Block the rank monitoring tools!

Via Search Roundtable I learn that a number of WebPosition Gold customers are finding the software is being blocked by Google. It’s got many worried especially as it seems to be affecting other rank checking tools. Has Google finally shut these tools down?

If that is the case, so what? I can’t remember the last time I used a rank checker, and that’s because I really don’t care too much about search engine rankings. Rankings do not mean results, good traffic and conversions means results and that’s all that a good marketer should be focusing on.

So, actually, I’ll be quite pleased if it turns out Google are blocking these programs. Maybe it will force marketers and business owners to look at more meaningful metrics than whether or not they’re on page one, and if they should tweak their keyword frequency to move up a place or two.

How SEO will eventually die off

I really enjoyed reading Ian Lurie’s take on the death of SEO. He gives us a few ideas as to how SEO will finally meet it’s demise. (Note I’m not questioning whether SEO will die or not!)

I’m going to give you my own take on each of the three theories;

The Slow Meltdown

While it is true that many companies are taking SEO in-house, most SMBs just don’t have the resources to do the same. SEO is a very labour-intensive excercise and smaller enterprises will have to get outside help.

Additionally, even though many larger organisations are moving to in-house SEOs, more and more full service marketing agencies are including SEO in their service offering. Larger businesses are taking advantage of this and are likely to continue doing so for a while yet.

The Sudden Extinction

Ian makes the good point that plenty of industries have survived economic downturn, so why not SEO? In fact, my view is that SEO (or rather, on line marketing) could well be the marketing method of choice in a depression thanks to the ease of measuring performance against other forms of marketing. Not to mention the much better returns that can be gained from the internet.

A Tough Adolescence

I have to agree with Ian on this one, I think he’s got it pretty spot on. On line marketing in general is still very young. SEO is just a small part of that and will eventually be sidelined in favour of a more rounded approach to internet marketing. Businesses are getting wiser to the cowboys and marketing consultants are beginning to embrace and understand the power of the internet.

I believe only the best SEO consultants will remain in a few years, and even they will have to smarten up their approach a little. They’ll become one part of the on line marketing machine, instead of being at the forefront of an entire sub-industry.

The Future

I’m excited. I’ve seen the industry evolve so much over the last few years and it’s only going to get better. My vision of the ethical web is coming closer.

Algo chasing and SEOs generalisation

One of the biggest things that annoys me about SEOs is how so many of them make generalisations. For example, a recent poll conducted by Search Roundtable asked SEOs and webmasters, “do you like blog links?” The poll was sparked off by suggestions by some SEOs that Google had started to de-value links from blogs.

My bug bear with this is that a link, whether from a blog or not, has value based on it’s relevance, not on whether the site it appears on is a blog. In fact, a link from a blog is more likely to be relevant because of the nature of blogging. You’re more likely to get a good quality, contextual link from a blog (or a social site) than a normal information or commercial site.

This is a typical example of how SEO can adversely affect your on line marketing. Those SEOs (not all SEOs!) who generalise like this are often chasing the algorithm all the time, making big changes and doing u-turns because of the latest ‘filter’ or penalty. The result is a compromise between quality and the pursuit of rankings (which may not prove fruitful).

The truth is, if you build a quality site in an ethical and common sense way you hardly even need to think about search engines. Your time will be focused almost entirely on achieving your business goals and meeting those all important targets.

Ethics and Corporation Tax

One thing that really bugs me is tax avoidance. I used to think it was a great idea until one day, whilst having an inner groan at the constant lack of cash in public services I realised that avoiding tax is, in fact, incredibly unethical and irresponsible. Taxes, whether you like them or not, are there to pay for all those things society needs. They pay for our health service, the roads, street lights and so on.

Just like as individuals we pay income tax, companies pay corporation tax – a tax on profits. Many corporations, including big household names, employ tax avoidance schemes utilising subsidiary companies in tax havens like Luxembourg. These schemes allow them to pay as little tax as possible on the massive profits they earn.

Billions of pounds are essentially being kept out of Government hands and in the pockets of wealthy shareholders, denying society of much needed cash to improve public services. So I was glad to read today that such practices have been outlawed.

Ever the sceptically minded, though, I can’t see it making a huge impact. Corporations spend hundreds of thousands on accountants to build these complex structures designed purely to avoid paying tax simply because the returns are so huge. Put simply, they’ll find another way because the financial benefit of doing so is so great.

But what’s the solution? Then I thought back to the income tax. With individuals, we are charged income tax at 20% (unless you’re lucky enough to be in the higher-rate tax band) with the benefits system helping those who don’t earn as much to get by. Corporations and individuals both earn money and have to use that money to pay their operational (or living) costs. Anything left over is then a bonus. However, we are taxed differently – corporations pay tax on anything left over while individuals pay on everything we earn (let’s ignore the untaxable allowance for simplicity). So why not tax corporations on everything they earn and then kick-back a little bit for every pound they don’t make a profit on?

