Tag Archive for links

Marlboro Menthol

Newspaper optimises for Marlboro Cigarettes

Marlboro Menthol

Marlboro Cigarettes

Working in the SEO industry full-time starts to mean that you begin to look for patterns and relationships between content, links and advertisers and often things stand out as not quite natural.  The background to this article started out with an innocent read of a Miami News Times post on the Russian billionaires battle for Fisher Island, Florida, but all stopped when one embedded hyperlink for “Marlboro” stood out from the text.

There was something about the placement and context of the link that didn’t really sit well within the article and it’s rare for media organisations to link to Tobacco companies and even less common these days to both sell in a romantic image of smoking and mention the brand. It’s sometimes a coincidence but too often than not there is something to the finger prints left behind but the question is who do they belong to the publisher or the advertisers?

The clear point I want to make is that the paper is not directly linking to any of the Tobacco companies website but is actually linking to an internal SEO friendly page focused on that Tobacco brand, but there are a number of other factors that seem to muddy the water a little. If the publisher was linking directly to the Cigarette companies then this post would be fairly clean cut and would have certainly been noticed by now.  The quote from the article that captured my eye is shown below along with the screenshot of the text link and how it doesn’t seem to add to the article or why people would want to read related posts on cigarette brands.

Zeltser mostly listened, recording the percentages Berezovsky wanted to carve from each asset. Every ten minutes or so, he stepped out into the cold March night to suck down a Marl……., his eyes lolling upward with the power of each drag.

Marlboro Cigarettes Link

Marlboro Cigarettes Link

Dual Benefit for Internal Links

There is certainly a benefit for both the Tobacco companies but also the Miami New Times to optimise their internal links for such a high traffic term but the question is how much effort has been put into this process.  Was it just a random one off item in a recent post or has it been something that has been retrospectively done across every post ever written? There seems to be around 62 articles that have had the internal linking treatment by the editors at the Miami New Times, with many of these posts going back to 1991 well before it was a common editorial process to link to related sources or similar posts.  This appears to be likely more a process done by the Miami New Times but the sheer number of posts that mention Marlboro Cigarettes by chance seems too high compared to other brands.

Subject: Marlboro Cigarettes

Subject: Marlboro Cigarettes

Miami New Times Over Optimising for organic Cigarette traffic?

While it seems the publisher is going hard to rank by matching the page title, h1 and onpage text around Marlboro, they aren’t showing organically in Google for any related terms currently so it doesn’t appear to be offering an SEO advantage just yet, it’s possible they are optimised for various local Miami terms as you can see below. There is certainly some method to their madness by creating these static search results pages for capturing extra traffic from search engines it likely violates Googles technical guidelines which state “Use robots.txt to prevent crawling of search results pages or other auto-generated pages that don’t add much value for users coming from search engines.

Marlboro Cigarettes Miami

 

Code of Ethics on Cigarette Marketing Practices?

There was something that was really not sitting right about that part of the article, it didn’t add to the article by mentioning the brand and it seemed to be very much promoting Marlboro brand to Miami New Times readers that aren’t all adult smokers. If this is part of an organised marketing activity, then the promotion of Marlboro products within the article US market seems to be at odds with Philip Morris USA and Altria’s Code of Conduct and raises questions where else this might be happening and who is organising it?

The Philip Morris US website information is fairly clear that they have a company policy to deny all requests to product placement in films, television or media since 1990, and have stated they are not using newspapers or magazines currently for marketing, inline with the Tabacco settlement agreements.  So it could be possible that the internal link does not have the support of Philip Morris but there brand is getting exposure so is it a one sided benefit just for extra organic traffic for the Miami New Times?

Philip Morris Marketing Practices

PM USA is guided by Altria Group’s Mission, as well as Altria's Code of Conduct, and is committed to marketing our products responsibly by building relationships between our brands and adult smokers while taking steps designed to limit reach to unintended audiences

Is Marlboro alone in this?
No certainly not this is not a sole case of Marlboro having the only presence but they do have a significantly larger number of internal links from the stories to a central related posts section, there are also the following companies that have dedicated search results. It is unclear if these pages were created solely by the web team at the Miami New Times to capture more organic search traffic or requested by marketers to expand the exposure of their brands online, I want to make it clear that these are not natural pages.

Newport Cigarettes

Newport Cigarettes

Camel Cigarettes

Camel Cigarettes

Parliament Cigarettes

Parliament Cigarettes

Who is left out?

I checked and there are a number of the largest cigarette brands that manage to not be featured in this internal linking by the Miami New Times which makes it stand out as more of an organised campaign than just a few random links to related search results. Previously in price fixing cases it was the one that was left out that outed the price-fixing, it can also be the case that leaving one out in the cold can be just as suspect.

  • Lorillard
  • Old Gold
  • Maverick
  • Pallmall

Typically if it’s organic or natural everyone is included if there are a few major players/products left out then it looks more to be something that is organised or planned, this time it looks a little too organised and structured by the advertiser.  The question still is if there are so many other brands that could have been featured why so much focus around Marlboro within the Miami New Times, and how do their readers benefit?

