Archive for 'technology'

Good Cloaking, Evil Cloaking & Detection

100% OrganicIs cloaking evil? It’s one of the most heavily debated topics in the SEO industry — and people often can’t even agree on what defines cloaking. In this column, I wanted to look at an example of what even the search engines might consider “good” cloaking, the middle-ground territory that page testing introduces plus revisiting how to detect when “evil” old-school page cloaking is happening.

Back in December 2005, the four major engines went on record at Search Engine Strategies Chicago to define the line between cloaking for good and for evil. From the audience, I asked the panelists if it was acceptable to — selectively for spiders — replace search engine unfriendly links (such as those with session IDs and superfluous parameters) with search engine friendly versions. All four panelists responded “No problem.” Charles Martin from Google even jumped in again with an enthusiastic, “Please do that!”

URL Rewriting? Not Cloaking!

My understanding is that their positions haven’t changed on this. Cloaking — by its standard definition of serving up different content to your users than to the search engines — is naughty and should be avoided. Cloaking where all you’re doing is cleaning up spider-unfriendly URLs, well that’s A-OK. In fact, Google engineers have told me in individual conversations that they don’t even consider it to be cloaking.

Because search engines are happy to have you simplify your URLs for their spiders — eliminating session IDs, user IDs, superfluous flags, stop characters and so on — it may make sense to do that only for spiders and not for humans. That could be because rewriting the URLs for everyone is too difficult, costly or time intensive to implement. Or more likely, it could be that certain functionality requires these parameters, but that functionality is not of any use to a search engine spider — such as putting stuff in your shopping cart or wish list or keeping track of your click path in order to customize the breadcrumb navigation.

Many web marketers like to track which link was clicked on when there are multiple links to the same location contained on the page. They add tracking tags to the URL, like “source=topnav” or “source=sidebar.” The problem with that is it creates duplicate pages for the search engine spiders to explore and index. This leads to a dilution of link gain or PageRank, because all the votes that you are passing on to that page are being split up because of the different URLs you are using. Ouch.

How about instead you employ “good cloaking” and strip out those tracking codes solely for spiders? Sounds like a good plan to me. Keep your analytics-obsessed web marketers happy, and the search engines too.

I have to mention, you don’t have to cloak your pages to simplify your URLs for spiders. There is another option: you could use JavaScript to append your various tracking parameters to the URL upon the click. For example, REI.com used to append a “vcat=” parameter on all brand links on their Shop By Brand page through JavaScript. Thus, none of their vcat containing URLs made it into Google.

Is Testing Bad Cloaking?

Is multivariate testing a form of bad cloaking? This is where services like Offermatica or even Google’s own Website Optimizer show different users different versions of the same URL. That could be considered cloaking, because human visitors and search engines are getting different content. Spiders can’t participate in the test group, and thus the content of that test is invisible to the spiders; that’s because of the requirements of AJAX, JavaScript, DHTML and/or cookies for the test platform to function on the user’s browser. Google engineers have told me that they want Googlebot to be part of the test set. Therein lies the rub; the technology isn’t built to support that.

Uncovering User Agent Based Cloaking

The “bad” cloaking from a search engine point of view is that deliberate showing to a spider content that might be entirely different than what humans see. Those doing this often try to cover their tracks by making it difficult to examine the version meant only for spiders. They do this with a “noarchive” command embedded within the meta tags. Googlebot and other major spiders will obey that directive and not archive the page, which then causes the “Cached” link in that page’s search listing to disappear.

So getting a view behind the curtain to see what is being served to the spider can be a bit tricky. If the type of cloaking is solely user agent based, you can use the User Agent Switcher extension for Firefox. Just create a user-agent of:

Googlebot/2.1 (+http://www.googlebot.com/bot.html)

under Tools > User Agent Switcher > Options > Options > User Agents in the menu. Then switch to that user agent and have fun surfing as Googlebot in disguise.

Uncovering IP Based Cloaking

But hard-core cloakers are too clever for this trick. They’ll feed content to a spider based on known IP addresses. Unless you’re within a search engine — using one of these known IP addresses — you can’t see the cloaked page, if it also has been hidden by being kept out of the search engine’s cache.

