Category Archives: SEO

Hacking the algorithm

When I try to explain the work I do to non technical people, their eyes glaze over very quickly. It’s totally understandable, there’s a lot of jargon and things get complicated very quickly.

However, here’s a really great video by Amy Webb, talking about how she hacked the algorithm for a dating site. It has a lot of parallels with what I do, and I’m sure my fellow SEO people will also enjoy it :)

Redirects in the Real World

Photo Credit: TheCullinaryGeek

A couple of weeks ago I decided to go out for a meal with my wife, we dropped the kids off and headed out to one of our favorite Italian restaurants. As we pulled into the parking lot we immediately knew something was wrong. The lot was empty! This is a well known, family owned, independent restaurant which is always buzzing. I walked up to the front door and peered in. All dark. I scanned the door and windows for an indication of what was going on. Nothing, just the standard postings of the menu and list of business hours.

I trudged back to the car and discussed it with my wife. We made a quick decision and ate at a different place a couple of miles down the road.

The next day, my wife was researching the restaurant and told me that they’d moved a block down the road. My mind was racing: “Why didn’t they post a permanent redirect to the new location?” It seemed like such an obvious solution.

People forget to post redirects to new locations even in real life. In this case, it would have only taken a few minutes to post the new address on a piece of office paper and tape it to the door. They lost my business, reluctantly to another restaurant that day, but we’ll be visiting them again at their new location, at which point I will adjust my mental bookmark.

Optimize for Search Engines or Users?

Over the years a lot of SEOs have gone back and forth over this legendary question:

“Do you optimize for search engines or users?”

From my SEO point of view, it’s a ridiculous question.

We like to ask leading questions, and this either or type question is extremely prevalent in our daily lives:

  • Do you take the red pill or the blue pill?
  • Do you cut the red or green wire?
  • Do we go left or right?
  • Nikon or Canon?
  • Chevy or Ford?
  • Pepsi or Coke?

From an SEO point of view, can you see what’s wrong with all of these questions? They’re written to suggest that you only have two choices, when in fact a creative SEO will be able to come up with a lot more than two answers. SEO is usually not constrained by physical limitations of the real world, as in the questions above.

The most obvious answer to the question is that you optimize for both. The two choices given in the question are not necessarily mutually exclusive, that assumption is inferred by the question. Challenge your assumptions!

Other answers could be:
1) Test and see which wins
2) Take sections of your site and focus each section on either engines or users.
3) Create a similar site and write it the other way, then refer to #1.

You see, even with a question that started off with what appeared to be only two possible answers, within a few seconds, we’ve expanded to many more possibilities. With some more creativity, you can probably come up with a larger selection.

So next time you’re asked a leading question, take a moment, challenge your assumptions, then deliver your creative SEO answer.

Free SEO Review is starting to build some community tools to help Manta members connect with each other. Since I’m part of this project I’m trying to get some new people involved to give me feedback on the site’s features.

So to show my appreciation, I’d like to offer one hour of my SEO consulting services to anyone who signs up on and adds me as a business contact, between now and August 31st. Once we’ve connected, just send me a private message on Manta with some feedback and your website address and you’ll be entered into a drawing to receive one hour of free SEO consulting by me.

Register on Manta, then visit my profile page to add me as a contact.

The winner will be drawn and announced here on Tuesday September 1st 2009.

The SEO review will be a multipage document pointing out major problem areas and recommendations to correct/enhance them.

Below is a graph showing organic traffic from Google:

The red arrow shows when I started working on

Google TrustRank Myth Busted!

Well since this post was written, it seems that Google has decided to release something else which it’s calling TrustRank. The original TrustRank confusion was related to detecting and filtering spam, while the latest iteration is to do with calculating the “trust” of users bnased on the quality of annotations, reviews and tags they provide. These signals may be used to reorder the ranks of pages in the results.

