.

Once again, you are forced to buy your own brand unless you teach your customers (and prospective customers) to avoid Google products.

Sure I May Have Failed, But at Least That Failure Was Transparent...

If you are fully transparent against an arbitrary set of guidelines when the company that judges you also competes against you & brushes up against the limits of the DOJ & FTC then you might lose for no reason other than being transparent. And not only are you competing directly against Google, but the algorithms are biased toward certain players.

Creating a Two-tier Web

In 2006 Google's Eric Schmidt admonished others for attempting to create a 2-tier web:

Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody — no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional — has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.

But when Google launched their Panda algorithm they did the same thing.

Their "quality content" thesis could have come across as being honest if they weren't still pre-paying Demand Media to upload "content" to YouTube.

You might get smoked by a Panda update or have your accounts arbitrarily frozen while operating at a 7 out of 10 level, and then you see Ask is Google's biggest advertiser, their arbitrage gets a pass, & that feed even monetizes misspelled searches for Google's brand. ;)

Risks

Risk is needed for adaptation, so some amount of risk is good, but...

If the old established corporate competition needs to be as good as you to compete then there is little risk to being transparent if the competition is doing nothing beyond following you around. But if the playing field is tilted and the competition only needs to be 5% as good as you are to beat you (and can easily come from behind to copy any success you have) then full on transparency brings much more risk than potential profits.

You Are the Ad

We are moving into a media world where the content becomes ads & even how people interact with the ads and content becomes a part of the ad.

Further Google uses their data advantage to create other asymmetrical advantages. While credit card companies sell personalized ads in network, Google is creating a marketplace to buy and sell user data.

Every time you view a page and click an ad (or even don't click an ad) you are feeding highly personal data back to Google. And they will use it as they wish. Here they are saying thousands of people like eBay, which is of course plenty reasonable, except for the fact they claim the people voted for that specific page rather than the site as a whole.

What's worse is that sometimes they will put your picture next to a listing and claim that YOU PERSONALLY voted for a specific page & use that to market that item to your friends and contacts. The problem with this is that:

  • even after you remove the vote for a site they still keep showing it
  • you may vote for site A & they will show your image as voting for site B
  • when they show your picture they claim you voted specifically for the page being advertised (even if that page is promoting a scam or something else you wouldn't endorse)

Once again, I will highlight that they use the votes against the wrong sites & pages and that they keep showing the votes even weeks after you remove them.

Where is the transparency in that deceptive crap?

Others Are Just as Bad, But Are Not Monopolies

But Aaron, you are just being hard on Google, why don't you ever mention Ask or Yahoo! or Bing?

I did mention Ask above. ;)

Bing has done numerous self-serving things, including some that are flat out sketchy.

Yahoo! offers a useless "buying guide" for fish tanks that is nothing more than a paid pointer to Overstock.com.

If you click on their coupons tab on that fish tanks search Yahoo! shows you coupons for tank tops, which is pretty idiotic.

Why is this Yahoo! Shopping & Yahoo! Deals product so ugly? They outsourced it years ago. So it is a non-product & thus the integration can't be anything but crappy.

Why do Yahoo! & Bing typically get a pass? They own a fairly low search marketshare. Missing traffic from either or both of those is certainly significant enough to be felt, however even when they are combined it is still less than half of what Google controls in most markets. Market leaders are expected to operate in less conflicted & less self-serving ways than also ran players in their market do. If Microsoft would have had 10% or 15% marketshare for their operating system then it is unlikely their browser bundling would have come under such scrutiny.

Transparency in The Real World

In the past I highlighted how every form of media is manipulated in Why Outing is Bad, but I thought it would be fun to run through some other markets and highlight how transparency often exists only as an illusion (to lure in punters so they can be rooked).

TrueCar aimed to make that market more transparent by giving consumers pricing data online to remove some of the asymmetrical advantage dealers have & makes the sales process smoother for consumers. How does the automotive market respond? Honda issued threats to their dealers & now TrueCar has a hate video ranking for their brand.

This nontransparency is not something new, but rather the way it has always been.

It exists at every level of society. Countries spy on one another & companies may chose to show different views of the world to different markets.

And what they do internally doesn't match the story they share publicly. Look no further than the News of the World's hacking scandal:

News International’s leading profit centre, the News of the World, was dependent on a very ugly culture of lawbreaking, hacking and impunity. This freewheeling, ask-no-questions attitude spread to other parts of the organisation, such as the Times and the Sunday Times, both of which used have used illegal or unethical techniques. Even more troubling, when senior News International management were confronted with evidence of wrongdoing, the company made false statements and took actions which prevented key evidence from reaching the public domain.

The same company has not only been accused of hacking at some of its other news outlets (by its own employees no less) but was also accused of similar in other lines of business:

Both cases involve News America Marketing, an obscure but lucrative division of the News Corporation that is a big player in the business of retail marketing, including newspaper coupon inserts and in-store promotions. The company has come under scrutiny for a pattern of conduct that includes below-cost pricing, paying customers not to do business with competitors and accusations of computer hacking.

Were The Robber Barons Transparent?

