Google Bombing Lessons

Colbert Nation Acknowledges Results

Danny Sullivan wrote about our successful bomb Friday. Beside the fact that he enjoyed the Mission Accomplished post, Mr. Sullivan provided his analysis about the reasons our recent Google Bombing campaign was successful in spite of the fact that Google defused Google Bombing a few months ago. Mr. Sullivan observed that:

The Colbert Report’s home page uses NONE of the words (because Stephen, who is
modest, has no need to declare himself the greatest). Here’s Google confirming that the site ranks for that term solely based on links to it:

Stephen Colbert Cached Page

See the part at the bottom: “These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: greatest living american.”

So what’s the deal? Wasn’t the Google fix supposed to prevent this exact thing?

Yes, actually. Of course, we’ve had a few exceptions cited, such as click here ranking things like Adobe and Apple downloads. Maybe Google’s Matt Cutts will come along to shed some more light on the situation. I suspect the answer will be that the link bomb fix Google uses is more sophisticated than just looking to see if the words people are using in links, when a lot of links suddenly point at a page, actually appear on a page.

We originally targeted the “letter from Stephen” page and the “Balls For Kidz” pages for the campaign by choosing pages that already contained some of the target keywords in an attempt to get around the anti-bombing changes. What Mr. Sullivan is pointing out here is that because Google ranks the homepage first and the target pages below that for “greatest living american”, their anti-bombing algorithm is more subtle than we would assume from the appearance and disappearance of failure.

By contrast, Google ranks the “balls for kidz” page first for “giant brass balls” and doesn’t show the homepage at all.

This is diagnostically very interesting for SEO because one page has the words and the other doesn’t. The other data point that we can provide is that many people chose not to include the Giant Brass Balls campaign in their viral contributions. Google blog search indicates 17,972 posts in the last 8 days contain “greatest living american” versus 3,205 for “giant brass balls”.

On a related topic, how much traffic did this campaign send to Any advertisers out there who can tell us?

Before this campaign started, neither Colbert Nation nor Comedy Central ranked for “greatest living american” or “giant brass balls”. Comedy Central ranked about 22nd for “truthiness.”

As of 1:41 pm pst on 4/23/2007, ranks #1 for “giant brass balls” on Google, MSN and Yahoo and #1 on Google, #3 on Yahoo and #3 on MSN for “greatest living american.” Comedy Central is up to #10 for truthiness.

My original post hit the homepage of Digg for 14 hours starting about midnight on 4/15 and received about 26,000 visitors by Monday, 4/16. Greg Jarboe at Search Engine Watch posted on Monday. His post hit the SERP by Tuesday along with my Alchemist Media post and one from the Bacon Nation. Colbert Nation started to move up.

On Wednesday afternoon, after SEOmoz joined the party and brought along a bunch of other SEO folks, Alchemist started both phrases in Adwords to judge the number of people running the query. We have seen 27,600 impressions in Google for “greatest living american” in the last 5 days. We got another 4074 on “giant brass balls” before Google decided our quality score was too low and that we would need to spend $10/click to keep it active. That’s too much to pay for data!

Direct traffic sources include at least 1 homepage Digg for Search Engine Land, a CNet News story and about 19,000 blog posts. Only Comedy Central can tell us for sure, but I have to guess this campaign has been worth at least 150,000 visitors in the last week.

I have heard numerous complaints the week of going down. Of course, seems to go down fairly regularly even without the Google Bomb.

It’s amazing how little Viacom seems to understand the web!

Mission Accomplished—Top Ranking in Google

Admiral Fishkin, Captain Rohrs, Fellow Officers, Diggers and Bloggers of the SEO world, my fellow Americans: Major combat in operation Giant Brass Balls have ended. In the Battle of the Greatest Living American, Colbert Nation and our allies have prevailed. And now our coalition is engaged in securing and reconstructing our hard earned ranking.

In this battle, we have fought for the cause of liberty, and for a piece of the SERP. Our nation and our coalition are proud of this accomplishment — yet it is you, the members of the Colbert Nation Strike Force, who achieved it. Your courage — your willingness to face danger for your country and for each other — made this day possible. Because of you, our nation is more secure. Because of you, the tyrant has fallen, and Serpia is free.

