You Are Browsing The Rant Category

Why aren’t you watching Matt Cutts videos?

May 30 2010 // Rant + SEO // 5 Comments

Matt Cutts Videos

The average number of views a Google Webmaster Central video, starring Matt Cutts, receives is approximately 4,000.

That’s right, only 4,000 people (if you believe every view is unique) tune in to learn from the guy who heads up Google Web Spam and is the face of Google search.

I don’t get it.

Is the SEO community that small?

One person recently commented that the Facebook Like button made him feel lonely.

Fundamentally, this means that the web is a lonelier place for me. It’s like walking on a sidewalk on one side of the street, where it’s totally empty, and getting a glimpse that the other side of the street is crowded with friends chatting. The friends are there: they’re just not mine. I must be a loser.

When I look at the number of views Google Webmaster Central videos get, I begin to feel similarly. Are there only 4,000 people who share my passion for search engine optimization? Is the SEO community that small?

SEO Search Volume

I decided to so a little research. First up was to see what type of search volume ‘SEO’ gets using Google’s Keyword Tool.
search engine optimization search volume

It’s not monster volume but it certainly shows that there’s a fair amount of interest in the topic.

Quick note, if you don’t like Google’s new interface you can force the old version of the Keyword Tool with the following URL:

https://adwords.google.com/select/KeywordToolExternal?forceLegacy=true

SEO Site Traffic

So what about some of the major sites out there. What type of traffic do they get?
SEOmoz Traffic

SEOBook Traffic

MattCutts.com Traffic

While I don’t usually find Compete* to be accurate, it shows that sites like SEOmoz and SEO Book get nearly 1 million visitors a month. Even Matt Cutts gets nearly 400,000 visitors a month to his blog. So, the idea that only 4,000 people are watching his videos is … shocking.

*I find Compete to be wildly wrong most of the time but the alternative is Quantcast which has SEOmoz at 46K, SEO Book at 3K and Matt Cutts at 15K. While I usually find better success with Quantcast, these numbers seem outlandishly wrong.

RSS Webmaster Central Videos

Webmaster Central Videos are usually less that 2 minutes long and Matt provides as much information as he can on a specific topic. Sometimes the topic isn’t that illuminating, and sometimes Matt can’t divulge as much as you might like. But it’s better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick, right?

Read between the lines or listen for what seems like an offhand comment and you often do learn something. As I was writing this, a new video was uploaded that addresses the May Day algorithm change.

The best way to ensure you’re watching these videos is to subscribe to them via RSS. This is easy, so do it now!

Just go to the Google Webmaster Central Channel on YouTube and click on the RSS icon in your browser toolbar. If you’re not using RSS, well … shame on you.

Unfollow on Twitter

May 10 2010 // Rant + Social Media // 1 Comment

Friend and follow abuse is still pervasive on social networks. Sure, it depends on what you want to get out of those social networks, but I still believe that less is more. Social networks have paid special attention to creating connections but very little to breaking them. Yet, that’s a critical part of any social construct.

ManageFlitter

I’ve used ManageTwitter to prune who I follow. In late April Twitter threatened to shut them down because they were in violation of Twitter’s Automation Rules and Best Practices. Thankfully a few UI changes and a name change saved the service.

ManageFlitter helps you unfollow people in a few ways. It suggests you unfollow people who aren’t following you back. This is my least favorite option since it feels too much like high school. Don’t get me wrong, I do use it, particularly for those who follow, wait for a follow back and then unfollow.

It also identifies inactive accounts, as well as those that are talkative or quiet. Unfollowing on all three criteria can help remove noise and dead weight. Finally, ManageFlitter will also tell you which accounts are using the default avatar, which can be a good sign of a spammer or automated account.

My Imaginary Unfollow App

Twitter Unfollow App

As much as I like ManageFlitter it’s still rather rudimentary. So I got to thinking about what type of signals I would use to unfollow people.

Tweets without Links

If you’re using Twitter as a source for information and news, having people who excessively Tweet without links might not be very productive. Your dining activities, traffic woes or inspirational quotes might not be adding enough value.

Tweets that are Retweets

Retweets aren’t necessarily a bad thing but it would be good to know if the lion’s share of a person’s Tweets are Retweets. This could, in fact, be a good thing if the quality of your Retweets is high. Human filters are a good thing and I thank folks like Atul Arora, Rob Diana, Louis Gray and Mahendra for their continuing efforts in making me smarter. However, it could also be a bad thing if it’s just a steady diet of day old TechCrunch articles.

