Google China President Dr. Kai-Fu Lee Speaks

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee, Googles President of Greater China, visited Seattle last week and gave a presentation to Googlers and other guests. Since it was recorded as a Tech Talk, I was able to listen in, as it were.

Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is one of the most respected people in the Chinese IT community. He was a founder of Microsoft Research Asia (and a former VP) and is an expert in text to speech, speech recognition, artificial intelligence and advanced search. He has also worked for SGI and Apple, where he helped developed most of the Quicktime family - Quicktime, QuickDraw 3D, QuickTime VR and PlainTalk.

When he left Microsoft for Google in 2005, they actually sued him in an effort to prevent Google from using his search knowledge against them. They settled in July and the good doctor has been working for Google ever since.

To the best of my knowledge, his one year non-compete runs out in June, only 4 months away. I'm looking forward to what happens after that. Until then, according to the settlement, Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is not allowed to use his knowledge of search for Googles benefit, only his huge amount of contacts, trust and knowledge of China - which, in my opinion, is a huge benefit to Google.

This is a guy who you listen to when he talks about search in China. Or damn near anything else related to technology and China. He's highly respected by both the Chinese and in the West. During his presentation, he showed a picture of 2 completely packed auditoriums of Chinese students wanting to hear him speak, and then mentioned that there were about 3000 people standing outside of these!

Googles China Plans

I liked this quote, and I think it's the right attitude to succeed.

We will take a long-term view to win in China.
The Chinese have 5000 years of history.
Google has 5000 years of patience in China.
- Eric Schmidt - CEO Google

Googles plans for China (and coincidentally also the only things Dr. Kai-Fu Lee is legally allowed to do, timetable-wise) were presented as follows:

2006 - Build a foundation, establish Google and begin recruiting local engineers. ('Planting")
2007 - Begin rolling out new products, and demonstrate the quality of Google search.("Harvesting")

So this should be in interesting year for Google in China. I hope to hear about several new products. If we are lucky, they may make the announcements during SES China in May (you are going on the China Search Marketing Tour and SES China, right?).

He mentioned a few areas where Google may wish to enter into, including the usual suspects (image, scholar, etc) plus BBS search and community building.

It was also pretty clear that there are really good opportunities for local search, since the Chinese tend to be city-centric, and there is currently no online Yellow Pages, Mapquest, Craigslist, etc.

Some other information from the presentation

  • Chinese internet use is currently growing at a rate of 25% per year (compared to about 3% in the US). It should pass the US in about 3 years at that rate.
  • There are currently more broadband users in China than their are in the USA!
  • The internet users tend to be quite young, and are more interested in gaming and music than browsing. This is compounded by the large number of malware infected computers in China - it's hard to trust the browser.
  • Community building is very strong. the Chinese love to share information and argue.
  • Music is the number 1 search currently.
  • There are not that many credit cards, and even people who have them prefer face to face commerce.

One of the most telling comments he made during the presentation was that one difference between successful companies in China and unsuccessful ones is hinged on whether the local Chinese management was trusted to make decisions.

Ironically, Microsofts insistence of central control and hierarchy is one of the major reasons Dr. Kai-Fu Lee originally sought to work with Google. It appears Google is willing to trust him.

I would, too.


Yahoo! Upgrades Site Explorer

Yahoo has upgraded Site Explorer with some much desired features.
My favorite is the ability to authenticate a site using a metatag, rather than requiring the upload of a text file. This was an issue for me because a client has an e-commerce platform that is totally database driven and really doesn't have a root directory to speak of. Worse, although it allows file uploads, for security reasons it only allows certain files - like images. Stupidly, txt isn't in that list. Even if it was, the upload area isn't root. So we were screwed.

Now (just like with Google) I can just go in and edit a metatag. Nice. And about time, frankly.

Some other features:

  • More detailed errors
  • Delete URL's
  • Site Explorer Badge
  • More than 25 Sitemaps
  • Better labels for TSV files
  • Secure (https/ssl) site support
  • Change authentication speed (ie wait one day)
Many of these were based on the Yahoo Site Explorer Suggestion Box. - a great idea!


It's "Easy" - Not.

Over the years, I've talked to (or wrote to) many people who said this-or-that was "easy". Generally, these people fall into 2 groups:

  1. People talking about something that is they feel is easy, but looks hard. (experts)
  2. People talking about something they know very little about, or haven't actually done. (novices)

Although these people are saying the same thing, it's often for very different reasons.

An expert who says something is easy is generally knowledgeable about the topic. Often, they are so knowledgeable that they just "get it". I can look at a webpage (even in code view) and it's links and usually visualize how a search engine spider will see it and often how it will rank it.

"At first its just a bunch of I see blonde, brunette, redhead..."
-Cypher (The Matrix)

To me, it's easy. But it wasn't like that at first. At first, SEO was very confusing. There was no real pattern, just a bunch of seemingly random "rules' and theories and so forth. Then, at some point, I "got it", and then suddenly SEO was "easy".

Of course it's not really easy even now, because of other people competing against me, and I'll get into that in a bit.

But understanding search is easy for me now. However, when I try to teach it to others in SEO 101 course, they are still stuck in trying to memorize rules and theories. At first this was frustrating, but then I realized that in order to understand something (connecting the dots), you need to have enough information (the dots) to do so. Not enough dots to connect, and you run the risk of it all being complete gibberish, or connecting the dots in the wrong way. The more dots you have, the easier it is to understand the pattern.

