Natural Search Blog

Fishing for “link love” with “link bait”

Yum…. Link Bait.

I agree with Eric Ward: the phrase “link bait” just sounds UGLY.

But the technique works. Who can resist linking to the uproariously funny “The top 10 unintentionally worst company URLs“. Apparently I can’t, because I just did!

One of my favorite “link bait” morsels of late has been this how-to post about link baiting, by the inimitable Rand Fishkin. Go and gobble it up!

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A window into Google through error messages: PageRank vectors and IndyRank

There’s been plenty of speculation posted to the blogosphere on the recently discovered cryptic Google error message; my favorites being from Wesley Tanaka and from Teh Xiggeh.

What intrigues me most in the Google error message is the references to IndyRank and to PageRank possibly being a vector. In regards to IndyRank, Stuart Brown suspects it means an ‘independent ranking’ — a “human-derived page ranking scoring, independent of the concrete world of linking and keywords”.

In regards to a PageRank vector, Wesley hypothesizes:

“If page rank is actually a vector (multiple numbers) as opposed to a scalar (single number) like everyone assumes (and like is displayed by the toolbar). It would make sense — the page rank for a page could store other aspects of the page, like how likely it is to be spam, in addition to an idea of how linked-to the page is. The page rank you see in the google toolbar would be some scalar function of the page rank vector.”

Of course the Google engineers are probably laughing at all this.

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Yahoo update beefs up on authority sites

Aaron Wall posted a blog about how Yahoo!’s recent algorithm update has apparently increased weighting factors for links and authority sites.

Predictibly, a number of folx have complained in the comments added to Yahoo’s “Weather Report” blog about the update. Jeremy Zawodny subsequently posted that their search team was paying close attention to the comments, which is always nice to hear.

Coincidentally, I’d also just recently posted about Google’s apparent use of page text to help identify a site’s overall authoritativeness for particular keywords/themes.

As they say, there’s nothing really new under the sun. I wonder if the search engines are all returning to the trend of authority/hub focus in algorithm development? It’s a strong concept and useful for ranking results, so the methodology for identifying authorities and hubs is likely here to stay.

Through the Scanner Darkly

Seems strange, but there are only two degrees of separation between me and the late, famous, science fiction author, Philip K. Dick (“PKD”). If you aren’t familiar, Dick was the author of a number of stories which have since been made into major films such as: Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and the recently-released film A Scanner Darkly. I’ve just got two degrees of separation from Philip K. Dick because of my “spare time” work on writing a soon-to-be-published book about two of his friends and protégés, Tim Powers and James P. Blaylock. In the course of writing that book, (A Comprehensive Dual Bibliography of James P. Blaylock & Tim Powers), I asked the authors questions about their old friend, Dick, and I spoke with other friends of his as well. He was apparently a very interesting character — brilliant, and more than a bit mysterious as well. PKD had a few unusual religious visions and appeared to suffer occasionally from paranoia and other schizophrenic bouts.

Last weekend, I got to see the most recent film inspired by a Philip K. Dick story, A Scanner Darkly, directed by Richard Linklater. The film was really great, telling a futuristic story of an undercover cop who becomes addicted to the drug of choice for his surveillance subjects, and then becomes required to spy on himself in the course of his investigation. The undercover cops all wear these camouflage suits which morph together features from millions of individuals to obscure their identies from others and from each other. The film is astoundingly well-made, and is pretty entertaining overall.

I saw that Nelson Minar, one of Google’s engineers, is also apparently a reader of PKD, and he blogged his impressions about A Scanner Darkly, too. He agrees that it’s good, though I disagree with him: he thinks it won’t appeal to people who haven’t read the book, and I think it will. It strikes too many chords with people, even today, and the actor’s humor in the early parts saves it from being too dry/boring.

Dick’s stories still seem relevant, over twenty years after his death. His stories contrasted realistic characters against a twisted reality where commercialism and technology seem to’ve evolved past a reasonable point. He played around with the nature of reality itself, and his work seemed to segue smoothly into the cyberpunk movement, which I previously posted about.


Towards a New Cyberpunk Reality

I recently discovered something interesting about my company, Verizon.

Do you remember the old Oliver Stone tv mini-series from the early 90s called “Wild Palms”? It was about a dystopian future of America where a fascist political group has risen to power, headed up by a senator who founded a new philosophy called “Synthiotics” or “New Realism”, which apparently involves the next stage of human evolution and virtual reality (VR).

The Senator, named Anton Kreutzer, owns a company named Mimecom which has developed some sort of advanced VR technology and 3-d display technology which they are about to deploy out to households through a television company, called Channel 3, in a new drama series they’ve named “Church Windows”. They seemed to be using Church Windows as a platform for propagandizing Synthiotic tenets, as well. The Senator is seeking one last piece of technology from Japan, a “Go Chip”, which will essentially give him eternal life, and seal up his political power. The Go Chip is named after the game of Go, an ancient Chinese strategy game that has been used by artificial intelligence researchers as a test case for building systems which can learn and immitate human intelligence (though, they don’t really spell out that AI tie-in during the series).

