Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Google. Show all posts

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Google stock takes a tumble

The Associated Press is reporting that Google's stock dropped about 5% today. The tumble means a loss of about $12 billion in market capitalization. Other tech stocks also took large plunges today, with Apple down about 6% ($9 billion drop in market cap) and Cisco fell nearly 9.5%, costing its shareholders about $19 billion in market value.

The correction in Google's stock price shouldn't come as a surprise - no stock goes up all the time. But, the timing is odd, and reflects investor's ignorance of technology in general and tech companies in particular. The drop came about because of a warning from Cisco that demand is down (and partially blaming it on the real estate/mortgage industry woes). I guess that investors lump all technology stocks in together, but Cisco and Google couldn't be more different, and investors really don't understand the difference between a HARDWARE (Cisco) and a SOFTWARE/ADVERTISING (Google) company. The fact that investor's panicked and started dumping tech stocks shows a problem with how American's invest - i.e., they don't do enough research into the companies in which they invest.

(sidenote: Americans should be far more worried about the Dollar's continuing weakness, especially with rumors of China threatening to dump Dollars in favor of the Euro.)

Google is still on an upward track, with huge earnings and enormous growth potential. The ceiling for Google is still nowhere in sight, so while new investors might not be getting in on the ground floor, those savvy enough to do so might hop on now. Expect a bounce back for Google's stock soon.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Search engine relevancy test - Part 2 - Google vs. Yahoo vs. MSN

My first search engine relevancy test took some flak for not being scientific enough. This time around, I've set some strict guidelines that should make it a bit more fair to all the search engines. Yahoo won round 1, but I only tested one keyword and used only my interpretations as scoring guidelines. Here are the scoring guidelines for round 2:

  1. Only sites returned on the first page of search results will be used (as opposed to the top 2 pages in part 1).
  2. A result that directly links to content that fits my search objective will receive 3 points.
  3. A result that links to a page that, while it may not exactly answer my question, has the information on its site, and it can be found quickly will earn 2 points.
  4. Results that are Wikipedia entries, Yahoo Answers,, etc. will receive 1 point. The reason for this is because these sites are so well known that if a user wants to search for the answer on them, they can go directly to those sites.
  5. Any result linking to a manufacturer or retailer/wholesaler that does not provide the information I'm looking for will not receive any points.
  6. Results returned to directories will receive -1 points.
  7. Completely irrelevant results will receive -2 points.
  8. Results from the same website will only be counted once.
Keyword #1 - "Fix a lawn mower engine"
The goal is to find instructions on how to fix a lawn mower engine. The keyword is long-tailed and fairly precise while the results might be pretty broad considering the number of different models and brands of lawn mowers out there. Note - I'm looking for answers on the internet with this keyword, and not for a book to purchase that helps me out.
  • Google: 14 points
  • Yahoo: 9 points
  • MSN: 9 points
Keyword #2 - "XBox 360 game cheats"
Pretending for a second that I'm a 14 year old XBox 360 fan boy, and I want to find a website with cheat codes for lots of games. The results should have a good variety of XBox 360 cheat codes for a good share of all the XBox 360 games on the market. If the initial page that pops up is selling product or giving reviews, I'm going to give it zero points. I want cheat codes for this keyword. If I can't find cheats 1 click away from my landing page, I'm moving on. I'll be awarding three points to sites that have actual cheat codes, or a list of cheat codes on the landing page.
  • Google: 16 points
  • Yahoo: 19 points
  • MSN: 22 points
MSN had an obvious advantage, considering that Microsoft owns both MSN and the XBox brands, and the results showed. One thing's for sure, there is WAY TOO MUCH advertising on video game sites. My eyes hurt.

Keyword #3: "Buy a used laptop"
I need a laptop, but can't afford a new one (okay, I know that with the price of new laptops at ridiculously low prices, it would be stupid to purchase used - humor me). The results that link directly to a listing for a laptop for sale will get the full 3 points (including manufacturers). A result that doesn't directly sell a laptop on that page, but has used laptops for sale somewhere on the site gets 2 points. 1 point will be given to sites that may not sell laptops, but link to other sites that sell laptops. Sites giving advice, reviews, or information on purchasing used laptops will not be given any points.
  • Google: 13 points
  • Yahoo: 10 points
  • MSN: 14 points
I should note that while MSN had the most points for this keyword, 2 of their results were awful. One actually sold used laptops, but it was a Pakistani website selling to Pakistanis. Doesn't do me a lot of good. The other was a website with a directory like structure that didn't give me any information about what it actually did. There were some links to used laptop sales, once I dug into the site, but a normal is long gone before they reach that point. So even though MSN had the most points, it could have done better because I deducted two points for the crappy results.

  • Google: 43/90
  • Yahoo: 38/90
  • MSN: 45/90
Surprisingly, MSN edged out Google for the most relevant results in this test. But because the XBox 360 keyword gave MSN an edge, I'll withhold judgment until part 3. Stay tuned...

Friday, November 2, 2007

Google and paid links - why Google is wrong

I wrote recently that, at least in my informed opinion, Google has become a monopoly. I base a lot of my editorial opinions in this post on the information I provided in that article. You can read it here:

Google has become a monopoly

Google's Stance
From Google's point of view, paying for links to gain Pagerank skews their ranking system, which as we all know is based in part on backlinks. The greater the rank of the page with the backlink, the more rank "juice" is passed on. Google has stated often that they want to return the most relevant results to their users, and I believe them, at least partially. If Google truly believed in that philosophy 100%, then they would return results without any advertising (ie - Google Adwords). Then, Google's stated goals of returning the most natural results would truly be achieved.