Tweets that are @Replies (not to you)

Some people use Twitter as a conversation platform. Now, I think that’s a bit “square peg round hole” but to each their own. However, it can be a as exciting as watching paint dry to watch folks banter back and forth.

Tweets that are @Replies (to you)

This is a clear sign that you’ve got some sort of real relationship with a person. It likely makes them a keeper regardless of any other signal.

Tweets that have multiple @Replies

Multiple replies in a Tweet could be a sign of someone who is efficiently responding to others. Someone who is actually being social rather than asocial.

However, you’d want to see the percentage be a small portion of total Tweets. Otherwise, multiple replies in a Tweet could be a sign of automation or a ponzi-like follow scheme.

Tweets that have Hashtags

There’s nothing wrong with hashtags per se, but overusing them might be a negative signal. This probably wouldn’t be a strong signal but if other signals were weak it might tip the balance.

Tweets that have multiple Hashtags

Another potential weak signal but it could be helpful in unfollowing those who seem solely interested in traffic generation without any engagement.

Tweets with an Exclamation Point

Stupid Fight uses this in calculating the ‘intelligence’ of a group of users. I’m not sure it would produce a valuable signal, but I’d want to find out.

Tweets with ALL CAPS

This is another Stupid Fight signal. I’m not sure if you’d base it on the % of capital letters in a single Tweet, for a collection of Tweets or look for capital letters in more than four straight characters. The latter would help exclude normal slang like OMG and WTF from this signal.

Tweets with Repetitive Links

Tweeting the same link multiple times is annoying and could be an indication of some sort of publishing configuration error or just poor Twetiquette.

Tweets with Links that others in your network have also shared

Here is the most interesting (and likely the toughest) signal of them all. How much unique content does a user contribute to your network? If 100% of the links Tweeted by an individual were also Tweeted by others in my network, are they really worth following?

In the end, you can’t look at everything. So, you need to make sure that the best content is coming into your worldview. Noise and clutter are your enemy. I’d give this signal a substantial weight, though you’d clearly have to recompute this signal frequently as you pruned who you followed.

Unfollow Algorithm

For each user, I’d want to know the raw number and % of total for each of these signals. I’d then score each signal on a relative scale and assign it a weight to come up with unfollow recommendations. I know this is easier said than done, but that’s why it’s my imaginary unfollow application. Maybe those with experience with the Twitter API could chime in. Are these signals viable?

What other signals would you use to unfollow people?

Comcast Upgrade Disrespects Customers

October 31 2009 // Rant + Technology + Web Design // 1 Comment

Saturday is bill paying day. One of those bills was Comcast. I’m signed up for automatic payments but I generally check to make sure everything is okay. I’m a bit paranoid that way and it usually only takes a few minutes with a cup of coffee steaming next to me to confirm that all is well.

Comcast was last on the list since I review my bills in reverse chronological order and the Comcast bill notification arrived in my inbox on Friday.

Comcast Fail

I clicked through on the bill and entered my user name.

comcast fail

I tried three times, paying special attention to ensure I didn’t fat finger something. Each time, same thing.

So I contacted customer support using their Live Chat feature. I was quickly connected with Vanessa who after a brief back and forth provided this explanation.

Vanessa > I wish to inform you that we did an upgrade with our system and we merged the 2 accounts which is the comcast.net and .com

Vanessa > And due to this upgrade since you do not have internet service I am afraid that you need to register it again online, AJ.

That makes as much sense as a fish riding a bicycle! To Vanessa’s credit she was apologetic (even though it wasn’t her fault) and very helpful. Thank you Vanessa.

Comcast System Upgrade?

I’m not an engineer or a coder, but I know enough to know that a database merge can be done far more elegantly. Boiled down, isn’t this a simple left outer join?

Even if there is more complexity (and there usually is) wouldn’t it be wise to deal with those issues instead of inconveniencing your customers?

Comcast Error Messaging

Even if Comcast chose to go ahead as planned, they could have avoided in-bound customer service issues by applying proper error messaging.

A simple statement about a system upgrade requiring users to re-register would have made the situation clear. Inconvenient but at least Comcast would have provided an immediate answer to the problem they created.

