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Make a Mobile Version of a Website

Posted: Wed, 01 Apr 2015 15:31:00

So my website is for desktop screens. And Google announced it will ignore websites after March 21st 2015 that aren't suitable for mobile devices (in other words, if you search in Google on your cell phone or tablet, the results will include only mobile-friendly sites, while non-mobile sites will not be listed).

So I must make my website for mobile as well.

But there are several issues:

  • I can't use any of the dozens of "convert-your-site-to-mobile" tools because nobody knows how long those companies will exist. If I use one of them, what happens in four years when it shuts down? My pages are lost.
  • The technology has to be in code that I can understand, write, and edit. It can't be proprietary, obscurely complex, or hidden inside other tools.
  • It has to be a long-term solution. Next year, will have been up for 20 years. I want it to work for another 20 years. I strongly doubt Google will be relevant in five years (2020) and it will likely not exist in ten years. Remember Alta Vista? Remember Yahoo? Yahoo was once the leader of the web; it's barely profitable now. Alta Vista was the leading search engine. It's gone. SUN, SGI, Texas Instruments, HP, and many other major computer companies are gone. So I don't believe Google will last.

I wrote all of the code at by hand. Yep, 450 pages of HTML. I've created over 200 websites, all by hand. That means I really know HTML. I can read HTML code; I can edit it, I can change it. In contrast, ask anyone who uses Dreamweaver: they never even look at the code and understand very little of it.

So... the switch has to be future-compliant (it has to work for the next 10-20 years), not rely on fleeting companies or technologies, and maintainable.

I'll work on this. I'll also update this page with what I learn.

If you have suggestions or ideas, let me know.

April 21st: Google Goes Mobile

Posted: Wed, 08 Apr 2015 01:07:46

Or, better said, Google starts to delete non-mobile pages.

On April 21st, Google will begin to show only mobile-friendly pages in the search results that are made on mobile device. If you search on a desktop computer, you get everything. But if you search on your phone or tablet, you'll only see search results that are optimized for mobile.

Practically every webdev and SEO company is drooling over this: they're terrorizing clients that every page must be converted to mobile-friendly. Of course. They'll get lots of money for that.

I say maybe. Only in some cases, do you need to deal with this. Here are three questions:

  1. Do mobile users matter to you? Namely, do mobile users register or buy from you? Do they convert with an action that you want? Use your web analytics to check conversions by device. If few or none mobile users are converting, then why bother with them?
  2. If you're not tracking conversions (oh, dear...), then at least you can see traffic, assuming that you've set up web analytics (and if not, oh, dear...) Your web analytics can show you how much of your traffic comes from mobile. If it's minor (say, less than 10%), don't bother.
  3. Is your audience primarily in Russia or China? If your traffic is in Russia, they're likely using Yandex, the Russian search engine. Or if they're in China, they're using Baidu, the Chinese search engine. In either case, your audience isn't using Google, so who cares what Google says?
  4. Is your audience B2C or B2B? If it's B2B, then very likely, they are using desktop computers to search in Google and visit your site. So once again, you don't need to make changes.

The most important item is the first: are your mobile users registering/buying at your page? If so, then you must optimize for them. If not, don't bother.

If you need to optimize for mobile, call your friendly local webspinner. You need to make those pages Google-compliant. Yep, once again, Google decides what everyone should do. You either do what they say or they'll delete you. Never mind that Google's own websites aren't mobile-friendly.

But don't give your web developer a blank check. Don't optimize your entire site. Once again, use your web analytics and look for the landing pages at which your mobile users enter your site (okay, that's a mouthful and if you're not really good at web analytics, ask your neighbor's 12-year old daughter to explain that to you). Those pages, and only those pages, are the ones that you need to mobilize (cute term, no?). Thousands of webmasters will sigh that they won't get paid to mobile-optimize entire sites. Don't worry about them: many clueless website owners will pay them anyway. Whatever.

Anyway, show this to your boss. And show it to his 12-year niece too so she can explain it to him.

Google's Big Problem

Posted: Wed, 15 Apr 2015 20:30:42

I was talking with several friends a few nights ago about Light. It's (yet another) new search engine (sorta). You ask questions and the answers are curated by humans. They were talking about the challenge of indexing the web. However, that's not the problem.

It's pretty easy to index the web. There are 175m domain names, but only one million sites matter: only about 500,000 sites have more than a few thousand monthly visitors. A few hundred sites account for practically all of the traffic. You could erase 174m domain names and nobody would notice.

Secondly, you wouldn't need to index every page in that pool of 500,000 domain names. Again, 80-90% of the traffic goes to a handful of landing pages at each domain name. So let's guess the size of LPs is around 2,500,000 pages (5 x 500k). It's somewhere in that area.

So the problem isn't the number of pages.

The problem isn't indexing. That's actually pretty easy. Any computer science graduate student could write an algorithm to index those few million pages. There's only a few criteria: keywords, incoming links from reputable sites, authority, age of domain, etc. That could be sketched out in a few days and done in a few weeks.

Yes, there's proof for this. This type of indexing is handled by the internal search engines within large corps. A large corp may have several million pages which are easily indexed by internal search tools such as Microsoft FAST, Attivio, etc. (and, yes, the Google internal search tool).

So the problem for global search engines isn't indexing or algorithms. Their problem is hackers, spammers, and scammers. Because it's so lucrative to have the top position which gets all the traffic (the 80/20 Rule, which is actually the 99/1 Rule on the web), spammers and scammers do whatever possible to get to position 1. So search engines must focus not on legitimate webmasters, but on illegitimate webmasters.

In internal search, there is a way to block spammers. It's not called an algorithm. It's called the HR dept. Namely, if Employee Jones adds 100,000 pages of porn to the corporate site and uses misleading keywords (say, the CEO's name) to get position #1 in the corporate search engine, well, his career will last only as long as it takes HR to send Security to taser him.

But on the Wild Wild Web, there's no control. There's no way to taser a hacker. Hackers attack Google with tens of thousands of pages. So search engines have to jump lively every day to block spam and scam. If they can get top positions, even for a few hours, it can produce revenue.

The challenge isn't the indexing. The challenge is to protect legitimate pages from being pushed out by illegitimate pages.

So Google, Bing, Yandex, and Baidu have all shifted to using human reviewers. They look to see if it's a legitimate page. They pick the best pages to show at the top. They're all looking to develop an AI system. There are differences at the search engines: some use the humans to train the AI; other use the humans to score the AI's results. Google has 8,000 humans; the others have 2,000 to 5,000 humans.

What does this mean for SEO? The indexing of pages (i.e., add and sort pages to the search engine's database) is done by technical means, namely, keywords, page speed, authority links, and so on. However, for any topic, there may be 10,000 relevant pages but only a few dozen "best pages". So the search engine's humans and the AI look for those best pages (and also taser the scammers). This means the webpage must include both the technical issues and show authoritative quality.

Our Tea Room

Posted: Mon, 20 Apr 2015 16:32:41

We turned the cedar hot tub into a tea room. We turned it on its side, rolled in to the corner of the yard, and added a platform. At right, persimmon leaves and ivy on the left. Of course, the cat sits on top for a great view.

I thought it was going to be a big job to turn the hot tub upright since it weighs perhaps a thousand pounds. But me and three guys just picked it up and turned it on its side in one quick lift. From there, it was easy to roll it.