A Challenge To Google
I'm challenging Google to give users the options of turning off all advertising through their networks. This would mean that Google would have to put its money where its mouth is and truly give users the ability to have a completely 100% organic search experience. Not only that, but it would require users wanting to turn off advertising to sign up for a Google account. Those users that chose to do so could also give permission to Google to track their browsing behaviors.

This would give Google one more important variable to use in its ranking algorithm. That variable probably wouldn't play much of a part in the whole process, at least in the short term. In the long term, however, this could become an important metric in choosing which sites have the most authority simply by the traffic they have, how long visitors stay on a site, and what sites are clicked on the most when certain keywords are entered by the user.

For the privacy folks: this would be an entirely opt-in system, but I believe Google has the smarts to give users enough incentive to opt-in to the program.

As a positive for Google, they could use the new variable to decrease the value of all links, and implement user behavior as part of the Pagerank algorithm. For example if a website is visited a lot, but the bounce rate is 95%, then Google knows that the users are not finding what they're looking for. They can then track that back to the keyword and lower that sites' SERP for the keyword.

While this wouldn't entirely remove the paid link black market, it would devalue links enough that it would become far less cost effective to simply buy your way to a high Pagerank because part of the PR algorithm would be the actual effectiveness of the website. If users have a good experience and browse a certain website for 20 minutes, return to it often, and visit many of its pages, then the Pagerank would no longer be entirely based on the "backrub" system.

I know that there are a lot of holes in my proposition, but Google is staffed by hundreds of the smartest people in the world. I'm sure they could figure out a way to make it work.

Leveling the Playing Field
I've read many times that Google aims to "level the playing field" for websites, meaning that even the little mom and pop shop's website could compete with the "big boys" (large corporations) for business on the web. The idea is grand and noble and just, but it's a utopia that will never be reached, for several reasons:

  • Large companies can spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on a website that has a pile of pages (whether useful or not), includes cool gimmicks such as mini Flash games, and has tens of thousands of their own dealers' websites linking back to them.
  • The big boys can drop a six figure budget into a Google Adwords campaign and get instant top page placement. This point by itself shows that the Google mantra of "leveling the playing field" is one that died about the same time as the Y2K scare.
  • Smaller companies, for the most part, don't have the technical savvy or budget to create, manage, grow, and optimize their websites. I'm not saying that those websites aren't valuable to the companies that own them, just that there are very few ways to compete on the web.
  • Smaller companies get suffocated out by the big boys when running Adwords campaigns. It's not hard for a larger company to push up their bids when a smaller player comes on the scene. It's not hard for the big boys to simply wait out the smaller company's budget and time frame. Speaking from experience, there are some nasty things happening in the background of the entire Adwords system. I've run Adwords campaigns with varying degrees of success, but I stopped recommending them to my clients 6 months ago. I can't prove it but some of the larger advertisers have systems in place to click through the smaller guys' entire budget every day. For example, I was running ads in a competitive market with a budget of $200 per day. I went an entire month with about 2,500 clicks without a single conversion. The exact same group of landing pages, when users found them organically, had a 1-2% conversion rate. Cheating is rampant in the system - I can't prove it, but I know it's happening.
  • Since Google uses domain age as part of the algorithm, established small businesses that may have a 50 year real-world track record of great service and stable operations start their website with an almost certain chance of short term failure.
Why Paid Links Help Actually Help Level the Playing Field
Faced with the notion of spending scarce advertising dollars on a website that will take years to show a return, a small business owner can take 2 or 3 hundred dollars and instantly level the playing field. With even a small link-buying budget, a business owner can purchase links that get their website ranked for local keywords. For most businesses, this is where they want to be - ranked on the first page for keywords using their local area name is part of the keyword.

For example, a piano tuner in Anchorage, Alaska might want to be ranked in the top ten for the keyword "Anchorage piano tuning". Even with a great on-page optimization plan, without the backlinks the website will probably take a long time to become ranked in the top ten. A couple hundred of dollars in link sales, and the website is ranked.

Google should recognize that their system is often what holds the little guy back when trying to develop a successful online presence. Purchasing links helps the little guy fight the inherent problems with the system. In addition, it actually provides MORE useful results for users. Using the example from above, if 6 or 7 of the top positions for "Anchorage piano tuning" are for national distributors, yellowpage/directory junk sites, or Wikipedia entries about pianos, then the user is not getting relevant results returned to them. Were the small business owner to purchase a sufficient amount of link "juice" to get into the first page of results, it provides one more relevant result. And that brings me to my last point:

Paid Links Actually Make the Index MORE Relevant
Let's say I start a website selling kitty litter at discount prices, and want to optimize for the keyword "cheap kitty litter". Purchasing links that increased the site's Pagerank and SERP values would provide the user with an excellent result that is nearly 100% relevant to the phrase they were searching on. Very few sites that purchase links for Pagerank and to increase their SERPs are optimizing on keywords that aren't relevant to their sites. And why should they? It becomes a huge waste of time, money, and energy to buy links that drive non-targeted traffic to their site. If the site is relevant to the keywords being optimized, then Google is getting half of their job done for them.

