The Great Internet Trademark Debate

The Great Internet Trademark Debate has been going on for some time, with little indication of an end in sight.

It's complicated by the observation that many people don't see what the big deal is until they have a trademark of their own, at which point they often become rabid about defending it.

I used to do some work for a couple of music companies, and the copyright issue was big then (everyone had pirated MP3's). I often saw musicians with huge collections of MP3's suddenly go onto a "hey! that's MY copyright" frenzy when someone actually uploaded a rip from their album. They were usually pleased at first (for about 15 minutes) and then realized that all the work they had put into the song was now available for free.

There were a few musicians who didn't mind, or who decided that they would upload songs for free, and then make money off concerts, or whatever, but most changed their tune once it actually affected them. From anarchist to capitalist in one rip and upload.

The person who coined the phrase "Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery" obviously didn't have a copyright or trademark on anything...

I'm seeing the same thing in trademarks. Trademarks are a very different area of law than copyright, so you can't apply the same rules, but since they are both about intellectual property, there are some similarities.

Everyone that matters (professional pirates, don't count, IMO) agrees that trademark is intended to protect the public from confusion. Fine. But it often goes further than that. Owners consider often trademark as protection of their business from copycats. Since this is not completely true, there is a lot of confusion about the results and expectations.

Worse, trademark is not a universal thing. If you have a copyright, then you are protected pretty much everywhere in the world (except a few places that are not commercially viable anyway) under the Berne and other conventions. There is no practical geographic restriction, which is good, because the internet has no practical geographic restriction either.

Trademark, on the other hand, is geographically restricted. A trademark can only be enforced in the jurisdiction that it's registered in, and anywhere else that has an agreement with them. Additionally, the geography can be VERY restrictive. Technically, you can have a trademark that is only valid for a few city blocks, under some circumstances. "Bob's Garage" could be trademarked hundreds of thousands of times around the world, and each trademark is exclusive in its area.

This is not compatible with the internet.

Until there is a central trademark system applicable to the internet, we will continue to see issues like this. They will get worse as the internet penetrates more of the world. If eBay does not have a trademark registered in Upper Volta, then they have no basis for any claims related to that country. They would only be effective if the local legal system accepted evidence of "world famous brand" or some such, and that's entirely up to that government.

In practice, since the major search engines are based in the US, right now your best bet is to register your trademark under US law. But that's not going to be a viable option for very long.

Trademark law as it is right now is not compatible with the operation of internet. I'm looking forward to how this is going to turn out. Should be interesting.

Personally, I think preventing bidding on search terms is going too far, but since a French ruling has made it clear that in that jurisdiction it's the law, Yahoo is probably going to follow it. Yahoo and MSN both have far more experience internationally than Google does.

Google tends to be much more US-centric in focus, and although it's working for them right now, I'm not sure that it will continue to do so in the future. At some point, non-US countries are going to get tired of having to deal with the various wierdness of US law.

I predict that if Google goes down, it won't be due to technology or money. It will be due to it's lack of cultural and international awareness and focus, and trademark law will be one of the flashpoints that starts it.

My opinion, of course,


Robots Blog

I'm a bit of a fan of the robots.txt file - and I've spent a lot of time messing around with the how's and why's of how it works. I've even put together a robots.txt generator and FAQ.

Brette Tabke (of WebmasterWorld, if you've been sleeping under a rock and didn't know already) has turned his robots.txt file into a blog. Not only is this irreverent, it's damn funny!

Brette has garnered some fame as of late because he's apparently declared war on rogue robots to his site. Where most SEO's and webmasters are desperately trying to get robots to visit, Brette is desparately trying to keep them away, especially the bandwidth sucking parasite ones that spammers create.

Strange how the rules change once you hit a certain level of success...


The Sandbox, Confidence, and SEO

The key to SEO (any type of SEO, not just sandbox avoidance) isn't links, or hilltops, or content or even trust. Trust is the closest - I just don't like the word "trust" used in conjunction with a search for a really bad site, for example.

No, the holy grail, in my opinion, is confidence.

The more a search engine can be confident that the result it supplies to you is what you are looking for, the more likely you are going to be supplied with that result - i.e. the higher the site will rank.

Things like links, and content, and authority and all that stuff are just methods of attempting to ascertain how confident a search engine can be in presenting the site.This may seem obvious or trite to someone not used to thinking things through very deeply, but put down the eggnog and indulge me for a moment...

Stop thinking about links and content. What else would inspire confidence in a website? What about the lack of duplicate data? What about a URL structure that lets the search engine know that it's definitely not indexing the same 15 pages over and over again?, what about a server NOT going down all the time? What about links outwards to sites that are known to be useful to searchers for the content they've just searched on? What if the site approaches the search term from a different angle than most of the other sites (ie it's a museum or directory rather than a commercial site, etc)?

What about how long people link to it? A site that people link to for 2 months and then stop is probably not a good site (and probably buying or trading for them, or doing some sort of serial linking campaign). A site that has static 4-year-old links from trusted authority sources is probably a good site.

All of these things can affect the confidence levels a site has as a result for a particular query, or for a position on a results page for a particular query.Of course, these are usually not yes/no answers - if you only rate a 46% confidence level for a keyword, that kind of sucks (I'm making these numbers up for illustration ONLY), but if the other choices are all 22% or lower, then you will be firmly placed in a top position, even though frankly it's not that great of a site. Just because a site is number one doesn't mean it's a good site, it's just considered the best of a bad lot.

I want you to look at something - find a site that is in a sandbox, and look at a keyword that it ranks for. Now look for the closest Supplementary Result. See a connection? Now think about what Supplementary Results are, and what that connection means. Look really, really close.

Why is my site labeled "Supplemental"?

Supplemental sites are part of Google's auxiliary index. We're able to place fewer restraints on sites that we crawl for this supplemental index than we do on sites that are crawled for our main index. For example, the number of parameters in a URL might exclude a site from being crawled for inclusion in our main index; however, it could still be crawled and added to our supplemental index.The index in which a site is included is completely automated; there's no way for you to select or change the index in which your site appears. Please be assured that the index in which a site is included does not affect its PageRank.

Sandboxed sites usually appear immediately above supplementary results. If there are no displayed supplementary results for a search (because there are so many other ones that the search engine can show instead), your site probably won't show up.The Supplementary Results are a separate database of "last gasp, only show if nothing else works" results. They have a confidence score (else they would not show up at all), but it's extremely low. These include pages that either go down a lot, or that have been recently not found but used to be good, etc. In short, they are on topic, but there is almost no confidence in them.

I've noticed that "sandboxed" sites typically are sites whose confidence score is very low, but better than the ones in the supplementary results database (I suspect that they are the lowest or bottom results in the normal database). That's a fairly accurate method to tell if something's been sandboxed. Find it's relation to the Supplementary Results for that search term. It's not the only method, but it's quick and and easy.

The sandbox has nothing to do with trust or age, or ccTLD - it's all about confidence, IMO. If you want to declare all sites that have very low confidence ratings as "sandboxed", then fine. For me, they are just sites that the search engine isn't confident about (yet).

It's perfectly possible (even common) for a site to be highly relevant, but not be assigned a high confidence level due to other factors.

IMO, the sandbox effect is related mostly to the length of time a domain has had particular links to it for. Which is actually very different from site age itself. An old site with no links to it will be "sandboxed" based on the first day new links are discovered. Likewise, an established site that resets it's historical data through a redirect, merge, or change in ownership/direction will often suffer the same effect.

Since the links age is only one criteria, a site that can show itself to be trustworthy because of other factors (ie really, really good links, etc) would override the negative aspect of the young links.It appears you need links for about 6 months before Google begins to be confident that they are permanent links and gives you full credit for them. In short, you need at least 6 months of historical data. Since it usually takes 1-3 months for a new site to be fully spidered, you will note that the most common "sandbox" times are 6 + (1-3), or 7-9 months. It could be as soon as 6 months and one day, or as late as 12 months, but I most often see 7-9 as the common range for a standard (non-aggressive but competent) sites.

A brand new site launched by a very trustworthy company, or a site that has garnered lots of natural links, may easily be deemed as a site a search engine can present as a result with confidence, regardless of the youth of it's links. Young links are only one aspect of the whole thing, that's why (IMO) there are so many exceptions to the so-called "sandbox".

You can also avoid the effect if the site is assigned some of the historical data of another via a merge of some sort.

My suggestion for SEO in 2006 - make your site one that a search engine could show with complete confidence to a searcher for your term. Make sure its technology is sound, it's links trustworthy and it's content useful. If that sounds like what the search engines have been preaching all along, it's because it is - they are just finding different ways of measuring it.

