Turn a Side Project in Valuable Work Projects

When I moved to the USA almost 8 years ago, I started a blog, in Dutch, to keep everybody back home informed with our adventures here in San Francisco. Before I knew it, I was getting more and more questions on my blog. The questions were coming from Dutch people interested into traveling to San Francisco, either for work or for a vacation. These questions ranged from things to do in San Francisco, how to get from the airport SFO to the centre of the city or where to stay. So to be able to keep up with the incoming flow of questions, I started a new site, with tips about San Francisco; San-Francisco-Tips.com.

San Francisco Tips a website for the Dutch traveler to San Francisco

The site served me well over time, as I learned a lot from it with regards to the travel vertical, as well it provided me with some seasonal revenue upside to pay for other side projects, in particular in the San Francisco hotel booking and airline tickets from AMS to SFO space.

Fast forward a couple of years, and just imagine how I can use the knowledge on the travel patterns, search keywords and best converting topics I learned from my side project in my job at Airbnb at a larger scale. Introducing longer form content articles to service our community of travelers;

San Francisco Travel guide

This is just a start, but we can say welcome to the first longer form content articles on the San Francisco Neighborhood pages from Airbnb; which are around two specific topics which are important to anybody traveling to SF; Transportation to, from, and around San Francisco and When it's best to go to San Francisco. In total, there are 6 helpful articles, all six in Airbnb style and design, with loads of beautiful pictures. These are:

  1. Getting around in San Francisco
  2. Getting to and from San Francisco
  3. Ridesharing
  4. Travel seasonality
  5. Events
  6. Dressing for the weather

These six represent a good start.

Side Project vs Work Project

As long as I managed people in my job, I encouraged them to have at least have one side project. As long as the project does not conflict with the work you're doing, it can actually be a great learning experience, something you would be able to apply to your daily work, where you become much more effective. So how do you turn your side project into a valuable work project? Well, I can say; there is no magic formula, but a common element I've seen making side projects successful, while these also add value to your work in the workplace is this:  be passionate about your side project, where eventually you will find a way to make your passion your work. For me, it is still the way I can combine exploring the city I live in, with the rush I get to drive traffic through SEO, which ultimately will help me becoming more successful in my job.

And what is more interesting; I get fired up to work on my old project again, where I'm now exploring new ways to get more information for the Dutch traveler to San Francisco on my website...

Target Customers are Getting targeted with Phishing Email

Update: My friend George set me straight. After posting this blogpost on Twitter, he responded that the domain the email was sent from IS actually a Target domain.

Target ESP domain looks like Phishing
Target probably never got around to implement a new domain to send their emails from. Now they look like a phishing email to people like me.

---------------------------------------------------------------
Target customers can't get a break from cyber crime. First it was the credit & debit cards which information was captured at the point of sale systems, now there are phishing attempts going on targeting Target customers. The following email landed in the inbox of my wife:

Target customers are getting targeted with Phishing email

The message of the email: a public Mea Culpa, and a promise you will be protected as a Target customer in an identity protection program paid by Target. Just click the link, and fill out all of your information...

Luckily my wife didn't fall for this one, as she is suspicious about all these kind of emails, and I have told her many times how many spoof emails eBay customers always were getting. And if you look closer, the email address from where the email was sent is not even spoofed. Amateurs...

I feel for those Target customers who got their credit card information stolen, and now become a victim of another scam on top of that. Protect yourself, learn how to identify those emails that look like the real thing, but essentially aren't. Educate yourself on cyber crime!

Revenge on Melissa Bachman for Killing a Lion

With the news of Melissa Bachman shooting a lion in Africa, posing above the corps of the lion, and posting the pictures on Twitter & Facebook. Would Melissa not have thought this could be a big deal, seriously, shooting a lion is a major no-go in my opinion. And most of the world think the same! You think she would have learned from the Bob Parsons video shooting an elephant in Africa. The Google search results show what is happening in more details, where the fresh results based on the searches from around the world are changing with the days based on what the media is reporting.

