Saturday, October 06, 2007

Express Link or Spam Exchange?

Someone posted to my blog today about ExpressLinkExchange under the name Shanon Sandquist, who appears to have been quite busy lately.

Hey, this is an awesome blog you've
got here!! I'm definitely going to
bookmark it! By the way, I found a
awesome site that has similar kind of
link exchange kind of stuff! If you get
time, check it out.

Posted by Shanon Sandquist to IncrediBILL's Random Rants at 10/06/2007 1:03 AM
Normally I would think it's a bogus name on one of those off topic blog posts but that name shows up in the WhoIs for ExpressLinkExchange so it's either the real person openly posting the same crap all over the place or someone trying to give them some reputation management issues.

directNIC makes this information available "as is", and does not guarantee
its accuracy.

2084 West, 12974 South
Riverton, UT 84065


Administrative Contact:
Sandquist, Shanon
2084 West, 12974 South
Riverton, UT 84065

Technical Contact:
Sandquist, Shanon
2084 West, 12974 South
Riverton, UT 84065

Domain servers in listed order:
Hey, it looks like a great service, what could be wrong with signing up for links and making free money?

Right on the home page "...increase a website's traffic, link popularity and search engine ranking..." and there's even a directory of member sites!

Here's the best part on the FAQ page:
5. Does abide by the major search engine guidelines?

Yes, it does. The Link Exchange service is fully compliant with all of the major search engine guidelines and standards. We do not promote "blackhat" techniques such as cloaking, hidden text, or the use of doorway pages in order to artificially manipulate the search engine results. The Link Exchange service will help naturally boost your website's link popularity in the same manner that any typical manual link exchange campaign would. The only difference with our system is that it is fully automated. In addition, we provide our members with helpful articles to educate them on how to properly optimize their web pages for increased search engine ranking. Click here for more details on this topic.
Interesting point of view because the Google Webmaster Guidelines expressly says:

Quality guidelines - basic principles

Don't participate in link schemes designed to increase your site's ranking or PageRank. In particular, avoid links to web spammers or "bad neighborhoods" on the web, as your own ranking may be affected adversely by those links.
OK, which one of them would you believe?

Well let's all sign right up so we'll all be in a members list Google can easily track, good idea!

Sounds like a plan to me!

Friday, October 05, 2007

SEO Means Squabbling Endlessly Online

The S in SEO stands for Squabbling because that's all they ever do, all day every day, Endlessly and Online.

What do they squabble about?

The usual crap, same thing they've been squabbling about for years about hat colors, search engine spamming and on and on ad nausea.

This week they're raking Rand over the coals because he outed a site selling paid links calling it "unprofessional". Sadly, Rand caved to peer pressure and removed the link to the outed site so he lost a little respect here because if you have an opinion and say something you feel righteous about, stick to your guns and stand behind it.

Besides, can anyone believe the same man that obviously flaunts fashion faux pas with the brightest yellow shoes just so you can see him a mile away at a search conference would give a rats ass about someone's opinion about outing a site?

I'm stunned.

The thing that stuns me even more is that the SEO community obviously wants these sites hidden from view because many of them use those paid links to game the search engines.

Think about this, you wouldn't want your favorite paid link juice site publicly outed would you?

Might cramp your style and you would have to do SEO the old fashioned way with a compelling site and content people naturally link to instead of gaming the system.

What did Rand really do wrong except expose a site violating Google's guidelines?

I think people were worried it would start an avalanche of outing paid link sites and they would quickly become a thing of the past.

Assuming Rand doesn't use those types of sites and doesn't live in a SEO glass house, I would stick to my guns because it's an educational thing for the novices out there to see and avoid, a public service actually, with a real live example of what Google's guidelines tell you not to do.

Doesn't matter what I think, Rand already caved, let the squabbling continue.

Department of Homeland Spam

A couple of days ago the DHS (Dept. of Homeland Security) turned out to be ironically running an insecure listserv to send email that resulted not only in a mini-DDoS of all it's list subscribers but culminated with a complete breach of all the email addresses on that list when they tried to fix it.

