Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Google Allegra Update, WMD and Osama Bin Laden

The latest Google algo update, Allegra (Italian for light, as in “not heavy”) is now about a month old and many are trying to make sense of it, as per usual when an update hits the SERPs.

The usual chorus of indignation, Google vilification and Webmasters falling out of their prams, reverberates through the forums and many blogs.

What do I know about it? Nothing much, much like everyone else. Well, no, not exactly. My brother-in-law heard reports about some theory on Allegra, which an SEO guy apparently had ripped off a page of a kid on the Internet. The kid’s dad had told him about it, even though he’d (the dad, not the kid) only heard it from his niece’s boyfriend. Something like that…

Looking for explanations on Allegra (or any other update for that matter) is like looking for WMD. Or Osama Bin Laden. As Jackie Mason once put it in one of my favourite sketches:
We know where Osama Bin Laden is: he’s either in Afghanistan or he’s not in Afghanistan.

But a man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do…

“My” preferred theory on Allegra is that it further favours spontaneous links, decreasing thereby the value of engineered links like reciprocal links. Extrapolating from previous updates that would appear to be a logical next step. How would Google tell the difference beween spontaneous and engineered links? There are various scenarios but looking at the text anchor would give clues. Most reciprocal linkers systematically use the same text anchor in all their incoming links, so that’s a bit of a giveaway.

Another indicator is the destination page. Spontaneous links usually arises when the linker quotes from and links to a deep content page. Destination pages of spontaneous links rarely point to the home page of a site. Reciprocal links however, almost always do.

The bottom line of the theory would be to use a lot of different text anchors and have links pointed to all pages of your site, if you’re reliant on reciprocal links.

But it’s all speculation, assuming, hypothetical, guessing, estimating, deducing, extrapolating etc. Who really know but Google?

Monday, March 28, 2005

ARELIS Reciprocal Linking Software

ARELIS stands for Axandra Reciprocal Linking Software. It’s an award winning software package designed to lighten the burden of running ongoing link campaigns.

There comes a time in the life of any Webmaster when (s)he realises how much time (s)he spends on managing link pages, inviting partners, monitoring back links, reacting to incoming requests etc, etc. For many of us, these chores are part of daily life and as with all chores we seek ways to reduce time spent on them.

ARELIS is one of the few award winning software packages that can semi-automate the entire process of reciprocal linking, saving the user much time and aggravation.

Here’s what it does and allows you to do:
  1. Create link page templates that blend in seamlessly with your other pages

  2. Choose a directory structure from a large selection: organise your links as you see fit

  3. Use a spider to automatically find suitable partners by keyphrase(s) and Search Engine

  4. Use a spider to find sites that link to your competitors

  5. The spider returns all info needed and adds it to your database: URL, title and description, contact information (name and email address)

  6. Edit partner profiles, if needed

  7. Choose fully editable, email templates from a large selection, or import your own

  8. Use these personalised email templates to request links, thank new partners, remind pending partners etc, using built-in email application.

  9. Update link pages after new partners have been added or deleted

  10. Automatically check partners' reciprocation by spidering their links pages

  11. Auto-upload (optional) modified pages to your server

  12. Do all the above for one or unlimited domains (depending on version)

It also comes with:

  1. Unlimited, free access to the latest version (update any time)

  2. Extensive and excellent help section

  3. Email support (it works!)

  4. Optional, free affiliate program: earn your investment back by referring

I’ve been using ARELIS for years on two of my domains with great success. This is an easy to set-up and use application which really does save you a ton of time.

Get the evaluation version here. It’s fully featured with no time limit. The only restrictions are 1 domain only and max. 100 links. Purchase the unlock key through the evaluation version to unlock the full power of the package.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

Reciprocal Linking revisited

Reciprocal linking is getting a little bad press nowadays. Possibly due to Allegra, SEO crystal ball gazers are surmising that Google will place even more importance on the relevancy of the link. For once I tend agree because it would seem a logical evolution: from linkpop to PageRank, to relevant PageRank… to even more relevant PageRank.

If true, in practice that would mean that links coming from the body of a relevant deep content page and fitted with a relevant text anchor would be attributed the highest importance and have the highest bearing on your page’s SERPs.

But there’s also a lot of nonsense about reciprocal linking being bandied around. Most of it around the lines that it can get you “penalised” [too phallic for me] or even “banned”.

The more likely scenario is the following. All links probably contribute to a page’s SERPs but some links are better contributers than others. “Natural”, unilateral and relevant links would score highest on the scale. Reciprocal links would score lower but not necessarily “low”.

To ensure inbound, reciprocal links have the highest value possible, try these tweaks:
  1. Provide some theme-relevant content on each links page.

  2. Use proper, relevant text anchors and descriptions, rather than plain ads. The text will contribute to the content of the links page.

  3. Create only links pages that are closely related to the theme(s) of your site.

  4. Keep a close eye on categorisation: make sure outbound links are placed on the most relevant part of your links directory.

