You may not know this, but Wolfram|Alpha is launching in May 2009. What is Wolfram|Alpha? For starters, it’s a new software that will give tailored answers to specific questions. In the grand scheme of things, WolframAlpha is predicted to revolutionize the internet and how we search for stuff.
From an SEO standpoint, the site already has a PageRank 7. When was the last time you saw a PR7 site that had not even launched? Yahoo is currently reporting 12,000+ backlinks. PR7 is pretty surprising until you realize that WolframApha.com has an awesome link distribution from many sites with PR6 and up. Also, if you go to StephanWolfram.com, you’ll notice his site has been live since 1995. It’s also a PR7. This guy doesn’t even need our links, and I’m definitely not the first one to report on this website. That’s for sure!
WolframAlpha was developed by US-based physicist, Stephen Wolfram and his company Wolfram Research. [Note: The Wolfram Research site looks like it is full of amazing stuff. To me, the company looks like it is straight out of LOST, the TV show. There is just something magical about the stuff on that site, and I really don't know why I think that. Maybe I'm just enamored by physics and math.] WolframAlpha will only provide answers to questions that have factual answers. I suppose if you asked it “Why are we here?” – you might not get an answer. But if you asked it “How far is it from Earth to Mars?” – WolframAlpha will likely have an answer for you. And what’s even cooler is that for some questions, the engine will graphs and charts to provide visuals. For people who like pictures and graphs, it’s going to be awesome!
Furthermore, it sounds like these guys hate Wikipedia and all the mis-information on the Wikipedia site. With WolframAlpha, information is first looked over by a team of experts. The entire system is based on the Mathematica software, software that apparently holds the key to life, love and the universe. But I jest. Stephen Wolfram knows what he is doing. The guy has a PhD in Particle Physics! I’m not going to doubt him. But if he turns out to be Richard Alpert, Charles Widmore or Benjamin Linus, and his “team of experts” are the Others, well, I’m going to be pissed. Okay. I am finished with the LOST references.
Whoa. I’m late to the game on this one. I just surfed over to the Matt Cutts blog. Low and behold, there is a 302 redirect from mattcutts.com to www.dullest.com. Matt posted about this change here, and it looks like he made this change on April 26. Apparently, he is changing things one at a time, so he can avoid any major catastrophes. Matt says it will be interesting to see how search engines react to this change. I’d say! His new domain has a PR NA and an Alexa rank in the 16 millions. I, too, think it will be a great experiment to see how the search engines react.
For one day, we can all pretty much gloat about our blogs having a higher Alexa Rank and PageRank than the Matt Cutts blog. Even if it’s only for one day…
Muy interesante! As it turns out, Digg has started selling sponsored text links on its homepage. And they are not trying to hide it or anything. There’s practically a giant flashing neon sign pointing out the paid text link. Here is the current one that is live right now. It’s a link to a credit report site, and it’s highlighted in red:
The sequence of events is interesting, too, because at first the link was dofollow. Then today the link was nofollowed. How exciting. I wonder what Matt Cutts is thinking about Digg selling links. Anyways, I’m sure we’ll be hearing about this for the next few weeks. Be on the lookout for the paid link fallout. Or not. For more on Digg selling links and how it might impact the SEO world, go here and here. But also, here’s some free advice from Greg Boser‘s twitter page:
I’m curious who the genius is that told Experian buying a straight link on Digg was a good idea. Pretty f’n clueless. Just an FYI for all the new kids: If you have a national brand that ranks #2, you don’t buy links on high profile sites. Especially on high profile sites that a lot of people hate.
On Monday, Danny Sullivan published a great post on expired domains (link). More specifically, his post discusses the link equity benefits from acquiring expired domains. For example, I have a website about topic X. I noticed that another website about topic X recently went offline. It’s down. It won’t load. Oh look, the domain is available for purchase. Wow! Really? That domain has 12,000+ inbound links, and it’s a PR4. Could I purchase that domain and redirect all of its URLs to my site? Would that help boost my PR and my rankings? Or would it set off an alarm at Google? I mean, all of the sudden a domain expires, is subsequently purchased and then redirected to another domain – that’s gotta trip some sort of wire in Google’s algorithm, right?
Danny goes through several scenarios, and he even quotes Matt Cutts a few times. The article is very informative, and I’m glad he wrote it. No one has posted about this practice for a long time, so it was great to see something on the topics of expired domain acquisition and link equity. You should read the post, but the quick summary is that there are certain instances where the link credit would remain or pass to new domains. But for the most part, if you are buying expired domains and then 301 redirecting them, don’t expect any significant boost in link credit.
As I was reading this article, I could not help but remember my recent experiences and how they do not really align with some of the points in this article. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not disagreeing with Matt Cutts and Danny Sullivan. They are like the Moses and King David of SEO (I mean, they were there in the beginning, and they are probably the two most trusted sources in the SEO industry). I’m only saying that my observations don’t exactly line up with what they said in the post. I believe there are times when purchasing expired domains can be extremely useful, and there are times when I have noticed that link credit does pass from an expired domain. Here’s some of the strategies I have used in the (recent) past with good results:
Launching a new website? Wanna get indexed quickly? I wanted to get one of my websites indexed quickly. I found one expired domain with a DMOZ entry, and I found another expired domain with a Yahoo Directory entry. These domains were related to the topic of my new domain. I redirected them at the same time. Whether or not DMOZ or the Yahoo Directory are important or relevant any longer, my new site was indexed within a few days. Simple and sweet. I can’t argue with science.
