Naver added to Robots.txt Generator


As you may know, my company offers the most popular robots.txt generator in the world free to visitors, and we are continually adding functionality.

In response to a recent request, we've added Naver to the robots.txt tool. Naver is the most popular search engine/portal in Korea. I've been to Korea several times, and (because it's my job) I always ask everyone I meet what search engine they use. It's almost always Naver, and there is good reason for it.

There is one thing I've learned doing international SEO - the Koreans are really, really good at creating useful and engaging web content. Some of the best free online games, tools and services are Korean. Google is getting their proverbial butt kicked there, and it's because they simply are not good enough. I still honestly think that Google got the idea of universal search from Naver - Naver was doing it long before Google was, and is still doing it better.

As a result, I'm kind of surprised I hadn't added Naver to the robots.txt generator already, but I guess it's better late than naver.... ;)


Google and God

I came across this sign during a recent trip to Banff, and thought I would share. Google is everywhere...

Update: Google Releases Google Branded IE7

This is a followup on a previous post complaining about my beloved Google Toolbar being lost during the upgrade to IE7 and Googles own Chrome not even allowing me the option.

I guess Google gave up on getting their toolbar to install on IE7, so they appear to have used the Admin Kit provided by MS to create a version of IE7 that has the toolbar included.

Works for me.

3 Factors of International SEO

International SEO is just like regular SEO, but with a type of personalization.

Arguably, the first step towards true search personalization by the search engines was international search. This was followed by local search and universal search, with even more coming ideas coming along, including logins, "answers" and so on.

But it started with international search, because that was the big issue - how do you develop relevent results if you can't even present them in the language of the visitor? How can you claim a result for someone looking to buy something is relevent if the companies in the results don't even ship to where that searcher is? Unless you restrict yourself only to a certain region, you can't.

As a result, international search is, even with all it's little issues and odd behaviours, one of the more settled and stable types of personalization. Which means you can actually DO international SEO, rather than hoping you are doing it. As a matter of fact, I'm writing a book on that very subject right now.

First things first: standard SEO still counts. You still need good technological setup, links and content. If you don't start here, then internationalizing your site will only make things harder, not easier.

Once you have that in place, here are the 3 main factors for internationalization:


Localization is the act of making your site relevent and useful to visitors from a particular locale. This includes:

  • Translation and language localization (examples include US vs UK spellings and regional terms like "pop" vs "soda")

  • User interface (examples: sites aimed at Asian languages should be more link-heavy than English sites, you need to avoid menu systems that assume that the words in the menu are a specific width, and your order forms need to accept addresses in the local order)

  • Keyword research - there is no Chinese "WordTracker" or Keyword Discovery" program currently available. I often need to do PPC campaigns to do any KW research at all. This is why I use SEO-trained translators - they cost more, but are worth it.


Geolocation is the process of figuring out the best localized site to present to a particular visitor. Often this is done by matching a visitor IP from a country to the country-specific version of a website (IP Geolocation), but this is a simplistic method that doesn't account for todays highly mobile workforce - an American visiting Japan may want an American site, or they may want a Japanese site, you don't know, and can't guess easily.

And what country is Google from? More specifically, which site do you present to search bots, and how do you do it to avoid problems. This is an entire article by itself, and it's not as easy as you may think.

Geolocation, then, is the process of both choosing the right version of your site for visitors, and also helping the search engines make the same choice.

Here are some ways to help do this:

  • Geolocating the website. The most important step of the process is letting everyone know what country your site is targeted to. You can ONLY target one country per page, and in reality, for most organizations, one country per site or sub-site. Methods of doing this are using a ccTLD (country code top level domain like .ca and .uk) and using an IP address that is assigned to a particular country.

  • Geolocating the visitor. This can be done in several ways. You can detect their IP address, you can ask them to identify their preferred site, and you can detect their browser settings.

  • Visitor language detection. Many countries have more than one official language, and even countries that only have one official language may have substantial alternate linguistic populations ( For exampe, Spanish speakers in the US, English Speakers in Korea). This means you can't just assume that country=language. This can be either detected using browser settings, the keyword used, user choice, or (last resort) geolocation.

  • Website language detection. This is harder than you may think. Many language share words or have similar characters, making it hard to automatically detect a language if you are a computer. This can usually be solved by declaring the language within the code.

Globalization in this context means bringing it all together. Combining the localization and geolocation in order to present the best site for any visitor. Creating a system that treats every visitor as special, and dealing with their language choice as easily as dealing with the fact that they want your product in size 8, or shipped overnight, or paid for in Euros.

Geolocation and Localization focus on the differences between the countries, languages, and cultures of each visitor, while Globalization focuses on the similarities between visitors, and works towards communicating a message or selling a product seamlessly.

The main mistake I see during globalization efforts is an inappropriate division of responsibility. There are some things that head office should be in control of, and some that the local office should be in control of.

Head office should run the branding and overall marketing strategy for the company. Local offices should then take that strategy, and devise tactics that will work in the local market that further the global strategy.

This means, of course, that head office should control the urge to create "strategies" that are really tactical - like choosing the exact wording of ads, and so forth. Because none of that will matter during translation, and will almost certainly make it worse. Let the locals sell to the locals. You just provide them with the tools and support to do it.

Likewise, local offices should control the local tactics, such as specific marketing copy, photographic images (other than product shots) and, within reason, timing. Launching a major campaign on your new fast food item may not be a brilliant strategy at the beginning of Ramadan, for example.

But local offices tend to be focused on their own area. They may not understand the global issues (including supply line problems) and often don't have as strong of a sensitivity to the "brand" as head office does. A local office in South America infamously changed the BMW logo to better match it's new website, for example. You don't do that!


In order to properly do international SEO, you need to address all three aspects of it - localization, geolocation, and globalization. Once you get these parts are working in harmony, you'll find that it's actually fairly easy to continue to do and improve upon.


Search Engine Share 2008

I just made these for a presentation, based on the latest information I have for this year. Enjoy.

Organic Search Engine Share 2008 for North America

Organic Search Engine Share 2008 for North America

PPC (Pay Per Click) Search Engine Share 2008 for North America

PPC (Pay Per Click) Search Engine Share 2008 for North America

New Browsers and Google Toolbar

I like the Google toolbar. There, I said it.

Today, I decided to take a chance and upgrade my IE 7 to IE 8 Beta. I use Firefox for SEO purposes and IE for normal browsing, so this was a big deal for me, since I use IE a lot.

Upon installation, IE 8 promptly informed me that the Google Toolbar isn't compatible with it. A quick check on the web showed that it can cause all sorts of freezing and problems. Darn. Otherwise, it's a really, really nice browser. I was very pleased. Except for my Google Toolbar. I use this for checking my spelling. I spel reel bad. Eye knead ah spel chequer...

However, in a coincidence, I heard several people talking about the new Google Chrome browser. HAH! If anything should work with the Google Toolbar, it should be the Google browser, right? So I installed it, and went to the Google Toolbar page.

In it's infinite wisdom, Googles toolbar page detected IT'S OWN BROWSER wrongly as Firefox, but then informed me that to use the Google Toolbar I needed to download Firefox!!

Huh? That's a marketing and branding nightmare if I ever saw one. I think there needs to be a leeeetle more communication over at the 'plex. And maybe some testing, too...

Just dumb, guys.


Ranking Reports - a Defence.

You know you are getting old when you have an uncontrollable urge to start a post starting with words like "in my day.." , "I remember when.." or "I've seen this before..."

But it's true - that's the problem. People who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, or to even live through something worse. I was reminded of this while reading a recent forum thread about ranking reports.

Someone started complaining that Google had prevented a certain piece of ranking software from getting information from them. This was almost universally followed not by useful advice, but by a bunch of people saying ranking reports were useless. You see this type of thing with regard to PageRank, as well.

I appreciate that the posters meant well, but I really wish people would think clearly, rather than spouting off the latest over-correction crap they've heard recently. Regardless of the topic, there seems to be a consistent flow to this:

  1. Something is pushed too far. Could be a theory, or political view, or whatever.
  2. Experts, concerned about this, issue reasons why those pushing too far are wrong
  3. A new generation of people, in a fit of rebellion against the status quo, quickly grab the "new way of thinking" and then, you guessed it, go too far with it.
  4. Eventually, there is a counter-rebellion and the thinking about the topic matures, now that both sides have been expressed fully and challenged.

