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Google Adds Reading Levels To Listings

I found a new feature on Google.  If you click advanced search on the search page, you have a ‘reading level’ option. In the drop down, you can choose to annotate your search results. When you search, you can now see the reading level Google thinks these (and your) pages are at.

As a father of a six year old, this seems interesting.  It could potentially help me find pages that he would understand and enjoy.  Unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work as I had hoped.  Apparently my about me page is at an intermediate reading level.  Hardly.  So is  Wow.

Maybe this is just more Google fluff, and maybe it will improve.  But it has me wondering about the signals and algorithm that determines this labeling.   Are there any clues here for the reverse engineers to understand more how Google thinks?  Likely, Google would be very careful putting this out… but still.

Update: Looks like Google gave us a little insight. Looks like a model was built off decisions made by teachers. I’m now thinking this is simply another algorithm strand layered into the Google rope.


My Search Engine Land Article – How To SEO A Vending Machine

Hey all – my new article is up at Search Engine Land. Enjoy.

How To SEO A Vending Machine.


I’m A DoFollow Blog, And Proud Of It

Matt Cutts says a small majority of the web is nofollowed (which is confirmed by Linkscape data). He doesn’t say that a huge majority of the social web is dofollowed. I firmly believe it isn’t. And since Google loves editorial links, they should love the good social links – forums, blogs, voting site comments, etc.

So why is so much of the social web still nofollowed? In theory, it helps us webmasters to rank better when we link out. It helps our social contributors receive link love. It’s great for Google in general.

Oh, right… SPAM. The applications that auto-spam WordPress blogs and Pligg, and the SEnuke’s of the world. There’s plenty of them. So, Google gave us the nofollow microformat to let us help them keep the web clean(er). But is slapping an automatic “nofollow” script really that helpful?

It’s a social web. I believe it’s our responsibility as good, contributing webmasters to monitor our user-generated links. If you’d like, put up rules about what you’ll accept and don’t accept (for example, no business names in the anchor text, or no links to product sites, etc). Make these rules simple and visible. Then, routinely prune anything that fails to meet the criteria. It’s a little extra work, but it’s worth it if you love your site.

I’m a dofollow SEO blog, and though Akismet (in WordPress) catches most my obvious automated spam, I still routinely go through my comments and make edits to rule breakers. Oh well. Clearly most don’t see it my way.

But as Google grows into a more contextual, learning machine, I think these nofollows are going to be a hindrance. I have heard of the tests that claim Google may be opting to follow certain links that are marked nofollow when it suits their needs,
but I haven’t seen it yet in my tests. As Google’s algorithm gets better, and they start to better understand what they read, while simultaneously finding other ways to defend against spam, I’m sure they’re going to start hopping the nofollow fence more often.


10 Chrome Extensions That Make SEO Easier

When I say “makes SEO easier,” I don’t just mean performing SEO, but also living as an SEO.

A few years ago I wrote a post about how great Firefox was for SEO. Oh, I was such a fanboy. Especially due to the huge amout of Greasemonkey scripts I was finding.  This is in the early days of extending browsers, mind you.

But since January of 2009, Firefox started to get slower, and Chrome started to get less buggy.  I’m not sure when I made the switch, but Chrome is my BOC (browser of choice).  I really love how the extensions run independently of the browser.  Smart move – my RAM thanks you.  Plus, most of the time they update on their own and don’t even bother you unless something is new or notable.

There’s still a few occasions where I have to fire up Firefox.  It’s so clunky and slow now, I sort of dread it.  I’m still a fan of SEObook’s rank checker (though I do have SEO Serp installed into Chrome).

So here’s 10 SEO chrome extensions I’m running (in the order they appear on my toolbar).  Granted, some aren’t necessarily all about SEO, but provides productivity nonetheless.

