Matt Cutts' April Fools Day

It appears Search Engine Land and others fell / are falling for this:

This was an April Fool's Day joke by Matt, not SEOs. It went live the evening of March 31st and was instantly flagged in the community. Dark SEO Team's subsequent public reply is was here... and because of it, among the dimmer bulbs out there the joke seemingly continues to go viral. So it's all almost funny... I suppose. 🙄

Anyone still confused about the differences between BH and all-out hacking should read this.

[Update, 02:17 PM PDT] ::

The touch has been removed... but not before it got cached, of course:

Dark SEO Replies to Matt's April Fool's 2007 Joke

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[Omniture Summit :: Tail]

03.15.07 :: Day 3: Keynotes, Breakouts, Sidebar, Downloads.

Keynotes:

We listened just to Anne Holland, President and CEO of MarketingSherpa. As usual the 'Sherp went over some great data even if some of it was a couple years old. Key take-aways:

  • While 2.0 has buzz and would get that extra $100K of Spend if/as Marketers had it, the real dominating investments are still all about Search and Email... Because they're so proven in terms of bang for the buck.
  • Paid and Organic Search convert at about the same rates on average. I had actually been assuming organic would be more, so it was a good head check against a common Marketer's trap: being so close to one's field that one assumes the audience is just as familiar, as comprehending, as non-impressionable, as jaded and/or as discriminating.
  • Putting new levels of attention on robust and effective internal (on-site) search, and also on re-marketing to lost conversions (ex: shopping cart abandons) are each hot new ROI frontiers. The idea being these are prime leads worth putting extra effort into keeping in the fold. Both B2C and B2B are advised to invest here.
  • SEM conversion rates coming from situations where Analytics is being deeply embraced are around 10%. However SEO is still averaging just half that rate, meaning Marketers haven't gotten it as well together with optimizing conversions from unpaid traffic yet (and need to).
  • Solicit the surveyed ROI data from them if/as need be to justify hiring Analysts and arming them with great Analysis tools. They're currently way underutilized.

As a side note, I was glad to see SEO at the top of their survey of Marketers' answers to the basic "what works?" question... whereas some of the flashier fun Web 2.0 stuff like podcasts for example was in the bottom ends i.e. single percentages.

Another stand-out item re. what's on marketers' minds is landing page optimization, from SEM and Email especially. So the rest of the keynote was all more granular i.e. landing page and email best practices for both B2C and B2B.

Breakouts:

The first of these I hit was all on leveraging internal search. Really it was a big pitch from Endeca, a new Omniture partner. Their engine seems pretty solid, very oriented toward letting users refine results against a classification scheme. Plus, the hooks it has into SiteCatalyst give it optimization potential. It's made to be most beneficial for big e-tailers (ex: Home Depot) and/or media sites (ex: NY Times). Home Depot offered themselves up as a case study. They've been a longtime Endeca client who had recently dropped WebsideStory or Omniture. I did that on one project before, myself.

The second session, which we all hit, was all on making Analysis work on RIAs (Rich Interface Applications e.g. Flash, AJAX): Really technical and meticulous work but impressive when successes are presented. Main messages received:

  • Omniture's new ActionSource protocol makes tracking Flash sites much easier. Just set up the classification scheme in SAINT and there it is. No coding in opbject assemblies to Omnture's JavaScript tag, no HTML page or giving Builders access to SiteCatalyst needed even, for implementation and testing. Just the free Charles proxies utility or similar debugger needed for verifying event firings. Awesome.
  • Start-to-finish, tracking & analytics implementations on robust RIAs take months.
  • Project Managers need to build Analysis into requirements definitions at the kickoff stages. What happens too often is QA and Analysis get tacked on the end and sacrificed from/in the planning then it all blows up. Companies need to take it all very seriously and plan for it needing to take a while to get it in right.

Case studies included Nike. They have (4) JSP sites, (183) Flash sites, (1) dozen agencies, and Omniture tying all of it together behind the scene. Wow. The sites they're most proud of are NikeID (multiple languages, one big app, rolled into all just one SWF!) and NikePlus. One cool point was that they use SiteCatalyst to help guide offline inventory management, e.g. triggered alerts that flag whenever users try to order something that's out of stock. Their approach to marrying Analytics with robust, database-driven Flash applications creates a tight online marketing ecosystem.


