Considering a name change

OK, so we’re considering a name and logo change. How integral is the logo to understanding the concepts of this site/app? Is it integral, or can it easily be changed and be communicated just effectively? And have the same impact? Comments dearly appreciated.

Bug Tracking

Well, blogger is a poor excuse for a bug tracking system. When people start jumping on the HitTail bandwagon, I’ll do something more sophisticated, like the open source Python Trac system. But for now, I’m just starting this blog post. Let the comments be buck tracking!

PR 2.0, SEO and The Soft Pitch

So much of the talk about PR 2.0 centers around how and whether to reach out to bloggers. While blogging and social networking software clearly plays a major role, it’s just not the most efficient route to disseminating your message. Search is. Yahoo, Google and MSN search are the new ABC, CBS and NBC. It’s the only media you can be sure everyone is tuning into. Through them, you can reach every blogger and soft-pitch them your story. You know your visitor is interested, because they pre-qualified themselves through the search process. And you’re pitching many more people than just journalists. You’re reaching investors, stakeholders, customers and prospects as well.

Currently, there is a clear deal between journalists and public relations professionals. The journalists get early, and sometimes exclusive, access to information. In return, they are receptive to listen to pitches. It is a symbiotic relationship that helps produce better coverage, particularly in technology where every little advance is both news and business.

But pitching every blogger in the blogosphere just isn’t viable–especially with how mainstream blogging is becoming. It’s going to be built into the next version of Word. Sure, you can monitor the discussion with tools like Technorati, and even step into the discussion, and specifically reach out to the most influential bloggers. But having search working for you relentlessly delivering your message 24/7 to everyone who is even casually researching your space is much more efficient. And natural search is better than paid, because when you stop paying for the campaign, the visitors keep coming. I’ve discussed that at length elsewhere on the site. This is about how PR 2.0 is different from what many people think–even Richard Edelman and Steve Rubel.

Anyway, bloggers will never be trained on the clear deal and symbiosis that exists between PR pro’s and journalists, because bloggers are you and me, and your mother, and your boss’ daughter, Joe from down the street, and a 12 year old in Australia. With the exception of those who really do behave and share similar incentive to journalists, bloggers come and go. They might blog for a year, then completely stop. The central core of bloggers within any industry who are there for the long haul really are a lot like journalists, and with them, the traditional rules of PR very much apply… learning their beat, reading their stories, building a personal relationship with them. Not much has changed if your blogger thinks and acts like a journalist. So, the PR folks just need to add a few more categories to their media lists, and treat those bloggers as journalists. This article is about the consistent soft-sell that’s always lurking there right under the surface, like a Paul Graham’s submarine metaphor. But instead of the sub being the based on the PR/Journalist relationship, it’s now ALSO based on the PR/Search Engine relationship.

With HitTail, the PR industry is planting its flag firmly in search engine optimization (SEO). It is perfectly natural, because PR is to SEO what Advertising is to the pay-per-click (PPC) industry. PR is not about clear deals. It’s about big wins at a low cost (at least the branch of PR we specialize in here at Connors–very different from lobbying-style PR). Advertising is about clear deals, but a big win will cost you big bucks–usually in the form of media buys. Again, I talk about is PR/SEO connection a lot of other places, so I will not elaborate here. I will jump right into why HitTail reframes PR 2.0 in a new light.

With HitTail, I reframe the public relations problem in a new way by making the search process itself an integral part to the pitch. And exactly who you are pitching to is abstracted. Instead of pitching a particular story to a particular journalist to get your view in on an article that showed on some publication’s editorial calendar, you are simultaneously pitching the world, throwing your entry into what John Battelle coined the database of intentions. You are part of the discussion merely by virtue of being found when people are most interested. This leads to genuine–some call it “organic” mention of you when the time comes for them to write. And better yet, if they link to you, it’s a completely unsolicited and unreciprocated link–the very best kind. It puts you in the highest position of authority, because you are leaving clues for all the search engines that you don’t need to link-back (a clue that manipulation is occurring).