But here’s the rub. You need your account number to register!

That account number is not on the billing email and since I use paperless billing I have no material with my Comcast account number. No matter what, I’d still have to contact customer support to retrieve my account number.

Comcast Customer Service

Despite the buzz Comcast has generated around their use of Twitter they still don’t seem to understand customer service.

If they did, they’d have created use cases from a customer perspective and realized that this upgrade would be detrimental for users and would cause added customer support costs.

AT&T U-verse is looking better all the time.

Twitter is the Underpants Gnomes of the Internet

October 29 2009 // Rant + Social Media // 3 Comments

The other day I read Steven Hodson’s Shooting At Bubbles post regarding Twitter 2.0. And it finally dawned on me!

Twitter is the Underpants Gnomes of the Internet

If you’re not familiar with the Underpants Gnomes, they were featured in a South Park episode in which the Gnomes devised an … interesting business plan.

underpants gnomes

Replace underpants with users (or VC cash) and you’ve got Twitter. Oh, sure they’ve alluded to some sort of business plan, but even as recently as a few weeks ago Evan Williams wasn’t willing to divulge a real revenue model despite John Battelle’s prodding.

I remember the Web 1.0 days of grow fast, grab market share and monetize later. Only a few survived this kowabunga style of business.

But who knows, maybe Twitter can turn underpants into profit.

Do AdWords Conversion Rates Vary by Position?

August 25 2009 // Advertising + Rant + SEM // 2 Comments

Last week the Google AdWords blog posted some ‘research’ conducted by Hal Varian, Chief Economist at Google, that stated that “conversion rates don’t vary much by position.”

Google Conversion Rate by Position Research

Do AdWords Conversion Rates Vary by Position?

My personal experience is that AdWords conversion rates DO vary by position. That’s not to say that I can’t be convinced otherwise, but I’ll need a lot more evidence then was provided in the blog post.

As a fundraiser many moons ago, my first instinct was to say that there would always be an inverse relationship between dollar amount and conversion rate. The lower the pledge amount, the higher the conversion rate.

Yet, I found that there wasn’t a tremendous difference between some giving levels. Conversion rates on $25 pledges weren’t substantially different from $100 pledges. However, that variance increased as you climbed up the solicitation ladder. Conversion rates for $500 pledges did vary materially from $25 pledges.

So, I’m not unwilling to be persuaded by real research and statistics that might contradict my anecdotal evidence. The problem is that the post didn’t link to the research to help validate the methodology or assumptions that led to this conclusion. Only a few variables are discussed, leaving a number of others open to interpretation or debate. It doesn’t help that one of the three links in the post goes to a 404 page.

How Did They Define Conversion?

That broken link … it was to the definition of conversion rate. Oddly, this is an important point. How did they define a conversion? Were only those conversions configured in AdWords included? Or did they pull from Analytics Goals as well? Essentially, we have no idea as to the universe of those who were included in this research, nor is there any mention as to what type of bias this might introduce.

Does the Type of Search Impact Conversion Rates?

Second, what type of searches were included? Given the differences in transactional versus informational queries one would believe that there might be a difference in conversion rates by position as well. An ad advertising a product (eCommerce or transactional) may exhibit different behavior as those advertising content (content or informational).

Does Query Length Impact Conversion Rates?

Blognation points out that an analysis of conversion by “token length” would be important.

Here’s a different way to think about the Google conversion rate data that I think would probably have a much different outcome. Do a conversion rate analysis by “token length”, which is search engine language for the number of words in a search query. If someone types in “baseball” for example, what’s the conversion rate differential between position #1 and position #10, versus a query for “buy Louisville slugger size 28 wooden baseball bat.”

I suspect that the conversion rate for the first query is going to be very low for the first position, simply because you are going to have a lot of browsers who simply click on the first ad that they see. Any browser who eventually makes it down to position #10′s result may very well have turned into an actual shopper after clicking on all the other ads. Conversely, if you already know the exact product you want – and your search query indicates that intent – you are much more likely to convert on the first ad you see that actually offers the specific product you want.

Related to this would be the conversion rate by position by match type. With so many advertisers unknowingly bidding solely on broad match, this type of analysis seems necessary and … useful!

Does CPC and Ad Category Impact Conversion Rates?