I cut a 16-foot (5m) plank to make the shelf. See the angle at the ends? Helen calculated the angle (35.2) and I cut it to fit. I thought I would need to add bracing to secure it, but it stays in place. The tub rests on two 5x5 beams.

We also extended the deck all the way to the walnut tree. You can see the hot tub in the far back.

The End of Radio

Posted: Tue, 21 Apr 2015 15:53:51

Here's a photo of my father's NEC NTF-901 radio. It was one of the best transistor radios in 1962. At top right, the gray push button switches AM/FM. The inside soldering was done by hand. I put in batteries, but it doesn't work. NEC = Nippon Electric Company. Norway will shut off FM radio and switch to digital radio. Radio (both AM and FM) are dead. Sirius kept calling me to get me to sign up. Each time, they dropped the price. Finally, I said "Look, you can PAY me and I still won't listen to it because I prefer Pandora."

TV is also headed for the rocks. You can't watch network TV (NBC, CBS, ABC) on a tablet because they won't allow it. But my wife watches Chinese TV news (KTSF) every night on her tablet: she opens their app and watches the evening news. She can pause, repeat, and skip (it's all in Chinese). It works fine.

American TV won't do this because of the extremely lucrative ad revenues. TV charges (roughly) about 100X more for TV advertising than Google charges for digital ads. When TV goes digital, they'll see a 99% revenue drop. Because broadcast TV requires studios, camera staff, dancing monkeys (er, anchor men), etc., they won't survive such a drop.

MTV's target demographic dropped 29% (Q1/15) compared to same quarter last year (Q1/14). Wow. 29%? That's a collapse. TV is dead.

But Google isn't smiling. When ads move from desktop to mobile, there is another 99% drop. People spend more time on Facebook than Google but FB has less than a third (31%) in revenues ($3.85B/quarter in Q4/14) than Google ($12.4B, Q4/14). Google is facing a serious revenue drop as users shift to mobile.

Selling Hot Tub System

Posted: Tue, 26 May 2015 22:16:17

I built a 1,000 gallon cedar wooden hot tub from Robert's Hot Tub ( in my backyard in 2001. It was great for 15 years. But the wood has started to decay (the wood has a 15-year lifetime). So we turned the hot tub into a tea room and I'm selling the parts. All of these work great and are in good condition. They were housed in a custom-built storage shed.

These items are in my garage in Palo Alto. You can come by and pick them up. Talk with me about shipping.

You can buy the parts that you want. However, I'd prefer to sell everything at once. If you buy all, I'll give you a 20% discount on the whole lot.

  • Hot Tub Heater: Pentair MiniMax 100 gas heater. 100K BTU Liquid Propane, Electric Heater w/ 6' CD. 22"x19"x28", 89 pounds. High-performance propane gas-fired heater is compact, lightweight, and efficient. This one replaced my original heater last year. I used this twice, yes, only twice. It's in perfect condition. New $1,300. Yours for $995.
  • Hot Tub Filter: Pentair Cartridge Filter. Part number P/N 178555 Rev. CC100. New $300. Yours for $100.
  • Hot Tub Pump: Hayward Max-Flo Pump. Model SP1610-Z-2-MBK. Two-speed, 1.5 HP, 230 volt. New $530. Yours for $250.
  • Round Hot Tub Cover: Foam interior with soft vinyl cover. 7 feet diameter (84"). Folds in half. In good condition, clean, and useable.

What's the Difference between Fiction vs. Non-Fiction?

Posted: Mon, 15 Jun 2015 17:15:55

What's the difference between fiction and non-fiction?

Okay, so I’ve written 12 published books and more than 75 computer manuals (I work in Silicon Valley). I’m now writing my first fiction novel. It’s a great experience because, although I’ve read quite a bit of literature (between 5-8,000 novels in English, German, Spanish, and Danish) (a few years ago, I had some 5,000 books), I never really understood the process of writing fiction.

Non-fiction is like an engineer’s bridge: A) the bridge has to cross the river, B) it must support the load (if cars fall through, bad bridge!), and C) the documentation covers the bridge’s engineering, maintenance, etc. All non-fiction is like this: The goal is to do something and the documentation describes it.

Fiction however… whoa! The bridge can start… and suddenly, veer back. Or do loop-de-loops. A US Civil War troop can gallop across and be attacked by zombies. There are no rules from the real world. Anything is possible, yes, but there are rules, namely, the novel’s self-imposed rules.

Fiction starts as a blank slate and the author creates a world (Tyrannosaurs in F-14s!). Each fictional world has its own rules: Dirty Harry can use a .44 Magnum, but Elinor Dashwood (Sense & Sensibility) can’t. The author also creates moral failures in the characters and sets up a goal. With all of this in place, the author kicks the box and sets everything off on its path to its logically-bound conclusion.

This means a good author can tweak the rules to make it appear very real (see Mavis Gallant’s short story “The Ice Wagon”, utterly incredible writing) but as Nabokov pointed out, it’s an illusion. The best writers make that appear effortless, where you don’t notice the rules at all, like a good Las Vegas magician. At one extreme is the avant-garde of Joyce and Danielewski; at the other is Emily Bronte and Tolstoy.

If you want to discuss books, let me know.

SEO... by Google?

Posted: Sun, 21 Jun 2015 02:17:22

Google Offers SEO Services?

Google is up to something very odd. A recruiter sent me an email. Google is looking for someone to do SEO for a company. But it's not clear if the company is another company (a client of Google) or it's owned (secretly) by Google. I looked at the About Us and it's vague. The company is in Los Angeles. The company sells jewelry where every item is $9.99. Earrings, necklace, rings, etc., all $9.99.

  • If it's a client, is Google really offering SEO services? Why would Google need to do this? They can just go into their algorithm, bump it up in ranking, and charge the client. And then wait for a massive lawsuit.
  • Or is this a Google company? Is Google trying to corner the market on jewelry? And why bother with tiny sales of $9.99? What about other products? Google could easily figure out the best-selling products and then set up secret companies to wipe out competitors, especially at super low prices (because Google doesn't need the money).
  • Or is this a trap to get SEO people to do work, Google sees what they do, and then sets up ways to block that?

Whatever this is, it's very odd. And likely illegal. Google can't sell fake services or compete against its customers.

How to Turn Off Adobe Flash

Posted: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 00:06:30

Adobe Flash is very easy for hackers. Firefox, Apple Safari, and other browser are turning off Adoble Flash. You should too.

This is easy to do.

  1. In your browser URL box, type chrome://plugins (see the pix)
  2. This will show you the plugins that are active in your Chrome browser.
  3. Under Adobe Flash, click Disable.

That's it. No more Flash.

Another Reason to Use Content Marketing...

Posted: Wed, 15 Jul 2015 14:32:50

Adblocking is nearly at the same 23-29% level worldwide.

GlobalWebIndex's data (July 2015) shows 27% of online adults aged 16-64 regularly use adblockers; Europe tops the table on 29% and the rest are close behind.

It's also likely that these users are the ones who know most about their computers, which means they are the most-desired audience for advertisers, yet ad blocking means advertisers can't reach them.

This also has serious implications for advertising metrics. If the best audience is not in the metrics, then the numbers aren't very good.

How to reach your audience? Use content marketing. Develop useful information that they want and they'll come to you.