  1. Chromed Bird – I loved TweetDeck, and still use it on my iPhone, but other than posting to Facebook at the same time, Chromed Bird does everything Tweetdeck does for me.  Partitions my conversations, searches, and manages my lists.  Whenever someone tweets something in my list (like SEO for example), a little box pops up at the bottom of my browser with the tweet.  I never miss what my favorite SEOs have to say – helps me stay up with SEO news, especially since I can’t find the time to hit Google Reader every day.
  2. Webpage Screenshot – Though Google built one that seems very robust, I’m still partial to the Webpage Screenshot extension.  Let’s me edit and save a shot as JPG or PNG (which I love, because I hate JPG compression!!!).  I can choose from the usual options – full page or visible screenshot.  Then, a new tab will open with an editor.  Very similar to Snagit.  I use Webpage Screenshot all the time to record before and after SEO work.
  3. Google Mail Checker Plus - Won’t go into much detail here… it’s a Gmail previewer/bookmark.
  4. Google Reader Notifier – Like the Google Mail Checker Plus above, it lets me know what articles I have left to read, and simply opens up a Google Reader tab.  It maxes out at 1,000 which is where I’m always at.  Again… I just can’t get caught up on my newsreader.
  5. SEO Site Tools – Love this one.  First off, it’s my PageRank snapshot of choice (right there on the magnifying glass icon).  But clicking this gives you a drop down with a lot of cool pieces of information.  External page data, social media stats, page terms, page elements, server info, and suggestions.  There are a lot of free sites that give you this same, mostly fluff data, but it’s nice having it on the fly.  Especially when trying to figure out answers to client questions.
  6. Meta SEO Inspector – Like this one too.  It stays open in the bottom right, and gives you meta and head data.  Nice if you’re running through a bunch of pages.  It gives quick warnings as well.  Helpful.
  7. SEO Chrome Mozbar – When SEOmoz turned off their agency machine, and went exclusively into software/appware, they really kicked it up.  If you’re finding their suite useful, you’ll find this extension useful too.
  8. Firebug is one of my go-to tools.  Unfortunately, at this point, the version they built for Chrome (called “lite”) isn’t quite as robust as the Firefox version.  I still flip to Firefox’s Firebug most of the time, but since I always have Chrome open, there are occasions I know I can get away without leaving my browser.  I expect this to grow, and can’t wait until it does.  With Firebug I can inspect (and edit) code without having to boot up Dreamweaver.  I like that.
  9. Web Developer is another must have in Firefox, that has recently been ported over to chrome.  Pretty sure I use this every day.  Want to see what a site looks like without Javascript, or CSS?  Want to get deeper into the spider’s eye view of the world?  This is the tool you need.  Need to resize, validate, or highlight sections of your site?  You got it.  A lot you can do, and really essential for web designers/developers, but since SEO gets technical, it’s great for us too.
  10. Note Anywhere is a great extension that allows you to tag pages with a big, yellow stick-em.  Why is this good for SEO?  Well, if you’ve optimized a page and want to make note of it for the next time you browse that page, stick a note on it.  My desk is full of sticky notes – now, so are my clients’ pages.

10 SEO Chrome Extensions


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugliness Of Conversion Code

In my mind, one of the best and worst inventions for Internet marketing conversion code.

I remember it well, about 5 years ago, when it was released to AdWords. I could qualify the work I’ve been doing for an old eCcommerce employer. He was very ROI focused because he was, well, cheap (not at all generalizing a business who rightfully cares about revenue as cheap). This boss didn’t buy into internet marketing even though he was running an internet store. So this code – which I had to map cart variables too – helped me justified the good work I was doing in my job. While many industry peers were frustrated by the extra scrutiny they were getting, I was actually saved.

But conversion code isn’t everything. It’s not supposed to be. It has its place.

Online analytics is still really young. Now, we have great conversion tracking, and more advanced attribution modeling. But only a few years ago, it was all about impressions and CTR. Basic analytics told us a little of the story, and forced us to take chances. Now, with more of the story, I truly believe many of us find ourselves backed into an ROI corner in which we are afraid to press against. Did these better bullets make us cocky?

“Bullets are great. But you don’t win a war with firepower. It’s with strategy and tactics.”

I had three fortune cookies today with lunch, and this is what they said:

  • All channels are not created equal
  • Old school marketing isn’t dead, it’s been reinvented
  • AdWords is advertising – a “piece” of marketing

I think for many conversion tracking created and atmosphere for marketers to worry about performance to the dollar versus creativity on the web. On the web, creativity is vital and clearly yields bigger results when you strike gold. Creativity with focus speaks to more segmented audiences, which we now know are even more plentiful than we did before the web. General analytics and demos let us focus on those audiences, but data on whether they convert on the last click does not tell the full story. It answers the immediate need of passing a report to your boss, but it doesn’t always lead to the lifetime value.

Marketing is, and should always be about risk taking. If you’re not taking risks, you’re playing on the same level as not hundreds, but hundreds of thousands of other tepid companies. Marketing is also about developing strategies as you build. Tying yourself to ROI alone hurts you in the long run if you’re the kind of company that needs to be competitive. If you disagree, are you really being effective marketers and doing the w0rk the internet demands? Is it our job to encourage options and opportunity? Or is our job to keep stay in a box?

Would love your opinions.


How Do Most Consumers Discover Products? Still Search!

ATG (a large commerce platform) just put out some interesting studies. 53% (of 1,002 total people) cited search engines as their key source for discovering new products.

Is this news? Not really. But I was interested to see how competitive email still is. I was also interested to see where social media (as a channel) resides. Social is under In-store displays and offline signs. Wow. Even though it’s fertile, this is a reminder that social still has a long road until full maturity.

Click for larger image:

ATG - online shopping study

Check out Search Engine Land for more stats.


Top 10 Reasons You Need SEO (2010 edition)

Many business owners ask the common question, “Do I need SEO?”  When I’m asked, I’m likely to recite any of the following.