Finally, was this analysis performed to determine whether conversion rates by position remained constant depending on the average cost of the keyword? Could it not be true that different behavior could exist for a keyword with a $10 per click cost versus 10 cents?

Might different categories produce different conversion rates by position? Would the conversion rates for books, movies and music differ from long term care insurance? Could the number of competitors or volatility of a keyword impact the conversion rate by position?

Why Present AdWords Conversion Rate Research?

The presentation of this research without … the actual research makes me suspicious. What message is the AdWords team sending to advertisers? It seems to me that they’re encouraging advertisers to bid for the extra traffic received from higher ad positions. That advertisers can do so without negatively impacting their conversion rate and subsequent ROI.

Never mind that the higher CPC to achieve that extra traffic would reduce your margin. And that’s IF your conversion rate does remain the same. Should it not, you’ll pay a premium to obtain traffic that converts at a lower rate. So, who is this research advice really supposed to benefit?

Given the lack of supported evidence I can only rely on the experiences that I and my colleagues have had over numerous years. Experiential learning tells me to beware of monkey clicks, which do cause the top positions to have lower conversion rates.

I’m still willing to be convinced, but until something material is presented, this seems akin to evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. The cynic in me sees it as marketing copy meant to drive more advertiser dollars. I’d love for Google to prove me wrong.

Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

July 14 2009 // Advertising + Marketing + Rant + Social Media // 2 Comments

Paid Tweets

One of the great things about our new information culture is how disparate sources coalesce into something meaningful. Last week I read a Fortune magazine article on Marc Andreessen, news about IZEA’s Sponsored Tweets and research on the impact social media has on brands and eCommerce. When I put these pieces together the picture is of a powerful locomotive hurtling toward a creaky bridge.

Social Media and the Telephone

The telephone is a social platform. You call family and friends to talk about things from the trivial to the serious. If you know a person’s phone number you can call them. At some point, marketers figured out that they too could call you, so long as they had your phone number. Phone numbers weren’t hard to find.

This didn’t sit too well with most people. They didn’t want some stranger calling right at dinner trying to sell them something. The thing was, enough people actually did respond to these calls and telemarketing flourished. It was a lot more effective than direct mail.

Over time, more and more people became irate. Laws were passed so that you could opt-out of these unwanted calls. But there were loopholes. Giant gaping loopholes. Any company you had a ‘prior relationship’ with could still call you unless explicitly told otherwise.

You might have bought from them before, maybe even kept an eye out for coupons, but you didn’t want them to ring you up whenever they pleased.

Now replace phone number with user name. This story has already been written.

Sponsored Tweets and Telemarketing

Sponsored Tweets will not work like telemarketing. The reason why telemarketing works is because you can engage in a dialog. A good telemarketer changes their approach based on the subtle feedback they’re getting from the prospect. And they’ll certainly use every objection as an opportunity. I know a bit about this since I ran telemarketing programs for nearly five years.

The problem with Sponsored Tweets is that the lack of dialog. One way communication isn’t nearly as effective. It’s the reason why telemarketing beats direct mail. No, Sponsored Tweets are not like telemarketing.

Sponsored Tweets are Robocalls

Paid Tweets

You’ve probably received a robocall.

Robocall is American pejorative jargon for an automated telemarketing phone call that uses both a computerized autodialer and a computer-delivered recorded message.

I’m guessing you’ve gotten one during the election season or, most recently, from some company trying to sell you an auto warranty extension. You don’t like them.

Getting a robocall from Martin Sheen is the same as getting a Sponsored Tweet from a celebrity.

Context Shifting and Social Marketing

Marc Andreessen believes that advertising can be an effective part of social interactions.

He tells me Facebook “will be bigger than Apple” and declares that the social-networking company will become the mass-market window to the web, much as Google has been for the past six or seven years. Twitter, so far criticized for having no way to make real money, will get advertisers to pay to reach people as they are sending messages about the sponsor’s products.

The real issue here is context switching, a term my Caring.com engineers introduced to me. The general idea is that if you’re thinking in one way (about one thing) it takes some time and effort to stop and think about something else. The context of your attention has changed.

This is why I believe social marketers need to build an ice cream truck. They need to deliver something that forces people to shift their context.

The example of Google actually supports the idea of context switching. Eyetracking studies have shown substantial differences in how people scan results for transaction based queries (left) versus information based queries (right).
Google Query Types

All searches are not created equal. The intent of that query, of that action, defines the context.