This is just accidental or coincidence?

The interesting part about this internal linking to a dedicated page is that it’s not dynamic, it is a specific static page setup that lists all the stories featuring Marlboro.  Often the internal link within the article does not match the actual page which relates to “Marlboro Cigarettes”, there is often various types of Marlboro brands mentioned but they all link to the same static page.

What about other media sites?

The question is have you seen this or a similar type of strange internal linking campaign happening on other websites, as with Tobacco, Pharmaceutical or Alcohol companies that have strict advertising guidelines and often have to think creatively to reach their audiences.   I’m not saying Altria or any of the other Tobacco companies are or have done anything illegal or are behind this article marketing campaign, but I feel that some parts of this don’t seem to sit right and someone is benefiting, is it just the publisher?

Trunk.ly – Link Engine

Trunk.ly LogoEveryone know the pain in having to search back through hundreds of past tweets trying to find exactly what was that link URL that you ReTweeted that you need to use right now or want to help out friend request on Twitter as someone looking for that exact URL. Well Trunk.ly has created what I term as a “Link Engine” where you are able to make all the links you have shared socially to be search-able.  Most people freely admit that Twitter’s search functionality is fairly limited and and most platforms don’t allow for searching across multiple data sources from a single search window but Trunk.ly appears to have solved that issue.

It was highlighted today in a Tweet via Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz who made the bold prediction that this platform could get big.  I would have to agree with his statement as I was able to create an account, follow a few suitable friends it suggested and add in my RSS feed from my blog and all my previous tweets in less than 5 minutes.  The point is that the website got the usability down to a fine art and my account is created and progressively expanding my history of links. It was covered by RWW back in December last year but didn’t seem to make that much press elsewhere until more recently when a number of members in the SEO and Marketing industry such as Rand started promoting their use of the tool.  While Trunk.ly was first created to deal with the pending death of Delicious it also emails you to start to manage the ever growing mountain of links shared via social media in a personal link engine.

Trunk.ly Interface

You can see below a partial screenshot of the interface with the ability to tab between your own links or those friends you chose to follow with a enhanced search as you type module to find links via keyword. Their search platform is very powerful and allows you to conduct a search via keywords, phrases, partial domains extensions, link urls, link title, text of the tweet and even text on the linked page. That’s right if you share a link but can only remember what is the content on the page you can now discover this using Trunk.ly along with who else shared the link, total number of shares, ability to delete the link or edit the link details.

Trunk.ly LinksThe downside is that at this stage you can only view Friends links and cannot search through them as a whole group but can click on a user and you can quickly search through any of their links from all the sources they have connected to Trunk.ly.  You can see in the screenshot below you can see you bio, one web link, location and the total number of your links that are now searchable via Trunk.ly and anyone you are following or following you.  The image is powered by Gravatar.com which makes it easy to ensure you have a consistent profile picture across a number of web 2.0 properties, but it is slow to update and may require a click on the “check this gravatar” to speed up the refresh.

Trunk.ly Profile

What about no results?

It’s kinda cool that Trunk.ly thought outside the box when it provided the zero results screen as it encourages users that if they just connected it may take several hours to process your initial links but you should also connect to some social networks.  The more data they have the better your results will be and the more data they will have to refine their search algorithms and suggested users you should consider following, but it would be great if it then could allow you to click and search the links of those friends you are following.

No Trunk.ly Results

Who else shared the Links?

Trunk.ly offers a far more advanced understanding of who has shared a particular link, but is limited to those who are Trunk.ly users.  But you can start to see the potential of the platform as you can start to see how the value of the link stats will grow with more users joining Trunk.ly, including how many people shared the links, when it was first shared and who first shared it. This can be useful to complement platforms like Bit.ly for measuring your social media campaigns as many users may select to share links generated by other shortners such as TinyURL or FB.me or via a standard link and the sharing data could not be captured.

Shared by the following Trunk.ly users...

Edit Trunk.ly Links

It is possible to retro-actively edit links stored within your Trunk.ly platform to fix incorrect titles, update URLs, descriptions or add tags to improve the search results.  It’s important to note that any #Hashtags used in a tweet will be automatically added as a tag for the link saving you time, but also making it possible to search based on Hashtag later to see what related links you shared. While it may not be used much it is useful as often a link URL Title might not be accurate or the note/text related to the tweet might be incorrect or scrapped from a site’s meta description providing no real value on what the link relates to.

Edit Trunk.ly Links

Trunk.ly supports what platforms?