The examples are legion. Think about any political, civil rights or scientific revolution and you will see this. So it should be no surprise that it affects SEO, as well.

That being the case, let this be the first shot fired in the counter-revolution against Ranking Reports.

See, in the old days, no one did ranking reports. Who cares how you rank if no one ever visits your site? Instead, server reports were used. In this case, it was often "hits". At the time, hits were not a bad measurement. Pages were very light on graphics, and e-commerce wasn't really a workable concept - people were after "branding" and "buzz". In this context, measuring hits was an easy and fairly accurate way to measure the popularity of a site.

Even today, a popular site will tend to have more hits than a similar unpopular site. You can complain about issues with hits all you want, but the broad brush stroke is usually still representative.

Of course, there are many problems with hits - they are a method of measuring server performance, not visitor performance. A page with a single graphic on it counts as 2 hits (one for the html page and one for the graphic) whereas a page with 50 images on it (even 1x1 pixel images) would count as 51 hits. In both cases, there is only one visitor, however. This was exploited by spammers and bad SEO's who, rather than increasing visitors to a site, would sometimes just slowly add more invisible pictures to the pages in the site, thereby increasing the hits without increasing the actual visitors.

Soon, the industry became more sophisticated, the experts began to call for ranking reports instead of "hits" reports, and we began to move from server-based measurement to search engine based measurement. Instead of measuring our performance using internal criteria (server logs), we switched to external criteria (ranking reports).

After all, it can clearly be shown that your rankings directly affect your traffic and sales. I can see this in both PPC and SEO everyday across many industries. Additionally, measuring based on rankings was more closely tied to the job an SEO does - optimizing for search engines, not for server performance. Life was good. For a while.

Then, the problems with ranking reports began to emerge - first, search rankings can fluctuate from day to day and even minute to minute. Second, some clients wanted daily and even twice daily ranking reports for their top terms. This placed a lot of pressure on both SEO's and search engines, in many cases for no good reason. There is a point when granularity exceeds the information. You can measure too much, and too deeply, getting lost looking at bark under a microscope when you should be looking at the forest, or at least groups of trees.

Other issues with ranking reports were just as serious - ranking well in a term that no one searches for is useless, and sending unqualified traffic was just as bad (and even worse) than sending no traffic at all. Finally, search engines started placing robots.txt files on them. Suddenly, ranking reports didn't look so good anymore. The experts changed course again and began to recommend analytics, instead.

Ironically, we've come full circle. We started doing server based measurement (hits and unique visitors), abandoned it in favor of search engine based measurement (ranking reports) and have now come back to server based measurement - except now we are a lot more sophisticated. We don't want hits anymore, we want unique visitors, time on site, fallout reports, and all sorts of other Key Performance Indicators (KPI). This is cool. It's scientific, it's visitor-focused, and it's got all sorts of pretty graphs and charts.

Ranking reports are now in disfavor, to the relief of bad SEO's who can now justify bad rankings (and their dislike of doing linking campaigns) by talking about how rankings don't matter - it's visitors and sales. How very convenient. It sounds great. Very forward-thinking and modern. Except it's wrong.

Why? Because there is no context. Your visitors and buyers have increased - big deal. Maybe your competition's has also increased, but at a rate ten times yours. But you won't know that, because guess what? You are only looking at your own server for information. If it's not on your server, it doesn't exist. Analytics ignores the outside world and just builds a better navel gazer.

It's all well and good to make yourself better, to optimize the user experience and to increase conversions, but I have news for you - a qualified visitor does not usually stumble randomly to your site - they arrive from somewhere, and that is very often from a search engine. To say rankings don't matter is to do your clients and yourself a great disservice. The best website in the world is no good if no one can find it.

So what now? Go back to ranking reports? No - their weaknesses are well known and legitimate. The next step is to blend your rankings and other external data with your analytics. The visitor experience of your website doesn't begin when they land on your page, it should start as soon as they start looking for what you have to offer. Branding, buzz, social media, PPC and SEO all play a part in this, and thus far analytics has not adequately addressed it, particularly in SEO and social media.

Oh, they can say that people coming to the site based on keyword "X" convert at such and such a rate, but they usually don't suggest new keywords, or tell the analyst where the site ranked for keyword "X" that day, or whether the site was on the front page of Digg that day, or whether there was a news article, blog post or twitter campaign going on. That's important, but since it's not on their server, it doesn't get reported. There is no context, and therefore the information is suspect.

SEO's who "don't believe in ranking reports" don't get it. That's part of their job. If you want to avoid the robots.txt issues, do it manually or use a human-operated script rather than a robot (yes, there is a difference). It will help stop you from over-doing it, anyway. But to say that you optimize sites for search engines and then say that you don't believe in checking a search engine to see if your site is optimized for it is ludicrous.

If you have done your keyword research, a ranking report is a legitimate and extremely important part of the puzzle. It's only a part of the puzzle, not the solution, but it's a very important part of it. Data without context is meaningless, and context is provided from external sources of information, not self-referencing (internal) sources.

I think, like analytics moving from "hits" to KPI, search reports need to become more sophisticated, as well. A simple ranking isn't enough. You need more information. In many cases this information can come from analytics, but it can also come from linking reports, SE saturation, social media buzz references, and many other places. I call not for the return of ranking reports 1.0, but for ranking reports 2.0 - newer, improved and more connected to the visitor.

Doing the job properly requires BOTH server-based and external information sources. I hereby issue a call for all search marketers to move past the current myopic focus on analytics and to look at the whole picture - that's where true understanding lies.


Cuil Added to Robots.txt Generator

As many of you know, I run one of the most popular robots.txt generators on the web. Some time ago, I sent an email to up and coming search engine "Cuil" for information so I could add their crawler to the tool.

Once they came out of stealth mode, I was sent an email with the information (which I've been procrastinating on) and just today discovered that Victor mentioned my tool in his blog.

Well, I could not procrastinate any more after that! So now, the robots.txt generator now fully supports Cuil and it's special features (ie crawl-delay).

If you haven't tried Cuil, you should. It's growing very rapidly and currently has the largest index of sites of all the search engines. It's pretty good at finding hard to locate information.


Spam King Kills Family

--Begin Rant--

Eddie Davidson, the so-called "Spam King", just murdered most of his family after escaping from jail. I have not the words to adequately describe my feelings towards this scumbag, but I assure you none of them are nice or polite. My feelings of sympathy are only with his family, not him.

I realize that not all spammers are child killing cowards, but they do tend to share his "looking for the easy way to make money fast while avoiding personal responsibility or caring about the effects on others" outlook on life, and tend, IMO, towards criminal behaviour as a result. Eddie is just the poster boy.

He tricked his family into going with him into the countryside, then killed them - his teenage daughter barely escaped to tell the story:

Davidson got out of the driver's side and pointed the gun at Amy. She tried to
grab the gun and he fired, hitting her in the head.

He then turned the gun on the teen in the backseat, and fired, hitting her in the neck as she ducked.

She believes Davidson thought she was dead, but she watched as he shot and
killed 3-year-old baby, still strapped in the car.

The teen then opened the door, kicked off her shoes and ran about a quarter mile until she reached the home of an off-duty Denver Police officer and told him what had happened.
The little girl never even got to tell daddy about her kindergarten report card she had with her.

I really think that spammers should be treated somewhat like people who torture animals for fun as children - as people who are probably disturbed and potentially criminals. People who need watching, and medical help.

Going too far in the heat of the moment? Maybe. But spamming is sociopathic behaviour, IMO. I realize that not all sociopaths become criminals (many/most just end up being that person who is making your life hell at work) but they certainly don't make the world a better place. Quite the opposite. The fact that many spammers are superficially charming just clarifies my opinion that many/most are sociopaths. I use the "many/most" phrasing because my personal experience indicates "most", but I realize one persons experiences are not scientifically accurate.

I know most spammers don't go on to do the things that Davidson did, but they do tend to be far more likely to become criminals than the average person (usually fraud), IMO - witness the owner of Traffic Power, as an example.

--End Rant--

My Opinion,


Muphry's Law

AS mny of you know, I kan't spel good sumtimes.