When an expert thinks of something as easy, it's usually from the position of a significant amount of knowledge and experience. I don't necessarily mean an expert in the professional sense, either. You can be an expert in a computer game, or organizing documents, or navigating streets in your hometown. For these people, the task is "easy", because they have the experience and practice that makes it easy.

This is a big issue with programmers, who are pretty much the worse people you could choose to test an interface or program. they are great when debugging code, but once that code is working as expected, their knowledge of how things were programmed to work will often override their ability to actually see how it works to non-programmers. Web designers creating navigation structures are also often guilty of this.

Novices, on the other hand, sometimes think that if they understand some basics, (a few dots), that they understand the whole picture.

"Hey, rocket science is easy - you just stick some fuel in a rocket, ignite it,
and off you go! Just like fireworks - any idiot could do it."

Uhh...ok.... The problem here is not enough dots, coupled with a lack of experience, which is what helps you connect the dots.

Let's talk about experience.

I think that this is actually the crux of it issue. Most of the "it's easy" statements come from either a lot of experience or a lack of experience.

I like to use chess as an analogy here.

Chess is easy.

There are only a few possible moves that any piece can make at any one time, and there are a limited number of pieces and places to move them during the game. The rules are known. I taught my 8 year old how to play.

And yet, no matter how easy this game is, someone almost always loses. How can you lose something easy? If it's easy, shouldn't you win all the time? Come on - I mean, I taught it to an 8 year old - it's not rocket science!

It's way easier than SEO, I think. At least rules-wise.

Why the heck are there chess tournaments for something so easy? Why do people challenge computers to games (and lose!). Why has this game been around for centuries?

Because although the "rules" are easy, the "play" is not. Any idiot can do SEO on paper, or write an article about it. Many idiots do, IMO.

What's hard is when your opponents also know these "easy" rules. And they don't want to lose rankings to you. That's what's hard. When you say SEO is easy in practice, you are effectively saying that the other people doing SEO are stupid - or at least easily beaten. And that's just not true.

There is a difference between knowing the rules and successfully playing by those rules against someone else who also knows the rules and doesn't want you to win.

A big difference. That's actually the basis for almost all games and contests. The rules of Olympic running are easy - run fast and cross the finish line first. That doesn't make everyone an Olympic track champion.

You know what, if a professional runner just saw my description of what they do, they would probably cringe. The point is, that as a non-runner, I have no idea why that's oversimplified - I don't have enough dots to work with. They might acknowledge that I have the gist of it, but that doesn't mean I understand all the nuances. And it certainly doesn't mean I could beat any of them in a race.

Sure, SEO is easy - as long as you don't have any competition or experience. The same with chess. But if you think just knowing the rules makes something easy, then it's clear you've never actually played the game.


Future UI: Minority Report meets iPhone

I was just catching up on some reading over at the Creating Passionate Users blog and came across a post on the iPhone.

Specifically, one of the little details about the iPhone UI, which is that it used traditional animation techniques (like stretch and squash, momentum, etc) to make the UI feel "alive". You can see a demo of the interface from Apple here, if you haven't seen it already.

As part of the post, the author linked to a demo of a Minority Report style interface that was demonstrated in Feb 2006 that just blows my mind (video here).

In general, I'm a future optimist. For the most part people who are all complaining about how bad things are getting really have little clue as to just how bad things really used to be.

This is not to say anything is or ever will be perfect, but in general engineers want to make things better, and parents want their kids to have better lives than they do, and even pessimists have their place - their complaining and nitpicking, as toxic as it may be to themselves and those around them, also tends to fuel debugging and improvements - like the body defending itself against adversity by becoming stronger and more resilient.

Personally, I'm really looking forward to being able to use this type of interface, but I think some of the pessimists are correct - it's a special purpose interface, not a general one. I'm not even sure if there IS an interface that is ideal for everything.

Do you have a laptop? Ever try to use the laptop mousepad to do something that was obviously intended for a normal mouse, like dragging a highlight box? It's almost painful.

On the flip side, ever try to use a mouse to type? Ouch. Same goes for trying to use touch screens for typing - if you did it long enough, you'd have sore wrists for sure. You also have the issue of precision with touch screens - people with shaky hands need not apply in the future, I guess.

No, I think the future UI isn't a case of the multitouch screen replacing everything (though I'm sure someone will try it, just to see), but rather a combination of different input devices for different jobs.

One of the things I strongly disagree with a certain famous UI expert over is his contention that the designer should control the user experience, and if the user needs to use a site map or search feature, then the UI designer has made a mistake.

I don't believe in the "one UI fits all" scenario.

This applies to almost everything - Why can't I use a mouse AND a keyboard? BTW, there were people arguing about exactly that when mice came out - they insisted the mouse was a useless fad - I was there during conversations about it!

A user often has a different vision of what your website or product will help them with than you do. Get used to it - people are not clones.

My father likes to use a ball mouse, where you control the mouse with your thumb. I hate it. But for him, it works great. Which one of us is wrong? I would argue neither - we just have different needs.

For many years, I used a pen tablet for graphics arts applications - drawing with a pen was far more natural than a mouse or (god forbid) keyboard.

Let's not forget other UI devices such as voice command, joysticks, and wireless gesture-based controllers like in the Wii.

