by Courtney Logel
Jim and Jesse hit on the hot topics of the SEO industry for a third time on the newly named show- SearchTV. In this episode, we revisit an old yet still trending topic- JCPenney and Overstock. Jesse describes how both sites have bounced back from Google penalties to top ranking positions but to him, “cheating is still cheating.” Other topics in this episode include SEO tattletales, thin content, and Page Rank. Is PR the holy grail of search? Jesse describes several factors that play into rank, in addition to PR.
“Your page rank is not indicative of your ranking score.”- Jesse
The final rant was awarded to Jim Brown this episode, and he provided a detailed opinion about understanding that SEO is not a 1:1 direct marketing platform. In this rant, Jim discusses the wrong impression had by many companies about overnight success with an SEO campaign. According to Jim, when you invest in search, you invest in a platform that will help you create signals and make you more digitally relevant. According to Jim, you’re in it for the long-haul.
Good afternoon boys and girls, and welcome back. After a brief hiatus,
Jesse and I are back with our new show, now called Search TV. It’s our
third name iteration in about as many months. We promise, or we hope, that
it’s no longer going to change.
Don’t make promises.
We are back and glad you’ve joined us. Again, our hashtag now is SearchTV,
no longer the others. I’m not even allowed to say them anymore, I don’t
What we have found as we have been putting these shows together is a common
theme has kind of occurred. So we’ve decided to start naming these
programs. Today’s show is going to be called “Quit Chasing the Algorithm.”
We’re going to talk about things like SEO tattletales, journalism and
content, marketing, search beyond text, etc.
Why don’t we just start with some familiar faces? We’ve talked about them
before, but they’re back. JC Penney and Overstock. Ninety days ago, right
when our first show was starting to launch, the New York Times came out
with the article about how they were going to penalize them for paid
linking schemes, etc. And, what do you know, three months later, they’re
back. Most of their rankings are back. What’s going on here?
Well, we kind of knew that this was going to happen, right? Hand penalties,
by nature, are usually temporary. Having said that, though, it still just
doesn’t sit right with me. There’s just something about going out and kind
of gaming the system and buying a whole bunch of links and getting a really
quick win, I don’t know. I think cheating is cheating. There are so many
websites that sell what JC Penney sells that are just as good brands. I
just don’t understand why. It’s such a temporary thing. You know what I
mean? Huge gains for the holiday season, you make a bunch of money and get
your wrists slapped, and then you’re back by June.
I want to give props to our own Evan Fishkin. He called this. He told me it
was going to be temporary, 90 days they were going to be back, and what do
you know, they are. We’ve kind of talked about this. I said Google had to
do this. Google had to make a PR move. It’s funny that Google creates these
Black Hat Schemes. They tell people here’s how to basically game our
algorithm, and people go out and do it. Then they get up in arms about it,
but with Google’s intent to get rid of spam and that kind of deal, they had
to make a PR move.
The one thing that I took out of this, I’m going to read a quote from Eric
Schmidt. This came out in October 2008, but even before that, the Florida
Algorithm of 2003, brands really started to come to the forefront. Eric
Schmidt said, “Brands are how you sort out the cesspool. Brand affinity is
clearly hard-wired. It is so fundamental to human existence, that it’s not
going away. It must have a genetic component.”
That tells me that Google understands that people know who brands are.
They’re going to continue to rank brands because that’s who people
associate with some of these key words.
Yeah, but sites like Bed Bath & Beyond or some of these other places that
sell the same things that Penny’s has, there are other deserving brands out
there that haven’t got caught cheating at the very least. I don’t know, to
me that just kind of smacks of . . . I guess it’s really not that big of
deal to Google. So, for somebody like us, who work really hard to make sure
that we’re doing the right thing, it kind of irks me a little bit.
Sure. The other thing is how much were they spending in PPC.
Interesting how that happens
So that breaches the subject of the new wave, or the coming tide if you
will, of SEO tattletales. This is something that has been trending in the
SEO blog space. I don’t know if it’s verified or not. The idea is that the
new SEO, if you will, is that you just go out and you tattle a lot on your
competition. You can do that by going to Google itself and filing a spam
report. There’s a plug-in for Chrome where you can just sit there and say
spam, spam, spam, spam all day long. Or if you have a really good press
agent, you can call up the New York Times.
