Monday, November 25, 2013

Google in late 2013

This year, Penguin and Hummingbird were announced and our sites pretty much trucked along, untouched by anything. We grow.

Best Search Engine
This banner is linked to with a title tag of Best Search engine
Is this a white or black hat technique?
The big question, has our traffic from Google been disrupted?

The fact is, we don't know. We don't track it that closely.  I couldn't tell if our search engine traffic has moved up or down. Generally, I think it's about the same but then, when I actually look up our SERP in Google, I get the impression that we have moved off the first page for large numbers of terms and phrases.

1.   Track SERP position.  We should be checking Webmaster tools regularly both for messages from Google and to track our SERP. We should also get some tool, perhaps Raven at $99/month or some integration with Adwords, so that we have a tracking of the historical pattern of our position.

2.  White Hat vs Black Hat is getting grey.  In the old days, I could say that we just don't do anything that would be sleezy and get us in trouble with Google. Our efforts were primarily to build content and organize it well.  We never bought text links or did anything else that Google would frown at.  Now however, it seems that some of our programs might get us in trouble.  For instance, I have participated in many forums and blogs and used the name of our site in my signature.  Google is now saying that all those links should be "no followed" but realistically, does anyone care over small volumes of such things? Also, many blogs and forums don't give you that much control over your signature on comments and blogs.

3. It seems like the press releases are now a focus for google. We have done press releases, 3-4 per year for half a decade, in which we have optimized them to focus attention on pages with keyphrases of importance to us. It turns out that we won't be doing that any more.

BTW, I'd like to keep writing this article but I've been horribly distracted by a NPR interview with Bill Cosby about his A-D-D and this page with info on the evolution of the Google logo (was I supposed to "No Follow" this too or is it that somehow wrong according the Google's New Testament?):

Friday, November 15, 2013

Our First Infographic - Confusing Words

We are going to print up our first poster for classrooms and we are adding an online infographic that we hope the educational community will share around.  The topic is primarily the confusing word of homophones, homonyms, and homographs.

Multiple meaning wordsWords that sound alikeSame spelling,
different pronunciation,
different meanings
 the spruce tree...
 to spruce up...
 addition for math
 edition of a book
 desert = abandon
 desert = area of land
 suit yourself...
 wore a suit...
 I want to go
 I like it too
 One plus one is two
 bass = fish
 bass = instrument
 weigh on the scale...
 scale the wall...
 capitol building
 state capital
 close = nearby
 close = to shut
 the price is fair...
 go to the fair...
 pick a flower
 bake with flour
 bow = to bend down
 bow = ribbon

Here's a sample of the sort of thinking and games that the site offers in this area.

Homonyms, or multiple meaning words, are words that share the same spelling and the same pronunciation but have different meanings. For example, bear.
bear (the animal) can bear (tolerate) very cold temperatures.
The driver turned left (opposite of right) and left (departed from) the main road.
Homophones, also known as sound-alike words, are words that are pronounced identically although they have different meanings and often have different spellings as well. These words are a very common source of confusion when writing. Common examples of sets of homophones include: to, too, and two; they're and their; bee and be; sun and son; which and witch; and plain and plane. VocabularySpellingCity is a particularly useful tool for learning to correctly use and spell the soundalike words.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

YouTube - Lets have a plan

It's said that YouTube is second only to Google itself in the number of searches.  Personally, I doubt it. There are also gazillions of searches on Ebay and Amazon and Facebook and Bing. But heck, who's
counting? Most importantly, there are an ample amount of searches on YouTube so it's time to ask some questions, get some answers, and consider whether and how to improve our marketing through it.

1.  When people are in shopping mode, do they use YouTube? The magic of Google, as the Google advertisements emphasize - "Want to know who wants a new telescope? It's people Googling on 'new telescopes'!" - is that people tend to search on Google when they are shopping.  

Parenthetical note,  Amazon is even more likely to be a search as part of a sales process but somehow, they still don't accept an annual subscription as something that can be sold through them. How is that possible?  We need to find an Amazon expert to see what is possible...