Most people don't remember my beloved Amiga, (much less my first computer, the C-64)but even many Amigans didn't know that the 'Guru Meditation Error" (the Amiga version of Microsoft's BSOD - Blue Screen of Death) was a reference to a control pad that you sat on, guru-style, just like a flying carpet, and controlled certain games by leaning in the desired direction.

People have been experimenting with user interfaces for a very long time, and will probably continue to do so for a long time to come. Almost every new UI is touted by some over-excited geek to be the best possible UI ever made. They have always been wrong.

The reason? I think the reason is that there is often too much emphasis on the "I" (interface) in UI, and not as much on the "U" (user). This is natural, since you can control the I, but not the U, as anyone who has ever done usability testing with normal people can tell you.

The UI of the future

I'm not much of a futurist, but at this point I would hazard a guess that the perfect UI is one that adapts itself to the user AT THE TIME AND CONTEXT OF USE than to any one specific interface.

I don't think that switching interfaces is as difficult for users as some UI designers seem to think it is. Even if I've been using a hammer all day, I'm not likely to get all confused because I run into a bolt and suddenly need a wrench.

I'm more likely to get confused if you try to make me use the hammer on the bolt for the purposes of "simplifying the UI".

I think where the problem comes in is when UI designers try to create a multifunction hammer that is also a wrench, or screwdriver, or whatever. This seems like a good idea (and in some cases it is), but it can be taken too far very easily.

Let ME decide what interface to use - whether we are talking about an ID (input device) or a website design. Just give me a choice.

I'm sure that I'd love playing with a multitouch screen for lots of things, especially for organizing and sorting, as well as some viewing. But then I'd be wiping the screen of greasy fingerprints all day, so I might not do it was often as you might think. Every try wiping greasy fingerprints off a touch screen? Ever launch 4 programs and accidently delete a file while doing it? Yeah, me too.

If I have a lot of files, I might want to use the keyboard and run a quick filter to sort the files instead, or maybe use the mouse to drag things around, or a voice system than moves on command.

Why restrict my choices to one? Perhaps I'll start off using one interface because it's comfortable, then switch as I become more proficient. I've seen that happen a lot - different UI for different levels of skill within the same program - "simple" and "advanced" mode, for example.

When my kids first started to use computers, they had trouble understanding how moving the mouse also made the cursor on the screen move. This is actually a skill that needs to be developed - it's not instinct. Now, if they had been able to point at what they wanted, then that would have been perfect!

Why not offer that? As your users change tasks of become more sophisticated in their use, let them use different UI devices or designs to let them adapt and change.

In general, the most "realistic" interfaces appeal the most to new users. As the user becomes more and more adept at using a system, they become able to think about it in more and more abstract terms. At that point, they are ready to begin using more powerful, but more abstract, user interfaces.

There is nothing wrong with this - indeed, I think it's natural and useful.

The iPhone is very cool. It's easy to use and "feels" real. That's it's draw, especially to people who are not used to phones being anything other than something to talk into.

But over time, I can definitely see people wanting to do a series of quick tasks without looking at all the eye-candy getting in the way. At that point, they are a power user and the simplistic "real" interface won't allow them to do the increasingly abstract things they want to do.

I would argue that this also applies to all sorts of user interfaces - the very same user will change preferred interfaces over time, as they become more and more familiar with your product or site. If your site offers the things these power users (who by that time may be your best customers) want, then let them use an interface designed for them, not for novices.

Your interface should grow with your users, not restrict them or control them.

Myself, I'm looking forward to growing my company and training my people to the point where I can afford the perfect UI - "Fred, do all that work on my desk - I'm going golfing". ;)


Minority Report becomes Reality

Swag, Conventions and Google

I admit it - I'm a swag slut (err... in a non-gender specific or sexual meaning of the phrase, anyway). For those of you who are new to all this, swag is those nifty little trinkets (usually with logos on them) that companies give out to people to attract business and to help with branding, usually at conventions or as gifts to clients.

At most conventions, you can find me at one point or another walking around the booths with a bag out, like it was Halloween for search geeks:

Me: trick or treat! I mean... so , what services does your company offer?
Them: Well, we proactively leverage our proprietary solutions across a wide range of cooperative technologies [Code for "we are not sure, but we are really excited to be here]
Me: uh huh. Is that a pen? [holds swag bag out]
Them: oh - here you go. Now as I was saying, we....
Me: Can I have your card? I'll give it to the guy in my company that might be interested in this [code for - stop talking, I'm bored now].
Them: Sure, here you go - we'll be here all day.

Now, there are two things to take away from all of this. First, my reason for visiting the booth had nothing to do with an intense interest in the vendors service, but rather in their swag.

Second, After taking the swag, I feel a little guilty and and willing to trade a little of my time to hear their pitch. Generally, the length of time is roughly equivalent to how cool the swag is.

Swag at a convention is no good unless you have a pitch ready that can capture my attention in a very short period of time (roughly the amount of time it would take me to decide I'd rather be getting a pen from the next booth than to listen to you).

Most vendors drop the ball at this point, which is a shame, since you did not go to the convention to pass out gifts, you went there to attract business, right? Get your pitch down, and make sure you have a hook and message that is clear within 5 seconds or so. Confuse me or bore me, and I'm gone. Imply that it will take 20 minutes for you to explain what you do, and I'm gone. Keep it short, clear and interesting.

Also - make the swag interesting - I already have 300 pens, thanks. It doesn't have to be expensive, just cool. If it is a pen, make sure it's one that actually works!