However, I've learned to use the Google Toolbar spellchecker (and the Word spellchecker, when I'm in there) and now most of the time my misspellings are more of the "properly spelled wrong word" variety. You know, typing "it it" instead of "it is" or my most infamous mistake, which, no matter how hard I try, I seem to consistently use wrongly: "its" vs "it's" vs "its'"

This is a bit of a Yak Shaving day for me, as I was reading a post by Rebecca over at SEOMoz and it led me to another post which led me to another with this wonderful term in it: "Muphry's Law" (no, not "Murphy's Law", that's something related but different).

Muphry's Law dictates that (a) if you write anything criticizing editing or proofreading, there will be a fault of some kind in what you have written; (b) if an author thanks you in a book for your editing or proofreading, there will be mistakes in the book; (c) the stronger the sentiment expressed in (a) and (b), the greater the fault; (d) any book devoted to editing or style will be internally inconsistent.

In short, people wielding the sword of editorial righteousness tend to cut themselves with it. I've noticed this myself, and think it's really funny, especially since I'm almost always in the "spelling correctee" camp...

On a related note, there is another word I like: incorrection, or a correction that itself is incorrect. I used to get this all the time in legal discussions. I'd say something was X, then someone who'd obviously learned about the law watching the Jerry Springer show "corrects" me with a really stupid definition/usage. My favorite part is when they do this with that look on their face that says they pity me for being so stupid...

Anyway, this whole thing reminded me of misspellings and such, so I thought I'd through together some interesting references:

Of course, not all misspellings are bad - you can do very well for yourself as a marketer if you bid on, SEO for, and register domains with, misspellings. Here are some tools and resources for this:

Other Hints

  1. If you bid on typos in PPC, make sure you put them into their own Adgroup and then remove the DKI (Dynamic Keyword Insertion) in your ads for that group - otherwise you look illiterate.
  2. Testimonials, ALT attributes, the keyword metatag (for Yahoo and MSN, not Google), filenames (ie misspelling.htm), image names (misspelling.jpg), and incoming anchor text from a "misspelling glossary" on your site, or from other sites are all great ways to show up for misspellings in organic SEO.
  3. For non-English languages, always include the spelling of words without special characters - if the word is "Montréal" or "piñata", then also optimize for "Montreal" or "pinata" - some people are using a US style keyboard, and find it easier to type without special characters, even if they know the language perfectly. They are used to Google helping them and giving them good results even though it's not perfectly spelled. You want to be one of those good results.
  4. For English, don't forget "s" and "z" transpositions between the US and UK spellings - ie "optimize" vs "optimise".


PS: I'm well aware that since this is a post about spelling and I'm a lousy speller, I'm a prime candidate for Muphry's Law. So I've short-circuited the problem by deliberately leaving in some errors and announcing that I've done so. Let's see the damn Law deal with THAT... ;)

On Vacation Jun 28-July 5 + Seo-Browser

Hi all,

I'm going on a family vacation to see relatives in the Toronto and Ottawa area for the next little while, so unlike my normal travel ties I won't be as accessible as normal. As a matter of fact, unless you are currently on my "To Do" list, I probably won't respond unless it's clearly an emergency or I said I would.

The good news is that I *will* be working on my "To Do" list (which currently has 73 items on it) whenever I can, as well as hopefully getting some work done on my upcoming book on International SEO. That means that if I've been slow to get back to you, but have promised to do so - I finally will. Once I'm completely caught up, I'll be getting some admin staff to help me so I won't have another issue like this again.

So it's a bit of a working vacation, but it *will* be a vacation, and I'm not going to apologise for that. I'm really looking forward to seeing my family again, and introducing my kids for the first time to their cousins, who I'm sure they will get along with really well.

One industry note before I go: SEOMoz had a post this week regarding a site that was, as it turned out, being a little naughty. Stupidly, ineffectively naughty, but naughty nonetheless. Rand mentioned at one point that there are somethings that tools like seo-browser can't do, like check for this type of cloaking.

I definitely appreciate the shout out, (SEOMoz's SEO Tools are really good themselves, so I take the recommendation as informed and all the more valuable as a result), but I just consider that kind of statement, true as it may be, as a challenge.

Further down in the comments, the ever-quoted Matt Cutts mentioned his favorite tool for detecting this type of thing: telneting to port 80 for a totally raw dump.

Hmmm, a problem (seo-browser can't show raw dumps) and a solution (telnet can). As a result, very shortly you will be seeing expanded functionality in the seo-browser where the http header capture grabs raw data using telnet-like behaviour, and can even report itself as various user-agents, including Googlebot, in the process.

Additionally, we'll be rolling out non-English language support - I do international SEO, so being able to view a site in seo-browser properly in Chinese or Russian is important to me :)



SMX Advanced Notes, Part 1

One of the problems with having been doing this (SEO and SEM) for a while and with having a head for search trivia like me is that I have found myself increasingly disinterested in most search conference sessions.

If I have to sit through one more "Links are important" session I'll scream. At this point, my interest in the conferences is meeting up with old and new friends, networking, and learning little nuggets of info after hours over a beer.

But SMX Advanced is different. For the first time in more than 3 years, I've actually attended sessions because I felt they were interesting and I could learn something. It's a wonderful feeling. I'm a natural student by nature, and I love learning new things.

Some interesting things I learned today:

  • I've been doing PPC on the content network wrong. HUGE kudos to David Szetela of Clix Marketing for giving me a "lightbulb moment" that I can't believe I'd missed. Insight: The keywords for the content network need to be different from the keywords in a search campaign. You need to choose keywords that would appear on the types of pages that you want the ad to show up on, not the search terms people looking for your products would type in. If you sell trucks, on the search network, you would target "trucks" and related terms, but for the content network you are targeting the buyer in a more general sense (ie an outdoorsy guy, for example), so you would on things like "hunting", "offroading", etc. Totally makes sense, and I totally missed it.
  • Part of the Quality score is the CTR. One interesting strategy is to bid high (even on the content network) in order to get a high CTR. Then when you get a high resulting QS, you can lower your bids and still keep the same position. Think of it as a QS jumpstart. Cool.
  • The term "dotscale" (.scale), referring to sites/technologies that naturally get better as they get bigger and used more. Social media like Facebook is a good example of this. It's useless unless your friends are all on it, too.
  • MS is beta testing a new offline tool for PPC (like the Adwords Editor). Nice.
  • Google now recommends the "First Click Free" approach to membership content.
  • A cool idea that I can use for one of my clients: use javascript to append tracking on URLs (if you really must do this), which will leave them clean for bots.


Google Rolls out New Invoice System, and Immediately Bills Wrong People!

So, I have a client, all nice and tidy in my AdWords Pro Account. This client has a very large spend (500K+) and frankly, my credit cards simply don't have the space on them. So I set up invoicing with Google.

Google, to their credit, work quickly and are very helpful. Even so, there are delays involved simply due to processing times, etc. During this period, which is rather nerve-racking, I actually have to take out a second mortgage on my home in order to pay Google. The second mortgage also takes time to put into place, so in the meantime, I'm frantically paying Google by rotating through every credit card I have, and I even borrow a card from my brother in law.

Eventually, everything gets straightened out, invoicing kicks in, my client pays their bills, the credit cards are paid off, and my company is now stronger for the experience. All told, although it almost gave me a nervous breakdown, it was an overall positive thing.

(The reason I couldn't bill the client up front and pre-pay is another story, related to contracts and government regulations. Suffice to say that if it had been an option, I would have used it, but it wasn't).

But for now, everything is going fine. Once per month, I'm sent a snail-mail version of the invoice, but since I'm in Canada and the invoice is coming from the US, it arrives later than I'd like. Instead, I log into AdWords, download a PDF of my invoice and pay it. No problem.

Now For The Problem

At this point, life is good, I get paid, Google gets paid and everyone is happy. Until yesterday.

Yesterday, Google sends an email version of the invoice. Sounds good, right? Much faster than snail mail.


  1. The invoice was sent to my client's email address, not mine. Big mistake number one. I'm surprised it even got through their spam filters, much less got forwarded to me. They certainly had no idea what to do with it.
  2. The invoice was billed to my brother in law. You know, the guy who loaned me his credit card once on this account. He's certainly not going to pay it, and my client had no idea who this guy was.
  3. The invoice was sent yesterday - not at the time when the invoices should have been sent. By this point, I had not only received the proper invoice (when I download them, they are billed properly to my company, not to my brother in law), but I had paid it already. Why the invoice was sent AFTER THE DUE DATE and after being paid is totally beyond me.
  4. Finally, it was sent on behalf of Google Collections Canada. Now, we don't work with Google Canada due to some very bad service we had received last year. When I contacted the person listed in the email, she said that her name had been added automatically and she had not directly sent the email. So the email was sent FROM the wrong person (and wrong country)!