But doesn’t pandering to the search engines put you at risk of being banned? And isn’t such a soft background sell just too darn indirect for impatient clients looking for their New York Times article yesterday? The answer is no and yes. No, if you take the right approach, you are not only not at risk of being banned, but you are producing a healthy site that is just as valuable for human audiences as it is for search. You are leaving absolutely no “signatures” that mark your site as pandering to search. You are simply putting yourself on equal footing as everybody else. And the second part, yes, a PR 2.0 soft pitch is MUCH more indirect than pitching a journalist directly, and cannot replace it. The “who you know” approach to PR is merely strengthened and verified by the “what you know” approach of SEO. The two are perfect counterparts. Pitch a journalist. Journalist turns to search to research. What they find confirms your message… over… and over… and over… That is truly effective SEO.

But taking this approach to SEO is just too difficult for most business. It’s the principle problem we encounter with new PR clients. We work ourselves through the same technical and editorial projects over and over. This is becoming what is known as SEO “best practices”. It’s all the mechanical things that you do short of over-optimizing: search-friendly URLs, sitemaps, good title tags, etc. We are trying to turn that into just the background of the discussion. These mechanical projects merely level the playing field for your corporate website against hyper-optimized blogging systems like Movable Type, WordPress and Blogger. So, if this is the EASY part, then what is the hard part of SEO?

Interestingly, in the 9 years I’ve been doing SEO, almost no one talks about the real key to successful long-term SEO, where the results can outlive any particular search engine. I have the perspective of when Lycos, Excite and AltaVista had their own unique results. Google wasn’t even on the scene. I had incredible results across the board then, and when Google came onto the scene, my results only just improved. With each major search engine advance, they are doing one particular thing: looking for clues as to what is the best information. Google’s breakthrough was that cross-linking was a clue. New breakthroughs include that domain registration data includes clues. Tomorrow’s breakthroughs will include tying content to domain registrations to real-world business incorporations to professional association memberships (for example). There are real-world clues all over the place about what is authoritative on what topics. Search will take much more into account that a professional researcher or information broker would.

That being the case, how can you isolate SEO down to one simple technique that holds little risk of being perceived of manipulation and therefore subject to banning? How can you simplify it so much that people working in Marketing departments of companies across the world can apply it, without hiring outside firms? How can you reframe the problem so that it no longer technical, and can fit into the realm of PR disciplines, which includes SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats), Positioning & Messaging strategy, press release writing, pitching and event coordinating? Easy! You provide a tool that gives you unique insight directly into the minds of your target audience, and you use that to create superior writing that will innately influence search.

Many PR firms are taking the simplest possible road, and “optimizing” press releases. This is merely one piece of a much more cohesive strategy. All PR firms should use matter-of-fact language for their press release headlines (put yourself into the mind of searchers), and should include a full URL. But every company should also blog directly onto their corporate website to facilitate press releases. A press release is itself news worthy of blogging about, and it triggers off the blog pinging system that alerts an a broader audience than press releases alone. But companies should even go a step further, and blog specifically on topics that competitive intelligence TELLS THEM will increase natural search traffic. And THAT is the heart of soft pitching in PR 2.0.

This is difficult to understand at first. But the premise is that search traffic is a finite resource. On any given term, there is a finite amount of search traffic that’s occurring on any term, and even less click-through. Those click-through could result in a new customer, media coverage, landing a new investor or the like. It is a grand competition for this finite resource. The competitive level is now Olympic on the most popular terms. There are 10 gold medals, 10 silver, and 10 bronze (1st, 2nd and 3rd pages of results, respectively). It’s not even worth trying on the more popular terms if you want to see meaningful results in a reasonable timeframe. You should sooner try out for the Olympics. But that leaves the much more plentiful, but less popular competitions around the world. Only enlightened companies are playing the game on this level. That is what HitTail is about. What competitions should you be in? How can you pick your events so you are sure to win? Which events are people even watching?