It’s great that one of the key benefits of the platform is the ability to connect multiple social platforms, book marks and even RSS feeds. Trunk.ly makes it easy to import your blog URLs for a searchable record of what links you included and when you added those links and has tested it with WordPress, Posterous, Tumblr & Instapaper. It is likely that other platforms such as Reddit, Digg, Linkedin and email might be added in the future as the platform expands it’s userbase and demand for alternative platforms rises.  Most websites these days do provide a public RSS so it’s easy to add these to your Trunk.ly connections and you could potentially add your favourite RSS feeds to monitor what links are being shared/promoted without having to read the article.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • RSS Feeds
  • Delicious
  • PinBoard

Trunk.ly Connections

You can easily load your links from 5 main networks within just a few minutes via their authorisation page but at peak times Trunk.ly advises you might have to wait a few hours.  I found that this was not the case and unlike a number of other web 2.0 platforms within just minutes I had access to both everyone link I have ever included in this blog and also every link I have tweeted via @TheLostAgency.  This was a great start to using a new platform and now that I have authorised these 2 accounts Trunk.ly will continue to check these services for new links every few hours.

Existing Trunk.ly ConnectionsYou can see above that as part of the transparency of the Trunk.ly model it lists what connections you have linked to your account, when it was last updated, when it was last checked and the type of connection it is.  This is useful in your search results as you can see what platforms that you might have shared that link by including Facebook, Delicious, Twitter or Pinboard.

Trunk.ly Limitations & Privacy Warnings

When you first connect Trunk.ly to Twitter they can store your last 3,200 tweets but you are unable to search any links prior to this due to Twitter limitations but can capture everything from that point forward.  If you delete or unfavour a tweet once it is in Trunk.ly this will not automatically remove it.  You cannot currently extract with the Facebook API any links that you just selected to Like but did not comment on, also no privacy settings are followed so any links you share will be stored and available to all Trunk.ly users. If you don’t wish to have your links that you share public you can set your Trunk.ly profile to private. The advice from the developers is that Trunk.ly will continue to grow and look at privacy features but you can read about it in more detail here.

Discover my Shared Links

If you find that you want to see what links I have shared on this blog or via Twitter you can see my Trunk.ly links here, and don’t forget to signup and test the platform for yourself.

Related Images:

Fox.com fails SEO

Ok so when I started this post I did not initially see it to be a massive failure but more of a minor issue but still saw it as a significant problem that such an oversight could be happening on the night of Fox’s most anticipated shows “Glee” is returning to TV. So as most people do I went to Google.com to do a search for Fox looking to find out if there was anyway I could watch “Glee” online but I did find it strange the such a large site would have index.html showing at their primary homepage. The more I dug into Fox.com the more issues I saw around a lack of understanding about SEO and well there is a lot of room for improvement as for consistency across just Fox.com not including the hundreds of other websites News Corp operates.

Google Fox Results

Fox 404

The Google search results show Fox.com/index.htm but when I clicked to visit the link it produces a 404 error page, this a both a major issue for Fox and a provides a very bad user experience for other fans using Google to get to Fox.com. I would expect a fair amount of traffic would flag a warning sign somewhere that a huge number of visitors were now viewing 404 error pages when coming from Google.  The only upside is they have a nice simple 404 page that has a direct link back to Fox.com which works. There is Omniture tracking code on the Fox 404 error page so its fairly easy for their web analysts or web developers to notice the large spike in views of this page and that the source is a Google search referral, this would indicate failure by someone.

Fox is So Sorry 404

It’s not consistent

It seems that the use of index.html is not consistent across the site as you can see the 2nd result shown in the search results was the link to watch Fox full episodes on demand.  It is indexed in Google as http://www.fox.com/fod/index.htm but unlike the homepage it doesn’t resolve to a 404 error, this would indicate a failure by someone not a site wide policy change or update. If you are going to run a website it’s always best practice to make a decision if you are going to use index.htm and stick with it.  It causes problems for link builders, internal staff and other web developers within the Fox group who try to work out quickly which is the best URL to link to.

Meta refreshes signal failure in seo

They are a very old technique and one that according to people on Google’s spam team are typically wary of its uses as its been commonly misused in the past and is not a very search engine friendly technique.  But Fox is using Meta Refresh to redirect users from http://www.fox.com/home.htm to http://www.fox.com/index.php which does not make sense to send them to a file instead of the root domain. Fox.com is not a small mum & pop business it should be able to get the basics around SEO right and not cut corners with a poor man’s redirect “meta refresh”.
Multiple links going to multiple Fox homepage URLs
Fox.com needs to consolidate its variations of the homepages as you can see below a number of the variations actually carry a decent amount of link juice that is likely going to waste. Once again if you are going to swap between index.php, home.htm and index.htm it will result in lost link juice and confuse everyone.
Majestic SEO Fox Links
Best practice is consolidation of homepages
It is good practice to look using 301 redirects to consolidate any of the following variation of homepage that you have used or has inbound links to a your domain, it is possible that Fox.com will have links to almost all these variations of their homepage URLs.
http://www.fox.com/default.html
http://www.fox.com/default.htm
http://www.fox.com/index.html
http://www.fox.com/index.htm
http://www.fox.com/index.asp
http://www.fox.com/index.apsx

Note: you need to test this to ensure that you don’t create an endless redirection circle as has happened in my past projects

Fox.com doesn’t use canonical URLs

This is part of the issue around why these variations of the home page are being indexed and shown in the search result, it is another good practice to where possible use canonical URLs to signal to search engines where the primary or original source of content and not counted as duplicate content should be found by using the tag Rel=”canonical”

An example for this article would be <link rel=”canonical” href=”http://lostpr.es/2010/09/22/fox-com-fails-seo-2455236″ />

Who is linking to Fox.com/index.htm?