Building PR and Link Equity for New/Existing Sites. There I was. I had that site for a while, and I wasn’t really paying attention to it. I decided to see if I could increase its traffic and PR from redirecting a few more expired domains. I found a page on the web that had a list of links to sites that were relevant to my site. Wouldn’t you know it? Some of those links were to domains that had expired. After a little bit of research into those dead links and some speedy domain purchases, I had 15 domains at my disposal. I redirected them over time, not all at once. After a couple of PR updates in 2008, I noticed that my site had increased its PR. And believe me, it wasn’t because a ton of other people had linked to my site. The only thing that changed was the fact that I had redirected 15 domains. I saw an increase in traffic from referring domains because the domains that I purchased had links all over the place. And I noticed an upswing in search engine rankings, which lead to increased traffic from organic search.
Driving More Traffic from other Google TLDs. Guess what? I bought an expired .es domain and redirected it to a .com site hosted in the USA. I really just wanted the link juice, but I got something more than that: top rankings on Google.es for some important keywords. I guess it makes sense. Have you ever noticed that some of Google’s European properties give you more search options? For example, on google.es you will definitely notice that under the search bar there are options to search the web, search only pages in spanish, or search only pages in Spain. Crazy, huh? I have worked on a few European-based sites, so I have seen these before. I just never thought about them in the context of redirecting expired domains. I guess we learn something every day.
Driving More Traffic from Local Search. One of the domains I redirected was the expired domain of a company based in a certain city in America (yeah, I have to be ambiguous about that one ). A couple weeks after I redirected the domain, I noticed that I was ranking for long-tail search terms that contained the city where that company was located. It turns out that the company had several listings in local search databases, online phonebooks and directories, etc… If you want exposure in new cities or if you just want more exposure in the city that you’re in, check into an expired domain for a local company that no longer exists. The economy sucks right now. Lots of people are going out of business. Contact some companies and see if you can buy their domain. Don’t be stupid about it. Don’t redirect a bunch of domains all at once. Just try one and see what happens. Maybe it will work for you like it did for me. Then again, maybe it won’t.
Don’t Alter the Whois Data! Domain Privacy? Shah, right. Google is a domain registrar and an accreditted member of ICANN (proof). You think your domains are private because you paid some extra money for domain privacy. Well guess what. Google knows it’s you! Don’t pretend that you are getting away with anything here. If at all possible, purchase domains through Escrow and leave the Whois data unaltered. Updating the Whois data is a dead give-away that the domain changed hands. When domains change hands, you can count on the existing link juice to be crushed. Mostly. As Danny points out, Google admits to having systems that do stuff. I assume these systems must do stuff like keep track of businesses acquiring other businesses, businesses merging, and any other instance where a domain might change hands. Hell, Google probably has systems monitoring other Google systems. They’ve thought of everything, haven’t they? If not, people like Dave Naylor, Jeremy Shoemaker and Greg Boser are forcing them to.
Servers, DNS, IPs, Oh My. You know how you just bought 50 domains because of this post? Well, before you point them all to the same server, using the same DNS numbers, you need to think about something else: how odd will it look to Google if you buy 50 domains and then point them all to the same server and then have them all redirect to the same site? It’s a dead giveaway. Some registrars are offering a 301 redirect from the registrar, so it’s not as easy to catch the fact that one person just bought and redirected 50 domains to their own site. Or you may look into virtual IPs, so that not all of your domains are sitting on the same IP address. Or you may try to grab a few hosting accounts from various hosts and split up your domains. This makes it seem like there is a true game of cat-and-mouse going on, but there really isn’t. No matter what, Google will catch you. It’s only a matter of time. Just be smart about it. Or at least as smart as possible.
Just Buy an Existing Website. Is there a website for sale in your vertical? Why not just buy it and add links to the site (where appropriate)? I mean, buying domains and purchasing links will cost as much money in the long run. Why not buy a website that is already trusted by the search engines and actually getting traffic from organic search? Maybe you could optimize it and add some links. Maybe both of your sites will rank high. And then you’ll have 2 sites in the SERPs. It’s not a bad approach to take, and it’s certainly more white hat than redirecting expired domains.
You must remember: The key is to do your research on old domains. Make sure they weren’t up to no good. Make sure they were not blacklisted. Make sure they’ve got a healthy number of inbound links. Only redirect domains that previously contained content related to your site. Also, even though everyone says that toolbar PR is outdated and not important, look for domains that have a PR of 1 or higher. It can’t hurt to have a PR (no matter how worthless/overrated/outdated many SEOs will tell you PR is these days).
There. I hope that helps you in your gray hat endeavours. Now, go forth and prosper. I mean, uh, go forth and find expired domains and then redirect them. Jeez. SEOs are nerdy.