  5. Ask your link partners to link to a page that matches their theme as closely as possible, rather than have all links point to the home page.

And lets’ face it: apart from a few top ranking sites, very few will get significant numbers of inbound links without a little engineering. For most, reciprocal linking remains the most viable option and it usually works for them. No matter how great your content may be, if you’re a relatively small fish in a big pond, few Webmasters will link to you without requiring the favour be returned.

Link building is hard work: finding link partners, dealing with incoming requests, putting the links on, asking them to link back, reminding them if they don’t at first, deleting their link if ultimately they decide not to link to you, thanking and possibly upgrading their link if they do, spidering your links pages to spot dead links, etc… It seems like a part time job in its own right. Without some automation by means of software it’s a mountain of work. Next post: ARELIS reciprocal linking software.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Getting Banned by Google - Epilogue

I wasn’t really going to produce a third part to “Getting banned by Google” but just a little very superficial research unearths so much human stupidity, that I can’t resist putting a little tail on this tale.

Searching for “getting banned” I found some references to the Traffic-Power (now 1P.com) incident that swept the less intelligent and proportionately more greedy parts of the Internet. Like a small hurricane, T-P's efforts left a number of banned sites in its wake.

Drilling down a little (“traffic power”) I stumbled on a forum with a lengthy thread on the subject of getting banned for utilising Traffic Power’s “SEO services”.

Scroll down a little until you see an entry by a Robert H. Harding, Jr [oh, dear]. Whilst the gene for common sense has yet to be found, Junior is living proof that it skips a generation. This is a lengthy entry, make sure you read it all: it’s worth your while.

The bottom line is: Junior is innocent and Google have no right to ban the poor victim of the bad con artists, Traffic Power.

Junior was threatening to sue Google over the ban. Good luck! I don’t mean this in the sense that I feel the big G. has too expensive lawyers to take to court but because Junior has no case. What Google puts in their index is their bloody business and no one else’s.

Junior opens his mouth and puts his foot in it. Instead of explaining, apologising, grovelling if need be, he starts insulting Google. Attack is definitely not the best defence.

Despite all that, their site is back in the index: proof that getting banned isn’t quite that easy but there’s plenty of folk that try their darnest and hardest to achieve just that much coveted prize…

Friday, March 25, 2005

Getting Banned by Google Part 2

So, what will get you banned by Google? Frankly, there are no hard and fast rules. Even Google’s own guidelines aren’t particularly helpful.

The discussion on what works, what doesn’t and what will get you banned boils down to a nauseatingly repetitive debate between proponents of white hat and black hat SEO “experts”. The colour coding is supposed to make the whole thing idiot proof: white is [thinking hard]… Good! And black is Evil! Or as the white guys prefer to put it, their methods are “ethical”. I’ve seen the “ethical” label being used even by those relatively few SEO people that I actually do respect but it doesn’t cut even butter.

Guys, ethics don’t come into it. Unless you’ve been conned by a dodgy SEO like Traffic-Power (now 1P.com) which doesn’t deliver results (or gets you banned in the case of TP) and refuses to refund you, in which case the SEO’s behaviour is clearly unethical because conning and fraud always are.

But the white hats refer to any practices that aren’t fully inspired by Google’s guidelines as unethical. Google itself refers to spamdexing as the practice of manipulating the search results. But that means we’re all spammers, every single one of us wants to manipulate the search results. Simply building a high quality content site and submitting it to Google (better even to have it linked to a few indexed pages) means you’ll be influencing the search results.

Here’s a few “techniques” that can get you banned. But even if they don’t always, they can also cause your page rankings to drop like a pack of lead balloons: the end-result is the same; strongly reduced search engine visibility.

Invisible text: not worth mentioning any more really. That’s very old hat but don’t try and revive it.

Keyword stuffing: over-use of keyphrases in the text body of your page or in the title, target and alt attributes of HTML tags isn’t recommended either. It isn’t really clear whether this will get you banned: I mentioned a site in my earlier post on nigritude ultramarine that seems to use this method successfully, but it does lead to a site that is totally user unfriendly and thus useless anyway.

Cloaking, doorway pages and redirects: first a little word on doorway pages. These have attracted negative attention from most SEs through over-use but many use similar pages successfully and legitimately. It could be argued that most well constructed deep content pages serve exactly that purpose, by using backlinks to main pages, ordering pages, which otherwise would get very little exposure at all.

It’s the use of doorway pages in such a way that this content only ever gets seen by bots, never by human visitors that turns it into deception. Using redirects or mouse-over scripts, these SEOs create content that is optimised for the SEs but never gets seen by human visitors, who get redirected immediately to the SEO’s Client pages.

Several SEO firms advertise this kind of service openly on their pages. Here’s an example from a leading SEO firm:

This is because we use the text you give us to form the content on your Everest web pages. This content is then optimised according to each search engines ranking algorithm.