Google Is Shooting Itself In the Foot
The simple fact is that Google has created a system that encourages buying links for Pagerank, and now they want to stop those small businesses that buy or sell links.

Again, I'll make the challenge to Google - if they truly believe that purchasing links to get ranked above other sites is against the rules, then they should put their money where their mouth is and allow users to opt out of viewing all the advertising Google throws at them. After all, an Adwords ad is simply a paid link that the website owner spent money on to get pushed above other websites on the results page. The lines between the two methods are pretty blurry, and a judge in an anti-trust battle may see it for what it is: Google using brutal monopolistic powers to break up competitors' ability to make money.

Should the political environment change in the U.S. over the next 24 months, Google could be in real trouble, and putting a stop to link buying/selling could be the oven that cooks Google's goose in an anti-trust action. It's a blatant use of a monopoly to remove smaller businesses from the online advertising equation.

Google is the largest seller of links on the internet, and now is discouraging other websites from doing the same thing. Ain't it ironic?

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Google PR Update hits with a bang

Google finally decided to throw webmasters a bone and updated the toolbar pagerank. After six months without it, the masses were growing restless. But what does it all mean?


That being said, I'm glad it's here because I rely on the toolbar pagerank as one of the criteria used with SEO clients. While SERPs are more important to me (and my clients), if the clients don't see increased pagerank, they start to wonder about my abilities.

Just thought I'd share some of the success stories in my SEO journey, which only began six months ago (about the time of the previous toolbar update).
  • My primary web design site is now a pagerank of 5. I only started serious SEO on it in May, so that's pretty good. What's even better is that I'm ranking in the top ten for about 15 good keywords.
  • I have over 20 clients with sites that have a pagerank of 4. All of them rank in the top ten for their primary keywords (some less competitive than others).
  • Over 100 of my clients have sites with pageranks of 3. Nearly all of them rank in the top ten for their keywords (some are still works in progress).
Considering that I'm a self-taught SEO guy who only even heard about SEO about a year ago, and that I only seriously starting performing SEO for pay about 6 months ago, that's pretty good. Yeah, I'm braggin' a little.

I've even started my own SEO website for beginners. I'm sharing some of what I've learned for beginners on the site, and even though it's still in it's infancy, I would love for anyone who wants to contribute articles to the site to do so. You can contact me through the site itself.

Friday, October 26, 2007

I think Google can officially be termed a monopoly

Wikipedia describes a monopoly as:

"a persistent situation where there is only one provider of a product or service in a particular market. Monopolies are characterized by a lack of economic competition for the good or service that they provide and a lack of viable substitute goods."

I've bolded the part to highlight where Google has reached monopolistic conditions. While there are minor sideline players in the Search Engine game, Google has more search volume than all of it's competitors combined. According to, in March 2007, Google accounted for 64% of all U.S. searches, and I've read more recent (yet hazier) reports of Google nearing 70% of all searches.

Before the Google-worshipers start falling all over themselves with excuses like

  • "but, but, Google has the best results!" and
  • "Google can't help it that they're better than the others"
  • and my favorite from the pro-corporatists: "Google has won the search engine battle because we let true market forces play out!!!" (usually with a stamp of their little jack boot on the ground)
Let's delve into the economics of online advertising. According to the blog SearchEngineWatch, online ad revenues reached a high of $4.8 billion in the final quarter of 2006. Google's own revenues in quarter 4 of 2006? $3.2 billion dollars. Read their own investor relations page to see the details. Their own information shows that "Google owned sites generated revenues of $1.98 billion dollars". In addition, the data shows that Google made $1.2 billion in AdSense revenue in quarter 4 of 2006. That's a total of $3.18 billion dollars on online advertising revenues

Calculating from the data from Google's own investor relations page, we can see that Google's share of the internet pie in quarter 4 of 2006 was about 66% ($3.18 billion / $4.8 billion). Even if we are to assume the $4.8 billion dollar figure is low, and that Google didn't make a full $3.18 billion in actual advertising revenue (financial reports are notoriously difficult to read for the layman - me), it's not hard to see that Google made more than half of all online advertising revenues in the fourth quarter of 2006. It's almost certain that that number has grown since Q4 of 2006.