Is YouTube only used for searches that are a step or two away from shopping? In this case, we should treat it as a general brand and awareness advertising opportunity (which is not something that we do a lot of).  Most specifically, 
A.  Do we think that purchasers who are considering buying Time4Learning might jump onto YouTube to look for reviews?
B.  Do we think people are more likely to go to YouTube on general questions like, "How to Homeschool?"
If they are looking for reviews, we should probably encourage the creation of reviews which compare us with other choices so that as they look for reviews on other choices, they learn about us!
C. Do we think YouTube is going to be used by Google as feedback in their ranking of websites in any way in the near future? 

2.  How does the YouTube natural search algorithm work? Specifics:
- When I first go to YouTube, many videos are suggested to me. What algorithm?
- After I finish a video, "related videos" are suggested to me. What algorithm?
- When I do a search on YouTube, videos are suggested to me. What algorithm?

Overall, I'm thinking that the YouTube search algorithm has four general components:

Is general popularity of videos based on links?  Embeds? Plays? Completions?  Owner popularity? Likes (up and down)?  Unlike Google itself which is based traditionally on website links (ie website behavior) and is struggling to integrate human behavior (ie likes, bounce rates, other social clues from LinkedIn, G+, and Twitter back when they had access to the feed), it seems like YouTubes ranking is based primarily on human/social behavior and only slightly, on website indicators such as links and embeds. 

Is YouTube's understanding of the personal interest of the user based only on their behavior on YouTube or is Google using information from their Google searches, Google Plus, and other sources to understand the interests of users? Or, is i just their behavior on YouTube such as subscriptions, videos watched, videos completed, and videos liked?

Categories and topics. How does Google categorize and understand the content of videos? Is it 25% the category picked when the video is uploaded, 50% the title of video, 5% the interest of the author, 5% first 20 words of the descriptions, 5% the people who subscribe to it, 5% the rest of the description, and 5% a scan of the transcription of the content made by Google?

Timing: trending and time decay.  Twitter really studies and promotes hot trends.  Facebook's Edgerank algorithm has time decay as one of the top components in deciding what to put into people's newsfeed. Where does YouTube fit in this?

3. How do we find out about the popularity of certain search terms on YouTube? What sort of tools are there comparable to webmaster tools from Google (what terms are we showing up for an in what position), all  the search term popularity tools for Google, the spy-on-other-site tools for Google (major search terms, total traffic) etc

4. Advertising.  What program on YouTube is there comparable to Adwords on Google or Promote Post on Facebook. Is it pay per play (start? finish?) or pay for placement?  What are the tools for managing YouTube advertising? Are they integrated with Adsense and DoubleClick Small Business or totally apart?  BTW, the YouTube Adwords program is easily researched.

5. Programs. At one show, I met a lady from LA with a YouTube education business card. We corresponded for awhile and I pushed all of our educational materials to her for her attention. Who was she? What was she doing?  How can she help or hurt us?  How many more programs are there like that we should be part of?  

Thinking more broadly about video or song marketing, how much money could we be making by having our hugely popular YouTube songs be for sale on Itunes? Is there a comparable spot in the Android world?

6. How to leverage success. We have some kid videos that have lots and lots of videos.  I just checked and one of our kid videos has over nine million. But there is no link above the fold in the captions and the one masked advertisement for ourselves that has been placed is not that well done (poor contrast on colors).  Does this success or power just belong to that video? to the channel? How do we take advantage of it. BTW, it's tricky since the video is for very young kids and we are both COPPA 2 Compliant and we try to be decent and have common sense.  

BTW, I went to YouTube and searched on the Wheels on the Bus and found  there were two ads at the top of the first page, two video ads at the bottom and 20 Wheels on the Bus Go Round and Round videos on the first page.  We weren't there, we were on the second page in the 22nd spot. Even for me and I subscribe to that channel.