Note that competitors who are specifically looking for this content will be able to view it but everyone else will only ever see your normal website.

Getting into bed with these guys is risky: get found out and you’re out.

Some people who have been banned after being conned by an unscrupulous SEO seem to think it’s unfair that Google bans also the Client sites of that particular bunch of crooks, but if anyone has temporarily obtained an unfair advantage by hiring an aggressive SEO, they’ve only got their just deserves in my opinion.

Many feel Google has some “moral” obligation to protect individual webmasters’ livelihoods, by giving them high rankings and maintaining them. Truth of the matter is, Google doesn’t even have the obligation to index your pages, let alone rank them highly. By definition they also reserve the right to exclude anyone from their index (something which they only do rarely and reluctantly). Got banned? Set things right, explain, apologise, beg and plead for re-inclusion. Period.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Getting Banned by Google Part 1

Fear of getting banned by Google is running particularly high amongst owners of small/new ecommerce sites, whose livelihood often depends almost entirely on some high Google SERPs. Relying so heavily on search engine traffic is in my view downright dangerous but many small Web businesses do it anyway.

The anxiety level has as much to do with the Google dependency factor as with the fact that myths, rumours and Chinese whispers regarding the “getting banned” issue dominate many Search Engine forums. They’ve almost created an entire industry on the side, peddling all sorts of Search Engine nonsense, from ebooks and reports to how to’s and of course a lot of “search engine tricks”. Neither helped nor hindered by real knowledge or experience, many forum posters contribute to the volume of sheer rubbish that’s bandied around the Internet on this particular topic.

Let me stress this firstly and fore mostly: getting banned is not an everyday occurrence. It’s very much the exception, not the rule. If you can’t find pages that where previously ranked well, chances are that they have lost positions rather than having been dropped altogether. Practically only the most persistent offenders, using techniques Google rather fuzzily outlines in their guidelines, will actually be manually removed or “forced out”. And even these sites can remedy their situation by cleaning up and politely requesting reinclusing. Grovel if you must and remember that Google wants the largest database of all, so if you have content they’ve a vested interest in getting you back in the index. But they’ll let you sweat a little first…

Firstly, if you suspect your site has been banned, you need to establish whether that’s effectively the case or whether you’ve lost position, rather than got thrown out of the index. The simplest and most effective way of checking whether your site is still in the index is by typing “site:www.yourdomain.com” into Google’s search box. No results returned means effectively that your page is no longer in the database index. But even that doesn’t mean you’ve actually been banned. More on reasons for getting banned in Part 2…

Here’s a few of reasons why your pages may have dropped out without actually having been banned.

Server downtime: if the googlebot can’t find your page(s) because your server is down, it’ll come back later. Google recognises that any server (even their own) suffers from small amounts of downtime. But if your site can’t be found on several revisits, the bot has no choice but to assume that the page(s) have been removed and will drop them from the index. If you’re up next time you get spidered, you’ll be reincluded. Server uptime for any server worth its salt is at least 99 %, but some servers have suffered downtime of up to 70%. Hosting companies also go bust occasionally, taking servers down permanently.

Sandboxing: the phenomenon which causes new, relevant, informative and well turned outbWeb pages to take up high positions which then dwindle and even fizz out completely after a few weeks. My pet theory is that the Google algo “assumes” (guesses, if you prefer) what PageRank a new page will obtain and ranks it accordingly. But when this Pagerank doesn’t materialise, the algo repositions the page accordingly, in some extreme cases outside the index.

Unlinked pages: if a page was previously linked to by just one other page and that link get’s severed (perhaps accidentally) then the former page basically doesn’t exist anymore, as far as Google is concerned and it will remove it.

But if you’re planning some serious black hat SEO or contemplate hiring a dubious SEO firm like Traffic-Power (now renamed 1P.com), then that means you can’t wait to get banned: don’t wait any longer: why not do it yourself? This may look like a joke but incorrect use of the robots.txt file is actually a fairly common occurrence… See Part 2.

eBay Phishing emails

There’s a good chance you get them too: phishing emails. These spoofs imitate legitimate email sent by some of the Internet’s powerhouses like eBay and Amazon, with the sole purpose of getting the recipient to surrender financial details like credit cards and defrauding them for all they’re worth. Visually these HTML emails are practically indistinguishable from the real thing.

So far, nothing new, they’ve been around for a long time. I’ve been getting ebay.co.uk email spoofs from a sender who calls himself Safe Harbor on a daily basis for months now (subject: Verify your eBay-account now!). Like a good boy, I’ve been reporting these emails by forwarding them to spoof@ebay.co.uk. Invariably two things happen:

I get a email back from them (subject: Your mail to eBay UK Customer Support):


Thank you for contacting eBay about an E-Mail you received that appears as though it is an authentic E-Mail from eBay. We will investigate this situation immediately.Please be advised that there have been cases where people have attempted to gain access to an eBay member's personal information by sending "spoof" E-Mails. Spoof E-Mails intentionally give the false impression that they have been sent by eBay to solicit people to transmit their account information.