So what does this all mean? Given the current political climate with a pro-business Presidential administration and the giddiness of Wall Street over Google's performance, maybe not much. But there are several factors that could change the outlook over the next 12-24 months:
  1. Google's crackdown on paid links. Sure, its Google's search engine, and they can pick and choose which criteria they use for rankings. But, when a company in a monopolistic position begins to perform actions that reduce revenues for smaller companies and increase their own, then a problem exists that only tighter regulation can fix. Will Google's monopoly be busted simply because of the paid link crackdown? No. Does it shine a spotlight on some of Google's vulture-like business practices? Yes.
  2. A possible change in national U.S. politics. It's appears likely that a Democrat will take the Presidency in 2008. That in and of itself won't provide a challenge to Google's monopoly, especially if a corporate-friendly Democratic candidate like Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama wins. But, if the anticipated increases in Congressional majorities for the Democrats continues its trend in 2008, there could be a similar increase in backers of Justice Department investigations into companies like Google and Microsoft that operate under obvious monopolistic conditions.
  3. A sharp increase in percentage of online ad revenues. Yahoo's "Publisher" program according to even the most ardent Yahoo supporters, has not exactly lit the world on fire. It suffers from a multitude of problems; unrelated ads appearing on pages; a selection process for testing that left a LOT to be desired; a lack of strong advertisers to push the program out of beta and into a real-world advertising environment. The trends show that both Yahoo and MSN are losing ground to Google. And while that may not be Google's fault (both Yahoo and MSN have been absolutely awful at playing the online advertising game), what it does mean is that Google has an even larger stranglehold on the market and gains even more monopolistic power with every passing month.
  4. A strong backlash from webmasters. Google's original creed was that every website, whether owned by General Electric or John Q. Public would be on an equal footing on the web. That's no longer the case - large companies can afford to pay large sums in the AdWords program to grow their online businesses. This has been an issue for quite a while, but it has come to a head with the crackdown on paid links. Webmasters, desperate to monetize their sites, started selling links based on their own Pagerank. With all of Google's progressive thinking, how did they not foresee this happening? What happens if there IS a large scale revolt? It might not hurt Google's bottom line, but bad press can hurt just as much as revenue drops, especially if investors get jittery about an online revolt against Google. A 25% drop in the price of Google stock would force a lot of folks outside the online community to take a look at what Google does.
My next post will be focused on Google's paid-link crackdown, and why it's wrong for the internet, wrong for Google, and bad for business in the long run. It will refer to this post a lot because the two issues may end up being intertwined. I decided to focus on Google's monopolistic position first, then use that as a catapult for my post on the whole paid-link semi-scandal.

Just to note: I have no inside information. I'm not talking to Justice Department officially or unofficially. I don't have some deep-throat feeding me information about what may or may not occur with a possible Google investigation. I do, though, have a brain, and the ability to Google all the information I need to at least make a semi-informed decision (ironic, ain't it?)

PS: no Googlebirds were hurt in the writing of this post, but at least one birdie has been fluttering around with questions.

The Google Watchdog

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Google Watchdog is back in the saddle with a juicy tidbit of Google info

After almost two weeks of working 18-20 hour days, I'm back in the Watchdog's saddle. I had a large booth at a business expo important to my company, and unfortunately, the GWD took a back seat to that for a while. The good news is I'm back with a vengeance, and I have a juicy tidbit to share (okay, it's only slightly juicy, but what's a blogger gonna do?)

There have been several issues of note to report on since my last post (10 ten days ago!).

First, there was another backlink update in the webmaster tools. This isn't a huge surprise; it's almost certain to be a 2 or 3 times per month deal from now on. Webmasters who have long complained about the horrid nature of the backlinks section in the webmaster tools can rejoice. While not completely up to date, the Google Gods are getting better at keeping the backlinks section updated and (at least partially) fresh. Webmasters who complain about Google not listening to their complaints should look at this as a refreshing reminder that Google DOES listen and sometimes even implements the changes we want.

{Semi-Juicy Tidbit}: Second, there has been some sort of algo shift since the beginning of the month regarding paid links. This is only a guess, but it's based on keyword performance on several websites that have used paid links to gain SERP rankings. The SERP values for the keywords that have used paid links are being pushed down the rankings quite dramatically. In one case, the ranking position dropped from #1 to #29. I've also seen some SERP increases for keywords based on paid links that are pretty well disguised (included in an entire paragraph of text with lots of juicy, related content surrounding the anchor text). I'm supposing that Google is testing their new paid link algorithm changes, but who knows, maybe this is a complete roll-out of the new algo updates. Or, I could be completely off base and the SERP changes have been caused by something entirely unrelated.

Third, regarding the brouhaha over my post about DMOZ. I received several nasty emails from ODP Editors about my post. On the flip-side, I also received a couple nice emails from ODP Editors who agree with me that the system is not working as well as it could and gave me some encouragement. There were several editors who posted comments on the story, and I appreciate the feedback. I'm still steaming mad, but I'm retracting my threat of applying to be an editor under a false identity. Instead, I'll wait a couple of weeks, and re-apply for a separate category, noting that I had been rejected before and linking to this blog. I'll keep everyone posted about how that goes. I did get personal confirmation of why my application was rejected, and while I still think that DMOZ was wrong to reject me, I at least understand the limitations placed on me, and should have a successful application this time around. If anyone has any suggestions about becoming an editor, feel free to leave a comment, or email me at fastweb73 {{at}} gmail {{dot}} com.

Here are a list of posts to look forward to over the next week:

1. My take on Google as a monopoly
2. I'll finally post about the whole paid link thing, with some thoughts on why Google has screwed the pooch on this issue.
3. My weekly "Search Relevance Test" pitting the three major search engines against one another will finally become a regular part of my blog routine. The results from my first search engine relevance test were surprising, but hardly scientific. I'll be changing the ranking formula quite a bit and the scores will probably be a bit more balanced. (for those not wanting to read the entire post, Yahoo kicked Google and MSN's fannies in the test).
4. I'm going to have a semi-regular feature written by a guest blogger that will deal with some of the issues surrounding Google's patents and how they effect webmasters, SEOers, and regular users. I hope to have the first post on this issue on the upcoming week. (Note: unless you have a rare specialty, I'm not going to offer just anyone the chance to guest post. If you do have rare information to share or a specialized topic to write about that is related to Google, you can email me at the address given above).
5. My "Google Week In Review" feature - this will be a post every Sunday night or Monday morning listing the top 5 Google-related stories of the week.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

SERPs taking a bumpy ride on the Good Ship Google - could an update be forthcoming?

