Carte Blanche – YouTube Auto Generated Pages #FTW

(Updated Jan-3-2013; since I started writing this post, a lot has changed. I initially began to write about the Auto-generated pages by YouTube back in Oct 2012. Only being able to finalize the post after the FTC closed the negotiations with Google on their behavior)

For an SEO workshop at First Round Capital, I collected a number of new screenshots of changes in the way Google is displaying results in Search. I stumbled on a YouTube page, which is, after re-reading the guidelines, is in clear violation of the Google Webmaster Guidelines. More and more you see Google taking an aggressive stands towards implementing their own domains into the results, either as Universal search boxes, or as normal results. But who cares, not the FTC: see here! After all, it's Google's index, Google's website and Google's Audience, right..?

Auto-Generated Pages by YouTube

In Google Webmaster Guidelines you can find the following Technical Guideline:

Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don't add much value for users coming from search engines.

For years, Google has been advocating the prevention of crawling of search results for any website. How many in-house SEO teams have been scrambling lately with the removal of Search-in-Search. I know one large eCommerce company was hit really hard late October this year. How convenient, with Google Shopping Pay-for-Play and Black Friday and Cyber Monday just around the corner.

If you are large, and spend sufficient Adwords budgets, you might get an answer like:

"We believe the changes are best for our users, where we optimize for the user experience. We cannot disclose the details of the changes made to our algorithms and the way we rank websites. Google publishes Webmaster Guidelines recommend you go through these. Are you familiar with our webmaster Guidelines?  

(Not an official quote, more my best recollection of what was the answer to our questions)

And with that, the discussion is closed. Even the biggest budgets don't give you access to what is happening in the Googleplex with regards to the rankings. Trust me, I've been on the receiving side of that message!

But do you expect action will be taken against YouTube...? See this Auto-Generated YouTube page, filled with Michael Jackson video's...

YouTube auto-generated pages ranking great in Google Search results

Search Bias

As you can read from the final decision (or negotiation, it's however you would like to look at it), the FTC does not see any 'Search Bias' in Goolge results.

First you read:

Under the same commitment, Google also has promised to provide all websites the option to keep their content out of Google’s vertical search offerings, while still having them appear in Google’s general, or “organic,” web search results. The FTC investigated allegations that Google misappropriated content, such as user reviews and star ratings, from competing websites in order to improve its own vertical offerings, such as Google Local and Google Shopping. Some FTC Commissioners were concerned that this conduct might chill firms’ incentives to innovate on the Internet.

But then...(emphasize mine)

The FTC conducted an extensive investigation into allegations that Google had manipulated its search algorithms to harm vertical websites and unfairly promote its own competing vertical properties, a practice commonly known as “search bias.” In particular, the FTC evaluated Google’s introduction of “Universal Search” – a product that prominently displays targeted Google properties in response to specific categories of searches, such as shopping and local – to determine whether Google used that product to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. Similarly, the investigation focused on the allegation that Google altered its search algorithms to demote certain vertical websites in an effort to reduce or eliminate a nascent competitive threat. According to the Commission statement, however, the FTC concluded that the introduction of Universal Search, as well as additional changes made to Google’s search algorithms – even those that may have had the effect of harming individual competitors – could be plausibly justified as innovations that improved Google’s product and the experience of its users. It therefore has chosen to close the investigation.

Now, I came to the auto-generated page on YouTube by doing a simple search on Google for the query: Michael Jackson. Check the screenshot, where all Google properties are in the red boxes, with the knowledge graph content in the green box (also linking to other Google pages)

Google SERP for Michael Jackson. How many Organic results do you count..?

 

The big blue arrow is pointing to the page on YouTube which does not have an embedded video in the SERP. This initially caught my attention, as normally, YouTube video's are integrated through a Universal Search One Box.

Now, the questions is, how many 'real' organic results can you count..? Right; 6! It's what we call a 7-SERP, as there are only 7 results organically ranking for the query. But with the Auto-Generated page from YouTube at #3, you can bet Google is raking up the pageviews on their own site.

