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SEO Short Stories

May 29 2012 // Humor + SEO // 12 Comments

I’ve wanted to comment on a number of the debates going on in the SEO community but every time I started to write about it, it felt wrong and boring.

So instead, I wrote a few short stories about SEO that (hopefully) convey my perspective. I’ll leave you to decide what I’m talking about and hope you find it as entertaining to read as it was to write.

Law & Order: Silicon Valley

Detective Gorem O Rly?

The room was hot, the two-way mirror smudged with sweaty fingerprints. The pea green paint on the wall was peeling and the battered metal table clanked as the well dressed man fidgeted under interrogation.

The grizzled detective paced back-and-forth rubbing his stubbled jaw.

“We know you did it,” he growled.

I did not kill my wife,” the husband said, deliberately stressing the first word.

“You’re good with words, I’ll give you that,” the detective sneered. “Maybe you didn’t pull the trigger but you might as well have. You walk into the bank, take out five grand in cash and BANG, next week your wife is dead.”

He punctuated the last line by pounding the table with his fist. The husband jerked upright at the sound giving the detective the opening he wanted. Moving around the table the grabbed him by the collar. “Tell me who you paid to do it.”

“Fine,” the husband said sagging back in his chair. “I’ll tell you, but I want a deal.”

A commercial break later the detective is staring at the husband from outside the interrogation room. It’s oddly dark as he chats with the young Assistant District Attorney who announced herself by clacking into the room in her high heels.

“Guy says the killer’s been busy,” he tells her.

“You believe him?”

The detective nods. “Yeah, went through some old cases and the MO wasn’t hard to spot.”

“Okay, pick ’em up. We’ll charge them both,” she says with curt finality.

The Mountain View Speeding Ticket

So Ya Thank You're A Tough Guy Huh?

You’re pulled over on the side of the road watching the cop slowly walk up to your candy apple red Porche in the side view mirror.

Hands on his hips CHiPs style, the cop asks you a simple question. “Do you know how fast you were going?”

What a stupid question you think to yourself. Of course you know how fast you were going. In this instance you’d blown past the normal 10 mph buffer zone of the speed limit. You were in a hurry.

“No officer, I don’t,” you say laconically.

The cop isn’t wearing sunglasses but instead some sort of strange asymmetrical band that makes you think of the Death Star attack sequence from Star Wars.

“Too fast,” he says and begins to tap you out a ticket on his Galaxy Nexus. As he does an old maroon Ford Aerostar minivan roars by doing at least 90 mph. The cop doesn’t seem to notice and that bugs the shit out of you.

“Didn’t you see that guy,” you blurt out. “He was going way faster than me!”

The cop glances up from his phone to look at you, to acknowledge that you’ve spoken, but doesn’t reply and continues to tap away. God, what an asshole, you think. Doesn’t he know that he wouldn’t have a job without my tax dollars!

“There shouldn’t be any speed limit, you know,” you say as much to yourself as to the cop. “It should be like the autobahn where everyone can just drive as fast or as slow as they want.”

Another glance from the cop.

“And, I mean, the speed limit changes. It’s flexible. Did you know that they lowered the speed limit to 55 mph during the gas crisis in the 70s? Its’ all just arbitrary,” you say thinking that you’ve totally pwned him.

The cop pockets his phone and deliberately leans through the car window. Without cracking a smile he says, “Son, last I looked this isn’t Germany and it’s 2012.”

The Girl in Canada You Went All the Way With

Negative SEO

“You don’t know her,” Eugene says. “She’s from Canada.”

It’s the first day of High School and everyone is trying to look cool. Eugene has been strutting around telling everyone he knows that he went all the way with a girl over the summer.

“So you got laid by some girl from Canada?” Matt asks incredulously.

“Totally,” Eugene nods smugly.

“But you can’t tell me her name?” Matt asks.

“No,” Eugene says. “I mean, if I tell you her name you’re just going to look her up and ask her all sort of questions. She needs her privacy, you know.”

