Part II (of many) on SEO, Google, and Content–Technology Moves, Build For Change

First of all, I can’t take credit for all of these ideas. Lot’s of them have been borrowed from guys like Steve Pavlina who are basically saying the same thing I am.

One of the more important points Steve makes is that your content should be timeless. What he means by this is that if your content is only pertinent only to what is going on today, there’s not much reason for people to want to look at it tomorrow. This is especially important as you try to build momentum for your site traffic over time.

Early on, your site will not be highly listed on any engines. With Google, you’ll be stuck in the “sandbox” for quite a while. While you may be providing great content that is extremely relevant for the day, week, or month it is published, your potential readers will never find it, at least from a search engine. Down the road, you may be lucky enough to be bumped up to a high ranking for the search terms, but it’s likely that no one will be searching for it.

Of course, there are exceptions. For instance, I maintain a site for my rugby club (www.knoxvillerugby.com) that contains scores and information about the club for the last few years. While the score of last Saturday’s match will get the majority of its traffic in the week following the match, there is a good chance that old guys who want to relive the glory days will one day come back to our site, possibly through a search engine, and read about what happened way back when. But, like I said, the majority of the traffic is going to come in the first week. This traffic is not search engine driven. It is driven by the fact that the site is reliable and updated in a timely manner. Not only do members of our club check our site regularly, but members of other clubs whose place in the league standings are tied to the results of our match check it as well.

So what do I mean by “build for change”? One could take that statement as a call to build in scalability and flexibility. While these are certainly important attributes to consider for your site, this actually isn’t what I’m talking about at all. The basic idea of what I’m saying is, don’t focus your efforts on search engines. Don’t focus on trying to get people to link to you. Don’t focus your energy on driving loads of traffic to your site today.

Focus on providing your customers with exactly what they want–good content that they want to come back for. All the rest will follow.

The biggest problem with relying on technology to drive your traffic is that technology is always changing. In 1999-2000, the .com boom, I was doing some work for a company who was selling its services to European companies to boost their rankings on search engines. Back then, Yahoo! ruled the roost, but they didn’t have nearly the market share that Google has now. People weren’t focused just on getting ranked highly on Yahoo!, but every search engine. We were monitoring rankings on over 100 different search engines as well as checking for links on the highest traffic sites on the web. Our goal was to get our customers rated highly on ALL of these engines. In much the same way that Google’s Page Rank system works now, each customer was assigned an indexed ranking based on their listing in the engines and the number of links to them that existed on high traffic sites.

Not exactly rocket surgery, but useful at the time. What wasn’t foreseen by my employer was the fact that one company was going to come in and basically take over the search industry. I was constantly asking, “what do we do when the situation changes?” I’ve long since parted ways with them, but I can imagine that their customers aren’t very thrilled with their Ask Jeeves rankings being in the top ten if their Google ranking is 97. I’m sure they’ve adjusted their product to account for this, but there are factors they didn’t see coming that I’m not sure they’ve dealt with. I would guess the most difficult problem they had to addres is that not only did the dominant players in the game change, but the technology changed as well.

The way search engines worked has drastically changed since 2000. Search engines are smarter (especially Google). Search engines are better equiped to handle rapidly changing sites. Most importantly, search engines are constantly changing and improving going forward.

Ironically, one of the tasks assigned to me way back then was to develop a “keyword generator”. Literally, those were the specifications I was given–“develop a keyword generator”. Now, my idea of a keyword generator and my boss’s were completely different, and frankly, my idea was a little ahead of its time.

My boss was very disappointed when I proudly showed him my software. He was expecting a tool that prompted the user enter a few keywords, then spat back these same keywords with the <meta> tags around them.

He was actually a little angry when I demonstrated my app that spidered three layers into a site and returned suggestions for keywords based on frequently occurring words and weighted based on the page on which they occurred and their placement on the page.

Which sounds like it more accurately addresses how search engines work nowadays?

The point isn’t that he wanted me to write a tool with very little functionality (and there were a million of these already available). The problem was that he had no inkling that search engines could ever change or evolve and refused to consider it when confronted.

We are facing a movement today that I predict will drastically change the game again. Social networking sites are becoming more popular by the minute as a way to find information. “Rankings” on sites like Digg, Del.icio.us, Reddit, etc. are driven completely by the users. Relevance and quality aren’t being decided by algorithms at all, but by actual people. So when 1,000 people “digg” your site, you better believe that there are thousands of others who are going to sit up and take notice of it.