Expect the worse is yet to come

With the News on the FTC arrangement with Google today, they have carte blanche from one of the only government institutions which could have stopped more integrations in the search results.

Maybe 2013 will become the year SEO dies...SEO is Dead, Long Live PPC (and Google Revenue growth!).

 

Disclosure: because I expected the outcome  due to what I believe could be called a lack of understanding of the government officials, I went long in Google back in December. It has paid off so far... :-)

Postscript: Don't get me wrong, I live of the fruits of the changes made by the search engines. SEO is constantly evolving, and there is a growing need in corporations to understand the direction and best practices. I wrote the post for my entertainment, and to be able to get my thoughts in order of where it's all heading.

The Fast Food of Technology News – Headline Journalism

I won't deny it, I'm a Techmeme junky. Every morning, and during the day, I check what are the latest headlines in the world of Tech News. And although I stopped reading Techcrunch by going to the Techcrunch homepage and picking a story, I end up a lot of times on an article on Techcrunch, TheNextWeb or The Verge through Techmeme. So when Gabe Rivera published a post around the biggest (i.e. tallest) stories of 2012, my first expection was to see the sites which make up the top of the Techmeme Leaderboard to take credit for breaking the biggest techstories of 2012. To my surprise, hardly any of the top tech stories on Gabe's list of Tall Tech Stories were from the websites which sit at the top of the Techmeme Leaderboard.

Techcrunch in the Lead - Techmeme Leaderboard

Techmeme Leaderboard March 3For years, Techcrunch have been holding the #1 position on this leaderboard. It has been a close call one day in March this year, where The Verge almost took the top spot. With just 0.04% difference, Techcrunch held the top spot of the Leaderboard (click the screenshot on the right for large image of the LB from March 3). This screenshot of the small difference between #1 & #2 was made on March 3 2012, which was the period Techcrunch lost a number of main contributors, editors and executives.

Only 0.04% difference, however, Techcrunch got their act together, and started to increase the lead again, where the AOL site ended the year with a comfortable lead, and % of top headlines well above the 10%. Meanwhile, The Next Web, a technology website started a little over 5 years ago, have shown a gain in coverage, and have been on #2 for the last couple of weeks. (disclosure, The Next Web was started by two of my Dutch Internet Friends, Patrick & Boris, and I've helped the editorial team here and there in stories, like here, here and here, and even got a guestpost published back in 2010)

How do get these technology websites featured on Techmeme Leaderboard? According to the explanation of Techmeme about it's rankings:

Sources are ranked by Presence, the percentage of Techmeme headline space a source occupies over the 30-day period. "More" links are not taken in to consideration here — only full headlines are counted. For more information, see our original announcement from long ago.

The Tallest Tech Story

Techmeme Tallest stories in Tech for 2012In his blog post, Gabe already points out how the Techmeme Leaderboard websites have not been well represented as the leading headline for the tallest tech stories.

It's important to understand that each headline shown here is just the one that happened to be the leading headline when its cluster reached the maximal size. So these headlines don't always indicate the most representative story of the bunch, the best summary, or the most cited story...

...The stories dominating this list are mainly announcements, often product introductions, from the industry's largest firms, often Apple...

So when the tallest Tech Stories are announcements from the larger Tech companies, mainly Apple, where do the % of headline visibility for Techcrunch, The Next Web and others come from? Yes, covering these announcements.

At the latest Apple announcement, I believe it was the iPhone5 announcement, I counted the number of articles written by Techcrunch. I believe the editors published more than 15 articles on the announcement.  A couple of years ago, when I enjoyed reading the full website from Techcrunch, all these announcements were published into one single article. Now you will have to flip through multiple articles to get all the details you would like to see.