Setting expectations. We have all heard this term at some point, and a few weeks ago I happened to see an entire blog post about how to set expectations effectively for SEO. Yuck. I mean, it was a great post, and I get the point of why it’s important to set expectations. We all have to set expectations, but the whole topic just makes me want to throw up because there is something fishy about the term setting expectations. Personally, I despise this term because it wreaks of a typical cover-your-ass business attitude. It’s in the same vein as making sure every correspondence is emailed, so that there is a record of everything. Documenting every last message is utterly ridiculous and ultimately pointless. It’s like you’re going into a relationship with the mentality that you have to gather and organize data for the purpose of one day using it as evidence. If you have that mindset, you need to examine your life.
If you have ever been in a situation where an email could actually prove something, you probably already know that those emails are rarely used as evidence in situations where both sides are so astoundingly pissed off (in those situations, it’s best for both parties to just part ways). In fact, the only reason those emails exist is so that both parties can read them and feel like they were in the right (i.e. “See that? Right there? I told that b-hole that I wanted to rank for 2 specific terms.” Or… “That guy’s a nightmare. Did you see his email? He asked me why his site is not ranking in the top 3 results for a couple of impossible terms after only 6 months of SEO. Then he told me that I had not done anything for their business! What a jerk.”). Gosh. It makes me cringe to think of those experiences.
Maybe we could avoid those stressful events if we do a better job at setting expectations. Or maybe not. Have you ever noticed that ‘setting expecatations‘ only raises its ugly head when a client is unhappy or dissatisfied? Whose fault is that? As an SEO, it’s your responsibility to keep your client happy. If you can’t manage a client relationship, being a badass SEO won’t really matter because you’ll lose all your clients. In fact, you may need to find a new line of work. More than half the game is managing relationships. Maybe even more than half. Sorry, I’m not a statistician.
Let’s face it. There are a lot of times when the SEO/client relationship is not optimal. Let’s just call these bad relationships. Many factors can lead to bad business relationships, and they rarely have to do with SEO recommendations, work or methodology. In the end, everything comes down to results, but quite often there are external factors, such as the current economic climate or the client’s company culture. These factors can play a huge role in creating a bad business relationship, and sometimes these external factors can actually outweigh your SEO campaign results.
If you’re a good SEO, results are not the culprit. Results will keep your clients happy for the most part, and your results are always there to change the client’s mood from “WTF is going on with our SEO?! You suck at SEO!” to “Yeah, you’re right. Your results speak volumes for how awesome you are at SEO. I’m not pissed off at you. It’s just that my boss is on my ass about everything. Wanna get a beer?” We’ve all been there. People are taking it out on you when you actually did a great job. It’s like that scene from Three Amigos when El Guapo is taking out his frustration on Jefe:
Classic scene. Now where were we? Oh yeah – If you’re not a good SEO, you’ll be up against the fact that you suck at SEO and you’ll be up against the many external factors that are producing pissed-off clients.
If you have any sort of social skills, you can probably discern the nature of a business relationship within a few minutes of talking with your client about your SEO recommendations. Some people are happy, easy-going and good-natured, and these people would never insult you or get in your face about anything. These people don’t work in marketing (and for the most part, they also don’t work in e-commerce). However, this is not to say that all marketing people are sadistic jerks. Most people in the search industry are awesome people who have a nerdy undertone about them. However, you must understand that there is a lot on the line when you take the reins of company’s SEO campaign. Livelihoods, families, that super sweet Cable TV package – directly or indirectly, your clients are placing their job and all their most beloved possessions in your hands when you take over an SEO account. You’ve gotta respect it. So don’t F*&$ it up.
As an SEO, you’ll need to be able to communicate your thoughts and prove your methods with solid results. If you ever find yourself discussing ‘setting expectations’ then you can be assured that you failed at creating a good relationship with your client and/or getting awesome SEO results. Hopefully you can own up to that. And then you can move onto the next client with a new, wiser perspective. Well, hopefully you can. Hopefully. [If you can't, go find those emails you saved. They will make you feel better. Either way, no matter what happens, at the end of the day both you and your (ex)client will be sitting at a bar with a beer in hand, and all of life's problems will disappear. At least for a while.]
The other day I saw a DomainNameWire post about Toys “R” Us redirecting its newly acquired domain, toys.com, and that toys.com had been “de-indexed” by Google. For those of you who have not heard the story, Toys “R” Us bought the Parent Company (eToys.com, BabyUniverse.com, ePregnancy.com) for ~$2 million. Then a couple of weeks later, Toys “R” Us paid $5.1 million for the toys.com domain, and now they are redirecting the entire toys.com domain and all of its URLs to the toysrus.com homepage. That’s right. Every toys.com URL is now pointing to the toysrus.com homepage. Was this a good move? Why did Toys “R” Us take this path with the toys.com domain? What are the SEO impacts of redirecting an entire site? Depending on your perspective, the answers to those questions can vary significantly. Let’s investigate some of the possible reasons behind this move (and maybe even some of the opportunities they missed by taking that route).
Obviously, the main goal was brand association.