[etc, etc]

Next (a couple of minutes later) (subject: RE: EU91011 SPG - Your recent report to eBay's Trust and Safety Department)


Thank you for contacting eBay's Trust and Safety Department about email solicitations that are falsely made to appear to have come from eBay or PayPal. These emails, commonly referred to as "spoof" messages, are sent in an attempt to collect sensitive personal information from recipients who reply to the message or click on a link to a Web page requesting this information. The email you reported did not originate from, nor is it endorsed by, eBay or PayPal. We are very concerned about this problem (note: bold by me) and are working diligently to address the situation. We are currently investigating the source of this email to take further action. You may rest assured that your account standing has not changed and that your listings have not been affected.

[etc, etc]

OK, that’s all fine and dandy, but regarding Safe Harbor I must have received 20 or more of these “sets” of emails. What doesn’t go away though is the phishing emails themselves. It’s probably not easy to track these guys and shut them up but it doesn’t look to me as if they’re trying all that hard…
We are very concerned indeed.

Ask Jeeves take-over

The Search Engine Ask Jeeves has been bought for $1.85 billion by InterActiveCorp (IAC). IAC owns many of the largest Internet properties including Hotels.com, Expedia, Ticketmaster, CitySearch and Match.com.

Ask Jeeves currently has an estimated 5.1 % search share (source: Nielsen Net Ratings) including searches through owned properties (Jeeves owns iWon, MyWay, Teoma and My Search), right behind AOL (6.6 %).

The addition of an Ask Jeeves powered search box to every one of IAC's websites is expected to be the first obvious effect from the acquisition. Will the Butler finally "go Big"?

Certainly a further leveling of search share between the major players can only be a good thing for searchers and publishers alike.

Ask Jeeves is powered by Teoma, a Search Engine that gives more weight to a site's actual content than to it's linking behaviour.

eBay's AdWords Ads

eBay’s drive to flog its catalogue of trinkets and bargains has yielded some rather funny results in the paid ads section of Google’s search results. Here’s some strange stuff on offer by eBay or its affiliates:

Huge selection, great deals on

Huge selection, great deals on
everything Envy.

Lust for sale. aff
Check out the deals now!

Kids say the darnest things…

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Swap links with us

Barely a fortnight into my blogging adventure and the site is almost fully indexed by Google and the home page is getting too crowded to accommodate more outbound links. Now it’s time to get some relevant PageRank.

Like every site I’m hoping to get some “natural” links but that’s always a bit of a pipe dream. Reciprocal linking is definitely the next best thing, so here goes: we’re now open to link swaps.

I’m offering three types of links:

1. Simple reciprocal links: link from your links page to our home page (or to any post that’s particularly related to your site’s theme) and I’ll link back from this page to the page of your choice.

2. Links between deep content pages: link from any relevant deep content page to any of our posts and I’ll let you create a post of your own with the link of your choice. Your post will be introduced as a guest article. Your link to us must be embedded in your content or be a readable and spiderable text link from your page.

3. Cross links: link to any of the pages of this blog and choose any of the following sites to receive a back link from: www.GMNetPromos.com, www.YourBudgetSite.co.uk, www.A1-Merchant-account.com, www.Top-Search-Engine-Marketing.com.

I insist strongly on relevancy. Although this site has a fairly broad theme, I won’t accept links from sites that have no bearing on it whatsoever. Also: no adult, casinos, Viagra, meds and pharms, dating, gaming, hotels or travel sites.

Please address your requests to develop@gmeyers.plus.com.

Happy Linking!

Sites I recommend:

Find link partners at linkpartners.com

Affordable Website design, Logo design and SEO

Monday, March 21, 2005

ExactSeek Pay for Inclusion program

If you subscribe to some of the more prominent newsletters, then you’ll probably have seen adverts like these:

Put a Google-type Ad Box on 7 Search Engines ($12 for 3 months or less)

They’re ads for ExactSeek.com’s Pay for Inclusion program (or “Featured Listings” if you prefer). ExactSeek is a small Search Engine (“Relevant Web Search” is their adage) that’s been trying to break into the paid search market for some time now. These ads first appeared about 9 months ago (or so).

At first sight their proposition seems like an attractive one: get a Google AdWords style ad box with a 30 character title and a 100 character description for $12/3 mo. Buy more ads and get a discount.

But all isn’t well in this Pay for Inclusion program. Firstly, the ads’ appearance may be very Googlish but that’s about all they have in common with the AdWords program. While AdWords lets the advertiser choose an extensive range of keyphrases under which ads will be served up, the ExactSeek featured listings cost $12/3mo PER KEYPHRASE. That’s right, for your 12 bucks you only get to choose one search term!

So, to have the same ad appear under your, say 10 prime keyphrases, you’ll need to buy 10 ads (discounted to $10/3 mo each = $100/3 mo). All of a sudden this whole thing becomes a lot less attractive.