Headline Journalism

We are living in a world where more and more Internet Journalists are becoming accountable for the number of pageviews they generate. Having worked at a Tech Media company, where the number of pageviews is directly linked to the revenue the company makes through advertising, I know the pressure of pumping pageviews. Mo Pageviews, Mo Money.

So the company can either pursue Pageview Journalism, like Mashable & Business Insider are pumping Slideshows, where the top 20 lists are spread over multiple pages, or the company can pursue what I call Headline Journalism, spread the actual news over as many articles all with a catchy headline. Push these on the social media streams to grab the attention of the news consumer with the headline, when they click on the link in their Twitter stream or Facebook Newsfeed, Voila, you just printed another Pageview!

I stopped reading Mashable for their abuse of the Pageview Journalism techniques. I can't look at any more slideshows with a top 10 list. I don't want to waste 5 minutes of my time to flip through a number of pages just to find out who is at the top of another lame list. That is 5 minutes I will never get back.

The Headline- & Pageview Journalism as I described here, can be called the Fast Food of Technology News. You consume it fast, it's cheap to make, and you're not getting a whole lot smarter from it, as you might get hungry again in a couple of minutes...

Quality over Quantity

As people get overloaded with news, too many signals from the social streams and the need to flip pageviews to get the real, full story, I expect more readers to turn away from this kind of journalism, and will start searching for, and sharing more in depth, high quality writing, where the research and time invested in writing the article is worth their time.

So writers of the Technology websites featured on the Techmeme Leaderboard, Please write something that is worth my time. You are getting 5 minutes of my life, think about that!

The problem is, who will pay for all these writers who spend more time writing good Sh*t? Because time on site has not paid any of the bills...yet!

Pied a Terre Shoe Ads

While doing some research for KW/Page rankings for Airbnb, I came across an un-related paid search advertisement by my former employer, eBay. It's kind of funny that I used to know how keywords would flow into the paid search systems for those targeted ads, and sometimes completely unrelated ads could have massive Return on Investment. Here, I was looking at the keyword Pied a Terre, where a lovely room in Philly ranks just on the second page for me. Rittenhouse Squared Pied a Terre, $80 per night!

According to the all knowing Wikipedia, a Pied a Terre is

The term pied-à-terre implies usage as a temporary second residence, either for part of the year or part of the work week, by a person of some means.

It looks like the Ad generated by the eBay Paid Search system is based on the French word Pied, which means Feet.

Pied a Terre eBay Ads
In the past, there have been plenty of strange eBay paid search ads shared. Over the years, the systems used to optimize those ads had become much better to filter out the obvious wrong keywords to bid on. I heard eBay is moving away from their internally build system to an outsourced solution, where we probably can expect a learning curve again around what keywords are relevant, which creative needs to be served for those keywords, and how to optimize for conversion and ROI. What a waste...

Another Day, Another Drama in SEO Land

Sometimes you wonder if we, SEO's, should all come together and just start ignoring these kind of link bait posts. I'm talking about the article from Paul Boag at Smashing Magazine today with the title: The Inconvenient Truth about SEO. To avoid playing into Paul's cards, I'm not linking to his article, but instead linking to the fantastic response from my buddy Joost at Yoast.com; SEO Paul Boag.

So Joost is really smart, not only a quick and snappy response, he also managed to upsale his SEO for WordPress Plugin into the post. And see what he did there with the URL, yes, it would be awesome if this post will start ranking #1 for the name of Paul Boag in combination with SEO, pointing out how clueless Paul actually is.

I didn't spend any time in the Drama. These days I rather keep my head down, and show those people who dismiss and who are ignorant to the need to have good SEO's my back and get ahead. Just recently I came across the following picture, which I think is very accurate of how I think about all the drama:

50 Fat Diabetic Ahead of YouFoto credit: TrexRunner.com

 

Google Dance 2007 T-Shirt

Back in 2007, at the SES San Jose, I picked up the T-Shirt I was wearing today. I believe it must have been the last Google Dance at a large search marketing conference. The SES in San Jose in 2007 has gone down in history as the point Google brought down the hammer on Paid Links.