Actually, there’s still a chance. Sometimes Google Translate can be used to view the cloaked content, because many cloakers don’t bother to differentiate between the spider coming in for the purpose of translating or coming in for the purpose of crawling. Either way, it uses the same range of Google IP addresses. Thus, when a cloaker is doing IP delivery they tend to serve up the Googlebot-only version of the page to the Translate tool. This loophole can be plugged, but many cloakers miss this.

And I bet you didn’t know that you can actually set the Translation language to English even if the source document is in English! You simply set it in the URL, like so:

http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=en
&u=URLGOESHERE&sa=X&oi=translate&resnum=9&ct=result

In the code above, replace the bolded URLGOESHERE part with the actual URL of the page you want to view. That way, when you are reviewing someone’s cloaked page, you can see the page in English instead of having to see the page in a foreign language. You can also sometimes use this trick to view paid content, if you’re too cheap to pay for a subscription.

Many SEOs dismiss cloaking out-of-hand as an evil tactic, but in my mind, there is a time and a place for it (the URL simplifying variety, not the content differing variety), even if you are a pearly white hat SEO.

Stephan Spencer is founder and president of Netconcepts, a 12-year-old web agency specializing in search engine optimized ecommerce. He writes for several publications plus blogs at StephanSpencer.com and Natural Search Blog. The 100% Organic column appears Thursdays at Search Engine Land.

Recent reports showed that business owners are getting squeezed between higher employee benefits and lower employee productivity. Factor in a less qualified workforce and the U.S. businesses are in real jeopardy.

Many organizations look at numerous factors when constructing a strategic plan. However, very few look at revenue per employee. This statistic is necessary when looking at where and how to grow the bottom line. Did you know that average revenue generated per U.S. employee was around $100,000?

Now, look at your most recent P&L statement. Take your total revenues and divide by your number of employees. What is the average revenue per your employee? Is it near the U.S. average? Or is it less? If you are in technology and advertising, your average per employee revenue should be double that average or $200,000. However, if your business is tax preparation, your average revenue per employee is half or $50,000.

Revenue per employee is even more critical for small business owners. When one employee is not working at his or her full potential, the small business suffers far more negative affects than in a much larger organization. For example, a small business service company with 10 full time employees secures gross revenues of $1,000,000. If 50% of them are not engaged, then they are only generating $50,000 each while the other 5 are responsible for $150,000. This disparity is potentially affecting the performance of the high achievers and resulting in higher stress for the engaged employees and ultimately higher turnover for the small business owner.

Years ago, Jack Welch was chastised for his policy of cutting the bottom 10%. However, Jack saw the bigger picture and realized that for General Electric to grow and innovate demanded high performance from every employee. He set the expectation and revenues increased per employee.

With the first quarter of the new year almost two thirds over, maybe it is time to return to your strategic plan and set aligned goals based upon revenue per employee. And it probably wouldn’t hurt to evaluate what employees are not actively engaged in your business.

Leanne Hoagland-Smith, M.S. is a business coach and executive coach with offices in Indianapolis and near Chicago. She writes, speaks and coaches people in businesses to quickly double or triple results through the creation of an executable strategic plan along with the necessary leadership skills “to pull it off.”

One quick question, if you could secure one new client or breakthrough that one roadbloack holding you back from success, what would that mean to you? Then, take a risk and give me, Leanne, a call at 219.759.5601 to experience incredible results.

Visit http://www.processspecialist.com/ and explore everything from free articles to connecting with Leanne.

It's Not About the Logo . . .

By Valeria Maltoni (at Conversation Agent)

CingularlogoAnd it’s not about the marketing spend. You have seen it in the news and if you managed to miss that, there have been some notable discussions about it in the conversations we’ve had in my neighborhood of the business blogosphere: AT&T announced that it will fold the Cingular brand into it’s own. Get over it, says Todd Wasserman in a recent article on BrandWeek, after all the Cingular brand didn’t stand for much.

I beg to differ: it did stand for something, which went well beyond the sentimentality of marketers — it would be worse to call it the sentimentality of people, wouldn’t it? As I outline in my weekly FC Expert Blogs post, the Cingular name and brand stood for an experience and a real customer conversation, and that was notable.