Looking at the backlink profile of that particular page using SEOmoz Linkscape it seems that only part of the issue is within Fox’s control.  The issue of index.htm showing in the search result is more an external link issue with only 8.5% of the backlinks are internal or coming from other Fox.com subdomains.  So even if Fox.com fixes their internal linking policies it seems its only part of the problem the easiest solution is to look at consolidation of those inbound links via 301 redirects.

Who is linking to Index.htm

Fox.com is using 302s

While it seems part of the issue is the non-use of 301s, the continuing use of meta-refreshes it also seems that for subdomains Fox.com has chosen to use the less than useful 302 redirects.

So how can Fox.com fix it?

Ok so here is how if you were Fox.com you could fix the issue since they are running the server on Apache/2.2.8 (Unix) PHP/5.2.5 with Suhosin-Patch they will likely have 2 easy options to organise the 301 redirects.

  1. .htaccess file
  2. Use cPanel

So what is a .htaccess files and how can you use them? Apache has a free tutorial on .htaccess files and how to use them to create permanent redirections

So what is cPanel and how can it help your website with Apache & PHP Customisation? Once again there are a number of web hosting companies that have already enabled cPanel so it is ready to go but you can find out more about it here.

So what is a 301 and how can it help your website? A 301 is a request to advise that the old content now has a new home, SEOBook.com has a nice breakdown around 301 Redirects.

Please fix Fox.com

So there you have it even the biggest corporations sometimes forget to do the basics when it comes to seo we won’t even get started on indexing issues or how they could have used Google Webmaster Tools to identify the problem in any more detail.  Most of the points and tips are something any good web developer or seo agency should have addresses long ago, so that is why this is being classed as a failure in SEO it should not have happened.

Google mortgage rates add up

Rodrigo Stockebrand noticed earlier today that his search queries for the generic term “mortgage rates” had started to show a new style AdWord’s result at the top of the organic results and it seems to be more than just a small test group.  It was covered briefly in a quick post at SEL by Barry Schwartz, but I thought there was more to explore around the new comparison ads and evaluate their longer term impact for advertisers and business.

It seems that the early Google’s AdWords comparison ad experiment has been expanded to cover home loan and mortgage products but has also taken place at the top of the search results in a 4th sponsored link.  The issue is that Google websites have an artificially inflated Google Quality score which guarantees any of their products top placement and potentially inflates the costs of advertising on that keyword, and the additional box is clearly a separate module as you can see thin white line between it and the standard AdWords modules.  Below is a screenshot of the new Google AdWords product which is exclusive to Google’s own comparison products, it’s not clear if it was manually placed for certain search queries to guarantee it would show just below the search bar.  But other advertisers should be able to check in their AdWords account under average position on if its showing even thou they are shown as top position.

Google Comparison Mortgage AdsLess space for organic results

One of the bigger concerns is that it doesn’t just affect competitors who are buying traffic with AdWords it compounds the problems for those trying to rank organically, there is more paid space and more Google products and less room for natural listings.  While this extra Google comparison ad has obviously pushed down the other ads, on my 1920×1080 resolution monitor it was less dramatic, but a majority of users don’t have a monitor so large so I dived into my visitor information contained in my Google Analytics accounts to find a baseline monitor size.  Looking at the average website visitors from my Google Analytics data around 48-54% of people have a screen resolution of between 1024×768 to 1280×1024 so I thought I would test the 3 smaller monitor sizes as to how it impacts the competitive landscape.

1920×1080 Resolution Monitor

Google Ads on 1920x1080 Monitor

Analysis: You can see that there is actually now only 5 organic results showing above the fold (visible without scrolling down) and the 6th result just creeps in.  The problem for organic rankings is that unless you are in the top 5 you are now going to miss out on a majority of the clicks, where in the past top 7 rankings still keep you above the fold.  Dynamic AdWords like these will also continue to change Google users behaviour and may have a dramatic long-term effect on the perceived importance of the organic results and further increase the market share of Google’s own products.

1280×1024 Resolution Monitor

Google Ads on 1280x1024 Monitor

Analysis: You can see that with the 1280×1024 resolution SXGA monitor but you can see that with the new Google Comparison Ads that showing below the 5th result on the first page will mean that you miss a majority of the potential clicks. Its hard enough for some clients to get to the 1st page on Google now it’s a case depending on your typically visitors you have to be in the top 5.

1280×768 Resolution Monitor

Google Ads on 1280x768 Monitor

Analysis: By shrinking the monitor size down slightly more to 1280×768 resolution it even cuts out the Google News results and also now only 7 AdWords ads are showing, decreasing the number of advertisers who are able to be seen.  It also reduces the organic results down to 3 which further increases your reliability on buying traffic from AdWords or from the new Google Comparison Ads.

