Rand, Foo Camp, Word Camp, SciFoo, And… Are you Busy?

We are. It’s a summer thing. It’s an SEO thing. It’s a SEARCH thing. Ain’t it grand?

Much love to Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz for the kind words after our oh-so-sunny lunch in San Francisco. We dined at Zazie, the best brunch restaurant in San Francisco. It’s one of the rare ones with a sunny, earthy, very French patio.

We also just had WordCamp here in SF, more on that soon…

What is happening right now? O’Reilly’s SciFoo (Science Foo Camp) is about to kick off at the Googleplex in Mountain View. After attending my first Foo Camp back in June, I was blown away by the brilliance and inspiration all around me… and found each night in my tent (nestled in the O’Reilly apple orchard) filled with so much intrigue that I found it difficult to sleep.

More more more will come – we promise.

Privacy Solution, Step 2– Opt Out

Imagine for a moment that we live in the hypothetical world where the search engines allow you to control your own privacy. Imagine we live in a world you are allowed to access search engines using SSL. A world where the search engines allowed you to prevent third party intermediaries from intercepting the content of our thoughts with the same minimum diligence used to protect our credit card numbers during an online transaction.

In such a Utopian society, search engines would go the next step and not log your search request if you accessed through their sites through that secure connection (unless they were already subject to a government SEARCH WARRANT to spy on you). Of course, to protect themselves and their advertisers against click fraud and address other legitimate concerns, the engines could still associate data for paid links that you clicked, for example, without saving the actual query or the organic clicks.

These steps are not the complete solution, but they are a small start to swinging the pendulum in the other direction.

Privacy Solution, Step One

Privacy International issued a “study” over the weekend which analyzed the privacy risks, policies and culture of leading websites and singled out Google as the worst offender. Many people have already weighed in on this issue, notably Danny Sulivan with Maybe It’s Privacy International’s Report That Sucks and Matt Cutts with Privacy International Loses All Credibility. Today, Google responded to the EU working group on privacy. These posts generated hundreds of comments, including a couple by yours truly.

The issues surrounding privacy are both emotional and complicated. It is hard to imagine any scenario in the digital age that will put the genie back in the bottle Every purchase you make on a credit card is reported, recorded, parsed and resold by companies like http://www.acxiom.com/ as consumer profiles. Every opinion you ever post on a forum, blog or MySpace page is permanently cached somewhere. Every search, email, text message and IM has been entered in your permanent record.

Despite these facts, search is more personal and intimate than a purchase or a rant on a blog. Search reflects our innermost thoughts, dreams and fears and contains content as well as context. Search contains thoughts we would never put in an email or send in a message to our closest friends. While it is easy to associate our concerns about search privacy with the search engines and thus launch a highly public tirade at Google (or Yahoo, MSN and Ask), the problem of privacy and search goes well beyond the engines. As Matt Cutts and others have pointed out, the greatest threat to an individual’s privacy may be their ISP.

So, here is our modest proposal for the first step to the privacy issue:
We call upon all of the search engines to default to (or at least ALLOW) encryption for searchers via SSL to prevent third parties from intercepting our searches. A quick check showed that none of the major engines allow users to access their pages via https: Ask and MSN return a 404 and Google and Yahoo redirect to http.

Default to search in the secure mode (https) so at least the content of our query is protected from all of the intermediate players and the full responsibility for protecting them is on the engines. It isn’t a solution, but it is a good first step!

Worst Search Results

The recent New York Times article about Google search contained a note that Google is always on the lookout for bad search results. They acknowledged that constant minor tweaks occasionally produce results that are low quality.

We are all aware of the occasional site that ranks and appears to defy logic, but I am curious about queries where a majority of the results, or at least the top few, are particularly irrelevant. What “normal” queries do you run that gives really bad results?

Chain Letter Bombs

DazzlinDonna from SEO-Scoop.com has an interesting post about a new variation of the chain letter. This time, you are asked to Disaster Relief

  • Pujols Family Foundation – Children with Down Syndrome
  • National Alliance to End Homelessness – Homelessness
  • The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research – Parkinson’s Research
  • Ronald McDonald Care Mobile Program – Child Healthcare
  • Aids Research Alliance – Aids Research
  • Wildlife Conservation Society – Wildlife Protection
  • Cancer Research Institute – Cancer Research
  • Second Harvest – End Hunger
  • AARP Foundation – Helping Senior Citizens
  • On the other hand, I like how this could give candidates plausible deniability for Guerrilla SEO in politics, so here is an alternative list:

    Political Search Marketing: Electronic Grass Roots

    In Candidates Need SEO, Scott Willoughby examined the need for political parties and candidates to begin serious search marketing. Scott’s analysis is excellent as far as it went, but he missed the big picture. SEO and PPC for candidate sites is a tiny piece of the potential of search expertise to impact elections.