Digestion / freeform sidebar:

There are a lot of exciting things happening, and there's much to get out in front of this year.

To me it feels increasingly that while solidifying their grasp on Web 2.0 (or as Omniture billed it this week, "Marketing 2.0") enterprise web marketers might do well to try adopting a content management industry inspired logic to evaluation and development of companies' presence online. That is, address the triumvirate of layers that makes for any given web property (or family thereof) distinctly, but also extend it to the whole online realization of their brand(s):

  • Presentational
  • Informational
  • Functional

My point here is the value of a CMS is sold on its ability to manage versioning and collaborative workflows for all these asset types... but look what happens when we look at project challenges through that same perspective. It creates a view that helps inform the strategic agenda. It could work simply by using this model to frame what companies are trying to online, instead of getting focused so straight away just on what their sites are about on the surface, to the end that one misses what really trying to do and why. I suspect the latter can be a potential trap for all kinds and levels of consultancies.

When so many things start off with a phone call from Brand X to experts A, B and C about their idea for Project Z and then everyone jumps to make a case for Y they should get the gig, etc., it can potentially distract a bit from the relationships being key. Not just between marketer and brand, but between brand and audience. Areas like this are where people sometimes let themselves get swept up into all the "gee-whiz" production options, in my experience. Marketers get wrapped up in advertising mindsets along the way, instead of thinking like brand ambassadors to the audience - mediators in between the two parties, even. What takes the hit perhaps most of all are overlooked meganiches where much can be learned about what customers really need and want. Marketers mustn't let these fly under their radar. Studying and then engaging these - honestly and under whatever disclaimers are needed to help expedite things - is important for bypassing all the noise. Honesty in advertising? Now more than ever, because so many of us online are all both content consumers as well as publishers. Or, put more bluntly, everyone's selling something - and it's a great thing, not a disturbing one. It creates great collective filters for bullshit.

I prefaced the importance of content in my last post: Some of the biggest brands online to-day are firms that, through various means and vendors in combination and over time, have published great presentation layers, solid and/or hit-and-miss functional layers, and emaciated or underdeveloped informational layers. So now more than ever with the new empowered audience and

the Web the way we've all always wanted it to work

- as MarketingSherpa put it this week - brands have a problem. They need to not just open themselves up. They need to expand their reach by enriching themselves... moreover some may even need to take it a step further with their social engineering work, spiking the punch via viral campaigns deployed as hoax and/or stealth initiatives, even. I wonder how many are thinking these ways yet, and how much of this type of thinking we need to start doing for them. For starters we do know we have clients challenged with the basic informational content void to-day, whether they know it or not... and marketers need to come up with ways to help them stay relevant there because the bar has been raised on brands re. what qualifies as such or not. Those who don't evolve to stay relevant may fade, so it's up to those versed in forward-thinking online marketing to be both conduits and advisers as this next stage of natural selection plays out on the Web.

So as we work, perhaps framing strategic vital signs as if evaluating CMS software requirements at the conceptual levels might help... and also, it might simultaneously help break discipline silos, optimizing our project / production management workflows so that at the end of the day we're putting out even tighter product than we already are.


Marketing Wisdom for 2007

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Khipu-pooing Mainstream Media

It would hardly be fair and balanced for me to keep touting the virtues of reading Wired without also pointing out occasional errors as I see them:

In "Untangling the Mystery of the Inca" they say...

Type 'baseball' into Google and its spiders will race over the Internet, look at links, and spit back that yankees.com is the 11th most useful site for you and seattlemariners.com is the 22nd.

😯

This makes it sound like search engines are on-demand botnets or something, and it's wrong. Search engines are constantly updating their caches of sites, i.e. taking an ongoing snapshot of the Web. Their crawlers are a critical part of this, and they can be attracted to sites by actions taken by Webmasters in some ways, but they work by their own clocks as far as users are concerned. Their behaviors are proactive, and they check on sites at depths and intervals in accordance with sites' content change frequency, inbound link popularity and other factors. Users are served information based on what search engine indexes (made of caches) determine to be relevant returns, but engine spiders are not reactive dogs who fetch the live Web whenever users query their masters for information (bonus points to anyone who remembers Lycos perpetuating this by implication back in the day).

This is why we have tactical options like cloaking, which is about getting something into the search engines' caches that differs from what human visitors are shown.