Pinterest - Lets Have a Plan

After our meeting with celebrity social media informal partner, we have renewed interest and several approaches to Pinterest to work on:

  1. Further developing our own boards. This is management work in which we figure out the topics and organization.
  2. Partnering with other people with their own boards. Pinterest is a social media and part of success with the media is socializing with other people and organizations with complementary interests. Overall, the idea is we share traffic with each other. Who, who, and how formally/informally?
  3. Work on our sites. Step 1: Better images for sharing onto Pinterest for our site. 
    1. Pinterest likes big images  but we've tended to shrink our images on some sites for faster loading times.  
    2. Pinterest likes images that are statis, we've made many of ours into rotating gifs.
    3. Pinterest images are most effective with a built-in caption and a site name or URL in the corner. Our images are designed to fit onto a page where there is already a lot of text and company logos. (Masks?)
  4. Work on our sites. Step 2:  Better placement of social media icons. We've done this across three of our four major sites, we also have five minor sites to do this one.
  5. Work on our sites. Step 3:  Lets get our web design team to take a look at implementing the Pinterest icon integrated on the images on either T4W or S4U to see how it works.  On these images, on our site, we can cover up the repetitive elements (logo, captions) with a mask.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Google SEO Updates 2013

These are just notes from recent conversations.

Nov 2012 - Google update devaluing sites from an SEO pooint of view with "too many" ads above the fold.  Generally accepted that some ads are OK but there needs to be real content above the fold.

Exact Name Domains were also devalued in Oct/Nov 2012.  So, watch out, I'm coming after you with Right!

Penguin 2.0 started to rollout May 22.  Huge emphasis on devaluaing sites, even warning the with unnatural links and text links ads.   People are warned somehow to get rid of unnatural links.  So a perfect linking strategy is unnatural, be careful. Be sure to do more rotation and sloppy work.  For instance, for more info, click here. Surely, anybody pointing towards their sie with the term here is not doing any SEO. Maybe, ut stop calling be Shirley.  (It's still funny!).

Authors's rank - big dal. Determined by the number of people in your Google PLus circle. On guest posts, pu in the author link as in <  "rel author = jojo">blah blah
Two types of authorship.
- author tag
- publisher tag
An excellent example of this is Erika Thomas' fashion blog....

Structured Data Testin g Tool.  SDTT.

- school pages should have proper breadcrumb, not just linked address. Add phone and URL.  Use schema for schema.or/school

SEO on linked in, G+, & PInerest are over important since G is desperate for social clues.
Last question, how come some blogs do so well (ie Stories About Homeschoolers) and some do so poorly (homeschooling scope and sequence), is it all in the URL?

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Facebook: More Obnoxious by the Day

I think Facebook will be a very different user experience shortly.  Two possibilities.

1.  Facebook can continue down the current business model in which case, they do not have a bright future. Many people are now sick and tired of the Facebook business model. To be clear, they are selling my personal info, using my image, and intruding on my group discussions with advertisements in a truly obnoxious way.  Right now, I have no other great social media choices so I can just opt out from participating or grit my teeth and put up with it.  But every day, FB seems to be even more heavy handed in their intrusions.

2.  Facebook can back-off their obnoxious intrusive behavior and launch another business model. In this case, they have a bright future.  There are many choices:
- Archivist - If I could put all my pictures up on Facebook but not necessarily share them. And retrieve or print them or use them at will, I'd be willing to pay a reasonable fee. Right now, I pay Google probably about $50 a year to archive all my emails, I'd probably do the same for FB.  There's a lot of money in that. Why don't they do it?
- Search Engine - They have their little like and share buttons on almost every page on the web. They know a lot about traffic. Why not launch a true search engine, separate from the social media, which finds search results on some novel algorithms based on their unique understanding of the web and people's behavior and preferences.  They could then get into the gravy train of putting ads right where people want them (when they are searching) and NOT right where we don't want them, in the middle of social interactions.
- Private Forums - I run a reasonably sized company (50 some odd people on the payroll...well, they're not all so odd...although on average, since there are some really odd ones, I think the odd term works).  We have some Facebook groups that have 20K and 30K likes but we don't really like using them for discussions with our members because, just as we are helping them understand how to use our "math homeschool program" (for intance), Facebook puts right in the middle of the discussion, advertisements for four competitors who have bought the right to put up ads against those terms. It's confusing as hell to our users who sometimes think that we are suggesting that they try those products. It's infuriating to us.  And it redoubles our commitment to get people off of Facebook for discussions and back into our private forums in which we control the environment and make our share of the profits off of any ads.  Why can't FB offer a private label or section of FB so we can have discussions there which are NOT opportunities for competitors to intrude?.