    Joe Trippi, the former campaign manager for Howard Dean and current campaign manager for John Edwards, pioneered the use of the internet in presidential campaign. He was very successful raising money through small donations and using the internet to coordinate local supporters and events. Groups such as Move On have taken that example and refined the model to develop virtual communities and infrastructure that brings together supporters into physical meetings.

    Candidates from both parties have borrowed heavily from these ideas. Their sites offer calls to action: donate money, volunteer, create a personalized version of the site (McCainSpace, my.barackobama.com), plan or attend an event, register for emails, download flyers and other ways to harness the energy of their base. The Edwards campaign even has a section on “Action For Bloggers”, although it is unclear what they have in mind.

    Candidates and parties need to broaden their view of the internet and see beyond the fund raising channel and a way to interact with supporters, so they can unleash the power of Electronic Grass Roots. Political pundits and organizers frequently refer to the grass roots and the ground game as important factors in winning elections. They stress the ability to get people on the streets, knocking on doors and engaging their friends and family to support the candidate. The internet provides new vehicles for individuals to impact the outcome of an election.

    Individual Persuasion:

    Individual users, bloggers and webmasters can influence others through posts, comments and discussions. Virtual conversations take place over time and without the pressure of a face-to-face interaction. They can be viewed by thousands of people and provoke additional discussion threads. Virtual campaigning by individuals can be at least as powerful as persuading people by knocking on doors.

    Social Media Action:

    Political operatives have not begun to understand the collective power of a group of hundreds of thousands of people as social media activists. Reddit, Digg and other crowd sourcing platforms are among the most heavily trafficked sites in America. It only takes 50 or 100 votes on these sites to make an article “popular” and perhaps a couple of thousand votes to keep it on the homepage for a day or more. Even the “marginal” presidential candidates can muster enough support to generate exposure for their point of view or to promote articles and sites that support them into the public discussion.

    Search Results As Truth:

    For most people, (even the few Americans who are not search professionals :-) ) the internet has become the way to get more information about almost any topic. The top 10 or maybe 20 results are the entire consideration set for people who want to learn about an issue or the candidates.

    The true power in Electronic Grass Roots is the ability to affect search results. The power of a few hundred sites to influence search results has been demonstrated over and over again. We’re not talking about Google Bombing, we are talking about SEO and reputation management strategies combined with an organizied effort that influences link acquisition and/or distribution.

    An army of hundreds of thousands supporters — orchestrated by a party, a presidential candidate or an interest group with a sophisticated knowledge of search optimization — has the ability to promote virtually any websites, articles and position it near the top of the search results for a given query.

    The ham handed political SEO might focus on Rudolph Giuliani in drag, kissing Donald Trump or the fact that Giuliani , a Roman Catholic, demonstrated the strength of his convictions by getting divorced twice, including an annulment after 18 years of being married to his cousin. Ranking a YouTube video or a Wikipedia entry would not require a Herculean effort. Likewise, John McCain cannot escape his defense of Bush’s War in Iraq or the fact that McCain has new bedfellows the Right Wing, such as Paul Weyrich, Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

    The subtle operative will recognize that this strategy is also effective when employed with a subtle hand. It is much more powerful to assassinate someone character by talking about a $400 haircut than attack John Edwards on the environment .

    Pushing a highly negative article from a right wing pundit to the top will be much less effective at reinforcing peoples’ reservations about Hillary Clinton than promoting the New York Times article about Bill Clinton being Strategist in Chief. Equally important, it wouldn’t take a lot of external validation to rank an article from the Times that already contains plenty of content and keywords.

    As for Barack Obama, his early opposition to the war in Iraq will have the manipulators of the Right pushing stories linking him with the NAACP in supporting immigrants’ rights.

    Who needs talking points when you can get Google, Yahoo and MSN to tell your story. That’s the power of Electronic Grass Roots.

    Google Sues SEO Company For Revealing Algorithm Secrets

    Yes, the title is link bait…but it serves as the perfect example to prove our point. Need new link bait? Have someone threaten to sue you.