“Is she hot?”

“Oh yeah, she had curves in all the right places,” Eugene says with a Bogart accent, which doesn’t really tell Matt anything.

“So what exactly did you do?”

“Oh you know how it works, do I really have to explain it to you?” Eugene says condescendingly.

This conversation has played out over and over again throughout the ages. Clearly Matt doesn’t believe that some hot girl from Canada took Eugene’s virginity. In this case Matt’s absolutely correct.

Eugene spent the summer mooning over a girl working at the art house movie theater. “Enjoy the show” is the only thing she’s said to him. “Thanks” is the only thing he ever said in response.

That’s not to say that the hot girl from Canada doesn’t happen. It does from time to time. But sometimes important details are left out. The girl from Canada is sometimes a ‘lady of the night’.

The East Comes West

Get Off My Lawn

A long time ago there were a handful of people who saw an amazing opportunity. They moved out West and set-up shop right along a brand new railroad.

They built their business from scratch with their own hands. Not many had the gumption to do this so business was brisk. Not only that but you could get away with almost anything. Heck, the sheriff only rode into town once a month or so. The law just couldn’t keep up with the number of towns springing up.

The people riding the railroad were hearty folk. It took some doing to travel out West on the loud contraption. So they were willing to deal with folks they didn’t know or had heard of before and were careful not to get rooked. Of course, a few liked it so much they wanted to make it easier to visit.

Roads were built and that brought a lot more people to the town. Business was booming. But along with the visitors came a few others ready to set-up business. The town grew and suddenly you had to work a bit harder for your business. And the sheriff started coming around more often, so you had to be (or at least seem) more respectable.

The rich people back East began to realize that the West was going to make it. They’d thought it might have just been a fad but now they recognized their error. So they packed up their things, put on their Sunday best, and headed out West. The ‘old timers’ laughed as the newcomers flailed about trying to build like they had back East. They didn’t understand the West.

But over time they did figure it out. Once they did, they made sure everyone else back East knew that they were out West. They built huge signs that you could see from nearly anywhere and just couldn’t ignore. That’s when things really changed. Because suddenly everyone was out West. But these weren’t the hearty folks of old who were happy keep their back against the wall and one eye open at all times. They just followed those big signs.

The ‘old timers’ still knew a thing or two though. They could get things done behind the scenes, grease some wheels. And there were still some places left that were untouched by the taint of the East. Of course, there were others who saw what was coming and rebuilt their business mixing equal parts West and East.

Because it wasn’t too much longer until that town was a massive metropolis jam-packed with people. Unfortunately, it was getting increasingly confusing too. A new zoning board sprung into action. Their goal was to make it easier for folks to find what they needed. They built malls.

It was difficult to compete with the malls dotting the cityscape. Everyone and their brother’s sister’s dog was trying to get a spot next to those big East anchor stores. The ‘old timers’ walked through the malls shaking their heads, wondering how they’d been shoved aside. Telling themselves they were better than those from the East.

Sometimes they sat around in the park and talked about how unfair it was. They told stories of the crappiest of crappy strip mall they saw over in some suburb. Proof that the system was broken! Other times they turned on each other, brawling in a fit of rage. When they finally tired of the gossip they went back home and tried to recreate that time of yore, doing the same things they always did and expecting them to work.

Hardly anyone noticed.

Did You Mean Humor

September 04 2011 // Humor + SEO // 1 Comment

Last week I spent about two days in a WordPress PHP maze of death that, in exasperation, led me to type a cartoon-like expression of frustration into a Google search.

Google Did You Mean Result for Arrrugghghga

And I laughed. Because sure enough Google had four different versions for me to choose from. Four!

We know that Google has a sense of humor. Take the ‘did you mean’ result for recursion.

Google Did You Mean Result for Recursion

That’s right. The ‘did you mean’ result for recursion is … recursion. Clicking on recursion takes you right back to the same page. I’m amused. But don’t try to pay Google a compliment.