I'm hoping that Facebook is just doing number 1 (obnoxious advertising and privacy violations) for an interim period to make some cash until plan 2 rolls out.  If not, I hope they become the next MySpace or Friendster and that they get replaced by some people with better judgement.

BTW, this is my second time offering free business advice to Facebook. I published advice for them back in 2009 but they didn't seem to listen. Silly people.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Reading Twitter, The Power of the Hashtag


But, here I sit with #Nancy and she explains: #FF means that this is a suggestion of who to follow. This is done on Fridays. Hence #FF. For "follow friday!"

So all of those "@thisandthat" are simply suggestions of who to follow.

Thought for the day: Are we using the power of the Hashtag? How would we know?
Feel free to follow me: @spellingcitymay

So what about Thursday?
It's #throwbackthursday in which people publish on twitter old pictures of themselves. I guess it's #TT. But on instagram, it seems to have evolved to #TBT.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Filtered Facebook vs Searched Twitter

I've been ruminating on the differences these two social media in terms of what users can and do see.  This post starts by discussing this general comparison of filtered vs unfiltered media, touches on why  FB filters and then, focuses intensely on issues in the FB edgerank algorithm.  I'd appreciate detailed answers to the questions raised here. Thanks.

When people go to Facebook, they arrive at their personal news page which has updates from friends. And some advertising.   But, many people are surprised to learn that it does not have all the updates from all their friends. Facebook decides which ones you should see.  Why does FB do this and how do they decide?   Well, here is Facebook's problem, as people get more and more friends and their friends have more and more updates, the user experience deteriorates and the news and updates that you really care about end up getting lost.

Just think about it, how many FB friends do you have? I just checked mine (which turned out to be a harder than I thought: I found it by clicking on my name on the top right, then there's a tab below that has friends.) I have 332 "friends." If they each updated once a day and I check it once every other day, there would be a lot of post to wade through before I found what I'm mostly looking for. BTW, I'm mostly checking FB to see what humiliating picture of me my wife posted.

Facebook however has thought about this and has a system (an algorithm) for predicting what updates I would most like to see. They check on both my relationship with the person posting and generally, how popular that specific post by a person is. More specifically, they predict my interest in seeing a post based on three factors:
- which people do I tend to comment on, share, click on, or like?
- whether a post has been endorsed in these same sorts of ways by others?
- how recent is the post?

In contrast, Twitter seems to be an unfiltered feed.  Every tweet by everyone that I follow just streams through my feed.  This is the reason hashtags, a way of making searching easier, is such a big deal on Twitter.

I'm in business and I try to make sure that my company's Facebook posts on our company page, are seen by as many people as possible. So we pay attention to the possibilities.

We could (and sometimes do), just pay for more visibility.  FB helpfully suggests that I "promote" my posts by entering my credit card. They suggest this to me many times a day and several times a month, I do sometimes give them a $100 or so (not counting what our marketing department actually spends which is far more systematic and has more zeroes on it).  Small potatoes but for FB but it does learn me into starting to spend.  I often wonder if they could learn from Google who early on, lured me into spending $5K a month with them via the gift of a Google refrigerator.