As more and more people discover these sites and see the value in them, high rankings on these sites will become more and more important. Some people are well aware of this situation and are already coming up with ways to try to “game” these sites by falsifying user recommendations, and they are responding by banning domains that try to beat the system. I think a better approach is to focus on providing good, original content. You will not only increase your chances of finding good, loyal users, but you’ll also have built for the future.

We don’t know for sure what tomorrow will bring in search, social networking, or technologies that are still in their infancy. What we know for sure is that the goal of these technologies is always going to be finding and categorizing the best content out there.

Build quality into your site, and you can rest easy that you’ve also built for change.

Pulic Education is “Valuable”

At least for some entities it is.  Freedom Daily has the full article.

Sure, a teacher has some leeway to be flexible but imagine what would happen to a public-school teacher who announced to his classes, “What is written in these textbooks is claptrap, lies, and deceptions. I’m going to be teaching you the truth about the nature of the government, government schooling, free markets, individualism, and liberty.”

Well, luckily, because of tenure, it would probably be virtually impossible to fire this teacher.  Of course, it’s also impossible to fire the teachers who teach anything else, or who don’t teach at all.  Worse still are the ones who are teaching something they know nothing about.

I think the major goal of the public school system is definitely indoctrination over education.  At my high school I had to basically demand an education.  I was lucky to have a few really good teachers, one in particular, who were great educators, but I had others who were there to do the absolute minimum, and frequently not even that.

I actually found a way out this when I was in school.  My strategy was to behave just badly enough to get in-school suspension.  This was the “punishment” handed down for doing something that didn’t really warrant suspension–being disruptive in class, arguing with teachers, etc.  Sometimes, I’d just request it–the few teachers that cared and would let me go every now and then, until our principal caught on.

So for “punishment”, I got to sit in a room with the other bad kids, read the assigned lessons for the day and do the homework.  The beauty was that I could complete all of this work before lunch instead of going to class all day and taking work home.  For the rest of the day we were required to sit quietly without talking to one another.  This provided a great opportunity to read whatever books I wanted or work on extra math problems (yeah, I actually did extra ones just for fun–dork).  Not only did I not have to worry about taking work home, but I also got to study whatever I was interested in–that’s education!  I *gasp* chose to learn things!

West Maui–June 2006

Cows Grazing West MauiWe went over to Oahu and stayed in Honolulu for a couple of days. When we came back we got a rental car and drove back to my friends’ house by going around West Maui. It was a one lane road for most of the trip. Unbelievable scenery. We spent more time out of the car looking at things than we did in the car.

Our strategy for the drive was to stop when we saw something cool or if we saw a “local” car pulled over somewhere. This worked out great–got to see a couple of really cool things that weren’t in any book we’d seen.

We drove counterclockwise around West Maui in order to end up at my friends’ house. For the first part of the drive we saw a couple of ecotour vans that were taking people on hikes, so we’d get out there and follow the trail. We saw some really nice waterfalls and there weren’t many people at all.

We’d later find out that West Maui isn’t nearly as traffic ridden as the road to Hana. As is true with most things, fewer people made it better.The picture to the left is probably the coolest spot we saw on the drive. There was a local car parked beside the road, so we jumped out and looked for a trail. It took a while for us to find the small little path to walk down, and we eventually had to climb down a bunch of rocks to get to the water.

To give some perspective, this photo was taken from the road. There’s a girl playing on the rocks while her dad fishes…can you see her?

The next day we took the Hana Highway, camped overnight, and drove all the way around Haleakala on the other side of Maui.

Part I (of many) on SEO, Google, and Content

I’ve been reading up a lot lately on Search Engine Optimization (SEO), marketing, monetizing a blog, sandboxes, traffic generation, and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.

From what I’ve read, what I feel in my gut, and what everything else I’ve done in life has taught me, I’ve come to a pretty simple conclusion–you gotta work for it, at least as far as content driven sites go. And just like everything else, if you put in the hard yards and take care of what you can control, the rest will take care of itself.

I’m doing a little experiment, which I’ll discuss in a seperate post, to determine how much a very targeted SEO strategy can help impact a site that is basically without content. In contrast, I also have this site (not an experiment), with I plan on providing an abundance of relavant, original content that is focused on, well, nothing in particular. As I said, more on that later.