Google Did You Mean Result for Compliment

What ‘did you mean’ suggestions have made you laugh?



August 10 2011 // Humor + Life // 3 Comments

I’ve thought about this post for a while but never pulled the trigger. But with the ruckus over names on G+ and the ridiculous Same Name reality show I thought it was finally time to blog about doppelgängers.


Merriam-Webster defines doppelgänger as:

1: a ghostly counterpart of a living person 2 a : double 2a  b : alter ego b  c : a person who has the same name as another

The emphasis is mine and I’m using that version of the definition here. It’s easy to find Internet doppelgängers by doing a vanity search on Google or setting up a Google Alert on your name.

So without further ado, let me introduce you to my three doppelgängers. (Who knew I was so talented?)

Pro Freestyle Skateboarder

AJ Kohn co-founded One Skateboard Co and is an accomplished freestyle skateboarder.

AJ Kohn at the 2010 World Championships of Freestyle Skateboarding

The odd thing is we both grew up near Philadelphia. Because of this, every now and again I get a random email from someone looking to reconnect with him. In a few cases it’s been tough for me to persuade them that I’m not that AJ Kohn.

Amateur Baseball Player

AJ Kohn is an infielder on the Plainview Bucks, an amateur baseball team in Minnesota.

Team Photo of Plainview Bucks

I don’t know which one is AJ Kohn, but I do know that he’s the star of the team, batting .424 with 31 hits, 11 runs and 12 RBI.

Marine Biologist

AJ Kohn was the first to report that some cone snails hunt fish by paralyzing them with a powerful neurotoxin. Their sting can even kill people!

Cone Snail

Now Professor Emeritus at University of Washington, he dedicated his professional life to “understanding of the evolutionary processes that have led to high biotic diversity in tropical marine environments.”


I take great comfort in my doppelgängers because they remind me to be passionate about what I do. Each AJ Kohn followed a passion, whether it be skateboarding, baseball or marine biology. I admire that.

What about your doppelgängers? Find yours and tell me what they’re up to. #doppelgangers

Computational Humor

July 31 2011 // Humor + SEO // Comment

Googlebot does not laugh. It is not the lovable Johnny 5 and is probably closer to HAL in disposition.

HAL from 2001: A Space Odyssey

Humor Signal

Does Google use humor as a search algorithm signal? My first instinct is to state, without hesitation, that there is no humor signal. There’s no analysis of puns or witticisms or double-entendres or other grammatical humor.

The clever pun you use as your browser title will be lost on Googlebot and, truth be told, the majority of your readers as well. Googlebot doesn’t have a funny bone.

Backhanded Signal

Yet the algorithm will reward humor through other signals. Something that’s really funny will attract links and generate a high number of Likes, Tweets and other social gestures.

So humor is reflected in the algorithm through the link graph and social signals.

Research shows that our sharing behavior is heavily informed by humor. We share to get a laugh. Just ask Ben Huh, CEO of I Can Has Cheezburger?

But that’s an indirect signal, sort of like a backhanded compliment. Google doesn’t really know it’s funny, it just knows it’s popular and engaging.

Computational Humor

Google might be able to determine whether a document is humorous or not. Computational humor, a relatively new field of study, has shown a moderate amount of promise.

Early computational humor research focused on producing jokes, resulting in the Joke Analysis and Production Engine (JAPE) and HAHAcronym, which does just what it says. More recently, there’s been a greater emphasis on identifying humor using natural language processing and machine learning (pdf).

Researchers were able to train an algorithm, with high accuracy, to identify humorous one-liners from standard headlines and even proverbs, which had similar sentence construction.

Google Humor

Is Google interested in humor? It’s tough to tell. But a recent patent, brought to my attention by (who else) Bill Slawski, titled Embedded Communication of Link Information contains an interesting idea.

