The Overflow Effect and Butterfly SEO

At a certain point in some SERPs, especially highly competitive ones, it becomes really hard to pick a winner. The differences between the top 10, 20 and 30 sites are so miniscule that a search engine could probably apply a random order generator and the searching public would not notice the difference. They are all great sites. Or they are all equally bad, take your pick. The point is, what do you do then?

There are several options. First, they can stop worrying about it, since no matter what they show, as long as the top 50 are all good results, then they don't have to spend the resources worrying about sorting it much.

After all, at a certain point, who cares (aside from the owner of the website in question)?

If I get a great list of sites in the top 10, do I really care as a searcher if the ones in the top 20 are good too? And do I really care what the order they are listed in at that point is? An SEO might care, a website owner would care, but the users would not.

We see this effect with DMOZ, where the editors care a lot less about adding a website to a sub-directory with 100 other good sites on the exact same subject than they are with adding sites to areas with only a couple of good results. In some over-stuffed categories, it would take a miracle (or a completely off the wall site) to get listed, since the number of good sites is so many there is more of a negative attached to the time of the editor involved in checking and listing the site (no matter more small that may be) than there is a positive attached to adding site #389 to a category. The visitors don't usually go past the first 20 or so, anyway.

This effect completely changed the positioning and importance of directories once they reached the "overflow" threshold. Yahoo first, then DMOZ.

Now, with so many websites on the internet, and so many being launched every day, it appears that we are starting to see this "overflow" effect within search engines for some SERPs. I have no doubt that it will continue.

Once you achieve this, then as a software engineer you have to make a decision. "Do I continue to refine this result, spending more and more resources on detecting smaller and smaller differences that the end user doesn't even care about, or do I spend those resources in areas that the user does care about"?

On the other hand, I know a lot of engineers. They usually don't have an "it's good enough" mindset, but rather an "it can be better" mindset, particularly if they are young and ambitious, like Googles engineers. Especially if they have lots of powerful tools to work with.

So what would happen if a search engine decided that there really was a difference in there someplace, and that difference mattered? You would end up seeing either 1) smaller and smaller differences having a larger and larger influence on the SERPS, or 2) a movement towards completely different or new measurement tools that offered the ability to measure things that were not, before.

The reason I wonder about these things is because this creates 2 possible scenarios in an highly competitive SERP (which I tend to be in, lately):

1) "Once the top 30+ are all passing the quality checks, we don't really care what order they are in". The result in this case is likely to be sorted out via the proverbial "butterfly effect", named after the effect where a single flap of a butterflies wings could, in a complicated self referencing system like a weather system (or search engine), cause a hurricane to occur in another part of the world.

This could result in what I'll call "Butterfly SEO", where, once you get to a certain level of optimization, the things that affect your rankings are things that are less and less obvious, and more and more technical. Technicians (and spammers) love this. I know for a fact that in certain SERPs you can see this effect, where something that traditionally isn't an problem, suddenly makes or breaks your rankings.

2) "Since we are having a hard time figuring out which sites are better than others at a certain point, we need to start measuring criteria other than the traditional ones". This is interesting, because instead of needing to get pickier and pickier about links, content, etc, the search engine begins to look at areas that are not normally looked at, and thus more likely to show meaningful and measurable differences in the sites listed. This implies that a more holistic, less regimented approach to SEO would work better than just pushing the same traditional buttons harder and harder, over and over again. Or at least a change in SEO tactics that also addresses the new criteria. I see indications of this type thinking in the aging delay and other similar issues.

These are 2 totally different approaches to SEO for highly competitive results. I have some ideas on the likely actual plan, but I'd be interested in hearing what other people think, first.

My opinion, as usual.


Study: Google #1 in China

Study: Google #1 in China

I was quite interested to see that a new study came out today that ranked Google as #1 in China for customer experience, but not surprised in the least that home-grown Baidu was still the most popular.

Current Traffic Share in China

Baidu: 51.5%
Google: 32.9%
Sohu: 4.6%
Sina: 4.0%
Yahoo: 3.7%
Others: 3.3%


China Search Marketing Tour

Hi all,

We've finally finished putting together the China Search Marketing Tour to coincide with SES Nanjing which should be very exciting - the first SES ever in China, and it's been so popular they have already needed to change the venue!

The search marketing tour is NOT an official SES event - instead, it's intended to give people planning on going to SES Nanjing a good grounding in Chinese culture, government and business practices before the event. There will, of course, be some sightseeing opportunities, too.

We will be providing translators for the tour, and there will be 2 banquets, one in Beijing with a fair number of government officials (including, we hope, embassy staff for the US, Canada and other countries), and then another in Shanghai with some business leaders.

During this time you'd have the opportunity to network, find out about business customs and generally get yourself ready for entering the Chinese market. The tour is very business oriented, and intended for those serious about marketing to and from China.

Although one package has airfare included, it's not required, since many people can travel on points, and in some cases (ie those in Europe) have more direct routes to China than from the US. The tour is 9 days, from March 9 to 19 (lose a day due to the International date line).