Some people mistake tools like WordTracker or the suggestion tools built into Google and Yahoo Search Marketing as being the long tail keyword selectors. The fallacy here is that anyone who types in the same keywords gets back the same suggestions. They are not tied to the real traffic happening on your site. There is no competitive edge. A much better alternative is to look at what search hits ALREADY ARE leading to your site, but for which you did not intentionally optimize. This will usually be happy accidents. But these happy accidents created by determined searchers who digs deep into the results to find you, are the most valuable keyword optimization you have access to. Why?

Because it shows where you are teetering on the edge of success. It is real, raw and gritty information. It came from an actual visit from an actual human being to your site. It’s not a term that generally relates to a seed term (the way the keyword suggestion tools work). It’s a term that specifically relates to you and already existing material on your website. By seeing that happy accident occur, thinking of it as an opportunity, and jumping on the chance for a competitive advantage, you can roll out new content onto your website with a much smarter strategy than your competition. Ironically, your competition is often the very ones that are unintentionally giving you their benchmark keywords. See, they search on their important terms, and click on very deep results to see who they are. If it’s YOU, then you just benefited! This is why it truly is competitive intelligence.

So, is simply writing and putting it on your site enough? No, SEO best practices still need to be adhered to, without over-optimizing. That’s the usual check-list of on-page and off-page factors, which blogging software does such a wonderful job with. That’s why we often recommend to just choose one of the blog packages that lets you plant your blog into a subdirectory of your main corporate site, and just use blog posts for the HitTail process. Otherwise, you can research these topics at Webmaster World, Search Engine Watch, or one of the many other sites out there. If you’ve got to fix a corporate website and just want to hire the perfect consultant to be best friends with both your IT department and Editorial staff, consider contacting Connors. We have wonderful case studies and anecdotal stories about how we’ve overcome some of the largest obstacles you will ever encounter for SEO. This is particularly true of organizations who realized their mission was to be found in search, so that their advertising-driven business models don’t end up being a wash. Think about it: if you buy traffic through PPC only to sell advertising, you’re spinning your wheels.

Once the content is on your site, is that enough? No, you still need to do PR, whether it is online or off. Really, you should hardly think of it as online or offline PR anymore. Most publications are also published online. Some of them try to offer unique content on their online version as a special draw, and others leave premium content off their site to help keep the printed magazine subscriptions special. Either way, the person you’re talking with when you pitch is either influential or not. So, who you know really is still just as important as what you know. And also, the quality of your writing and pitching counts. So, HitTail doesn’t address everything yet. It is just a useful tool to help identify the best writing topics to drive natural search. And it is something truly new in SEO.

Ajax Libraries

In 2001, I was exploring a barren wasteland trying to figure out how to load data through http calls without reloading a web page. The pickings were slim, and about the only things you could clearly determine was that Microsoft was the only one regularly doing it in a broadly deployed app (their Web interface to Outlook), and Brent Ashley was the only one talking about it (remote scripting) in any intelligible fashion, with his iframes JSRS implementation. Titillating little gems, like the Oingo semantic web dropdown menu that changed as you typed appeared and disappeared like gossamer threads–gone before you had a chance to learn anything.

Here we are in 2006, and now everyone wants to do it. Google showed us the way with the Google Suggest tool, then Google Maps. Libraries started popping up like OpenRico (from a Puerto Rico airline of all places!), helping to bring Ajax to the snowballing Ruby on Rails. Google Map envy made the browser come into line, adding HTTP objects accessible through DHTML after the page load is complete. Now, even Safari on the Mac is supporting it, and Google Maps works their as well.