It’s a nice idea, I think, but whether it will work in practice is something for the accountants and economists to battle out. My first thought is that avoiding that method would just be a case of making your accounts look like less profit was made. Probably not a hard thing to do. Yet, for big companies with lots of shareholders that would probably be a bad thing as the one thing shareholders want most out of their investment is a good profitable company.

I’d love to here thoughts on this idea, especially people who will be more well-versed in accounting than me.

Yahoo is encouraging unethical practices in web development

A big part of my ethical web philosophy is that site owners should build their sites with the visitors best interests at the forefront.

For years it has been shown that surfers use the address bar to get their bearings and so clean, simple URLs are a must.

Search engines have always had difficulty with long, complicated, dynamic URLs and have encouraged site owners to keep them to an absolute minimum. With the technology available now it is entirely feasible to completely rid any site of these ugly URLs, improving the usability and search engine effectiveness.

So, in my mind, it’s irresponsible of Yahoo to provide web masters with an excuse to NOT clean up their URLs. This is what they did with ‘Dynamic URL Rewriting’.

They gave web masters a way to tell Yahoo to ignore certain query string parameters in their URLs. This is very useful for webmasters – especially where their sites use session IDs and the like.

However, it helps them to be lazy. To disregard the need for clean, usable URLs and opt for the ‘easy option’ which translates to a lower quality of user experience.

In the case of session IDs, Yahoo should be making their algorithm clever enough to cope with such a common feature of the web, if not more so. Google certainly doesn’t provide such a feature, but that in no way puts Yahoo ahead. In fact, it puts them behind because Google already understands and accepts that sites use parameters, some of which are common and have no bearing on page content so they ignore them automatically.

So come on, Yahoo, stop encouraging bad behaviour and smarten yourselves up!

Yahoo! Search Blog: Be Dynamic, Be Confident — Yahoo! Search Supports You.

Yahoo SHOULD be promoting friendly URLs, not creating bodges like this.

Common Sense Policing

Yesterday I sent off my application to be a Special Constable for Staffordshire Police. I’m really excited about it but have been worried about how much pressure there is with all the paperwork that’s required so I was pleased to hear about this pilot scheme that is under way in four forces, including Staffordshire.

It allows officers to ‘use their own judgement’ more so that they don’t need to make so many arrests. It should hopefully free up a lot of time for officers. Sir Ronnie Flanagan, who’s recommendations in a report published in February have triggered the introduction of this scheme, said that it could potentially save at least five million man hours. That’s the equivalent of 2,500 officers!

Faceparty Activates Self Destruct

Social networks are attractive in business because, like TV, they have a captive audience. A captive audience about who a lot is known. Age, gender, location, hobbies, interests, sexual preference, musical preference, favourite TV shows, films, books; you name it.

So what do Faceparty do when faced with a bit of legislation? They cull hundreds of accounts. This is their intellectual property, for Pete’s sake. It’s suicide! Seriously, folks, how much would it really cost to put in some kind of system to verify age? If you really needed to do it why haven’t Facebook, Orkut, MySpace et al done it yet? Answer: because they’re not as thick as two short planks, that’s why!

Are All PR Professionals Scared of the Web?

For some reason I’m doing a good job of finding opinion pieces preaching to businesses about why they shouldn’t do SEO, PPC, social networking, blogging and so on. Obviously, being an internet consultant that could be bad for business but it’s getting my back up because I can see a common theme running through a lot of these – fear of change.

Fact: the internet is changing the way we all do business. Problem is, people don’t generally like change and this seems to be quite prevalent in traditional marketing circles, where a distinct lack of understanding of the differences in online marketing is manifesting itself into attacks on the worth of online tactics.

Case in point: This afternoon a client sent me a snippet from an innocently title article, Generating press coverage for your accountancy practice, by Tim Prizeman of PR advisors, Kelso Consulting.

Essentially he is suffering from a lack of understanding of the role of blogging in internet marketing. Corporate blogging is an essential part of online PR. In fact PR is a bit misleading in a B2B situation – it should be more like Industry Relations. Corporate blogging allows you not only to talk to your industry (like you do offline through press releases, interviews etc) but to actively participate in industry discussion with both journalists and industry peers (like you would do at an industry conference). It breaks down geographical barriers.