Stephen Denny, a veteran at connecting brands to the wants and needs of technology users, was the first one to comment on Brand Equity in his Note to CMO on January 13 —

Here’s a guess on my part, and I’m willing to debate this, but I seriously doubt that the mobile phone users of the world all see AT&T as a brand they’d flock to; AT&T is a dinosaur of a brand image. It’s like GM without the sexiness. That was a joke, by the way.

Brand awareness and brand equity are not the same thing. I can’t believe AT&T is a brand your mobile phone core user would aspire to. This is a strange decision.

Matt Dickman, a technology strategist at interactive marketer DigiKnow, gave as a preview in Steven Colbert shows the confusion surrounding Cingular’s name change in his Techno//Marketer on January 19 —

I am sure Cingular subscribers are just as confused. We’ll see how this pans out for them. The iPhone launch may be the only thing keeping people as a customer here.

I know that AT&T…sorry…at&t wants to re-assert itself as a communications powerhouse, but Cingular was a well established brand that stood (in my opinion) for the opposite of everything at&t was and is again.

Marketer Mack Collier at The Viral Garden, the place beyond Madison Avenue where marketing ideas grow and spread, followed with his thoughts on AT&t Kills Cingular, Gives us your Grandfather’s Cellphone on January 22 —

Cingular has brand equity. It is seen as young, hip, reliable. When you think of AT&T, you think of landlines, rotary dials, and the Reagan administration.

Is there ANYONE outside of the AT&T board room that would rather have the AT&T name on their cellphone than Cingular? I’ve been pretty satisfied with my Cingular service the past few years, but the first time I get a bill with the big bold blue AT&T logo on it, I’m going to start considering Verizon. It will be an involuntary reaction.

Did Steve Jobs know this was coming when he made Cingular the ‘exclusive wireless provider’ of the iPhone? Talk about a branding mismatch!

These are not the sentimental cries of people who fell in love with the idea of an orange Jack character, nor it is about the money. Branding a wireless service may be like branding utilities, yet Wasserman unwittingly makes my point: as a customer the most important factor for me is that the service works and that when it doesn’t someone will make it happen for me. Cingular was better than some of the alternatives at that — and I tested the company’s limits on multiple occasions.

Price can be a factor when all things are equal. Somehow, some brands surprise us and manage to deliver above what expected. And that soft or intrinsic value is worth more than just a dismissive pat on the back, because today it’s not business as usual. When companies manage to deliver on the people side in this day and age they stand quite apart from the pack. In that sense, they are singular.

A Reluctant Case for Convergence

By David Berkowitz
The Search Insider

If the Consumer Electronics Show is an indication of where hardware is heading, then everyone better be ready for the convergence of every device out there. Yet how much credit can you give to a show that featured 2,700 exhibitors but was trumped in the press by a single product announcement from Apple at Macworld that same week?

While I was there earlier this month, speaking on a Digital Hollywood panel about online video, I kept grappling with this issue of convergence. Will the Web truly become device-agnostic, with searches coming from any and every platform?

After readingThe Origin of Brandsby Al and Laura Ries, I’ve become convinced that divergence, not convergence, is the safer bet (for a great read, check outChristina Kerley’s review and interview with the authors). In the first drafts of this column, its working titles included “Keep Video Search on the Web” and “Holding off on Convergence.” Despite that, I’m still finding myself swayed by the powerful convergence forces brewing that connect to how consumers search. Here are four such forces:

1) TVs are no longer just lean-back devices. While most TV viewing remains passive, and often it’s only on as background noise, consumers are starting to appreciate the control they can have over it. One lean-forward onslaught comes in the form of personal video recorders (TiVo et al). I’ve recently joined the fray, and my better half Cara watches my face beam when I have the chance to fast forward through commercials, create my own instant replays during a sports telecast, or just pause viewing when we get a phone call. Separately, another big lean-forward push comes from console video games. Nintendo’s Wii managed to not just get gamers off the couch, but has made gaming a physical and sometimes strenuous activity.

More to the point, last month Variety said that Xbox Live is proving to be themost successful movie download service. Reporter Ben Fritz wrote, “The relative success of video downloads on Microsoft’s Xbox Live and disappointment of Amazon.com’s Unbox point to two factors that differentiate Xbox from Amazon and its many other competitors — consumers who download a movie want a simple way to watch it on their TV, and those with high-def TVs want high-def content. Thanks to the Xbox 360’s direct connection to a TV and the console’s focus on HD content, Microsoft can deliver both.”