SEO Optimize Your Blog with Analytics

Posted: Tue, 21 Jul 2015 15:48:07

Hubspot wrote about this a few weeks ago. They added additional analytics to their blog and realized that a few blog postings (something like 30-40) out of 3,500 blog postings accounted for half of their leads. Just a few get all the traffic, just like in everything else (80/20 Rule, Pareto Rule, etc.) Very clever idea.

If you can identify those top blog postings, you can do more on them: add "for more, see also" links, add call-to-actions, buttons, etc. This will increase your leads, etc.

So how to do this? First, I added Google Analytics tracking code to my Wordpress blog (this one that you're reading). I waited a day or so until the data began to appear in my Google Analytics account. Here's how to find the data:

  1. Log into your Google Analytics account.
  2. Select the Reporting tab (on the left side of the screen).
  3. Select Behavior > Site Content > All Pages.
  4. At the Primary Dimension button (above the table), select Page Title.
  5. You can now see traffic by page title. Depending on how your website is set up, you might have to use the search box and search for "blog." (as in, "") (or just "blog").

The Company that Dares Not Speak Its Name.

Posted: Wed, 29 Jul 2015 20:52:14

Here's the situation. A company has a new large office in Palo Alto. The company is one of the best-known companies in the world, used daily by hundreds of millions of customers... yet it hides its name.

Yep, the corporation with no name.

From the street, there is no sign. No indication who or what this company is.

They shuttle their thousands of workers to their offices by bus. But their buses have no logo...

What's going on?

Everyone outside of Silicon Valley loves this company. They think it'd be ever so wonderful to work there; it'd be like to work at Willie Wonka's Chocolate Factory: bean bags, climbing walls, free kale smoothies, dog massage, and fun, fun, fun!

But in Silicon Valley... there's a different story with dark clouds over this company. Is this Mordor?

No, but it's close.It earns tens of billions, yet uses legal SWAT teams so it pays only 1% income tax. It is deeply involved in massive surveillance. The company tries to change city laws to its own profit. Its thousands of employees are wrecking the culture of San Francisco.

So... the company figures it's just better if they didn't put their name on their buses and new buildings.

Yes, it's the Corporation that Dares Not Speak Its Name.

Can We Just Build It and They Will Come?

Posted: Fri, 31 Jul 2015 14:42:37

Over the past year, I've been working on a bunch of projects with various clients. Generally, they want more traffic, which means they need more visibility among their target audience.

Many companies assume they can "Build It and They Will Come".

But it doesn't work that way for several reasons:

  • The size of the web: you're competing with 165 million websites
  • Google gives priority to sites with traffic. New sites face a steep climb.
  • SEO and PPC have become seriously complex. You must hire experts.
  • People are paying attention to their phones: text messages (20-30 per day), apps, games, and video. There just isn't much attention left for websites.

It's the 80/20 Rule, which is really the 99/1 Rule: a handful of sites get all the traffic. Of 165m websites, the top one million sites (0.6%) get all of the traffic.

So for your site to get traffic, your digital marketing needs:

  • SEO: Your site has to show up in Google, Baidu, and Yandex
  • PPC: Use digital advertising (Google Adwords, etc.) to place your ads in search engines and three million websites
  • Social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Youtube, WeChat...
  • Email: Send monthly newsletters and emails
  • Influencers: Find and reach out to the 25-50 key people in your industry
  • Champions: Stay in touch with your top customers
  • Speaking events: Speak at conferences
  • Content marketing: Write authoritative books and articles, plus blogging
  • Wikipedia: Be in Wikipedia
  • Public Relations: Show up in the print media, such as NYT, WSJ, Bloomberg
  • Global presence: And be in the major markets: North America, South America, Europe, China... yep, in English, Spanish, German, Chinese...

And it must all be coordinated and consistent across all channels. You can't do just PPC or just email. You must appear in front of your audience wherever they are looking (in any website, blog, app, etc.), on whatever device (desktop, mobile, tablet), and wherever they are (North America, China, Europe, Latin America, etc.). You have to be not only in Google, but also in the two-three hundred websites that your audience views.

40 years ago, you could make a living by selling good-enough stuff in a just-okay shop in a oh-whatever town.

But today? You're competing with A+ over-achievers from the world's top schools: Stanford, MIT, Tsinghua, IIT, Heidelberg, etc. who are in Palo Alto, Manhattan, Berlin, and Shanghai. Total fun, right?

Yep, it's a lot to do.

So why do so much work? Why do it well?

Because the top sites get the lion's share of the traffic and revenues.

Use SEO... to Change the World?

Posted: Wed, 26 Aug 2015 04:03:56

A series of studies by Robert Epstein show how manipulation of search results can change voting substantially.

We in SEO may end up all working for various political campaigns.

In any case, this proves the effectiveness of SEO.

It's actually stronger than that for a further reason. In any market space, there may be a few thousand competitors. But there are only a handful of serious competitors (companies that make an effort to provide better service/products than their competitors, etc.) And of that, only a few are excellent at all forms of marketing (offline, TV, digital, etc.) These few get the bulk of the market (both customers and revenues). So a well-structured digital campaign (unified SEO, PPC, content, social, etc.) can significantly improve an organization's visibility within its field.

Another Bug in Google Adwords Editor

Posted: Thu, 03 Sep 2015 04:01:38

When using Google Adwords Editor to upload images for display ads and the images have spaces in the file name (e.g., leaderboard 200x600 catfood.jpg), the space can only be a single space.

If there is a double space between words, AE will report the image is blank and refuse to upload it.

Solution: Edit the file names to remove double spaces.

Better Solution: Google Adwords Editor should show a warning that explains the problem so the user can fix it (for example, "Please remove double spaces in the file name."), instead of just saying "blank image". The image isn't blank so the message is misleading and useless.

Silicon Valley Is In... Silicon Valley

Posted: Sun, 06 Sep 2015 00:19:49

San Francisco often says it is part of Silicon Valley. There is indeed a small cluster of startups in SF. But how much? Here's a chart. The circles represent the amount of valuation for these companies, measured in billions of dollars.

One Silicon Valley company alone, such as Cisco or Facebook, has a greater valuation than ALL startups in San Francisco.

It's nice that there are startups in SF. There are startups in Oakland, Austin, and many other cities. But Silicon Valley is still in Silicon Valley.

Referrer Spam: Junk Traffic in Your Website

Posted: Sun, 06 Sep 2015 02:30:43

I first heard about referrer spam in the spring. By June, it started to show up in a few of my clients. By late July, as much as 80% of traffic for some of my clients was from referrer spammers.

What Is Referrer Spam? Referrer spam is junk traffic at your website. You think you have 1,000 daily visitors, but most of those are fake.

Why Are They Doing This? Spammers use computers to register fake visits in your analytics data. They don't actually visit your site; they just register the data in your analytics account at Google. You look at your data, see visits from a site, and out of curiosity to see who it is, you click. Bingo, the spammer gets a visit. If they visit perhaps ten million sites, they'll get a few thousand visits, which increase the spammer's ranking in search engines or they sell that traffic to other sites.

What Is Google Doing about This? Google knew about this three years ago but, due to the technology of their analytics software, there is nothing they can do about this. To stop this, they would have to completely change Google Analytics, which is unlikely. So if you use Google Analytics (and 80-90% of all analytics is Google Analytics), you have to deal with it yourself for now.