Toys “R” Us wants to be the brand most associated with toys. For many of us, they have always been the top dog in the toys industry. Toys “R” Us has always been the first company I think of when I think of toys. FAO Schwarz is also up there, but let’s be honest: they are no Toys “R” Us. I mean, Toys “R” Us has like 600 stores in the US and 97,000 employees (thanks Wikipedia). Also making my unofficial best toy stores list is KB Toys. Oops. I have to remove them from the list because they got bought and liquidated in December 2008. With the demise of KB Toys, a giant void opened up in the brick-and-mortar store vertical. In terms of massive stores that have nothing but toys, Toys “R” Us and FAO Schwarz are the only big toy retailers left (well at least on my toy store list). In the end, Toys “R” Us rules the brick-and-mortar toy store roost. [Note: My apologies if I'm leaving out any other toy stores.]
Another goal of the domain acquisition: “free” direct navigation traffic.
Now that brick-and-mortar toy stores are going the way of the buffalo (not the dodo), toy companies must focus a lot of attention to the interwebs and intranets advertising. I imagine that the Toys “R” Us execs were drooling at the possibility of getting the highly-coveted, 4-letter domain toys.com. This would enable them to capitalize on all the direct traffic navigation to toys.com. I don’t know how many people are directly navigating to toys.com every day, but obviously Toys “R” Us wanted to route that traffic to toysrus.com. For those of you who may not know, the direct navigation industry is nothing to sneeze at. I applaud Toys “R” Us for outbidding everyone else for the toys.com domain. It’s a very aggressive move from an industry leader. Toys “R” Us is the most identifiable toy store brand and they own the generic keyword domain that is most associated with their brand. There are tons of companies who wish they could say the same. Now, what should they do with the toys.com domain? [Note: I'm still waiting to see who buys toy.com. It's just being parked right now. What a shame.]
Toys “R” Us is obviously not a newcomer to the e-commerce game. The toysrus.com domain was registered in 1995, and they have had an online store since at least 1998. Furthermore, they have been running successful search marketing campaigns for years. As with any other company that’s been around for more than 50 years, Toys “R” Us has found out that the online world is full of aggressive, online-only e-commerce stores that know everything about utilizing all available channels and surviving online. Toys “R” Us is one of the few industry leaders that started early in the race to e-commerce websites, and they are a company that has succeeded in maintaining an online reputation that equals their top reputation in the brick-and-mortar world.
Awesome. But what about the redirects?
For the search term toys, Toys “R” Us is battling several well-knows toy brands and sites for the top spots in the organic rankings. Here are some of the other top 10 toy brands in the Google SERPs:
etoys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us)
toys.com (owned by Toys “R” Us, no longer ranking)
There are certain times when the acquisition of a highly-coveted domain names like toys.com could really come in handy from the standpoint of expanding your exposure in the Google SERPs. Before the sale of toys.com to Toys “R” Us, toys.com was ranking #3 for the term toys in Google. Apparently, Toys “R” Us was not really concerned with (or maybe aware of) toys.com’s natural search rankings. After the purchase of eToys.com and Toys.com, Toys “R” Us owned 3 of the top 5 sites in the Google SERPs for the search term toys. For a generic search term like toys, having 3 of the top 5 sites is miraculous. But this scenario would not last long. At some point Toys “R” Us decided that it only needed to have 2 of the top 5 results.
Why did they redirect toys.com to toysrus.com?
Obviously I wasn’t in the room when Toys “R” Us decided to redirect the toys.com site to toysrus.com, but I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in that boardroom. I’m sure that a major point in the discussion was the increase in traffic and revenue to toysrus.com. If you redirect and entire site to toysrus.com, traffic and revenue will increase, and that will make everyone happy in the short run. The investment in a $5.1 million domain will have immediate returns. No questions about it. It’s a move that quickly impacts the bottom line. In today’s economy, who would argue against quick returns on a major investment?
On the other hand, I sincerely hope that someone brought up the nature of redirects to the upper management. I hope an SEO told them that Google, Yahoo, MSN and the other major search engines would follow the redirects, and then toys.com would no longer rank in the SERPs. Major search engines would begin to drop the pages that have been redirected via a 310 permanent redirect. The toys.com URLs would not be de-listed/de-indexed because of some sort of unethical SEO practices. Rather, the URLs would be dropped because of the standard definition of a 301 permanent redirect: 301 redirects tell the search engines that the page no longer exists and has been moved. Knowing that the URL has permanently moved to another active URL, the search engines will only keep the destination URL in their respective indices. The search engines are just following the directions that the webmaster set up with the 301 redirects. I hope someone told them all of that because it seems important to know that the 301 redirect solution would cause your brand to lose an awesome piece of real estate in the Google SERPs. That is a lot of free traffic to turn down.
Maybe one of the most influential arguments for redirecting the toys.com domain centered around the increase in domain authority that comes from redirecting one domain to another with the use of 301 redirects. We all know that link juice is the most important factor for today’s search engine algorithms. Imagine if we could take a domain like toys.com and redirect all of its URLs (and all of their inbound links) to toysrus.com. That would definitely have a major impact on the link authority of toysrus.com. That would be awesome. It would be a great move that would reinforce and solidify the toysrus.com domain to insure top rankings in the future. In a world where links are only getting more expensive, another major benefit of buying a domain is that you can capitalize on its link juice.