Anyone who read my previous blog post about my prediction of a major algorithm change (which was way off) knows that I track keywords using a little tool that I created. It gives me a variance figure that gives me an idea of how volatile the current SERP positions are (read the article to get more information about how the tool works). The higher the variance, the more change there has been to my keywords that tend to stay in fairly stable SERP positions. When the variance is high, I can make a pretty logical guess that something is going on over at the Googleplex.

A variance of 5-10 is fairly normal, and figures as high as 20 usually show some minor change in the SERPs, possibly because of a small algo change by the engineers over at Google. In the last week, I've run the test on my little application three times, and all three results showed a variance of at least 20. This morning's test showed a variance of 61, a number I've never seen before, and 26 points higher than any previous test. There are a couple of possibilities:

  1. Google engineers are testing a small/medium/large algorithm change
  2. Some seriously heavy hitters in the industries for which my keywords are targeted (about six of them) are pushing the SERPs around with some brute force SEO tactics.
  3. The datacenter I use is being updated, and the SERPs are bouncing around during the update.
I analyzed the keywords I use to run my tests, and about 25% of them are completely non-existent in the SERPs. These are keywords and websites that have had stable results for quite a while, so I'm leaning towards option 3 as the reason for the large variance. If I see another large variance in the next day or so, and my keywords that dropped out of the SERPs are back in, then option 3 is definitely the reason.

I don't take option 2 seriously, for the simple fact that no one should/could/would have the power to manipulate the SERPs to that degree.

If option 1 is the reason, dare I say that we'll be seeing a toolbar update by the end of the month? I do see some harbingers of that:
  • The large variance in my SERP tool - this indicates that SOMETHING is happening, I'm just not sure what
  • In the last week, I've chatted with several webmasters that have had their PR dropped by a point or 2. These changes are showing up on the toolbar, and have propagated to all the data centers.
  • Multiple backlink updates at a frequency we haven't had in the past. Until July of this year, I expected a backlink update about once per month, but I've counted at least 5 in the last two months. Possibly this is how Google will be working BL updates moving forward, or it may be a sign of often updated data - a signal that the enginerds at Google are running real world tests.
  • A lack of blog posts from Matt Cutts - if he's busy working on real projects instead of posting to his blog, then something is happening. Caveat: whatever he's working on could be completely unrelated to Google SE stuff. For all I know he's managing and working on a project completely unrelated to PR, the SE, etc.
NOTE: I personally don't care when the next toolbar PR update occurs other than the fact that it will quiet the clamor I hear on a daily basis about the update and when it is going to happen. I just want webmasters to get back to their jobs of building good websites with great content instead of the obsession I'm seeing over Pagerank. For those so worried about PR, I have a PR1 site that ranks in the top 5 for a keyword that has a difficulty of 89 using this Keyword Difficulty Tool.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Google backlink update took place last night

When I logged into my webmaster tools this morning, I was pleasantly surprised to find that my backlinks had been updated. Some of my sites are getting serious upticks in their backlink count, which as we all know is an indication of potential pagerank which leads to higher SERPs (with the proper SEO of course).

Google is becoming far better at updating the backlinks on a regular basis and keeping them fresh. Webmasters monitoring their sites' progress need timely information, and at one time, Google was only providing monthly backlink updates, and much of the information was already dated by the time it actually reached the tool. I still see some links that no longer exist listed in the webmaster tools, but the results are promising. Between this backlink update and the last update, a lot of dead backlinks have been removed, and some of my good backlinks are showing up.

The question still remains though: why are NOFOLLOW links being shown in the webmaster tools?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Is the concept of a "backlink snapshot" with Google a thing of the past?

I haven't been playing the SEO game very long. My first foray into the art came several years ago when I bought an SEO for Dummies book and the SEM for Dummies book. (my take - SEO for dummies is good to learn some basics while the SEM for dummies was directions on how to use websites, something I already know, and was worthless).

As I delved deeper into the ins and outs of optimizing a website, one of the things that nearly all SEO "experts" talked about was the "snapshot" of backlinks that Google took every quarter. It was these backlinks that supposedly made up the backbone of the next quarter's Pagerank. I've seen a lot of folks posting on blogs and message boards recently about the "snapshot" taken at the beginning of July 2007, and that this was the "big one" in preparation for the Quarter 3 toolbar update (which hasn't occurred yet, just like I predicted). So its something that at least some folks still believe.

It's all hogwash. Hooey. Bunk. BS.

Google has become a much more fluid machine, and even if they don't yet have a real-time "snapshot" of each website, the backlinks, rankings, etc. are updated weekly for new, lower ranked sites, and as often as hourly for more highly ranked pages. Heck, even the Google Watchdog blog that doesn't yet have any Pagerank on the toolbar can have a new post indexed in several hours. Things don't work the way they once did, and the backlink "snapshot" is among the things that just doesn't fit with Google's updated modus operandi.

I've had at least 3 backlink updates in my webmaster tools over the past 6-7 weeks, and the webmaster tools are notoriously behind on the backlink list. If this were the case, why would Google used some arbitrary date months in the past to gauge the worth of a site? The answer is that they wouldn't. It may be entirely possible that when doing a toolbar PR update, they take a "snapshot" one day and begin the update over the next week. But, that would be for purposes of showing a public number that may rise or fall over weeks and months behind the scenes and in the hidden depths of Google's servers.