Bill Slawski, as usual, has a great rundown of what it is from the Google Trust Rank patent filings

Original Post:
If you search Google for TrustRank you will find many blogs and forums talking about it and giving advice and theories about what you can do to alter it, but the fact of the matter is that it just simply does not exist.

At pubcon 2007 Suresh Babu interviewed Matt Cutts and asked him specifically to define TrustRank. Below is the video of that interview.

For those of you not able to watch the video, here’s a transcript where Matt Cutts talks about its origins and confusion between a Yahoo intern’s project and an antiphishing filter Google was developing.

What is trustrank? everybody’s curious about that. It’s kinda nice you asked because it’s good to have a chance to debunk this a little bit. So it turns out there was a summer intern who was at Yahoo and Jan Pedersen and some other people at Yahoo, and they wrote a paper about something called TrustRank; and what it does is it tries to treat reputation like it’s physical mass and see how it flows around on the web and what physical properties does trust have; and it’s really interesting stuff. But it’s completely separate from Google. So a couple of years ago at like the exact same time, Google was working on an antiphishing filter, and as part of that we needed to come up with a name for it and so they filed for a trademark, and I think they used the name TrustRank, so it was a really weird coincidence. Yahoo had a TrustRank project and we had this TrustRank trademark, and so everybody talks about TrustRank, TrustRank, TrustRank and yet if you go and ask five different SEOs you’ll have five different opinions and definitions about exactly what TrustRank is.

If you go to the US Patent and Trademark website and do a trademark search you’ll find this result:

Goods and Services (ABANDONED) IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Computer services, namely organizing information, sites and other resources available on computer networks
Standard Characters Claimed
Serial Number 78588592
Filing Date March 16, 2005
Current Filing Basis 1B
Original Filing Basis 1B
Published for Opposition December 6, 2005
Owner (APPLICANT) Google Inc. CORPORATION DELAWARE 1600 Amphitheatre Parkway Mountain View CALIFORNIA 94043
Live/Dead Indicator DEAD
Abandonment Date February 29, 2008

If you go to the advanced published applications search page on US Patent and Trademark website and search for Trustrank you will find these results. Notice that none of them are filed by or Assigned to Google, although there are references to Yahoo’s link-based spam detection patent application.

Inventors: Wolters; Timothy J.; (Superior, CO) ; Setayesh; Mehrshad; (Lafayette, CO)
Assignee Name and Adress: COLLECTIVE INTELLECT, INC. Boulder CO
Serial No.: 938691
Series Code: 11
Filed: November 12, 2007


Inventors: Drayer; Jay A.; (Houston, TX) ; Howe; Grant M.; (Cypress, TX)
Serial No.: 923366
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 24, 2007

Enhanced Detection of Search Engine Spam
Inventors: Caldwell; Larry Thomas; (Annandale, VA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Idalis Software, Inc. Annandale VA
Serial No.: 871539
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 12, 2007

System and method for characterizing a web page using multiple anchor sets of web pages
Inventors: Joshi; Amruta Sadanand; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Ravikumar; Shanmugasundaram; (Cupertino, CA) ; Reed; Benjamin Clay; (Morgan Hill, CA) ; Tomkins; Andrew; (San Jose, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 542079
Series Code: 11
Filed: October 3, 2006

Dynamic updating of display and ranking for search results

Inventors: Ferrenq; Isabelle; (Saint Lattier, FR) ; Chevalier; Pierre-Yves; (Biviers, FR)
Assignee Name and Adress: EMC Corporation
Serial No.: 522498
Series Code: 11
Filed: September 15, 2006

User-sensitive pagerank
Inventors: Berkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Fayyad; Usama M.; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Raghavan; Prabhakar; (Saratoga, CA) ; Tomkins; Andrew; (San Jose, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: YAHOO! INC.
Serial No.: 474195
Series Code: 11
Filed: June 22, 2006