A linkdomain: check on Yahoo reveals that the toys.com domain only has 713 inbound links. Uh oh. That’s not very many links. Consider that toysrus.com has 357,260 inbound links. Yeah. The link juice from toys.com is measured in drops rather than in gallons. Anyways, given the nature of this new information, I’m not necessarily on board with the decision to redirect toys.com to toysrus.com.
Did they have to choose that option?
I am not completely disagreeing with the decision because I do know that there are other factors involved. Because the toys.com/etoys.com acquisition was very public knowledge, Google knows that Toys “R” Us owns all three websites. How likely is it that Google would list 3 sites from the same company in the top 5 results for a highly competitive search term? It’s not very likely at all. Well, unless you have a badass SEO. And unless the 3 sites are unique and have relatively-unique content. Toysrus.com and eToys.com have managed to maintain a unique focus. How could they then build out toys.com to be another toy-based site that can distinguish itself from the other 2 sites? Sounds impossible. Not really.
Maybe money became an issue. It’s a rough economy. Site development, marketing, advertising, hiring people, building a new site, asking for bailout money – all of these things cost money. With so much focus on the bottom line and with so many companies cutting budgets in 2009, perhaps this entire decision came down to money. At least I hope that’s what happened because I know of several SEOs that could have come up with a solid idea that could turn toys.com a site that drives a ton of traffic and money while offering a unique focus and maintaining a top 5 result in the Google SERPs. I mean, seriously. A shopping engine. A blog. A review site. Something. Anything is better than redirecting an entire site to one URL! I’m glad they mainly used 301 redirects (I have seen a lot of pages with 302 redirects still in Google’s index), but at least they could have matched up related product and category URLs from toys.com to toysrus.com. There are likely several achievable business models for the toys.com domain that could provide more visibility and profit for Toys “R” Us, but it’s obviously not in the cards right now.
In the end, Toys “R” Us made an aggressive move that will drive brand recognition and brand association. They made a move that will deliver a lot of direct navigation traffic. They made a decision that will result in some link juice and link authority being transferred to toysrus.com. There’s probably some other stuff that they’ll get out of it, but this blog post is already too long. I don’t think it was a terrible decision. It’s not going to bankrupt the company. However, there are some huge opportunity costs. A top organic ranking is one. Organic search traffic is another. Revenue is another. Oh well. Good luck, Toys “R” Us. I wish you the best in 2009.
The Legend of Zelda was awesome! I remember opening it on Christmas Day back in 1987. It had a shiny golden box, and then the game itself was a brilliant, glowing masterpiece of golden plastic. Just take a look:
I had never seen anything like this. It was like opening up a golden ticket, but rather than a fattening journey through a chocolate empire, this golden ticket delivered instant access to the magical land of of Hyrule. For me, the greatest thing about this game was that it opened up my imagination like no other video game had ever done. I was used to games that only moved right-to-left or down-to-up, and those games made following the steps from beginning to end fairly simple. The Legend of Zelda was the first game where I remember getting involved in the story. I wasn’t riding Falcor and chasing the Nothing, but it was the first video game I ever played where I could not take things for granted. I remember wandering around forever looking for a certain level, and I ended up finding it by blowing up the side of a mountain on the other side of a stream. It’s as if the video game was teaching me to open up the boundaries of my mind. Secret passages in the mountain. Secret passages underneath tombstones. It was amazing to me. After all, Zelda was probably the 3rd or 4th Nintendo game I owned, and I never had more than 10 games. Regardless, I was still used to Atari games that placed playability and functionality over imagination and plot. [Note: Back in 1987, Nintendo games were like $60, and that was a lot of money back then. That still is a lot of money, but it seems like a crapload of money in 1987. Looking back, I'm surprised my parents even bought me 10 games through the years.]
Another awesome facet of The Legend of Zelda was the fact that the main character was a little dude named Link. He starts off as just a regular boy, but through trials and tribulations he becomes a hero. Like any other 8-year-old boy, it was easy for me to imagine that I was Link, the hero of Hyrule. And as it was a game that considerably expanded my imagination, it quickly became a world that I could escape to. I mean, sure, homework and soccer practice were fun, but I could not wait to get home and turn on my Zelda game. I got to be a hero in a magical world where I could explore the limitless wonder that was Hyrule. Unlike other Nintendo games, I wasn’t forced to go one way. I could choose my own path. I could go left, right, up or down. I got to navigate the entire realm. And I got to defeat Ganon, the Prince of Darkness, and save Princess Zelda. For me, it was an adventure that I would not find in any other 8-bit game. [Note: I played several other RPGs, like Ultima, Dragon Warrior and Final Fantasy. Perhaps I liked Zelda so much because for me it was the original. I guess I'm just sentimental or something.]
Ok. That’s good and all, but why am I talking about The Legend of Zelda on an SEO blog? That’s a good question. Let’s see if I can provide an answer that makes any sense.