You hit on two things that I’m going to talk about as well. The New York
Times is back at it. They’re continuing to out people. Just before Mother’s
Day, Flowers.com. They’re outing them. Who should rank? Flowers.com?
Flowers should rank. I don’t know.
You brought up the Chrome plug-in for spam reports. One of the great things
that I saw as I was researching this was you must now have a Google account
to actually submit a spam request. No more anonymous reports or things like
that, which is really good because you can’t just hit spam, spam, spam,
spam, because if Google starts to see that you’re constantly submitting
spam reports, and they find out that those are invalid, they’re going to
start to take action on that.
You could almost have a spam author rank of sorts.
That kind of makes sense.
Exactly. At the same time though, there’s big money in having that first
search engine ranking. People are going to out you. They want that
competition as well.
To me though, this is just another SEO tactic that seems scalable, if
that’s what you’re into, but it’s just not going to be effective long term.
Google knows everything about those accounts. If you go and create a brand
new one, they still have an IP and a Mac address and all the search history
and they can reasonably guess who you are and what you’re doing.
The way that you find these things is doing competitive analysis, right? As
good SEOs, we’re constantly looking at the backlink graphs of other web
sites and trying to figure out, okay, how are they getting those top
rankings? People are going to keep discovering these. I think that it’s
going to come back to a time where, when the SEO industry was small, people
kept it tighter to the chest. They weren’t just outing people. I think that
wall is going to come back up and SEOs are going to start realizing that
they’re a big family.
That’s a good point. Hopefully. Let’s move on to page rank. Oftentimes,
this is considered to be the end all be all, the Holy Grail. I have a page
rank seven website. I should and can rank for everything. I know you don’t
agree with that. Talk to me about your side.
I’m not a huge fan of page rank as a be all end all metric. Page rank,
toolbar page rank, I should say, because actual page rank is something that
is completely invisible to all of us. Toolbar page rank is something that’s
published by Google once every, maybe, year, maybe six months. We have no
idea when the next one is coming or so on and so forth. When they release
that, it’s actually about a three to six-month-old snapshot of where your
website was at that second frozen in time.
When they’d actually taken it, right?
Exactly. To use that as a quality metric, I guess you can, but there are so
many other more important, better things to look at. Something that I know
that you talk about a lot and hear a lot around the office is we’re always
talking about class, right?
All the time. We’re looking at how good is your content? How good are your
links? Is your site navigable? Are there social signals around the Web?
Even beyond that, what kind of strategy are you trying to employ to make
those signals happen. Page rank is this really nice hypodermic needle where
you can say, “Well, I’m a six and you’re a seven, so obviously you’re
better than me.” But really that’s not how it works.
At the same time, let’s think about what the Google page rank, and again
you’re saying toolbar page rank, I do get that. What is that constituted
of? It’s constituted of all the exact same thing, isn’t it? The age of your
domain, your architecture, the usability, the traffic.
Actually, your page rank and your ranking score are two different things.
Page rank was an algorithm that was developed in order to gauge the quality
of a link on that page. Even though they may measure parallel things, like
all those metrics that you just brought up, as a ranking score might, your
page rank itself is not necessarily indicative of your ranking score. All
you have to do is do any search to find that out.
It becomes very apparent. Just the idea of saying, “This domain is a seven
or an eight, so there’s nothing we can do to beat it,” that’s just not
But people do want quantifiable metrics.
They want to say, “Okay, here’s where I am.” What else can they measure?
You’ve talked about those things in class, but how do you measure those?
Again, going back to the title of the show, “Stop Chasing the Algorithm,”
right? Think about do visitors like my site? Do they want to visit it?
Sure. That does parlay well into our next one.
Something that’s been talked about a lot in SEO lately is thin content.