    Legal action or the threat of legal action can strike a viral nerve that the savvy search marketer can cook into irresistibly tasty link bait. A large corporation suing an individual, a small business or a group can flavor the dish with essence of David versus Goliath. Stir in a threat of a punishment that is disproportional to the cause of action and you have a recipe that can satisfy your link and traffic cravings.

    Last weeks’ firestorm of inDiggnation illustrated the potential of a cease and desist notice to create a media and blog feeding frenzy. In case you were dead last week, or hibernating in some part of the world that doesn’t have an internet connection or newspaper, we’ll summarize the story for you. It all began when Digg executives decided to kill a story about the HD-DVD encryption key in response to a DMCA request. Digg CEO Jay Adelson wrote about the the decision to bow to a cease and desist declaration and remove stories related to the “HD-DVD Hack”. Adelson’s post received about 5,300 back links in less than a week.

    The decision created a mutiny by Diggers, who proceeded to submit and promote dozens of other pages about the HD-DVD key while burying everything else. The Digg moderators fought off the Mutiny for a few hours before being overwhelmed. By midnight, Digg’s homepage had been completely taken over by protesters. The next morning, Digg waived the white flag when Kevin Rose posted the HD DVD encryption key along with a message that they had given up trying to oppose the will of the Digg Community. That post gathered another 16,000 20,750 links.

    The story broke to the mainstream press, getting coverage (and links) from hundreds of media outlets, including CNet, MSNBC, AP, Forbes, Newsday, PC World, USA Today, ZD Net, InfoWorld, MacWorld and the New York Times.

    You don’t need to be Digg or the victim of a RIAA lawsuit for legal action to become viral. Breast feeding advocate –and Search Engine Guide editor– Jennifer Laycock turned a clever t-shirt and a cease and desist letter from an overzealous trademark attorney representing the American Pork Board into a viral firestorm and 2,954 links. A story about a judge losing his pants and suing for $67 million gathered 3,566 diggs – although this story appears to have only collected about a dozen links.

    Eric Ward, in his post on The Coming Link Apocalypse, wrote about the rapid depreciation in value from traditional link building campaigns.

    You aren’t doing anything wrong, and you do your job well. You try hard. You are conscientious. You care. But no matter the content subject, what I have seen over the past five or six years that link building has gone mainstream is a herd mentality. Everyone uses the same tools, the same tactics, the same tricks, the same companies, the same link requests, the same link-ridden press releases, the same approaches, with almost no thought or differentiation.

    We are big fans of Eric and have utilized his services for our clients. He is most likely right that many link baiting strategies acquire links that are of dubious value over the long haul. On the other hand, the sue or be sued approach can create a “real story” and yield the type of high quality editorial links from main stream media outlets that are unlikely to quickly depreciate.

    The Digg story is the extreme examples that illustrates the point, but a search of Google News for April 4th to May 4th shows over 22,000 results for stories that contain the word “sued” or “sues”. The media outlets that Google crawls for news syndication are, by definition, high quality editorial sites that can deliver the link juice we are all looking for.

    If you enjoy playing with fire and you have the stomach for lawsuits or cease and desist orders, “sue or be sued” might be a strategy for to pursue. For the other 99% of us, if you do find yourself in the unfortunate position of receiving a summons or a cease and desist letter, see if you can make links out of lemons.

    Google Drops The Bomb: Hand Job or Cron Job?

    ColbertNation.com is no longer showing in the Google SERP for greatest living American or giant brass balls. Google defused the bomb almost exactly two weeks after Mr. Sullivan reported its success.

    The Google Bombing experiment has left us with a lot of unanswered questions. The most interesting one is whether their “anti bombing algorithm” has some chronological component which allows the page to rank for a couple of weeks before killing it completely or it was removed by manual intervention.

    Did the Algorithm Kill the Colbert Nation or did Google executives decide he wasn’t the greatest living American?

    What do you think?

    Who Coined the Acronym “SEO”?

    It’s a “food for thought” Friday at Alchemist, and we’ve just stumbled upon a press release that triggered quite a debate – in which a large media agency states that their CEO coined the acronym. However, since naming names and sending out links could result in some kind of, um… Googlebomb… 😉 … we won’t give that information until we get some feedback from the industry. Can the search community come to an agreement on who coined the acronym “SEO”?

    Here is an interesting post on the subject: Who Invented the Term “Search Engine Optimization”?

    Obviously the term came before the acronym – so who came up with both?

    Hinting along… it was possibly coined either in 1995 or 1996.