Google is not the Government

To make sure you know your history, make sure you read these posts, and understand how we got there. Sometimes it's just important to understand your history to know what will be coming next..So for those who were not there, here are the links to some great readings:

This was also the last SES where Danny Sullivan was working at the SES conference before he started Searchengineland, Third Door Media and the successful SMX conferences.

T-shirt Google Dance at the SES San Jose 2007
T-shirt Google Dance at the SES San Jose 2007

At least I can say, I got the T-Shirt...

A couple of observations;

  • It's been 5 years since the war on paid links started, and there is still no end in sight
  • Paid links have gone underground, even more off the radar all SEO's thought would happen back in 2007
  • Paid links now come in disguise; AKA guest posts; content marketing or sponsorship
  • After 5 years, I still fit this T-Shirt.. (really!)

Honestly, link-building is a blind spot on my SEO resume. First I worked for eBay, getting links thrown at pages left-and-right. My job was just to not shoot ourselves in the foot and let the link equity go to waste. Second, Slashdot and SourceForge, the sites I've worked at for 14 months, both have Billions of links. Yes, Billions with a B! Now, at Airbnb, I can see where we are going. This will be a link printing machine if we play our cards right. Why.. Because the product doesn't Suck!

Which brings me to a quote of a good and wise SEO friend of mine:

The best SEO is a product that doesn't suck. Otherwise it's just manipulation.

The best SEO is a product that doesn't suck. Otherwise it's just manipulation.

 

Local SEO Travel Guides or Great UX

Three weeks ago, I wrote a post of my move to join Airbnb. Then I got a major shout out for a new product of Airbnb launched just a couple of  weeks ago, the local travel guides for Neighborhoods. I wish I could take that much credit, but these Neighborhood guides were already in the works prior to me joining the company. And although I did reviewed the code, content set up and site structure and worked on the Richmond District guide and the Noe Valley Neighborhood, all credits should be shouted at the team who pulled long evenings, worked weekends and crashed after the launch party, satisfied with the great press we got!

Credit Where Credit is Due

As the SEO community has embraced the concept of Content Marketing, or any name used for the way to put engaging, link worthy content on the web, the Airbnb Neighborhoods have been given a warm welcome by those SEO's recognizing the value of content for driving traffic through search engines. I got these tweets in my SEO stream on Tweetdeck;  after which my buddy Matthew pointed some fingers;

Seriously Matthew, you give me too much credit here. I just started 4.5 weeks ago, and although I had seen the concept and given the chance to give SEO input a couple of weeks ago, even before I officially started at Airbnb, all credit should be going to the team who had worked on the Neighborhood project for weeks.

And I'm happy to see these pages will be used as an example in presentations by SEO professionals; and have put Airbnb on the map as a great product! Will make my life much easier to get quick wins in SEO!

My Vision for In-House SEO Engagement

So I changed the way I chat with people about SEO a little. Based on the experience over the I'm taking a new approach. Years of researching how Amazon has build an SEO powerhouse, listening how Googlers would answer questions, testing and walking the fine line of technical SEO, here is how I will get teams in gear to get SEO "right"!

The Key to SEO success is to make your brand, product service so relevant for people, that they expect your site at the top of the search engines when a search is made.

Wow, that sounds really simple if you say this out loud like this, but essentially it's what is described above here. These neighborhood pages will function as a great resource for people who travel to a certain destination to find out for themselves in which area they would like to stay. And with the recent Economic Impact Study of Airbnb in local communities (TC link & AllthingsD), you can find a great place to stay and support local businesses.

So, get your ducks in a row with the technical parts of SEO, because every site still needs an SEO friendly technical infrastructure, and start building products better than average. Success in the search engines will follow...