What Can You Do about This? To block the fake traffic, you create a filter. That's the easy part. However, more show up, so you add more filters. To block the current spammers, you need 19 filters. And if you manage ten clients, you'll spend most of a day to set this up. And every month, you'll add more filters.

Do You Have to Do This? Look at your traffic. If it's just a few, don't bother. But when it's 5-10% of your traffic, it screws up your numbers. If it's 60-80% of your traffic, your traffic data is junk.

What Should You Do? Don't create 19 filters with 180 spammers. Many of those won't visit your site, so it's wasted work. Next month, there will be more. Finally, it's messy to deal with several dozen filters.

  1. Look at your referrer traffic for the last twelve months.
  2. Download the list and find the spammers.
  3. Make a filter for those.
  4. Every 30 days, review the last 30 days of traffic, find new spammers, and add them to the filter.
  5. You should also create a Valid Host Name filter. This also stops spammers from using fake host name.
How to Do This: There are pretty good pages now on how to create the filters so you can look at those. Here are my notes on doing this:
  • The filter limit is 255 characters. If you need more, add another filter.
  • I number the filters: Refspam-01, Refspam-02, Refspam-03, etc.
  • Keep a copy of the filters in as a text file so you can search.
  • Don't include the extension (.com, .ru, etc.). Some spammers are using multiple extensions. If they switch, you have to add a new one. This also shortens your filter.
More Notes: You can get an updated list of spammers at Github, but it doesn't help because there are so many.

Update: Sept. 23, 2015

After more thought, I now only add refspammers to the filter if they are 1% or more of the monthly traffic. If they're less than that, they don't affect the data so there's no point in adding them.

Look at the number of sessions. Let's say there are 1,000 sessions. 1% is ten, so if a refspammer has only 7 sessions in the last 30 days, that won't significantly affect the overall data. It's just a bit of noise.

If a refspammer has 10 or more sessions, he crosses the 1% threshold. I copy his domain name and add him to the filter.

After adding so many filters, I now only add spammers who make up 1% or more of the traffic. If it's less than that, they're small potatoes and I ignore them.

Yet Another Google Adwords Bug...

Posted: Tue, 08 Sep 2015 15:43:16

Once you start looking, they crop up.

Okay, the campaign in Google Adwords is in 18 languages. In the English campaign, I tested 8,000 keywords. From that, I selected the top 200 keywords (based on performance: CTR, clicks, etc.). These were translated into 17 languages.

Oh, okay, here's the full list: Arabic, Bengali, Chinese, Danish, Dutch, English, Finnish, French, German, Hindi, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Norwegian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, and Swedish.

And of course, I wrote ads in all those languages. (What? So I speak a bunch of languages.)

And now, a week later, Google has started to reject ads. Why? Here's Google's notice: > Disapproval Reason: Punctuation and symbols: To help provide a quality user experience, promotions need to be clear, easy to read, and professional in appearance. For this reason, we don't allow ad text that uses non-standard, gimmicky, or unnecessary punctuation, numbers, letters, and symbols.

Yep, ads written entirely in Japanese, Russian, or Bengali are rejected because Google thinks these are gimmicks.

I have additional ads in English for these languages, so I paused the rejected ads.

Okay, Google: that's a bug. It's pretty critical: Adwords can't show an ad in Bengali?

Solution: Google should create a filter that recognizes non-Western text and sends it to an Adwords reviewer to see if it's a real ad.

Age and Silicon Valley?

Posted: Wed, 09 Sep 2015 21:09:22

> I am 27-years old who founded a startup. My goal is to find co-founders that are young and energetic. What are my chances with the right people? Is it all about hard work meets opportunity or something else?

27? Hmmm... a bit old for Silicon Valley! :-)

> My goal is to find co-founders that are young and energetic.

No, you should look for co-founders who are highly-skilled and motivated. There are plenty of 18-year olds, but if they lack skills, motivation, etc., they're useless.

Despite the TV shows and movies, most startup founders are actually 35-45 year old; many are in their 50s. It takes time to get experience, skills, and connections.

I'm an advisor to nine startups. One is headed by an 18-year old; she raised $2m in 18 months and has a $50m valuation. Another startup is headed by a 21-year old. Both are v bright. The other startups are people in their 30s and 40s.

So ignore the movies. It's not age. It's skills and experience.

> My question is, with the right people, what are my chances. Is it all about hard work meets opportunity or something else?I've worked in Silicon Valley for 20 years now. I've worked at more than 30 startups and more than 275 projects. In general...

  • Connections. A great deal of success is based on solid connections to a wide range of people: engineers, marketing, sales, finance, legal, and investors, plus of course connections to other companies.
  • Skills: Your competitors are the top-of-the-class people from Stanford, MIT, CalTech, IIT, Tsinghua, etc. who are extremely bright, skilled, and experienced. So you need solid skills in what you do.
  • Work: You must dedicate at least ten hours per day for six days a week. I often work 14-hour days three or four times a week. The other days, I take it easy and work only 12 hours. But of course, I have a lot of experience in what I do, so it takes me a few hours what it would take another two weeks or more. So hours don't matter: it's the quality of the work. A good team of three or four can do more in a few weeks than a 200-person team at a large corp in six months.
  • Social Skills: On top of all of this, you must motivate and lead your team. Keep them on track and moving towards the goal. Resolve personal problems within the team. Yes, I know, Steve Jobs was a total jerk yet became a billionaire. However, for every Steve, there are hundreds of other highly-skilled jerks who go nowhere. The best example is William Shockley, who got the Nobel Prize for inventing the transistor, but was such a screaming jerk that his entire team quit. They went on to start Fairchild, Intel, AMD, Kleiner-Perkins, and an astonishing 65 more companies. They created Silicon Valley and several trillion dollars in valuation. Shockley got zero, in fact, he died alone and ignored.

Silicon Valley Bubbles and Busts

Posted: Fri, 11 Sep 2015 16:32:23

Q. Is this a real boom or can the bubble burst?

every business is boom-bust. first it goes up and then it crashes.

the definition of a bubble: too much money but few assets to buy.

when people have too much cash, they overpay for assets (stuff to buy, such as tulips, dotcom stock, gold bars, diamonds, etc.). the price goes up (some double their money) and others see that happen, so they also buy. prices go up yet more, so yet more people will buy.

the price has no correlation to the value of the item. for example, a little shop at the corner produces (let's say) $1m in sales per year. maybe 10% is profit, so the owner makes $100,000. so the value of the store is the income, which is $100,000 per year. the owner can expect $100,000 every year in income for the foreseeable future (perhaps 10-15 years).

but a few people get the idea to buy corner shops because these are cute, whatever. there are only a few dozen shops in the city and these people have too much money, so they'll overpay. the first one pays $1.2m for the store. the next one sees that the value of the store went from $1m to $1.2m ($200,000 increase!). Wow! the value is going up fast! the first person made $200,000 profit in six weeks, which is much more than that boring $100,000/year. so #2 will pay $1.3m for the same store. price went up another $100,000.

so a boom starts in the buying and selling of stores. the buyers are speculating on the fast-growing sales value, not the revenue value (the $100K/yr).

that's what happening worldwide in stocks, real estate, art, etc.: values have skyrocketed because there's too much money (they borrow at 3% to buy items that increase in value by 40-50% per year) and there are only a certain number of those shops in a city. those speculators are making very good money today, but one day, they'll be standing on a street corner.

at some point, investors either run out of easy cash (e.g., stock market goes down) or they discover the price of wheat is growing fast so they start buying that and the price of corner shops will collapse. someone paid $4.6m for the shop, but now can only sell it for $2.4m, so he lose $2.2m. the bubble popped. the boom crashed.

all booms will crash because the price is greater than the value (the item's income). there is no such thing as a forever-bubble or a forever-boom.