Going back into history it is sort of hard to pick a starting point (one can go to the spice trade & orders that are unsealed at sea, or likely earlier than that) but to pick a somewhat recent starting point, we could look at the railroads:

So how did unnecessary, inefficient railroads get built? Because of government subsidies. In short, the federal government paid to build the railroads through massive financing subsidies and also gave them ample land grants. The trick to building a railroad was not knowing anything about railroads or even about business; it was having friends in Washington who could give you the right financing and land subsidies.

Even then, the railroads lost money. Not only was there insufficient demand for their services, but they were run by people who were generally incompetent. (For one thing, they didn’t even know their own costs of doing business.) Yet the people who owned the railroads made fabulous amounts of money (of which Stanford University is one symbol). The main way to do this was simple. The people who controlled a railroad (generally by putting up very little of their own money, thanks to the government subsidies) would also wholly own a construction company. They would cause the railroad to overpay the construction company to build the railroad—in effect transferring wealth from railroad stockholders and creditors into their own pockets

What did the Robber Barons invest in? In large part government, media & educational institutions so that they could help "educate" society on how to behave much more civilly than they have.

Corporate Advocacy

There are tons of marketing campaigns designed to "educate" society about the impacts of various companies. BP now markets the gulf coast economy they plundered.

AT&T's astroturfing campaign to acquire T-Mobile was so over the top that it actually backfired.

"Get the facts" styled campaigns are rarely about promoting a complete worldview.

Remember the $500 million fine for Google from them pushing ads selling overseas Viagra in the US? Now they promote scaremongering ads against fakes from filthy labs.

Coca-cola runs The Beverage Institute & has "doctors" highlight how healthy soda is.

At the same time, when Pepsi was sued over an alleged rat being in a can of Mountain Dew. Pepsi's defense claimed: "the mouse would have dissolved in the soda had it been in the can from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff drank it" turning the mouse into a 'jelly-like' substance. But don't worry folks, it's healthy. :D

At least we still have water.

When they are not busy making it illegal to collect rainwater, Bechtel wants you to follow them on Twitter.

It is hard to know what is in our food & those who label things as organic have to fill out more paperwork than those who manufacture frankenfood. Then there are the baseline chemicals sold as biodegradable which are not. ;)

Oh well, at least we have insurance.

State Farm is the #1 ranked bad faith insurance company, but at least they upload & advertise irrelevant funny videos to YouTube to create brand signal for Google.

Transparency in Everyday Life

Of course some of the worst affiliate offers, the most aggressive sales calls & other scams are designed to prey on ignorance of small print & rebilling, but even generally good businesses practice in asymmetrical skimming.

A few recent examples:

Is Our Financial System Transparent?

When one looks at the field of finance it is story after story of deception, nontransparency & lawlessness. It is a constant reminder that there is no such thing as business ethics.

  • Wachovia laundered $378.4 billion in drug money for violent drug cartels. As if that wasn't bad enough, we also sold them weapons that wound up at murder scenes with our own border patrol dead & the Koch brothers sold weapons to states that we brand as "rogue."
  • Bank of New York Mellon ripped off their clients with unsavory Forex rates: "As investigators sought to determine whether the bank overcharged clients to execute their currency trades, a senior BNY Mellon executive nicknamed "Rambo" urged traders not to tell clients how much money they made on trading, according to the informant."
  • A former Federal Reserve member writes about the Fed: "No matter the legalistic interpretation, the Fed is, working through the ECB, bailing out European banks and, indirectly, spendthrift European governments. It is difficult to count the number of things wrong with this arrangement."
  • Bank of America recently had to pay $335 million to settle a discrimination lawsuit against minorities, due to Countrywide (who is NOT on your side) charging juiced interest rates. Bank of America had to pay an $8.5 billion settlement to investors who bought some of the junk mortgages out the other end.
  • "What’s happened is that, almost overnight, we’ve switched from democracy in real-property recording to oligarchy in real-property recording. There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures. It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it." - Christopher Peterson
  • The financial markets are becoming glorified crack houses: "Frankly, I am concerned that Wall Street is becoming little more than a glorified crack house. Day after day, the sole focus of Wall Street is on more sugar, stronger sugar, Big Bazookas of sugar, unlimited sugar, and anything that will get somebody to deliver the sugar faster. This is like offering a lollipop to quiet down a 2-year old throwing a tantrum, and expecting that the result will be fewer tantrums. What we have increasingly observed over the past decade is nothing but the gradual destruction of the ability of the financial markets to allocate capital for the benefit of future growth. By preventing the natural discipline of the markets to impose losses on poor stewards of capital, and to impose interest rates high enough to force debtors to allocate the capital usefully, the world's policy makers are increasingly wrecking the prospects for long-term economic growth."
  • Companies are often brought private, leveraged up on debt & have their pension programs destroyed to make "profits" for private equity investors: "Nowadays private-equity firms often spend hundreds of millions of their own money on an acquisition (BW -- Feb. 27). Just as often, though, they load up the companies with debt and use the money to pay themselves special dividends and other fees that allow them to profit even if the company itself struggles. Then the backers take the company public, often pocketing the lion's share of the offering."
  • Individuals who put in extra hours of work because they are sold on the promise of their options may also find those disappear: "Taking away the value of options that are vested means that the concept of vesting becomes bogus. It doesn't matter whether the employee understood if this was the deal or not, it's a scummy practice, and it's ultimately self-defeating (both for the company and the industry as a whole). Who would go to work for Skype (or any PE-backed company) in the future? "
  • Limitless fraud before the courts & dancing on the graves of the newly homeless: "Court records show that the firm angered state court judges for alleged false statements and filing suspect documents. Arthur Schack, a state court judge in Brooklyn, in a 2010 ruling said that pleadings by the Baum firm on behalf of HSBC Bank, a unit of London-based HSBC Holdings, in a foreclosure case were "so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authorized by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone."
    ...
    The law firm said it would shut down after New York Times columnist Joe Nocera in November published photographs of a 2010 Baum firm Halloween party in which employees dressed up as homeless people. Another showed part of Baum's office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed houses."
  • That theft of physical property is ongoing: "Also announced over the weekend was the jaw-dropping, yet illuminating fact that the MF Global bankruptcy was fraudulently, nefariously and illegally drawn up as a Chapter 7 BK for a SECURITIES DEALER and NOT a commodity brokerage as it should have been. Look, MF Global was the second-largest non-bank FCM in the United States next to NewEdge which is the old FIMAT. If MF Global wasn’t an FCM, then there are no FCMs. Of course it was an FCM. It had $7.2 billion in customer seg funds as of August 31, 2011. And yet MF Global was immediately, from the get-go, put into Chapter 7 BK as a SECURITIES FIRM. This is fraud. MF Global’s BK should have OBVIOUSLY been established under Subchapter IV of the Chapter 7 code as a COMMODITY BROKERAGE."
  • And as banking criminals literally steal money, destroy lives & undermine the rule of law to grow their "profits" sleazeballs like Jamie Dimon think that the reason people hate them is envy.

