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.