The first screenshot of the Google search is showing the results for the search "Melissa Bachman" how it looked like 2 days ago. Not so much special to report, just a couple of her own webpages and social media profiles:
Melissa Bachman not yet killing a lion Google SERP

Now, the following screenshot was taken today, where you not only see the outcry of the worlds media being mad about Melissa Bachman shooting a lion for no particular reason, but only for fun. The search results also shows Melissa Bachman will have a reputation management problem for the weeks, months and hopefully years to come. Just imagine her grand kids are searching for what their family is known for, do you think they would appreciate the fact their ancestors were killing lions, which might as well be extinct at that time.

Here is the Search results for Melissa Bachman today, check out how many are describing the lion killings!

Melissa Bachman killing a lion search results

Here are a couple of articles from around the web:

With a little Google Bombing, these will be around for a while..

How to get Permission to Use an Image

Building on top of the great post from Ben Cook, A call to Internet Marketers: Stop Stealing Content, I would like to take this momentum and opportunity to point about a recent case where I got approach the right way with a question if a certain image of mine could be used.

I share Ben's sentiment, where I have had multiple pictures lifted from search results. I even went as far to fill out a DMCA take down request just very recently, to take down an image from a Picasa album. Googla has made that process easy enough to go through it quickly. On a regular basis I get people to reach out to me where they saw my image somewhere used, or even where somebody acted like they took the image. Sometimes you get people to add a link as you requested, most people don't even respond to your email requesting to either add a link or take the picture down. A DMCA to a site owner takes considerably more time than through a simple Google form. So most of the stealing offenders are getting away with it.

The Proper Way to Ask for Permission to Use that Image you Found at Google

While it can go really easy and with a good result if you just ask, as Ben also indicated. Just recently, I received this simple request through my contact form on my picture site DPictures.com:

Hello! I found this image http://dpictures.com/san-francisco-skyline-sunset/ online and I was wondering if I could buy this from you or would I be able to use it as a banner?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Its about this picture:

San Francisco Skyline at sunset taken from Treasure Island. Copyrighted picture Dennis Goedegebuure

Now to understand more what kind of business I was dealing with, I responded quickly, and we went back and forth on the topic:

Me:

Can you explain more about how you would use the picture? Do you mean an online banner or a printed banner?

Request:

It would be for an author book signing I am planning for several authors in SF.  The banner would be used on the website. Here is the site www.authorsonthebay.com. My graphics person found your SF image. Attached is the banner image I would like to get it changed to using your image but I won't unless you give me permission. I also have the banner image with all the author names on there as they would use it on their pages. That is also attached for your review.

Please let me know if it's ok to use and if there is a charge? I'm happy to pay you a fee like when I've purchased off a stock photo site.
 As you can see, the usage of the image is very stylish, and does it justice.
Authors by the Bay
Since this is an event which I would go to myself, and with three kids I support, I don't mind if they use this image for their website. So I responded:
I will grant you the right to use the picture under the following conditions:
- Picture can only be used as described in the previous email, for this event only
- Instead of paying me, I would like to ask you to make a donation to Lucile Packard Foundation of $25 (Feel free to add any amount if you would like to) in name of Deyan Goedegebuure (my son who is diagnosed as a pre-diabetic),
- Can you send the proof to me, as I would like to use it in a blogpost describing your way of asking for permission is the way to go on the internet. I will send the post before publication to you for approval, and will mask any identifiable information
If you would like, you can also add a link to your website to point out the picture is being used with permission, and link to the page where you have found it.
You see that, I didn't even linking back a requirement, since I really think a donation is the form of payment.
In the end, the person requesting the permission to use one of my images ended up doubling the donation to $50. Everybody won in this case, and I'm happy I can point out the way this all should be handled in the future!
donation for permission to use an image

Stop stealing images, just ask permission from the right holder, its really simple!

The email conversations and the banner are published with permission of the person who requested the usage of the image.