When I started HitTail, I had to choose a library. The implementation I chose was OpenRico, because it was the one Ruby on Rails had chosen, and I wanted to hitch my wagon to a rising star. I needed an implementation that would stay around for a long time and have broad browser support. But OpenRico co-founder Bill Scott joined Yahoo! Richard Cowin is still doing OpenRico. And OpenRico now supports Safari, but not in manipulation of HTML fragments in the DOM object, but rather in setting values within objects. It provides a much more JavaScript-dependent programming environment that I would like, but rearranging HTML fragments has broader browser dependency problems that makes it worth staying away from. For example, in FireFox, if you manipulate add new form widgets to a form, their values will not be included on the submit!

So in general, when looking for a good Ajax library, you have to expect that one of the most important things to do–altering form widgets based on actions taken in other widgets–still just isn’t compatible at the browser level and there’s nothing a superior Ajax library can do about it.

But that being said, my choice to go with OpenRico might not have been as smart as I originally thought. A closer inspection reveals they’re checking for MSIE vs. FireFox compatibility, but are not worrying about being broadly compatible. Google just released their Ajax development platform. I’m going to re-examine this decision.

Previous Next Arrows Vs. Previous Posts for SEO

So, if previous/next arrows with keywords are so influential for SEO, why am I not using MovableType or WordPress that support them, and instead using Blogger, which doesn’t? The answer is in the “Last 10 Posts”—or in the case of my Blog, “Previous Posts” links. It’s always ONLY 10 posts. So the voting power within the page is diluted on a per-link basis. Each link you construct on a page is casting that much less of its Google-juice voting power to other pages. But because EVERY permalink page has a similar “Last 10 Posts”, and the list is slightly different on each page (by one link), it’s a zero-sum game. It all evens out, and each page is being proportionally EQUALLY buoyed by its neighboring pages as if it were the less-diluted version of prev/next arrows found in MovableType and WordPress.

SEO Secret Sauce: The Prolific Writer

Not long ago, I was a prolific writer—when I was not expected to be. Now that I HAVE to be a prolific writer, I find it more difficult. First, with Prophet 21, before it was acquired by Activant, I delved into SEO and was one of the most active posters on the then-dominant Search Engine Forums (SEF). It has since been replaced by Webmaster World for the geeked-out in-the-know SEO crowd. Everything was new then, I wasn’t in the SEO business, and I felt compelled to share—in part out of altruism, but also out of ego, and to stick it to the SEO secret-holders. Anyone holding his cards too close to his/her chest is a bullshitter, I felt. So, I said it like it was, and was one of the first people to lay out precisely why keyworded previous/next arrows were disproportionately effective in SEO—they pander to Google’s PageRank algorithm WITHIN the site. Since, and perhaps consequently, both MovableType and WordPress have instituted keyworded prev/next arrows.

Next, I decided that if I was such hot shit at SEO, I would put my money where my mouth was and go for a slice of the pie. Instead of affiliate programs, I opted for a straight cut of worldwide gross revenues of a technology company in an emerging market—digital signage. I hitched my wagon to the Scala star, and rode it for about four years. I ran into an unfortunate sysadmin during this experience, and never really received the programming support I needed to take my work to its next level. So, while I made some very nice money proving my concepts, I could never mainstream it into the next big thing as I had planned. And this was still back circa 2001, right during the Bubble Burst, and before everyone woke up to the significance of search and the power of arbitrating other people’s traffic. But I was a prolific writer at Scala, relentlessly blogging on the topic of digital signage much to the chagrin of Scala’s competitors, such as WireSpring and WebPavement. I remained prolific until August 2004, when I joined Connors and NEEDED to write.

So at Connors, I focused on delivering my secret sauce to Connors clients-only! I got a touch of the paranoia that I humorously observed in my SEO counterparts while at Prophet 21 and Scala. And I started thinking whether I could ever really write again about the secret sauce. Webmaster World was the place to be to impress peers and feed one’s ego. But building influential personal blogs such as Battellemedia and Micropersuasion was the way to build audience and attract new prospective clients. But what could I write about? This was also a problem with speaking opportunities. I was such a back-room SEO-guy that all I had to say was stuff that gave away the family jewels—tidbits like the power of prev/next arrows!