Social Marketing’s Creaky Bridge

Others, like Andreessen, seem to believe that context is homogeneous and can be blended. That social messages and product based messages can live side by side. That as you’re telling someone about the cool new things your iPhone does that you’ll enjoy a message from Palm trying to persuade you that the Pre is the way to go.

… an overwhelming 96% of employed consumers say their opinion of a product brand does not change if that brand has no presence on a social networking site … In fact, just 12% of respondents say their opinion of a brand actually changes if that brand maintains a significant social networking presence and only 11% of social networkers report following any major brand through a social networking site.

This is but one of numerous datapoints that illustrates that creaky bridge I mentioned at the beginning of this post. The locomotive of social marketing continues to thunder down the tracks, ignoring the flashing yellow signals at their own peril.

Friend Is a Four Letter Word

June 22 2009 // Life + Rant + Social Media // 1 Comment

Technology now provides a level of connection that was unheard of just a scant twenty years ago. The cell phone, the Internet and the marriage of the two in smart phones (BlackBerry, iPhone etc.) have rapidly increased our ability to stay in touch. But who are we staying in touch with exactly? Do we have the time for all these people, and do we short-change family in the process?

Friend Is a Four Letter Word

Friend Overload

Automated report emails from work, status updates from Facebook friends you never really talk to and follower notifications that often wind up being spam consistently interrupt your weekend like a toddler tugging at the edge of your shirt.

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when getting an important email while you’re on the go can make a real difference. But most of the time it could have waited until the next day, never mind another hour.

More and more we’re getting messages from online friends: Facebook updates, Twitter followers and FriendFeed subscribers. I get a lot out of my social network, which is nearly all on FriendFeed. There are a slew of people I now count as friends through my FriendFeed experience.

Yet, should I be using my time to chat with them when I could be spending more time with my family, or visiting with friends? To be clear, I’m not saying I’m quitting FriendFeed (far from it!) I’m simply working through how to best use my time in relation to all the ‘friendships’ new technology has enabled.

Technology allows us to keep in touch with more people. But should we? Are these quality interactions? Voyeurism friendships (or those people with whom you’re connected via a social network but rarely interact with online and never speak or meet with offline) take up time, energy and emotion that might be better spent elsewhere.

The First Social Network

And it’s not just about the time devoted to these voyeurism friendships. Technology makes it possible to disrupt real friendships with these voyeuristic updates. Even worse, they might make you inattentive to your first social network: family.

The Annenberg Center for the Digital Future at the University of Southern California is reporting this week that 28 percent of Americans it interviewed last year said they have been spending less time with members of their households. That’s nearly triple the 11 percent who said that in 2006.

Each Saturday morning I take my four year old daughter to dance class. Parents stand outside and watch through a massive window. I bring my BlackBerry with me, but I am very rarely on it and try not to use it at all.

Instead I want to watch my daughter, react to her wave, thumbs up, wink or smile. I want to be present! Because all too often there’s a parent there, head down, tapping away on an iPhone or BlackBerry, oblivious to what’s going on with their child.

I wonder how many children are competing for time and attention with the tiny people living in that smart phone. I can’t believe it feels very good.

Friend Overload

How do these voyeurism friends stack up against other friends or family? I’m a firm believer in Dunbar’s number – the maximum number of healthy social relationships a person can maintain at any one time. Dunbar’s number is approximately 150. The question is, do these voyeurism friends count against this number?

I’m beginning to suspect they do.

You might not think they do, but they’re taking up social and emotional space. You are inserting a random piece of information about a person into your memory. A person who you went to high school with – not really a friend then or now – just got back from a trip to New Orleans. You can’t turn that information off. It’s been received and transmitted to your brain, mixed up with other random facts like song lyrics or television commercials from your childhood.

Whether you like it or not your brain is processing this stuff. You can begin to think about why Dunbar’s number makes sense in this context. As your brain is trying to sort, track and shelve data on more and more people it becomes far more difficult to maintain. You can’t crack the case and stick in more RAM.

Friend Turnover

At some point, you’re only storing a very small amount of data on a slew of people, which makes those relationships tenuous as best. The issue here is that you’re threatening the strength of all your relationships as you expand your reach. You might try to store more about ‘good’ friends and family, but I’m not sure we’re wired that way.