The above makes no mention of helping Greece hide governmental debt, bid-rigging bribes in Jefferson County, robosigning bogus foreclosure documents, and a host of other crimes. But one thing in common with all the above crimes is this: no jailtime for the banksters.

Since there is nothing stopping those criminals they keep up their crimes:

Big banks represent the ultimate in concentrated economic power in today’s economies. They are able to resist all meaningful reform that could really change their compensation schemes. Their executives want to get all the upside while facing none of the true downside.

But capitalism without the prospect of failure is not any kind of market economy. We are running a large-scale, nontransparent, and dangerous government subsidy scheme for the benefit primarily of a very few, extremely wealthy people.

The actions of the financial cartel are both obvious & predictable. And the damage they do is felt worldwide:

Credit-financed economic booms, by turns in private then public credit as one ratchets up the other over a series of booms and busts, are as irresistible to politicians as hookers and maids.
...
The failures of American FIRE Economy policies are behind the movements in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, as reflation measures, from quantitative easing to currency depreciation, steal purchasing power from low income families world wide, acting as the most regressive tax imaginable. Simmering hatreds are exacerbated by the developing global crisis over oil supplies and costs.
...
The so-called debate about debt ceilings, spending cuts, and entitlements reductions is a red herring. The public debt crisis arose from the 2007 - 2008 private credit market crisis, not the government liabilities that have been building for decades. The mistake of both the left and the right is thinking that we can escape an output gap without facing up to the politically unpopular task of demanding that creditors take a loss on loans taken out during the credit bubble era.

A creditor that makes bad loans deserves to go out of business. Their outsized compensation can't be justified unless they are also made to eat their losses. But rather than holding them accountable for their own actions, societies the world over absorb that pain.

"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power"- Benito Mussolini

Slavery, Debt & Freedom

There are currently more slaves alive than at any point in history. And many people who are not slaves are still being enslaved by crushing debt:

Money is a human construct. The fact that our money is now backed by nothing more than our collective future ability to "produce" relegates us to that of slaves.

Money=paper=blood hours.

Blood hours are a finite measure. Heartbeats.

What's in your wallet? Is it the new debt slavery card: "A personal bankruptcy is supposed to cut borrowers loose from lenders and debt collectors, but Capital One Financial Corp.—one of the nation's largest credit-card issuers—sometimes doesn't want to let go."

Citigroup has an "effective" strategy they employ in some 3rd world countries to deal with those who can't pay:

After dropping his younger daughter at school, Octa walked into Citibank’s credit card collection department on the fifth floor of the Jamsostek tower just after 10 a.m. Four hours later, he left the 25-story building slumped motionless in a wheelchair -- a victim of what police allege was a violent assault by debt collectors. Driven to a nearby hospital in a Citibank car, Octa was pronounced dead on arrival.

Unfortunately, even if you stay out of debt, you are forced to support banking scams:

before being bailed out by governments, banks had never made any return in their history, assuming that their assets are properly marked to market. Nor should they produce any return in the long run, as their business model remains identical to what it was before, with only cosmetic modifications concerning trading risks.

So the facts are clear. But, as individual taxpayers, we are helpless, because we do not control outcomes, owing to the concerted efforts of lobbyists, or, worse, economic policymakers. Our subsidizing of bank managers and executives is completely involuntary.

In the US the reason the government debt outlook is so bad is in part due to overpaying for "assets" owned by the likes of Citibank:

The way the banks make money now is by hiding their losers off balance-sheet, or by forcing them on the taxpayers, and after having themselves declared "systemically important," adjusting their on balance-sheet exposures accordingly, crashing the system and cashing out on their leveraged derivative bets, also at the taxpayers' expense.