So, Google invoiced the proper amount, but did so:

  • To the wrong email address
  • To the wrong billing contact
  • At the wrong time
  • After it had been paid
  • From the wrong country and collections department

Not exactly a stellar start to the new system. If you are an AdWords customer, be very, very careful about this new system, and I strongly recommend you check everything. Twice.

Just like Google should have.


Yahoo (YSM) Mexico Upgraded to Panama

I just received an email today from Yahoo informing me that Mexico is now on the new Panama PPC system.

This is good news for international SEM's like myself, since the old Yahoo kinda sucked. Worse, it was really, really hard to integrate into PPC software like Omniture Search Center.

I haven't played with it yet, but I'll keep you updated.



Original Email (translated into English with personal info removed, I apologize in advance for my bad Spanish):


Dear Advertiser, Congratulations!

The new Yahoo! Search Marketing has been activated. Our system has new and advanced features that are very easy to use and that will help you connect better with the vast and valuable audience of Yahoo! and sites associated with Yahoo! Search Marketing.

Your new Sponsored Results account

Your new user name is' XXX '. Before you can access your account, you will be asked to reestablish your password. After this, you receive an email with instructions.

After you reset your password, you can access your account at If you cannot click on the link, please copy and paste it into your Internet browser.

To help you have a successful start, we suggest you become familiar with your new account by logging in today at Please be sure to have a full campaign and add your billing information. We suggest that you add the page to access your account in your favorites for a easy access in the future.

The new Sponsored Results account structure

The interface of your account is as follows:

Administration - Manage your account information, including information payment and billing. In addition, allocate your daily spending limit, user privileges, and other options.

Please note that all information in your account, including the balance and budget, have been transferred to your new account with Sponsored Results of an account number again. However, we will continue accepting pesos as payment. The amount will simply become the equivalent amount of US dollars according to the current exchange rate.

Control Panel - See a list of all your campaigns, a summary of performance and alerts that require your attention.

Campaigns - Here is where you make the most of managing your account. You can see all your campaigns, ad group, ads and keywords. You can also create or edit campaigns, accessing the auctions and forecasting tools.

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What I Learned in China Last Week

Here is a mostly unsorted list of what I learned in China last week - the lessons will also tell the story...

FYI: what was supposed to happen was that I leave Canada on May 12, stay 3 days in Shanghai (and see the famous water town - China's Venice), then take a train to Nanjing to speak at a conference, then fly to Xi'an to see the terracotta warriors, then fly home.

Lessons Learned:

1. Even if you are an experienced, old-china-hand, been-there-done-that kind of person, you can still do something really stupid like show up in time to board a flight to Beijing with everything ready and in hand EXCEPT A STUPID ENTRY VISA. It's OK to feel like a moron - you are. Slap self silly and run down to the Consulate to see if you can get an emergency Visa in time for tomorrows flight.

2. Earthquakes have a way of messing up travel plans, especially if you have already started off on the wrong foot. Finding out about them while standing in line to go to that country can cause you to doubt your sanity. It also makes your friends and family doubt your sanity (if there was any doubt before, there no longer is)

3. You can get a Visa in the Chinese consulate in less than 2 hours if: a) you've been to China several times before without misbehaving, b) are staying at pre-booked hotels, c) have return tickets already purchased, and d) are willing to pay extra for same-day service.

4. Upgrade certificates to First Class are cool. Air Canada's new "Star Trek" seats are a gadget junkies dream. There are more options to recline and the seat than I thought could exist. I can't justify a business case for first class for my normal travel, but with upgrade certificates, I wouldn't miss it.

5. Beijing's new airport is BIG. No, you don't understand - it makes Heathrow look malnourished and you could combine LAX, Denver and LaGuardia together and they would still fit inside it. Pay attention to where you are going, because if you get lost you'll need a GPS unit, a good map, and a Sherpa guide to find your way out. As long as you don't get lost, it's actually pretty nice. They actually check your baggage tags, so don't lose it.

6. China Spree, my travel agent, booked a really nice hotel in Shanghai that just opened up (the Shanghai Skyway Landis). I liked it a lot. Note to self - choose this hotel for CSMT.

7. My friend Susan Li took me to the watertown (Zhujiajiao) and it was very cool. But the best part was just sitting in a nice tea house talking with an old friend for a few hours. The biggest mistake travellers make is to not allow time for things like this.

The Water Town (Zhujiajiao)

Chinese Soldiers Practicing Search and Rescue
(I assume before deployment to the earthquake zone)

8. Next Lesson: Train stations are designed for pedestrians, not international travellers with heavy suitcases. Lots of stairs, no elevators, ramps or anything useful for moving with luggage. Note to self: never, ever, ever take the train from Shanghai to Nanjing again. Ever.

9. Reading newspaper reports about the earthquake survivor stories can make you cry. Try not to do it in public.

10. The rule of thumb for a presentation is one slide per minute. 20 minute presentation, 20 slides, plus or minus. Forgetting that if an interpreter is translating everything because you are the only English speaker at the conference, it will effectively double the length of your presentation, is just dumb. Racking up a lot of points on the ol' "Ian is losing it" side of the score board here...

11. Lightning CAN strike twice, as long as someone up there is either holding a grudge or the recipient brings it upon themself. Although no one will every believe you, it's possible for you to look at a line that says your plane is taking off at 8:30 AM and somehow manage to read the line above it, that says that a plane is taking off at 10:50AM, thus causing you to miss the flight and the girl at the counter to giggle at you as you are banging your head on the wall.

12. When you have no one to blame but yourself, it's best to just shut up, deal with the new situation and pay the price.

13. My guide, Neil, in Xi'an is a very understanding fellow, especially since he had to wait at the airport all day for me. The Xi'an Shangri-La is a very nice hotel, and the Business Development Manager is very good at straightening out minor luggage issues. This is also the only place in China I've ever stayed in that actually served good coffee (with the exception of Starbucks). A miracle!

14. China has an interesting view on religion. In general, they consider religions to be interesting and colorful, if somewhat outdated. However, if said religion does anything political (like hold a rally, protest, etc) then it will be treated like an organized political opponent and dealt with accordingly. I'm a firm believer in separating religion and politics, but the Chinese take it to an extreme.

15. Xi'an has a very cool Muslim temple dating back at least a thousand years. Tourists can go most places, but only male Muslims can work there or enter into the prayer areas.

You can see the prayer rugs facing Mecca.

16. People care.

All flags flew at half mast for 3 days

Every Hotel I was in Collected Donations
(Naturally I gave - who wouldn't?)

During the 3 minutes of Rememberance at 2:28PM

This guard had tears in his eyes at the end of the 3 minutes

17. The terracotta warriors are cool and should be seen. Apparently, almost none are intact and have to be rebuilt. Between looting, fires, flooding and earthquakes, they have taken a beating. Wait... did you say "earthquake"?

18. Apparently, Xi'An is just north on the same fault-line as Sichuan. Lovely. That night, everyone in China with a cell phone (which is almost everyone) received a text message from the government warning about another potential very large earthquake. This caused some concern. In the old days, the government would not have sent this warning for fear of unrest due to panic - things are changing. And there was no unrest, just a bunch of people who decided that it was safer to stay outside of their apartments for the night. Tons of them. Lesson for the Chinese government: the Chinese people can handle being told bad news. Lesson for the Chinese people: the government is beginning to act like it trusts you. This is a good trend on both sides.

People sleeping outside in Xi'an after second earthquake warning.

19. Blogger is still blocker from inside China. {sigh}
20. It's good to be home.

Proposed SEM Standards (Part 1)

There is no way that one person could hope to write an entire Standards document for an entire industry, so I'm breaking this down into smaller parts that I feel would be the most helpful to others.

In this case, the following is a proposed set of Standards for creating Standards. Yes, you need rules for making the rules. In the full Standards, this would be the first section.