A fish by Pablo Picasso

the most blatant example of the difference in price and value is art. a Picasso painting of a fish has zero value: it's just a piece of old canvas and a bit of paint. it looks nice, but it won't produce anything. however... the painting's price has consistently gone up for 70 years and it's now at $24m. buy it, hold it for a few years, and sell it for a few million more. the sellers and buyers don't care a toot about the artist or fish: they only care about making money when they sell it. they're speculating (hoping) on an additional increase in price.

the same with diamonds, which are just rocks but people pay for them.

so what about Uber (valuation at $40B), AirBnB (valuation at $50B), Twitter (valuation at $20B), and a bunch of other dotcom startups? Wall Street swindlers will tell you to look at the future earning of these companies. let's say Uber makes $1B per year. over the next 50 years, it'll earn $50B. therefore, it's worth $50B. yeah, right. when Wall Street tells you that, look at the bottom of the page where it says "future performance is not based on past performance". what does that mean?

let's say you build a big luxury boat to sail across the ocean. you sell tickets. you launch this in April, 1912. it holds 2,400 passengers. let's guess a ticket is $1,000 (and 5X for first class), so let's guess you'll get $5m per trip. it can sail back and forth twice a month, so you can expect $120m per year. if you add up 30 years, so its valuation is $3.6B. cool!

and on its first trip, it hits an iceberg and goes to the bottom of the Atlantic. valuation also goes to zero.

see? just because a huge valuation can be projected, it doesn't mean it will happen. all sorts of things may happen, and many of these will be totally unexpected. after all, the Titanic's spectacular size and world-class engineering made it unsinkable.

Railroad Spikes

Posted: Mon, 14 Sep 2015 14:27:11

Every once in a while, I find railroad spikes in my backyard. Our house is next to the Caltrain tracks for the San Francisco-San Jose commuter train. I suppose every once in a while, the spikes work themselves loose and some of these fly over the fence.

I've never heard of railroad spikes getting loose. I've found two in 17 years.

To land in my backyard, they have to jump over a 16-foot hedge, so it could hurt pretty bad to get hit by one of these.

The spikes are iron and ten inches long. They weigh about a pound each. On the head, the letter HC is barely legible, which stands for "High Carbon" (30 points) which makes a flexible steel that can withstand the bending. BTW, new spikes are $2. These have no value, asides from scrap iron, which is about $200 per ton (2015).

Google Bug: Unusual Traffic

Posted: Fri, 25 Sep 2015 18:00:48

Another Google bug. I've been seeing this lately. You search at Google or use a Google tool and you get the following screen:

"Our systems have detected unusual traffic from your computer network." When you get this screen, you can't go further. No Google search, no Gmail, no Adwords, nothing.

This is happening at client's site and other computers. A network administrator saw it on his computer last week and he knows there aren't any virus, malware, rouge users, etc.

There's nothing to do. Wait for 30 minutes or more and it starts working again.

Google's Content Guide: No Gua-Gua-Gua!

Posted: Mon, 28 Sep 2015 17:13:37

Google posted the following list of questions on their blog in May 2011. It's a very good summary for how the Google Quality Raters review websites and pages (I edited it slightly for consistency).

When you create content for the web, i.e., articles on pages, videos, PowerPoints, white papers, etc., carefully ask yourself each of the following questions both before and after.

  • Would you trust the information presented on the page?
  • Is the page written by an expert or enthusiast who knows the topic well, or is it shallow?
  • Does the page have duplicate, overlapping, or redundant articles on the same or similar topics with slightly different keyword variations?
  • Would you be comfortable giving your credit card to this site?
  • Does the page have spelling, stylistic, or factual errors?
  • Are the topics driven by readers’ genuine interests or does the site generate content to rank in search engines?
  • Does the page offer original content, original information, original reporting, original research, or original analysis?
  • Does the page provide substantial value when compared to other pages in search results?
  • How much quality control was done on the content?
  • Does the article describe both sides of a story?
  • Is the site a recognized authority on its topic?
  • Was the page mass-produced or outsourced to a large number of creators or spread across a large network of sites so the individual pages or sites don’t get much care?
  • Was the page edited well or is it sloppy or hastily produced?
  • For a health query, would you trust the information?
  • Would you recognize this site as an authoritative source when mentioned by name?
  • Does the page provide a complete or comprehensive description of the topic?
  • Does the page contain insightful analysis or interesting information that is beyond obvious?
  • Is this the sort of page you’d want to bookmark, share with a friend, or recommend?
  • Does the page have an excessive amount of ads that distract from with the main content?
  • Would you expect to see the page in a printed magazine, encyclopedia, or book?
  • Are the pages short, unsubstantial, or otherwise lacking in helpful specifics?
  • Are the pages produced with great care and attention to detail?
  • Would users complain when they see pages from this site?

You can see this list automatically knocks out 98% of articles, pages, videos, etc. They were quickly produced just to get in Google. It's gua-gua-gua stuff (that's blah-blah-blah in Chinese). (Gua-gua-gua is what frogs say. Just noise.)

It's not just Google. All of the search engines (Google, Yandex, Baidu, Bing) have thousands of people who evaluate webpages. For any topic, there are millions of pages (for example, diabetes in cats = 19 million pages). Only ten will appear on the first page of a search engine. And if your audience is using mobile devices, only two or three links will appear on the first screen of Google Mobile Search.

Search engines are looking for world-class Super Bowl World Cup Olympic champions. That's a hell of a challenge, but if you do a super good job, you'll be on page one.

Learn more about content and how to write books at my website.

What to Read...

Posted: Tue, 29 Sep 2015 23:38:42

Okay, so I read a lot. 2-4 books per week, plus a dozen or more articles.

There are two very good blogs:

Both are strongly recommended.

I also subscribe to several journals, which I read cover to cover:

  • New York Review of Books: With a worldwide circulation of over 135,000, The New York Review of Books is the premier literary-intellectual magazine in English. Authors include statesmen, professors, writers, and leading intellectuals. At the
  • London Review of Books: The London Review of Books is the largest cultural literary magazine in Europe and has an unparalleled international reputation for long-form literary journalism. Published every two weeks for 65,000 subscribers, each issue contains contributions by the world’s leading thinkers, scholars and writers on a range of subjects such as history, politics, philosophy, art, poetry, biography, opinion pieces, film, and more. They also have an app for both Android and Apple. At
  • Le Monde Diplomatique: The premier French international journal, Le Diplo's readers include politicians, diplomats, policy-makers, journalists, lecturers, think tank researchers, NGOs, opinion formers, students, and anyone who wants the real stories, reliable research, and an independent viewpoint. Published in 26 languages for about 125,000 subscribers. At

I strongly recommend subscriptions to these magazines. I've had subscriptions for more than 25 years.

Go to a public library and read several issues to see what these are like.

