Tag Archives: Google

The Price of Search Engine Optimization

I have been aware of the existence of different types of search engine optimization for a while, including pay-per-click, which is often used synonymously with the term “paid placement.” In marketing meetings it was something that was left for our Web development staff to worry about, so it’s only now that I’m really learning about the options available for companies that want to increase or ensure placement in search engine results.

image credit: David Liu, Resource Nation

Paid placement is pretty straightforward: you pay a specific fee for guaranteed placement of your site on a search engine’s results. These sites are sometimes found at the top of a query page, but most often you see them at the right, and they are usually labeled as either “sponsored” or “paid,” something like that. Often, paid placement is on a pay-per-click basis, meaning advertisers only pay when someone clicks on a site. The fee is usually based on a bid, which determines a site’s ranking. As long as a search engine clearly labels paid placement sites, I don’t have a problem with them, since their placement is similar to banner ads.

Paid inclusion is a technique that has waned in popularity and has always been somewhat controversial because it mixes paid sites with unpaid ones in an organic search, and the paid sites may not be labeled as such. TheSearchAgency.com defines paid inclusion as “a program in which a search engine accepts payment for indexing a web site, although specific placement on a results page is not guaranteed.”

The original attraction of paid inclusion was for sites that changed regularly and wanted to ensure their updates were regularly indexed by search engines; however, the fact that indexing a site didn’t ensure ranking had to have made the technique less attractive to advertisers. I think a lot of the technique’s unpopularity—among consumers, at least—is because a site that pays for inclusion may or may not be labeled as an advertiser, depending on the search engine’s policies.

Ask.com discontinued its paid inclusion program in 2004 with CEO Jim Lanzone calling it “hypocritical to do something we need to do anyway.” Yahoo followed Ask.com’s example in 2009. However, it appears that Google has continued the program, insisting that “ads are always labeled to indicate that the information is sponsored.” But the fact that paid listings are included with editorial results at all indicates that Google is engaging in paid inclusion, despite its protests to the contrary. Even if you insist that sites aren’t guaranteed placement, if a site is paying to ensure indexing and inclusion in any kind of search, it’s paid inclusion.

In my mind, paid content should be kept separate from unpaid content, and even if you label paid content as such, as long as it appears mingled with unpaid, it’s more likely that consumers will miss the distinguishing labels.

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‘Who Wants to Be a Millionaire’ Teaches Me How to Google

It’s true, I enjoy the weekday game show “Millionaire” with host Meredith Vieira. It’s pretty much a guilty pleasure for me and I blame my mom for getting me addicted. But watching the show has helped me hone my Google skills. It’s a challenge to find answers to questions before the contestant has time to answer, especially those that don’t seem to have any simple search characteristics. And my goal is to get the answer in the text included with each search result, preferably in the top three.

This is how I found out that the Blorenge is a “mountain” in Wales (I live in the Rockies so “mountain” seems like an exaggeration; see the photo below). I also found out that despite the game’s claim that “Blorenge” is the only word in the world that rhymes with “orange,” there is another word that also rhymes: “sporange.” Take that, “Millionaire.”

One that totally stumped me was a hairstyle with an artist’s first name. I’m trying to remember which artist it was and can only remember that it wasn’t Salvador Dali. Maybe it started with an “M”? When I did get the search result I wanted it was because I used my mom’s guess in the search, which turned out to be correct. A search with the other three names got me nowhere.

But all this leads me to what often happens when I do a search: I end up on Wikipedia clicking from one piece of trivia to another. Just as an example, one day I started with Calvin Coolidge, went to his predecessor Warren G. Harding, then found out that many political historians attribute Harding’s success in first newspapers and then politics to his wife Florence Kling DeWolfe. The couple is buried in the lovely Harding Memorial in Marion, Ohio, but not with Harding’s dog Laddie Boy. Despite rumors, the favored pet is buried elsewhere.

All this demonstrates some of Wikipedia’s finest qualities: narrative and interactivity, which add up to “discoverability.” In her article “You Can Get There From Here,” Amber Simmons talks about the importance of narrative to learning, particularly with Web sites. As she says, “All human communication revolves around storytelling,” and I think my Wikipedia searches demonstrate that. I begin with one piece of information and then end up clicking link to link, looking for a story. The way Wikipedia embeds links allows me to choose my own adventure, so to speak, to create my own narrative.

You don’t have to be on Wikipedia to enjoy discoverability; you can also get it with random links you may find on blogs (like mine, hint hint) or on friends’ Facebook and Twitter accounts. Or with many online news stories.

What are some of the ways you enjoy learning online? And does anyone know what hairstyle I’m trying to remember? Guesses? Maybe I should call Mom and ask her. Before the Internet she was my own personal Google — that is when she wasn’t sending me to the dictionary or encyclopedia. : )


Is “Do Not Track” a Good Idea?

The FTC is recommending a “Do Not Track” option for Internet users, but will it work for the public good or against it?

Current solutions include an “opt-out” option of receiving behavioral ads using “opt-out cookies,” but these cookies get deleted when users clear out their Internet caches, so they have to opt out all over again.

Other options include browser add-ons that require administrative access to a browser, meaning the add-on has access to otherwise inaccessible user data. And what happens if hackers turn those add-ons into targets?

Some who object to “Do Not Track” as the FTC is proposing it fear that turning it on would effectively prevent them from doing anything on public Internet, like at an Internet café. Others fear it would throw a wrench in the convenience of having cookies to remember login and auto-fill information. So who’s right? I read one comment that said if you prevent advertisers from targeting Web surfers, you make it highly likely that those currently free services, like e-mail, will have to start charging to compensate for the loss of information. And how important is it that marketers effectively target consumers based on history tracking?

Are online ads really that bad? Do you really mind an ad knowing you’re in a certain zip code or that you frequently visit Gap.com? I’m not sure I do, as long as ads continue to be ignorable. I’ll start objecting when I’m forced to view ads, whether they interest me or not.

Microsoft, Mozilla, and Google say they’re working with the FTC; Apple (maker of Safari) declined to comment. Interesting.


Would a Smartphone Make Me Smarter?

That’s the question I asked myself this week. And looking around, everyone has an opinion about it—although most sources I found said it all depended on how a smartphone is used. Duh.

But then I thought about how much I depend on a calculator to do my math for me or my cell phone to remember phone numbers and I wondered . . . If I had a smartphone, would I stop retaining information because it was so easy to look things up? Does that make me dumber?

There’s also the problem of how much a smartphone can distract parents, for example, from what their kids are doing—which makes them look stupid, even if they’re not. And there’s an increasing problem with how technology is preventing kids from learning. I found this New York Times report on the conflict that often arises between teens learning from technology vs. being distracted by it:

VIDEO: Fast Times at Woodside High
http://graphics8.nytimes.com/bcvideo/1.0/iframe/embed.html?videoId=1248069313108&playerType=embed