Cyberpunk Photo - Sony Center at night
Berlin’s Sony Centre in Potsdamer Platz reflects the global reach of a Japanese corporation. Much cyberpunk action occurs in urbanized, artificial landscapes, and “city lights at night” was one of the genre’s first metaphors for cyberspace (in Gibson’s Neuromancer).

The Wild Palms series was likely intended to be a very cutting-edge, conceptual story that was inspired in large part by the cyberpunk movement in science fiction. One of the prime “founders” of the cyberpunk movement, the author William Gibson, actually puts in a cameo appearance in the series, as well. Oliver Stone likely intended the story to use semiotic literary devices as well, since many of the plot items and names seemed to be intended to have multiple layers of meanings.

Here’s where fiction begins to turn into reality. MimEcom was the name of an actual ecommerce/hosting/technology firm that was later started up in San Francisco, and considered IPOing in 2000, though the dot-bombs happened, and it halted plans to go public.

Later, MimEcom changed their company name to “Totality”.

In about 2005, Totality was acquired by MCI. MCI was merged into Verizon later on in 2005. The Totality part was folded under the Verizon Business division of the company. (more…)

New WordPress Plugin for SEO

I’ve just released “SEO Title Tag”, a plugin for WordPress. As the name implies, it allows you to optimize your WordPress site’s title tags in ways not supported by the default WordPress installation. For example:

Get the plugin now: SEO Title Tag WordPress Plugin

I’d love your feedback, as this is my first WordPress plugin.


Toolbar PageRank Update

Yep, it’s that time again.

I don’t usually care that much, but we had a little snafu with our PageRank readout on the toolbar for our site due to a misconfiguration on our end (detailed on my post “Toolbar PageRank Update Is Currently Underway)”, and happily that’s now corrected.

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Google Sitemaps Reveal Some of the Black Box

I earlier mentioned the recent Sitemaps upgrades which were announced in June, and how I thought these were useful for webmasters. But, the Sitemaps tools may also be useful in other ways beyond the obvious/intended ones.

The information that Google has made available in Sitemaps is providing a cool bit of intel on yet another one of the 200+ parameters or “signals” that they’re using to rank pages for SERPs.

For reference, check out the Page Analysis Statistics that are provided in Sitemaps for my “Acme” products and services experimental site:

Google Sitemaps Page Analysis

It seems unlikely to me that these stats on “Common Words” found “In your site’s content” were generated just for the sake of providing nice tools for us in Sitemaps. No, the more likely scenario would seem to be that Google was already collating the most-common words found on your site for their own uses, and then they later chose to provide some of these stats to us in Sitemaps.

This is significant, because we’ve already known that Google tracks keyword content for each page in order to assess its relevancy for search queries made with that term. But, why would Google be tracking your most-common keywords in a site-wide context?

One good explanation presents itself: Google might be tracking common terms used throughout a site in order to assess if that site should be considered authoritative for particular keywords or thematic categories.

Early on, algorithmic researchers such as Jon Kleinberg worked on methods by which “authoritative” sites and “hubs” could be identified. IBM and others did further research on authority/hub identification, and I heard engineers from Teoma speak on the importance of these approaches a few times at SES conferences when explaining the ExpertRank system their algorithms were based upon.

So, it’s not all that surprising that Google may be trying to use commonly-occuring text to help identify Authoritative sites for various themes. This would be one good automated method for classifying sites for subject matter categories and keywords.

The take-away concept is that Google may be using words found in the visible text throughout your site to assess whether you’re authoritative for particular themes or not.


Back from July 4th vacation

You may’ve noticed that I took a few days off from the grind to spend the long July 4th weekend with friends, swimming about the Guadalupe River at a ranch in Hunt, Texas.

If you’re curious about what I look at, you can check out this pic of me on flickr that my friend Suzanne took during our trip.

Now that I’m back and maybe starting to get acclimated in my new position at Verizon, I’m hoping to post here a bit more regularly.


Click Fraud Costs Estimated at over $800M

In Report: Advertisers Cut Spending, Blame Google and Yahoo for Click Fraud, a new report states that advertisers wasted over $800 million last year on phony clicks.

Some points of interest:

I predict that this fraud perception will fuel advertisers increasing reliance on natural search, where click fraud is not incentivized.

Will click fraud be the catalyst that finally causes retailers to more equally allocate their spending between PPC (pay per click) and NSO (natural search optimization)? So, for example, shift from $1MM/yr PPC and $150k on NSO, to more like $1MM/yr PPC and $1MM/yr NSO?

As PPC gets more expensive, the act of click fraud gets more costly, and that bad apple must begin to spoil the bucket at some point – not completely I’m sure, but probably enough to cause advertisers to rethink allocation and importance of NSO.

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