You may notice the rather low subscriber numbers. The NYRB has only 135,000 subscribers, yet it is the most significant journal worldwide, which is a good example of quality, not quantity.

Omid Kordestani Joins Twitter

Posted: Wed, 14 Oct 2015 22:22:10

No more goofing around. Twitter got serious today. They managed to hire Omid Kordestani as executive chairman.

Kordestani is the guy who turned Google from a useless search engine into a company with $50B/yr revenues.

Unicorns: $486B Valuation and Zero Profits

Posted: Thu, 12 Nov 2015 22:43:15

Here is a list of 59 unicorns with a total valuation at $486 billion.

Combined profit? $0. Zero. Zilch. Nada. Nichts. Not one penny.


Ad CTR: When to Pause an Ad (and Why)

Posted: Fri, 13 Nov 2015 04:48:14

I often help friends to optimize their Google Adwords accounts. Here is a very common mistake which I see in practically every account: people don't pause weak ads.

There's a very good reason to delete the weak ads. Let's look at the CTR (click-through-rate).

Here's a table of data for ads. I've removed the noise to show only the numbers that matter: clicks, impressions, and CTR (click-through-rate). The table is sorted by CTR:

As you can see, some ads perform very well (4.27% CTR, with many over 2.0% CTR). Many ads are weak (such as 0.35% CTR).

Look at the ad, fourth from the bottom, with 0.66% CTR. That's low, but it has 1,111 clicks, which looks good. Should we keep it?

To simplify things, let's compare that ad with #3 (2.46% CTR):

The first ad has 2.46% CTR, but a 3% conversion rate. Ad #2 has 0.66% CTR and a 4% conversion rate. Which one do you keep?

Ad #2 has 168,902 impressions. If we let it run until it has 339,305 impressions with the same 0.66% CTR, it would get 2,239 clicks. If everything else is equal, ad #2 strongly underperforms #1: 2,239 clicks is only 26.7% of ad #1's 8,362 clicks.

If we delete ad #2, its next 168,902 impressions will go to #1 at 2.46% CTR, which means an additional 4,154 clicks. Wow. 4,000 more clicks just by deleting a weak ad.

If you delete every ad under 2% CTR in the first table, that's 680,000 impressions at 2% which would brings 13,600 clicks instead of 6,158 clicks. Just delete the weak ads and you double your clicks.

Google 2015 Quality Rater Manual

Posted: Sat, 28 Nov 2015 21:17:42

Notes on the 2015 Google Manual

In October 2015, Google released the 2015 Google Quality Rater Manual at Google (PDF, 160 pages).

This is the manual that Google's 8,000 humans use to evaluate web pages.

I have copies of these manuals for every year since 2007. I look at each new version to see where Google is putting emphasis. Every year, Google improves the process, adds new ideas, and drops other ideas. They learn and they get better at this.

The 2015 manual is an minor update of the 2014 manual. It puts strong emphasis on EAT (expertise, authority, trust) and it adds attention to mobile device.

Here are my brief notes on the manual and how it matters for SEO. For a complete analysis of the manual, what Google is up to, and its impact on SEO, look at other things I've written about SEO or talk with me. Section 2.7.4: How to Search for Reputation Information (p. 17)

Google added two additional sites for checking a company's reputation:

  • Use the Better Business Bureau at to check the quality of a company. For example, for a search on IBM, use [""] (go ahead and click that to see how it works)
  • Use Wikipedia to check on people and organizations. For example, for a search on IBM, use [ibm] (click that to see how it works)

This means when you're doing SEO, check these to see what these sites show about your organization. If possible, improve those results. Section 5.4: Examples of Highest Quality Pages (p. 27)

Google gives several pages of examples of criteria for a page to be rated as "Highest Quality":

  • Meets the purpose of the page
  • Very high expertise
  • Highly authoritative
  • Highly trustworthy
  • Very high quality main content (MC)
  • Helpful content
  • Very positive reputation
  • Official website of the organization
  • The most authoritative source of information on the topic
  • The only authorized source for the topic
  • Very good review in Wikipedia
  • Popular site with many user contributions
  • Popular site with many high ratings by users
  • Winner of established and recognized awards

For SEO, you should try to reach these standards in your webpages. 2.3 Your Money or Your Life (YMYL) (p. 9)

Google has very high page quality rating standards for YMYL (Your Money or Your Life) pages which affect a user's happiness, health, or finances. These includes:

  • Shopping, such as payments, etc.
  • Financial, such as investments, taxes, retirement, home purchase, paying for college, insurance, etc.
  • Medical and health, incl. any private medical information
  • Legal issues, incl. wills, divorce, etc.
  • Other, incl. child adoption, car safety, etc.

For SEO, this means if your page has to do with YMYL issues, ensure it has the highest quality of EAT. Section 7.5: No Website Information (p. 46)

A website gets a low rating if it doesn't provide information about the creators of the site. The amount or detail level of contact information should match the site's nature. If it's a bank website, then you must provide complete contact information, including street address, telephone, email, and so on.

The point here is to let the visitor know if this is a real site or spam/scam. Part 2: Mobile Users (p. 67)

In the 2015 manual, Google puts more emphasis on mobile search and mobile results. Problems for mobile users include:

  • Typing is difficult
  • Voice recognition makes mistakes
  • Small screen size
  • Slow connections

For SEO, this means if your page is used by mobile users, then it must be usable on mobile devices. SEO becomes a matter of navigational design (using links, using internal search, going from page to page), page layout (readable, zoomable, scrollable), and optimize for the page's kilobyte site and download speed. Be sure to optimize your page for the user's experience for mobile. Section 12.4: Queries with an Explicit Location (p. 70)

If people search for the address of your store (for example, Alice's Hardware, 1234 Main Street, Palo Alto, CA), then make sure your complete address (street, postal code, etc.) is in your site.

Use microformats to ensure the search engines know it is your street address.

The point for SEO is to make sure that users at a location who are looking for things that are close to them will be able to see those webpages on their mobile devices.

Download the 2015 Google Quality Rater Manual

You can download the 2015 Google Quality Rater Manual at Google (PDF, 160 pages).

The Big Picture on SEO

Okay, so what does this mean for how you can get your website to show up in search engines? I wrote a quick overview in plain English on how Google's manual fits into SEO. Get a free copy of my SEO eBook (35 pages, PDF).

How to Edit Your LinkedIn URL

Posted: Mon, 05 Jan 2015 17:18:26

If your LinkedIn profile URL is something like LinkedIn/in/bobsmith/245645465/3234/233, you can edit it to LinkedIn/in/bobsmith.

Here is how to do this:

How to Edit Your LinkedIn URL

  1. Go to Profile
  2. Select "Edit Profile"
  3. Below, it shows your LinkedIn URL
  4. Move your mouse over the LinkedIn URL
  5. A tiny icon of a pencil appears.
  6. Click that.
  7. At the right of your screen, a bunch of options appear.
  8. Under "Your public profile URL", you can edit the URL.

Social Apps in China

Posted: Mon, 05 Jan 2015 17:23:02

See Dan Grover's excellent article on the features of WeChat, QQ, Taobao, Baidu, Dianping, and other social tools in China.

The Chinese are developing social far ahead of what we have in the USA.

