SEO Mistakes: read the fine print

I still hear from people who get confused by solicitations in the mail. Here’s an example one:

This is not a bill

At first glance, this semi-official looking letter seems to require bill payment for some sort of “annual website search engine listing.” But if you read the fine print at the bottom, you’ll see:

This is not a bill. This is a solicitation. You are under no obligation to pay the amount stated above unless you accept this offer.

In other words, feel free to throw this letter in the trash. If you want to submit a url to Google, there are at least a couple ways to do it, for free:

- Google offers a free “add url” form where you can submit your domain name.
- You can make a Sitemap (a list of urls for your site) and submit it for free as well. Start here. There’s a lot of other free, useful tools from Google there too. :)

When you get a letter like this in the mail, whether it’s about your web site or your domain name, read the fine print carefully.

Detecting more “undetectable” webspam

I’ve been following a case in Denmark where a cloaking company has been making a couple interesting claims. First, they claim that if a “brand-name” company cloaks, Google won’t remove the brand-name domain. That’s simply not true; if we believe that a company is abusing Google’s index by cloaking, we certainly do reserve the right to remove that company’s domains from our index. Next, the cloaking company claims that their method of cloaking is undetectable. I’ve written about “undetectable webspam” before. In that case, the “undetectable spam” could be found with a single Google query.

So let’s go back to this Danish company’s assertion that its cloaking is “undetectable.” Here’s an example claim on the English version of their page:

Undetectable cloaking? English claims

The claim is that “search engines cannot find out who is behind cloaking.” The Danish version of this page is slightly different:

Undetectable cloaking? Danish claims

One colleague at Google translated the final sentence from Danish as “However, as you can read below, they don’t stand a chance at figuring out who’s behind the solution, and thus cannot punish anyone for it.”

My colleague Brian White checked this claim out and very quickly found this hilarious page:

Undetectable cloaking? An error page

Here’s another error page:

Undetectable cloaking? Another error page

That’s right, someone hasn’t configured their “undetectable” cloaking script correctly. The errors that the script is spewing out give absolute file paths and much more info. Digging into the details mentioned in the error messages quickly leads you to more domains. So much for that cloaking being undetectable. By the way, this cloaking script has been producing highly noticeable errors like this for almost two months.

So here’s a few takeaways:
- If you’re going to claim that your webspam is “undetectable” then try to avoid spewing error messages that give lots of information about your domains.
- Also, you might want to avoid internal names like “CLOAKING_LINK_BUILDING” or “CLOAKING_RSS_Reader.php”. It tends to be a bit of a giveaway, and you never know when those names will get accidentally exposed.

More generally, if someone is trying to manipulate Google by deceptive cloaking, it means that a webserver is returning different content to Googlebot than to users. That’s a condition that can be checked for by algorithms or manually, and such cloaking is certainly not “undetectable.” For cloaking to be completely “undetectable,” it would have to be like that Steven Wright joke: “Last night somebody broke into my apartment and replaced everything with exact duplicates.” And a cloaking script that gave users and Googlebot exactly duplicate pages would be a bit pointless. :)

Video: anatomy of a search snippet

Several weeks ago I flew up to Google’s Kirkland office to visit with the wonderful webmaster tools team. While I was visiting, someone said “Hey, why don’t you grab a video camera, find an empty office, and record as many videos as you can in an hour?” That sounded good to me, and the first result of that is an eight-minute or so video about Google’s search snippets:

I’d like to say a special thanks to Ríona MacNamara of the webmaster tools team. Ríona took care of everything so that all I had to do was stand in front of the camera and talk. She reserved the room, grabbed the video camera, brainstormed topics, taped everything, got it digitized, and even wrote the official webmaster blog post. Thank you, Ríona!

In our quick efforts to make a video, I know the audio turned out crackly in a few places. Sorry about that, but that can happen when you grab a video camera/microphone/whiteboard and do a speed-recording session. I think the audio might be better on the other two topics we taped. Enjoy!

Update: Eric Enge posted a really good summary of the video, in case you prefer reading over videos.