In real life, if there is such a thing anymore, all of the major banks are arguably insolvent. So, in reality, they're not making any money at all, they are merely having it transferred to them by their political operatives in Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank. This, after all, is the modern purpose of the Congress, and has always been the purpose of the Federal Reserve System.

Even as they destroy savings, kill jobs & undermine the competitiveness of the economy, why does the government continue to support such scams? Without the scams & cost-shifting those in government wouldn't have as much wealth, power & influence. It is debt & cost-shifting that fuels them:

government and banks are stuck together like a couple of dogs screwing and we don't know which is on top. Here, Republicans need government to finance war and Democrats need it to finance social programs. Both need it to finance both, as that is how government attempts to maintain power and influence over the people this day and time.

The congress literally sells insider tips to hedge funds:

When Senate Democrats finally brokered a compromise over the proposed health-care law, a group of hedge funds were let in on the deal, learning details hours before a public announcement on Dec. 8, 2009.

The news was potentially worth millions of dollars to the investors, though none would publicly divulge how they used the information. They belong to a select group who pay for early, firsthand reports on Capitol Hill.

Since most money comes into circulation as debt (and due to the compounding nature of debt interest), if those at the top are not allowed to fail then those at the bottom will fall hard:

In the past, periods dominated by virtual credit money have also been periods where there have been social protections for debtors. Once you recognize that money is just a social construct, a credit, an IOU, then first of all what is to stop people from generating it endlessly? And how do you prevent the poor from falling into debt traps and becoming effectively enslaved to the rich? That’s why you had Mesopotamian clean slates, Biblical Jubilees, Medieval laws against usury in both Christianity and Islam and so on and so forth.

Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.

Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.

And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves.
...
Clearly any pretence that markets maintain themselves, that debts always have to be honored, went by the boards in 2008. That’s one of the reasons I think you see the beginnings of a reaction in a remarkably similar form to what we saw during the heyday of the ‘Third World debt crisis’ – what got called, rather weirdly, the ‘anti-globalization movement’. This movement called for genuine democracy and actually tried to practice forms of direct, horizontal democracy. In the face of this there was the insidious alliance between financial elites and global bureaucrats (whether the IMF, World Bank, WTO, now EU, or what-have-you).


Those who have the least often give the most. Excessive income inequality (especially when driven by fraud) leads to a moral and cultural rot. Financial cartels & governments can only enslave people in so much debt & hand out so much soma before they either revolt or simply lose faith.

(On a related note, December saw record gun sales.)

State actors have repeatedly use violence to try to encourage a similar response. Instead they created a viral meme & the movement lives on.

Of course there are "opposition research" hacks willing to dig up dirt on anyone with wide reach who opposes the state-sponsored fraud: "It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”

The state has long manipulated mainstream media and has tools for spying on social networks, hacking accounts & astroturfing online, but sock puppets can only go so far against reality.

Who Does 100% Marketing Transparency Help & Who Does it Hurt?

We have an SEC that shreds over a decade of evidence (and engages in other illegal behaviors), a government that bails out the criminal enterprises & a court system that broadly makes it nearly impossible to win a financial fraud lawsuit.

The biggest companies & the biggest people in business at this point are simply above the rule of law & are not held accountable for their actions. Worse yet, the corrupt system has global influence.

  • In 2004 the FBI warned that there was an "epidemic" of mortgage fraud and that it would create a crisis.
  • "My administration is the only thing between you and the pitchforks," the president told them.
  • And, in spite of the FBI highlighting the massive mortgage fraud, and the above quote, the president (who is a horrible human being) aims to keep the population misinformed & ignorant, publicly stating that what Wall St did wasn't illegal!

Henry Kissinger has a famous quote about power: "Before the Freedom of Information Act, I used to say at meetings, ‘The illegal we do immediately; the unconstitutional takes a little longer.’ [laughter] But since the Freedom of Information Act, I’m afraid to say things like that." Since then government officials have become much more evasive & smooth talking. Unfortunately, freedom of the press only goes so far:

this is how the much-lauded "freedom of the press" myth in the US actually works. If you perform the job of an actual journalist, telling truth to power, forget about attending press conferences at the White House, Pentagon or State Department. You won't even be admitted in the building.

When you ask for total market transparency it changes nothing with the criminality at the top, but it does create a juicy data source for criminals while harming personal civil liberties & unpeople with limited power:

The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.

Google Affiliate Marketing Infographic

Jan 4th
posted in

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Embed code is here.

Google Hates Affiliates.

You can embed the above graphic on your website here.

Have feedback? Please contribute in the comments.

This Post is Sponsored by Google

Jan 2nd

That is what they say, typically at the bottom of the posts, in blog posts that equate Google Chrome to being the Internet & spread misinformation about how Chrome is good for small business.