There is another type of swag - the swag that you get from vendors outside of conventions. One of my clients, Find Law, gives me the best swag right after I speak at one of their conventions - it's always high quality and much appreciated.

Google is famous for having interesting swag. I was just at their new stealth second office in Seattle on behalf of a new UK based client (under construction right now)and the Canadian Tourism Commission, and they had some cool swag there. Which of course I grabbed ;)

I particularly liked the candle. It's wax, but is electric (with a flickering bulb) so it looks, smells and acts like a candle, but never melts or gets used up - very cool!:

The other bit of swag I liked was the Google Talk headphones - once again, very high quality, and in this case served the purpose of telling me about a service they have that I didn't even know about:

There was also a Google Frisbee. Do you have any pics of cool swag from Google or other vendors? Feel free to leave links to them in the comments - I'd love to see them!

And that's the whole point, isn't it? I'm writing a blog post about Google swag and here is their branding and links all over the place - and I don't care - happy to do it.

Would I be writing about a pen, fridge magnet or mouse pad? I think not...


ADDED: I totally forgot: if you are unlucky enough to not be able to go to conventions as often as you'd like, you can still pick up Google Swag from the Google Store.

"Did-It" Again...

You know, I'm getting a little tired of this, so it will be the last I comment on the issue.

Dave Pasternack has just posted yet another followup to his infamously self-serving position that SEO is easy but SEM is hard, so hire his company for SEM and dump your SEO...

He spends the first part of the interview claiming that the only people who disagreed with SEO being easy were SEO's, and then likened this to people trying to protect an "industry with it's own agenda."

I find it odd that the people who know the most about a subject are dismissed as "having an agenda" but people claiming to know little or nothing about a subject are considered to be the ones who are correct by virtue that there are a lot of them. Huh?

Since when is being right or wrong an issue of mob rule rather than knowledge about a subject?

I would dismiss this as a case of "I don't understand it, therefore it must be easy" school of thought, but then he goes on to make the following claim in favor of hiring an SEM:

Using killer customizable technology and the right strategies allow a marketer to maximize profit. You’ve heard the expression about pro-se legal representation -- “anybody who represents himself has a fool for a client.” Need I say more?

Yes, David, I think you do.

I think you need to explain why, in your words, a field that is "always limited to the strategies and tactics that are supported by the bid technology platform they are using" is so complicated that it needs your black box technology ("killer customizable technology ") and huge experience, yet a field where the rules are essentially "don't do anything to trick us and we'll decide what to show or not" is easy as "baking a cake".

I find it incomprehensible that the very argument that you use to dismiss SEO is then reversed to support your own agenda.

Everything you argued about SEO being easy also applies to SEM. Likewise, everything you argued about SEM requiring special skills also applies to SEO.

As a matter of fact, SEM is arguably far easier than SEO.

  • Your Google representative will actually go through your account and give you direct feedback, and even fix errors - for free. I've yet to see a Google engineer do SEO like this for a site.
  • SEM gives you near-instant feedback - SEO can take a month or more before giving you any feedback at all. Even then, it's often vague.
  • SEM deals with a limited and known set of rules. SEO deals with vague "guidelines" that are enforced inconsistently and often not at all. It's very possible for a spammer to outrank a clean site in SEO. In SEM, if someone is doing better than you, it's because they are better at following the rules, not breaking them.
  • Most SEM issues can be solved simply by brute force - throwing more money at it. Attempting brute force with SEO is almost spam by definition.
  • The skills of an SEM are analogous to those of an accountant. The skills of an SEO are analogous to those of a lawyer. The SEM works the numbers, the SEO has to make a case.
  • The hardest part of SEM is the part that is based on SEO - making content that converts and delivering it, keyword research, and creating landing pages that convert. Enough said.

New take on "GoogleBomb"

The Telegraph reports that Google Earth data is being used by some terrorists/insurgents as a resource to target bases in Basra.

"This is evidence as far as we are concerned for planning terrorist attacks," said an intelligence officer with the Royal Green Jackets battle group. "Who would otherwise have Google Earth imagery of one of our bases?

"We are concerned that they use them to plan attacks. We have never had proof that they have deliberately targeted any area of the camp using these images but presumably they are of great use to them.

"We believe they use Google Earth to identify the most vulnerable areas such as tents."

Predictably, there has been outrage that terrorists might want to use publicly available data for reasons other than to chart demographic data for purposes.

Sarcasm/ Of course, this is Googles fault, since the Google satellite is the one taking these pictures in the first place, then releasing them publicly. And since they are the only ones using these maps, they are obviously the party responsible for mortar attacks. /sarcasm

CNet News also reported on this and, also predictably, mentioned that some of the soldiers wanted to sue Google for casualties, as well as Google claiming that they were in touch with the military and it wasn't their fault.

OK, this is just stupid. All of it.

First, the data in question is from the US and was released because it's resolution was low enough that it wasn't considered to be of military importance.

Second, the data is approximately 2 years old. If you are a soldier in a war zone and you plant a tent in the same place for 2 years, then act surprised that that enemy might know where it is, they you are just asking for it, IMO. That's just a stupid expectation. The reason wars are wars is because the guys on the other side are NOT doing what you want them to do.

Third, the fact that the Google maps are being used for planning (if indeed they are) does not mean they are being used for reconnaissance. See the point above as to why no professional soldier should rely on 2 year old data in a war zone. This is not to say they don't, but the US bombing of the Chinese Embassy based on (as the US claims but no one else in the world believes) an old map is a pretty good example of why they should not.