SEM, PPC, Paid Placement... It's Just Advertising

Posted: Wed, 07 Jan 2015 19:04:39

The following words are useless in 2015:

  • PPC (pay-per-click) was the name for advertising in Google, but you can also place ads in Google and pay for the display (impression), not the click. So the term PPC is now useless.
  • SEM (Search Engine Marketing) became the new name for putting ads on the web because it really meant putting ads in Google. That covered PPC and impression advertising. But.. search engines are no longer the center of the universe. That shifted to social on mobile. What do you call ads in Facebook? SEM?
  • Paid Placement is a better term: it covers the payment to place ads on search engines, social, websites, blogs, apps, and so on. But... isn't that just another word for advertising?

So let's just call it advertising. That includes paying for the click, the impression, content placement (get your text or video into a blog), and so on.

And while we're on this, what about SEO? That's Search Engine Optimization, which the methods to get your website to rank higher in Google. But... the same problem: Google's no longer the only issue. What's SEO for social? There's no name for that.

What about SEO for apps? There's actually a new field for SEO for apps; it's called ASO (App Store Optimization, or how to get your app to rank higher in Apple App Store and Google Play).

I call it Findability. Your target audience can find you (website, page in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn) whatever device they are using (desktop, tablet, cell phone) in whatever software (search engine, social, etc.) they're using.

What about online and offline marketing? Digital vs offline? There's no clear difference anymore. Only a newbie would launch digital and offline campaigns that are independent of each other. The proper way to do marketing is to launch a campaign where the various elements support each other: the ads in Facebook point to the (paid placement) video in Youtube; the ads on the billboard use the Twitter hashtag; the QR codes on the bus ads point to the website, and so on. All of these platforms (search engines, websites, blogs, videos , ads, etc.) should point to each other in a meaningful way to support the goals of the campaign and the company.

What about Content Marketing? I hesitate to call it advertising because often, it's not advertising (the point of advertising is to sell something). When a university publishes a series of academic books on foliage in the rainforest, that's research and publishing. Yes, it does enhance the university's reputation, but that's not the point of their publishing. I write my books primarily to educate and inform, not to promote myself. Yes, indeed, the books do help in promotion, but that's not my main goal. So... you have to look at the key purpose of the content (books, video, etc.) to determine if it's publishing or advertising.

The Numbers: Social Media Users in the US

Posted: Fri, 09 Jan 2015 18:45:19

The Numbers

Pew released data on the number of social media users. There are 314m people in the US (about 250m adults):

Facebook = 71% (178m US users)

LinkedIn = 28% (70m)

Pinterest = 28% (70m)

Instagram = 26% (65m)

Twitter = 23% (58m)

- Pinterest and Instagram doubled in three years

- Twitter and LinkedIn grew, but slower

- Pinterest is bigger than Twitter

- FB did not grow at all

See the Pew study at…/01/09/social-media-update-2014/

Twitter Search Results: Big Mess

Posted: Thu, 15 Jan 2015 21:52:26

When you search in Twitter, the results depend on how you search.

In the screenshot, I'm looking at searches for CalTrain (the local San Francisco Bay Area commuter train):

You can see none of the search results match.

That's pretty bad. So you need to track all three keywords (with @, with #, and none) to follow the company.

Where the Startups Are

Posted: Fri, 06 Feb 2015 01:19:56

Where to start your startup? Be where you're surrounded by people with tech skills, startup experience, business skills, etc. who have access to funding, lawyers, CPAs, etc.

An MIT map shows where the most successful startups are: Sunnyvale, Palo Alto, Mountain View, Redwood City, and East Palo Alto. Menlo Park is off the scale.

Read the article for more.

How to SEO your Email

Posted: Wed, 25 Feb 2015

SEO isn't just for getting your website to show up in Google. You use SEO to get your Facebook page to show up in Facebook or to make it easy for people to find you in LinkedIn.

And now, you use SEO for your email.

I've been switching as much as possible from desktop-first to mobile-first, which means I use the web mostly through my mobile device. On business trips, etc., I take only my cell phone: no laptop or tablet.

The email's subject line is "SearchCap: Google Business Photos & Chat, AdWords Spring Cleaning & Google Unwanted Downloads".

In desktop view, you see the first 80 characters of the email's subject heading ("SearchCap: Google Business Photos & Chat, AdWords Spring Cleaning & Google Unwan...")

However, in mobile, you see only the first 48 characters of the email's subject heading ("SearchCap: Google Business Photos & Chat, AdWor..."). The remainder ("...Spring Cleaning & Google Unwan...") is not shown. Mobile is clipping your email's subject line.

This is very bad news. If your email's subject isn't immediately apparent in 48 characters (incl. spaces), your audience will swipe right and delete your email.

This is similar to writing text ads in Google Adwords, where you have only 35 characters per line.

  • You have only five or six words to show your reader why she should read your email.
  • The subject must offer a clear benefit to her.

Using Your Logo

What about that big S? Where does that come from?

The Logo Comes from the Google+ Page

Well, there's finally a reason to use Google+. Pej Gruppen, a trends research company in Denmark, put their logo in Google+ so it shows up in their email. This stands out much better in the row of random alphabet letters in email on mobile. You may notice that photos of your friends show up in GMail on mobile: that's because they added their photo to their Google+ profile.

You may notice there is a second line in mobile view ("SearchCap: Daily Search Engine News Recap SearchC...") I look all over the email, incl. its source code, but I couldn't find that text. If you look at mobile view, the same text is repeated in the second line.

Wrapping Up

We've passed the 50% mark. More than half of users are now using mobile, not desktop. If your email open-rate has been dropping, this may be the reason: your emails are not getting attention on mobile devices.

Send a Newsletter in both English and Chinese

Posted: Sun, 01 Mar 2015 19:21:18

A few weeks ago, I did something that apparently very few have done. I created a newsletter in both English and Chinese.

Some will say their newsletter is in two languages, with a left column in English and the right column in French. No, that's easy.

I use for the client's newsletter. Their software doesn't quite support this, and during one call with them, they said they had only ever seen one client use English and French (for Montreal), but they've never seen a newsletter in English and Chinese.

What I did was to send out a newsletter in English. At the top, there's a link (in Chinese) that says "Click here to read this in Chinese ". In the Chinese version, there's a similar link that says (in English) "Click here to read this in English ".

Thus the subscriber can choose his language.

There's no limit to the languages: A newsletter could be in English, Chinese, Spanish, German, and Danish.

There are tools at ContactContact to do this, but the documentation and FAQ were wrong. Tech support could only work from that, and they've never done this, so they couldn't tell me how to do this. Their information and support didn't work.

After several tests, I was able to create the links. I documented the steps and sent a copy to ConstantContact so they could update their FAQ.

What's Up in Digital Marketing: SEO, PPC, Content Marketing, etc.

Posted: Wed, 11 Mar 2015 19:21:51

Let's look at trends in digital marketing. What's up or down in SEO, PPC, Social, and so on?

The following charts are made with Google Trends. Enter a search term and Google will show you the trend from 2004-2015 (today = March 2015).

First, let's look at the search engines. Yahoo has declined sharply since 2012 and Google picked up the traffic. Bing hardly matters.

SEO (Search Engine Optimization) grew from 2004 (well, from 1999) to 2010, where it plateaued to 2012 and has declined slowly since then. SEO is still the major form of digital marketing.