Of course, I'm sure some people's response to all this will be along the lines of the old joke: "The secret to success is sincerity - once you can fake that, you've got it made!" I beg to differ, of course - tricking people (and search engines) is a bad habit, and almost always backfires.

My opinion,


Politically Correct Holiday Legal Document

From McAnerin Networks Legal Dept ("the wishor") to you ("hereinafter called the wishee") please accept without obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, politically correct, low stress, non-addictive, gender neutral, celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasions and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all... and a financially successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the onset of the generally accepted calendar year 2006, but with due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures or sects, and having regard to the race, creed, colour, age, physical ability, religious faith, choice of computer platform or dietary preference of the wishee.

By accepting this greeting you are bound by these terms that:

  • This greeting is subject to further clarification or withdrawal
  • This greeting is freely transferable provided that no alteration shall be made to the original greeting and that the proprietary rights of the wishor are acknowledged.
  • This greeting implies no promise by the wishor to actually implement any of the wishes.
  • This greeting may not be enforceable in certain jurisdictions and/or the restrictions herein may not be binding upon certain wishees in certain jurisdictions and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wishor.
  • This greeting is warranted to perform as reasonably may be expected within the usual application of good tidings, for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first.
  • The wishor warrants this greeting only for the limited replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wishor
  • Any references in this greeting to "the Lord", "Father Christmas", "Santa Claus", or any other festive figures, whether actual or fictitious, dead or alive, shall not imply any endorsement by or from them in respect of this greeting, and all proprietary rights in any referenced third party names and images are hereby acknowledged.

THIS AGREEMENT dated for reference December 25, 2005,

BETWEEN: Transmitter [hereinafter referred to as "the Wishors"]
AND: Recipient [hereinafter referred to as "the Wishees"]



A. The Wishors have offered to the Wishees an emotionally positive celebration of the Winter Solstice on terms and conditions agreeable to the Wishees, with the proviso that such conditions do not impinge upon the reasonable enjoyment of said Solstice by other individuals within the reasonable contemplation of the Wishees, their heirs, assigns successors and other persons who may gain rights to said offer, whether by contract, tort or other operation of law; AND

B. The Wishors include in said offer the right to reasonable use and enjoyment of the period of time commencing (and including) January 1, 2006 and including the following 365.25 days to end no sooner than 12:00 am on January 1, 2007, having due regard to the rights and obligations of others to reasonable use and enjoyment of said period of time; AND

C. The Wishors have granted said offer on terms and conditions outlined in the Preamble to this Agreement, to wit:

(i) the offer is revocable and subject to further clarification at the option of the Wishors;

(ii) the offer is freely transferrable, PROVIDED THAT said offer shall remain unaltered in any transaction hereinafter entered into by, on behalf of, or for the benefit of the Wishees;

(iii) the Wishors are not, by sole reason of this offer, bound, obligated or otherwise liable for the implementation, whether by means direct or indirect, to the specific performance of any said covenants negotiated or directly implied by reason of the offers herein made;

(iv) that the laws of the jurisdiction in which the Wishees customarily reside may preclude the operation of certain terms or covenants expressed or otherwise incidental to the execution, negotiation or implementation of this Agreement;

(v) that this offer may be superceded by the mere affluxion of time (vis a vis the term of operation as set out in paragraph B above) or by earlier supercession by operatio of any subsequent offer made unilaterally by the Wishors (this term is for the benefit of the Wishors, and may not be used in any subsequent action by the Wishees as estoppel against any claim of further good tidings); and

(vi) that any references to Supreme Beings or other characters, fictitious or real, living or dead or otherwise the subject of copyright, trademark (registered or otherwise) or other intellectual proprietary rights, shall not, for the purposes of this Agreement, be deemed as an endorsement or acquiescence to any covenants herein or hereinafter entered into by either the Wishors, the Wishees or any of them, and that no infringement of said intellectual property rights is intended or should be inferred.


1. The Wishees accept the offer on terms and conditions stated in the Preamble to this Agreement, PROVIDED THAT such terms and conditions do not interfere with the lawful rights and interests of the Wishors;

2. The Wishees provide, as consideration for the offer as accepted, an offer to the Wishors upon the same terms and conditions as stated in the Preamble to this Agreement, and subject to the same rights, obligations, covenants and provisos as stipulated by the Wishors hereinbefore mentioned; and

3. The Wishees extend said offer to other persons not subject to privity of this contract, but who, as witnesses herein, agree to be bound by the same terms and conditions stipulated by the Wishors to the Wishees, and FURTHER PROVIDED THAT should any Third Parties included by operation of this paragraphfail to comply with said terms and conditions, herein incorporated by reference, that all offers made by said Wishees shall be voidable at the option of the Wishees, which voidability shall be subject only to the sole and unfettered discretion of the Wishees, and shall not be the subject of a defense by way of acquiescence, equitable estoppel or breach of fiduciary obligation.

4. All parties to and beneficiaries of this Agreement herein acknowledge that they have read and understood this Agreement in its entirety, and that they partake of and reap benefits of this Agreement freely and voluntarily, and hereby release and relinquish any right they may have as against the Wishors, the Wishees, or their respective heirs, assigns, successors and representatives, any right, whether in law or in equity, to damages or other equitable remedies arising out of an alleged fraud, misrepresentation, whether fraudulent or negligent, undue influence, coercion or duress or any other action in tort or contract which may arise directly or indirectly out of any such allegations.

5. Any provisions herein contained which are found void, voidable, illegal or unenforceable are severable from the remainder of this Agreement, and all other provisions not so found by a court of law or equity shall remain in full force and effect as a separate Agreement.

6. This Agreement constitutes the whole Agreement between and among the Wishors, the Wishees and any Third Parties incorporated by operation of this Agreement, and no modifications hereto shall be enforceable as against any such person unless said modification is shown to have existed prior to the assertion of such modification in a form written and agreed to in a manner similar to this Agreement by the parties against whom the modification is sought to be so enforced.

7. When in doubt, the butler did it.

{signed} This day,


Some Sandbox Clarifications

Apparently either more people read my blog than I thought, or there is a LOT of interest in the sandbox - (I suspect the latter).

There have been several people attempting to figure out how I was able to beat the sandbox, and since it's not really fair to announce an experiment and then say that the result is a secret, I'll open up a little here.

First, anyone who knows me knows I'm very free with information as a matter of course, but in this case I have been convinced by several people I trust that there is a significant commercial advantage to shutting my mouth (sorry - a guys gotta eat!). But I'll clarify some misconceptions and provide some hints, OK?

First, I'm currently redesigning my website for a reason completely unrelated to this experiment. I'm going to China this spring, and my Canadian Government clients are starting to want things in French, so I'm making the site international in flavor and adding several languages. Part of this process has resulted in my re-purposing the .us domain for a US specific area of my site. Therefore, following it now won't get you very far, directly. There will be some very interesting things indirectly, though. More on that later.

Here are the facts:

1. I have not tested this technique with a .com yet, so if there is a special rule for non-ccTLD's I have not tested it yet. I don't think so (it's more likely a competition issue) but I'm not sure. It's being tested right now, using completely different sites and domains.

2. There were no 302 redirects involved at all. Nor was there any scripting.

3. The technique requires one aged domain and one new one, but only one website is involved.

4. There are no methods used that are grey, much less black. No cloaks, IP detection, hidden redirects, etc. (I don't do that sort of thing).

5. I'm aware of 2 other methods that can deal with the sandbox - one using 302's invented by Scottie Claiborne and one involving a black hat technique. I'm not sure if anyone is using that one, but I'm even less likely to announce how to do it, as you can imagine! This is not an impossible problem, you just have to think things through. I have one more potential method that I haven't even tried yet. That's 4 methods that I know of already. I'm sure they are not the only ones.

6. One of the key issues to remember is that this is not some sort of evil plot to screw over new webmasters. It's a side effect of a relevancy algo. Remembering this helps you focus on where to look (and where not to!)

7. There is no magic bullet - no matter what method you use, there is work and planning involved. Sorry.

8. Hint 1: I discovered this while figuring out how to make websites localized.

9. Hint 2: although the sandbox affects entire domains, Google lists individual web pages. This discrepancy in behavior can be used to your advantage.

10. Hint 3: I had the original idea while writing my Redirects for SEO's series of articles.

That's all I can tell you. You now have 2 things in your favor: 1) you know it's possible (I didn't) and 2) you have the information above, which is a far smaller list of variables than I had to work with.

I'm interested in seeing who can figure this out, based on the above. Good Luck!


Sandbox Test Over

Well, I'm finished my sandbox test, and as near as I can tell my theory is correct - the sandbox can be avoided for if planned for properly.