In part of his article, Tim says, “The next time a development arises that effects its readers (eg tax change, VAT tribunal, or you just generally think that people in that industry are missing a particular trick) immediately ring up the journalist and say something along the following lines: “Hello, I’m Mark Tomarket from accountants Tick & Bash. The change in yesterday’s Budget increasing employers’ national insurance could have a dramatic adverse effect on employment in this town because of the large number of retail and other labour intensive industries – is this a story you are interested in covering?”

The beauty of corporate blogging is that you become a semi-journalist. Instead of phoning a journalist you would simply write a brief blog post on your thoughts and because of the nature of blogging, that post would be immediately distributed around the web to all those people who are interested in that topic (ie, your industry peers). The benefit being that it gives your company credibility by showing that you are fully aware of your business environment and the forces affecting your market. That inspires confidence.

It doesn’t take a lot of time like Tim says, either. In ten minutes one can set up a blog, write a post and notify any clients and associates that may be interested creating an instant, targeted (if small) readership.

I’d like to know how Tim came to the conclusion that most have become moribund and why that makes all efforts at corporate blogging worthless. Tim himself admits that “a modest number of these have large and growing followings” which is surely a sign to us all that blogging can work.

I may be reading between the lines too much here but the tone of Tim’s article suggests that in order for a blog to be successful it must have “a large and growing following” but what about the thousands of blogs created by individuals to entertain their groups of friends, colleagues or community groups. Blogs that may only be updated once each month, if that, and only have a small following of twenty or less but are still much loved and cared for areas of the web.

Tim calculates that 179,900 unsuccessful blogs are created each day, adding to the already “71.75m existing little visited ones” again assuming that a less active blog is an unsuccessful blog. The phrase “it’s not the quantity, it’s the quality” comes to mind.

My immediate conclusion is that Tim is suffering from a lack of understanding. He’s never seen successful blogging and so he can’t comprehend it. In all likelihood he’s only ever seen blogging done badly and that’s all he has to go on. Funny enough, one of the most popular blogging efforts on the web today is that of Guardian Unlimited. The online arm of a publication Tim should be very familiar with. Guardian Unlimited in fact won awards for it’s web site and many people are now beginning to turn to media blogs instead of buying newspapers.

My second thought is that Tim is scared. He’s a traditional PR consultant and the internet is becoming more and more powerful. Businesses are switching more of their marketing budgets on line and away from offline marketing because they’re seeing such good returns in comparison. This is obviously affecting Tim’s business and he’s trying to circumvent.

My advice to Tim: Open your mind and realise that blogging is the most prolific form of online PR. Blogging is your cousin and you’d do well to get along or you may find yourself fighting a losing battle.

To the rest of you (accountancy practices included); keep an open mind and never dismiss an idea until you have all the facts. Always take advice about an industry from industry professionals and be mindful of ulterior motives.

If you’re thinking about blogging or internet marketing in general then philipjohn is always available to answer questions without any obligation. Call him on 0844 884 5419 and he’ll help in the best way he can.

Yahoo Takes on Google Analytics

Just over a month ago I received an e-mail from IndexTools to let me know, as a customer, that the company was to be acquired by Yahoo. I’ve been a consistent user of IndexTools for a good few years now, having discovered the tool whilst evaluating analytics vendors for my previous company, so it was exciting news to me.

I immediately contacted my clients to let them know that IndexTools would soon be completely free of charge! Low a behold, on Friday, another e-mail which says,

So moving forward from here and upon your acceptance of the Yahoo! Master Terms & Conditions and Program Terms the product will be provided to you free of charge.

It’s obvious (to me, at least) that this is Yahoo’s move to compete with Google Analytics. Personally, I much prefer IndexTools over Analytics but we’ll see. Yahoo does, of course, have to play catch up but IndexTools is a damn good piece of kit and with the right effort could be a serious rival.

I wonder how long it will take to be integrated into Search Marketing.

Yahoo Sucker Punches Microsoft

I had to laugh when I read the news on the BBC site this morning that Yahoo and Google have teamed up in an advertising trial. For two weeks, Google will serve 3% of Yahoo’s ads. The article doesn’t mention which ads – I’m presuming pay-per-click ads on search results.

The move is clearly intended to fend off Microsoft who have given Yahoo a time limit to accept their offer. This deal comes the day after Yahoo announced they were purchasing IndexTools, a web analytics and PPC bid management vendor I am very familiar with, having used them for five years.

Yahoo’s share price was up 7% on the Google announcement, making life that little bit harder for Microsoft. Personally, I think a merger would be a disaster. For years, both companies have been hammering away trying to compete with Google but have never caught up because of mis-directed effort. Bringing the two together, as far as I can see, would only cause upheaval and disruption for advertisers and publishers. The end result would probably be another misguided effort that doesn’t come close to tempting advertisers away from Google.