  1. Because the internet demands you sync it with other online/offline marketing initiatives. What are you missing if you spend $1m for a Super Bowl commercial about a monkey jumping out of a car trunk and beating up a thief if you can’t find “monkey super bowl commercial” in Google?
  2. Because the ROI of SEO is that you’ll be around in a year. Sound like hype? Well, you’re competitors who are heavily focusing on SEO hope you take it that way.
  3. Because what a user sees and what a spider sees can be very different. Google has a sixth grade education, and you may not be teaching them anything in a language they can understand.
  4. Because you’re only rock stars in your own mind.
  5. Because if I see your listing in the top 5, and it looks like cheap promotion to me, I’ll skip.
  6. Because your paid search quality score will likely improve. Maybe you could actually afford bidding on those non-brand terms and introducing your site to brand agnostic visitors. Remember advertising?
  7. Because Google owns your site, not you. This goes for even the biggest brands. Think about it – even if someone knows your URL, they’re still probably going to type it into Google to find you for the first time (check your analytics). It would be a damn shame if you didn’t show up.
  8. Because without SEO, you won’t know the missed opportunities. Search is a function of demand. With a little R&D, you’ll be able to not only develop functioning landing pages, but create products. Remember marketing?
  9. A fuller semantic web is the future of SEO, and I don’t mean just mean programmatically.  Semantic indexing!  I personally believe the hype, and I write for it.  I think it at least helps my readers, so that’s a good thing.
  10. Because SEO bloggers need something more substantial to write about over, and over, and over again.

In the meantime I’m working on a case study with a family member’s family law office in Reading, PA.  Should have some data soon to really show the before and after of a 6 month SEO campaign.  So far it’s pretty compelling.


4 Useful Google Search Tricks For SEO

Here are a few little tricks you can do to customize or filter Google results. These 4 are clutch tricks for me.  I end up using these more than most other tricks in my arsenal (oh, there are plenty…):

Enter -site: to remove sites from the SERPs: If you’re looking for competitors for a popular product, and keep seeing the big players, comparison shopping engines or affiliates, and would like to get a better feel for the other players in the landscape, this trick works well.To see this work, search for a key phrase like Wilson Official NCAA Football.  You may see sites like,, and Bizrate.Try the search again like this Wilson Official NCAA Football.  See the difference?  There are several ways you can use this iltering for your competitive education.

Discover related keywords: Google has the ability to show pages with keywords related to the actual keywords you searched.  They’ll do this when their algorithms suggest it’s a better result.  To get a feeling of what keywords variation Google is thinking about, at a tilda (~) to the query.  For example, Google ~sofa.  At the very least this can inspire your keyword research.

Find File Types in a site: Doing a quick audit and want to see if a site is using a particular file type (like Flash)?  This will give you some insight: filetype:swf

Figure out where those indented links really rank: Today a Google search (on my computer) for Frank Zappa will show you with an indented link for in the #2 position.  Indented links are pages from the same domain that can show up anywhere in the bracket of 10 results, except Google groups them together for user value.  In other words, although is ranked at #2, it’s not really the second result.  It could be the fifth, or the seventh, or the tenth.When working towards SERP domination, it’s important to know exactly where all the pages lie so you have a better idea of who you need to beat.  Add &num=x to the end of the Google search query URL, where “x” is a number less than 10 (remember – without using Advanced Search, there are only 10 true listings in natural results on any given SERP).  Keep experimenting with lower numbers for “x” until the indented link is gone.  Once it’s gone, you’ll be able to surmise where the actual position of the listing.


The New Sphinn? It’s Fine By Me. is dropping its voting (ala Digg) system for a new editor controlled model. Sounds like there has been lower engagement than in past years, likely leaving a larger percentage of the activity to spammers and voting mobs. It will be interesting to see if the full-on editor model will be better than the group voting model. I wouldn’t think it would be, but then again…

> Others complain that someone else seems to “win” all the time.

Although I don’t think I ever typed those words on the web, I have to agree. It’s why I bailed a year ago. I loved the idea that marketers would decide what is the most valuable content in our industry, but after seeing what constantly got voted up (opposed to routinely greater stuff that didn’t get any votes – yes, I was one of the people who went deeper into the site), I just stopped believing that it had the same value for me that I originally thought it had.

Note… I said, “for me.”  This is totally my opinion. But in the end, it just felt like anything a Sphinn rock star would submit would sky rocket. Even if there were dupe submissions. I’m all for the authority of a rock star Sphinner, but there’s no way the dupe submissions weren’t getting any traction if they were equally as good.  It just meant too many readers stuck to a tiny slipstream of submissions and embrace the whole site.

Readers will still be able to submit articles.  But editors (who actually always had the ability to control things anyway despite the votes – hey, sounds like American Idol!) will play a bigger role.  Sounds a lot like YouMoz, come to think of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m very sad the “people” thing didn’t work.  I haven’t given up on social communities though… just maybe that one. But I’m definitely interested in giving Sphinn another look when its “under new management” so to speak.

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