It's been brought to my attention that this is commercially valuable information (I don't normally think in terms of hording information), so I'm afraid I won't be sharing all my data, but I am practicing what I preach on my own website.

If you are technically skilled, you'll be able to figure out what I did and why it worked from the previous 2 posts and by looking at my site.


Dotus: Beating the Sandbox

Well, it's been 29 days and I'm now ranking #4 for the keyword "dotus". I forget to check earlier, so I have no idea how long I've had the position. :(

There are no supplementary results near the listing, so it's not a "last gasp, desperation play" ranking.

I believe the sandbox effect can be accelerated, if you plan carefully and perform the right steps in the proper order, and I think this test is showing it.

Now I'll add some much more competitive words. This is where we really find out what's going on...


Google Sandbox Theory

I was writing a series of articles on Redirects for SEO's and part way through I was hit with an inspiration related to the Google Aging Delay and the Sandbox.

Personally, I think it makes a lot of sense, but I ran into a lot of "prove it" type resistance over at HR, so I guess I'm going to.

I don't believe in conspiracy theories and refuse to believe that the "sandbox" is some evil plot to screw over new webmasters. Therefore I'm testing my theory. If I'm right, this domain here:

Will tell me if I'm smoking drugs or not. Domain registered Oct 24, 2005, Anti-Sandbox test countdown begins now... ;)

NB: Please keep in mind that the sandbox article is based on an unproven theory, using a combination of redirect theory, quotes from Google engineers, the Historical Data Patent, a bunch of anecdotal evidence, and me sitting around thinking about it carefully. It's not proven - that's what the domain, and specifically the way I'm using it, is for.

Caveat Emptor


Google Sitemap is also an IBL link checker

I was installing a Google Sitemap on a client site today and came across a nifty feature that I haven't seen anyone mention yet.

Once you have uploaded the sitemap, it will come back with whether or not there has been an error. As long as there isn't, most people stop there. But there is a link right beside the sitemap in the control panel called "verify".

Being a cautious and curious sort, I decided that although there were no errors, and the sitemap had already been spidered, I'd verify it anyway. In order to do this you need to upload a fake file with a specific name, so that Google can verify that you actually have control over the site.

Once we did so, I was shown a screen that informed me that Google had trouble spidering the following 10 links, then listed them. The interesting thing is that not one of the links listed were in the sitemap!

This leads me to believe that this is a nifty method of checking broken or difficult IBL's to your site. Naturally, we are creating a 301 redirect for these links to deal with the lost traffic and PR...

Just thought I'd pass that along.


Blog Comment Legal Issues in the News

There is a new article out by Corilyn Shropshire (Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) inspired by the TP suit against Aaron Wall about the potential legal ramifications of comments in blogs against bloggers.

Since this is very much an interest of mine currently ;) , I'd like to look at the article. For the record, Corilyn did interview me.

The case has raised the ire of bloggers across the Internet, outraged and fearful that companies that don't like what is written about them can sue.

"This kind of thing raises my dander," said Ian McAnerin, a consultant and blogger who founded a search engine industry group, Search Marketing Association of North America. "The speed at which blogs are updated and comments can be made on them makes it very difficult to have editorial control," he added.

Mr. McAnerin said he expects more lawsuits like the one against Mr. Wall as the Internet and blogs become more commercial.

That worries what Mr. McAnerin calls "the little guy," individual bloggers without financial or corporate backing, such as Greg Jarboe. The Acton, Mass.-based blogger runs a search engine-focused marketing firm. "I have a blog, and I call them like I see them," said Mr. Jarboe. "I like to think it's my First Amendment right."

Just to be clear, I never mentioned Greg Jarboe (I didn't even know he had a blog) so although it looks like I used him as an example, I didn't. Nothing personal against Greg, but I prefer to not have words or references put into my mouth. It's possible it's just worded in such a way that I'm not interpreting it properly, but that's how I read it.

I'm still kind of annoyed at him for being the conduit for this drivel:

It is the policy of SEMPO not to comment on any legal cases pending, particularly those that do not directly involve our organization. This matter in particular will be decided under existing case law relating to freedom of speech, libel/slander, and contract law. There is no compelling reason for a nonprofit group with a mission of education and market expansion to become embroiled in a legal discussion unless there is a specific reason for it such as providing expert opinion on definitions or methodologies; and if we had been solicited, then we certainly wouldn’t be able to comment.

I didn't see SEMPO standing up for anyone earlier. So it's not an issue until they come knocking on your own door? Come on. That's just not right.

Having said those nitpicks, it's a pretty good article - too bad TP's lawyer never seems to respond to anything. I suppose it might be a case of "when you find yourself in a hole, stop digging and put down the shovel", but of course I don't know. Maybe it's a master plan or something...

The important part of the article, of course, is this issue:

Will bloggers be treated like newspaper reporters, protected by the First Amendment but subject to libel and defamatory laws, or will they be treated like common carriers," such as telephone companies, and not held liable for what other people write and say? Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act protects Internet service providers and Web sites from liability for information posted by third parties. But the courts have yet to decide if bloggers enjoy those same privileges. It's his job to convince the court, Mr. Stern said, that bloggers fall in the same category as Internet service providers and Web sites.

Naturally, I'm on the side of blogs being more of a "common carrier" than a "publisher". But it's kind of complicated. See, a blog is a bit of both.

When a blogger writes what they write as an article, they can't turn around and claim they can't be held responsible for their own words just because it's on a blog. Having a blog does not relieve you of taking responsibility for your own actions and words.

Now, of course there are all sorts of defenses such as Freedom of Speech (though that usually only applies to governments), fair comment, personal opinion, fact, discussion of a public figure, and so forth. These obviously apply to all bloggers and, indeed, all writers period - blog or not.

But there are 2 parts to a blog - the original blog entry made by (usually) the owner of the blog, and the comments by others about the entry. These comments are the sticking point, and the area of contention.

It boils down to this:

1. The blogging software company (ie Blogger, in my case) is clearly a common carrier under the law and isn't responsible for what a blogger writes, as they have very little control over it.

2. The blogger is clearly a publisher with regard to their own posts on their own blog. They have total control over what they say and how they say it.

3. The people making comments are a totally different issue. On one hand, you could argue that the blog owner can exert control over their posts. One the other hand, this isn't how it's normally done. - blog spam being a perfect example of the lack of control in this case.

It all boils down to control. Control equals responsibility, most of the time. The more control you have over the results, the more responsible you are for them.

Just because a common carrier *can* exercise control doesn't mean that they do, or should be expected to. If they did, they would probably lose their common carrier status.

So what about bloggers? Should they be expected to exert large levels of control over the comments in their blogs? See, it's not a case of exerting *some* control - it's unavoidable in some cases. But just because a common carrier will often act against an obvious spammer on their network doesn't mean that they are exercising enough control to stop being a common carrier. But it certainly makes it harder to draw the line.

Some have argued that there is a middle position, often called a "distributor". This is the equivalent of a newspaper stand that distributes the newspapers, but has no control over their content. The thinking was that the distributed is not liable unless they know that the publications they are carrying are libelous, at which point they would be required to remove them.

This sounds like it might be the appropriate approach to the comments (it's what TP may consider arguing), but it's not that simple.

First, the courts have held that there is no such thing as a special "distributor liability" - a distributor is just another kind of publisher. However, they have also acknowledged that if you had to check with your lawyer every single time someone complained on the internet about something, you'd go broke - it's just not feasible.

Further, the natural tendency for people in that position would be to simply ban everything, which would result in an unwanted "chilling effect" on speech. Since the reason for this effect would be the response to the law, the First Amendment became involved and things got messy.

"Any attempt to distinguish between 'publisher' liability and notice-based distributor' liability and to argue that Section 230 was only intended to immunize the former would be unavailing. Congress made no distinction between publishers and distributors in providing immunity from liability. As the Fourth Circuit has noted: '[I]f computer service providers were subject to distributor liability, they would face potential liability each time they receive notice of a potentially defamatory statement--from any party, concerning any message,' and such notice-based liability 'would deter service providers from regulating the dissemination of offensive material over their own services' by confronting them with 'ceaseless choices of suppressing controversial speech or sustaining prohibitive liability'--exactly what Congress intended to insulate them from in Section 230. Zeran v. America Online, Inc., 129 F.3d at 333. C.f. Cubby, Inc. v. Compuserve, Inc., 776 F.Supp. 135, 139-40 (S.D.N.Y. 1991) (decided before enactment of Communications Decency Act)."

So, now we are at Section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act. Feel free to read it for yourself. First, the relevant passage is:

Treatment of publisher or speaker. No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.