Google released a blog post basically saying this is how we think of thin
content. You need to ask yourself this series of questions. I think there
were 23 of them. Some of them were things we had thought of before. Some of
them were phrased a little strangely and made us think a little bit harder
about some of those different metrics.
There were three in particular that kind of piqued our interest. So I just
want to touch on those really quickly. The first one was this notion of
author rank. If something is published, how well does Google know the
entity or the personality of the person who published it? That would be
across domains. I may write for a Slingshot’s blog. I may write on my
Twitter account. Google is going to know that I am that same person. So
they can measure that and say, “All right. Well, I know that if something
is being published in The Washington Post by George Will, that that’s
something that I can trust.
And you’re saying they’re also going to start to link that to your Twitter
account too, your Facebook profile and things like that.
Some of the things that they would look at for that are how many people
follow you? How often do you publish? What is the quality of the stuff you
publish, etc.? Another thing that I thought was pretty interesting is would
you bookmark, share, or send this to your friends? Because that, to me,
speaks directly to social signals in search. It’s something that is
becoming a little more apparent to the industry as a whole.
Like you just told me, it goes back to the theme of the show, “Quit Chasing
the Algorithm.” It’s are you doing this for search intent, or are you doing
this because you truly do think that it’s valuable and you want to give it
to somebody else, that kind of deal.
I know we’ve still got more, but all of this still comes back to Google
wants to rank quality websites. At the end of the day, that’s what all this
is about. The last one is in looking at a lot of the demand media sites,
the content on the page above the fold, versus the ad space and the real
estate. If a user goes to a website and it’s just full of ads and they had
done a very specific search for something, the value of their visit to that
site has been diminished by ads.
And again, Google’s trying to say, “All right, how does a user look at this
website?” Because my algorithm is only going to give a lot of credence to
above the fold content because I know people don’t like to scroll.
People don’t like to scroll.
Again, it’s not chasing the algorithm, it’s measuring what humans want to
It is amazing though that we’re in 2011 and people still don’t want to
scroll. That little wheel on the mouse. I don’t know.
It’s so much work, man.
With this notion of content, thin content, and quality content, let’s talk
about journalism in the state of content marketing. One of the things,
you’re a journalism major by trade. My degree is actually in journalism as
well. So one of the things I want to get across here is that journalism is
not dead by any stretch of the imagination. People still want quality
content. They want to engage. They want reporters. They want news. It’s
just that they’re not going to pay $0.35 for a newspaper anymore and open
it up and read it while they’re drinking their cup of coffee in the
I’m going to comeback to exactly what you said. Let’s quit chasing the
algorithm and let’s produce content. Talk to me about that.
It’s the idea, like when TV was invented, journalism wasn’t dead or radio
or whatever else. Just because we keep developing new media in which to
actually experience those facts and figures and that information that we
need, it doesn’t mean that the practice of journalism itself is dead. It
just means that it’s moving into a new place where there are a little bit
different rules, but the simple fact is people need information and you
need to provide them with good information.
So this idea, this notion of content marketing, it’s the buzzword now.
Social media, and we’ll talk about social media here in a second, for
whatever reason, content marketing that’s the new buzzword. You’ve said to
me before, everything is content marketing. Every single thing we do, we’re
creating content. It just depends on the form.
Yeah, that’s absolutely true. Or I should say, all forms of marketing are
There we go.
The ad copy for your television commercial, that’s content. Everything
obviously that goes into print or radio or anything that you’re doing is
Every single tweet, every single Facebook status, all that.
Absolutely. So the idea of content marketing being this new thing or this
brand new shiny object is kind of novel to me, I guess, in a sense.
Journalists know how to report. They know how to interview. They know how
to write content. They know how to write stories that engage people. They
know how to do that.
Should companies start hiring journalists to be publishers themselves?
If they’re not chasing the algorithm, they will because that’s actually
providing good content to your end user at that point. I really think that
great content producers, whether it’s in ad copy or just traditional, very
good journalism, I think they’re both more valuable now than ever.
Speaking of new, shiny objects, this is a question that’s been popping up a
lot. Is social media the new SEO? Is it?
No. Social media is not even new. I get tired of buzzwords. I really do.