I am an SEO to the core. My being exudes a nerdy internet search aura. I eat, sleep and breath SEO. It’s not all I think about. There are a few hours each week when I watch Lost, 24 and House. Most of the time I’m thinking about SEO. While I’m thinking about SEO, I often notice similarities between SEO and seemingly-unrelated things in life (you might have noticed this fact from my posts about Walter Sobchak, Frogger and Grimlock). And since I’m nostalgic, I’m often thinking of events from my childhood. Today I was thinking about link building, and I pondered the future of SEO and the power of links. And then it hit me: Links are the undeniable rulers of organic search realm that is Google. And because I am a search marketer, when I think of the plural (links), I also start thinking of the singular (link).It’s like an SEO reflex or something! [Note: Link is the main character in The Legend of Zelda.]
As it turns out, The Legend of Zelda is a great metaphor for search engine optimization. Don’t believe me? Well check this out. Here’s how the Zelda characters would match up with important SEO concepts:
Hyrule = Google SERPs
Hyrule is a magical land that requires a lot of time to navigate and explore. Much like the Google SERPs, you won’t master Hyrule on the first day. Diligence and hard work is needed to master this landscape, which is highly varied and constantly changing (like the Google SERPs).
Ganon, the Prince of Darkness = PageRank, Google’s Natural Search Algorithm
Ganon is a badass. The first time you set foot in his lair, trepidation sets in. It’s a feeling like the one you get when you first set foot into the world of SEO. After the first step, you realize the size and scope of the SEO world. It’s intimidating and scary, but you will eventually learn to master many aspects of the game.
Princess Zelda = #1 ranking in Google
Until you defeat Ganon and get some top rankings for your clients, peace will not exist in your SEO world. Or in Hyrule. When you achieve a #1 ranking in Google, it’s a lot like rescuing the Princess from the grips of Ganon. All your hard work and long hours finally paid off, and everyone is cheering for you. If only Google had a “Congratulations, you’re #1″ screen to celebrate your success. That would be cool.
Triforce of Power = Basic SEO Principles
The story of Hyrule is cool. Ganon and his army steals the Triforce of Power, an artifact that bestows amazing strength. Princess Zelda takes one of the pieces, breaks it into 8 pieces and scatters throughout Hyrule’s secret dungeons. In order to defeat Ganon and rescue the Princess, Link has to find and reassemble those 8 pieces. Those 8 pieces remind me of the most basic SEO strategies. In order to win at SEO, you must have these 8 elements optimized: title tags, meta tags, keyword tags, H tags, Alt tags, Link title attributes, internal navigation, sitemaps.
Link = Text Links
Link was created to eventually defeat Ganon. It was going to happen. It was only a matter of time. No matter how many times the game changes, Link will find a way to rule Hyrule. The same thing goes for text links in the realm of SEO. We know that there over 200 signals that PageRank uses to determine rankings, but in the end, text links rule the world of Google SERPs.
Despite the message in the final screen, I never once believed that the story had ended. Now, go forth and prosper in your SEO realm. Whether it be ringtones, phentermine or gambling, I wish you luck in your endeavors.
Okay. I have a confession to make. I have taken part in Twitter Squatting. For those of you not familiar with squatting, let’s go to our friends at Wikipedia for a definition. According to Wikipedia:
Squatting is the act of occupying an abandoned or unoccupied space or building, usually residential, that the squatter does not own, rent or otherwise have permission to use.
People have been squatting on internet domains since the beginning of the internet. There is awesome money in this industry. For example, toys.com just sold for $5.1 million. eToys.com had that domain since the late 1990s, but they were just redirecting it to etoys.com. I guess eToys.com decided that it could raise some capital by selling toys.com. And it turns out that Toys R Us and domain holding company National A-1 started a bidding war for this domain. $5.1 million later, Toys R Us now owns this awesome, 4-letter, generic keyword domain that is most associated with their brand. But wait. There are more of these domains being parked right now. Just take a look at www.kbtoys.com. It’s parked, and I’m sure those domainers are just waiting for the right time to sell. Or they are making money from direct navigation ad revenue. [That industry is a huge industry right now. Apparently, direct navigation is a popular form of internet surfing. If someone directly navigates to toys.com, they are easily a pre-qualified visitor, and I bet you can guess what they are looking for. So there has gotta be money in that industry. But I digress...]
How does all of this relate to Twitter? Well, let me tell you that right now there are a lot of major brands running to Twitter to open accounts. (Personally I believe that this trend was motivated by John Stewart’s Twitter bit on the Daily Show and politicians tweeting during Obama’s first Presidential Address to the nation.) If major brands are flocking to Twitter, you can be certain that most Twitter URLs are already snatched up. Or are they? Typically, major brands are always late to the game when it comes to internet happenings. According to some recent numbers I saw on the web, Twitter has over 6 million members. Surely there are some internet savvy domainers who have acquired some awesome brand names and generic keyword URLs on Twitter. Even though twitter launched nearly 2 years ago, there is a good chance that there are a lot of great usernames and URLs still available.