There’s a reason why you lose touch with friends. They aren’t really friends (anymore) and you don’t want to clutter your head with irrelevant data. You outgrow friends. Recent research suggests that you replace half of your friends every 7 years.

I question whether technology is inhibiting the natural shedding of friends necessary for us to move on, to establish new friends and evolve as a person.

The Future of Friends

I’m writing about this, in part, because I don’t know the answer and am struggling with the topic. I’m on FriendFeed constantly, sometimes when I could (perhaps should) be spending time with my wife and daughter.

I’ve taken steps to address this disconnect. I attended the FriendFeed open house so I could actually meet some of the people to whom I’ve been chatting – something that goes against my natural introverted nature.

And I’ve walked away from the computer – completely – to spend more time with family. We walked the Golden Gate Bridge together and explored the California Academy of Sciences.

Time and attention are in short supply in our accelerated society. Sometimes you need to remind yourself about what’s really important.

Search Engines are Readers Too

June 11 2009 // Rant + SEO // 1 Comment

Last week David Risley wrote a blog post for Search Engine Journal that recommended that you forget all about SEO and write for readers, not search engines. His advice borders on dangerous, in part because some of it is accurate.

My recommendation is to write posts designed to help, provoke or inspire your reader.

That’s great advice. However, his definition of a reader is far too narrow.

Search Engines are Readers Too

Search Engines Are Readers Too

Future readers are searching for your content. They’re typing queries into Google right now. The search engine has read your blog and come to some conclusions about when and where to show your content.

SEO is about making it easy for the search engine to come to the right conclusions. It’s about ensuring that the content you write is displayed for the right searches.

Search engines are the gate keepers to the more than 15 billion searches performed in the US every month. They are powerful but they are not smart.

Welcome to Kindergarten

A search engine is like a blind five year old. They don’t care what your site looks like and they have the intelligence and attention span of an average five year old. This is why SEO is important and why you do need to write for search engines.

Search engine algorithms are tasked with trying to understand the value of an item of content. But they don’t really see the page and they don’t truly read the content either.

Search engines do not understand the text they are reading. You can’t sit them down after they read a blog post and ask them reading comprehension questions. They are not human, nor are they some super-advanced form of artificial intelligence.

This is why quality writing will not be enough.

Sit a five year old down in front of a Don DeLillo novel and they’ll quickly become bored and confused. The plain fact is that there are thousands of well written blogs that languish in the dark cobwebbed corners of the Internet.

Dumb and Dumber?

Dumb Down Content?

I know what you’re thinking. “Am I supposed to dumb down my writing for the lowest common denominator?” Yes and no.

Let’s cover no first. No, you should still write helpful, provoking and insightful content. It should be intelligent and have a point of view. The search engine does not require that you lose your personality.

However, that writing should be concise, well-structured and devoid of generalizations and logical assumptions. This will help all of your readers, search engines and humans alike.

So yes, you should write in such a way that, at a glance, a reader can understand and engage with your content. And to be fair, David Risley does actually provide some good direction on the structure of content and in covering the SEO Holy Trinity: Title, Meta Description and URL.

Good Writing + Social <> Links

Risley also understands that links are perhaps the most important part of SEO.

If you provide enough value, you’ll get people spreading your link across other blogs. You’ll go viral on Twitter. You’ll get people Digging your posts.

This works … for a small percentage of blogs in certain niches where the author has enormous amounts of free time. Does that sound like you? Probably not.

When was the last time you saw a serious blog post dealing with Alzheimer’s Disease reach Digg’s front page? Do you think a book review of David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green is going to get massive viral adoption on Twitter?

Rely on this technique as a way to optimize search engine traffic and you’ll be sorely disappointed. Social marketing is a piece of the puzzle but it is not a plug-and-play panacea for link building. If links were this easy to get, they wouldn’t be that important.

Search Traffic Creates Links

Get people to your blog through search engine traffic and let the same type of viral link building take place. The idea is to get your content matched to the right queries first, and not wait for social marketing to inform the search engine of your content value or for which queries it should be displayed.

Get the people who are naturally seeking out your content to do the link building. This way you are not constrained by the size of your social network, nor are you held hostage by the ephemeral ADD nature of social media.

Write for Search Engines

Write for search engines because it will benefit all of your readers. Subscribers will find more focused, accessible and valuable content that respects their time and new readers will locate your content with greater efficiency through their natural search patterns.