Meanwhile, things are changing at an ultra-rapid pace. Ruby on Rails comes along, and the concept of an agile framework is on peoples’ radars. There goes the special edge of my “generalized system” (where apps spring into being virtually before the product spec is written). Next, Google buys Urchin and makes Web Analytics free. There goes the possibility of selling what I built as an analytics package. The world is catching up with me on all fronts but one: how to know WHAT keywords to optimize for the biggest return. And along comes Chris Anderson with his fateful 2004 online article about the long tail distribution curve and how it applies to search.

The SEM people (those who sell clicks) rapidly jumped on the bandwagon, and said “Hey, up the keywords! It doesn’t cost you any more, and it may help”. This is a good premise, but the nuance is that it works even better when you don’t pay a cent! That’s right! Writing about an obscure but promising topic and putting the content in optimized format on your website simultaneously optimizes for ALL search engines. You don’t have the overhead of another keyword in your campaigns to manage. You don’t have to pay if a click occurs. And it’s a permanent addition to your website, working for you 24×7.

Two metaphors come into play: the snowball effect, and the iceberg principle. I will probably write about both of these separately because they are such important topics. But the snowball effect states that if you keep adding just the right content to your site at a consistent rate, your site will increase in effectiveness as it grows in size and search-appeal. It’s “a-peelin’ off a layer of someone else’s search traffic.” At any given moment, there is a fixed amount of search traffic occurring on the planet, and we’re in a battle of capturing it before the next guy does.

Secondly, the iceberg principle states that if someone searched past that magical 3-page limit and STILL found your site on a given keyword (or keyword combo), then you MIGHT just be seeing the tip of the iceberg. If you could somehow tweak your page to the first page of results for that keyword in the search engine result pages (SERPS), then you might receive tons more traffic on that term. Some determined searcher actually volunteered competitive intelligence to you through their determination and dropped it in your lap to use or not. HitTail is about using it! It is a powerful tool in the hands of a prolific writer.

And now that Connors Communications went public with its secret sauce for SEO, and I’m free to talk about it—watch out! The prolific writer is back. And just as I spelled out the power of prev/next arrows with keywords, I’m going to be blowing the lid off of as many closely held techniques of SEO that I can, in order to level the playing field and create some opportunity for Connors. So, what opportunity is there once all the “process” secrets of SEO are disclosed? Simple! They’re not easy to implement—especially at large companies. The old 3 c’s of the Internet used to be content, community and commerce. The new 3 c’s of SEO are consensus, clarity and confidence. In other words, large companies to stand even a minute chance in this blogging world of ours need to build consensus between the marketing and IT departments. The projects that are going to be carried out need to be spelled out in crystal clear fashion (clarity), and everyone—especially the IT department, needs to be completely confident that it can be done without breaking everything or cost sultan’s ransom to overhaul infrastructure.

And I know the prolific writer is back, because I have to discipline myself to stop there. I really could go on forever.

Long Tail Keywords

So, HitTail is finally undergoing a soft launch. My plan is to get a few thousand users on relatively low-volume sites. People who already have high volume sites will hardly need the extra boost that HitTail provides. Its people who are just establishing themselves that will benefit most. People launching new websites will actually have the ability to watch every search hit as it occurs! In a way, it’s sad, but it is also a strategic advantage, because HitTail will inform you if it needs further refinement — the long tail keywords!

One of the important principles of HitTail is that it does not work in a vacuum. An existing site with a little bit of content built up is a perfect starting point, because HitTail will inform you of keywords that are on the edge of breaking out. But if you think you should be coming up on a diversity of terms that you don’t, you have the chicken and the egg problem, and it is time to float a few test balloons.