Here is a screenshot of the apple username on Twitter. It’s suspicious. 360 followers. Following zero. Bio: apple dot twitter @gmail dot com. That looks like someone wants some money. There are definitely some awesome URLs that are being squatted on. Perhaps these brands have great marketing experts who rushed to Twitter to grab a username, or perhaps someone beat them to the punch. While I can’t definitively say whether or not these URLs belong to the respective brands, here are some mostly-vacant Twitter accounts that appear to be owned by someone other than a brand representative. These are extremely valuable URLs:
Like all SEOs out there, I have a niche on the internet. I won’t tell you what it is, but I will tell you that I recently got into Twitter squatting. I mean, c’mon. There has been more Twitter hype in the past week than anything I can remember in the past few years. Some people are even saying that Twitter will become a search engine that could rival Google. For the record, I’m still very skeptical at the future of Twitter as a search engine or even as a marketing tool because I know that a lot brands are scaling back and cutting costs in this economy. I’m not entirely certain that major brands will hire anyone to manage their Twitter account. And I’m not sure that SEM agencies know how to manage Twitter accounts. However, I do think that Twitter will become a valuable place of instant, real-time reviews. If brands don’t have Twitter accounts, they should at least pay attention to what’s being said about them and/or their products on Twitter.
Anyways, I went at this squatting process very haphazardly. And I paid the price for it: Suspended Accounts. In my efforts, I learned some stuff that you might be able to benefit from. Here are some tips for avoiding account suspension on Twitter:
Email Address Option
Fake Email Addresses
Twitter doesn’t send email validations at this point. When you sign up for an account, all they do is send you a message that says something like “Welcoming you to Twitter.” This means that you could sign up for accounts with fake email addresses. For example, if signing up for twitter.com/ford, why not tell them your email address is email@example.com? Perhaps this would make your account look more official. The downside to this is that you’d have no way of checking the email address. If someone wanted to purchase the URL, they would have to contact you through Twitter. And that’s probably how they’d get reach of you anyway. Or you could post your real email addy on the page (like the twitter.com/apple person does). Either way, this option may look more valid if a Twitter employee started digging into your account, but this method could get hairy if Twitter started sending out email validation messages.
Using a + in your actual email address.
My recommendation is to use a unique email address if you can. However, if you are squatting on 100 Twitter URLs, it can be real hassle creating all those email addresses and then checking them. Another awesome alternative is to use 1 email address for every account. How do you do that? It sounds too good to be true. It’s actually simple. Let’s say you sign up with your main email address. For this example, let’s say your email address is firstname.lastname@example.org, and you already have a Twitter account at that email address. For your next Twitter account (let’s say it’s going to be twitter.com/apple), sign up for this account with this email address: email@example.com. You will get a Twitter email sent to your firstname.lastname@example.org account. It’s awesome. It may not last too much longer, but it works now. If you can keep track of all your squatted Twitter accounts, this method will allow you to keep all your Twitter emails consolidated in one mailbox. I recommend gmail.
Immediately update your profile and post a tweet.
I have a Twitter account (twitter.com/yourseosucks). I signed up for it one day. The next day I came back to update it with a new icon picture, and my account was suspended. I had no intention of doing anything unethical with my account. I’m not spamming. I’m not trying to game the system. I’m not trying to make money with this account in any way. I have zero followers. I’m not following anyone yet. I don’t even have an outbound link on my profile. I’ve even seen other accounts with the word sucks in the URL, and they haven’t been suspended (proof). But something triggered a red flag in the Twitter algorithm for my account. I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It wasn’t like I was posing as the Dalia Lama. At any rate, maybe this post is my revenge. After this post I’m not counting on regaining access to my Twitter account. Regardless, I believe that there are a lot of people out there who are starting to squat on Twitter URLs. And these people are being suspended rather quickly. From some simple research, conducted by direct navigation, it’s easy to find suspended accounts. For example, these accounts have all been suspended:
Now, I don’t know if those accounts were ever being used as legitimate Twitter profiles. It could be that those accounts were being updated on a regular basis, and they were flagged by mistake. However, given their respective popularity in terms of keywords, I suspect that at least a few of them were being squatted on. I have signed up for several Twitter accounts with valuable keywords, and over half of them have been suspended. One thing that I noticed was: accounts where I updated all the profile information and posted a tweet were not suspended. None. I can’t say that it happens that way all the time, but I do recommend updating your profile, adding a picture and posting a tweet when you first sign up for the account.
The truth is that I have no idea how often you’re supposed to tweet in order to avoid suspension. If you are tweeting simply to avoid a suspended account, you’re probably not using Twitter as it was intended to be used. (BTW, we’d probably be friends.) But here’s the deal: If you are squatting on several accounts, it can be a real hassle to sign in and out to multiple accounts every day. But it’s all good because of an app called Twhirl. This desktop app enables you to sign in to multiple accounts and keep them active on your desktop. If you have the privilege of sitting at a computer all day long, it’s very easy to just open the window once a day and type something. Twhirl is kinda like an instant messenger interface for Twitter. I totally recommend it. You should definitely be updating your profile once a day. But you if you want to take your chances and not update your account very often, I won’t argue with you, as there are several accounts that have not been suspended despite zero updates (proof, proof, proof).