This is a silly reason for a story, IMO. The terrorists are probably also using local road maps printed by publishing houses, and food made from grain supplied from relief efforts, and so forth. If you looked, you could probably find someone, somewhere along the lines, that was connected to someone else that is public or that had money. Six degrees of Kevin Bacon meets "Sue everyone and sort out the receipts later".

If you want to sue someone, sue the US government for aiding and abetting terrorist actions against the UK by releasing the information on the first place. And inventing the Internet to disseminate the information, while they were at it. Now THAT would be a big story!

Hey, I said "big" story, not "smart" story, ok?


Out of town - Hollywood, then Seattle.

I'll be out of town for the rest of this week - in LA/Hollywood until Thursday morning, then in Seattle/Kirkland - for two different clients (plus Google). I'm not sure how often I'll be able to answer emails or the phone, much less update the blog.


Wordpress Sux, Blogger Rulz!

Well, not really - but I made you look ;)

Seriously, there is someone with, uh, "issues" who decided that it would be cool to get attention by cracking a bunch of blogs run by some of the most well-known names in the SEO community.

The common theme was that all of the ones cracked so far were made using an older version of Wordpress, which has a security hole that has since been patched in the newest release, but many people have apparently not upgraded to yet.

I'm carefully using the term "crack" rather than "hack" or "hacked" because so far this is nothing but script-kiddy stuff, rather than a more skilled hacker attack. The code for the crack (and news of the vulnerability) has been available for a week now.

Part of the weirdness about this is that he listed all the sites he was planning on going after and announced he was going to do it, which of course got him banned by Wordpress. He's now on a Blogger account, but I doubt that will last long, either.

I find it interesting that Wordpress is so popular among SEO bloggers. I've never used it myself (I don't consider myself a blogger - I just happen to have a blog. Yes, I think there is a distinction.) but so far whenever I've looked around Wordpress seems to be pretty high on most SEO's software lists.

Me, I'm using good ol' Blogger, the get's-no-respect "geo-cities" of the blogging world. Thing is, I like it, for the most part. It's easy to use, especially the newest version, it's on a completely different IP range/server from my main site, and it gets spidered and indexed by Google very, very quickly.

It's not perfect, of course. Forget trying to access it in China. Some scripts and widgets just don't seem to like my template (I gave up trying to install a flash based Flickr widget) and it doesn't seem to remember who I am no matter how many times I log in and check "Remember Me'. The rest of Googles sites remember me, but not Blogger. For shame.

I'd feel an urge to go "neener, neener" to those who got cracked, in the same way that someone driving a Ford Pinto by a broken down BMW might, except 1) I've had sites cracked before and I know how it feels, 2) just because this guy started with Wordpress doesn't mean that Blogger doesn't have security issues, and 3) I'm probably going to use Wordpress at some point in the future for something, and I'd like to avoid jinxing it ;)

For now, I'll just lend my sympathy to those who it happened to, and to hope the guy who did this gets the professional psychiatric help he apparently needs.


So far, the only information that has become available is that he is probably from Canada (Hamilton, Ontario) and using Bell as a connection - which isn't a lot to go on , especially as anyone with any brains would do this stuff from a public internet connection, rather than a home IP address.

He also claims to be an SEO, though the claims and the manner he's making them make me think that's a red herring. Oh well.

Bottom-line, someone actually thinks it's cool to be a lamer, so we are dealing with an immature kid who needs a spanking and to be grounded from playing with daddy's computer.


Matt Cutts, McAfee and Malware

Recently, Matt Cutts posted about how Google was fighting the good fight against malware. This was a welcome announcement, and one I was very pleased to hear about.

I am also aware of a recent independent report by McAfee that lends a certain amount of credibility to Googles claims. I use McAfee's Site Advisor myself and have been pretty happy with the results. I use it as part of my link-building toolset, testing sites against it before submitting.

According to the report, Google appears to be doing fairly well in it's fight against malware, at least in it's organic search.

Too bad the same can't be said of MSN and Yahoo.

According to McAfee, this is the ranking of the major search engines search engines in terms of being free of malware-infested results pages (ie safest to worst):

1. AOL
2. Google
3. Ask
4. MSN Live
5. Yahoo

The report pointed out that Google had increased in safety since the last study, but MSN and Yahoo had both decreased in safety. I'm not sure that McAfee is aware that Google provides AOL's listings, or Ask's PPC ads, so the results in their charts need to be interpreted in that light, IMO.

Bribery, or Sleeping at the Switch?

Let's look a bit deeper at the McAfee report:

In our analysis, search engines' sponsored (paid advertising) results are approximately three times as likely to lead to red and yellow sites as are organic (non-paid) results. This result reflects well on organic search ranking algorithms, but it also indicates that search engines receive substantial payments from risky sites.

The more cynical readers may come to the conclusion that Google and the other search engines are 3 times more willing to look the other way if you bribe them with PPC dollars.

I'm not sure that's accurate, but it certainly looks like someone is asleep at the switch, at the very least.

Now, I know that no one is perfect, and that malware-serving scum are not exactly advertising that they are malware, so obviously some slack should be cut. But how much?

In practice, as much as your competitor, that's how much. If your results are more likely to contain malware than a competing search engine, then that's bad, and it makes you look bad, because it means either you are not trying hard enough, or that you are not "smart" enough. It can't be because it's not technically possible, because your competitor is doing it!