Sounds great! What exactly does that mean? Well, clearly the lynchpin in the passage is the term "provider" If I'm not responsible because I'm just providing what some other provider created then I'm home free. So we need to know what a provider is in context of this act, and then see how that would apply to a commenter in a blog.

Let's look at the definition of "provider" then:

Information content provider. The term "information content provider" means any person or entity that is responsible, in whole or in part, for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet or any other interactive computer service.

Hmmm... Anyone responsible for the creation or development of information provided through the Internet sounds like "anyone posting their own stuff on the internet". In view of the fact that internet forums were firmly in mind (AOL and Prodigy specifically) when this was passed, I think that's a reasonable interpretation.

The law is also clear that only publishers and speakers are liable - not common carriers, etc. I think everyone can agree that the poster is also the publisher of their own posts.

"User of an interactive computer service" pretty clearly includes website users, I think.

So, to do a cut and replace, that would imply that this passage means:

"No poster or website user shall be liable for information provided by another poster."

I think that pretty clearly spells out the rules for blog comments.

My opinion,


Marketing vs SEO

A search engine attempts to identify whether your content is relevant by comparing it to all the other potentially relevant documents for that term.

It has no choice, since it doesn't understand English, French, Chinese or whatever the documents happen to be written in - it just counts words and compares results.

The net result is that a search engine will define "relevant" as something that talks about a subject in the same manner that other sites on the subject talk about it. It then relies on link analysis to sort it out from there.

The good news is that this identifies most spam fairly quickly, and also identifies on-topic documents pretty well.

The bad news is that spam written using pseudo-natural syntax will often pass the relevancy filter, and very well written information that approaches a subject from a different angle than normal, or uses more technical or less well known words to describe a subject may be judged as less relevant, when in fact it might be far superior.

In the case of the far superior content, although it would get dinged as originally being less relevant, the search engine will attempt to take into account human opinion by looking at links. This is why links will often trump content. The search engine is hoping to reward exceptional material it can't understand simply by comparing it to its peers.

This is a built in limitation of using a computer to do search - it rewards mediocrity in the content because mediocrity is easier to measure.

Basically, the larger the data-set, the more confident you are in your conclusion. The largest data set comes from the largest pool - i.e. the "average". Therefore your content is judged based on comparing it to the average, rather than the spectacular. This works well for content that is inherently informative, but not so well for content that is inherently creative in nature.

This type of analysis worked very well back when the searching on the web was primarily for information. However, when commercial sites came along, so did marketing.

Marketing is inherently creative. Great marketing is distinguished by not following the norm. Great marketing doesn't pay much attention to search engine algorithms; it attempts to speak to the consumers needs and dreams.

This is a problem for SEO's and one reason why the best SEO's are generally creative people, not technicians or search scientists. They need to work with both sides of the equation - the technical side gets you rankings and visitors, but the side that speaks to people's souls also speaks to their wallets.

Therefore a good SEO will attempt to compensate for this problem by using one or more methods:

1. First, the SEO will attempt to make the document match the relevancy criteria the search engine is looking for simply by adding in keywords and related terms and phrases. In short, use "natural" writing combined with knowledge of keywords and search engine behavior.
This works most of the time because a great many relevant pieces of content are solid information pieces, not artistic masterworks. You can make solid information SEO friendly while maintaining (and usually improving) the writing. This is where a good SEO copywriter really shines.

The very best can take information and make it speak to a consumers needs and dreams while still being search engine friendly, but it's an art, not a science.

2. If the document can't be changed, or if it would be a crime against common sense to do so (for example, taking someone’s poetry and making it "seo-friendly" would ruin it - it would no longer be the same poem) then you have to be more creative and work with titles, anchor text, linking, and so forth in order to compensate for the search engine's inability to appreciate the work's artistic merits. This requires a more technical SEO approach.

The best ranking sites match a search engines expectation for what a good site should be. The best converting sites match the consumer’s expectations for what a good site would be. The best SEO's understand this and work to accomplish both goals at the same time.


Searching For the Perfect Bride at

My good friend, Barry Schwartz (aka Rustybrick) is well known on the SEO forums. Today he also made internet history by being the first person to propose (to his girlfriend Yisha Tversky) using a search engine, thanks to the great people over at Ask.

So she does the search and bam!, up comes that result that asks her to marry me. At that time, while I kneel behind her, I pull out flowers and the diamond ring from the surrounding draws. She turns the swivel chair around and I ask her to marry me.

Awwww... Ultra-sweet :) And very cool. There have been lots of cases of people bidding on someones name to send them a message (we did that over at the High Rankings forum to wish Mike Grehan a happy birthday) and of course, people have been bidding or optimizing on other people's names in order to connect to a market (or complain) almost since the beginning of search engines, but this takes it to a whole new level.

The full story is on the Yisha and Barry wedding site.

There are 2 different searches that bring up different information on Ask. If you type in rustybrick engagement you'll get a very nice information spot:

And if you type in Yisha Tversky you'll get the original proposal:

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank the Ask/Teoma team for helping out with this - you guys rock!

Many good wishes to the happy couple - looks like you've found who you've been searching for after all! :)


New Search Engine Share Chart

I've updated my search engine share chart to reflect the latest information. I started with logs from my own sites and then augmented them with some information from Search Engine Watch. Enjoy.


Traffic Power Lawsuit, Blogging, and the SMA-NA

A lot of people have been wondering about the recent lawsuit against Aaron Wall (seobook) and others by a company called Traffic Power (aka TP, First Place, 1P, etc).

Although I can't answer all the questions, I do have a few thoughts to share. I recently activated comments on my blog (see previous post) and have been doing some thinking as to whether it's a good idea or not, which got me thinking about Aaron's blog and Traffic Power.

The Background:

Traffic Power is an SEO firm based on Las Vegas, Nevada that is pretty infamous in SEO circles. In addition to cold calling and high pressure telemarketing, which annoys people on principle (it's basically "phone spam") they have been shown to practice techniques both directly on their unsuspecting clients websites and also on associated websites intended to funnel traffic and link weight to their clients websites that are considered "high risk" techniques - aka "black hat" or search engine spam.

You'd think that wouldn't be an issue, since many SEO's use similar techniques, and have for years. The problem is, there is currently only one real cardinal sin in the SEO world - getting an uninformed client banned from the search engine you were trying to increase their rankings for.

It's generally considered professional negligence. Kind of like killing your patient or designing a building that collapses under it's own weight. Everyone with even a limited knowledge of SEO knows that doing certain things can/will get you banned or penalized. It's not just expert-level knowledge, it's general knowledge.

Now, sometimes people will deliberately use tactics that are risky and likely to result in a penalty or a ban on websites that they don't care about ("throwaway domains") in exchange for the short term gains that can be made. In these cases, however, the client is fully informed of the risks and the tactics are not practiced on the "real" domain. You basically create sites that are cannon fodder and protect the main site. Even the most notorious SEO spammers are careful about this - you never, ever put your client's flagship site at risk without full client knowledge and consent, particularly if you hold yourself out as a professional SEO offering your services to the public.

Further, you don't spam unless you feel it's absolutely necessary, as opposed to defaulting to it as a matter of course, regardless of the actual competitiveness of the site. Most of us (like me) don't spam at all. Ever.

To make a long story short, apparently Traffic Power acquired a whole bunch of clients by cold calling people with very little clue about SEO, then proceeded to get a whole bunch of them banned from Google due to various known high risk techniques, whether the site "needed" them or not. Google was able to detect this around June 2004 and removed the offending sites from it's database (banned them) en masse.

Naturally, this caused some concern by the people involved. Complaints to TP resulted in emails in return saying everything from "it was a glitch in Googles index" to a much more enlightening quote by a TP business developer (Powers) who was quoted saying to a client that the client failed to understand that getting banned by Google is part of the business. Powers said Google's bylaws are in a constant state of flux because companies like Traffic Power figure out ways to beat them at their own game. Besides, he said Google can't dictate how he operates:

"Google can kiss my ass," Powers said. "This is the wild wild west. As they [Google] get hip to a trick, they change their rule. Google cannot control my business."

While TP was claiming that Google didn't control their business, many of TP's clients were complaining of TP controlling theirs - by getting them banned. TP has the unique distinction of being one of the most complained about companies in the Las Vegas BBB. Currently, the BBB reports that they cannot verify that that TP has a valid business license, and further states that:

This company has failed to eliminate the underlying cause of consumer dissatisfaction.

... then links to Googles webmaster guidelines.

In short, they have a poor reputation with both the SEO community and the Better Business Bureau. Do a quick search on any major search engine for their name and you will see what I mean.