But there’s an added problem. Because ExactSeek is a truly small Search Engine, you’re only going to get significant amounts of traffic on really popular, broad keyphrases and these generally don’t convert well. If you’re “bidding” on hotels you’d be shooting in the dark, unless your site is about hotels all over the world.

A glutton for punishment I decided to give it a try anyway. I chose an uber competitive keyphrase (something travel related) and a very competitive keyphrase (something merchant account related), put my ads together and submitted them. I used my trusted link tracker script to easily count the clicks on a daily basis.

It was all a bit depressing: despite choosing search terms that definitely attract searchers in just about any Search Engine, the amount of clicks was negligible and the calculated CPC quite high.

In a nutshell: what exactly do you pay for with this Pay for Inclusion program? It’s not clicks because the amount you’ll receive depends strongly on the chosen terms. It’s not impressions because… ditto.

According to ExactSeek it’s a “no hassle” advertising method. I’ll tell you something else it ain’t: cheap!

Sunday, March 20, 2005

The Importance of Pinging Earnest?

Relatively new to blogging I heard about the practice of “pinging” recently. Pinging comes down to letting various blog directories know your blog has been updated.

Let me be lazy and quote from pingomatic.com:

“Pinging lets dozens of services know you've updated your site and increases traffic to your blog.

There are a number of services designed specifically for tracking and connecting blogs. However it would be expensive for all the services to crawl all the blogs in the world all the time. By sending a small ping to each service you let them know you’ve updated so they can come check you out. They get the freshest data possible, you don’t get a thousand robots spidering your site all the time. Everybody wins.”

Sounds a bit like a bloggers dream come true or is it to good to be true like so many “traffic builders”. Is pinging really what it’s cracked up to be? Is it necessary to do or is it just more hype? Don’t look at me… I’m asking you!

Maybe I'll find out soon: I've just pinged...


Europe is the new Nazi Empire!

No, no... calm down. These aren't my words, I'm quoting a guy called John Hammell. I'm all for freedom of speech but I'm not sure whether what John has to say about the European Union qualifies as such.

I'm not going to dignify the protagonists of this sorry saga with direct links, but feel free to cut and paste the URLs.

So what's all this about? Let me give you a little background.

As you may be aware (but probably aren't: it's hardly big time news), European legislation regarding the regulation of food supplements and nutrients was passed in June 2002 and is expected to come into effect on August 1, 2005. Not surprisingly, the legislation, known as the Food Supplements Directive (or FSD), has met stiff opposition from various quarters. Health supplement proponents see the legislation as draconian and many small operators in the industry fear for their livelihoods if they are unable to conform with the new rules.

But this post is not about whether I personally oppose or support the FSD.

In the UK, opposition to the FSD is led by the Alliance for Natural Health (or ANH, http://alliance-natural-health.org/). The ANH is in turn supported by various US based pressure groups that fear similar legislation will be implemented in their country. One of ANH's supporters is the International Advocates For Health Freedom (or IAHF, http://www.iahf.com), a US based pressure group founded by a John Hammell.

In an interview with John Hammell by Greg Ciola (editor of CRUSADOR ENTERPRISES, http://www.thehealthcrusader.com) Mr Hammell shows his true colours, by the use of language that is rather unequivocal, to put it mildly. The full text can be found here: http://www.thehealthcrusader.com/pgs/article-0104-ban.shtml.

I quote directly from the text:

“The European Union is a dictatorship controlled by multinational corporate interests.” That's a little opinionated but fair enough.

"The European Parliament is just a facade to appease the people to make them think that they have a democratic government, but it's really a joke. It's the most corrupt, treacherously dictatorial regime on the face of the earth - bar none." Things are hotting up a bit now! Bar none!!

“I hesitate to make the comparison because of the negative connotations but what's happening in Europe sounds to me like the revival of the Nazi Empire, only this time they are seeking to suck the whole world into this web, including the United States.” You… hesitate? Not too much though.

“There's no controversy about the fact that the European Union is a Nazi entity.” Ooops, all hesitation has now gone out of the window. Its official: over here, we’re all Nazis! It isn't even controversial!

“They started the first world war to try to get us into the League of Nations.” Of course, why else? 20 million people died on the battle fields, just to get you guys into the bad, bad league of nations, it does make sense, right?

"So the globalists set the stage for a second world war by not doing anything to re-build post war Germany in the aftermath. They set the stage for Hitler's rise to power in order to trigger a second world war because they needed a second world war to get us into this League of Nations,..." He is really quite insistent on this point: one WW wasn't enough...

“You have to understand what Big Brother's goal is here. Big Brother wants to cull our numbers. Big Brother doesn't want us living over the age of sixty-five.”