Naturally, comments here or elsewhere (as long as you quote what you are commenting on so we are all on the same page) are welcome and actively encouraged.

More information on how Standards fit within and relate to a Code of Ethics and Guideines


Search Marketing Standards

In accordance with the Search Marketing Code of Ethics, the following Search Marketing Standards reflect the general consensus of the search marketing community.

The Creation of Standards

All Standards outlined in this document and any amendments thereof shall follow the intent and purpose of the Search Marketing Code of Ethics, and no Standard that directly violates a principle of the Code of Ethics shall be created.

Interpretations and Guidelines for Standards shall also be made in accordance with the principles of the Code of Ethics.

Standards shall strive to be consistent, useful and clear.

Standards should be written in such as way as to not stifle innovation, creativity or informed professional judgement, while still providing for a coherent, consistent and authoritative frame of reference for the industry and the public.

Standards should be written in a manner that is respectful towards, but independent of, other stakeholders in search, such as website owners and search engines.

No Standard shall be created without the opportunity for debate and discussion within the entire search marketing community. Standards are necessarily independent of the organizations and companies promoting them, and discussion and debate cannot be limited to only members of a particular company or organization.

Standards Creation Process

All Standards proposals shall undergo assessment and debate within the search marketing community.

  • Method 1: A proposed standard is created and offered publicly for comments.
  • Method 2: A particular Guideline or Best Practice achieves such a consensus amongst the search marketing community that it begins to act as a de facto Standard. With community permission, it can be promoted to a Standard.


Proposed (Draft) SEM Code of Ethics

For more information about how a Code of Ethics fits in with Standards and Guidelines, see the previous post.


Search Marketing Code of Ethics

We, the search marketing professionals who are voluntarily adhering to the statements of principles set out below, do hereby believe in and commit to the following:


We shall strive towards truthfulness and integrity in our dealings with others.

We will accurately disclose relevant significant potential conflicts of interest to our clients.

We shall avoid deceptive marketing practices.

We will clearly, accurately and fully disclose realistic potential negative consequences of our actions to our clients in advance.


We are responsible to our clients. Clients should never be harmed by our actions, and are entitled to be dealt with in a fair and accountable manner.

We are responsible to the profession. We will not engage in actions that are likely to bring the profession into disrepute in the eyes of the public.

We are responsible to society. We shall obey all laws pertaining to our professional actions and efforts.

We are responsible to ourselves, to continually improve and update our skills and knowledge.


We shall treat others with professional courtesy and conduct.

We shall hold the private information of others in strictest confidence.


We shall treat clients fairly and in good faith, and are entitled to expect the same in return.

We shall use our best efforts to act on behalf of a client, while maintaining a professional demeanour towards other stakeholders.

We shall not encourage clients or the public to have unreasonable, unrealistic or unattainable expectations regarding the profession, the industry or the services offered.


The Creation of Draft SEM Standards


Draft Code of Ethics posted

Proposed SEM Standards (Part 1)


As promised, I offer the following several posts to the SEM community as proposed draft Code of Ethics, Standards, and Guidelines.

First, a primer on how these 3 things fit together:

Code Of Ethics

A Code of Ethics is a general statement of common principles and ideals. They are usually not intended to deal with specific issues, but rather outline an overall approach and philosophy.

In law, this would be the equivalent of a constitution. It should rarely, if ever, change.

Example: SEO's shall avoid deceptive marketing practices.

This is fine as a philosophy, but of course it's not terribly clear what "deceptive" is in all cases. Sure, this would deal with directly and fraudulently lying to people, but what about something like IP delivery or cloaking, where there could be arguments as to whether they are deceptive or not?

Industry Standards

Standards are generally accepted and codified rules that are created to provide structure and guidance to a Code of Ethics. These can include definitions, best practices and so forth, but are generally at a high level.

Standards can change with the times, but should generally be written in such a way that such changes should be minimal. The idea here is to stabilize things and to give people something they can rely on.

Continuing with the legal analogy, if a Code of Ethics is like a Constitution, then Industry Standards are like laws or statutes.

Example: Avoid IP delivery methods that present substantially different information to search engines from what a human visitor would experience.

This is more helpful than "avoid deceptive marketing practices". It answers most of my questions and is the one-liner to take back to my client or boss. This would deal with 90% of the questions.

But what if I'm dealing with a technical issue that is more complex than this? I think I need more guidance, since I can think of a few examples where even this definition doesn't cut it. And what does "substantially" really mean, anyway? Well, now we look at Guidelines, which interpret the Standards.


The guidelines could be very large and detailed, and include information like alternatives to IP delivery, some example scenarios, or (worst case scenario) say something like "we don't know exactly what the result of doing X would be, as there is evidence that sometimes it works , and sometimes it doesn't. Proceed with caution."

Or, it could say: IP cloaking to go past verification pages is OK, but using it to go past paid login pages is frowned upon because it creates a poor user experience.

Perhaps a separate guideline would say that you can do this for paid pages if there is notification up front (before clicking on the result) that the page is paid.

Or it could actually be an entire forum thread with the whole community arguing their various points of view. That's OK. Some things are complicated, and often there are many ways to accomplish the goal.

Continuing with the legal analogy, if a Code of Ethics is like a Constitution, and Industry Standards are like laws or statutes, then Guidelines are Case Law: the individually tailored decisions of judges and juries based on messy and unique circumstances.

From my perspective, Ethics are easy, and standards could be set in a committee. It's the guidelines where all the fun happens. That's where the exceptions to the rules happen, where the weird situations get looked at, and so forth.

One of the big issues (and the source of most of the debate on this subject) is that many people think that proponents of standards are intending to put things that belong in guidelines into the standards or ethics. That would be a bad idea.

Debates like the proper use of nofollow, etc belong in the guidelines, because sometimes there is no clear, correct answer. Sometimes the best you can do is to make people aware that there is a controversy and what the issues and risks are. That's perfectly acceptable in a guideline, but not in a Code of Ethics or Industry Standards, which need to a reliable and clear to both SEM's and the public.

Once there ceases to be controversy over a guideline, it can be considered for promotion to a Standard. But it would not be unusual to have some guidelines never getting promoted. SEM's are a contentious, opinionated, independent bunch, and I expect our guidelines will probably reflect that.

At no point should the establishment of standards interfere with or prevent a professional from using their judgement or solving a problem. The standards and guidelines should exist to help and guide, not to hinder or hold back.

With all this in mind, and after reviewing the following (excellent) resources, I'll try to present some draft versions of all of this, hopefully to start a discussion and lend some structure to the debate.

Ian Update

One of the nice things about being the co-creator of an SEO tool like the SEO Browser is that when I have an idea for something I'd like fixed or added, it's a lot easier to make sure it happens ;)

Of course, I have to pay for it, but at least it happens...

For those of you who don't know what the SEO browser is, it's an online SEO tool that lets you see your site the way a search engine sees it. Although this sounds like something you can do in any text only browser like Lynx or Firefox with certain options turned off, there is a lot more to it than that.

Some of the features (some you have to go into "Advanced Mode" to see. It's at the top of the SEOBrowser page):
  • Text only mode browsing of the site.
  • Image and object alt attributes are shown, but Italicized to let you know it's alt text.
  • Issues with robots, metatags, etc are highlighted
  • The character count for titles, meta information, etc are listed.
  • You can see pages in advanced modes, such as with "stop characters" removed or in compressed mode (how a search engine actually stores the page)
  • You can see WHOIS info, DNS Info, Header response etc
  • Toggles Highlights your keywords so you can visualize the page easier.
  • Lists the KeyWord Density for every keyword on the page.
One of the only things it doesn't do is give advice. It's a tool for professionals to gather information with, not some sort of mechanical SEO tool. I don't believe in programs that try to replace the skill of a real SEO. Basically, I designed it to do what I needed. Then shared it.

Anyway, I'm pretty proud of the latest tweak. It's such a simple thing, but can be huge when you are dealing with complicated sites. When you go to each page, it lists the response code at the top in orange.

That's all. But in practice, it's actually really important. I'll give you a few examples. Non-SEO's may not appreciate these, but the rest of you should be able to figure out why I like this so much.

First, you can just go to my home page: [SEO Browser Version]

You'll see it's just a 200OK. Big deal. Now, lets get more interesting. Check out these pages by loading them into the seobrowser:
Cool huh? And very, very useful for people debugging sites. Try to spot the errors (some of them serious) in the example sites above. Then maybe take a look at your own.