Flip wrote a hysterical play-by-play account of the DHS spam which is worth reading to the bitter end because it just gets worse and worse.

Makes me a little concerned about who's securing the Homeland Security!

Then I found a quote from one of the email's in his blog post that fingers the company responsible:

Please note that NICC is aware of the situation and has notified Computer Science Corp to disable the open server...
Also turns out not that it's not even a simple list server:
...Lotus Domino Release 7.0.2FP1 server hosted by a government contractor that reflects email to a list of thousands of subscribers
Can you imagine if this weakness was exposed during an actual crisis and people didn't get the information they needed in a timely manner?

I feel more secure now, don't you?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Debunking the FUD around "rel=nofollow"

I finally decided to put my thoughts in black and white and let people know why I think the Emperor G has no clothes which is why they invented "rel=nofollow" in the first place.

Think about how much we hear about relevance.

Relevant results are all the buzz in the relevance of Google's search results and targeting of AdSense ads so they must be the experts in relevance, right?

OK, if they have such a good lock on relevance then why couldn't Google simply determine that spam links from comments on blogs, forums and wikis had NO relevance to the topic of the post and simply discount those links automatically.

Once you grasp the implications of my last paragraph you'll realize that "rel=nofollow" is bogus.

If you're still not sure, think about this for just a moment with a simple scenario where Grandma posts on her crochet blog about a new crochet pattern and then a spammer spams her blog about Viagra or a bunch of other pharma and off topic crap.

Would we be led to believe that the world's greatest search engine with the best search relevance bar none can't tell that the link and comments about Viagra don't match the content of the blog post and can't automatically discount those links without a "rel=nofollow"?

Apparently not, and here comes "rel=nofollow" and all the FUD and fear mongering about who you link to, who you can sell links or legitimate ads to, and whether or not you can pass link juice or not without the risk being penalized if you don't bend to the will of the same company that ironically makes their billions selling paid links.

Does anyone besides me smell a hand job penalty for paid links?

If Google can't tell that the Viagra ad was off topic on Granny's Crochet blog then how are they detecting paid links?

With all that said I think "rel=nofollow" at a minimum is a good idea just to automatically discount random links from random people posting on blogs, forums and wikis just to take the possible SEO reward out spam. However, that won't stop the spam because the same stupid people that open those emails and go to those websites will still click the links in the spam posts as well so the direct traffic will still be a big enough incentive to continue spamming websites. The only upside is it thwarts their efforts to gain rank in the search engines.

However, if Google's relevance detection, especially with off topic links was really that good, the spam posts never would've been a problem in the first place.

Does anyone smell a rat?

Unfortunately the rat I smell is mixed content sites such as many news sites, forums and blogs with random topics per page that probably caused too many false positives for an algorithm to automatically discard what would appear to be off topic links.

Therefore, the algorithm probably failed and here we are scared into policing ourselves with "rel=nofollow" and every now and then someone caught selling a paid link or something is thrown on the sacrificial altar just to stir some high profile FUD and keep everyone in line.

That's my theory, what do you think?

Page Position Checking SEO Tools Waste Time and Money

The SEO community is always promoting page position checking tools all over the place but those tools are hardly useful and just part of the harmful hype that constantly surrounds the SEO business. Worse yet, they burn up your money paying for crap that most ultimately discard, waste time initializing the software per site, burn more time and bandwidth running them, and worse yet, these tools are against the Google Webmaster Guidelines. Since most SEO's don't give a rat's ass about doing things that are against the Google Webmaster Guidelines, until their sites get penalized in Google, we'll focus on why it's a waste of time and money.

Why would you possibly need a page rank checker?

  • Customer wants a position report.
  • Keeping an eye on the competition's ranking.
  • Don't know how to interpret traffic analytics.
  • Because everyone else does it.
Customer wants a page position report

There must be a motivating factor driving all of this rank checking mania, we'll call it money, because it certainly isn't common sense. I've never hired outside SEO but I'll bet customers get charged extra for these silly reports to cover the costs of the software or service they pay to create those reports.