The improved link tags may allow the publishers to communicate additional information, such as opinions, about the content locations and/or document locations. The additional information may be along one or more dimensions. Therefore, different information may be conveyed at the same time. For example, one dimension may indicate that a content location and/or a document location is offensive as well as funny.

For example, “offensive=very” or “funny=somewhat.”

Coincidence? Probably. Nevertheless, I think it’s interesting that humor was one of the examples selected. And most of the Googlers I know have a keen wit.

Cat in a Dryer LOLcat

Humor and Quality

At the end of the day the real question is whether humor and quality are related? Does the incidence of certain types of puns or other humor signal quality? Could quality be predicted based on Monty Python references? Or the presence of alliteration?

Could you construct a database of humor? Monty Python phrases. Caddy Shack quotes. Famous puns. Palindromes. Internet memes. Knock knock jokes. Using that database, could each type of humor be given a score based on how often it appears in what quality of content?

Those scores in place, you can begin to use humor as a signal to help ‘turn up’ high quality content. Perhaps … to 11.

Perhaps the relationship between content quality and humor doesn’t exist. There’s a tremendous amount of personal taste involved and the cultural differences are also substantial. In addition, much of our humor is visual in nature and for all the advances in image search Googlebot still can’t really see.

Yet, humor is clearly a compelling part of the content puzzle. And there’s a part of me that believes that the mere presence of humor indicates a higher level of care and passion, which dovetails nicely with Google’s recent guidance on high quality sites. I doubt you’re going to see humor (at least intentional humor) on splogs or MFA sites.

I still don’t think there’s a humor signal. But maybe there should be. It would be nice to reward writers for their spelling, grammar and creativity.

Google Preemptive Penalties

April 01 2011 // Humor + SEO // 2 Comments

Starting this month Google will begin to use a version of the Bush Doctrine to fight web spam. Google will preemptively penalize sites.

Internet Bush Doctine

Google Bush Doctrine

The main tenant of the Bush Doctrine surrounded the idea of preemptive war. Google has decided to adopt this philosophy in dealing with the rampant manipulation of trust and authority via the link graph. Instead of reacting to increases in paid links, splog networks and other schemes, Google is going on the offensive and will penalize sites preemptively.

Perhaps this is a reaction to the revelations about J.C. Penney, Forbes and Overstock, as well as the surveys and polls that indicate that most sites engage in black hat techniques and that paid links are still viable.

Reconsideration Requests

It seems as if an analysis of reconsideration requests helped lead Google to this new policy. A source on the Google web spam team says:

We learn a lot from reconsideration requests. In that environment, sites are willing to admit to and stop bad behavior. Analyzing the profile of these sites before and after has been of growing interest to the team.

Sure enough, the text surrounding reconsideration requests makes it clear that coming clean is important.

Google Reconsideration Request

Admission and corrective action is required to get out of Google’s dog house.

Preemptive Google Penalties

Preemptive penalties will force sites to divulge and cease black hat techniques. Why? Because you’re simply not going to know what Google does and doesn’t know. If you are not forthcoming (if you hold something back) and Google finds out, it will make it even tougher to get out of the dog house.

Are you feeling lucky punk?

Do you feel lucky, punk? Well … do ya?

Penalty Selection and Length

It remains to be seen how Google will select sites for preemptive penalties. Is it random or will it be initiated by members on the web spam team? Will all sites be eligible for preemptive penalties, or will some be white listed?

The length of the preemptive penalty is also unknown. Will it be lifted if the offending site doesn’t file a reconsideration request or is reconsideration required? It will be interesting to see if anyone simply tries to ride out the penalty without engaging Google directly.

And how long will Google pursue this strategy? One would hope that the data gleaned from these preemptive penalties might (quickly) help Google refine their detection efforts, allowing them to scrap this policy.

What do you make of Google’s Bush Doctrine and how will you handle a preemptive penalty?