I can't ever guess what goes on in the giant borg brain over at Google for sure, but I'm almost positive that the idea of a backlink "snapshot" is already archaic in the fast moving and quickly developing world of search engines and SEO. I haven't yet learned enough about SEO to consider myself an expert, but I'm pretty good at deductive logic, and its a fairly simple deduction to make that Google has abandoned the quarterly backlink "snapshot". They've moved past that to better techniques that work more closely to real time. And while Google is evolving, a lot of so-called SEO "experts" are not keeping up. I guess (hope) Natural Selection will weed them out.

Friday, September 21, 2007

I'm predicting a large Google algorithm change this weekend or next

I created a little tool for myself that helps me track keywords that I'm optimizing on, and the websites associated with those optimization campaigns. This is a tool used offline, and I have to enter data into it manually. It works well when gauging the progress of some of my optimization campaigns. I wrote it myself using Visual Basic 6, and it has some nifty features.

One thing I use it for is to track keywords that I no longer perform optimization for. The SERPs for these keywords are fairly stable, moving up and down through the various Google dance steps. In general, they trend down, simply because I no longer focus on them. I can generally tell when Google is testing an algo tweak because these keywords bounce around in the SERPs then settle back to roughly their same previous positions.

I created a formula based on these keywords (there are about 100 of them) that shows the variance in SERPs over time. The formula produces a number that gives me a basic idea of the current volatility of the Google search results. The number can be anywhere between -100 and 100, with zero being absolutely no change from the previous week (I normally manually add the updated SERP data once per week, but the formula will work equally well on a daily, hourly, monthly, or yearly basis. The shorter the time period, however, the more pronounced are any small changes.)

Normally, the variance figure is between 5-10 (or -5 and -10), which means a variance of 5-10. (*Note-I'm not a math whiz, so if my terminology is incorrect, you know where you can take yourself). During some of the obvious algo tweaks, the variance goes as high as 15 or 20, but usually drops after one week. Since the formula uses about 100 keywords, a severe change for one keyword doesn't alter the end result as severely as it would were I only to use 5 or 6 keywords. When the variance hits 15 or 20, that means that I've had some fairly significant change in SERPs for my keywords. The change may be up or down because the direction of the SERP change isn't as important to me as the actual amount of increase or decrease.

Two weeks ago, I started entering SERP values in as often as possible (often once per day). I've been paying close attention to the variance looking for signs that Google is doing algo testing. Twice in the last two weeks, I've seen major SERP changes that showed variances of up to 35. Even factoring in the changes introduced by doing it nearly daily, that shows at least a minor algo change has taken place. My opinion is that those were instances of Google nerds testing algo changes in preparation for a larger algorithm change.

I may just be reading the tea leaves incorrectly, but I'm expecting the algorithm changes that have been tested over the last month or so to be implemented either this weekend or next. If it doesn't happen this weekend, and next week is fairly quiet regarding SERP movements, watch out - we may be in for a major algorithm change.

(For those who are going to ask the obvious question: no I don't see a toolbar PR update happening for quite a while still.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Spam and virus sites infesting the Google SERPs in several categories - has the mighty Google been hacked?

It appears that a spammer has found out how to infiltrate the Google index without being caught. Here's what is happening in a nutshell:

  • Some searches (very specific phrases, and I won't list any of them right now - Google knows which they are) return results with a large number of .cn (Chinese) sites.
  • The .cn sites are often scraped content from legitimate U.S. websites
  • The legitimate sites are being ranked below the scammed .cn sites for these competitive keywords.
  • When a user clicks on one of the .cn sites returned in the result set, the user is redirected to an entirely different page which attempts to install one or more pieces of malware on the user's computer. If the user is not protected, they become infected - I don't know the specifics of the infection as I AM well protected
  • The .cn sites don't appear to be hosted ANYWHERE. They are simply redirected domain names. How they got ranked in Google in such a short period of time for fairly competitive keywords is a mystery. Google's index even shows legitimate content for the .cn sites.
  • It appears that the faked sites are redirecting the Googlebot to a location where content can be indexed, while at the same time recognizing normal users and redirecting them to a site that includes the malware mentioned earlier. This is an obvious violation of Google's guidelines, but the spammers have found ways to circumvent the rule and hide it from the Googlebot.
  • These sites are numbering in the millions for many different keywords and phrases, and appear to be developed on an automated basis. Because of privacy laws, it's hard to track down who owns the domain names - Google has the power to do so, but there has been about exactly zero information from Google about the problem so far, and even many SEO experts and webmasters are not picking up on it.
What Does This Actually Mean?
So what does all this mean? One, don't click on a .cn domain name returned from If you need to search for a Chinese site, use instead of Second is to watch your own SERPs and see if you are suddenly dropping below sites with a .cn TLD. If you find that happening, report it here. Third, don't panic - Google is remaining mum on this for a number of reasons. Were the public to stop trusting Google it could cause major upheavals in the search engine business - if the problem was just spam, the public wouldn't even notice. However, since malware is involved, this is something that could hit the major media with a giant bang and cause a panic. That could affect traffic to some sites in a major way - especially those specifically optimized for the Google search engine.