Operation Giant Brass Balls was carried out with a combination of precision and speed and boldness the enemy did not expect and the world had not seen before. From distant sites and blogs at sea, we sent links and anchors that destroyed the rank of our opposition and propelled a single target to the top. Webmasters and bloggers charged to the top across hundreds of intervening sites in one of the swiftest advances of ranking in search history. You have shown the world the skill and the might of Search Engine Optimization paired with the passion of Colbert Nation.

This nation thanks all of the members of our coalition who joined in a noble cause. We thank the Armed Forces of SEOmoz, The Bacon Nation, and SE Watch, who shared in the hardships of war. We thank all of the citizens of Digg who welcomed our troops and joined in the liberation in support of half a dozen guerrilla attacks. And tonight, I have a special word for Secretary Jarboe, for Generally Frank, and for all the men and women wear the flag of the Colbert Nation: Alchemist is grateful for a job well done.

The character of our military through history — the daring of Wikiality, the fierce courage of The White House Correspondents Dinner, the decency and idealism that turned enemies into allies — is fully present in this generation. When Serpian civilians looked into the faces of our servicemen and women, they saw strength, and kindness, and a sick sense of humor. When I look at the members of the Colbert Nation Strike Force, I see the best of our country, and I am honored to have served – temporarily- as your commander in chief.

In the images of fallen idols, we have witnessed the arrival of a new era. For a dozen years of search wars, culminating in the Google age, search technology was designed and deployed to inflict order on an ever-growing scale. In defeating keyword spam and imperial monopolies, Allied Forces destroyed entire portfolio, while leaders who escaped with golden parachutes and vested stock options. Market power was used to end regimes by breaking a company. With new tactics and precision weapons, we can achieve comedic objectives without directing violence against civilians. No device of man can remove the tragedy from war or avoid the detritus left behind by our campaign. With apologies to the brass ball industry, it wiil be a great advance when the politicians have far more to fear from search results than innocent, if obscure, awards.

In the images of celebrating SEO warriors, we have also seen the ageless appeal of victory. Decades of lies and intimidation could not make the Serpian people love their oppressors or desire their own enslavement. Men and women in every culture need natural search engine ranking like they need food and water and air. Everywhere that #1 position arrives, some human rejoices.

We have difficult work to do in Serpian. We are bringing order to parts of the results page that remain dangerous. We are pursuing and finding leaders of the old regime, who will be held to account for their crimes. We have begun the search positioning using biological weapons. We have already disclosed hundreds of sites that will be investigated. We are helping to rebuild Serpian, and we will stand with the writers of the show as they learn to establish a government of, by, and for the people of Colbert Nation. The transition from dictatorship to democracy took startling little time, but it is worth every effort. Our coalition will stay until our work is done. And then we will leave — and we will leave behind a new segment on our favorite show.

The Battle of Serpia is one victory in a war on hypocrisy that began on April 15, 2007. That terrible morning, three very tired men straggled home from New York — gave America and the civilized world a glimpse of their ambitions. They imagined, in the words of one bomber, that April 15th would be the "beginning of a really awesome new segment and maybe a chance to get a new client." By seeking to turn our web pages into tools of subversive ideas, Google Bombers and their allies believed that they could prove to this nation the power of our combined voices and force a new awareness on the world. It only took 7 days!.

Thank you for serving our country and our cause. May God bless you all, and may God continue to bless Stephen Colbert!

Yahoo Bombing For Stephen Colbert

The campaign to get the Colbert Show to rank for Giant Brass Balls and Greatest Living American has certainly got the blogosphere buzzing. In three days, it has generated no less that half a dozen digg post, including one that got about 1500 diggs (thanks Cameron), at least a couple dozen links and huge outcry of loyal fans.

We are happy to report that while Google is still showing a little resistance, (along with very unstable results that change every hour) the Colbert Nation is already the top 10 for Greatest Living American. Yahoo, meanwhile, is cooperating nicely; it shows number 1 for giant brass balls and greatest living american is 3rd.

MSN and Ask are picking up related stories, but neither is showing our hero in the top 10 yet.

April 19th update.

Colbert Nation is now #1 for Greatest Living American in Google and was number #1 in Yahoo and MSN this morning, but appears to have dropped back. Still no progress with Gooogle for Giant Brass Balls, but #1 in Yahoo.

Given the tremendous response we have seen today and the fact that most of the rest of the top 10 is taken up by posts about the campaign, we should be able to fly the Mission Accomplished Banner by Saturday.

Special Shout Outs

We want to thank everyone who participates in the Stephen Colbert Campaign, but we want to give a special thanks to those who have gone above and beyond with creativity and made us smile. While the idea may have started with Alchemist, it is the creativity that makes this fun.

Allan Dick for his America’s Claw Foot Tub, The Bacon Nation for Incredible Colbert and Todd Mallcoat, a New York SEO, for making me blush and for his suggestion to Google Bomb every political candidate in the 2008 race.

And of course, for Rand Fishkin. While he and mystery guest were late for the taping that night, he more than made up for it by announcing a Google Bombing Contest.

Stephen Colbert Greatest Living American

Anointing Stephen Colbert as the Greatest Living American.

Alchemist Media was in New York this week, presenting at the Search Engine Strategies conference. President Jessie Stricchiola spoke on the Ad Copy & Landing Page Clinic panel and moderated the Advanced Paid Listings Panel.

In between sessions and networking events, we got a chance to see a taping of The Colbert Report hosted by Stephen Colbert, who was introduced as the greatest living american. During the Q&A period before the show we asked Mr. Colbert if he ever considered using his loyal following to influence Google results. After being told that yes, he could reasonable achieve top ranking for almost any key phrase he chose by asking his fans to link to with the correct anchor text, Mr. Colbert said he would like to rank first on Google for Giant Brass Balls. Well—that just seemed way too easy, so we decided to do some thinking to find other words that the show should rank for…

A quick check on Google shows he doesn’t even rank for Truthiness, a word he invented. So, Colbert Nation, we are not -ahem- suggesting a Google Bombing campaign… but isn’t it time to start linking to the Greatest Living American?

Microsoft to Buy Digg

According to the following draft press release that is supposed to go out tomorrow, Microsoft will announce that it has reached an agreement to acquire Digg, Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

REDMOND, Wash. – April 2nd, 2007 – Microsoft Corporation (Nasdaq: MSFT) announced it has reached an agreement to acquire Digg, Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

The deal has been in the works for several weeks, according to Microsoft spokesman Mario Nette, who noted that, “Digg is a pioneer in crowd sourcing, the Web 2.0 way of discovering what is important to a new generation of technology-friendly consumers. The Digg community is our natural consumer base and this acquisition is a great opportunity to connect with them. Digg users are passionate about Microsoft products and we are anxious to engage them through this new channel.”

Stories posted on Digg are submitted by community members, who currently number over 1 million accounts. After a user submits a story, other members read the submission and “Digg” what they like best. If a story receives enough votes, it is promoted to the front page for millions of visitors to see.

The acquisition of Digg is a significant advance in Microsoft’s promise to improve Live Search as well as an important step towards developing social media platforms.

“This deal is not about buying our way into the hearts of a million Digg members; it brings together two important players in the battle to improve the relevance of online content,” said Pierre Calzino, Director of User Feedback at Live Search. “Web users waste too much time searching for what’s important. Microsoft has been involved with this problem for years and Digg has clearly become a factor to be reckoned with.”

“The natural synergies between the two companies are really exciting. Digg has created a user validation model for determining the significance of online content – a system that is almost impossible to manipulate. Combining Digg’s crowd-sourcing methodology and validation infrastructure with Live Search’s leading technology will allow us to remove the last vestiges of SPAM from our search results.”

“Improving Live Search is just the beginning,” Calzino continued. “We see enormous opportunities for electronic voting. Digg’s online voting platform inspires confidence. Add Microsoft’s track record for building secure systems and you can envision the voting system of the 21st Century. No one will have to wonder if the vote could be hacked or stolen. This deal represents the future platform of our Democracy.”

Digg founder Kevin Rose could not be reached for comment, but according to spokesman Morceau De Bouche, Rose was delighted with the deal. “Microsoft has an enormous tradition of excellence in engineering and we are all excited about the prospect of learning from them. They have set the standards for technology innovation very high and we know we will benefit from their ability to develop innovative applications on-time and on-budget.”

The acquisition of Digg technologies and brand will help Microsoft maximize shareholder value. “We’ve had our eye on Digg for some time,” said Lavage Green, Environmental Communications Director for Spuhn Associates, “Kevin and his team have created a compelling success story by providing a forum for discussing important social issues such as climate change, the impact of globalization and the Xbox versus the Wii without ever doing anything about it. They have effectively created a committee of millions; everyone can agonize over the problem and feel good about being globally aware without being inconvenienced by committing to any quantifiable action. This shows the depth of thinking and skill they will bring to Microsoft. The addition of Digg’s street credibility and perceived expertise to their existing talent will provide the ability to continue not addressing fundamental global issues for another decade – without fear of repercussions.”

Financial terms of the deal have not yet been released, but company sources indicate that the purchase price is somewhere between .1% and .01% of the total market capitalization for Microsoft as of 5/1/2007.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Microsoft and Windows are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Microsoft Corp. in the United States and/or other countries.

The names of actual companies and products mentioned herein may be the trademarks of their respective owners.

Get Top Six Google Positions for One Company

Search Engines figured out a decade ago that allowing a single company to dominate the results was a bad user experience. Even if a company was algorithmically determined to have 100 relevant page results, the engines limited their appearance in SERP to one or two listings. Google improved this practice by indenting the second result for the same site and displaying it below the first, making it easier for the user to navigate directly to the page they want.

UI changes by Google over the last few months have seemingly lost track of this simple concept and created an embarrassment of riches for some searches. Specifically, Google’s rules appear not to consider the interaction between Local, Sitebox and regular results.

Consider these searches for Berkeley Toyota and Apple.

Berkeley Toyota is clearly the BEST result for the first query; they shouldn’t get three listings in local, four more from a Sitebox and the top natural site below that. Depending on how you count, that’s the top five spots and eight listings.
Berkeley Toyota SERP

Apple gets six unique listings and ten links before the first non-Apple listing appears. Below the Wiki listings, Apple sub-domains scores another three of the next six listings and two more go to That means Apple owns 11 of the first 14 listings.
Apple Computer SERP

So, Google, how about fixing your rules here?

  1. If a site is given the SiteBox/Onebox position, that should be the only result on the page from that domain. At minimum, remove the natural search result.
  2. If a site is showing in local, it should suppress the OneBox listing. There is no point in showing both.
  3. Even if a company shows multiple locations in the same city, only use one spot in the local search.
  4. Sub-domains are considered “separate” sites, but if each sub-domains gets two spots in the SERP, even the purest White Hat SEO is going to be tempted to create five high quality “sites” and own the top ten.

Eye Tracking for Ads: Going From “Heat” to Emotion

By now we hope you’ve heard of Enquiro’s Eye Tracking Report and have been inspired as much as we have by the results. Interestingly, in this month’s issue of Business 2.0, a related study aimed towards gauging the effectiveness of TV ads by measuring the saccadic motion of an ad viewer’s eyes, uses a technology that we think could potentially be put to similarly good use on web-based content:

“The system, called eMotion, uses a PC-connected camera to measure the saccadic motion of viewers’ eyes—the subtle eyeball vibrations that increase when we see something of interest. PreTesting follows up with an interview to determine how much the viewers remember. Then a proprietary algorithm gives ad execs instant feedback on how well the spot worked.”

“Viewers should be engaged but not so visually stimulated for the full 30 seconds that they don’t take in any verbal information. ‘This could be revolutionary,’ he says. ‘Advertisers will finally be able to understand which ads are working.’ Weinblatt’s favorite example, from his beta-testing, was an ad for Dr. Scholl’s massaging gel insoles. It featured a leggy model emerging from a swimming pool, which sent the eyes of his male subjects vibrating. When the model turned out to be wearing high-heel shoes, his female subjects got excited. Then the ad cut to nothing but text and voice-over, letting the information sink in.”

As far as integrating such technology within the web environment, it could potentially fill the gap between “where the eyes go” and “what the mind thinks” when they go there. So when extending eye tracking beyond just identifying hotspots to examining actual levels of interest in the areas that the eyes are focusing on, we get even one step deeper into the mind of the visitor. And for video content, flash tutorials, or multimedia ads, the implications are very exciting.

According to the article, such testing is available for $2000 per TV ad – and with production budgets averaging $381,000 per 30 minute national TV slots, it is quite a small price to pay for effectiveness measurement in the context of television advertising. Obviously, for web applications, a web-specific algorithm would need to be developed (if one hasn’t been already), and a lower price point would make it a bit more feasible for the web industry. Look out heat maps, here come thought maps…

Pay Per Action

So we finally see PPA testing begin, and Google is first out of the gate. Before everyone jumps for joy about the promise of a (potentially) click fraud-free world, let’s consider for a moment what is actually occurring within the Pay Per Action model and the inevitable questions the model raises, in the context of converting directly from the Pay Per Click environment.

First, let’s see how Google describes the test pricing:

“You define a fixed amount that you’d like to pay for a completed action based on the value of that action to your business. You’ll only pay when that action is completed, not for a click or impression. For example, you may wish to pay $1 every time a user fills out a lead form on your site and $5 when a purchase is made.”

With PPC pricing, the advertiser does control the desired per-click amount based on the value of the click to their business (detailed ROI metrics are assumed for this discussion), and the desired spend. The advertiser ideally has a basic conversion metric that sets these budgets and so has an idea of what each “completed action” – a form submission, or a sale – costs them in PPC. The advertiser also has the estimated figure for what they can spend on a completed action, and working with these figures is the art of PPC management.

In their current PPA test, Google is telling the advertiser that the advertiser can use this metric, which we refer to as the advertiser’s Cost Per Acquisition (CPA), to set their “action” price, instead of bid price. Since it is a safe bet to assume that many if not most advertisers spend more than $1 to $5 of PPC advertising on Google to generate a single completed action, we can see that this test is being done at a discount* to test the platform, the implementation, and to see how well the traffic in their network is converting into specific kinds of “actions”. (*Disclaimer: testing on the Content Network arguably creates a lower traffic value, so the perception of the discounted testing is somewhat debatable).

Why is this meaningful?

First, let’s take a look at the data Google will be obtaining from its network of Content Partners. Publishers in Google’s network will receive, it appears, flat rate compensation. In exchange, Google will receive all sorts of conversion information about that publisher’s web site – as well as demographic information about that site’s users based on the actions of visitors clicking out to the PPA ads. While on one hand this sounds promising for the optimization of the ad network, will Google freely exchange this data with its publishers? Food for thought.

Next is the issue advertisers must address if seriously considering moving towards the PPA model – and that is whether or not there can be a comfort zone within disclosing to Google, or any publisher, for that matter, exactly how much an action is worth to an advertiser’s business. And if that action is a sale, then the issue is whether there can be a comfort zone within disclosure of revenue from same.

In theory, it is possible to envision PPA driving the cost of Google advertising up even higher for advertisers than it is now, because although the competition between advertisers will exist much the same as it does in PPC, once Google knows the actual advertiser-specific and industry-specific margins there then exists the distant, but yet real possibility of minimum bid-setting based on this data. Of course Google has done nothing of this kind to date, but there’s nothing like good hard evidence to sweeten the pot ;-).

In the end, will you be converted? Will we? Let’s wait and see.

It’s All About Conversion

True, search is about conversion. But not just in the typical sense of converting searchers into visitors, and visitors into buyers. The search industry is also about conversions of many, many kinds: from one pricing model to another, for example. Conversion from black hat – to gray hat – to white hat. Conversion from: “click fraud doesn’t exist” to “yes, it does“. Conversion from: “SEO is Bull” to witnessing first-hand the benefits of good old white hat SEO. Conversion from what’s tried and true, to what’s awkward and new.

These are just a few of the conversions we deal with in search, and we’ll be digging deeper into these and all of the new conversion matters as the industry continues to grow, transform, and transcend itself. This is, after all, Alchemist Media.