People are social by nature. You look at the Web, the fact that people are
now maybe engaging more with each other online is new, but you look at
comments on blogs, you look at forums and people talking. Digg and
Delicious are now seven, eight years old. This stuff is not new. People
have been doing social media for a while. No. It’s definitely not the new
SEO. It just makes sense because we’re now sharing more than ever.
Like LiveJournal for instance, the diary software that was online.
Was that in ’02?
I think it was pre-2000. Social media has been around for a while. The
piece that really separates them from a marketing perspective is that
social media is great because you can go out and you can find niche
communities and interact with them. That’s really cool. We are all about
social media marketing, but search is a different beast, because when
people come to Google and they type in what you sell, they’ve done two
things. Number one, I am interested in what you sell. Number two, I am
interested right now. I don’t sit down to watch TV hoping to see that new
Chevy commercial just because I’m in the market for a car. But when I type
it into Google, those are two very rare things that search marketing
provides that other traditional forms of marketing don’t. That’s why I
think that when we’re talking about having conversion rates of 2% to 10% or
somewhere in there, we’re just like, “Man, 2% is so low.” I wonder what the
conversion rate on a bus stop ad is? You know what I mean?
Sure, with the amount of eyeballs that see that ad?
Exactly. I ‘m sure there are ways to measure. I’m not knocking bus stop
ads. We encourage that too.
Aren’t we getting into that? We’re going to start doing bus stop ads in
addition to SEO? No, I’m kidding.
With all the pictures Google takes of the streets now, it might not be a
There we go. A few stats here, I agree wholeheartedly with what you said.
This is one of those areas where we do agree, for the most part. Social
media is not new, but people are engaging more. 10% of U.S. Web users are
actively using Twitter. More than 80% actively use Facebook. 44 million
people in the U.S. alone have and use LinkedIn. It’s just that there’s more
participation than what we’ve seen before.
MySpace is still big.
You like that MySpace.
Let’s get into everything matters. What do we mean by that? Well, just
that. Everything matters. Not going to mention names, but we have had a
couple clients in the last few weeks where they’ve done some things, not
with any kind of malicious intent, they thought they were following the
rules. They made some changes to their website. It dropped their rankings.
They’ve done some marketing tactics or campaigns. They set up maybe some
vanity URLs, and it actually hurt them.
One of the things that we harp on, especially if you hire an SEO firm like
Slingshot or you have an in-house SEO, check with your SEO person before
you do anything. Talk about that. Everything is important, but what do we
mean by that?
We’re always talking about digital relevance, digital signals. There are a
lot of ways that you may, intentionally or not, be producing digital
signals. Especially for our clients, obviously, but again, if you do have
an in-house SEO, if you are working with an agency, you are paying that
person for that expertise. It’s so imperative that you’re making sure that
every last tiny little thing, every tiny little signal that you might be
putting out is run by that person. There are so many things that could go
wrong with absolutely zero bad intent. You’re not trying to game anything.
You’re just, “Hey, this sounds like a good idea. Why not?”
So what are some of these that we’re talking about? 301 redirects, doorway
pages? You’ve talked about your navigation. We’ve talked about vanity URLs,
things like that. Where are some of the hurdles or pitfalls there that
It could be something as simple as I want to get rid of this page, so I’m
going to use this one method of doing so. It could be that I want to make
sure visitors land on page A instead of page B. So I’m going to use the
wrong method of doing that. We’re here and we love answering the phone and
talking to people, so just call us, even if you’re not a client and you’re
doing something that you’re just, “I don’t know.”
Every tiny little thing, and again, the only reason why I wanted to bring
this up is because sometimes it really doesn’t seem like it’s that big of
deal. But, really, every single signal that you’re producing on the web can
be picked up by a search engine. Whether you know or not, it may have bad
Is it more so true if you’re a smaller brand or if you’re a bigger brand?
It can happen either way, but what we see happening a little bit more is
that when you are a smaller brand and you don’t have a lot of people
working around you, then those unilateral decisions tend to be made a
little bit more.