My Name is Miami Attorneys (and now SEO must die)

December 03 2010 // Humor + Rant + SEO // 5 Comments

The other day I followed a ping back to Elsewhere. There I found a fantastic blog commenting policy.

I’ve turned “nofollow” back on for links in comments. If I can find a good WordPress plugin that allows me to disable this on a per-comment basis, I will manually remove that on comments I think deserve it.

Use your name, nickname, pseudonym, handle, or other personally-relevant identifier in the “Name” field. Your name is not “Miami Attorneys” or “Solar Panels” or “Bingo Games”. If you use a product or site name as your own name and it makes it through the spam filters, I will manually delete it. This applies to obvious keyword linking, too. The keyword you’re trying to boost is not your name. If you use it as your name, I will remove your comment. Use your own name, or something reasonably name-like.

Linking to the site you’re promoting is fine, as long as it’s relevant to the post or other comments in the thread. If I feel it is spammy, I may delete the link or the whole comment, depending on my mood. Your link will have rel=”nofollow” applied, unless I think it deserves otherwise.

If you are not a spammer or SEO practitioner, you probably don’t know what any of that meant. Don’t worry about it; it doesn’t apply to you.

This is why so many people hate SEO and you really can’t blame them either. The sad truth is that most people lump SEO in with this obnoxious form of blog commenting spam. This is what they see, despite the reality. Which got me thinking.

Dread Pirate SEO

Most people probably think of SEO as the Dread Pirate Roberts.

Dread Pirate SEO

If you’re familiar with The Princess Bride (and you should!) then you know that the Dread Pirate Roberts was thought to be an incredible villain. What they didn’t know (among other things) was that the Dread Pirate Roberts wasn’t just one person.

So you can think of the Dread Pirate SEO declaring that his name is Miami Attorneys on blog after blog, taking no prisoners in his quest for keyword anchor text.

SEO Must Die

Of course this provokes a rather normal reaction.

SEO Must Die

Yes, a phalanx of Inigo Montoyas rise up to call for the head of the Dread Pirate SEO. They seek to battle him at every turn, not knowing the truth behind the mask.


The problem is what most people see looks like (and often is) trickery. Yes, many in our profession are true Dread Pirate SEO. Compounding this is the fact that every good SEO does know some tricks. Not only that, but many like to poke and prod the algorithm in an effort to understand what will really work.

SEO Trickery

SEOs enjoy this battle of wits. And we like to win. However, it may give many the wrong impression of our true purpose.

We’re Westley

Dread Pirate SEO is actually … a good guy!

SEO Good Guy

Good SEO is simply ensuring that your content finds the right audience. It would be nice if a good site or great content would immediately rank for the right queries. But that’s not what happens, despite the Google dogma. Instead, SEO is there to storm the castle and ensure that your time and effort is rewarded with the right traffic. That your site and content are seen by the right people.

Will most people ever think of SEO as their ally? Probably not. That just happens in the movies.

Google Indent Massacre

November 11 2010 // Humor + SEO // 2 Comments

Reports are coming in from queries around the Internet about the unprovoked attack by Google on indents. Please be aware that the following screencaps may not be suitable for younger viewers.

Google Indent Massacre

Google Indents Gone

Google Indents Gone

Google Indents Gone

Google Indent Hostilities

Hostilities against indents boiled over at 2010 SMX Advanced.

Danny goes on a rant about indented listings — can’t they go away? Danny yells “death to the indents” and half the audience boos!

While Matt Cutts declined to take a position during this flare up, the cozy relationship between Danny Sullivan and Google’s Matt Cutts is well documented.

Google Indent Appeasement

Searches on the ground report that Google is now presenting three consecutive listings in some cases.

Google Indents Gone

Google Indents Gone

Google Indents Gone

Will these efforts at appeasement mollify pro-indent supporters? To date, Google and anti-indent activist Sullivan remain silent on these activities.

We’ll monitor the situation and provide updates as they become available.