Cost: $2500 if you provide your own airfare, and the airfare can be included in a single package if you phone the tour company that's handling this (the same one that's helping set up SES).

Discounts: if you are a member of SMA (any branch) or SEMPO, you get a $250, if you are a sponsor, you get a $250 discount, and if you are a speaker at the conference you can get a $250 discount, so you could get up to a $750 if you were all three!

To sign up, contact Helen Yue at China Custom Tours 1-800-865-6221. Space is currently limited to 35 people.

I hope to see you there!


"The Internet is for Porn"

It's hard to do SEO for any length of time before running into adult sites that are highly optimized (aka spammed) messing up your rankings, even if your site isn't in that niche.

If you are in the niche, it's even worse. The keyword research alone is quite the eductation. Even totally mainstream sites have to be aware of the keywords used by people to look for these sites that may intersect with apparently innocuous keywords for your own.

I once did some work for a (now defunct) band called "Kiss The Midget" and the website logs were jammed searches from people looking for, um, little people love....

Another client made custom T-Shirts with logos on them, and I noticed a huge traffic spike right after adding several examples as part of the SEO for the site. At first, I thought it might have been due to my SEO efforts (and it was, partially) but the spike was way out of proportion to the potential market, so I got suspicious and went looking for a reason why. Turns out that one of the T-Shirts featured vinyl lettering with a "wet" look, and the combination of "wet" and "t-shirt", along with a site that was search engine friendly, propelled the site up in rankings for people looking for interesting pictures.

Unlike Pay Per Click (PPC), there is no ability to put negative keywords in organic designs, so sometimes wierd things happen, and you need to deal with it as an SEO.

In keeping with the theme of this post, I'd like to share a World of Warcraft (WOW) video (not kid friendly, but probably spouse friendly - it's tame) that had me almost rolling on the floor laughing.

It's based on a Google media search (see? I worked SEO into this post!):

It just occured to me that this blog entry is probably going to get a lot of traffic due to some of the keywords that I just used. :)


Google Pack

Google is offering a new "service" called Google Pack that is basically a combination of a bunch of Google software that you can get/download all at once, for free.

Once installed, you can remove individual components, but here is a list of some of them:

1. Google Toolbar for IE
2. Google Desktop
3. Mozilla Firefox with Google Toolbar
4. Picasa
5. RealPlayer
6. Ad-Aware SE Personal
7. Norton AntiVirus 2005 SE (with 6 month free update)
8. Google Talk
9. Google Earth
10. GalleryPlayer HD Images
11. Trillian
12. Google Pack Screensaver
13. Adobe Reader 7 (This version doesn't have the Yahoo Toolbar nag - gee, I wonder why? ;) )
14. Google Video Player

All in all, a nice little software package for someone who just bought a new computer and is installing software for it. The only drawback is that every single thing here is either capable of telling Google what you are doing, or replaces software that is supposed to warn you if Google snoops on you...

I think I'll call it the "Big Brother Bundle".


The Perfect Keyword Density

OK, I'll spill the beans. ;)

The perfect keyword density (KWD) to use on a website is 3.14159265%

If you have any KWD other than that, your site cannot possibly contain any useful content, and the search engines know it, and will kill your rankings as a result.

Spammers, of course, do not know this, and therefore almost never have this exact KWD - that's why the search engines work so well most of the time.

Sure, there are a few spammers who have figured it out and manage to write random gibberish until they get a KWD of exactly 3.14159265%, but they are rare. The funny thing is that as soon as they type in enough random gibberish, the text becomes clear and visitors love it! Wierd, huh? Nothing like science to get the job done!

Of course, you could go out and make yours exactly equal, as well. But then the spammer would just go out and match it with 3.141592653%, at which point you'd have to beat them and hit 3.1415926535%, and so on.

This is called SEO (Simple Equation Organization) and is much more accurate than trying to figure out some sort of relevance or usefulness. That's all vague touchy-feely stuff. This is real numbers and decimal places, and is therefore much better and more scientific. The web is about data, technology and hard numbers, not being useful to humans - just ask any systems administrator and they will tell you.

Some other scientific facts:

  • There are exactly 31,415,926,535 grains of sand in the Google Sandbox - Coincidence? I think not!
  • If, at any point in time, 2 sites actually end up with the *exact* same KWD, there is a GoogleDance and another digit is added to the specification - don't worry, there are lots to go. This happens every few months and it's usually Jill Whalens fault for not counting words on her pages properly. We try to tell her, but she just won't listen...
  • Your PageRank (PR) is exactly equal to the actual number of incoming links you have divided by 3.1415 - another coincidence? I doubt it! Check for yourself.
  • The reason that MSN and Yahoo! show different listings from Google is because they round off differently, that's all.
I hope that is what you are looking for.

If you are doing SEO on a competing site to one of mine or my clients and found the above post useful, then keep up the good work!


(uhh...I didn't think I'd have to announce that the above was a joke/spoof, but apparently there really are people who think this is important stuff. Note to them: you might want to learn about a few of the changes that have been made to search engines in the last, oh, decade or so...)