They can have bigger effects.
We’re going to switch gears just a little bit. We’re going to talk about
Bing, and a subject that we like to call the softer side of search. The
reason that we wanted to chat a little bit about Bing is because we’ve
noticed a lot more Facebook integration into their search results. They’re
incorporating things like “likes” for example. It got Jim and I talking a
little bit about the differences between Google and Bing. And again, this
is not to say that one is better than the other. It’s just a general trend
that we’ve noticed. Tell me a little bit about your impressions of Bing.
I am a self-admitted Google fan. Boy, I love Google, they can do no wrong.
No, I’m kidding, but I do like Google. Bing came out and they said, “We’re
going to be the decision engine. People don’t want to see a page full of
blue links anymore. They want to see what their friends like. They want to
see similar things that their friends have an interest in.” This whole
concept of taking “likes” into effect, I get it, it makes sense, but I’m
not completely sold on it. The core to me, or this softer side of search, I
think it’s going to come back to that semantic search we talked about in
the last show.
That’s right. Yes.
Getting a search engine to understand what I’m searching for and how I’m
searching for it, you even said a few times, Google wants to get to a point
where they know what you want before you actually search for it.
They want to answer your question before you even have it.
And that’s kind of scary, but I applaud Bing for this. They are out ahead
of the curve. They’re getting out ahead of Google. Google is frustrated
that they can’t have the same partnership with Facebook that Bing does, but
I applaud them for it and I want to see a lot more coming from it.
I think I may have mentioned this the last show, but I will say it again if
I didn’t. The thing that I kind of like about Bing and another website that
I’m a fanboy of, called Blekko.com, is that they kind of have admitted that
they don’t understand semantic search as well as Google. What they want you
to do is give them more signals, in Blekko’s case by giving me more
information. Or if I’m Bing, I’m saying, “All right. I’m not really sure
what you want, so I’m going to give you more options.” Whereas Google
taught us how to search, they were the first and we’ve learned how to type
in the longest of queries, 25% of them are all original. Google taught us
how to use their search engine. Bing is taking a little bit different
approach and their market share is growing right now. So good on them.
Yes, absolutely. Let’s get into beyond text. This parlays well. We’re
talking about Bing making these changes, trying to change the way we use a
search engine, trying to change the way they deliver results, whether it be
video or pictures or things like that. One of the biggest things that I’m
reading and seeing the need for is voice search. As I look out, several
people at our company, they use Macs instead of PCs. PCs are still way
better, sorry Apple.
What do you guys call it? The magic pad or whatever, you don’t have a mouse
anymore, you have this track pad that you do gestures on. You look at that.
You look at your Android devices, your tablets, your iPads, your things
like that. The physical keyboard is going away. As that continues to go
away, I think voice is going to start to play a lot more of a role. One of
the things Google is starting to do is take that into consideration.
Already, on a mobile device, you can push the speaker button and talk into
it. It will convert that into text and do the search that way. I think that
that interaction is going to change the way we do a lot of things. Maybe
not on the desktop itself. How else are they changing? How else is search
going to change?
Well, I think voice is going to be a huge part of it. You’re talking about
my computer is giving me basically three senses. Touch in way because I’m
moving a mouse around, but also, obviously sight and sound. My input into
that computer is only two of those three. So voice seems like a logical way
to go into that space.
Another thing that I saw recently was a Google video patent where they’re
talking about understanding audio signatures so that they’ll know that’s
traffic, that’s a concert, and then actually using image recognition and
that kind of audio signature to insert metadata in between frames of video
so that they can actually index that stuff.
I continue to do some research around this, because I had heard of it, but
you pointed me in a different direction. Also, included in this patent are
things like people being able to upload an image and Google to read that
image and basically conduct a search via that. Also, being able to
contextually highlight something, and Google is showing you new results
based on what you highlighted, not what you searched on.
The idea of going to a blank white page and typing something into the box,
those things aren’t going away, but it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be
fun to watch.