November 12th Update

Embedded reporters are now telling us that Google is no longer providing domain grouping on search results.

Google Domain Grouping Gone

Google Domain Grouping Gone

The fragile relationship indents had with Google seems fractured with what pro-indent supporters call ‘a step backward’. Google will only say that they conduct many bucket tests to determine the best search results for users. Such tests are cold comfort for the millions of indents that have been suddenly removed from SERPs.

November 18th Update

The demise of indents seems all but sealed. Yesterday, Google unilaterally released a statement confirming that they’re “expanding the feature so that, when appropriate, more queries show additional results from a domain.”

The statement also tells us that while up to four results from a domain may be presented, additional results will have single-line compact snippets.

Google Indents Gone

As you can see, this two result domain listing uses a single-line compact snippet instead of an indented full-snippet result.

No matter the clever wording used in Google’s statement to ingratiate themselves to the world audience, indents have been marginalized and are approaching extinction. Indent preservation campaigns in Skitch, TinyGrab, SnagIt and others are working to capture indent images so that they can always be remembered.

I Ask Good Questions

June 12 2010 // Humor + SEO // Comment

I ask good questions. Really good questions. Even Matt Cutts says so.

Really Good SEO Question

Best Question at SMX Advanced

The You&A with Matt Cutts at this year’s SMX Advanced covered two main topics: Caffeine and May Day. After a humorous back-and-forth between Danny and Matt the public Q&A period started.

Danny asks about Caffeine update and HTML5. A “really good question,” Matt says. Matt says HTML5 is completely unrelated to Caffeine, and Google doesn’t give bonus points for code that validates. But Google does have an HTML parser in the wings.

That’s my question! Proof will come with the video where Danny attributes the question to me by name. Not that it really matters, but it’s nice to be acknowledged and get a pat on the back every once in a while. As an aside, the online submission form is a great way for introverts to interact.

Okay, it’s probably not the best question, but maybe Gil Reich can add a new Best Questions category to his Best of SMX Advanced 2010 post.

Best SMX Advanced Session

Speaking of the best. The You&A with Matt Cutts was great but I walked away from Search Marketing in the Facebook Zone with actionable information and a renewed passion for paid search.

Dennis Yu from BlitzLocal shared real world campaigns and tips on getting the most from Facebook advertising. And Marty Weintraub from aimClear reminded me that figuring out a new platform is amazingly fun. Thank you.

SMX is the Best

Speaking of thanks. A big thank you to Danny Sullivan who has done a super job in providing the search industry with a valuable conference series and continues to be a great ambassador for the search community. See you next year.

Google, is there a …

March 20 2010 // Humor + Life + SEO // 1 Comment

Google suggests can be an endless form of entertainment and insight. Here’s one I caught in late January.

Google Suggests for Is There a

At first glance it seems like a strange combination but upon further inspection it’s a lot like a Google-style Burroughs cut-up.


You’ve got the adult and kids version of theology with is there a god and is there a santa claus. The current suggester also includes is there an afterlife. Some heavy stuff.


From herpes to AIDS to cancer, health queries are rising. I imagine that many dealing with these issues might wind up typing in is there a god or is there anybody out there. The Internet can isolate but also connect.


The Pink Floyd song is easy to spot, though at first glance I thought it was a Duran Duran reference. I’m an 80s fan and won’t apologize for it! The other song is by Band of Horses. I’ve never heard of them until now. All the songs do have a yearning and ethereal feel to them.


The meteor shower must have been very topical at the time because it’s not included in the current suggester. However, things falling from the heavens certainly fits into the overall theme.

As for hdmi cables, get the cheap ones.

Yelp robots.txt

January 16 2010 // Humor + SEO // Comment

The other day I was doing some robots.txt research and found a great little Easter egg on Yelp.

Yelp Robots.txt

A robots.txt file is a great place to drop Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics. Thanks for the chuckle Yelp!