Recently, they have apparently begun to address this by threatening to sue people. I'm not certain how (or if) that is intended to improve their reputation, but I'm also not too sure about their ability to think clearly in the first place, so I can't really comment on it's effectiveness at this time. I do know that some people have removed materials under threats of a lawsuit by TP, so I suppose it works in at least some cases.

In July of this year (2005), Aaron Wall was served with a notice that he was being sued by Traffic Power. He contacted several people, including myself, to get some opinions and thoughts as to what to do next. That's when I got involved.

The Current Situation

I like Aaron personally. And freely admit to holding the same opinion of TP as the rest of the SEO industry. I was more than happy to help him out on a personal basis, but this is a bigger issue. See, Aaron was being sued primarily because of comments made on his blog by other people!

This is a big problem for the SEO community and the blogger community as a whole. See, a blog consists of 2 parts - the "article" part and the "comments" part. Up until recently, I only had the "articles" part of this blog activated, mainly because I hate blog spam and travel a lot, so I was not comfortable letting people post comments on my site without my knowledge and control.

However, the fun (and, some say, purpose) of a blog is to allow people to comment on what you've written. It helps explore issues, provides an opportunity to build a community, and many other, generally positive things. That's why the commenting part of blog software exists and why it's considered different than just a website or a CMS (Content Management System), though you can make it do those things in a pinch.

Every blogger has their own rules for comments. Some don't allow them, some allow a free for all. That's not the norm, though. By not allowing comments, you are missing the point of a blog, and by allowing a free-for-all, you are diluting it's value. Most bloggers are rugged individualists, opinion-wise, and generally excercise very little editorial control over the blog - basically, if it's on topic (Or at least not spam or abusive) at first glance, you let it go without looking at it too closely. Many comments sections in blogs have entire conversations in them that are barely on topic.

In general, the existence of a particular comment in a blog does not mean that the owner exercised editorial control over it being there, it means that it's there because an (often) anonomous person posted it, and there was no pressing and apparent need to remove it for being off-topic. Usually, if you disagree with something someone says in your blog you post a response in your own comments section, rather than remove it or edit it.

In short, the blogger usually acts as a "carrier" rather than a "publisher" or "editor" of blog comments. The normal assumption is that people are responsible for their own comments, not the owner.

The TP suit goes against this idea and basically attempts to treat blogs as newspapers that edit and exercise control over their writers and content. Anyone who has been a victim of blog spam knows that's nonsense.

It would be very bad, IMO, if that interpretation took hold in law. It would be like being at a party, making a comment, then being sued, not for your comment, but for the comments of people in response!

On this basis, I felt it was a key issue, and a serious one affecting the internet as a whole. As such, I discussed it with the other paid members of the SMA-NA at the time and decided it would be best to see what we could do about this on behalf of the SEO and Blogger industry.

It helps that I have a background in law. That's not to say I'm a lawyer (I went into the private sector directly after law school) but I can speak the language and understand the basic principles.

Since the lawsuit was based in Nevada, I talked to Aaron and got his approval to help out on behalf of the SMA-NA. Then I went to one of the best law firms (IMO) in the state - Jones Vargas, whom I've worked with before, and contacted Ariel Stern, an all-around nice guy. Unlike TP's lawyer, who apparently specializes in bankruptcy law, Ariel is an actual litigator.

I told Ariel I was contacting him behalf of the SMA-NA for the purposes of helping Aaron, and educated him on the issues and why we felt that this was a bigger issue than just one blogger. Ariel agreed and accepted a retainer that was about half of the normal estimate under the circumstances. Combined with the people who have been generously donating to Aarons cause, I felt this was a good development.

Next, I contacted Aaron and put the two in touch with each other. Aaron has now retained JV and they have already managed to move the case from state level to federal level, which is a much better position to be in. Naturally, JV's primary duty and goal is to serve the best interests of their client, but is well aware of the bigger picture for bloggers (I pound it home every time I talk to them) and will no doubt keep that in mind while organizing the defense.

The Future

This past week, by coincidence, I was in Las Vegas to give a couple of seminars to a bunch of law firms about SEO for FindLaw, which went well.

As a matter of fact, it went so well that I was able to accomplish two other goals for the SMA-NA (and Aaron).

First, my fellow speaker was the renowned lawyer/blogger Dennis Kennedy, which was a happy coincidence I could hardly allow to pass by :)

When Ariel phoned me later that day (we were going to meet up, but some sudden work got in the way) and started asking me some details about blogs, I realized that I just had an expert on legal issues and blogs sitting next to me!. I've put the two in touch, which will hopefully be helpful. Dennis knows almost all the lawyers who have blogs and is very well known, and I imagine they may have something to say about TP claiming they are liable for comments, etc. ;)

This should be fun. I like fireworks...

The second thing I accomplished was that it was pretty clear that SEO's and bloggers sometimes need legal help (I get questions all the time, for example). So I talked to the fine folks at FindLaw and we are in the process of working out the details on providing methods of connecting experienced internet lawyers to SMA-NA members, in addition to providing other legal resources, advice and benefits.

Once we work out the exact details, I'll use that as a template to approach lawyers in Canada and Mexico so that any SMA-NA member anywhere in North America (or any SMA member worldwide who needs legal help from within North America) will be able get it.


Comments Added

With much hesitance, I've turned on comments to this blog. They haven't been on until this point because I *hate* comment spammers and those immature idiots who come out of the woodwork in many blogs for no purpose other than to troll.

On the other hand, I really am interested in genuine comments, information, and criticism from real people with real opinions, so I'm going to take a leap of faith and push this little button. Please don't prove me wrong.

Some rules:

Any comment bringing up Nazis to make a point will be treated as someone who has run out of real arguments (unless the subject is legitimately about Nazis, of course)

Link drops "Nice blog. Good Comments. Visit my sites." will be deleted without mercy or warning.

Being mean to people just for the sake of being mean is called trolling, not "using my first amendment rights"

The First Amendment does not apply to this blog because 1) I'm not a representative of the US government and 2) I'm a Canadian :p

uhhhh... I think that's it. I'm looking forward to hearing from you!


Search Engine Friendly Titles

I get asked about what type of title one should use for SEO on pages a lot. Some people argue that you should brand your company in the titles. Others say you should focus on your keywords.

They are both wrong. And both right. Let me explain.

Given that:

1) For search engine purposes, keywords first in the title are the way to go
2) For branding, company first is the way to go
3) For repeat visitors who did not bookmark you, your company name IS a keyword
4) Bookmarks should make sense, and come from titles
5) The overarching reason for a home page to show up is usually links and anchor text (not your title)
6) The overarching reason for inner pages to show up is usually content (including your title)

I usually do this for clients:

1) HOME PAGE: use the company name first, followed by the most generic keywords in the home page title. It's bookmarked most often and is the page people want when they search for your company.

ie: Widgets 'R Us - Your widget source.

2) MAIN PAGES: use the page contents (ie keywords) first and add the company name at the end for most inner pages

ie Widget FAQ by Widgets 'R Us

3) SHOPPING / INFORMATION PAGES: for sales/shopping pages, I'll often leave off the company name completely, since a search for a "blue acme mark VII" is not usually by someone who cares about the company at this point.

ie widget 259 - blue

Basically, I follow what consumers look for in a typical search: first, they ask educate themselves using already trusted resources (ie home page branding), then they research information and develop preferences (information combined with branding), then they look to purchase a specific item (match the title to the search).

Research shows that keyword type titles convert better, because they attract searchers at the end of the shopping cycle. This is the best approach for PPC campaigns - you don't want to pay for the window shoppers.

But I disagree with the premise that this is the only time you want to attract visitors for an organic campaign. Building up your branding and trust can have a very big difference in the eventual purchase, especially if it's an expensive one, or one that involves service and personal communication of some sort.

In short, I agree that keyword specific titles work, but only for the shopping pages. Branding matters on the pages where education and research (ie all that content you've been adding) are the primary goals.

So, brand your research and education pages, and focus on connecting a specific search to a specific page for sales and conversion pages.

SMA-NA Monkey Love???

My collegue and friend, Rand Fishkin (aka randfish) of posted a note encouraging people to join the Search Marketing Association of North America (SMA-NA), but apparently drew the ire of the, uhhhh... "Sex with Monkeys Association - No Apes (SMA-NA) in the process.

I can assure you that I take speciesism seriously and will get to the bottom of this barrel of monkeys ASAP. Further, we have notified the SPCA and will carefully monitor the effects of search engine professionals on simian sexuality from here on ;)

Note Passed on to me from Rand Follows:

Dear Mr. Rand,

I've found your blog to consistently be a worthwhile tool, and as someone who's continually struggling in the rankings, I appreciate your advice and insight. As a longtime fan of your work, you can imagine my joy at seeing the title of your post today - "Join the SMA-NA".