Writing styles adapt to their environment. Novels versus business writing. Haiku versus grant writing. So, come to to terms with the fact that good blog writing requires a different writing style. Embrace it and search engine and human readers will thank you.

Why You Should Care About Cheating In Sports

May 09 2009 // Life + Rant + Sports // 3 Comments

Manny Ramirez is the latest athlete to be caught using performance enhancing drugs.

cheaters

Who Cares!

That seems to be the overwhelming reaction. From radio host Gary Radnich to one of my favorite blogs – Reign of Error – they’re not just tired of the scandals but they fail to see that it’s a problem.

The range of excuses and rationalizations seem endless.

Some view athletics as a form of entertainment and, as such, they don’t see a problem with steroids or cheating. If they’re entertained, they don’t care.

Athletics != Entertainment

I submit that athletics is a form of competition. The competition is entertaining. It is not entertainment. The latter is used by far too many to equate entertainment to business. Athletics is not a business. Don’t get me wrong, plenty of people make a business from sports and competition. But they are not synonymous.

If athletics is entertainment then lets get rid of wins and losses and forget about those silly standings. Instead it’ll just be like 81 trips to the movies. I assume you’ll have no problem with that.

By all means, lets crown the winner in terms of who was most entertaining. Forget the World Series, lets track who made the most money and have an end of the year awards ceremony. We can fight about whether the most profitable team should have won the most entertaining team award. Which outfield wins for best supporting cast? That sounds delightful!

Still think sports is entertainment?

Why do people leave when it’s a blowout? It doesn’t mean that there won’t still be home runs or touchdowns or goals or dunks. It means the competition is over! So please stop saying you’d be pleased as punch to sit and watch some ‘roid filled lunk hit 6 home runs in a 34 to 0 laugher.

Can you blame them?

Many say it’s hypocritical to blame these cheaters. ‘Wouldn’t you take steroids if it meant making $20 million a year?!’ My answer is no. I wouldn’t.

I understand this motivation. I acknowledge that it can be a very alluring idea for some. But I would not cheat for money.

The heart of this argument comes down to greed and it exposes a very real problem with American culture.

People seem willing to accept those willing to do anything in the quest for the almighty dollar. Success is no longer about attaining our best through hard work, practice and determination. Success is about attaining a big bank account … period. That sad statement is reflected in our ambivalence toward cheaters.

Cheating is a slippery slope

If it is okay to cheat to make more money, this means Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff shouldn’t be vilified. They were simply taking every advantage they could to get ahead.

This means you shouldn’t be angry at Wall Street fat cats. And don’t even try to be upset about mortgage lenders. No whining about politicians taking money from lobbyists. Stop complaining about black hat SEO and click fraud. Get comfortable with colleagues sleeping their way to the top.

These people are all just trying to gain an extra advantage. They were all just doing what they had to to make a buck.

If you accept cheating in sports, you accept it everywhere. You abdicate your outrage and muddy your ethical discernment. So spare me the ‘hypocritical’ tripe and look for that label in the mirror.

Empathy not sympathy

Some sympathize with the athlete (particularly an aging athlete) who is trying to stay competitive. To them I say that it is okay to empathize with the athlete – you might understand why they did it – but in no way should we condone or accept this behavior.

I understand the weakness of these athletes. Just like I might understand the reasons behind someone perpetrating a violent crime. That doesn’t mean I sympathize with them, nor do I think what they did is okay.

There should be no entitlement to ability nor having the same ability for perpetuity. There is no exemption for entropy.

Winning through cheating is not winning

Let’s give the marathon record to the joker who rode the bus for half the race. Hey, he was just trying to use any means necessary to win, right? What’s the big deal!

Winning is not about short cuts.

In 2003 I completed the Mount Diablo Challenge in one hour and twenty-six minutes. I was not first that day. Not by any stretch of the imagination. But I won that day.

A year of training – of hard work, sacrifice and determination allowed me to climb 11 miles and 3,200 feet that day. I still rely on that day and others on my bicycle to remind me that hard work pays off, that seemingly insurmountable goals can be overcome through hard work.

Cheating! I’d wonder if it had been me or the drugs. I’d have robbed myself of that hard won self confidence and fulfillment. No thanks.

Lip service

Oh, we try to promote the idea that it is the journey that matters and not the destination.

It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.