1024×768 Resolution Monitor

Google Ads on 1024x768 Monitor

Analysis: The final screenshot is actually based on 1024×768 which is a 19inch monitor far larger than most laptop screens and still if you view the same result on a netbook you can actually only see the first organic result because of the 4 AdWords results showing at the top. Again Google News results are gone and there is 1 less Google AdWords spot on the right hand side.

Advice: If you are in this vertical start to examine in your web analytics solution the screen resolution of your typically visitors who just visit and those who generate a lead or revenue.  It will start to provide you a guideline as to if you are trying to increase your paid traffic what position you should try to bid for and from an organic ranking where you should be aiming if you want more clicks.  You want to break it down by those who just browse and those who actually generate a lead or revenue for your company.

Google’s potential audience?

The potential audience which is now able to see these new comparison ads is huge and its likely that the CTR from the other ads will plummet, which will likely impact their quality scores and lead to them having to pay more to bid for the same positions.  By Google offering a better quality Ad they are changing the behaviour of how people will select what ads to engage with but are also limiting other advertisers clicks as consumers are draw to the new style ad box.  The traffic volume based on the single generic keyword “mortgage rates” has estimated 1,000,000 monthly searches in the US with an average CPC rate of $14.88, according to Google’s own Google AdWords tool which is a massive audience to test the impact of its platform.  The question is how much cheaper is it to buy the lead directly from Google compared to fighting with other advertisers in the AdWords market?

Google’s invasive ad box

While its interesting to see how Google is experimenting with new Ad types, I have discovered that there is also a second ad that Google is running which offers a bit more interactivity for users with a drop down menu for the approximate home value for quicker rate comparisons.

Google Refinance Ads

As you can see in the screenshot below, the bigger issue is that when consumers actually interact with the ad it blocks a majority of the competitors advertising message and also close to half of the first 2 organic results.  This type of ad seems to lack any aspects of tact by how it impacts and overrides the competitors presence on the page.  These types of ads show that Google is testing the ads for different markets where you might want to compare two pricing points before visiting the website.  Obviously Google is tracking all the interactions and may start to refine the pricing points as it gathers more data on users, so those who are based in a lower economic area may start to see slightly different approximate home values or even APRs….

Google Refinance Mortgage Dropdown AdThe CTR between the two ads modules being tested would be quite interesting as if users with different motivation or at a different stage of the buying cycle.  Obviously to further understand the mortgage market Google is bidding on search traffic for its comparison ads around a number of keywords, but I’ve select the top 20 related keywords based on estimated monthly search volumes, but it’s also interesting what keywords they are choosing not to bid on.

Google is also bidding on the following keywords

  • mortgage loan rates
  • mortgage loan interest rates
  • home loan interest rates
  • mortgage interest rates
  • current mortgage interest rate
  • best mortgage interest rates
  • current mortgage rates
  • home mortgage rates
  • home mortgage interest rates
  • refinance mortgage rates
  • refinancing mortgage rates
  • mortgage rate calculator
  • current home mortgage rates

Analysis: obviously most of these keywords are very high volume but are also closely related to “mortgage” but you notice that “home loan” is also featured which shows they might be testing language for different markets such as the UK or Australia.

Advice: Look at the ROI around these terms and if you are not already bidding on them, I would advise doing a trial with their own campaign and own budgets.  Remember Google buys search traffic with AdWords for branding and for testing so you should look at buying the same traffic but for testing.

Google is not bidding on the following

  • compare fixed mortgage rates ($0.05/cpc)
  • bad credit mortgage rates ($35.72/cpc)
  • home mortgage loan rate ($18.72/cpc)
  • best mortgage loan rate ($36.37/cpc)
  • current mortgage rates canada ($4.61/cpc)

Analysis: Obviously the product is US focused so any terms that focus outside the country such as “current mortgage rates canada” are likely to be ignored. The keyword that The Google AdWords tool said has the most traffic “compare fixed mortgage rates” is likely a bug or very low quality traffic. It’s likely that Google is avoiding some of the very expensive terms because the ROI doesn’t match with their comparison ad business model or they are just overpriced.

Advice: Best look at what other keywords Google is not bidding on and if you are take a closer look at the ROI and KPIs around those terms as they have been ignored for a good reason.

Google protects its mortgage leads

The screen shot below shows you a sample of the Google mortgage comparison page, where you can filter out and compare mortgages with a few clicks.  The comparison mortgage is generic enough to be expanded to feature an entire comparison shopping site as the URL structure also hints at future products can easily be added google.com/comparisonads/mortgages.

Google Mortgage Results

Google doesn’t want to miss out on a single dollar of commission or miss a single conversion if possible and have built a fairly idiot proof contact system that can be automatically tracked and optimised.  When you visit the comparison mortgage page you will see there is 3 contact options available for each lender: phone, call back and email.  Call back and email appear to be exactly the same contact form but are coded slightly differently for tracking purposes which will affect future AdWords bidding strategies.