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Less Bullshit, More Master Baiting

This is my New Year's Resolution. Here's why:

When blogger and former AOL/Weblogs exec Jason Calacanis reportedly pronounced "SEO is bullshit" at SES Chicago last year, it fanned the flames of the SEO scene, enough so that he had to post a follow-up explanation shortly afterward.
While it wasn't a particularly informed or informative post as much as it was a defensive one, he did admit in it that he's no SEO expert. He did make some valid points on the value of content, and valid layman's points on other items. What's especially noteworthy though was that it got him Dugg well, and other movement that gave him some infamy link love for a bit. While he got served backlash for his words, others in the industry came to his defense however (I'm tempted to say "it's all links, it's all good." If only it all were so simple!)...

Q: SEO is... what?

A: Calacanis was talking about and also indirectly referring to:

  1. how content is king, but to rule wisely means to have uniqueness, depth, breadth, relevancy, character and change frequency.
  2. core on-site best practices (crawler-friendliness) including fundamental on-page tasks like proper anchor text, linking structure, Titles and META description tags. I won't go as far as to totally agree with with Andy Hagans on his "all SEOs know META tags are dead," (META keywords tags are but META descriptions are anything but). I also won't totally concur with what sounded a little to me like light prodding of Aaron Wall's on-site SEO consulting when Shoemoney, fresh out of speaking with The New York Times himself, interviewed the man with the shadow plan, Quadzilla himself on Webmaster Radio. In spite of being sold through a stereotypically uglier-than-sin sales letter page, Aaron's book is one of the best on the market. I find that everything there is to know about on-page / on-site SEO is a lot to try to swallow in just one afternoon, especially for SEO n00bs. That's why I offer hefty, 30+ point site-side Best Practices audits that can take a day or two to turn around, so I also pass around condensed CliffsNotes-like versions of the most important items. I'm not sure SEOs selling basic on-page work as a service "really is trash" all the time, even if it's the kind of work I often advise clients learn to do for themselves as much as possible. However, I do agree on the point that charging people no more than $5K tops for some primer empowerment is a great call. So a) 😉 SEOs are routinely baiting for buzz and b) we need to keep our sights trained on getting to where we're selling more than just strategy guidance, best practices, keywords research/analysis and titles/METAs work etc. ...Much of it is SEO 101 i.e. common sense work, largely about pragmatically demystifying and simplifying what might look on the surface to be complex, and we should avoid spending most of our SEO time dicking around with the production parts of it. It's not a question of resources. It's a matter of our being capable of bigger, better, more creative, advanced and innovative things with the craft... and at experienced SEOs' rates it's the honorable thing to do. So as a vegetarian SEO I say "Teach a man to fish, but don't eat so much fish."

All client types should be at least considering organic search, hard. In worst cases, companies who don't follow it but still want considerable traffic from engines will have to simply buy it outright (SEM). PPC and/or PI will be their only options.

This is why for example, clients who plant roots in being all about pushing their brand through dazzling sensory experiences (heavy on rich media eye / ear candy but low on hypertext and hyperlinks) are never great SEO prospects, if even prospects at all. When the information worthiness of what a company is online is eclipsed by what their presence "feels" like, and/or when the level of articulation required by what they have to say is eclipsed by the requirements of how they say it, chances are good that the company isn't all that qualified a lead yet. SEOs' respective challenges include helping clients understand and navigate disciplinary trade-offs and make smart investment allocations early on. Not just for their sake, but also for ours: We must protect ourselves by preventing dangerous assumptions ahead of time ("What do you mean my site can't be optimized because it's all Flash?!?" etc.), and online marketers certainly shouldn't let them creep in by not hitting all possible Discovery angles on new accounts in particular ("You built it that way, so why didn't you tell me about that limitation before we started the project?!?"). When priests surprise parishioners with offers of baptism by fire, parishioners start thinking about leaving the church. SEO really isn't for every client / project. There's nothing wrong with that, as long as we SEOs try to never let it bite anyone below the Bible belt.

Q: What is "Master Baiting?"

A: Link Baiting done right, every time.

"Master Baiting" is a running joke in the SEO community. Whomever thought it up, just like who the Master Baiters are, depends on who you ask. As far as I know it was Quads.