Top 10 Most Dangerous Keywords in Search

One other interesting factoid from the McAfee report - the top ten most dangerous keywords:

  1. bearshare
  3. free screensavers
  4. winmx
  5. screensavers
  6. limewire
  7. kazaa
  8. free ringtones
  9. ringtones
  10. lime wire

Looks like the people most at risk for malware are those that are looking for free or illegal software, which doesn't surprise me in the slightest. It's pretty much the only way one can make money off of that group of people - it's not like they are looking to buy anything. It would make no sense to pay for a PPC ad to someone looking for a free screensaver unless you have something other than free screensavers to offer, and a way to "convert" them - either by powerful upselling to legitimate products, or malware.

I'm glad that the search engines are looking at malware for their organics, though obviously MS and Yahoo need to improve. But the PPC issue is a huge disappointment for all involved. It really does look like a little money goes a long way if you are a malware provider.

If the search engines really want to convince people they can be trusted, they might want to begin looking at fixing malware associated with PPC.

Otherwise, the cynics are going to start getting louder and more numerous. Dominance in search is all about trust, and it always has been. Lose it, and you lose your users.


Press Release - China Search Tour

For the record, I feel uncomfortable writing press releases about myself, so David Temple put this one together for the China Search Marketing Tour.

I think he should have given himself a lot more credit, and I'd like to take this opportunity to thank him (and Helen Yue at China Custom Tours, our tour expert) for all the hard work they have done so far. Thanks David and Helen!


McAnerin Networks, Inc. To Host China Search Marketing Tour – May 2007

The China Search Marketing Tour will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Hong Kong and attend the China Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo

Calgary, Alberta (PRWEB) January 11, 2007 -- McAnerin Networks, Inc, an international website promotion company, announced today they will host the second China Search Marketing Tour May 19 -- May 28, 2007. The tour will visit Beijing, Shanghai, Xiamen and Hong Kong. In Xiamen participants will attend the Search Engine Strategies Conference and Expo May 25th and 26th.

According to Analysys International the China search engine market will see a compound annual growth of more than 30% from 2006 to 2010 based on its recently released report "China Search Engine Market Forecast 2006 --- 2010″. Revenue for China's search engine providers is expected to reach 4.521 billion (RMB) approximately 528 million (USD) in 2010. The search engine landscape in China is changing rapidly as competitors scramble to take the lead in the world's second largest Internet market.

"This is definitely a first mover opportunity" said Ian McAnerin, Chairman and CEO of McAnerin Networks, Inc. and host of the China Search Marketing Tour. McAnerin added, "Anyone in the search marketing industry that plans on doing business with China shouldn't miss this tour. Chinese companies are also looking to the west to achieve global exposure for their web sites".

The China Search Marketing Tour will meet with members of China's search marketing industry in each of the cities they visit. Tour participants include leading experts in search marketing including Bill Hunt, Rand Fishkin, Matt Bailey, Nick Wilsdon, Neil Patel, Cameron Olthuis, Kalena Jordan, Abhilash Patel, Troy Ireland and Jarrod Hunt among others. The tour is being promoted around the world by country sponsors.

About McAnerin Networks, Inc.

McAnerin Networks Inc. (MNI) is an international website promotion company with it's key focus being on outstanding, individualized customer service. They have been in the internet business since 1994 and have worked with some of the largest and most respected companies in the world. With offices in Las Vegas, Nevada and Calgary, Alberta, MNI has a special interest in websites that target international, multinational and cross-national areas.

Ian McAnerin, founder of MNI, is one of the best known search engine optimizers (SEO) in the world, and speaks frequently at conferences and seminars. He now works almost exclusively with other SEOs and internet marketers on a consulting basis for difficult projects, as well as governments and larger organizations.

For more information visit China Search Marketing Tour or to join us call Helen Yue, China Custom Tours at +1.800.865.6221.

Avoid Rank-Killing Bogons in 6 Steps

I usually don't mention my clients in this blog (it's intended for personal comments, not promoting clients) but this is an unusual circumstance, and I think you might benefit from knowing what a bogon is and how it affected them, and how it could affect you, too.

My new client,, is a football (soccer) news site that just launched a little while ago. SEO-wise, it's nice and clean, and on a brand new, clean IP. We showed up well on Yahoo and MS Live, but nowhere on Google. Now, I'm used to Google being the slow one lately, but it was starting to get ridiculous after a while. After some head scratching, I think I figured out what happened, and I'd like to share, in the hopes that it can help you, too.

Last year, I ran into a Bogon issue with another client, though that time the search engine affected was Yahoo. It took some time to figure things out, and it was only with the help of both Rackspace and Yahoo working together did we manage to solve it. Afterward, Mike Churchill and I wrote an article on the problem, called "Bogons Ate My Website!".

I don't want to get too deeply into what all the potential bogon issues are (read the article for that) but I do want to give you a list of what to look for to see if you may have a bogon issue.

I recently described a bogon like this:

Imagine moving into a brand new housing development that was not on any maps until this year. Now imagine that a delivery driver has last years map, and firm instructions to not deliver to, or receive deliveries from, addresses that are not on his map. Any packages that you send, or that are sent to you, will therefore be ignored. This rule is to improve efficiency and to avoid people playing tricks on the delivery men (spammers), and normally is a very good rule to have, as long as the maps are updated.

That delivery man with the outdated map is the one that Google is using. Since Yahoo and MSN are using delivery men that have updated maps, they are not having any problems.