The customer probably didn't know he needed a position report until some SEO claimed "Top 10 position guaranteed!" or something equally as silly which put that thought in his head in the first place. Now that the customer has that idea about a single position you need to either educate them about why it's garbage or spend time and money pounding the search engines running reports that put your money where your mouth is.

I would probably opt to educate the customer about what really matters and show increases in traffic and conversions and skip right past the silly rank checking. If you want to spend money wisely and help the customer spend it wisely as well invest in really good analytics and skip directly past page rank checking.

Unfortunately, we all know some customers will be fixated on ranking #1 for some term and won't see or appreciate the big picture in overall traffic improvements and will have a single-minded focus on that single keyword. Those are customers I would walk away from because anything short of achieving that goal and they'll never be happy and misery flows downhill. Run, do not walk, away from this situation.

Keeping an eye on the competition's ranking.

Considering that the bulk of the traffic usually comes from less than 30 keyword phrases (ok, I just picked 30 as a random number for discussion, your mileage may vary) it's pretty easy to eyeball these phrases in the search engines every now and then just to get an idea what the competitive landscape looks like. Spending tons of money on software just to track this competitive analysis is also silly because you know for a fact that when you improve your traffic and conversions on certain terms you're taking them away from someone. Likewise, if you lose traffic and conversions on certain terms you can typically assume someone is taking that traffic away from you and you can easily eyeball that term in the search engine to see where it went.

Don't know how to interpret traffic analytics.

Anyone that has ever run a web site for any length of time will realize that everything you'll ever need to know can be found in your log file analysis. If you rank well for a keyword or phrase you'll be getting a lot of traffic on that term and if you don't rank well, or at all, you won't get traffic for that term. Pretty simple to figure out what terms rank because everything that doesn't show up in your log files either doesn't rank or if it did rank, doesn't drive traffic because people don't search for that phrase so it's meaningless.

Learning how to properly understand the traffic to your site can seem a little overwhelming at first because not all traffic is good traffic. The easiest way to really understand where to focus your energy is tracking conversions to see which terms bring in the most customers that convert and then expand your search engine marketing around what I like to call "the phrase that pays".

Usually it's a lot of phrases but that's a different discussion for a different day.

I always recommend a combination of server side and service provider analysis tools as you need something that can analyze your raw server log files and it never hurts to use something free, especially if you're on a budget or not terribly technical, like Google Analytics as it's easy to install. Additionally, consider looking into some of the information provided by Google Webmaster Tools.

The main difference between a javascript-based analytics tool like Google Analytics and server side stats is that the javascript-based tools tend to only show real humans surfing the web. All the 'bots that crawl don't tend to be javascript capable which is why the two tools will show a huge discrepancy between your raw server logs and analytics services. Don't forget that many surfers disable javascript and run various ad blocking software which may also block your analytics tracker for privacy reasons. Therefore, the truth about your traffic lies somewhere in the middle of the raw server logs and a hosted analytics service but you usually can't go wrong basing decisions on the results of an analytics service.

Because everyone else does it.

That's not even a reason, that's an excuse.

This article wouldn't be complete if I didn't admit once upon a time, a long time ago, even I fell for the page position tracking trap and did it for almost 6 months before I realized I was wasting my time. Worrying about minor fluctuations are silly because the search engines are constantly in flux and your site may go up or down a little on various terms all the time, it's natural. However, if your site moves up or down a substantial amount on a term, your analytics will point this out just as well as the rank checker so it's completely redundant and doing the same job twice is obviously a waste of time and money.

That's why I abandoned checking my page positions years ago, increased my traffic more than I ever did looking at those silly reports, and both made and saved a lot of money in the process.


Skip the rank position checking except for manually eyeballing the search results every now and then for some top terms and invest heavily in analytics.

You'll be happier, you'll be focused on what really gets better results and you won't feel like a schmuck.