A Major Infrastructure Problem?
If a smart spammer has really found a way to game the Google search results with spoofed or cloaked sites, and Google still doesn't have a fix, this could be a major issue with the underlying infrastructure of the entire Google operation. I've seen hints that a significant infrastructure change is taking place; is this spam issue the reason? Could that mean that Google was actually hacked instead of someone spamming the index? If so, webmasters may be waiting a long time for the expected Pagerank update while Google fixes the leaks.

Time to Worry?
This is the first time that I've ever been worried that Google's own index has been hacked. The obvious and blatant circumvention of a guideline normally picked up by the Googlebot quickly is worrisome. A normal website pulling this would be banned almost instantly. The fact that none of the sites have real content and don't appear to even be hosted anywhere is even more scary. How did millions of sites get indexed if they don't exist?

Some Guesses
The fact that the SERPs have been so volatile lately shows that the Google algorithm is being updated and tested - often. Coupled with the fact that Google's normal quarterly Toolbar Pagerank update didn't occur at the beginning of August points to the fact that Google is making some major changes. It's not a giant leap of logic to assume that Google may be trying to figure out a way to stop the spamming of it's index, and is looking for some sort of heuristic formula to identify the sites without hurting legitimate U.S. and European websites. The length of time it's taking is scary, but I'd rather they fix the issue than put a band aid on the problem (Microsoft are you paying attention?) hoping it will go away.

If anyone has any other observations on this problem, post them here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Google becomes a "space case" with announcement of $30 moon landing prize

Google is offering $30 million dollars to the first team that can land an unmanned spacecraft on the moon. The craft must be able to traverse the moon's surface and broadcast video back to earth, plus seek out relics left by the Apollo program.

You know what this is? A huge link-bait scheme by Google - by funding the $30 million prize (a drop in the bucket compared to the total Google market cap and cash on hand). It's nice that Google is doing something to push the scientific boundaries in the U.S., especially considering how poor our next generation of scientists, mathematicians and researchers are going to be. But, I see right through it, and it comes down to Google using this as a marketing strategy, just like online link-bait pages are used to draw attention to a product, service, or business.

In the past, Google has spoken out about the overt use of non-natural link building techniques. And while Matt Cutts seems to promote link-bait schemes, I can see Google penalizing link-baiting in the future because of a claim of "tainting the search results".

Link-baiting is nothing more than smart marketing, and is VERY similar to the $30 million Google is throwing at this moon landing project.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Google customer support for webmasters is TERRIBLE

Reading a thread over at DigitalPoint started by Trichnosis reminded me of how pathetic Google's customer support is for webmasters. I've long since given up trying to get answers out of Google. Here are some of the problems as I see them:

  1. If one attempts to email Google with questions, there's either no response or a canned reply with a link to the Google Guidelines page, which is only marginally useful, and NEVER answers the question asked in the first place.
  2. The Google group for webmasters is a joke. Anything even remotely controversial (like the thread I linked to above) is deleted, even if the question is legitimate. Asking for Google to clean up it's search results and index is a good question, and the deletion of a legitimate question because of the controversial nature of it is just bad business.
  3. I've never used the phone support, but I can't imagine a customer service phone monkey knows the answer to the hijacked proxy sites problem (if the monkey even knows what hijacked means or what a proxy site is).
  4. There is no centralized place to get information about Google's requirements for webmasters or a centralized place to contact Google with serious questions.
  5. If a webmaster has done something to anger the Google Gods, a notification is never sent out, a reason is never given, and there is no place to go to find the REAL reason for the penalty.
  6. Matt Cutts, aka "The Google Mouth" provides bits and pieces of information that are extremely useful, but rarely answers questions (probably because of the sheer volume of questions posted on his blog). Google has literally billions of dollars - they can afford to hire a couple more smart guys like Cutts to help the webmaster community get answers to it's questions.
Webmasters are the lifeblood of the internet (at least from a backend productivity POV), whether Google likes it or not. Better communication between Google and the webmasters that promote their own sites is a must for Google - they don't want a revolt from the very folks who are integral parts of the Google money machine.

What's funny is that this post from Matt Cutts himself promised that Google was working on better communication, and was testing a notification system that would give site-owners and webmasters a tangible warning when their site was breaking the rules. I haven't heard a thing about this since, and the post was made in September of 2005.

Google, are you listening?

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Got hit with a large drop in the SERPs this weekend

My web design and development site has slowly been crawling up the SERPs for the keyword "web design" for the last six months. I've been slowly developing my SEO attack and refining it, while at the same time trying not to over-do. Last Monday (September 3rd), I broke the top 35 and had hit #29 by Thursday. (subject for another day: SEO "professionals" who claim that SERPs don't change on a daily basis).

I took a long weekend, and when I checked my rankings on Monday night (the 10th), I had dropped to #82. Tuesday the 11th I was #88 and today (Wednesday the 12th) I'm at #85. I seem to have been hit with some sort of nasty -50 penalty, even though I've played it pretty straight and jumped through all the Goops (Google hoops).

I'm patiently waiting it out - I have 5 or 6 other great keywords that I rank highly for that haven't dropped in the SERPs so the penalty only seems to be applied to the one keyword: web design. Maybe too many backlinks too quickly?