What to take on your Thanksgiving travels

I won’t be doing many (any?) posts over Thanksgiving — my grandfather’s birthday is this weekend, and I’m spending the time visiting with family. On the bright side, I wrapped up my logistical project today, and I’m looking forward to blogging a little more after Thanksgiving. I also taped three videos when I visited the webmaster console team in Kirkland a few weeks ago, so we might be able to get those up too.

If you’re looking for fun things over the holiday weekend, here are some things I’ve enjoyed recently:

DVD:
- Ratatouille is excellent. It’s family-friendly, but it’s also very clever.

- I played soccer in high school, so I’m a sucker for fun soccer movies (Shaolin Soccer and Bend it Like Beckham come to mind). I really liked Gracie. It’s fascinating to read how the movie is grounded in real life. Gracie is one of the few movies where I’ve watched the movie again with commentary later (provided by Elisabeth Shue and Andrew Shue).

Books:
- Non-fiction, I really enjoyed Rule the Web. I’ll talk about this book more when I do my Christmas gift suggestions, but the short summary is that anyone that touches a computer can find some fun things in this book.

- Also for non-fiction, Founders at Work is interesting. If you have an entrepreneurial bent or have ever thought of doing a start-up, I think you’d like this book.

- Fiction? I genuinely haven’t been reading much straight fiction for the last month or two. If you like comic books graphic novels, I’ve enjoyed Powers recently. The Powers series examines what would happen if lots of regular people had superpowers. I also checked out Shooting War. It’s frigging bleak, but you might like it if you liked Transmetropolitan.

Podcasts:
- The Daily SearchCast has gotten a little sporadic as Danny has been on vacation and doing search conferences. It’s still one of the most enjoyable ways to get your fix of search news though, and it’s much safer to listen to the SearchCast in the car instead of trying to surf web sites on an iPhone as you drive. :) I’ve got a batch of these to listen to while I’m traveling this weekend. But Daron and Danny: you tweaked the MP3 filenames to include some keywords, but you dropped the date. Bring the date back so it’s easy to listen to them in order!

Web. Some stuff that’s in my browser or otherwise interesting:
- Eric Enge interviews Eric Engleman, from Bloglines. It’s a fun interview, and I’m glad that Bloglines keeps the Google Reader engineers on their toes.

- Sure, you saw Scoble blow off Android. But though I love Robert, he’s not a hard-core developer. He’s a smart guy who talks to techies and developers and neat people. So I’d trust Scoble’s opinion on how compelling the Android videos and demos were, but you really want a developer who digs into the system to give an in-depth write-up. A better view on Android was this article by Reto Meier. I love that Android supports all sorts of inputs, from GPS to compass to accelerometer to cameras. :)

- This Linux device driver project needs more unsupported devices so that they can write drivers for them. My three requested devices would be 1) full support for *all* of the keys on the Microsoft Natural Ergonomic Keyboard 4000, 2) the Omron HJ-720ITC pedometer, and 3) the Fretlight guitar.

- Gmail has always been pretty open (e.g. letting you download your email for free via POP or easy exporting of your contacts). It’s nice that Gmail added IMAP support, but I’m just as excited that Google has introduced a Greasemonkey API for Gmail to make hacking on Gmail even easier. I was a little surprised that this didn’t get much coverage in search blogs, other than Google OS covering the API.

That’s it for now — enjoy your Thanksgiving, and I’ll see you in a few days.

A computer that costs as much as a tank of gas

The first computer I bought with my own money was a 486 from Gateway, and I paid about $2500 for it. I used that computer for years and years. So it blows my mind a little bit that computers have gotten so cheap.

How cheap are they? Well, that Linux-based computer I bought from Wal-Mart was $199. This past week I got stuck at one of those gas stations that is pretty much the only gas station nearby. The prices were so insane that I had to take a picture. This is what I saw when I pulled up to the gas pump:

$7 a gallon!

That’s right, the highest octane cost $7 a gallon! Now to be fair, that was for 100-octane gas, but still — $7 a gallon?! Sheesh. The person before me had gotten 28.336 gallons of gas (which is a huge tank of gas), and they got the cheapest gas. If they’d decided to splurge on the $6.999/gallon gas, it would have cost $198.32.

So, would you rather fill up your gas tank, or would you rather have a new computer? Pretty wild. :)

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