Pay-Per-Click (PPC), which includes Google Adwords, is the placement of ads in search engines. It produces $50 billion per year for Google. PPC started in 2002 (I still manage accounts from 2002). It has been in a long slow decline. Few clients ask me about PPC anymore. (Many now call this SEM (search engine marketing) or paid placement. I use PPC because that's that the hard core have been using since 2002). This isn't good news for Google. Their main form on revenue is disappearing. Google does nothing to counter this.

Here's the trend for Google Adwords. It peaked in 2010 and is slowly declining.

"Digital Marketing" is the entire field of online marketing. It grew in the last four years.

However, the concept of "web marketing" has been in long decline since 2004. Don't call it "web marketing".

"Content Marketing" barely existed until 2011. While other forms of digital marketing have dropped, content marketing has grown quickly since 2011.

Social Media has also grown rapidly since 2009.

We have been working in web analytics from the beginning in 2002. From 2002-2006, the leading experts, including myself and others, felt analytics would become the leading tool for digital marketing because it allowed full analysis of the data. But analytics peaked in 2009 and has declined since then. There are good reasons for this, which I may discuss later.


So what's the conclusion?

  • Traditional digital marketing (SEO, PPC, analytics) grew from 2004 to 2010, peaked in 2010, and have been declining.
  • Analytics has also declined. There are various reasons for this: the move from desktop to mobile, people use multiple devices (so you can't track on one device anymore), and the general realization by companies that analytics isn't very useful.
  • Social media has grown rapidly since 2009. Social media happens in Facebook etc. and it happens on mobile devices. Both are a shift away from search engines.
  • Content marketing also has grown since early 2012. CM is a broader form of marketing, where companies use books, white papers, video, and articles to attract their audience. This also bypasses search engines.

We're in a new landscape: Social and content on mobile are more important than keywords in SEO or PPC for desktop.

The State of SEO Today

Posted: 5 June, 2015

Many SEO companies and consultants take a hacky approach to SEO. They write that Google doesn't disclose its SEO ranking criteria so they carry out all sorts of methods with keywords and links to game the system.

However, Google does indeed disclose their ranking process. It's stated in their 120-page manual. They started doing this about ten years ago and they've updated it annually.

But for whatever reason, most of the SEOers aren't aware of it, or it doesn't fit into their view of how Google works. For the first five or six years, the manual was a deeply-held secret at Google (in 1997, I asked Google senior directors about this and they had never heard of it). In the few years, Google began to post it in their Google blogs.

I found out about this from the very beginning through a close friend at Google. I read each version and compare the changes in direction and details.

At a large SEO conference last year, I asked senior staff at major SEO companies about this: they were not aware of these manuals.

Nearly all SEO companies and SEOers take the approach that the Google search engine (and indexing) is based on keywords and links. Yes, it once was. That's how Google started. It used bibliometrics tools to index the web (Google's core technical idea is based on concepts in library science from the 1930s; all they did was to rewrite it as software and and apply it to the web). That was a good idea in 1998 and it worked better than Yahoo, Altavisa, Inktomi, Dogpile, and many other search engines at the time.

However... it was easily scammed. Almost immediately, an arms race started between Google and scammers (and SEOers). Each round led to more filters, signals, etc. But that was not winnable: scammers can use software to launch thousands of variations, watch how Google index reacts, and adjust accordingly. By 2004, some scammers were setting up as many as 400,000 fake pages daily. Even if a page only lasted ten minutes at the top, it could get thousands of clicks and few dozen sales (and the money disappeared).

In 2005 or so, Yahoo computer scientists began to look into how to solve this. Yahoo started in 1995 as a manually-curated list. At first, David Filo and Jerry Yang built it by hand and later, several hundred people sat in a large office building, where each person managed a topic by selecting and sorting the links. That worked... when the web was just a million sites, but by the late 90s, the web got too big. Nevertheless, Yahoo realized that humans were better than software at spotting fake sites. So in the mid-2000s, first Yahoo and then Google began to set people to review pages.

At Google, staffers were interrupted several times daily to review and rank pages. Google did this for a while and, when they saw it worked, they expanded this to 10,000 outside contractors. Yes, Google uses people to review and rank pages. I know this because I've used the tools and I have Google's training manuals.

Soon, Bing, Yandex, and Baidu also began using human reviewers. I also have Bing's manual. I know Yandex (the Russian search engine) and Baidu (the search engine of China) also do this because both have offices in Silicon Valley and I met with senior-level people at both companies.

There are lots of details in how each search engine does it and how they work with their AIs, but in general, they have the same goal and problem:

  • The Goal: How to identify the top 10 links for a topic. It was easy in the mid-90s but now, for any topic (say, Type 1 Diabetes), there can be easily 10m pages. The search engines need the ten best pages. The top 200 pages are pretty much identical in quality so no algorithm can choose the top ten.
  • The Problem: How to block spammers and fraud who try to steal users' money.

Human reviewers solve those two problems: they look at several dozen pages on the same issue (type 1 diabetes) and pick out the most authoritative, professional, expert, and trustworthy sites. The acronym is actually TEA: Trust, Expertise, Authority. Do you trust this site? Is the site made by experts? And does it have authority, i.e., do other relevant, reputable sites link to it?

  • Trust: The reviewers look for evidence of an actual company. Does the company have an office with a street address? That's better than a site without a street address. But better yet: Google sends someone to drive by the office and take a photo. Is there an office at that location or is it an empty lot?
  • Expertise: Was the content written by topic experts? This doesn't necessarily mean a Harvard professor. If it's diabetes, then indeed, the page by a Stanford medical school professor wins. But if the page is about skateboarding, then Tony Hawk is the authority (if you don't know who he is, ask anyone under 24). And yes, Google indeed checks to see if Prof. Med. Milo Minderbinder is a professor at Harvard Business School.
  • Authority: If it's a Stanford page on diabetes, does it have links from the Mayo Clinic, the NYT health section, the WHO? Links from minor or irrelevant sites don't count.

Did you see keywords in that list? No. The manuals don't discuss keywords.

Human review allows search engines to a) pick the ten best pages for a topic and b) block the spammers.

But nearly everyone in SEO focuses on keywords because 1) it's easy to do 2) clients don't know any better 3) and it's easy to get bumps.

It's very easy to get a page to rank #1 for a keyword. Just to prove this, I set up a page for my cat, whose name is Anaximander Katzenjammer. Just the cat's name in the TITLE tag and meta

What about content marketing? Search engines don't like "$5 for 500 words junk content by nobodies". The purpose is clearly to divert people to quick-sell sites. Google and Bing have identified over 120 content farms and they share the list and block the content.

What about social media? Likes, followers, postings, etc.? Zero value in terms of search engine ranking. Why? Too easy to fake.

So, real SEO is based on how Google, Bing, Yandex, and Baidu are indexing the web. metae a minor issue.

If you ask Google today about this, they'll either deny it (very few people at Google know about this) or, when presented with proof, they'll give a convoluted reply. However, Bing, Baidu, and Yandex are more open about this.

You may be wondering about my SEO credentials: Former Head of Global SEO at Cisco. Author of 12 books on SEO. Digital marketing strategist for Harvard, MIT, and Stanford. Book on SEO published by McGraw-Hill. Technical editor of the 600-page SEO book by IBM Press. Advisor to a technical SEO company. Member of an invitation-only group for directors of SEO at billion-dollar global corps (and member of the year). For MIT and Harvard, I manage 42 languages in 120 countries.

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