Google Tracking Leads

Google is actually fairly smart in how their built the platform as the number listed above is a special Google phone number that will forward your call to the lender, but it can also be used to track the lead generated.  If you fill out the request a call or email lender contact form Google provides the lender with another special Google phone number that will forward to you which they can also track as a lead. Any details that you enter such as Street Address or Zip codes are just passed onto IntelliReal that has partnered with Google.

Will Comparison Ads expand to other verticals?

I say yes, based on how Google is growing its maps & technology platforms its only a matter of time before it expands its product to include other verticals. It’s easy to see Google expanding its comparison ads to include Real Estate & Hotels as they already offer a simple search function within Google Maps as shown below. You have already seen one comparison ad that featured a drop down box which shows they have the technology to place other interactive items into their text ads now.

Search for New York hotels directly from within Google Maps

New York Hotels

Search for New York real estate from within Google Maps

New York Real Estate

It’s likely that Google has a number of options to increase its revenue by competing for direct leads and sales and cutting out resellers and affiliates but the question is how quickly they will risk upsetting their advertisers or how much money they can make on the comparison ad platform.  Do you take the path to doing more of the work generating leads and hope the reduced revenue from your advertisers doesn’t drop quicker than you can grow your comparison shopping products?

Google Comparison Ads expanding internationally?
If you want to know when Google Comparison Ads might be expanded to your country I suggest keep an eye out for any new financial licensee such as when Google registered Google Payment Australia back in 2007, in what was thought to be part of Google Checkout Australia.   Google Payment Australia Pty Ltd was supposed to be setup for local Checkout services and has a Australian Financial Services licence (No. 318755). Google Australia holds the licence under which it is authorised to offer Google Checkout as a “non-cash payment product”. The Google company is not licensed as a bank or deposit-taking institution in Australia and does not provide banking services but might allow it to soon offer a similar comparison ad platform in Australia soon.

Blog Spam works

Much of the focus for the search industry has been around building up content networks and everyone has promoted directly or had someone else directly plug their article, application or website via a comment on a blog or a post, but why do it? The point is that basically it works and will continue to work either via driving traffic, developing a level of trust via links or improving indexing of the promoters website. Rand wrote up a big open letter calling for the Google webspam team to review how they are evaluating what is spam based on a decreasing level of relevance for a number of popular terms.  As for the best process for defining spam or making a broad decision that a particular method or intention is black/white or gray is not the purpose of this article its to look at why it will continue to happen.

I have been meaning to look into this matter in some more detail so by just picking 2 random but popular articles that have been published on this blog that had obvious self promotional links dropped, was it worth it for them? This site being a run on the WordPress.com blog platform so I can make it clear that all the links placed into the comments are “nofollow” so their should be no direct benefit for “link juice” or ranking benefit for you, but why does it keep happening and what is classed as spam?

Author Name Keywords
There are 3 sides to using Blogs for self benefit or promotion, the first and most common to slip through is to use the author details to place in keyword friendly names as part of the websites backlink strategy.  The use of keyword friendly author names is usually heavily frowned upon by a number of popular blogs as some do follow the author URL so the link text does have relevance and a benefit for the poster. Often the author’s name is matched to the blog post but often so not relevant that the following listed below are classed as spam.

  • Internet and network marketing tutorial
  • Link Building
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Author Website
The next part will be that they will usually to match the author name to their website URL but often automated bots or low quality link builders often increase the chance of being flagged as spam by trying to matching the URL to a similar focused keyword domain.  So the author name used for the comment would be “website designers” will be matched to “http://website-design-ers.info” which is fairly easy to spot.  The author usually owns, manages, benefits or is paid to increase the traffic to the website they have listed. A number of the URLs listed below have been used in comment spam and have been flagged automatically as spam and I have not included the full website address because this post is not designed to provide them with a benefit.  Often much of the comment spammers are not just link spammers but drop links to sites that contain malware, MLM schemes and mostly just not suitable for work audiences.  The author websites listed below are easily classed as spam and many are low quality template websites that are mostly not suitable for this blog to be found associated with even it is just via nofollowed links.

  • antivirus-free-download51…
  • game101guide
  • roulettestrategie.fast-instant-money
  • 23-inch-car-rims
  • webuytool
  • limobaltimore
  • ipad-tipps
  • infinitydownline
  • relevantlinkbuilding

Spam Comments
It may not always be done with evil or spammy intention in mind and the comment maybe be manually approved after its viewed if the comment is relevant to the post. The following is a list of spam comments that have recently been posted on this blog, they are good example of the types of blog comments which are used and flagged automatically as spam:

  • This was a great post, thank you very much :)
  • thanks nice..
  • Thanks for your awesome post,! More to come on Monday….
  • nice work guys really impressed with your marketing style.
  • Thank you for your info, Recommended to read!!! i’ll bookmark your site and hope can find more hot info for the future.
  • :)
  • hy man thanks for the comment on my blog ,hope will be back soon
  • hi every body
  • I found your article very interesting, do you still have another article? maybe we can share the article
  • This is a really useful post. Thanks for the info.
  • I found your article very interesting, do you still have the article with the same theme? maybe we can share the article
  • nice blog and nice articel..coool ha !!