However, upon further reading, I was met with rather crushing disappointment.

As you may likely know, I am both the founder and reigning king of the "Sex with Monkeys Association - No Apes", and our flagship chapter, located in Clearwater, Florida, is already 16 members strong, having grown steadily since our inception in April, 2003.

Sadly, we have no other chapters. But 16 members, paired with a dozen little Capuchins - well, I don't need to tell you that there are times when I think that the human to monkey ratio is far too low...

Naturally, we've had our share of critics, of staunchy right-wing bigots who want to prevent us from making love to monkeys. They realize neither the fine, nuanced joy of making love to a Simian, nor the inherent beauty that these animals posess.

I especially like their little fuzzy genetalia.

But we struggle against persecution, as radical-thinking, brave progressives must. We are martyrs. We've come to accept it. We continue with our message and our mission. Naturally, the field of SEO is important to us for this exact reason - we must get our message out, must find others who share our beliefs and who are willing to join in our crusade.

I've worked incredibly hard to get SMA-NA ranking well on Google, Yahoo!, and MSN search. So you can imagine my reaction when I see you so blantantly toss a link to our homophonic nemesis, our arch-doppelganger, the Search Marketing Association of North America. And offer them business to boot!

We personally offer services that are every bit worthwhile as the other (or as I call them, the fraudulent) SMA-NA, but do we get any free listings? Any huge incentive for visitors of your site to later head to ours?

Apparently not.

Rot in hell, Mr. Rand, for not being able to appreciate the sweetness that is monkey love. Then again, if you lack something like that in your life, you are perhaps already in hell...

Horatio Algiers

Consent, SEO and the Search Engine TOS

"I never consented to Googles TOS, therefore it doesn't apply to me"

I must take exception to that statement.

I never consented to being born, but still feel I have a right to live
I never consented to be a citizen of my country (I was born here - no consent) yet the laws of the nation apply to me.
I never consented to war, famine, crime or a host of other things that nonetheless affect me and my life

I never signed anything regarding any of the above. I never took an oath until I joined the military, and later became an officer of the court.

On the flip side, for certain things consent IS necessary - if I don't consent to a squeegie bum to "wash" my windows, there is no obligation on my part to pay him, for example.

But, if I ask that squeegie bum to wash my window, then consent was made and the obligation exists.

Those are the two extremes. But what if I knowingly drive my car to a place where that squeegie bum is working, and allow him to clean the windows with the intention of taking advantage of those clean windows?

This creates an implied consent and therefore not paying is fraudulent and unethical. Implied consent also exists when you are born (you are assumed to consent to being born). There have actually been cases where people, unhappy with their lives, have sued their parents for creating them, saying there was no consent. The courts have always held that the advantages and opportunities afforded a living person override the drawbacks to such an extent that it would be irrational to withold consent, therefore consent is implied.

When you open a website to the public, that act of creation is considered consent to public visitors. If you don't want public visitors, then you must either not create a website, or you must lock it down with logins. People have argued that they posted their website but did not consent for anyone to visit (it was for personal use only) but they have always lost. Consent is implied through their actions and choices.

It would be the same as changing your clothes in the middle of a public park and then complaining about people "invading your privacy. By choosing that venue, your consent is implied. You can stand there yelling that you are not consenting until you are blue in the face, but your actions speak louder than your words, and it's unfair on the public to allow your words to control their behaviour at your whim. In this case, consent is not only implied, it is forced. This is an important concept. A persons mental vagaries, insanities and whims do not always control the concept of consent. Nor can you claim a lack of consent for the purpose of taking advantage of others. Consent applies to YOU, not others. It only affects others in relation to you, and then their own consent comes into play, as well.

Use of web technology implies consent to access from the web unless that consent if specifically denied.

Lets move on to search engines. Search engines automate public access via the web. They don't use back doors (without permission - you need to sign up for and consent to trusted feeds)

Therefore, as long as public access is used, a search engine visitor has implied consent to visit and index, unless that permission is deliberately withdrawn. Just like a human could visit and rank a bunch of sites, only faster.

But so far this only means that you have consented to SE's visiting and indexing, not to their TOS, right. After all, if I make a TOS that says that every site I visit is now owned by me, you are certainly not consenting to it just because I visit, there must be something more.

I suspect this is the crux of your arguement. Fine. Now that I've (hopefully) laid down the framework for consent, lack of consent, and implied consent, let's apply it to a search engine TOS, shall we?

We have established that you are NOT bound by the TOS of a visitor - they are bound by yours, though there are rules as to how much can be bound. For example, if you run a warez site and put in your TOS that law enforcement officers and their agents are not allowed in, don't expect that to make any difference at all - contracts don't override criminal law - they never have.

Ok, so a visit by Googlebot does not require you to suddenly comply with their TOS, anymore than a visit from me requires you to comply with my TOS.

So what good is a TOS? Well, it's when you use or visit a website that the TOS comes into play. If you use a search engine to generate ranking reports or do searches, then you are clearly using their site and therefore fall under their TOS for the duration of your visit.

So Googles TOS doesn't matter when they use you, but does when you use them.

So where does SEO fit? This is a more difficult area because when you do things to your site, you are not, at that time, bound by any TOS but your own, by definition. You can't spam yourself, because you have implied consent from yourself to do whatever you want (if that makes sense).

The only way Googles TOS would apply to a website other than itself would be if that site was using Google for something.

"Use" implies a positive force or decision. If you have a website but don't know what a search engine is and don't particularly care about traffic from it, then you are not "using" Google, anymore than you are "using" the squeegie guy in the above example. It's just something that is happening without your express or implied consent. There are several search engines that I've NEVER looked at or optimized for. I don't feel bound by their TOS in the slightest. I don't know what it is, and I don't care. Many of them are run by spammers and I have no intention of helping them in any way, or by being bound by their rules. They can include me or ban me as they wish, and it's not an ethical, moral, or legal issue for me to not care.

But, what if I deliberately did something to my site with the express intent of increasing my rankings for a particular search engine? At this point, I am "using" their engine, in that I am manipulating known controlling factors with the express intent of changing the traffic levels and rankings, then taking advantage of that traffic to my own benifit.

At this point, you are knowingly using and intending to be benifiting from the service, and therefore consent is implied. This implied consent is just as strong as your implied consent to be a citizen of your country, and therefore to be bound by it's laws. Try wiggling out of that one day (without leaving the country) and see how far you get. Implied consent is just as strong as overt consent, once the consent has been established ( the difference between "implied" and "overt" is in the "establishing" stage, not the "consent" stage)

There have, of course, always been people who claimed that they were not doing any such thing (like being an SEO and claiming that you don't care about your Google rankings, and therefore are not bound by it's TOS).

This is treated by looking at your actions, rather than your words. The courts have lots of experience with the "I didn't mean to do it" type of defences and look with some cynicism towards people going through the effort of knowlingly doing things that benifit them and then claiming that they didn't mean to benifit and it was all a "happy coincidence".

In short, an SEO is, automatically by his or her own actions and intents, bound by the TOS of the search engines they use and intend to benifit from. The process of SEO creates the implied consent to being bound to the TOS.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO) = an obligation to obey the TOS of the engines you are optimizing for and implied consent to the same.


Header and Meta tags - The Scoop

Here is a quick list of the most common tags in a header and their SEO worth

title Very important. Don't leave your home page without it

meta name="description" Used for descriptions by directories and search engines, but no direct ranking value. Good to have, though.

meta name="keywords" Only used by some engines for inclusionary purposes only. Extremely limited use, and none for rankings.

meta name="copyright" No SEO value, good idea legally though

meta name="robots"Default behavior for an SE is "index,follow", so unless you want something different this is a waste of time. Can affect rankings by removing site from indexing. Can't add your site or force a visit though. The same applies to specific robots being mentioned, such as Googlebot.

meta http-equiv="pics-label" Only used for voluntary content ratings. No SE ranking value, but helps identify and exclude sites when a searcher uses Safe Search or similar.

meta http-equiv="expires" Not used by search engines unless expires=0, at which point they will not cache, as far as I know

The following are a waste of time and/or bad for you

meta equiv="refresh" Usually a bad idea - use a proper 301 instead.

meta name="distribution" Waste of time - intranet only

meta name="author" Ego purposes only outside of an intranet

meta name="generator" Not useful for search engines, is sometimes used by your web development tool (FrontPage is infamous for it)

meta name="revisit" No value at all. Does nothing.

meta name="vw.96" No value unless you own a Volkswagon, live in BC, and it's the years 1996-1998. Just dumb.

meta name="city" This Geotag, along with similar ones, are only used by Gigablast - no other use.

meta name="geo.region" Same as above, but not used by anyone major.

meta equiv="keywords" Using the http-equiv for things like keywords and description is a complete waste of time. Improper usage.

meta name="DC.title" Dublin Core only - no use for internet search engines. Same with DC.description

All Other Dublin Core tags: Same - no use outside of an intranet with a custom SE that uses them.