Follow and Be Followed, but watch your Followers-to-Following Ratio
Have you ever seen Rand’s Twitter account? He has 5,000+ followers, but he only follows 11 people. (It’s very well documented by the Oilman.) Rand’s followers:following ratio is very imbalanced (like Fox news). I’m sure Rand gets tons of love from the Twitter founders, so his account is not in any danger of being suspended. But if you are squatting on an account and happen to get some followers, you may consider following some people in order to keep that ratio looking natural. In the end, a legitimate Twitter account will have >0 following and >0 followers. Just keep it looking natural.
Don’t get too big too quickly
That’s what she said? Twitter is not a race to see who can have the most followers. Just like myspace friend bots, there are bots running all through Twitter, helping people build their follower numbers. Just like anything else in SEO, I prefer organic growth. Make it look natural. If you set up and account and then you get 300 followers in the first day, you’ll probably be flagged for something. Keep it natural. Keep it organic. [Note: If you do happen to start getting a lot of followers because you just happen to grab a highly-coveted username for a major brand, you may consider making some legitimate, brand-relevant posts. You're not necessarily trying to pose as the brand, but the last thing you need is followers starting to block you. Don't do anything that will look like actual spam. Users will block you, and enough blocks can cause flags to go up.]
Creating Hundreds of Accounts? Use a Proxy.
Remember: the guys who started Twitter also started Blogger. If they know anything about spam, they know how to recognize massive account creation from the same IP address. Get a reliable proxy. And don’t ask me for proxy lists. I don’t know anything about that.
Don’t Even Try to Impersonate People. It’s probably not very profitable.
At one point, I got a great idea: I’ll snap up some usernames of famous dead people. And then I didn’t follow any of the recommendations mentioned in this post, so all my accounts got suspended. I thought it would be really fun to have a twitter account for a famous, polarizing athlete, musician or public figure. However, after thinking about it further, there’s probably nothing that will get you suspended quicker than trying to impersonate someone. Granted, a dead guy/girl is probably not going to contact twitter, but his/her estate might. In the end, if you’re trying to impersonate someone, just be prepared to lose everything without warning. Which is more likely to happen: a person pays you for the account or a person contacts twitter about your account and your account gets suspended? Also, I don’t believe impersonation is worth the effort in terms of money. I mean, I guess the guy who got gandhi could make some money if he ever updated it. Maybe he could sell some links to fasting websites. Or the jimihendrix account could have some links to Fender guitars. I dunno. In the end, if you can create a good following, I guess anything is profitable. But in terms of squatting, you’re better off grabbing brand names and generic keywords that will attract money from brands, ecommerce sites or companies who just want more web exposure with an easy-to-remember URL.
Don’t link to or follow spam accounts
Just like SEO in the good ol’ days, you don’t want to be following accounts that are part of a “bad neighborhood.” It’s pretty easy to tell whether or not an account is a legitimate account. Just do some checking before you follow someone. Also, check on some of the people who are following you. The last thing you need is to be classified as a member of a ring of suspicious or suspended accounts.
Familiarize Yourself with the Twitter Suspended Accounts Criteria This page is very informative. Read it. I had to learn a lot of these lessons before I found this page. If you can’t follow link, here are the main bullet points from that page at Twitter. Here are several reasons why your account might be suspended:
unauthorized scripting of the site
unauthorized serial account creation
unauthorized mass account creation
user name squatting
account contains links pointing to phishing sites, malware, or other harmful material
an account is identified as belonging to a group of spam accounts
a large number of people block the profile in question
a large number of people write in with spam complaints for a specific profile
aggressive following (a large number of people are followed in a short amount of time)
extremely imbalanced follower/following ratio
updates consist of duplicate or repeating links and/or text
updates consist mainly of links and not personal updates
links in updates disguise the real content of a link given in a misleading or deceptive way.
unauthorized “re-tweets” (poaching and posting other users’ updates) passed off as original content*
Copyright Infringement (To file a complaint, see our copyright infringement procedure here.)
Violence and/or specific threats
Some of this stuff frightens me. Copyright Infringement? Does that mean I can’t hold a brandname hostage on Twitter. If I scored a major brand name, can that brand bully me into giving it up? That would suck. User name squatting? That’s the whole purpose of this post. I can’t believe it’s frowned upon. Damn.
There you have it. I pretty much listed the Twitter guidelines. Oh well. If I was awesome at lists, I’d have to round this list out at 10. But I think 9 is a good number. Last week was 3/3/09. So maybe this is my tribute to Square Root Day. Or maybe not. Either way, happy twitter squatting.
And just because I’ve been hearing about someone buying Twitter, I thought I’d post this picture of the Twitter Whale (aka the Fail Whale). Maybe if someone bought Twitter, they could afford some better servers. Just saying is all.
Apparently, the White House has invited a bunch of young business leaders. Twitter’s co-founder, Evan Williams, was one of those people invited to discuss the current economic crisis. Evan Williams has tons of money. He worked at Google before the PPO, and he sold Blogger to Google. I don’t even think that Twitter is making any money right now in the US. This article says that they make some money on ads in Japan. But who would turn down a trip to the White House? Not the Twitter guys. From’s Evan’s Twitter account: “must mean they’re *really* out of ideas.” More here.