"An example of that is back in the 1950s when they stopped farmers from using manure for fertilizer and they got them all using chemical fertilizers and they broke the sulfur cycle. They did that on purpose knowing that it would trigger a huge rise in cancer and other degenerative diseases that would enable them to sell a lot more pharmaceutical drugs" And so on, and so forth. Quack, quack, quack, quack goes the chorus, John, it's official... you're a quack!

To the sound of mind, all this may seem somewhat risible, even trivial, if it wasn't for the fact that Mr Hammell states early on in the interview: "I do lobbying in Washington and all over the world, public speaking, and grass roots organizing - mostly via my website and email distribution list which anyone can sign onto at my website". Lobbying in Washington? With views like these? Can this pass for freedom of speech?

I have informed the ANH of their questionable supporter but have as yet not received any response.

And I'm no expert on food supplements, but if Greg Cialo's site (thehealthcrusader.com) is anything to go by, this FSD appears long overdue. These quacks are promoting products that clearly don't do anything (the disclaimers say it all) by means of exaggerated claims, misuse of pseudo-scientific language, anecdotal "evidence" and blatant lies, all in the name of "freedom". No wonder someone is calling for a little regulation...

Friday, March 18, 2005

Spyware used in a £20 million cyber heist

Police reported yesterday that the London branch of the Japanese bank Sumitomo was the target of a foiled Internet plot to steal £20,000,000 from its electronic accounts.

One hacker is alleged to have been arrested in Israel.

The most likely way the hackers attempted to break into the bank would be by obtaining passwords and usernames of account holders or employees. That would be done by smuggling spyware (or Trojan software) onto these people’s computers. Spyware can monitor anything from Internet activity (sites visited, purchases made) to actual keystrokes made on their keyboards, information which is then relayed back to the hackers. Keylogging is particularly popular with malicious hackers, who can obtain anything from personal details, credit card details and more. Needless to say what this information is then used for...

But you can protect yourself against what can turn out to be an expensive experience if you do get keylogged.
Anti-spyware software allows you to regularly sweep your computer to detect and destroy any such spyware. It’s estimated that most Internet users have some spyware installed on their computer without their knowledge. So make sure your credit card details remain yours, not some hacker's...

Thursday, March 17, 2005

MSN Search to launch AdWords competitor?

Rumours that MSN Search is to launch a Google Adwords style advertising program first appeared on Bloomberg.com, who claimed MSN was about to make a statement around this time. I haven’t seen anything yet.

Currently, Microsoft uses Yahoo-owned Overture to provide search advertisements. But after launching MSN search and a multi million dollar advertising campaign, including very stylish TV commercials around the world, getting a slice of the context based, on-line search ads market would seem like a logical next step. It would not only contribute to MSN flagging revenue growth but perhaps more importantly in the near future it would force both advertisers and publishers alike to start taking notice of the “new kid on the block”. It could be the breakthrough the Search Engine needs.

Danny Sullivan had these thoughts about Microsoft's service and their agreement with Overture, which expires next June:

"I think toward the end of the year is more likely for a rollout, and I'd suspect we'd see Yahoo as a backfill until the advertisers have filled in the new program".

It’ll be exciting to see what features the “MSN AdWords and AdSense” program will have. An improved, enhanced version of this kind of advertising programs would certainly help MSN in gaining the search share it is so ambitiously seeking… To be continued! I wish them the best of luck.

Monday, March 14, 2005

Wise blogging with blogwise.com

Blogs are still one of the fastest growing types of Websites. Online “diaries”, aka Weblogs or blogs for short cover any topics under the sun, from acorns to z-car racing and more. Blogs are nothing more than specially formatted Websites and as Websites go, their owners, writers, ravers, ranters, soapbox orators etc want to get their site seen by the world.

One of the oldest and most viable ways of getting exposure to a site is to get it listed in several of the many, many Web directories. Considering the truly exponential growth of the blogging phenomenon it comes as no surprise that Web directories specifically aimed at blog sites have mushroomed. By now, there must be hundreds if not thousands of blogging directories (Google, at the time of writing returned about 1,500,000 results on “blog directories”), so if you have a blog, get submitting now!

A good place to go is blogwise.com. This directory promised an estimated and somewhat discouraging 17 day time lapse between submission and inclusion (acceptance is subject to conditions) but they confirmed acceptance of our blog in under a week. Thank you, blogwise.com!

Friday, March 11, 2005

The nigritude ultramarine...

The “nigritude ultramarine” contest ended in June 2004. It was an interesting SEO experiment. For those unfamiliar with the contest, here’s the low down. The contest was organised by Dark Blue and Search Guild and the objective was to create sites that would rank well under the meaningless search term “nigritude ultramarine” (“nigritude” is a mispelling of "negritude" and means blackness, while “ultramarine” is an ultra blue pigment, but together they mean nothing). Prior to the contest, the search term yielded no search results in Google, not even a Google whack (today, because of the contest, "about" 135,000 pages), which made it a level playing field for all contestants.
Needless to say, the results were interesting because of the varied approaches. From “white hat” to “black hat”: it’s all there.