Search Standards, Part 2

...Continued from Part 1

3. There are already laws to protect people from SEO scams. Sure, you could argue that the law covers all that. Heck, you could (and some people do) argue that we could get rid of all laws but the 10 Commandments. Just interpret everything, and let all your customer relations and the organization of your profession be interpreted by courts and bureaucrats every single time someone enters into an agreement or wants to do something.

You'd think that of all people lawyers would say that they don't need standards, and that the existing laws would cover all the possible issues in the profession. Just trust the court system. But they don't. Maybe lawyers know something about laws that you don't?

Like, "who's laws?" US law? UK law? Chinese Law? California Law? Nevada Law? Personally, I think everyone should follow Alberta law. ;)

Arguing that the "law" will protect people is making the ethnocentric assumption that the laws where you live are the "right" ones. And that they are flawless. And will be able to deal with all of the issues specific to your profession. And that everyone worldwide will agree to them. Those are some pretty big assumptions.

Did you know that both Chinese and French law make it illegal to compare products? They believe that if your product can't stand on it's own merits, it's got no right to start trying to make it's competitors look bad to try to make itself look good. So much for bidding on competitors names. Legal in the US, illegal in France. Yes, Google lost that one.

German contracts tend to be quite short. Why? Because there are laws about what all contracts in Germany have in them, so most of the "boilerplate" in US contracts (ie Acts of God, etc) are unnecessary. The law also overrides the contracts, should the contract say something different. It's kind of funny to listen to US contract lawyers in Germany whine and complain. You should probably know that if you ever sign a contract with a German company. Whose law wins?

At least if you have standards, the local courts of a particular jurisdiction will be able to look at those standards and take guidance from them. Ever hear of "generally accepted accounting principles"? That's a legal term. Courts use it. But the principles are set by the accounting profession, not the courts. Why? Because judges are not accountants. They are not SEO's, either.

"Generally accepted SEO standards" may one day save your bacon. Unless we don't have any. In which case the court will probably side with the client, since the professional is supposed to know better and is held to a higher standard. Golly, that's too bad for SEO's.

4. There's no such thing as "cheating" in SEO. I'm assuming that this is referring to cheating search engines, as opposed to cheating customers and clients. Because that happens a lot more than it should.

Once again, standards are not about SEO's and search engines. I don't care about search engine guidelines (you need a standard to have a guideline, anyway). No, standards are about the public. And the public doesn't like to be cheated, mislead, kept in the dark or lied to. Eventually, if the SEO community doesn't enact it's own standards to protect the public, I have no question that the public will demand that the standards are created (via either the courts or legislation) and foisted upon us.

And we'd have no one to blame but ourselves.


Standards? We don't need no stinkin' standards. But the public does. The SEO community needs to deal with the fact that they and the search engines are not the only ones involved in this issue. That's part of the process of becoming mature: becoming aware of the needs of others. Joining the larger community. Practicing responsible behavior. Caring.

I think it's time we grew up and took responsibility for our own profession, before someone does it for us.


Search Standards, Part 1

I was interested to read Jills recent article on search standards, and I had to respond, even though I adore her and (literally) owe the start of my career to her. I started responding on her forum, but since it got too long and the article wasn't actually posted in her forum, I decided to respond here, instead.

I disagree. Although it's all well and good to approach things with a completely laizzes faire, buyer beware attitude, in practice standards are not about SEO's.

They are about the public.

SEO's don't need protection from other SEO's. Neither do search engines.

Why do lawyers and doctors and firemen and engineers and almost every other industry have standards?

Do lawyers need protection from other lawyers? Is there a big concern that by implementing standards your lawyer will not be able to help you sell your house or write your will? Or that shady lawyers would take advantage of those poor, unsuspecting judges? Bah.

The standards are there so that the non-legally trained public has the right to be informed about their rights and obligations, and has a reasonable expectation of a certain level of service and professionalism.

In SEO, they have the right to know what the hell you are talking about when you talk about "attraction", "entry" or "zebra" pages.

So, to address the points in the article in order:

1. There are too many ways of skinning the SEO cat. This is a straw man argument. Of course there are lots of ways to do business, and to approach a problem. That's not what standards are about. That's a checklist, not a standard. A standard could say something like: Don't do things that are proven to be harmful or not work, not "you must do things exactly in the order of X.

Good standards are written in the negative (thou shalt not) as opposed to the positive "thou shalt do this and only this), unless there really is only one acceptable way. Arguing that they would prevent innovation is assuming that the standards would be written in such a way as to prevent innovation, then knocking it down. That's a false assumption. If it hasn't even been written yet, how can you argue that it will prevent innovation or seek to enforce specific practices? You can't. Argument fails for lack of substance or evidence.

2. We can't even agree on the definition of search engine optimization. First, a definition isn't a process, so standard definitions are not even addressed in argument 1, above.

Second, and to the meat of this one: There is nothing stopping people from arguing about definitions and standards for some things. Physicists still can't decide what gravity or light really are. Doctors differ between the "surgery" and "medication" camps. That doesn't mean they don't have standards.

But if there is a set definition that the public can understand, it is in the public's interest to be able to know what they are getting. Sure, you can call your reciprocal link building system a "Proto-Relatic Symbiosis Program" if it makes you happy, but the client should know that you are building reciprocal links, not building rocket ships. And they should know what the pros and cons are of doing so are.

Standard definitions help the public understand what they are getting into, and allow them to compare services. If you want to define "SEO" differently from the industry standard definition, go ahead, but you should not be able to hide behind your custom definition ("I know the contract says I'll do SEO on your site, but I define SEO as only setting up a link farm"). Contracts require a known vocabulary and a shared understanding of the terms of the contract.

Let me be clear about this: if you define things differently than your client, and you sign a contract without clarifying them, you don't have a valid contract. This works both ways. A client can define "SEO" or "PPC" in a very different way than you, and then refuse to pay unless you have completely and fully outlined your definitions. All of them. Does your contract do that? If you gave your standard contract to me, could I find a loophole? I'll bet I could. Do you want to bet your income on it?

Standard definitions help prevent these issues. If you have a different definition, fine. Outline your definition in the contract. Nothing wrong with that. But to not have standard definitions is to open yourself to lawsuits, miscommunications and angry clients.



Bid Management Tools and a SearchCenter Review

A thread in a forum came up recently from someone wanting advice on whether they should use SearchCenter, or some other Bid Management tool like IndexTools or Atlas. Most of the responses were that you should be very careful about using any PPC bid management tool at all. Naturally, I have an opinion ;)

Omniture SearchCenter Review

I'm currently using Omniture SearchCenter for one of my clients. I also genuinely like the folks at Omniture, and have been to an Omniture Summit.

Here is what I like about SearchCenter:

  • I can edit Yahoo, MSN and Google listings, all with the same interface. This is worth it almost by itself!
  • You can assign multiple categories to keywords. I can then create rules that work only on those keywords. The same keyword could be an "Easter", Montana, and Automotive keyword, if necessary. This allows for all sorts of possibilities for reports, metrics and rules, such as "During Easter, increase the maximum bids for Easter keywords by 20%, unless they are aimed at a country that doesn't celebrate Easter". Then give me a report on our Easter Campaign. All without making a separate "Easter Campaign".
  • Rules are good for dealing with very large numbers of keywords, especially if the criteria you are using for the rule is more complicated than "if CTR is less than 2" or somesuch.
  • The consolidated reports are really nice. No, seriously. If you report to a client or management and they don't understand PPC, these reports can help you. Very powerful.

Here is what I don't like so much:

  • It's expensive, like most bid management software, it costs 4-8% of your spend. In order to use SearchCenter well, you really need to also have Omniture SiteCatylist. Even more expensive.
  • Although rules are helpful, only one rule can apply to each keyword. This sometimes makes writing rules complicated.
  • If you make any changes to the campaign on the PPC site, you have to "sync" the info or you lose it.
  • Minor, but a personal Pet Peeve: In SearchCenter, if you run a rule it sends you an email. Fine. Except the email runs even if it doesn't affect any keywords. Further, the email sent just says "these are the keywords that we acted on" with no explanation of *what* action was taken. This is the stupidest thing I've ever seen. These emails are a daily annoyance and reminder that I hate this. BTW, you can't tell it to NOT send them. I ended up writing an Outlook rule that automatically deleted them. A rule to counteract a rule. What a waste of time. Omniture, get your act together and stop spamming your users!