Providing a rating for a web site based on weighted user feedback

Inventors: Repasi; Rolf; (Sunrise Beach, AU) ; Clausen; Simon; (New South Wales, AU)
Serial No.: 803922
Series Code: 11
Filed: May 16, 2007

Search engine with augmented relevance ranking by community participation
Inventors: Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Berkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Ku; David; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Lu; Qi; (Saratoga, CA) ; Walther; Eckart; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Tam; Chung-Man; (San Francisco, CA)
Serial No.: 478291
Series Code: 11
Filed: June 28, 2006

Trust propagation through both explicit and implicit social networks
Inventors: Berkhim; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Taha; Abe; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Maghoul; Farzin; (Hayward, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 498637
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Realtime indexing and search in large, rapidly changing document collections
Inventors: Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Walters; Chad; (San Francisco, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 498706
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Using community annotations as anchortext
Inventors: Rose; Daniel E.; (Cupertino, CA) ; Mao; Jianchang; (San Jose, CA) ; Xu; Zhichen; (San Jose, CA) ; Ku; David; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Lu; Qi; (Saratoga, CA) ; Walther; Eckart; (Palo Alto, CA) ; Tam; Chung-Man; (San Francisco, CA)
Serial No.: 498682
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 2, 2006

Link-based spam detection
Inventors: Barkhin; Pavel; (Sunnyvale, CA) ; Gyongyi; Zoltan Istvan; (Stanford, CA) ; Pedersen; Jan; (Los Altos Hills, CA)
Assignee Name and Adress: Yahoo! Inc. Sunnyvale CA
Serial No.: 198471
Series Code: 11
Filed: August 4, 2005

So since Google has dropped the trademark, does not have any patent applications for it and Matt Cutts explained the confusion, I think I’d call this myth busted!

SEO Client Story

I used to work for an SEO agency in Pittsburgh and dealt with a number of interesting clients in a variety of industries, with large and small sites. There were a number of funny incidents that I encountered, which I’d like to recount here, although names will be withheld.

No Google Traffic
After taking on this client I gained access to their webtrends reports and it showed an astounding lack of Google organic traffic. I looked over the meta tags and page content and all seemed to be targeting the right set of keywords to some degree, although onpage could still use some improvement.

I knew they weren’t doing anything advanced like IP delivery so I used Firefox with the useragent switcher extension and confirmed that with my useragent set to googlebot, slurp or msnbot I could browse the site without any problems. After checking the robots.txt I found that googlebot had been disallowed! After asking the client’s developer why they decided to ban googlebot their response was: It was crawling the site too often and there were errors on some of the pages that were leading to open database connections and locking up the server.

Needless to say the developers got a quick lesson in why banning googlebot to mask their programming errors is not good business practice.

Want to hear more stories? Do you have any of your own you’d like to share?

Optimizing PDFs for Search Engines

At pubcon I listened to a session by George Aspland about various techniques to optimize PDF files for search engines. Part of his ongoing research is to see whether links within a PDF file pass link juice. To test this, he asked if session members would download and republish one of his PDF files. So here it is. Good luck, it will be interesting to see the results of this test.

Optimizing PDFs for Search Engines (1.8MB PDF file)

Meeting People At Pubcon

While I met a bunch of great people, there were a great deal of people I didn’t get to meet. Some were just rude or didn’t have any time for me (the man with the golden shoes and the offwhite hound dog), but apart from them, most others were polite enough to exchange pleasantries.

For those I didn’t get to meet, feel free to leave a comment, or you can catch up with me (my username is Pittbug) on the SEO refugee forums.

Thanks to Brett Tabke for the free beers, I shall return again next year.

Heading to Pubcon

Just a quick note to say that next week I’ll be at pubcon in Vegas soaking up the latest SEO/SEM issues and techniques.

If you want to meet, you can either post in the thread on seorefugee here, or call me using GrandCentral:

This marks almost one year since I started this blog, which was a direct result of having attended Pubcon in 2006.