In position 11 (today) is a page
http://www.nigritude-ultramarine.com/nigritude-ultramarine/nigritude-ultramarine.asp which should be a prime example of keyword stuffing. All other pages of the site are equally stuffed, up to the point of becoming unreadable. Using the now past-its-sell-by-date concept of “keyword density”, these pages probably clock in at 50% and more for “nigritude ultramarine”.

It just makes you wonder what to believe about “ethical SEO” (or white hat), whose proponents' first commandment is “Thou shall’t not stuff”, yet a thoroughly stuffed site like nigritude-ultramarine.com (it’s almost an experiment in excessive stuffing) reached a good position with modest PR (4). And here's me being so, so cautious not to overuse my keyphrases for fear of being "banned" or penalized!

Guess who’s holding the top spot on "nigritude ultramarine"? They weren’t the actual winners but Anil Dash’s blog on "nigritude ultramarine" now (today) holds the #1 position…

As regards “black hat”, Google were recently found both cloaking and stuffing. Googleguy explained it had all been an accident. Guess that makes it alright then! The offending pages have been removed, or so they say…

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

More whingeing about AutoLink...

The WebProNews forum has joined the "debate" on Google's AutoLink toolbar feature and it's much in the same negative tones as discussed here in an earlier post.

Forum users are a bit like lemmings: one guy starts a tread and everyone else starts running for the clifftops... not so much of a debate then.

One user ("cfortune") suggested to googlebomb Google, using "search nazis" as a search term... "search n***s", I'll have you know! Language, fellas!

Another suggested we all leave Google to die, since it's so incapable of looking after its "customers" (sic). Friend, the customers are the searchers, not site owners or marketers. The AutoLink feature is intended for them, not you.

There is a little support for the feature, even in this hostile forum. One user pointed out correctly that AutoLink is in fact far from auto. The user has to choose to deploy the right toolbar version and needs to click on the AutoLink button to see if (and only if) there are additional links available. Hardly two decisions most users will take "unconsciously".

Another made the following observation: when popup blockers started to effectively suppress these annoying pops form appearing, did the pop suppliers file a class action suit for lost revenue against, amongst others, Google? They didn't. Popup blockers are generally perceived as user experience enhancing, AutoLink is likely to do the same.

And no, it might not improve things for site owners but AutoLink wasn't intended for that group in the first place.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Google AdSense, Commission Junction and ClickBank

Many Webmasters supplement their site revenue or sponsor their site with programs like Google AdSense or Commission Junction. But unless your site is strictly informative, driving visitors to advertiser sites isn’t going to do much for your dollar bottom. You’re literally driving traffic to competitor sites, for a very small fee.

Instead I prefer to use ClickBank to supplement revenue. I’m sure you know ClickBank, but if you don’t here’s what it is in a nutshell. ClickBank is an imaginative combination of a third party merchant account and a marketplace. In the marketplace merchants can offer their wares, get paying customers and get paid (through the ClickBank payment gateway). Vendors (in ClickBank’s jargon) can find products to market and find out how much commission products will pay them. It’s all extremely easy to set up, signing up takes only minutes.

Perhaps the only drawback to using ClickBank was that up to now the marketplace (about 40,000 items) wasn’t easy to search. Vendors like myself use their own methods to find suitably relevant products to market.

But now this is a thing of the past, with a company called dotstartup having launched a fully searchable ClickBank Webmall. Intended as a integrated marketing solution for those serious about ClickBank marketing, this comes with a search box allowing any visitor to quickly find items related to the used search term.

The Web mall is also fully customisable (appearance, colour, fonts and more), is remote hosted (no hosting costs) and even allows to generate sales pages: create your own directory and show product pages from your site, without driving prospect off your own site.

It even has an Amazon plug-in (use is optional): simply insert your Amazon Associate ID and you’re done, it’s that simple.

All this for an amazing… $24.95 one-off fee. No kidding!

Sunday, March 06, 2005

The Google bomb...

Google bombs have been around for a while, the first "bombing" dating back to about 2001 apparently. One of the best known Google bombs is the "miserable failure" bomb used to shell George Bush and Michael Moore. Search for "miserable failure" in Google and you'll find plenty of references to both these people, including Moore's own site and Bush's biography site (at the time of writing).

A Google bomb consists of a relatively small group of site owners manipulating the Search Engine's results by linking to the target sites, using "miserable failure" in the text anchor of their links. Google attaches strong importance to text anchors, as a measure of relevance of the linked site to the content of the anchor. Hence the high rankings of these sites on a search term that isn't strictly relevant to these sites, although obviously the "bombers" would beg to differ with me on that one!

So, this relatively innocent prank does show how important the text anchor of inbound links really is, when it comes to achieving high Google rankings.

Whispers have it that the latest Google update (dubbed "allegra" which is Italian for "light") will further emphasise this effect by looking at the entire content of the page from which the link originates. But whether these Search Engine watchers have a crystal ball or are just making an educated guess isn't known...