Bid Management Tool Best Practices

Since they work with the API and the search engines charge for the use of the API, there will be always be a cost to using bid management tools, even if it's only the fee the search engines charge.

It's up to each tool to decide what to charge above that, however. This guaranteed fee means you have to factor in the cost of the tool into your ROI. This usually means it's not worth using bid management tools unless you have a large enough campaign to justify the additional API and software fees. These are usually based on a "per use of API" basis, which means that if you are checking or changing things several times per day for a million keywords, then you are paying several times a day a million times. This can get pricey, and is one of the costs of doing business on that scale.

The best practice for bid management software is to only use rules for the great unwashed masses of keywords. You'll find that there will be a small group of really well performing or in other ways special keywords within that mass. Those you single out for special attention. Usually hand edited. The categories function helps with this.

Overall, I think that if you are already using SiteCatayst and are planning on doing PPC, then SearchCenter is worth it, if only for the centralized editing and reporting.

But unless you have a HUGE inventory of keywords, I'm not so sure of the value of bid management software in general.

Bid management software is the PPC equivalent of SEO software like WebCEO or WebPosition. They make reporting and data collection easier, but you simply can't use them to replace a live human skilled in what needs to be done.

If you are looking for centralized reporting and perhaps some help with a very large set of keywords that you would otherwise not be able to work with, then get bid management software. But if you are hoping that it will make your PPC campaigns better than you can, then I'm not sure they can do that job very well.


PPC - SEO Continuum

Almost all sites benefit from a combination of both PPC and SEO. There are only two exceptions:

1. Pure "hobby" sites where the goal isn't to make money or impress anyone but you and your friends. Most people's blogs and MySpace pages fall into this type of category. Although there are some highly profitable blogs, most are not, and not intended to be. Using PPC in this case is akin to publishing a book using a vanity press - costly and only useful to massage your ego.

2. Pure affiliate sites. These are often pretty much duplicate content and, depending on the affiliate program involved, can be virtually impossible to SEO (some companies only allow you to use their own prepackaged pages, for example). In this case, SEO won't help you much, but PPC can be very effective.

If you look closely at these two examples, you'll see that there is a continuum involved. At one end, you have pure information or branding sites, with no intent to profit, and at the other end, you have pure commerce sites, with no intent to inform or brand.
This creates the following scenario:


Bad Month

This has been a very, very bad month.

Most depressing, my 19 year old niece Samantha was killed in a car accident. RIP Sam. :(

That would have been bad enough, but of course, that's not all.

The timeline:

1. My largest client had cash flow issues stemming from a contract problem we had both missed. The net result was that I had to take out a second mortgage on my own home and max out every credit card I have just to cover the Google Adwords bill.

2. While that was going on, we received word that Sam had been in an accident and that it was bad. Later that night we found out that she was brain dead.

3. The next day, I had to leave for SMX West. The event itself went well, though I was obviously distracted. It would be nice if something came about from the SEO Industry Ethics debate I participated in. Like maybe some ethics for our industry. During this time, I fell far behind on several proposals and a ton of work.

4. I cut the trip short in order to attend Sam's funeral on Friday, which was very moving and incredibly sad.

5. I then had to fly to Salt Lake City to attend the Omniture Summit. Omniture did an amazing job, and it was one of the best organized events I've ever been to. I even learned a bunch and met some potential clients. Unfortunately, the terrible cell phone reception caused problems with my ability to communicate with any of them. As a result I'm even furher behind.

6. Nicole and I discussed it, and in spite of our best efforts and Inway and Winston doing everything they could, we had to postpone the China Search Marketing Tour, possibly until next year. The timing of New York SES simply prevented many people from even considering it. We've been working on this for months, so it was a big disappointment.

7. On the last day, we went skiing - which I haven't done for almost 25 years. Result: It turns out I remember how to ski, but I'm in far worse shape than I used to be, and my left knee was twisted. I'm now in crutches. I had to fly out that afternoon, and due to some strange circumstances, had to abandon my shoes at the resort (hopefully Daniel remembered to grab them) and buy new ones so I had *something* to put on my feet. My left leg is so swollen I can't wear normal pants.

8. The very next morning, we had to go to Edmonton for a soccer tournament for my son, Isaac. The good news is that they got a silver medal, the bad news was that between my bum knee and my daughters recently-caught flu, it wasn't that enjoyable of a trip, and we cut it short.

9. Last night, we got home to find out that BOTH my father and his wife (Sams grandparents) have been hospitalized with chest pains. They are both under a lot of stress, as you can imagine.

10. This morning, my son woke us up with the news that our children's beloved hamster ("Hammy") has somehow climbed out of his cage and into a large bottle of water nearby. Now Hammy's dead and my son's are in tears. My daughter Kestra is still sleeping as I type this and I'm not looking forward to giving her the news, especially since she is still very ill.

11. I'm scheduled for the latest round of eye surgery in a couple of hours. That will leave me mostly blind for the next few days. Between that and my knee, I'm pretty much out of commission.

To make a long story short. for the next few days or so, I'm not going to be posting much (if at all), and will instead just mostly lie in bed and try to recuperate, both physically and mentally.


The Biggest Information Integration Mistake

Has this ever happened to you?

You phone the customer service line of a large company (bank, telephone, Google AdWords, etc) and get an automated voicemail system.

This voicemail system then asks you for information "to help you get to the right party". You then dutifully punch in your telephone number, bank account number, or client number, whereupon you are transferred to "the appropriate party".

The "appropriate party" finally answers the phone and then they ask you a question. You know what question they ask, don't you?

They then ask you for the SAME DAMN INFORMATION you just gave them.

Sometimes, they then transfer you to one or more other "appropriate parties", who all, without fail, ALSO ask for the same information.


In this day and age of analytics and customer tracking, why do companies consistently drop the ball with one the the most important visitors they can possibly have - the current client who needs help or is unsatisfied?

Although privacy laws make it clear that you should not be handing out your customer information to just anyone, they also acknowledge that you are entitled to (and must) collect, pass on and use the information necessary to complete the transaction requested by the visitor. Otherwise there is no point.

It is the height of rudeness to ask someone to give up some of their privacy to you and then for you to treat that information as unimportant and disposable, in the process inconveniencing them.

It's kind of like asking someone for their business card, looking at it, then throwing it away in front of them. Followed immediately by asking them to give you their phone number again. It's stupid, wasteful, inefficient and rude.

This also applies to online forms - deleting a customers form data and forcing them to start over just because they had one typo is bad usability, bad form, and bad programming.

Rules for collecting personal information:

1. Create and enforce a privacy policy that is designed to both protect your visitors and to allow you to do the job your visitors want you to do, safely and securely.

2. Never collect personal information that you do not need to do the job (any additional information should be anonymous and aggregate), and make sure that it's with permission.

3. After you get permission to collect personal information - use it to help the visitor. That's why they gave it to you in the first place, and is the basis of the permission.


Is Your Social Media Actually Anti-Social?

When you are engaging in social media, are your tactics "social" or "anti-social"?

If self-interest and self-promotion is your only goal, then you are in the wrong place, doing the wrong thing. It's OK to have your own interests, but to ignore the interests of others is by definition anti-social and doesn't belong in "social media".

In short, are you joining a conversation, or trying to control it?

I think that a lot of companies simply cannot, due to their corporate culture, engage in social media properly. If it's against policy to allow negative comments, or to be involved in an activity in anything but a leadership (control) position, then you really don't belong in the social media sphere. Go buy ads, or start a blog with the comments turned off, or something similarly one-sided.

Some companies are perfect for social media, some can adapt to it, and some are better off doing something else. One size does not fit all.


Google Agrees - Hostile Takeover Attempt

I note with some vindication that Google apparently agrees with my assessment that Microsoft's bid for Yahoo is hostile.

Admittedly, Google has a vested interest in promoting the idea that a combination between MS and Y! would be unfair, but, honestly, tough noogies. Competition is good, and I can't see Googles viewpoint as anything other than a cynical attempt to keep and increase their market share by pretending to actually care about poor little old Yahoo. This is the first time they've ever publicly shown an interest in the search market outside of themselves that I can remember.