 

Google+ and its Importance for Brand Searches

So many so called Internet Marketing experts have mis-qualified Google+ as a social experiment from the search company in Mountain View. What Google plus will turn out to be, is what you and I are making off it. Right now, it seems to be the environment where you would build up your own authority to be used to classify the value of your publications online.

So how would you use the Google Plus announcements in the knowledge graph box on branded searches for your company? Right, to push a certain message which is actual and important.

Case in point: the economic impact Airbnb is having on the New York City community. Can you imagine that the Airbnb guests over the last year spent more than $632 million dollar in over the different neighborhoods of New York? Where most hotel chains are concentrated in mid town Manhattan, Airbnb guests brought money into local neighborhoods like Astoria Queens, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn or Lower East Side / Chinatown on Manhattan. And who would have expected that Harlem would be a neighborhood you would go, and stay with people in their house to avoid the usual tourist traps. When I first visited New York when I was 12, people told us to avoid Harlem or Queens all together! Fair enough, that was in the 80s.

So here is my advice. If you have something to say, and you have a valuable brand, make sure you publish a blogpost, and share it on your Google+ profile of your company. This  blog postwill show up right next to the brand search results.  Just check the latest Airbnb post on our G+ profile below here.

How to use Google plus in the knowledge graph

The best part of all of this: YOU CONTROL THE MESSAGE!!!

This is why Guest Blogging is Dead in the Water for SEO

Update: it shows how important this topic is, as the latest webmaster video by Matt Cutts is about Guest blogging. See the embedded video below...

Ever wonder why Google has taken a stance against guest posting? Once again SEO's have killed the tactic and are pissing in their own backyard. Case in point; I received an email with the simple question if I already used guest blogging to build my business. More specifically;

[company name redacted] is developed specifically to grow your business and the level of influence it has on Google on a long term basis through high quality guest blogging. It not only helps you target the strongest keywords in your market, but it builds a platform for your business to solidify your online foundation. If you are already incorporating guest blogging for your sites, I really want to encourage you to try our company out or consider outsourcing to us, as there are few choices in our below-average price range for the level of quality we put out. It'll surely be worth the ROI.

I clicked through to the site to understand the business proposal and guess what, it's a link scheme in the form of article placement... This will surely get you into trouble. You will pay for every post written by a sweat shop in a low income company, distributed through email spamming bloggers that don't know any better;

[company name redacted] is an internet marketing company focusing on the use of guest blogging to generate more traffic to your webpage. You pay for however many posts you want to buy, and our team of advanced guest bloggers will develop a high-quality blog post with great content and place them on blogs relevant to your topic that already have great traffic coming to their site. By doing this, you will gain credibility and develop more link juice for your site, giving it positive recognition by Google.

Really... you just mentioned Link Juice..?  And from the order form you can see that it's all about the link with direct match anchor text...

guest post order form

And from the email:

We focus on strictly "real" guest blogging. We don't use networks or other services to speed up, we simply build relationships with site owners and get high-quality content posted on blogs in your niche. The posts usually fall on sites with a page rank range of 2 to 5 and a minimum
domain authority of 25.

The pricing scheme is pretty expensive, where you need to commit for at least 4 months, at a $67.50 per post! Wow...! Nothing about the quality of the content written, or anything about the outreach strategy.

Can I start running now..?!? No wonder so many people not involved in real SEO hate the SEO industry.

 

How can I guest blog without it appearing as if I paid for links?

Improved App Insights My *SS, This Is About in App Data

Have you seen the latest land grab in user specific data by Google? Yes, that same company which is now obscuring all referral keywords for organic traffic from their search engine because of privacy concerns for the user? Today Google announced: Improved App Insight by Linking Google Analytics with Google Play. Sounds great right, finally you can see the number of downloads on the Google App store, and you can track those users in your app what they are doing and how valuable they are. But guess what, who else can see this with the integration of Google analytics in your App? Right Google!gp-referral-ga

From the Techcrunch post on the topic (emphasize mine):

The Play Developer Console itself, however, is also getting a bit of an update. It’ll now show information about how often users use an app, for how long and what they are doing inside of it (assuming they have Google Analytics set up in their app).