... and the Google whack!

Anybody know what a "Google whack" is? It was explained to me as follows. When a searcher types in a search term or keyword phrase in Google's search box, usually far too many results are returned but occasionally no results are returned at all. Even more rarely Google will return exactly one (1) result and one result only: that's a Google whack! Howzat for a pretty useless bit of information?

Google takes care of idiots too...

...was the intriguing title of an article by Alexis Dawes featured in SiteProNews a couple of weeks back. It illustrates one of the weirdest Search Engine marketing strategies I've come across for a while. Let me cut straight to the chase: go to Google and type in mobile pc repair. In #5 position (at the time of writing) you'll find a listing with the title sandiego.backpage.com - Service: mobile pc repair lowest price in .... Looking closer, you'll see that this is nothing but a free classified ad in the San Diego section of Backpage.com free classified pages!

Alexis, a self-proclaimed Search Engine luddite who's never got a ranking anywhere past #50 on his own pages (his words, not mine!), claims to get significant SE traffic using keyphrase rich free classifieds. In particular niche keywords are suitable for this method.

Does anyone else use this? Let us know!

Saturday, March 05, 2005

MSN to use personal files to personalize Search?

In the quest for producing ever better Search results, the major SEs have turned to "personalization". The searcher's "profile" would influence the type of results returned, matching them with "anticipated" expectancy determined by the profile.

All very well in theory and potentially a great improvement for delivering great search results but it just leaves one tiny question... how to create such a profile in such a way that it does effectively increase the searcher's user experience?

So far, Google have "solved" the problem by letting users create their own profile (or not). That approach also bypasses any "privacy" concerns.

But MSN have floated an idea that goes a lot further. Using the index created by MSN Desktop Search when a computer user searches for files (locally) would reveal a lot about the user's preferences. This could thus be distilled into a profile, useful for generating personalized search results that have increased relevance to the individual searcher.

How effective using the MSN Desktop Search index may be in creating a discerning and effective "profile" is far from clear.

And it does all sound a bit "creepy", doesn't it... Data mining etc. I hope they will give individuals the choice at least of having a profile or not...

Google's AutoLink feature

When Google lauched the beta version of it's latest toolbar version, the Search Engine watch forums were buzzing, mostly with self-rightgeous indignation. What was all the fuss about? The new AutoLink feature. The language used to condemn AutoLink was strong, fairly uniquivocal and.. rather predictable! "Conspiracy!" cried one, "Orwellian" another. Big Brother was amongst us once again and Google was planning to take over the world (the plot for a new James Bond perhaps?).

So what's all the fuss really about? AutoLink is an "intelligent" way of providing related links to a searchers query results. Google provides different types of links to different types of results, for instance it may provide (road) maps to off-line businesses, such as hotels or restaurants.

But many marketers fear that the AutoLinks will drive potential customers away from their pages to competitor pages. As one put it: "Will Google pay us for these links, like it does with AdSense?" It doesn't sound likely, does it.

It's AdSense that provides the clue: AutoLink will be have to be fine tuned in such a way that it doesn't overlap with Google's advertising programs, or they will be shooting themselves in the foot and I can't see that happening.

Call me naive but for now I consider AutoLink as a benign way of providing searchers with extra information. I'm not alone in this opinion. Time will tell. Definitely "one to follow"...

As regards "Big Brother": Orwell would be turning in his grave once again, even though "1984" was his worst book...

Friday, March 04, 2005

The new MSN Search is here

Bill always vowed to take a chunk out of Larry and Sergei's armour and it would appear that MSN's assault on Google has now begun in earnest. The MSN search has been revamped, now with "less clutter" (although there's still plenty of that!) But more significantly, here in Europe Bill has started to TV advertise the new MSN. It isn't since the launch of Ask Jeeves many moons ago that anyone has attempted to influence search behaviour with telly ads!

I hope he succeeds in increasing MSN's market share: both searchers and marketers would benefit from a more level playing field. As a searcher I love Google, as a site owner i'm just really frustrated with them.

But they're already fighting back with the (controversial) new AutoLink and Autofill toolbar features. Maybe the battle for the hearts and minds of searchers will be fought with toolbars, rather than TV ads... It should be interesting to watch.

Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions

Yep, it's official: Overture (once GoTo.com) is being renamed "Yahoo! Search Marketing Solutions". It was always on the cards, I guess. Ever since the acquisition by Yahoo!, Overture underwent a number of changes, including the ill-fated SiteMatch program. I call it "ill-fated" but perhaps that's just a case sour grapes on my part: I admit it; SiteMatch didn't work for me at all. What a waste of money and all for the slightest trickle of traffic, mostly irrelevant as well! One of my sites got a #3 ranking under "a1-merchant-account", what's that all about? Ah, but "a1-merchant-account" appeared in the URL, you see... Plumber's logic it what it is.

Let's wish them well anyway...