That doesn't mean they are wrong about the move being hostile, though.

It's rather annoying that no one else in the industry seems to care or know about this issue ,and that my thoughts on the subject were ignored in favor of idle posts talking about trying to name the new potential search engine instead.

I'm really starting to wonder why I bother...


Offer to Buy or Hostile Takeover?

Upon reading the letter sent by Microsoft to Yahoo! more carefully, I think I'm seeing a completely different subtext than I originally thought, which was an offer to purchase.

I could be over-analyzing, but I've been working in and around public companies for many years now and I smell a hostile takeover bid, or at least the threat of one.

Read below and tell me what you think:

  1. Microsoft says that Google is consolidating it's position, and if they don't offer an alternative quickly, both MS and Y! will lose. "Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition. "

  2. Microsoft states that they tried to play nice, but Yahoo wasn't interested: "We discussed a number of alternatives ranging from commercial partnerships to a merger proposal, which you rejected."

  3. Microsoft says that they no longer are interested in playing nice. "While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! that we are proposing."

  4. Microsoft is making a very generous offer: "Our proposal represents a 62% premium above the closing price of Yahoo! common stock". Too generous. This is, in my opinion, aimed at investors, not Yahoo's owners.

  5. Microsoft expects Yahoo's Board of Directors to reject it out of hand, and warns them they had better look at it carefully instead: "Due to the importance of these discussions and the value represented by our proposal, we expect the Yahoo! Board to engage in a full review of our proposal."

  6. Microsoft then threatens to go directly to the shareholders over the objections of the Board(a hostile takover), based on Yahoo's expected negative response: "Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!'s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal."

  7. Signalling the beginning of hostilities, Microsoft breaks with the traditional quiet, behind the scenes negotiations and announces that the offer to the shareholders will be made public, whether Yahoo likes it or not. They don't even give Yahoo time to accept or reject it, which I think tells us that Microsoft already knows what the response will be and doesn't accept it: "In light of the significance of this proposal to your shareholders and ours, as well as the potential for selective disclosures, our intention is to publicly release the text of this letter tomorrow morning."

That's my take. Should be fun to watch the fireworks!


ADDED: Yahoo's first response calls this an "Unsolicited Proposal", instead of the many other things it could have called it (like offer to buy, exciting news, interesting development, etc) which indicates a generally unhappy tone to me.

Full Text of Microsoft's Proposal to Buy Yahoo

If you haven't heard yet, Microsoft has made a bid to buy Yahoo for about 44 Billion, after attempts to create a partnership or other options last year were rejected. If you can't join 'em or beat 'em... buy 'em.

I'd go into an analysis, but honestly Microsoft has done a pretty good job of it already (below). With Yahoo laying people off and Google's stock losing value, this may be very good timing.


Dear Members of the Board:

I am writing on behalf of the Board of Directors of Microsoft to make a proposal for a business combination of Microsoft and Yahoo!. Under our proposal, Microsoft would acquire all of the outstanding shares of Yahoo! common stock for per share consideration of $31 based on Microsoft's closing share price on January 31, 2008, payable in the form of $31 in cash or 0.9509 of a share of Microsoft common stock. Microsoft would provide each Yahoo! shareholder with the ability to choose whether to receive the consideration in cash or Microsoft common stock, subject to pro-ration so that in the aggregate one-half of the Yahoo! common shares will be exchanged for shares of Microsoft common stock and one-half of the Yahoo! common shares will be converted into the right to receive cash. Our proposal is not subject to any financing condition.

Our proposal represents a 62% premium above the closing price of Yahoo! common stock of $19.18 on January 31, 2008. The implied premium for the operating assets of the company clearly is considerably greater when adjusted for the minority, non-controlled assets and cash. By whatever financial measure you use - EBITDA, free cash flow, operating cash flow, net income, or analyst target prices - this proposal represents a compelling value realization event for your shareholders.

We believe that Microsoft common stock represents a very attractive investment opportunity for Yahoo!'s shareholders. Microsoft has generated revenue growth of 15%, earnings growth of 26%, and a return on equity of 35% on average for the last three years. Microsoft's share price has generated shareholder returns of 8% during the last one year period and 28% during the last three year period, significantly outperforming the S&P 500. It is our view that Microsoft has significant potential upside given the continued solid growth in our core businesses, the recent launch of Windows Vista, and other strategic initiatives.

Microsoft's consistent belief has been that the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! clearly represents the best way to deliver maximum value to our respective shareholders, as well as create a more efficient and competitive company that would provide greater value and service to our customers. In late 2006 and early 2007, we jointly explored a broad range of ways in which our two companies might work together. These discussions were based on a vision that the online businesses of Microsoft and Yahoo! should be aligned in some way to create a more effective competitor in the online marketplace. We discussed a number of alternatives ranging from commercial partnerships to a merger proposal, which you rejected. While a commercial partnership may have made sense at one time, Microsoft believes that the only alternative now is the combination of Microsoft and Yahoo! that we are proposing.

In February 2007, I received a letter from your Chairman indicating the view of the Yahoo! Board that "now is not the right time from the perspective of our shareholders to enter into discussions regarding an acquisition transaction." According to that letter, the principal reason for this view was the Yahoo! Board's confidence in the "potential upside" if management successfully executed on a reformulated strategy based on certain operational initiatives, such as Project Panama, and a significant organizational realignment. A year has gone by, and the competitive situation has not improved.

While online advertising growth continues, there are significant benefits of scale in advertising platform economics, in capital costs for search index build-out, and in research and development, making this a time of industry consolidation and convergence. Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo! can offer a credible alternative for consumers, advertisers, and publishers. Synergies of this combination fall into four areas:

Scale economics: This combination enables synergies related to scale economics of the advertising platform where today there is only one competitor at scale. This includes synergies across both search and non-search related advertising that will strengthen the value proposition to both advertisers and publishers. Additionally, the combination allows us to consolidate capital spending.

Expanded R&D capacity: The combined talent of our engineering resources can be focused on R&D priorities such as a single search index and single advertising platform. Together we can unleash new levels of innovation, delivering enhanced user experiences, breakthroughs in search, and new advertising platform capabilities. Many of these breakthroughs are a function of an engineering scale that today neither of our companies has on its own.

Operational efficiencies: Eliminating redundant infrastructure and duplicative operating costs will improve the financial performance of the combined entity.

Emerging user experiences: Our combined ability to focus engineering resources that drive innovation in emerging scenarios such as video, mobile services, online commerce, social media, and social platforms is greatly enhanced.

We would value the opportunity to further discuss with you how to optimize the integration of our respective businesses to create a leading global technology company with exceptional display and search advertising capabilities. You should also be aware that we intend to offer significant retention packages to your engineers, key leaders and employees across all disciplines.

We have dedicated considerable time and resources to an analysis of a potential transaction and are confident that the combination will receive all necessary regulatory approvals. We look forward to discussing this with you, and both our internal legal team and outside counsel are available to meet with your counsel at their earliest convenience.

Our proposal is subject to the negotiation of a definitive merger agreement and our having the opportunity to conduct certain limited and confirmatory due diligence. In addition, because a portion of the aggregate merger consideration would consist of Microsoft common stock, we would provide Yahoo! the opportunity to conduct appropriate limited due diligence with respect to Microsoft. We are prepared to deliver a draft merger agreement to you and begin discussions immediately.

In light of the significance of this proposal to your shareholders and ours, as well as the potential for selective disclosures, our intention is to publicly release the text of this letter tomorrow morning.

Due to the importance of these discussions and the value represented by our proposal, we expect the Yahoo! Board to engage in a full review of our proposal. My leadership team and I would be happy to make ourselves available to meet with you and your Board at your earliest convenience. Depending on the nature of your response, Microsoft reserves the right to pursue all necessary steps to ensure that Yahoo!'s shareholders are provided with the opportunity to realize the value inherent in our proposal.

We believe this proposal represents a unique opportunity to create significant value for Yahoo!'s shareholders and employees, and the combined company will be better positioned to provide an enhanced value proposition to users and advertisers. We hope that you and your Board share our enthusiasm, and we look forward to a prompt and favorable reply.

Sincerely yours,

Steven A. Ballmer
Chief Executive Officer
Microsoft Corporation