We can’t force the deliver man to update his map, and Google can’t switch delivery men, so our only options are to either wait until (or if) the map is updated, or to move to a neighborhood (IP address) that is on the map.

Bogon Checklist

  1. Is your site not showing up in a particular search engine, or mysteriously dropping pages (and rankings)?
  2. Is the site clean (ie no spam, affiliate links, etc)?
  3. Have you eliminated DNS and robots.txt issues?
  4. Do your logs show that the search engine spider in question is visiting your site?
  5. Does the site have a new IP address, one that was recently removed from the Bogon List?

If you can answer YES to all of these questions, then you may have a bogon issue.

How to fix it: In general, I find that the best way to deal with the issue is to request a different, aged, IP address. One way to figure that out if there are no records, is to see if sites hosted on the IP's right next to the new one have been indexed by all the search engines you are worried about. If they are, then chances are your IP will be ok.


Visa Announces Cellphone Payments

Today (Jan 8, 2007) Visa announced at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas that they were launching a global cellphone payment system.

"The initial version of the platform launched today offers solutions for contactless mobile payment, OTA personalization, coupons and direct marketing. Subsequent versions of the platform, to be made available later in the year, will include solutions for remote payment and person-to-person payment."

So later this year (hopefully) we may see the ability to pay for goods and services off websites simply by using your cell phone.

Visa did an earlier pilot project in Malaysia in April, and by all accounts it was very successful.

"Merchants, noting that consumers are embracing Visa Wave, are very pleased with the faster-moving queues," said Jung. "Cardholders like the high-tech feel of Visa Wave and the fact that it's so easy to use, saving them time and bother from having to search for small change."

Anyone interested in the future of mobile search, and of e-commerce in general in Asia, should find this a very interesting announcement.


My Favorite Skunkworks Story

I just ran across one of the best skunk works stories ever in IT, told by the guy who was actually there, courtesy of Google Video and and the Google sponsored TechTalks on Aug 1, 2006.

"It's midnight. I've been working sixteen hours a day, seven days a week. I'm not being paid. In fact, my project was canceled six months ago, so I'm evading security, sneaking into Apple Computer's main offices in the heart of Silicon Valley, doing clandestine volunteer work for an eight-billion-dollar corporation."

Source: Ron Avitzur

It's an hour long, but it's worth it, trust me. Ron's story has inspired me for many years, and I'm thrilled to actually be able to hear him tell it in his own words.

In case the above video doesn't launch, here is the original link.

SIGGIR Web Spam Research 2006

A few months ago, I joined ACM's Special Interest Group on Information Retrieval (SIGIR) - an organization that focuses on search from a scientific standpoint. It's THE place where researchers and search engineers from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, etc all want to have their latest papers and theories published.

Accordingly, it's THE place I go to find out what they are up to ;)

Since I happened to join after the conference in August, I missed all the juicy stuff that happened and, quite frankly, got busy and forgot to go look it up afterward. Fortunately for me, they mail members a publication that gives an overview on the papers presented, etc. I just got mine in the mail and it was very interesting.

As a result of WEBSPAM-UK2006, a reference collection for web spam was created based on a cross section of 6,552 pages - each was then hand checked and labeled by humans as either normal, spam or borderline.

This reference set was then made available for search engines and researchers to check their anti-spam tactics against. It's about 55GB in size (compressed), and contains the full HTTP response of each page, along with the human annotations.

This is the first publicly available webspam reference collection, and as such is quite an important group of files. I sure hope nothing I've ever done is in there ;)

The process of creating this file actually was very interesting and there were a few facts and observations that were made as a result.

The researchers labeled the results "71% of the hosts as normal, 25% as spam and the remainder 4% as undecided".

That's a lot of spam!

One of the most interesting parts of this was when the reviewers disagreed over what as spam or not.

"The average agreement is never more than about 80% (slightly more than 83% on the 14 reviewers with overlap of at least 65) and never below 75%. Also, and to some extent surprisingly, the average agreement does not seem to grow with the overlap... This result...seems to indicate that a non-negligible degree of "disagreement" is maybe not the result of statistical noise. Rather, it seems inherent to human rating of Web spamming and seems to indicate, to some extent, the lack of a general consensus on what exactly is spam and what not."

Source: Castillo, Carlos, et al "A Reference Collection for Web Spam" - ACM SIGIR Frum Vol 40 No. 2 December 2006 Page 20.

In short, sometimes spam really is in the eye of the beholder, and even trained and experienced humans can disagree on whether something is spam or not.

They also listed a (preliminary and non-exclusive) list of common elements in pages defined as spam (along with the prevalence score on the spam in the collection):

  1. Keywords in URL (84%)
  2. Keywords in Anchor Text (80%)
  3. Multiple Sponsored Links (52%)
  4. Multiple external ad units (ie AdSense, etc) (39%)
  5. Text obtained from Web search (except internal search) (26%)
  6. Synthetic text (10%)
  7. Parked domains (4%)

They of course noted that the presence of keywords in the URL and anchor text were not necessarily spam, but when taken together with other aspects became suspicious. Synthetic text was considered almost always spam, and having more than one type of external ad unit was, as well (this should serve as a warning sign to affiliates with multiple ads from multiple sources on a single page).

If you are a researcher, you can actually get a copy of this archive (under a Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.5 License). It's hosted by Yahoo! Research Barcelona, and you can get more details there.


Google's New China Strategy?