  • some of those sites are paid posts and have live links in them to Google Chrome without using nofollow & talk about SEO in the same post as well!
  • some of those posts link to the example businesses Google was paying to have covered
  • and all the posts are effectively "buying YouTube video views" for this video youtube.com/watch?v=QFLP7HD1s7k

You can say they didn't require the links, that the links were incidental, that leaving nofollow off was an accident, etc. ... but does Google presume the same level of innocence when torching webmasters? They certainly did not to the bloggers who reviewed K-Mart & the Google reconsideration request form states:

“In general, sites that directly profit from traffic (e.g. search engine optimizers, affiliate programs, etc.) may need to provide more evidence of good faith before a site will be reconsidered.”

The Orwellian things about Google using the above strategy to market Chrome are:

  • Google has a clear pro-corporate big brand bias to their algorithms & layout (Vince & Panda updates + the part near the top of the SERPs for some searches that says "brands" as a filter type).
  • The more usage data Google collects the more stupid hoops it forces smaller businesses to jump through in order to compete, thereby further driving them under. (If small business owners didn't have enough time & resources for SEO, do they now also have time to get reviews, get local citations, deal with social stuff on Twitter + Facebook + Youtube + Google+ and a bit of SEO?)
  • Google polices how small businesses can even make income online. When K-Mart paid some small business bloggers to do sponsored posts Matt Cutts wrote a post (mattcutts.com/blog/sponsored-conversations/) about how he torched those small bloggers (while doing nothing to K-Mart) & equated that exercise to selling links that promote bogus brain cancer solutions. Yet Google Japan was already dinged for this sort of paid post activity & now Google is doing the same thing again.

The fact that Google is paying to spread that sort of misinformation about how their browser is helping small businesses is sort of like BP buying ads about doing tourism in the gulf. Only since Google destroying smaller businesses is something more abstract on virtual lands the PR propaganda campaign is much more effective, because (unlike oil washing ashore) people do not see what is not there. (The birds still die, but the black oil covered carcass isn't rotting on the beach).

Should you follow Google & buy ads on these sites? Are they christened & beyond reproach? I would sort of be afraid to buy exposure on the blogs where Google is buying coverage...if that latent public relations disaster eventually blows up in their face, they may assume others are as guilty as Google is & burn down the whole forest.

Google the dictator meet Google the marketer. You guys are going to get on well together!

Update: Danny highlighted how Google's Chrome ad buy created a lot of the low-quality filler pablum content that the Panda update was alleged to discourage.

Website Auditor Review: A Full-Featured On-Page Optimization Tool

Dec 28th
posted in

website-auditor-enter-url

Website Auditor is one of the 4 tools found in Link-Assistant's SEO Power Suite. Website Auditor is Link-Assistant's on-page optimization tool.

We recently reviewed 2 of their other tools, SEO Spyglass and Rank Tracker. You can check out the review of SEO Spyglass here and Rank Tracker here.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

What Does Website Auditor Do?

Website Auditor crawls your entire site (or any site you want to research) and gives you a variety of on-page SEO data points to help you analyze the site you are researching.

We are reviewing the Enterprise version here, some options may not be available if you are using the Professional version.

In order to give you a thorough overview of a tool we think it's best to look at all the options available. You can compare versions here.

Getting Started with Website Auditor

To get started, just enter the URL of the site you want to research:

website-auditor-enter-url

I always like to enable the expert options so I can see everything available to me. Next step is to select the "page ranking factors:

wa-select-page-factors

Here, you have the ability to get the following data points from the tool on a per-page basis:

  • HTTP status codes
  • Page titles, meta descriptions, meta keywords
  • Total links on the page
  • Links on the page to external sites
  • Robots.Txt instructions
  • W3C validation errors
  • CSS validation errors
  • Any canonical URL's associated with the page
  • HTML Code Size
  • Links on the page with the no-follow attribute

Your next option is to select the crawl depth. For deep analysis you can certainly select no crawl limit and click the option to find unlinked to pages in the index.

wa-step-3

If you want to go nuts with the crawl depth frequently, I'd suggest looking into a VPS to house the application so you can run it remotely. Deep, deep crawls can take quite awhile.

I know HostGator's VPS's as well as a Rackspace Cloud Server can be used with this and I'm sure most VPS hosting options will allow for this as well.

I'm just going to run 2 clicks deep here for demonstration purposes.

Next up is filtering options. Maybe you only want to crawl a certain section or sections of a site. For example, maybe I'm just interested in the auto insurance section of the Geico site for competitive research purposes.

Also, for E-commerce sites you may want to exclude certain parameters in the URL to avoid mucked up results (or any site for that matter). Though there is an option (see below) where you can have Website Auditor treat pages that are similar but might have odd parameters as the same page.

Another option I like to use is pulling up just the blog section of a site to look for popular posts link-wise and social media wise. Whatever you want to do in this respect, you do it here:

wa-step-4-filtering-options

So here, I'm included all the normal file extensions and extension-less files to include in the report and I'm looking for all the stuff under their quote section (as I'm researching the insurance quote market).

The upfront filtering is one of my favorite features because I exclude unnecessary pages from the crawl and only get exactly what I'm looking for, quickly. Now, click next and the report starts:

wa-step-5-searching

Working With the Results

Another thing I like about Link-Assistant Products is the familiar interface between all 4 of their products. If you saw are other reviews, you are familiar with the results pane below.