It will be. One of the last things that we want to talk about is something
that’s always popular, Internet privacy. You and I have a little bit
divergent view of what we want to give up to get back, if you will. I think
I’m a little more mainstream, in the fact that I am concerned about people
using my information to serve up all kinds of strange things and ads and
whatnot to me. I’d prefer to be able to turn on or off my Internet usage as
I see fit. But I am actually kind of intrigued by your view of this.
Well, you know I’m big into politics. I talk about it quite a bit.
Currently, in the U.S. legislature, there is this need of “do not track.”
It’s like getting rid of cookies and things like that. I think it’s going
to have an impact if it is ever written to law. But the fact that our
Congress is talking about it, to me, shows that they’re clueless about it.
I’m completely okay with giving up information for two reasons. One, if
you’ve seen “The Matrix,” your life is a lot easier if they can scan your
retinas and display products that you want. If they know that I like Hanes
boxers, they can show me my Hanes boxers. It’s everything. If you can make
my life simpler, if you know that things that I like, I’m willing to give
up that information for you just to make my choices simpler on a daily
The other part of that is we’re using free products, people. Please
understand this. You’re going to Google. You’re using a free search engine.
You’re using Google Voice. It’s free. You’re using Google Analytics. It’s
free. Free has a price. Nothing is truly free.
Millions and millions of man-hours and data storage and all kinds of
Right. So the cost of what we’re paying is our privacy. We’re allowing
Google to use that information. You gave the example of the comparative
cost of Google Analytics. Talk about that.
Google Analytics is another free offering from Google. There are other
analytics programs that cost ten of thousand of dollars per year. Like
$25,000, $50,000, $100,000 just for an analytics package that you get from
Google, that is a reasonably decent substitute, that has a lot of the same
functionality, a lot of the same parameters and limits on it too that even
what you would pay for you would get. And they give it away for free. You
were talking about Gmail, search, all this stuff. You can just go down the
line. The amount of man-hours they’ve put in to stuff that they just give
away, there’s obviously a price for that, and it’s the information.
Yes, they’re going to use the data, and at the same time, here’s the key to
this whole thing. If you don’t like it, don’t go online.
Don’t participate. Don’t go to Facebook. I don’t know. Jesse has really
taken the final rant for the last couple of sessions, and I told him it was
my turn. My rant today is to understand that SEO is not a one-to-one direct
marketing platform. You’re not going to just start paying an SEO company
and immediately have rankings or immediately start getting clicks. I just
had this conversation recently.
We talk about projections of search. We can see how many people search for
something. We know about how many people are going to get to that if we get
your ranking. But (a) the ranking’s not going to happen overnight. Even if
it does, you’re not paying us or any SEO firm an amount of money for a
certain amount of clicks. This is not paid media. You’re not renting the
traffic. When you invest in search, you’re creating a platform that’s going
to help you create those digital signals, help you stay digitally relevant,
and get you there for the long haul.
If you invest a couple thousand dollars a month for a couple keywords,
you’re going to get to the top of the search engine rankings eventually, if
you’re SEO firm is worth a grain of salt. Once you’re there, you’re going
to start to realize that traffic over and over. Then you’re going to start
to see the halo effect, that we call it. If you go after a root phrase,
you’re going to start seeing rankings for long tail phrases. You’re going
to get traffic off of that. By being digitally relevant, you’re going to
get indirect traffic by social media, content marketing, articles, blogs,
all that type of thing. You’re going to get it from Twitter. You’re going
to get it from Facebook. You’re going to get all this other indirect
Where it’s completely different from paid search is the day you take your
credit card out of Google AdWords, you quit getting traffic. With SEO, if
you are digitally relevant and stay at the top of the rankings, that
traffic keeps coming; whether or not you’re paying an agency, whether or
not you’re paying an in-house person at all.
That’s my rant. That’s going to conclude today’s show. We’re going to be
back July 7th. We want to do a shout-out to Evan Fishkin. He’s going to
turn 21 tonight at midnight. I really hope that kid stays safe. Until then,
until July 7th, please send us some tweets. Send us some emails. You see
our Twitter names in front of us. We want to know your feedback, your
questions, what topics you want to see. I said good night, Canada.
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