I'm thinking it's time to upgrade our FB effort to increase visibility.  On the manipulative side, I wonder:
- How easy it is to manipulate this by having lots of people comment on and share a post immediately after posting.
- Does 2 immediate interactions matter or would it take 20? 200?  Do they want a natural pattern and what would that mean?
-  I wonder what "right after" the post means.  Do reactions in the first few seconds matter? First few minutes? What's the granularity on this?
-  I wonder if FB would notice if all the commenters were all in the same area or on the same IP address?
- I wonder if which interactions matter the most. Do we get the maximum exposure by commenting, sharing, or commenting and including a link?
- Does FB notice patterns and does that help or hurt? For instance, if they showed my previous two posts to 10K people (which is a lot), are they inclined to help or hurt my next post?  Is there no relationship?
- Once FB notices that I pay sometimes, do they penalize my unpromoted paids to get me to pay more?
- Do personal pages and company pages behave the same?
- Do endorsements by people, acting as themselves but also who can be FB page admins, count more or less?
- Do endorsements by all people on FB have the same impact? Is it weighted by the number of friends that a person has? Does each person have a limited "budget" of endorsements (sort of like the Google juice used in SEO by websites) which they can "spend"?
- How long does the initial burst of interest last? For instance, if we got 20 people to comment on a post in the first minute, does that momentum carry on even if the next 1000 do not comment? Would 5 in the first minute, and 5 more over the next three hours work better?
- Does FB track total interactions? Interactions per minute? Interactions per minute per person who viewed it?  For instance, if I post at 5am, there's not much going on on FB so it might be shown to all of our page's fans who happen to be on FB and refreshing their page between 5 and 5:15. Lets say that its 10 people.  If 5 of them comment, does FB think in terms of quantity 5 comments or do they think in terms of 50%?  Assume for the moment that FB just does a dumb count of 5 and says that it's a lot, so they show it until 7 am and another 500 people see it.  Will they keep promoting the post if just another 5 comment?  What, in FB's mind, is a high number or rate of interactivity?

More organically:
- what time of day do our users tend to be online and based on that, when should we post the most?
- does pointing towards resources on VSC get more reactions? Asking for their comments on a specific resource? Asking for them to suggest their own favorite resources? Asking them to comment on resources that they would like?

- when we do our beta and other free give-aways, can we put some strings in place to get a cadre of teachers willing to share and comment on a regular basis?
- who is in the best position to drive and review this research in house to figure it out?

- FB scheduler
- hootsuite

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Affiliates - Do they work? For whom do they work?

I went to the SFIMA event this evening to learn about affiliate marketing. It was not a great presentation. Terrible in fact. Power point slides circa 1990.  Long lists of obvious points, no interesting analysis or illustrations. Really a shame.

Afterwards, I cornered CPMdirect's Co_Founder & Managing Director.  MY question, in what cases do affiliate pulishers make more money on affiliates than they would with Google ads or CPM advertising?  There was no clear answer to me. I couldn't get any clarity on why and how affiliate marketing would make sense for a big web publisher like me.

Gus Brito, the head of CPMdirect, made this point. He was previously the head of marketing (or something like that) at TigerDirect, Comp USA, and Circuit City.  Back there, affiliate marketing was larger than the affiliate or SEO marketing department.  His point was that affiliate marketing really worked at Tiger Direct.  I still don't really understand the significance of the point.

Did affiliate marketing reign because of the payment cycle in some way?  For instance, is the payment cycle by affiliates slower so the TigerDirects, to whom payment terms and cash flow are so significant, loves it?

At the end of tonight, affiliate marketing appeared more sketchy, more sleazy, more opaque, and less professional than it ever did before.  Goodnight affiliates.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

A Blog Post about HTML

Did you know that if you right click on any web page, one of your choices is "View HTML"?
HTML is a computer programming language used to describe page layout. It is used for web pages. A web browser is basically a program that interprets and displays HTML.
This is my first link: Ingles Tos Dias

What a word processing interface does is give access to creating html code just by typing.  I could type right here.

In any case, I was just poking around showing my nephew what html is and does. He's trying to figure out how to take his interest in having a career into the programming world....

Monday, June 24, 2013

Something in Google-land has changed!

It used to be that whenever I posted something in a blog, I would be able to find it the next day in the search engines by just Googling one of the exact sentences or phrases and putting it in quotes.

For instance, I did a test a few years ago with the term: "silly silly silly seo salespeople".  Just copy and paste that into a google search box and you'll find the article on "silly silly silly seo salespeople".

But, I wrote a little blog post yesterday on the idea of fixing up the English language in terms of the math numbers and to my amazement, the post could not be found today in the search engines.  The idea is to replace the word ten with the word "onety".  Click through to read it.  But oddly, it's not in the search engines today.  I'll keep testing but maybe, the era of comprehensive and nearly immediate appearance in the search engines might be over!