Before that, Website Auditor will ask you about getting more factors. When I do the initial crawl I do not include stuff that will cause captchas or require proxies, like cache dates and PR. But here, you can update and add more factors if you wish:

wa-more-factors

Once you click that, you are brought to the settings page and give the option to add more factors, I've specifically highlighted the social ones:

wa-social-factors

I'll skip these for now and go back to the initial results section. This displays your initial results and I've also highlighted all the available options with colored arrows:

wa-results-pane-large

Your arrow legend is as follows:)

  • Orange - You can save the current project or all projects, start a new project, close the project, or open another project
  • Green - you can build an white-labeled Optimization report (with crawl, domain, link, and popularity metrics plugged in), Analyze a single page for on-page optimization, Update a workspace or selected pages or the entire project for selected factors, Rebuild the report with the same pages but different factors, or create an XML sitemap for selected webpages.
  • Yellow - Search for specific words inside the report (I use this for narrowing down to a topic)
  • Red - Create and update Workspaces to customize the results view
  • Purple - Flip between the results pane, the white-label report, or with specific webpages for metric updates

Workspaces for Customizing Results

The Workspaces tab allows you to edit current Workspaces (add/remove metrics) or create new ones that you can rename whatever you want and which will show up in the Workspaces drop-down:

wa-workspaces

Simply click on the Workspaces icon to get to the Workspaces preference option:

wa-workspaces-options

You can create new workspaces, edit or remove old ones, and also set specific filtering conditions relative to the metrics available to you:

wa-eric-workspace

Spending some time upfront playing around with the Workspace options can save you loads of time on the backend with respect to drilling down to either specific page types, specific metrics, or a combination of both.

Analyzing a Page

When you go to export a Website Auditor file (you can also just control/command + a to select everything in the results pane and copy/paste to a spreadsheet) you'll see 2 options:

  • Page Ranking Factors (the data in the results pane)
  • Page Content Data

You can analyze a page's content (or multiple pages at once) for on-page optimization factors relative to a keyword you select.

There are 2 ways you can do this. You can highlight a page in the Workspace, right click and select analyze page content. Or, you can click on the Webpages button above the filter box then click the Analyze button in the upper left. Here is the dialog box for the second option:

wa-analyze-page-content

The items with the red X's next to them denote which pages can be analyzed (the pages just need to have content, often you see duplicates for /page and /page/)

So I want to see how the boat page looks, highlight it and click next to get to the area where you can enter your keywords:

wa-keywords-content-analysis

Enter the keywords you want to evaluate the page against (I entered boat insurance and boat insurance quotes) then select what engine you want to evaluate the page against (this pulls competition data in from the selected engine).

wa-choose-engines

The results pane here shows you a variety of options related to the keywords you entered and the page you selected:

wa-analysis-results

You have the option to view the results by a single keyword (insurance) or multi-word keywords (boat insurance) or both. Usually I'm looking at multi-word keyphrases so that's what I typically select and the report tells you the percentage the keyword makes up of a specific on-page factor.

The on-page factors are:

  • Total page copy
  • Body
  • Title tag, meta description, and meta keywords
  • H1 and H2-H6 (H2-H6 are grouped)
  • Link anchor text
  • % in bold and in italics
  • Image text

Website Auditor takes all that to spit out a custom Score metric which is mean to illustrate what keyword is most prominent, on average, across the board.

You can create a white-label report off of this as well, in addition to being able to export the data the same way as the Page Factor data described above (CSV, HTML, XML, SQL, Cut and Paste).

Custom Settings and Reports

You have the option to set both global and per project preferences inside of Website Auditor.

Per Project Preferences:

  • Customer information for the reports
  • Search filters (extensions, words/characters in the URL, etc)
  • Customizing Workspace defaults for the Website reports and the Web page report
  • Setting up custom tags
  • Selecting default Page Ranking Factors
  • Setting up Domain factors (which appear on the report) like social metrics, traffic metrics from Compete and Alexa, age and ip, and factors similar to the Page Factors but for the domain)
  • XML publishing information

Your Global preferences cover all the application specific stuff like:

  • Proxy settings
  • Emulation settings and Captcha settings
  • Company information for reports
  • Preferred search engines and API keys
  • Scheduling
  • Publishing options (ftp, email, html, etc)

Website Auditor also offers detailed reporting options (all of which can be customized in the Preferences area of the application). You can get customized reports for both Page Factor metrics and Page Content Metrics.

I would like to see them improve the reporting access a bit. The reports look nice and are helpful but customizing the text, or inputting your own narratives is accessed via a somewhat arcane dialog blog, where it makes it hard to fix if you screw up the code.

Give Website Auditor a Try

There are other desktop on-page/crawling tools on the market and some of them are quite good. I like some of the features inside of Website Auditor (report outputting, custom crawl parameters, social aspects) enough to continue using it in 2012.

I've asked for clarification on this but I believe their Live Plan (which you get free for the first 6 months) must be renewed in order for the application to interact with a search engine.

I do hope they consider changing that. I understand that some features won't work once a search engine changes something, and that is worthy of a charge, but tasks like pulling a ranking report or executing a site crawl shouldn't be lumped in with that.

Nonetheless, I would still recommend the product as it's a good product and the support is solid but I think it's important to understand the pricing upfront. You can find pricing details here for both their product fees and their Live Plan fees.