We tell our kids this but many now fail to honor this adage. Some, sadly, even find this statement quaint and outdated. And that’s scary because isn’t this what America really stands for?

America shouldn’t cheat freedom to win.

Everyone is doing it

Nonsense! Everyone isn’t doing it, and even if they were every mom has the perfect response.

If everyone else jumped off a bridge, would you jump too?

Only a few get caught

Others focus on the fact that only a few cheaters get a lot of media coverage and that many cheaters never get caught. I find speeding is a useful analogy to show the specious nature of this argument.

A lot of people speed. Only a few get caught. Those driving candy apple red sports cars at excessive speeds may get caught more often because they naturally attract more attention.

The fact that only a few get caught, or that those driving really fast in extravagant cars are often singled out does not change the fact that speeding is against the law.

Bonds, Clemens, A-Rod and Manny get an unfair amount of attention for their misdeeds because they’re the candy apple red sports cars of the bunch.

Life is unfair. Get over it.

Life Is Unfair

Oddly, some use the ‘life is unfair’ argument in support of cheaters. They throw their hands up in the air and shout that it’s never a truly level playing field.

So I’ll revise the argument. Life is unfair enough without our artificial contribution. Or to rely on yet another saccharine saying – ‘Two wrongs don’t make a right.’

Don’t Cheat Yourself

Don’t give cheaters a free pass. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s just sports. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s entertaining. Don’t say it’s okay because it’s about money. Don’t say it’s okay because you understand why they did it. Don’t say it’s okay because winning is what really matters. Don’t say it’s okay because you can’t catch everyone.

Don’t cheat yourself with these flimsy arguments. Even if you don’t aspire to some lofty ethical paradigm, think of it as preserving your own self interest. Don’t invite cheaters into your own life.

Google Reader Recommendations Gone Wild

May 04 2009 // Rant + Technology // Comment

Two weeks ago I was on vacation in San Diego. Of course I took my MacBook Pro, particularly since the rental had great wifi. So I was able to check in at work, maintain my FriendFeed addiction, locate the nearest Peet’s and do research on attractions and restaurants.

Upon returning from vacation I caught up on RSS via Google Reader. In fact, I was searching for new feeds and clicked on the ‘browse for stuff’ option. Now, I can’t say Google recommendations have been that great, but it’s easy, it refreshes quickly and it has provided some decent matches.

Geolocated Google Reader Recommendations?

Google Reader Search Based Recommendations

Much to my surprise I saw a number of recommendations with a San Diego theme. Simple GeoIP was my first thought. But that didn’t explain the fact that many of the recommendations were related to San Diego and food. (Sadly, I declined these before I put two and two together and took a screen capture.) The only other food related blog I maintain is the fantastic TasteSpotting. But that’s where it starts and ends.

Then it dawned on me. I’d been searching and surfing San Diego restaurants! Sure, I used Yelp and OpenTable, but I searched Google (and Google Images) for restaurants with the best views. In addition, I would click through to the restaurant’s website to see the menu.

With a little research I confirmed that recommendations are based on Web History (emphasis is mine.)

Your recommendations list is automatically generated. It takes into account the feeds you’re already subscribed to, as well as information from your Web History, including your location. Aggregated across many users, this information can indicate which feeds are popular among people with similar interests. For instance, if a lot of people subscribe to feeds about both peanut butter and jelly, and you only subscribe to feeds about peanut butter, Reader will recommend that you try some jelly. This process is completely automated and anonymous; your personal information will be protected in accordance with our privacy policy.

Confused Google Reader Recommendations

Confused Google Reader Recommendations

The Google Reader recommendations algorithm is easily misled by a vacation or a spate of searches on a specific topic. Together, as in my case, and it’s even worse.

This isn’t a new problem.

Marketers have long had issues with this type of behavior. Buy a baby shower gift and you might suddenly be presented with a host of baby products. Get a Gilmore Girls DVD set for your mom and you wind up getting a promotion for The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2!

The complexity of trying to identify and exclude these ‘non-standard’ signals often make recommendation engines ineffective or just plain wrong.

Simple Google Reader Recommendations

As tempting as it is to use web history and location to generate recommendations it might be better to simply rely on feed history and collaborative filtering of aggregated subscriptions. Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

At a minimum, it’s time for Google Reader to turn the dial down on web history and location so recommendations don’t suffer from topical whiplash.