Often the comments are even less relevant, and if created by spam bots or lazy link builders just take sections of your own article and post that in the comments as if they had written something relevant and useful, this does not add value to a blog post so are classed as spam. The comment combined with the author URL is a clear sign if the comment is a spam comment or one that should be approved as it is relevant to the blog post and is suitable for visitors if they should want to visit the authors page to learn more about them.

Link Dropped in Comments

The aspect of dropping a relevant link to a related post or product is a tougher conversation to have with both blog owners, search agencies and link builders.  Placing a link into a blog post still works well and can often add a relevance to a blog post where an author may have not referenced some details contained in their post, you might have seen or read a post that disputes their post or seek to create some more discussion.  I don’t believe that there is a single person in the industry that can claim they have never dropped a link to one of their sites/posts/clients at one time or another, but when it moves away from relevance then it can border on being spam.  If I have written a post about AdAge Power 150 failing, dropping a link to a dating site is clearly spam and is not going to be approved. Here is a short list of some of the many comments and links dropped shown in blue text that are not relevant to the blog post shown in (example) or often even spelled correctly and are regarded as spam:

(Article was written about links)

  1. This is a wonderful opinion. The things mentioned are great and needs to be appreciated by everyone. Auto Marketing
  2. I don’t generally reply to posts but I’ sure will in this case. Seriously a big thumbs up for this 1 C CLass IP hosting!

(Article was about advertising)

free advertiser to all bblogger bussnines
free advertiser
free advertiser
free advertiser

(Article about a marketing failure)

Nice Blog thanks ankara evden eve nakliyat Hosting

Summary of comment links

Sometimes the links match the author but often gmail accounts are used with the author’s url being squidoo.com, blogspot.com or wordpress.com sites.  These are flagged automatically as spam by WordPress so its a waste of time and resources trying to get ranked #1. Often blogs automatically approve comments so you will see the same comment or link being posted under different authors name/email to try and get around spam filters but it will mostly lead to failure. Spamming in foreign languages will also be flagged as the blog author won’t automatically approve it if they don’t know what the text says.

Links dropped in comments get clicks

3 Links that were dropped into 2 posts on this blog, actually showed to give the website a decent CTR actually in aspects higher than any links that are contained within the actual post.  So if you are doing article writing for the pure purpose of driving relevant website traffic to your site, it maybe more beneficial to have a decent link placed within the first few comments if you are looking for traffic, people are curious so that is why dropping links into comments works. The click-through rate for the links was actually well above what I expected which is why I wrote this blog post, 3 samples show:

  • Link 1 click-thru-rate 5.88%
  • Link 2 click-thru-rate 1.13%
  • Link 3 click-thru-rate 0.27%

Summary of Spam Strategies

So dropping links and spamming blogs can work for some sites/projects but in the long-term it’s not sustainable or going to help your brand/site if you get flagged as a spammer.  There are a number of things you can do to ensure you get more benefit when using blogs as part of your social/content strategy but this blog post is not the place you can learn about that.  If you choose to go down the path of heavily spamming blogs, your problems will compound overtime and eventually even if you are not spamming a blog you will be automatically flagged for review every time by Akismet, so best not try to make things that much harder for you and play nice.

Facebook censors links

Facebook LogoFacebook has managed to grow to 500 million users but it also has appeared to upset every aspect around user privacy in the last few years, but it seems that its also censoring what you share online. Facebook encourages people to share everything on its platform but you have to be careful what you plan to share as not everything is welcome by them. Facebook recently recently shut down a Facebook fanpage with 47,000 fans based on a vanity URL. The Realestate referral group was one of the largest on real estate group on Facebook but used the trademarked term “Realtor” so Facebook acted on the trademark request and closed the site.

Is Facebook censoring?
The censorship topic was further compounded when Glenn Gabe tried to share the link on Facebook to the article it failed.  He has covered the issue in more detail as the censorship was done via a error message. I’ve just tested the link and now that the fanpage has been re-instated, you can now post the link.  The issue does cause a problem as it seems Facebook is selecting what information you share that might make it appear negatively. The problem is Facebook is encouraging users to share everything but appears to be censoring links which is a conflicting posistion to be in.

It’s happened before
The point is that i’ve seen Facebook censoring links recently when posted by its Facebook chat platform, the link was to Power.com a social media aggregator that focuses on data portability for social media accounts.  Power.com was sued by Facebook for allowing users to use a central portal for all their social media profiles and has since removed the feature for Facebook users, but appears to have upset a few people at Facebook enough to block users sharing any links to that domain.
Don’t share links!
The image below shows the message shown when I tried to share the link via Facebook chat, which seemed to be strange since it appeared to be none of the suggested issues, the website was not abusive or spammy. This seems to show that Facebook doesn’t really want users to share links about everything, we at least those that are not in the commercial interest of Facebook.  The biggest problem I can see is that while Facebook can do what it wants on its own platform, it seems the start of a dangerous trend if it is going to start censoring what users are sharing compounded by the sites link to data portability which Facebook has rejected.