SEO Lemons

Dec 28th

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SEO Market for Lemons.

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Have feedback? Please contribute in the comments.

Thanks to John Andrews for highlighting the above industry trend.

SEO Spyglass Review: A Brand New Link Source

Dec 22nd

SEO Spyglass is one of the 4 tools Link-Assistant sells (individually) and as a part of their SEO Power Suite.

We did a review of their Rank Tracker application a few months ago and we plan to review their other 2 tools in upcoming blog posts.

Update: Please note that in spite of us doing free non-affiliate reviews of their software, someone spammed the crap out of our blog promoting this company's tools, which is at best uninspiring.

Key Features of SEO Spyglass

The core features of SEO Spyglass are:

  • Link Research
  • White Label Reporting
  • Historical Link Tracking

As with most software tools there are features you can and cannot access, or limits you'll hit, depending on the version you choose. You can see the comparison here.

Perhaps the biggest feature is their newest feature. They recently launched their own link database, a couple of months early in beta, as the tool had been largely dependent on the now dead Yahoo! Site Explorer.

The launch of a third or fourth-ish link database (Majestic SEO, Open Site Explorer, A-Href's rounding out the others) is a win for link researchers. It still needs a bit of work, as we'll discuss below, but hopefully they plan on taking the some of the better features of the other tools and incorporating them into their tool.

After all, good artists copy and great artists steal :)

Setting Up a Project for a Specific Keyword

One of my pet peeves with software is feature bloat which in turn creates a rough user experience. Link-Assistant's tools are incredibly easy to use in my experience.

Once you fire up SEO Spyglass you can choose to research links from a competing website or links based off of a keyword.

Most of the time I use the competitor's URL when doing link research but SEO Spyglass doubles as a link prospecting tool as well, so here I'll pick a keyword I might want to target "Seo Training".

The next screen is where you'll choose the search engine that is most relevant to where you want to compete. They have support for a bunch of different countries and search engines and you can see the break down on their site.

So if you are competing in the US you can pull data the top ranking site off of the following engines (only one at a time):

  • Google
  • Google Blog Search
  • Google Groups
  • Google Images
  • Google Mobile
  • YouTube
  • Bing
  • Yahoo! (similar to Bing of course)
  • AOL
  • Alexa
  • Blekko
  • And some other smaller web properties

I'll select Google and the next screen is where you select the sources you want Spyglass to use for grabbing the links of the competing site it will find off of the preceding screen:

So SEO Spyglass will grab the top competitor from your chosen SERP will run multiple link sources off of that site (would love to see some API integration with Majestic and Open Site Explorer here).

This is where you'll see their own Backlink Explorer for the first time.

Next you can choose unlimited backlinks (Enterprise Edition only) or you can limit it by
Project or Search Engine. For the sake of speed I'm going to limit it to 100 links per search engine (that we selected in a previous screen) and exclude duplicates (links found in one engine and another) just to get the most accurate, usable data possible:

When you start pinging engines, specifically Google in this example, you routinely will get captcha's like this:

On this small project I entered about 8 of them and the project found 442 backlinks (here is what you'll see after the project is completed):

One way around captchas is to either pay someone to run this tool for you and manually do it, but for large projects that is not ideal as captcha's will pile up and you could get the IP temporarily banned.

Link-Assistant offers an Anti-Captcha plan to combat this issue, you can see the pricing here.

Given the size of the results pane it is hard to see everything but you are initially returned with:

  • an icon of what search engine the link was found in
  • the backlinking page
  • the backlinking domain

Spyglass will then ask you if you want to update the factors associated with these links.

Your options by default are:

  • domain age
  • domain ip
  • domain PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz Listing
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • On-page info (title, meta description, meta keywords)
  • Total links to the page
  • External links to other sites from the page
  • Page rank of the page itself

You can add more factors by clicking the Add More button. You're taken to the Spyglass Preferences pane where you can add more factors:

You can add a ton of social media stuff here including popularity on Facebook, Google +, Page-level Twitter mentions and so on.

You can also pick up bookmarking data and various cache dates. Keep in mind that the more you select, especially with stuff like cache date, you are likely to run into captcha's.

SEO Spyglass also offers Search Safety Settings (inside of the preferences pane, middle of the left column in the above screenshot) where you can update human emulation settings and proxies to both speed up the application and to help avoid search engine bans.

I've used Trusted Proxies with Link-Assistant and they have worked quite well.

You can't control the factors globally, you have to do it for each project but you can update Spyglass to only offer you specific backlink sources.

I'm going to deselect PageRank here to speed up the project (you can always update later or use other tools for PageRank scrapes).

Working With the Results

When the data comes back you can do number of things with it. You can:

  • Build a custom report
  • Rebuild it if you want to add link sources or backlink factors
  • Update the saved project later on
  • Analyze the links within the application
  • Update and add custom workspaces

These options are all available within the results screen (again, this application is incredibly easy to use):

I've blurred out the site information as I see little reason to highlight the site here. But you can see where the data has populated for the factors I selected.

In the upper left hand corner of the applications is where you can build the report, analyze the data from within the application, update the project, or rebuild it with new factors:

All the way to the right is where you can filter the data inside the application and create a
new workspace:

Your filtering options are seen to the left of the workspaces here. It's not full blown filtering and sorting but if you are looking for some quick information on specific link queries, it can be helpful.