This two-way data flow, Google argues, “gives you instant access to the in-store and in-app metrics of record in whichever Google product you use.” For most developers, the Analytics integration is probably the most interesting of these two new features, however, as it provides the most comprehensive view of how their apps are performing.

How is it possible the Techcrunch editor, and any other technology writer, totally misses the seismic shift which is happening here. Google getting access to in-App metrics like usage, navigation, in App purchases is a major data point for Google to become the monopoly player on the Android App marketplace. Let me explain:

New Popular Apps

A new App is submitted on the app store. It has the Google analytics integration embedded, which allows Google to track not only the popularity of the App in numbers of downloads, but also would give Google insights into (as mentioned above):

  • Number of active users
  • Time spend on the App
  • Activity within the App

Now do you really think Google would have a popular App like Waze grow as big as it did, before spending over a $1 Billion to buy the popular App? I reckon the business development and the Mergers & Acquisitions teams at Google will keep a close eye on which Apps are doing great after launch, pulling the in-App metrics and negotiate the sh*t out of a deal.

If the App makers don't want to sell, there is always the opportunity to build your own. With all the internal data available for the dev teams, and a hard coded position in the Google Play store, I bet a native Google - Android App would win it 99/100.

Rankings & Popular Apps

In a private conversation with an SEO I really respect, he brought up a good point on the way Google could use the in-App data in a different way to gain a competitive advantage: Cross referencing the internal data across users, you can figure out which App downloaders are the innovators in the space. A little unclear explanation, so let me give a little bid more details.

Across all the App downloads in Google Play, Google can quickly spot those people who downloads apps early in their lifetime., which become popular. Using statistical modelling and a large data set, they could predict the probability a certain App becomes popular purely based on the fact it's being downloaded by certain people. This is not only good for early acquisition discussions, but could also become a competitive advantage over other App stores, because Google would be able to recommend better App's, have better rankings in the App store etc.

Privacy of the User

I more and more get the feeling Google is one creepy company. The argument of privacy within organic search has been made very clear; Google doesn't want anybody snooping on what people are searching for, see this quote:

We added SSL encryption for our signed-in search users in 2011, as well as searches from the Chrome omnibox earlier this year. We’re now working to bring this extra protection to more users who are not signed in.

So what about the privacy of Android users, downloading an App on their phone, not knowing the big G is tracking every movement, every action and every purchase they make in these Apps? More data for Google, not for us...!

 

More Advertising in Gmail

gmail-adsHere is a little peek into the future of advertising in your Gmail account. Prepare to see more popping up, colors changing, and new Ad formats being tested the closer we come to the end of the year. Hey, Google is a for-profit company, and the pressure to out-perform the quarterly results year after year is just really big. With a stock price dependent on good news, the temptation to all that virgin real estate in the free-Google products must be simply too large for some of the groups within Google. Gmail will probably carry many more ads in the next couple of months, apart from the smarter targeting on the content of YOUR emails!

Just think about it, now that you are opt-in into Google+ with that same Gmail account, Google can easily start to target ads much better based on your G+ activity, friends networks and stage in life. I'm sure Google will milk this investment really good, as a large number of people, including me, have been using Gmail for a quite some time. So Google could mine all those emails for better targeting, where in the time I've been using the Gmail account went through various life stages. With some smart people in the room, they must be able to figure out what is next in my life, and include that in the personal ad targeting algorithm to serve "better" ads for me. Hey, if it's good for users, why not!

In the mean time, I still receive other people's email in my Gmail inbox, where I never got an answer on the post about the Gmail security breach. This is still an open issue!