2)There’s now too much content on TV to navigate by browsing.The search functionality on the PVR I use from Time Warner Cable involves using arrow keys to select a letter, and then for each subsequent letter, it only highlights available options from its database. For instance, if I wanted to look forQueer as Folk, I’d select “Q,” and then only “U” would appear, so I could quickly select that letter until I was satisfied with the list that appeared to the right. This search functionality is alright, but it’s barely passable with the massive volume of content available, which includes about a week’s worth of programs on 150 regular stations, all the options on Movies on Demand, other on-demand channels, HD listings, and everything else. As content from the web (such as YouTube videos) becomes available on TV, the content will multiply exponentially, as will the need to efficiently search it.

3)Google’s going there.The least surprising search engine announcements this year will be Google locking up TV deals. The deals on the surface will really be about Google’s advertising platform, and Google’s quick to remind everyone that it’s more than a search engine. Yet, if consumers do search via their TVs, that will open up more advertising opportunities.

4)Search is inherently device agnostic.There’s nothing about searching itself that requires it to be tethered to PCs. It’s just that PCs have a number of advantages, such as full-size keyboards and at least relatively easy access to all the publicly available content online. If search is a medium, as some have postulated, it’s not about the device at all, whether it’s a PC, mobile phone, TV, or wristwatch.

Fast Forward

Ultimately, as video search, and search in general, moves to the TV, there will need to be some better ways to use it. My prediction: TV remote controls will soon resemble mobile phones. I could even envision a future where mobile phones are easily programmed to operate every device in a home entertainment center. Phones already have built-in keyboards, and my cell phone is half the size of my remote control, so merging the two wouldn’t require too much further innovation.

Convergence will not be smooth transition as envisioned by many technology stalwarts. It is, however, set in motion, so it’s best to start preparing now for the spiraling effects to come.

Adweek Interactive Agency of the Year

By darmano on Agency 2.0

Exp_people_2

It’s R/GA. Is anyone surprised? I’m not. R/GA has figured out how to build a successful agency model out of blending storytelling + experience. In my mind, that’s the “magical” formula—key to success of the future agency model. Sounds simple, but it isn’t because if it were—all agencies would be producing the caliber of work that R/GA usually does.

Here’s a few excerpts from Adweek which caught my attention:

“But R/GA delivered more than visions in 2006, expanding revenue over 35 percent to an estimated $150 million, the bulk of the growth coming from existing clients like Avaya, Nike and Nokia. On the new-business front, R/GA won the global lead digital agency role for L’Oréal Paris, besting the network firepower of Euro RSCG 4D and McCann WorldGroup’s MRM Worldwide. For its enviable financial performance, envelope-pushing creative and knack for building compelling brand experiences, R/GA is Adweek’s Interactive Agency of the Year for 2006.”

“The line between technology and creativity is more of a gradation,” says Nick Law, R/GA’s North American chief creative officer. “That’s a hard thing for a lot of traditional agencies to accept.”

:R/GA is complementing its applications by moving more directly onto the turf of general ad agencies. Law points out the agency produced more than 100 videos last year that, while not 30-second spots, are representative of a new type of broadband storytelling. R/GA is building out its digital studio, equipped to shoot in-house at a less expensive cost. It shot 11 digital video vignettes for Avaya, using tongue-in-cheek humor to show the benefits of complex products like remote data hosting, IP phone systems and IT monitoring. The videos are being used on the Avaya Web site, in online ads and at trade show presentations. They were done on a shoestring budget thanks to R/GA’s all-digital production infrastructure. “When you look at a traditional agency, they can’t do anything inexpensively,” Greenberg says.:”

I don’t think that everything R/GA does is the golden egg. For example, while I’m a huge fan of the Nike ID work, some of their other work such as the commerce portion of NIkewomen.com puts sizzle in front of substance. However, they do try to push the envelope and in my opinion get it right more often than getting it wrong. Agencies, pay attention—Experiece People + Storytellers are uniting—and brands will demand this, if they aren’t already.

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