Each item listed there is a Workspace. You can create your own or edit one of the existing ones. Whatever factors you include in the Workspace is what will show in the results pane as factors

So think of Workspaces as your filtering options. Your available metrics/columns are

  • Domain Name
  • Search Engine (where the link was found)
  • Last Found Date (for updates)
  • Status of Backlink (active, inactive, etc)
  • Country
  • Page Title
  • Links Back (does the link found by the search engine actually link to the site? This is a good way of identifying short term, spammy link bursts)
  • Anchor Text
  • Link Value (essentially based on the original PageRank formula)
  • Notes (notes you've left on the particular link). This is very limited and is essentially a single Excel-type row
  • Domain Age/IP/PR
  • Alexa Rank
  • Dmoz
  • Yahoo! Directory Listing
  • Total Links to page/domain
  • External links
  • Page-level PR

Most of the data is useful. I think the link value is overvalued a bit based on my experience finding links that often had 0 link value in the tool but clearly benefited the site it ended up linking to.

PageRank queries in bulk will cause lots of captcha's and given how out of date PR can be it isn't a metric I typically include on large reports.

Analyzing the Data

When you click on the Analyze tab in the upper left you can analyze in multiple ways:

  • All backlinks found for the project
  • Only backlinks you highlight inside the application
  • Only backlinks in the selected Workspace

The Analyze tab is a separate window overlaying the report:

You can't export from this window but if you just do a control/command-a you can copy and paste to a spreadsheet.

Your options here:

  • Keywords - keywords and ratios of specific keywords in the title and anchor text of backlinks
  • Anchor Text - anchor text distribution of links
  • Anchor URL - pages being linked to on the site and the percentages of link distribution (good for evaluating deep link distribution and pages targeted by the competing site as well as popular pages on the site...content ideas :) )
  • Webpage PR
  • Domain PR
  • Domains linking to the competing site and the percentage
  • TLD - percentage of links coming from .com, net, org, info, uk, and so on
  • IP address - links coming from IP's and the percentages
  • Country breakdown
  • Dmoz- backlinks that are in Dmoz and ones that are not
  • Yahoo! - same as Dmoz
  • Links Back - percentages of links found that actually link to the site in question

Updating and Rebuilding

Updating is pretty self-explanatory. Click the Update tab and select whether or not to update all the links, the selected links, or the Workspace specific links:

(It's the same dialog box as when you actually set up the project)

Rebuilding the report is similar to updating except updating doesn't allow you to change the specified search engine.

When you Rebuild the report you can select a new search engine. This is helpful when comparing what is ranking in Google versus Bing.

Click Rebuild and update the search engine plus add/remove backlink factors.

Reporting

There are 2 ways to get to the reporting data inside of Spyglass

There is a quick SEO Report Tab and the Custom Report Builder:

Much like the Workspaces in the prior example, there are reporting template options on the right side of the navigation:

It functions the same way as Workspaces do in terms of being able to completely customize the report and data. You can access your Company Profile (your company's information and logo), Publishing Profiles (delivery methods like email, FTP, and so on), as well as Report Templates in the settings option:

You can't edit the ones that are there now except for playing around with the code used to generate the report. It's kind of an arcane way to do reporting as you can really hose up the code (below the variables in red is all the HTML):

You can create your own template with the following reporting options:

  • Custom introduction
  • All the stats described earlier on this report as available backlink factors
  • Top 30 anchor URLs
  • Top 30 anchor texts
  • Top 30 links by "link value"
  • Top 30 domains by "link value"
  • Conclusion (where you can add your own text and images)

Overall the reporting options are solid and offer lots of data. It's a little more work to customize the reports but you do have lots of granular customization options and once they are set up you can save them as global preferences.

As with other software tools you can set up scheduled checks and report generation.

Researching a URL

The process for researching a URL is the same as described above, except you already know the URL rather than having SEO Spyglass find the top competing site for it.

You have the same deep reporting and data options as you do with a keyword search. It will be interesting to watch how their database grows because, for now, you can (with the Enterprise version) research an unlimited number of backlinks.

SEO Spyglass in Practice

Overall, I would recommend trying this tool out. If nothing else, it is another source of backlinks which pulls from other search engines as well (Google, Blekko, Bing, etc).

The reporting is good and you have a lot of options with respect to customizing specific link data parameters for your reports.

I would like to see more exclusionary options when researching a domain. Like the ability to filter redirects and sub-domain links. It doesn't do much good if we want a quick, competitive report but a quarter or more of the report is from something like a subdomain of the site you are researching.

SEO Spyglass's pricing is as follows:

  • Purchase a professional option or an enterprise option (comparison)
  • 6 months of their Live Plan for free
  • Purchase of a Live Plan required after 6 months to continue using the tool's link research functionality.
  • Pricing for all editions and Live Plans can be found here

In running a couple of comparisons against Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO it was clear that Spyglass has a decent database but needs more filtering options (sub-domains mainly). It's not as robust as OSE or Majestic yet, but it's to be expected. I still found a variety of unique links from its database that I did not see on other tools across the board.

You can get a pretty big discount if you purchase their suite of tools as a bundle rather than individually

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