Q: How delightfully juvenile. Fine, so what then is Link Baiting, already?

A:

For a long time much of SEO - aside from on-site matters and keyword research to inform content - was all about link building: getting links to one's site(s) from out on the greater Web, with both quality and quantity in mind. For example, a link from a popular page on a popular site is great, but normally hard or very hard to get (unless you rent or buy it from the site owner which IMHO somewhat misses the point of SEO, almost like cheating). On the other end of the spectrum, dropping a comment into someone's blog or signing their guestbook might let you place a link back to yourself, but by itself it might not help much. Perhaps it's being force-set to NOFOLLOW by the site owner to try to discourage spammers, and/or their site simply may not carry much relevancy and/or trust with the engines (there are many blogs and guestbooks out there that have been and are continually spammed to death, so engines are constantly working to improve their detection capabilities). With low quality links, many are needed to make impact on rankings: from thousands to millions of them depending on the competitiveness of a given subject.

Often using their own software made specifically for it, freelancers can always be found on ScriptLance and similar sites selling different kinds of link building. Like many of them, firms like iProspect do too. With or without good tools though, effective manual link building can become a bit of a PITA: time consuming, tedious, and at toughening failure ratios making it harder than ever. I've noticed SEOs in the West increasingly sending this work to contractors in India and Eastern Europe. In scaling and optimizing for profitability, SEOs are getting more fetishistic about the potential of automations and outsourcing and link building is a prime example of it.

Recent years have raised the sister concept of link baiting: The development and deployment of content made specifically to make people feel compelled to link to it, of their own volition and publicly. Think of it as the most famous form of viral SEO.

Link baiting can be done in many different ways, on just about any topic, and it's exceptionally hot right now. Blogging about link baiting is in itself link bait at the moment. Everyone and their unborn grandchildren is putting out how-to information on it, touting their "Top 20 Types of Linkbait" etc. lists (lists are the most common tactic), each with their own sets of suggested angles i.e. "hooks" (humor, contrary, attack, tools, news, etc.).

Link Baiting & Building: The Yin & Yang of SEO

Building is to baiting as pushing is to pulling. Balanced natural trafficking demands both.

Q: Why must we all start Master Baiting now?

A:

  • As SEM continues on the up and up, steadily up will go average CPCs and levels of competition. The more entry barriers develop SEM, the more clients will turn their attention toward SEO as a potential alternative, despite its comparatively greater complexity and often slower, harder-to-measure returns. The more they do, the more prepared we'll need to be with a bag of great ideas to bring to the table.
  • The notion that SEO is a squarely technical concern without very creative needs is a Web 1.0 myth. Dated = death; when it comes to being able stay in any kind of business even Black Hat is better than being Old Hat here. Embracing link baiting is an effective and fun way to keep up with where things are headed.
  • Web 2.0 poses a new level of technical challenge for SEO per all its user-generated content, rich media proliferation, and increasing adoption of AJAX which poses URL complications. As the Web gets more technical SEO gets more technical, granted... but it also gets more trained on social engineering, also sometimes more stealth. Great bait will be needed filling between areas of sites that can only be optimized so much, and it will also be needed to snag audiences numbed by and/or adverse to more traditional marketing (Note I didn't say "advertising").


Q: Next Steps?

A: Get Organized, and Get Out There.

Aggregate, evaluate and add to all the link baiting ideas feeding the space now. Core methodology, with best practices breakout for blogging and perhaps other vitals, are in progress. Be part of the process.

Great bait can be anything from widgets to video parodies to list types. The production crux is there must always some kind of element where there's some attractive machine readable content, serving as the bait itself otherwise at a minimum, the bait hook and descriptor. Title methods BTW are especially important to build out (Ex: "10 Things I Love About [SUBJECT]", "Why [SUBJECT-VERB] is a Waste of Time", etc.).

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Based out of Northern California, bl.asphemo.us is a bl.og dedicated to the advocacy and study of high-impact, data driven marketing disciplines and related concerns: Analytics and Data Mining, Marketing Automation, Integrated Advertising (targeting, retargeting), Demand Generation and Lead Nurturing, Social Media / Social Engineering (Crowd-hacking) and the new PR, Privacy, Security, CRM, SEO / SEM, CRO, ROI... more TLAs (three letter acronyms) than any sane person's daily lexicon should include.

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