I’m not saying it doesn’t pay to be smart about SEO and to be aware of the existence of search engines. You would be stupid not to use keywords that are relevant (the important word here is relevant) to your site, and it is probably worth your while to do some research into the most common searches that occur for your target market. But in the end, the free market will determine whether or not your site is successful, not Google. Why? Because not only is your site market driven, but Google is market driven itself!

Maybe I’m a simpleton who isn’t looking at all the angles, but here goes…

How Google’s Market Relates to Your Market

Google’s goal is to provide its customers with relevant search results. The reason Google is the top search engine, and the reason everyone wants a high Google ranking, is that it actually does a good job at achieving this goal. People’s trust in Google to give them what they are looking for was brought about by Google’s ability to sort through the junk and provide relavant results. Google’s continued dominance relies on being smart enough to know which sites deliver relevant content and which sites are simply trying to trick the user into visiting the site in hopes of selling them something they aren’t looking for. If Google fails to perform, someone else will jump in and provide this service.

That’s the beauty of the free market–if it is technologically possible, the demand will be met. In fact, the technology actually drives the demand in this case. So Google not only has to worry about providing their users with a quality product right now, but they also have to work to continue to provide a quality product in the future or risk being upended by someone with better technology who does a better job.

In other words, if Google’s search engine is dumb enough for you to trick it placing a crappy, irrelevant, get-rich-quick site high up the rankings, no one will want to use it anymore. If no one uses it anymore, what good is it for you to be ranked highly there? At that point, Google is no longer able to effectively connect you to your market.

Constitution

FlexYourRights.org has an in depth description of Fourth Amendment rights regarding consent to search which states that most people don’t realize that police need probable cause to search your vehicle.

I think it is interesting how certain words and phrases are used to convey a message that they don’t really state. For instace, the phrase, “mind if I search your vehicle?”, while asking a question, actually has the connotation that there isn’t a choice in the matter. It’s like asking your buddy, “mind if I have a couple of these fries?” as you reach for them. Whether he minds or not, you are going to take them, and he knows this. Of course, he’s going to say “sure”. We are conditioned to think that we are obligated to say yes to any reasonable question that starts with, “do you mind if…”

I’ve actually been in this situation a couple of times. The funniest one occurred once coming home from my job washing dishes late at night. I was pulled over for driving 31 mph in a 35. I assume the officer thought I was using some type of substance I wasn’t supposed to be using since I was out late, had chest-length dreadlocks, and was driving below the speed limit. In actuality, my speedometer was spinning in a circle, and since I couldn’t tell how fast I was going, I always drove slowly just in case. I explained this to him and also noted that he’d been behind me for over two miles so I was being extra careful to drive below the speed limit.

After checking my license, the officer asked if I’d been drinking, to which I replied, “No sir. As you can see by my driver’s license, I’m not 21 yet…it’s illegal for me to drink.”

Admittedly, I probably didn’t go very far in getting him on my good side with that comment, but whatever. I’d been doing nothing wrong. Next came the inevitable, “mind if I search your car?”

He was pretty shocked when I informed him that yes, I did mind. He had no reason to think I was committing a crime. His next move, of course, was to threaten me with bringing out a dog in order to get probable cause. I told him to be my guest. I was finished working for the night and had nowhere to go and nothing to fear. He was obviously frustrated, but after a lecture about keeping my car in working order, he handed me my license and sent me on my way.

One thing I didn’t like about the tone of the article is that it sort of implies that police are somehow cheating the system by making you think you have to submit to a search. To me, it is the responsibility of the citizen to know their rights or to at least ask about them if they are not sure. The police do a tough and dangerous job, and I can’t really blame them for using people’s ignorance to help them perform their job more easily.

I Called This One a Looooong Time Ago

Google entering the corporate software market.  Actually this is a step toward what I’ve predicted will happen.  Currently, Google’s model is to host all of the information on their site.  Some companies will have an issue with this, which is reasonable. 

I’ve predicted Google’s ultimate objective will be to sell an appliance that runs inside the corporate intranet.  The hardware will be bought/leased from Google, and no corporate information will get past the company’s firewall.  Google will maintain and patch the appliance from Mountain View, so users will always have the most up to date versions with the latest patches.  This will free up IT departments to deal with other issues, like keeping Microsoft patched and secure.

The big gotcha here is that all the users need to run the software is a browser.  Enter simplified versions of opensource OS’s that do nothing but run a browser.  Google can take a big bite out of Microsoft, not necessarily by stealing market share, but by eliminating a large part of the office suite and operating system markets entirely.