Or, was there an algo update this weekend that changed the rankings of certain keywords? The keywords I rank highly for have all been strong SERPs for a long period of time. Perhaps an algo change that has something to do with length of backlinks?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Relevant results from search engines: Part 1

This is the first part in a serious of blog posts I'm going to be making regarding the relevancy of search results. I'll be comparing the results from the 3 major search engines (Google, Yahoo, and MSN). Here's how it will work:

  • I will choose a keyword at random
  • I'll do a search on each of the search engines using the exact same keyword
  • Only the top 20 results (the first 2 pages) will be counted. This is because a majority of users don't go beyond page 2
  • I will count each result returned that matches my search as a point. So a perfect score is 20, which should be nearly impossible.
  • Results I will not count as relevant:
    • Directories
    • Wikipedia or Yahoo Answers links
    • Manufacturers' links (if applicable)
    • Links that are not relevant to my search, even if they match the keyword (for example, if I'm searching for a cat, as in a feline, then I wouldn't count results for a Caterpillar bulldozer)
    • Any result that doesn't match what I had in mind for the keyword
The first keyword I decided on was "tool chest". Pretending to be a user in search of a tool chest for sale, I entered the keyword into all three search engines. I am only interested in sites that have tool chests for sale. Here are the results:
  1. Google - 7 relevant results
  2. Yahoo - 15 relevant results
  3. MSN - 6 relevant results
Yahoo wins round 1 with a more than 2:1 margin of victory over both Google and MSN. While this may be an unscientific survey, Yahoo has been getting a lot better at returning relevant results.

We'll see in Part 2 (coming up next week) how the search engines fare when I use a more tricky keyword.

Stay tuned...

Monday, September 10, 2007

Very funny: Google gets sued

I do think that Google has some monopolistic control over a certain online market for advertising, but this story is completely ridiculous:

Google's "Top Spot" For Sale

Reading through this, I wonder how idiotic the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission (ACCC) has to be.

  1. The ads are clearly marked as "Sponsored Links" - if the ACCC doesn't read carefully before clicking, is that Google's problem?
  2. The ads have a different background color, making them stand out as different. Even newbie browsers have learned that these are paid links. Maybe the ACCC is being run by a bunch of old farts who consider the IBM Selectric as "cutting-edge" technology.
  3. Why is Google expected to act as a non-profit? Maybe the ACCC should sue NBC next because it gives priority to companies who pay for advertising on it's network. Or maybe USA Today for giving the largest ads to the clients who pay the most.
Have these nincompoops at the ACCC even read the news over the last 5 or 6 years? Is Google's business model (as described in the media millions of times) not apparent to them? Are they seriously going to sue an advertising company for selling ads?

Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Thursday, September 6, 2007

No Google toolbar pagerank update for a couple of weeks (via Matt Cutts)

Just read an interesting tidbit written by Matt Cutts over at the Digital Point forum. His post can be found here. You can read the post, but the interesting part is quoted here:

"As far as the toolbar PageRank, I definitely wouldn't expect to see it in the next few days. Probably not even in the next couple weeks, if I had to guess."

The post in which Mr. Cutts posted the comment is here.

So, I'm guessing that we're looking at late October or early November, just in time for the holiday season. It's just my opinion, though.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

New major algo changes coming from Google?

Watching the hand-wringing over the next PR update, and the record amount of time that Google has waited to make this update makes me wonder how large the algorithm change will be in this update. Some clues:

  • Many websites are being dropped from the index, only to reappear several days later. This indicates that the Google engineers are testing a new piece of the algorithm to see how it affects certain websites.
  • Matt Cutts' indications that the Big 'G will be cracking down on paid links - it's almost certain that a large algo change will be implemented in an attempt to curtail the power of compensated links.
  • The simple length of time between this update and the last update, showing that they are doing some substantial testing before deploying the new updates.
  • Huge SERP movements up and down - I've seen this on a number of my sites that have had stable SERP rankings over the last year.
  • The rapidity of backlink updates in the webmaster tools. I know that this is an ongoing thing, but I've had 3 major BL updates since the beginning of August.
  • The "directory penalty". This isn't something that's been advertised, but I believe that Google will, if not completely penalize, at least downgrade links from directories so that they have less power. In my webmaster tools, I show very few links from directories, whereas I had thousands of them as late as June.
  • More of a focus on "authority site" links that are naturally positioned. Again, this is a fight against paid links. (although I have seen an increasing # of authority sites selling text links in the last few weeks)
Each of these taken one by one don't indicate anything different from Google's normal practice of incremental changes and algo updates. Taken all together, they show indications of a MAJOR algo change.

Webmasters get ready - the next few months could be a headache if you're not ready.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Guest posts on The Google Watchdog

Do you have a complaint about Google? Want to write about some of your experiences with Google that have been positive, aggravating, or eye-opening? I'm going to give 3 webmasters the chance to write their own guest post on The Google Watchdog in the next week.

If you are interested, you can contact me through my web design site or post a comment here. The rules are simple - make your post informative without being spammy. I may be a DOFOLLOW blog, but more than 2 outbound links is too many.

This could be a great chance for some of you to vent your frustrations with Google or to promote your new blog.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I've joined the DOFOLLOW movement

Just a quick note to let Google know how much I HATE the rel='NOFOLLOW' attribute added to links. It's especially bothersome that Google has made Blogger a NOFOLLOW blog by default. In an earlier post, I gave instructions on how to change your blog to a DOFOLLOW site.

If I link to another site, I'm "voting" for them just like Google wants. They have something of interest to me, or content that might be useful to other readers. If Google wants to enforce the NOFOLLOW on paid links, so be it, but leave my damn blog code alone!