Own the SERP’s

Sometimes you learn more about SEO, other times you learn a little. Today, with the launch of Android KitKat, the Search results (SERP's) for the search term KitKat changed significantly in a short time. Based on some comments online from a former search quality engineer, after I posted the screenshot of the Android/KitKat page ranking #2, we can determine QDF (QDF = Quality Deserves Freshness) can trump page authority for high volume searches with news trending. So how can you dominate search? Own the SERP's!
dominate-search
Here is the old SERP for the search term KitKat. Where the timeframe for the pages ranked was changed using the Search Tools. Data range: 8/1/2000 - 8/31/2013, to make sure we include all the published content on KitKat for the last 13 years prior to today!

KitKat Search Results before the Android announcement

Now, based on today's news; the announcement of the partnership between Nestle's KitKat and Google's Android, the search results for KitKat look much different. What is interesting is that the knowledge graph box is showing on the right side of the results in the latest results, while it is not showing in the results set when you change the timeframe.

The search results for KitKat today after the Android news brokeSo what is here to learn, QDF is strong... Maybe even stronger when it's about a Google product..?

QDF chat

What have you learned in SEO world today? What have you seen in the SERP's?  How can you dominate search? Own the SERP's! Literally 

The Curious Case of Webmaster Central Search Query Data

For some time, we SEO's have known Google Webmaster Central query data is not always accurate. Ian Lurie even called it worthless. Still I look at the data once in a while to find good opportunities or small wins. For the last couple of weeks, I've been following a rather curious case in our Webmaster Tools data (Google Webmaster tools from now on abbreviated with GWT). I suspect the phenomenon I'm describing in this post has started to occur with the change in image search on Google, which resulted in a massive decrease in image search referrals for websites explained here by Define Media, (trust me, I know; I lost a lot of image search traffic on this website). The data in GWT has become even more inaccurate. Here goes...The Curious Case of Webmaster Central Search Query Data.

Please share with a Tweet:

Washington DC Images

When you do a search for the keyword Washington DC, you will spot an image from Airbnb's Washington DC Neighborhood page in the image search universal box:

Washington DC Airbnb image ranking

You would think you could expect a whole lot of traffic from an image like this high up in the Google search results. This might have been the case, where the old image search lay out could be a great source of traffic for any website, however, let me disappoint you right there, that since the new image search lay out, hardly any traffic is clicking through to the website where the image originated. Google, the scraper site, is keeping all those visits on their own properties...

Here is that same search query on Google image search:

image search Washington dc Airbnb

As you can see, the Washington DC image from Airbnb ranks really well, even without proper SEO best practices like file name of the image nor the domain it's being served from (yeah, don't get me started on that one..)

Google Webmaster Tools Query Data

At first glance, looking up the Washington DC Neighborhood page in the Top Pages report in Google Webmaster Central it looks all fine. The Washington Neighborhood is the second page when it comes to impressions in the Google search results, when filtered on the US and Web alone! However, if you're in the travel vertical, you'll know this order of destinations is not right! New York is a much more popular destination, where especially Airbnb is well represented with a large number of great listings in Manhattan or in Brooklyn. Even the San Francisco on Airbnb should show larger number of impressions, just from a gut feeling alone.

webmaster central Washington DC traffic

It becomes even stranger if you click the page open to see the search terms for that page. Suddenly, the query Washington DC shows a higher number of impressions than the overall page does. The clicks are way off,  and not by a little, but by a landslide...

Webmaster Tools strange numbers

Hypothesis on the Difference in Click Numbers

My hypothesis on the differences between the numbers as reported in GWT is simple. Back to the Image universal search box on the Washington DC query:

Universal Search image box Washington DC

What if the number of impressions represent the number of times this image was presented to searchers in the SERP's, both web or images. Where the the lower click number, 700 clicks, represents the actual to the page on all keywords, and the clicks on the keyword Washington DC, 3200 clicks, represents the clicks on the image where those folks stay at Google, but only see the larger image as it was scraped crawled.

What do you think..? Please let me know down here in the comments...

Made it this far down, why not share it with a Tweet: