Virtual Earth Does Drive Bys

No not that kind of drive by – this kind of drive by.

The MSN Virtual Earth team loaded up a van with 10 cameras and photographed street level images for San Francisco and Seattle. You can preview the street level navigation right now. The images are decent quality and there are different types of layouts available (check out the “Street” view of the map). The controls are a bit awkward and the application isn’t quite smooth as Google Maps or Yahoo Maps, but street level images are obviously the next step in all these map applications. Your location is represented by a mini car on the road. (Hold shift and use arrow keys to move your car around)

If you have about 30 minutes to spare, you can watch the Virtual Earth StreetLevel video over at Channel 9.

Read MSN Search’s announcement then check outwhat people are saying about the preview on Scoble’s blog.

Google FUD Over Paid Links

The more and more I think about the debate over paid links and Google, the more I think about FUD.

FUD is a marketing strategy that stands for Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt. The term FUD describes disinformation tactics used to persuade customers to use a certain product over a competing product. A company that cannot respond with hard facts can use FUD tactics to cast a shadow of doubt on their competition and make people think twice before switching to the competitor.

Lets take a look at some quotes from Matt Cutts:

Reputable sites that sell links won’t have their search engine rankings or PageRank penalized–a search for [daily cal] would still return dailycal.org.

Fear:
I’m afraid that my site will lose its search engine rankings.

Uncertainty:
Is my site a reputable site?

Doubt:
Maybe I shouldn’t sell a link then, since I’m not dailycal.org

However, link-selling sites can lose their ability to give reputation (e.g. PageRank and anchortext).

Fear:
I’m afraid my site will lose it’s ability to give reputation.

Uncertainty:
How will I know? Maybe my PR will be affected? Maybe I’ll be penalized?

Doubt:
Guess I shouldn’t sell links.

Google’s stance on selling links is pretty clear and we’re pretty accurate at spotting them, both algorithmically and manually. Sites that sell links can lose their trust in search engines.

Fear:
Google can see my paid links from a mile away. My site will lose its trust in the search engines.

Uncertainty:
Wait. How can Google tell which links are paid? What if I’m just buy links for traffic. Oh no, should I have nofollowed that link?

Doubt:
Maybe I shouldn’t buy any links. I guess I’ll stick with AdWords.

Would anyone be surprised to find that some link buyers turn around and then sell links to other sites? And that those links may not be of the highest quality?

Fear:
What if the site I am advertising on is linking to a bad site? Will my site be punished?

Uncertainty:
How can I check if the site is linking to a bad site? What is high quality?

Doubt:
Forget this, I’m pulling my link buy from this site and I’m sticking with AdWords.

What if a site wants to buy links purely for visitor click traffic, to build buzz, or to support another site? In that situation, I would use the rel=”nofollow” attribute. The nofollow tag allows a site to add a link that abstains from being an editorial vote. Using nofollow is a safe way to buy links, because it’s a machine-readable way to specify that a link doesn’t have to be counted as a vote by a search engine.

Fear:
Now that I have a nofollow link, does that mean visitors will think my link is spam?

Uncertainty:
Search engines don’t count my link. Visitors see that my link has a link condom. Will humans think my site is spam?

Doubt:
I have no idea how safe this is. The only real safe alternative is to stick with AdWords. I can purchase links without having to worry about how it affects my visitors or my rankings.

The Google FUD is working.

Over at cr8atsiteforums, a user is scared of being punished for placing links on his site:

If I were to sell ads on 14thC and put up a page describing traffic, rates, terms, etc. one of the terms I’m inclined to place would be that a “nofollow” would be attached to the ads.

Except that will turn a lot of people away.

Shoul I even worry about it or just let Google devalue those links on their own (per Rand’s appearance in Newsweek and subsequent chat with Cutts)?

If I do that, would I incur any penalties?

Here’s a post over at webmasterworld:

BUT – arrgh, I still can’t quite get the big G out of my head. Now the option of buying a load of links comes up (around 15,000 in fact) and based on its natural merits of click throughs and brand awareness it seems like a very cost effective way of advertising. I can’t get G out of my head though. With a huge percentage of my traffic coming from search engines I cannot afford to get flagged or lose my rankings. I know I want these link for natural purposes but will G realise they are for natural purposes? I’ve read a bit about buying links and getting flagged and bam, your rankings have plummeted to oblivion. I’m trying to go completely white hat – but even then I think I may get into trouble, even though my motives for the links are totally pure.

And another:

Matt stressed that obvious paid links offered no boost in rankings, although they do not detract. In short, he stressed that paid links are a waste of money, and that G rewards links occuring naturally. He stressed that G is getting better by the day in detecting paid links.

I know there are ways of crafting paid links so that they will appear to be naturally generated, but the effort may not be as cost effective as developing unique, compelling content which will stimulate good inbound links. At least, this was my take away from that session as well as others in which matt participated.

Sure sounds like FUD to me.

Google may have a problem determining the difference between a paid link and a freely given link. But that is their problem, not yours. Ultimately, it is Google’s job to detect whether a link is bought or not and adjust its rankings accordingly.

It’s not the Webmaster/Marketer’s job to prevent web spam.

Who wants to buy an endorsement that says “Visit this site, but I don’t really trust their products”. Imagine buying a page spread for the New York Times that has a big banner across the top that says “This site maybe in the same category as pharmaceuticals, porn, gambling, and other spam.” Right.

Google can/is effectively eliminate competition to its main cash cow (AdWords) by keeping people afraid of using any system other than AdWords for advertising. Buying a graphic ad – well don’t because Google may ban you since the site you are buying ads on may link to something Google doesn’t like. Buying a text ad – well don’t because paid links are bad. Selling ads on your site – well don’t because Google may not trust your site anymore. Adding affiliate links to your site – well don’t because Google doesn’t like “thin affiliates”. Ad nauseum.

The FUD isn’t just hurting the text link brokers and individual link buyers. The impact is widespread. Online publishers are afraid that their sites will lose rankings, so they don’t consider any alternative revenue sources (affiliate links, text link advertising, etc) and they stick with AdSense. Ad networks like text link ads lose potential business since customers are afraid of buying links. SEOs are impacted since clients are afraid of Google so they stick with AdWords. For instance, take a look at the SEO guide from Google. It is filled with FUD. There is one sentence about the benefits of SEO and about another 200 lines covering bad SEO.

Nofollow is not an option. Nofollow was created to make sure spammers get no benefit from abusing public posting areas (like trackbacks/comments/etc). Forcing site owners and advertisers to employ nofollow on their links with FUD is just low. Google needs to stop scaring site owners/advertisers and focus on producing a product that makes the debate over paid links non existent.

Google Launches Google Research Blog

New official Google blog up – Google Research Blog.

So who are we? We’re experts in machine translation who came here to work with the largest corpus of bilingual and monolingual text ever assembled. We’re experts in machine learning algorithms who came to work on one of the world’s largest computing clusters. We’re researchers in natural language, vision, security, human-computer interaction, and a dozen other fields who came to help a user base of hundreds of millions of people. And we’re working side by side with the engineering team — not in a separate building or site. Some of us are launching projects on google.com this week and wearing pagers, and some of us are working on goals for the year 2020.

I’m looking forward to what the Google Research team is going to do with the blog.

Web Analytics Solutions

Looking for a Web Analytics package and need some more info?

Check out Pat McCarthy’s list of web analytics solutions. Not entirely comprehensive, but the list covers the majority of web analytics providers and each solution is accompanied by a concise description.

I’ve been using AWStats for most of my personal sites, but have been slowly migrating them all over to Google Analytics. At work I use the bigger packages – Clicktracks, HBX, Omniture, and Webtrends.

Anyone have a favorite analytics package? I’m leaning towards Omniture.

Gaming Google and Technorati Blog Style

Liz Strauss is pissed not even a little mad that Technorati keeps launching new features while their basic features are still broken.

So in protest, Liz is encouraging her readers to spread some link love to Janice Myint – Technorati’s Customer Support Specialist.

Let’s give Janice Myint Authority, by getting everyone to LINK TO JANICE.
We’ll need to do this with some saavy. We don’t want Janice to end up in the Google sandbox. I propose we work together on the honor system. Are you with me?

For SEO reasons, we need a variety of link types and a variety of link names. Keep these guidelines in mind.

  • Not everyone should use the exact title of her blog.
  • Not everyone should blogroll her blog. Some should be links to individual posts.
  • Some should be comment links.
  • Not everyone should link today, tomorrow, or the next day.

Choose one of the options below to pick your link day.

  • 1. Choose the last letter in your last name. Count its place in the alphabet. Count out that many days from today and link to Janice’s blog on that day.
  • 2. When you get your next link to your own blog. Link to Janice’s blog.
  • 3. If a friend or family member has a birthday, anniversary or other occasions between now and April 1st, link to Janice’s blog on that day.
  • 4. When you get the third, or fourth, or fifth, “Sorry Technorati is . . .” message, link to Janice’s blog.

What’s interesting here is how the guidelines are laid out:

Varied Link Descriptions

Too much of the same anchor text looks suspicious.

Varied Link Depth

Same thing goes with link depth. If every link is going to the homepage, things don’t look natural.

Varied Link Location

Link placement matters – if all the links are in the navigation or the footer, these links do not carry as much value as links in content rich areas.

Natural Link Growth

Gradual and varied link growth = Natural.

Couple more things that are happening that aren’t specifically outlined in the guidelines:

Varied Sites

Since Liz’s site reaches a variety of readers – naturally the sites they run will be located on different servers/ips and provide a nice distribution of site locations.

Related Content

Most of the time, content will accompany these links since the majority of these links will come from blog posts.

Yahoo Design Pattern Library

Are you in the process of creating or redesigning a website? Want to know what design patterns Yahoo uses and why Yahoo uses them?

Check out the Yahoo Design Pattern Library.

Right now the Yahoo Design Pattern Library has 9 design patterns:

Auto-Complete
Breadcrumbs
Drag and Drop Modules
Module Tabs
Navigation Tabs
Object Pagination
Search Pagination
Rating an Object
Writing a Review

Each design pattern has a detailed summary of when to use the pattern and the solution the pattern solves. There are also links to how Yahoo uses each pattern and some related patterns.

You may also want to check out the Yahoo User Interface Library and the new Yahoo User Interface Blog.

Update: Read more about how Yahoo implemented the Pattern Library. More info on Erin Malone’s site.

SES NYC 2006 Party and Events Schedule

Joseph Morin recently posted up the SES NYC 2006 Party/Events Schedule over at SEW. If you are planning an event or just wondering what’s on the list, head over here.

If you are a search engine or vendor events coordinator and are planning an official gathering or even an informal one that you would like me to promote like I did for SES San Jose 2005, then send me a PM with all of the details that you would like included. If you are an attendee and you’ve heard of a great event, also feel free to send me a PM and I’ll look into adding it to the list. SES Chicago 2005 had no advance planning for after hours events and we want to make sure that we do things in advance for NYC.

You might want to keep an eye for Ask’s event on Monday. This is what Joe had to say about the event.

Ask Jeeves just announced a MAJOR bash for Monday night.

Emphasis not mine. =P

Google Product Communities and Resources

Looking for help using some of Google’s products? Most of the time, the best information can be found reading community forums and this case is no different. In addition to the normal forums/resources, Google provides many useful places for you to discuss and read more about their products.

Here are some of Google’s communities and resources that may help you.

Google Analytics

Conversion University
Learn more about driving traffic to your site and converting visitors into customers.

Google Analytics Support
Helpful resource for Google Analytics

Google Analytics Google Group
Discuss Google Analytics with other users.

Google AdWords

Inside AdWords
Official Google AdWords Blog.

Google AdWords Google Group
Discuss Google AdWords with other users.

AdWords API Blog
Office Google AdWords API Blog.

AdWords Learning Center
Learn more about how Google AdWords works.

AdWords Support
FAQ for AdWords and resources.

Gmail Gtalk Chat

Looks like Chat for Gmail is being updated and for some reason I’m only seeing Gtalk for Gmail on Internet Explorer. Any firefox users seeing the new interface? (Popups on hover over contacts)

Chat with your friends from right inside Gmail. There’s no need to load a separate program or look up new addresses. It’s just one click to chat with the people you already email, as well as anyone on the Google Talk network. And now you can even save and search for chats in your Gmail account.

We’ve started rolling this out to all Gmail accounts, so yours should have it soon. It’s good to chat. Learn more

Contextual Search Y!Q Paper

One of the papers released to the past Conference on Information and Knowledge Management was Y!Q: Contextual Search at the Point of Inspiration by Reiner Kraft, Farzin Maghoul, Chi Chao Chang from Yahoo (8 pages, PDF).

From the abstract:

This paper presents Y!Q—a first of its kind large-scale contextual search system—and provides an overview of its system design and architecture. Y!Q solves two major problems. First, how to capture high quality search context. Second, how to use that context in a way to improve the relevancy of search queries.

The paper is a real interesting read – especially the sections describing how Y!Q determines context. Everything is pretty high level so no juicy details on how Y!Q specifically works, but a good read anyways.

FON, Google, Skype and Why It Matters

Yesterday, FON announced that Google, Skype, Sequoia Capital and Index Ventures will be backing them with 18 million Euros.

FON is company that has one purpose – wifi for everyone. Basically you download some software, install it into your router, and start sharing your bandwidth. You can read more about how FON works and the company’s business model here.

Now why does that matter? Sure free wifi is great, but why are companies like Google and Skype investing in FON?

First lets talk about Skype.

Skype has been slowly introducing products focused beyond the desktop. Recently Skype announced that soon you’ll be able to use Skype on wifi phones. Combine the Skype wifi phone with the FON network and you have a phone that can work anywhere (assuming the FON network spreads globally) – similar to cell phones but on the current internet broadband network.

So instead of having to sign up with a cell phone provider, you could use your current Skype username with a Skype phone and use that phone to talk anywhere – seamless transfer between your online contacts and your offline contacts using one product.

What about Google?

Similar to Google’s relationship with Mozilla, this represents a chance to get in at the beginning with FON. Google can place their services at every point inside the FON network – the portal that pops up when people log in, the default search engine for FON users, the default mobile search for Skype+FON users, etc. If FON spreads globally and Google is the default for FON users, this represents an easy way for Google to secure users.

Right now, cell phone users have to pay a premium for data usage (browsing /text messaging). With a wifi based phone, I can see data usage becoming much more widespread which would help mobile applications like Google mobile /Google local.

This could be the start of something real big.

GBuy – Google Payment System

The WSJ reports that Google is testing a online payment system that will be tied into Google AdWords. (via Battelle)

For the last nine months, Google has recruited online retailers to test GBuy, according to one person briefed on the service. GBuy will feature an icon posted alongside the paid-search ads of merchants, which Google hopes will tempt consumers to click on the ads, says this person. GBuy will also let consumers store their credit-card information on Google.

The ability to accept payments will open up many streams of revenue due to the variety of Google’s web properties. Google will be able to help advertisers sell products through Froogle, Google Maps, Google Earth, Google News, Google Local, and of course Google Search.

Back in June, I predicted that Google would be building a pay per sale model based off of their current AdWords product. Here’s what I wrote:

But I think Google’s initial use of a payment system is to add a pay-per-sale model to their current pay-per-click advertising network. Merchants using AdWords to advertise and Google Wallet to process their sales will be able to track which ads lead directly to sales and at what cost. Merchants will be able to tap into the power of large scale affiliate marketing (ala Commission Junction). Publishers can then choose between which model to promote – AdSense for clicks or AdSense for sales.

Advertisers can also decide whether they want to generate traffic or pay for sales. A pay per sale model typically encourages a publisher to create a high quality and relevant web site – which is great for advertisers. Pay per sale will also alleviate click fraud issues, since there are fewer concerns about whether conversions are legitimate, and whether traffic is of low quality.

This feels like a natural addition to the AdWords product. Although Google is not directly competing with Paypal, I can see why Paypal is concerned.

Large SEO Firms Suck?

I’ve been meaning to write something about this topic for a while, but never really got around to it. Do large SEO firms suck?

Jim Boykin, CEO of WeBuildPages, has ranted before about large SEO firms:

I don’t get it…I just don’t get it…people pay huge money to huge SEO companies and the get very fancy meta tags and keyword analysis for their 12 month contract…I think I’ve ranted about this before…but how do these big companies get away with selling “meta tag and on page optimization” for 12 month contracts…and NO LINK BUILDING…I just don’t get it!…here’s another kicker…I know that some of these big companies (including the big SEO company name I removed above) have people who work for them who know better…they just gotta know that meta tags and on page optimization alone can’t do squat for rankings…I don’t get it.

Maybe I shouldn’t bitch…the more of the big companies that continue to do 1997 SEO, the better my company looks, and the more of their clients I’m going to take from them (because the biggest part of our work involves working on getting our clients links).

Rand’s post from last week addressed this too.

Both Dana and I commented that we had received many phone calls from customers of large SEO firms who had been unsatisfied with customer service, client relations and, most frequently, quality of work. I had hoped it was just me, but I think it’s a trend in the corporate world that large service providers suffer in many aspects of the services they offer. Dana and I talked specifically about some notable examples of big names in the SEO industry who had gone to work for large firms and, subsequently, left due to disagreement in how the company was managing their customers and their employees.

As most of you know, I work for Search Engine Optimization Inc (SEO Inc) – one of the larger west coast SEO firms. I’d like to think we are doing an awesome job for our clients. We pay a great deal of attention to every single client and take a consultative approach to everything we do. This allows us to tailor our campaigns and ensure high quality work.

But I’d like to hear what you think. Do you think large SEO firms suck? What can be done better? What are the typical unsatisfactory issues? Which large firms do you like? Which large firms don’t you? Why?

How can you tell if an SEO firm is good?

I think it’s pretty simple, would their competition recommend them to you? This is why Rand’s list of recommended SEO firms is so useful. Every firm listed is being vouched for by their competition. That’s much better than a client testimonial in my book.

What are your thoughts on large SEO firms?