Google Plus Growth through Fembots

According to this article of TheNextWeb, Google plus shows healthy growth, with more than 400 million activated profiles, and 100 million monthly active users. How the active user is defined, I'm not sure, as Google keeps the definition unclear. I, for one, am usually always logged into my Google account, which would make me an active user. The 400 million and the 100 million active user stats came through the acquisition announcement of Snapseed by Google (article about this). Snapseed is one of my favorite photo apps on the iPhone!

This week we also hit an important milestone–over 400,000,000 people have upgraded to Google+. It was only a year ago that we opened public sign-up, and we couldn’t have imagined that so many people would join in just 12 months. While Google+ is all about creating a better experience across Google, it’s also a destination. And here too, I’m happy to report that we have just crossed 100,000,000 monthly active users on Google+ (plus.google.com and mobile app).

I, for one would like to hear how many of those active 100 million users are using the mobile Google+ application. The user experience is so much better than the Facebook experience, and with a need for Facebook to make money on their mobile user engagements, while Google can subsidize their Google + efforts with the search revenue, I expect the mobile Google Plus strategy to be the battle ground for the coming months.

Google Plus an Identity Layer

As noted in an article on StateofSearch, Bas van den Beld describes it perfectly (based on a video embedded in the article):

Google+ is not just a social networking site. It is a place where you can establish your identity, have connections and show your interests. It supplies a social layer for all your Google Products. All these products can be more tailored to you.

The +1 button takes your identity and helps you build your reputation by having users publicly recommend your content or share with others.

A Google+ profile is the identity you create for Google, either personal or for your business.

I highly recommend to read the full article on Sate of Search, and watch the video to fully understand the impact Google+ can have on search results and the future of your profile and reputation online.

Google Plus Fembots

Fembots first post on Google+, a couple of great pictures..With the growth in users, come the spammers. Spam always finds its way to the place where users get together online, and spend their time. If there is a quick buck to be earned by tricking users to click on a link or buy a product, you can count on the spammers to build up new profiles with a couple of Fembots.

So, this morning, I got an email somebody on Google + just started to follow me. Not sure if it is a Fembot, as the profile looks legit with G+ posts, pictures of herself and lolcats and stuff. But as I have been around for a while on the Internets, and have studied the way spammers take over popular networks, I suspect this profile of Sarah Wilson is a Fembot.

The first post was only September 8th, where a bunch of personal pictures were uploaded. It wouldn't surprise me if these pictures were lifted of a Facebook page. (since these pictures could be of somebody else, completely innocent, I decided to be responsible and black out her face).

Fembots taking over Google Plus

Your Reputation & Your Friends in Circles

So I started to wonder; if Google+ is an identity layer, with which you can protect and build out your brand and reputation, what would the impact of your friends be on that reputation if these friends have a questionable reputation themselves? Just like guilty by a association you would be seen as a spammer if you add the Fembots to one of your circles?

What do you think..?

 

Internal Link Spam Gone Rogue

I've written before about the Black Hole SEO with Internal Linking for SEO win. Some of the largest media properties are getting more and more aggressive with automatic linking to internal tag pages or round-ups on a specific subject. Think about the New York Times or the popular technology blog Techcrunch not linking out to the actual website of the company the article is about, but just to the page aggregating all the information on the company.

Overall, I don't think these Internal links ad sufficient value to the reader which would make me include these in my own projects I'm working on, (as my blog would only be that successful as the publications mentioned above here)! But this morning I just found one publications making use of internal links which are just plain bad for the user experience.

Reading the article mentioned on the Techmeme homepage, describing how Matt Mullenweg, the founder of WordPress is spending time in his home city Houston, to get away from the crowded and tech fast pacing West- or East Coast, I couldn't help myself asking the following question: What are all these links doing in the text.

Internal Link Spam

There is a link on a number of peoples names  or places from Matt's past. If you would check where these links go to, you come to realize all these text links are linked to a search page on the Chron.com website, powered by Yahoo Search. Ugh, how bad can it be...