PS. I'll check and make sure the settings on the blog are right. I've also been testing a little bit with pingomatic so I'm pretty sure that Google had a good chance to have found the post.

Monday, May 27, 2013

SEO: The Future Is Bright, The Future Is Linkless

I've heard, since I first learned about SEO about a decade ago, about the imminent change to some other basis for search engine ranking.

But, all the updates that I've observed over the last decade have actually just been improved implementations of the basic principles that I learned a decade ago.

Elton John's a singer!
With Penguin 2.0, Google understands that Elton John is a singer
Even the addition of social media links was consistent with the original concept of link-counting and weighting. However, this new concept of co-articulation and co-citation is the first fundamental change that I've heard about. Fascinating.  If I can understand it, the basic changes are that:

1.  Google tracks citations about things and enters them in the algorithm even if there is no link.

2.  Semantics and intelligence. This has been an area of real progress for Google with several stages.

In the old days when I started, Google was a dumb word counting system. When I started, Google produced very different results when you searched for "1st grade" vs "first grade". By about five years ago, Google seemed to understand that these were exact synonyms and produced identical results.

Google also tried to infuse its results with appropriate information for the search.  Search on "apple pie" and you would get recipes with the ingredients summarized right in the search engine.  Search for a specific model of a piece of consumer electronics and the price was highlighted in the search engine. These were early implementations of Google's use of schema to provide more info right at the point of search.  This has been enhanced with rich snippets.

Today, it sounds like Google's intelligence is jumping up another few notches as it develops an understanding of different sorts of entities and associations.  I've got some research and thinking to do to try to understand how this might affect us.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Posting - Good Vocabulary and Expression

I would like it if both the people and the spiders understood my posts. Check out this nifty little banner:
Making Word Study FUN!
VocabularySpellingCity Selected for the Google Education App PackNote how it both has a nice image for the people and some nice text food for the spiders!

On another note, I think I've discovered a new term, SSO or single sign on!

 How can a school make it easy for 702 elementary and middle school students to access a great online learning tool like VocabularySpellingCity on laptops, net books, and iPads?
With Google ID, all students have a single sign-on for all of the applications they use every day.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Sloan Consortium's Style - Gotta Love it!

Among the other delights in this morning's email inbox, I received an email from (sic): "type="text/css"> body p { font-family: The Sloan Consortium  style>" .

That is pretty much verbatim* what it said. I had other emails from Steve, Nancy, Carmen, The Learning Center and so on but this one has a "from" and a "reply to" space filled in with (here it comes again!):  "type="text/css"> body p { font-family: The Sloan Consortium  style>"

 The email is actually from a pretty reputable group. The body starts with:

Leadership Development through the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL)

FREE INFORMATIONAL WEBINAR: February 13, 2013 - 1:00pm - 2:00pm ET
Is your institution prepared with the necessary leadership to navigate the new higher education landscape? A wide range of internal and external forces are causing great excitement and disruption to business-as-usual in higher education. Market forces, federal and state regulation policies, new and emerging technologies, and the demands of today’s learners for convenience and flexibility are impacting the operational and strategic direction of many institutions. Join this free webinar to learn how IELOL, the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL), a blended-learning leadership development program sponsored by Penn State and the Sloan Consortium, is serving to prepare the next generation of institutional leaders in online learning.

This amuses me on the back of the last few week's fiasco with the deliciously ironic disaster of the Coursera MOOC on the Fundamentals of Online Education.  Audrey's write-up is pretty good.

Here's the exact code for you geeks out there!
from: "type="text/css"> body p { font-family: The Sloan Consortium  style>
reply-to: "type=\"text/css\"> body p { font-family: The Sloan Consortium"  style"
to: john ...
date: Mon, Feb 11, 2013 at 1:32 PM
subject: Leadership Development through the Institute for Emerging Leadership in Online Learning (IELOL)

And, for nostalgia, how about some images from education past. 
* It is not verbatim since, unless I changed the code, it truncated the blog post!