Facebook blocks IM link

Why request an exception?
The Facebook link to request to share a link shown below seems to be a bit much for most users to be expected to fill out, so it once again compounds the issue of censorship, by making it difficult for users to share legitimate links. The form requires you to add details about the link, explain why you think it is should be allowed and also complete a security CAPTCHA to ensure you really want to share it and are not just a spammy. There is enough room in the future on the form to add room for parental signature or blood sample.

Request for blocked content

Its not a bug!
To confirm it wasn’t a one off issue, I tested it again today, by trying to post the link into my status update, it shows the same error message that was shown last month in my Facebook Chat window, the link once again is just to the homepage and doesn’t even make any reference to Facebook, its not even a login or signup link just a standard link.

Facebook blocked link

So the question is do you think its fair that Facebook decides to block a link based on commercial benefit but I can potentially choose to share inappropriate or abusive materially more easily that links to other social media platforms? Have you seen this occurring on other sites that you are certain are not abusive or spammy?

Related Images:

Your backlinks may vary

In a short discussion via Twitter with Alan Bleiweiss of Search Marketing Wisdom, it seemed of interest that once again there is a massive variance in data.  Ive picked a site that I worked on previously and have access to in Google Webmaster tools and have ensured to removed any identifying details, but some pieces of data were removed from the screenshots but the data removed did not relate to this blog post. To access any of the backlink packages detailed below just click on the screenshot to be taken direct to their site to play with the tool yourself.

To get my own baseline for the site and how the different backlinks tools compare I averaged out the total links found which are shown in the screenshots below.  The average number of links between the 6 different applications is 2,292 links, and I will rate the percentage of links found below up or down based against this average number of links.

Google Webmaster Tools Link Count

Webmaster tools link count

Analysis: Google Webmaster tools is actually fairly close just 1% lower than the average number of links found by the different software packages, what is interesting is that it was the only package to get close to the average.  The biggest problem to get this data you have to verify that you actually own or control that site, which makes it harder to be used for competitive analysis.  The amount of back links found seems to indicate GWT may not be your most accurate guide, its just an average after all…

Google Search Tools Link Count

Analysis: This LINK: statement has to be one of the worst methods of all techniques to see your backlink profile so if you are using this to judge the success of your campaigns you might as well give up now.  The number of links found using the Link: statement was just 2% of the averaged figure, a massive failure.

Yahoo Site Explorer Link Count

yahoo site backlinks

Analysis: Yahoo SiteExplorer which soon may disappear with the merging of Bing/Yahoo search platforms which a shame as it is fairly accurate with just 14% less links than the averaged amount, showing just 1,981 backlinks or as it calls them “inlinks”.  The best part about Yahoo Site Explorer is that it doesn’t require you to verify you own the site so its still great for competitive link analysis.

OpenSite Explorer Link Count

open site explorer links

Analysis: Built by SEOmoz around the Linkscape architecture it is the heavy hitter in link analysis finding 68% more backlinks than the averaged amount but slightly less than the subscription software.  The interesting part was that the total links found by OSE was actually quite close to the count of follow backlinks the subscription software found.  OSE only estimated that there were around 366 backlinks which were dofollow links which can have a positive effect on your search rankings.  OpenSite Explorer might provide you with a fair bit of benefit when doing a link analysis as you can potentially only get the links that count and maybe less likely to have duplicated links counted or dead links included in your total count as can happen with even the best subscription software.

Majestic SEO Link Count

majestic seo links

Analysis: Majestic SEO is one of the older link discovery packages but has only recently started rebuilding and expanding its data set, it still appears to be too early in the process as it showed 37% less links than the average. The software offers more data to those who have signed up for a free account and it can provide a lot more technical information than many of the other backlink tools listed.

Subscription Software Link Count

Analysis: Using some specialist software ive tracked around 4447 backlinks to the site, this was the largest number of links found with around 81% more links than the averaged amount.  The package is obviously more expensive than the free options but it does show that you get what you paid for, as it also allows you to see a detailed backlink profile including 3772 followed links and 387 nofollowed links.  Both of these do not match with Google Webmaster Tools, which crushes any claims that Google is only choosing to show either just followed or nofollow links in its links to your site.

Since there are several backlink tools available I didn’t want to give preference to any and a also because ive found some just use the platforms above accessing the data via data APIs.  This data is then just packaged in some nice CSS or stripped back to bare essentials and presented within your dashboard, it is a shame that some packages that claim to offer backlink analysis are just regurgitating public backlink data via Yahoo or Linkscape.

Bing LinkDomain:

It seems that this tool is once again not publically available but it did show the most promise of all the solutions last time I tested it, so we cannot do a test at this stage.

Which Backlink tool is best?

If you can afford the subscription alternatives they are always going to provide more functionality and the brute force strength you need on some projects to get a true understanding of a competitors backlink profile.  Outside of that GWT is the most averaged of all the solutions examined which should keep your boss happy but OpenSite Explorer or Subscription platforms vastly outperform the other alternatives.