Here is an easy to use metatag and header generator, as well as more information.


MIsspelling Research - Google Results!

I started the Keyword Misspelling Research on June 4, 2005 and it's now June 9, 2005 - Google already has results (nice going, guys! ) The other 3 search engines have not even indexed a single page yet. :(

The keyword misspelling test contains the following pages:

(All searches using Google)

Page 1: Main Page. Contains all three words in body text, title and keyword metatag, and I will link to it using the misspellings, as well. It should show up for all three versions.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 2: The proper word is used in the content and title, but with no mention of misspellings anywhere, and is not linked with misspellings. This is the control page. It should not show up for any misspellings unless the search engine stems or makes a decision to include a misspelling for it's own reasons.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Page 3: The keyword misspellings are used in image "alt" tags only (unlinked)

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 4: The keyword misspellings are used in image "alt" tags only (linked)

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 5: The keyword misspellings are used in the keywords metatag only

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Page 6: The keyword misspellings are used in noscript only

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 7: The keyword misspellings are used within object only

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Page 8 : The keyword misspellings are used in incoming anchor text only (no on-page use)

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: No Result *** I'll check this later to be sure

Page 9: The keyword misspellings are used in the title only

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 10: The page path (i.e. domain name/directory test) contains the misspellings, but the content does not.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
altwriten: Result

Page 11: The misspellings are hidden using CSS within the body.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: Result
ltwriten: Result

Page 12: The misspellings are within comments only.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Page 13: The misspellings are only within a Dublin Core tag intended for the purpose.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Page 14: The misspellings are within a bookmark (ie") link on the same page, but not otherwise on the page.

altwrittén: Result
altwritten: No Result
altwriten: No Result

Conclusions For Google

One interesting thing is the order that Google listed these in, though I wasn't testing for it. Feel free to check the listings and draw your own conclusions.All pages in the test are indexed and show up for the control word. At this time they are the ONLY pages that show up - which is good for this test.

  • Contrary to popular belief - Google apparently checks and indexes unlinked alt tags. There is another possible explanation - I deliberately used the misspellings as the image file names - I'll check this in the next round. Inconclusive.

  • Google does NOT index the keyword metatag or other metatags like Dublin Core.

  • Google will index misspellings in the filename and URL, but not bookmarks (which are technically part of the URL)

  • Google indexes hidden CSS
  • Google does NOT index comments

  • Google will index noscript, but did not index misspellings in the object tag. This was not the ordinary usage of alt text within an object, but a custom experiment, which has now provided me with useful (though negative) data.

  • There was absolutely no indication that Google will expand it's search to include an "e" when a search term includes an "é".


Keyword Misspelling Research

I'm doing some research right now to test how the various search engines handle misspellings. I've chosen the word altwrittén as the test subject for a variety of reasons, first and formost because it contains 2 opportunities to misspell it: altwritten and altwriten.

I'll share the data with you when I get it.

Content is the Linking King!?

One of the reasons that I prefer adding content to other link building methods is that, done properly, it combines so many of the other methods at the same time. You simply get more "bang for your buck".

Let me explain. Here are just some some of the link building methods that can be used while adding content:

1. Content invites IBL's and natural deep links. People will link to really good (or really controversial) content. They usually don't link to mediocre content. This is as natural as it gets.

2. Content adds internal backlinks. When you add content to your site, you are adding additional internal linking opportunities. I once moved a client in a very competitive search term from nowhere to number 2 on Google simply by removing an "s" from one of the words in his navigation structure - the sheer number of pages in his site containing that nav structure did the rest for me. In this case, the search term was "widget" but he had placed "widgets" in the navigation structure.

3. Content provides marketing opportunities. Adding, for example, some unique research to your site provides not only the content for your site, but also provides an opportunity to do a press release or article about the research (or both). This is usually accompanied by a link.

4. Content increases your ability to capture niche phrases. Even a low link weight page that is, nonetheless, focussed on a niche keyphrase can bring in very valuable traffic.

5. Content allows you to focus and funnel PR and other forms of link weight. If you hardly have any pages, then your ability to funnel link text, PR, etc to certain pages or areas of your site is severely limited. If you have enough content, you can use the structure of your site to focus on marketing opportunities.

6. Content can allow you to get multiple listings for the same site. If you focus and organize your content into discrete catagories, you can often find that a vertical hobby directory that would never list your flower shop may very well list your sub-section on flower arranging. DMOZ policy, for example, also allows multiple listings for the same site IF the content is sufficiently unique to justify it. Wiki and encyclopedia listings are an example of this.

7. Content can get you a more visible, stronger listing. For example, if you have content that provides useful and unique information on a city, then you will find yourself listed in the city section of the directory. If you have it for multiple cities, then you can get the state area (which is usually higher and has more link weight), if you have several states, then you can get the country wide listing, which is yet higher on the link weight scale. If you had just tried to focus a few pages of content on "country-wide" stuff, the liklyhood of your site getting listed at that (or any) level is remote at best. The wider the base, the higher the pyramid. Directories use a pyramid structure (hint).

8. Content allows you to talk about the same subject in different ways. You can have a stuffy, "official" tone of voice for most of your site, but that may limit it's appeal for certain groups of searchers, and limit the types of keywords you can use. By adding chatty, informal articles or user reviews and feedback, you can increase the potential range of your audience reach.

9. Content attracts and converts. People are more likely to trust a site with more content than the infamous "web brochure". People are more likely to link to sites with more content than sites that don't. Content not only attracts and converts buyers, it attracts and converts linkers.

10. Content differentiates. If you are selling the ACME Mark VII and so is everyone else in your niche, or worse, you have an affiliate site, then your ability to attract links is severly hampered by the fact that good directories don't link to the same content over and over again. Good search engines also do not display the same content over and over again. Go ahead and sell that Mark VII, but add unique content that avoids duplication filters and encourages people to link to you. You may even find that your competitors will get bumped lower (or off) if your content is better than theirs. People link to different points of view, not the same point of view (or information) over and over again. Want to get into a competitive directory category? Offer a series of well thought out content that "goes against the flow" of the rest of the sites in that topic area. It's an editors job to seek out and add that kind of information, NOT to help people list their "me too" site.

The reason that "content is king" is because it not only affects your relevance (content and keywords) but ALSO your authority (links).


SEO is Dead... Long Live SEO!

I'm Old.

Well, not THAT old, but old enough to remember that newfangled "desktop publishing" craze, followed by the hosting craze followed by the web design craze and now followed by the SEO craze.

I think there are some similarities, if you will be kind enough to follow along with me.

There comes a point with almost every technology based skill set where it dies, merges with something else, or becomes specialized. Sometimes all three. It's the nature of the beast, and part and parcel with progress.

When desktop publishing came along, I was still manually typing news stories into a Linotype machine, having it printed in a big roll by a custom print shop, then using an Exacto knife to cut the roll into columns, and pasting them onto a big, newspaper sized board. If there was a spelling error we painfully cut out individual letters and corrected them letter by letter (not a job for the clumsy!). For photos, we had to send things off to a PMT shop to turn the photograph into dots, which was after we took the photo in black and white and developed it in our own darkroom. Turnaround time for even small changes was measured in hours or days.

Then along came this little Macintosh computer with an 8"x8" inch black and white screen, a program called Pagemaker, and the joy of Adobe, a fairly unknown company that specialized mostly in fonts . And a laser printer! Suddenly, all the skill needed for the old process went out the window, and the skills needed for the new one were far easier to attain, with better and faster results.

The next thing you know, it seemed like everyone was a "desktop publisher". You would see signs up on lampposts, ads in newspapers and so forth. It was the high time of public publishing. And with it came some severe growing pains. People with no training, a love of technology and a desire to get rich quick began calling themselves "desktop publishers" and there began a severe decline in a lot of skills in the industry. The same skilled people were still there, but were drowned out by those who would use 12 font types on the same page, had no color sense, and switched clip art styles with gleeful abandon.

The promise of "publishing for the people" quickly became claims that publishing was a dead art, and there was a lot of evidence to support it. But that didn't happen. Why? Because, to use a Darwinian metaphor, the weak were eaten.