Chron search pages linked from article

The article is quite entertaining to read, and clearly Matt has taken to work with the editor to get some quotes in and pose for the pictures. I just wonder if he has seen the end result with all the overdone Internal links in the article, even on his mothers name, with a clear goal for Chron.com to start ranking in the search engines on these names of people in Matt's life.

Name the Internal Link Spam Algorithm change

After Panda and Penguin, can Google just release the next algorithm change which focusses on Internal Link spam? And a call out to all the journalists and editors, linking out to a company website you are writing a story about is not wrong, it's the lifeline of the Internet, and more important; good for users! Don't get caught in the crossfire of a next SEO trick going wrong, protect your rankings, dare to link out!

Now, what shall we name the next Google Dance which focusses on Internal Link Spam..? Some animal, black & white please..?

Recommended Articles AllThingsD Style

AllThingsD shows 6 years old link in recommended articlesHow to loose some credibility in the technology your site is running on. Clicking on a We recommend link under the article Mayer Brings in First Googler on AllThingsD, brings me to an article from 2006! Really.. You are sending me to an article from 6 years ago! I was intrigued by the title in the link: Two Challengers Enter The Smartphone Wars. (link)Wouldn't that be something if all of a sudden two new players entered the smart phone market in the year of 2012!

No, AllthingsD thinks it relevant for their readers right now to re-read the article on the smartphone market from 2006. Like as if Palm and Blackberry are still the major market leaders these days!

When it comes to smartphones that have a full keyboard and good email capability, Palm’s fast-selling Treo is the best. New devices are constantly being announced in hopes of becoming the “Treo killer.” Most of these challengers use Microsoft’s Windows Mobile software, formerly called Pocket PC, which was designed to evoke the Windows computer experience on a hand-held device.

I guess the technology this block is running on needs some tweaking to avoid serving up articles years and years old. I tested to see if it was a one time bug, but time and time again, old, not even related articles were served up. Some of the old news can still be relevant, but 9/10 times the articles is just a complete waste of time for the reader.

It should not be that difficult for the engineers of the WSJ, parent company of AllthingsD, to write a small script, only picking articles which are recent to recommend. Unless it is the objective of these recommended links to drive traffic and clicks to the old articles. But that would be IMHO showing a complete disrespect for their readers, as the time you waste reading an article from 6 years ago, is wasted and can never be given back!

What do you think..? Waste of time to read how two new challengers entered the smart phone market back in 2006, or still relevant?

Do You Have a Social Media Will?

Sunday evening, chilling on the couch with the extra screen on my lap. Twitter humming in the background, while I catch up with email, reading and some of the Olympic events I have not seen yet (yeah for first Gold of The Netherlands!). #BlogChat in full swing, where Darren Rowse posted an interesting Tweet.

Hmm.. off course, for a guy who makes all his income online through his blogs, Digital Photography School & Problogger, this totally makes sense. Daren documented all the ins-&-outs in a blog post, Do You Have a Blogging Will.

Darren is right, you can never be too prepared. Off course you don't expect an accident to happen, but if these do happen, you want your significant others to be well taken care off. Reminds me, I have to take care of this...

Social Media Will

But what about your social media accounts. Do you have a will which would allow your family to take control of your online identity? It can be so painful for your friends and family to see your smiling face staring at them between their Facebook friends, while you are no longer there.

A couple of years ago, a colleague of mine died. It was a sudden death, not expected at all, although she had been sick for a while. For the last couple of years, I've been getting birthday alerts on Facebook on the day she was born. Although a great celebration of her life, the personal profile page was exactly the same as on the day she had died. The family never took control of her profile page, which is still up.

And last year, an ex-colleague from eBay had a terrible accident, and died because of it. I'm still getting recommendations to connect with him on LinkedIn, as we might know each other since we both have worked at eBay.

Be Prepared

Although you never expect it, you can never be too careful. I think the pre-cautions Daren is taking with his Blog Will, it would be good to include the log-in and password of your social media profiles as well. It's something you just have to do!