I'm starting to think Google may have a novel but potentially effective new strategy for dealing with the China market.

Case in Point

Bloomberg reported last week that Google has invested about 5M into a Chinese P2P video download service, Shenzhen Xunlei Network Technology Ltd. They are apparently going to make the official announcement sometime in the next 3 weeks, probably on or about January 5, 2007. The investment makes it a minority stakeholder, not owner, however.

So, who the heck is Xunlei? And why does it matter?

The China Web 2.0 Review has a good overview of this. Here are the key facts:

  1. Founded in 2003, it offers a download accelerator for large files (like video)
  2. Xunlei was voted for the Coolest Sites List 2005 by Fortune China
  3. “Xunlei (迅雷)” is one of the most popular search terms in Baidu, the search leader in China.
  4. Xunlei claims its software has been downloaded for over 110M times with about 1.5 million downloads per day average.
  5. Xunlei is the second most popular desktop client in China, just after instant messaging software QQ

Googles market share in China is not doing so well compared to Google in other countries, and there is speculation that they intend to leverage the viewers of the site to serve ads, though this is obviously not confirmed.

For those of you coming on the China Search Marketing Tour or interested in China, Shenzhen (where Xunlei is based) is right across the border beside Hong Kong - physically the closest mainland China city to Hong Kong, and therefore an excellent and well regarded entry point. It's a good place to have an office.

So what is the strategy?

I wrote earlier that Google China seems to be trying to avoid forming a JV partnership in China like the other search engines, and it's starting to look like they intend to accomplish this by investing enough into popular Chinese services to gain access to their visitors and customers without investing enough to be in control, and therefore be controlled.

Up until now, there have been traditionally 2 major strategies for western companies entering the Chinese market: Us or Them.

The "Us" method is basically business as usual - move in, set up an HQ, hire some interpreters, put out some ads, and go. "Go" really is the the operative word, here - this method rarely, if ever, works. Between Chinese nationalism, politics and cultural norms, western-focused businesses rarely survive for long. This approach is usually associated with naive beginners.

The "Them" method is the normal approach for the more savvy businesses. The "Them" approach is to create a Chinese business - often through a joint venture with a Chinese company, though sometimes by creating a Chinese company. This is obviously the method favored by the Chinese government, but it carries it's own risks - the Chinese company is expected to follow all the Chinese ways of doing things, including censorship and other issues. There are also issue with control, productivity, and so forth.

Google seems to be looking at a "We" method - They are buying enough into existing Chinese companies with existing visitors and technologies to benefit Google, but not enough to be a controlling partner, and therefore not enough to have to concern themselves overly with the details of how the business gets done, since they have no control.

This also has the added benefit of allowing them to state, quite truthfully, that they are not the ones censoring, etc - they are just providing the search technology and ads, or engaging in a technology license, or whatever.

Interesting strategy. Based on what I know of doing business in China, it may actually be a very successful one. Perhaps my earlier concerns about Googles plans underestimated them. On the other hand, this is pure speculation on my part. Maybe they just want the file-sharing technology. (rolls eyes)

There is a saying in China "Same bed, different dreams" - it looks like Google may be taking advantage of this concept, rather than being victim to it, like many other western companies investing in China.


Ms. Dewey

I just ran across a pretty cool search engine front end (powered by MS Live Search) called Ms. Dewey - who, BTW, looks way better than poor old Jeeves, bless his stuffed shirt...

Typing in queries, she comes back with snappy combacks and comments about your search - kind of interesting. I even like the loading bar! If you pause for a while, she taps on the glass and asks if you are still there.

Some searches have interesting responses to them. Try typing in "sex", "news", "Paris Hilton", "George Bush", or "Google", for example.

I would not use this as a day-to-day work tool (I'd get sick of her pretty quick) - but it's a really good example of basic artificial intelligence applied to a search interface.


Search Sharks - SEO Law Blog Coming

I had one of those "hey! I got an idea" moments today while cleaning out my RSS feed list. I was adding a bunch of blogs, as well as deleting some and moving them up and down (I use a custom Google homepage for my news/rss) and I noticed a trend in my reading habits.

I talk a lot about the law and how it affects SEO/SEM but not enough to fill a blog. I also noticed that Bill Slawski of SEO By The Sea does, as well.

On a whim, I phoned Bill up and we talked about co-authoring a blog devoted to search and the law.

On the plus side, we both have legal backgrounds but don't practice law, which means that we are unlikely to be biased. We have different personalities and approach SEO law in different ways, which makes for more interesting discussions, and finally, we both tend to hang out in different circles, so we each have different sources of information, as well.

On the negative side, we are both swamped with clients and other commitments and really don't have the time to write yet another blog, which is why neither of us has done anything like this yet - we usually just post within our own blogs or on forums instead.

But we both have time to help collect and (more importantly) edit and analyse legal cases and information in a nice, easy to use, free, centralized location.

After doing some domain name searches and working out an agreement in principle, we settled on Search Sharks ( The domain was just registered this morning and isn't pointing anywhere yet - so don't bother trying to visit yet ;)

As time permits, over the next while we will be trying to put together the premier site for search legal information and news. We'll let you know when it's ready.

In the meantime, I'd love to hear some feedback on what you'd like to see in the blog. Obviously legal news related to the search engines, and possibly new patents and such.

But what else? Is there an area where you have burning questions you want answered? Specific cases you want followed? Maybe things you don't want us to talk about because you are sick of it? Let us know!