Technology didn't stop at Pagemaker and laser printers. The DTP programs became cheaper and easier to use, laser printers became cheaper, newfangled "inkjet" printers became common, and WYSIWYG came to word processing (boy, did THAT cause an uproar! You are not supposed to mix content and presentation, didn't you know )

Suddenly, almost anyone could do simple DTP. It was so simple that no one would pay the so-called DTP types to do something for a lot of money that they could do better and for free/cheap. Most DTP types left for greener pastures.

But some stayed, the best ones. And they formed dedicated shops with high quality printers and demanded the highest quality skill sets in design and typography. Today, they flourish. I don't think twice about printing my own documents off, but I go to a printer for my business cards, rather than use an inkjet, for example.

In short, while it was happening, it looked like technology had created a new industry. In hindsight, it actually transformed the old one into something new.

The same type of thing happened to website hosting. At first, you needed expert knowledge in ISDN modem technology, and the technical skills required to keep a server running and connected were huge. It was a time for highly skilled technicians. Then along came linux packages and apache, internet connections became cheaper, and front ends made things easier. Suddenly "everyone" was a web host. Turns out that it's not so easy to make money if your skills are marginal, you don't invest a lot, and the competition is extremely intense.

Once again, what happened was that a lot of low end hosting is now done in-house, and when people go outside, they look for companies with multiple dedicated redundant connections, tons of technology, and extremely competent staff. The middle men have mostly died out, and spend a lot of time either bottom feeding or offer it was a part of a much larger package of services. The days of the "web host" operating from his basement are over. There are a few holdouts (like me, and I'm slowly allowing attrition to get rid of my clients) but most are gone.

I can see web design going the same way (it's near the tail end) and I believe SEO is heading there right now. It's almost time for the shakedown. 2 years tops.

I predict, based of previous experience, that a lot of what people call "SEO" today will disappear and simply become part of the web design toolset. The so-called "SEO's" that offer to "fix your metatags", who believe that you can achieve long term goals by running a script you bought (as if no one else will buy the same script!) and so forth, will move on to the Next Big Thing (thank god!) and those that have true skills will consolidate and specialize.

A lot of the basic stuff will be done by users, software programs will come "out of the box" with spider friendly designs and tools, and most of the low end "easy fix" stuff will be done by web designers and owners.

I suspect, for example, most of the members of this forum are not "SEO's" but rather people learning how to do SEO for their own sites and maybe to use the basics for their design clients. And good for them! I think they will be the agents of destruction for the pseudo-seos that most people complain about today. Not any kind of "ethical revolution" or central organization. Pure Darwinian selection of the simple and effective over the expensive and weak.

However, the skills necessary to do high end campaigns, to compete in very competitive markets, to keep up with the latest changes in the industry - those will still be needed, and will remain in demand. SEO as a professional service will do very well, and will be run mostly by professionals.

The public will take over the easy stuff, the specialists will deal with the hard stuff, and the parasites in the middle will (mostly - it's hard to kill a parasite) go away.

SEO is dead (or dying) ... Long Live SEO!


SEO Browser - Online Lynx (Text Only) Viewer

SEO Browser - Online Lynx (text only)Viewer

Like many people, I use lynx to test websites as part of my SEO work. Lynx is a text-only browser for the web that allows people to view websites in text only mode. I used in it the old days when I would telnet into a SunOS server in order to access that newfangled fad called the web.

Once graphical browsers became common, lynx lost a lot of popularity. However, text browsing has seen a revival recently due to two main issues: first, people who are vision-impaired can't used graphical browsers, and there is a strong movement among forward thinking designers and companies to make sure that websites can be visited and used by everyone, not just people with good eyesight, fast connections, and graphical browsers. I think this is a very good thing.

The second reason is less selfless and more pragmatic: search engines, which often deliver a huge portion of a websites visitors, are essentially text only browsers. If you don't make them happy, you can find yourself losing a substantial number of potential visitors to competitors whose sites might not have all the nifty Flash that yours does, but instead are visible to search engines. Since that's a direct hit to the pocketbook. it's caught the attention of the business world as well.

Arguably, the single most important visitor to a website is a search engine, and a search engine is, for all intents and purposes, blind. It's kind of sad that it took this type of pressure to get a lot of sites to care about something they should care about anyway, but I take my victories where I can.

Accordingly, the use and importance of having a text only browser to test your website with has moved from "it would be nice" to "it's absolutely critical". A text browser is an essential part of the toolkit of both the SEO and the web designer.

Normally, I've been using the actual lynx executable, but it's kind of hard to use after several years of windows (no, the mouse doesn't work in it! Blind people can't see pointers, silly).

Additionally, when I'm talking to a client or giving a presentation, I can't ask them to install an executable on their system just to demonstrate somethign quickly. Some clients are disallowed from doing so by corporate policy even if they wanted to. Plus, it's hard to use for the mouse generation.

Up until now, the answer has been using the Delorie tool, which is basically a web based lynx viewer. Recently, due to bandwidth issues and hacks, they have discontinued it's easy functionality and required a site to install a custom page on it in order to view pages from that site. Well, clients are not going to do that any more than they would install lynx. Now the tool can basically only be used for sites only under your control, which presumably is the intent.

But that makes it useless for most SEO's and designers, except on personal projects or clients they already have.

Additionally, this tool didn't do what I wanted it to do (I still had to use 10 or 15 sites just to check one site) so I started to develop my own, in conjunction with a marketing company and developer I know. Lynx is close, but it doesen't show you what a search engine sees, only what is intended for text browsers, there is a big difference in the handling of graphics, headings, lists, and other page components between the two.

In short, lynx, is good, but not good enough. I needed a true SEO Browser. So I made one, in conjuction with a marketing company I work with a lot (Anduro) and a developer here in Calgary (Commerx). They are key to the fact that this project exists anywhere outside of my head. :D

The concept is simple, create a tool that mimics what a search engine sees, and then add other tools an SEO needs in conjuction with it.

Due to bandwidth usage, we are planning to make it half commercial, half free. The basic functionality will be, of course free. It's essentially an online lynx-type viewer with some enhancments specific to SEO's (like how it handles some things that a SE might care about but a pure text browser would not).

Then the idea is to have a much more robust version behind a login that will do all sorts of fun things, many of which will require a Google API, etc (thus the login).

The basic functional version is here:

For now, the advanced version is being added to daily and is open to the public for testing purposes. After we get it working perfectly, It will be a paid area (probably along the lines of Wordtracker style - pay by day, week, year, etc.)

One thing I'd like to add once it's done is the ability to get an XML feed from the advanced section that people can use to format their own reports with, etc. Please feel free to test it and provide feedback. We are committed to making both versions (including the free one) available and the best we can make them.

So far, the response has been amazing! Especially in view of the fact that this is still very much in development and is nowhere near being finished.

Some upcoming additional information it will hopefully provide include:

  • A link to http header information for the page.
  • A link to the CSS file
  • A word and character count for the meta data, title and body text
  • A link count (how many links are on the page – how many are internal and how many are external)
  • An image count, along with how many do not have ALT parameters (alt=”” would count as an alt parameter for SEO purposes)
  • A link to check the W3C Validity of the page
  • The number of backlinks this page has under Google, Yahoo, MSN, and Teoma (and whether it exists in the index at all)
  • Whether the Javascript (if it exists) on the page is on-page or external
  • Whether the page contains Flash, Java, imagemaps or DHTML (in red – these are usually bad)
  • The Meta Keywords would be links to add extra functionality to the page (explained below) and would also show a number used and density % (example: “SEO [14, 12.5%], promotion [3, 1.2%], mcanerin [5, 4.6%]) I would suggest a limit of 15 keywords – if they have more than that then it should be noted as an error, and only show the first 15.
  • A list of cookies requested/sent would be listed. This tool should never accept cookies, however (search engines don’t)
  • A link to the robots.txt, and an error if it does not exist
  • The IP address displayed. *Page load time displayed.
  • A list of comments (how many, and the contents of them – can be an unformatted dump)

Under this is the text only page itself. This page would look the same as the free version except:

Text that is hidden using CSS or in other manners (ie black text on black, or 1 point high text) would be italized. Text that is within a header tag is actually displayed in a header tag (H1, H2, etc) When you click on a keyword in the keyword list, it highlights in bold. Up to 3 keywords can be highlighted at once.

Under this should be another section with 3 links: Compress, Tokenize, and Index.

Compress would popup another window and show the text as a pure, unformatted text dump with no punctuation. Tokenize would popup another window and show the compressed text but with stop words removed (a, the, and, but, etc) Index would take the Tokenized list and display it as a word list with number counts for each word as well as density (like the metatag keywords)