There is no easier publishing mechanism to float test balloons than Blogger. The beautiful part of Blogger is that it can plant your entire blog into the subdirectory of an existing site, if you have FTP access. The advantage there is that the snowball effect you are trying to achieve is on a per-domain basis, usually taking into account all three levels: So, using TypePad achieves little for a corporate site, because you can’t plant it in You can with MovableType and WordPress, but you would need an unusual level of access to the corporate webserver. Better to FTP it into place.

Test balloons usually entail taking a writing recommendation under the Suggestions tab of HitTail, and only investing a half-hour to an hour of writing time on that topic. One of the dirty secrets of SEO is that your main objective is achieved merely by using blogging software and getting your title tag correct. You can almost leave the page blank and get SOME results. But it’s better to put out a quality page with quality content. The reason it’s a test balloon is because it will result in MORE suggestions being issued in HitTail. There will be word combinations you never anticipated, with a word from the top of your page combining with a word on the bottom of your page, and some very determined searcher going many pages into the engine and finding you. This registers with HitTail, and begins to solve the chicken and the egg problem.

For those people who have been lucky enough to discover the soft launch of HitTail, feel free to get started. Put the HitTail code on every page of your site through the template system. With Blogger, it is a breeze. Just copy and paste it as-is into your template somewhere between the body tags—but not between special blogger tags. Seeing the results should be almost instantaneous. Take the first reasonable suggestion, and make a new blog post base on it.

Writing for SEO

Have you ever gotten into the mood where you are just a writing machine? If so, you are one of the most valuable people in marketing today. Just about anyone can plagiarize off the web, and change a few words here or there. And low-priced outsourced employees can put target keywords together in new sentences and combinations for AdWord campaigns. But the plagiarized pages will eventually be filtered as spam, and the AdWord campaigns will eventually stop running. Only the original content, containing valuable and preferably timeless information will continue.

Such the pages that achieve the largest double-whammy objective: acquiring new links. New inbound links that occur spontaneously without link-begging or link-exchange are like gold. They play to the Google BackRub formula, but they also leave a trail of references that actual Web Travelers can follow back to your site; search engines aside. As long as they are not reciprocal, and you’re receiving links from an average distribution of people around the world, your site will be achieving this critical objective in the most desirable organic fashion.

And the whole process begins with writing—and writing at a decent rate. Why? Because search engines are biased to consider newly discovered content and float it temporarily as a test balloon. That means new content always receives a temporary boost, and explains why new site launches/re-launches are so often accompanied by unsustainable natural search gains. The effect wears away in a few months. Google’s patent application from March of 2005 showed us that Google actually considers the “delta” information between one full site crawl and the next.

New writing goes into this set of fresh content. And if you’re publishing with blogging software, you have the additional boost of the new post ping system and the whole additional set of crawlers and news feeders that it brings. This is part (but not all) of the reason blogging software brings an unfair SEO advantage over crusty old content management systems that never had search friendliness as part of their criteria. And a company who hires a professional “writing cannon” as member of their marketing team will be very well served. Their work, instead of just transient press releases, will become a permanent part of the tapestry that is the Web, and their work will be put to work 24×7 generating new prospects.

Google Trends

Until today, Alexa has been the place to go to get a semi-authoritative and free gauge on traffic. But with the release of Google Trends, there is another must-see site. It is along the lines of BlogPulse, but much more authoritative, because it is tied into the most used search box in the world. It is however interesting to note that it has a similar problem as Alexa, in that all data is relative (not absolute). In other words, they’re not giving actual traffic numbers. They’re just comparing relative search volumes across times and between words. This is so similar to Alexa’s relative rankings, and I cannot help but feel is a general strategy that they use to keep themselves from being called to task on their numbers.

Whenever you’re looking for hard and fast numbers on Web traffic, based either on keywords or on site visitation, you have to turn to such companies as comScore and Hitwise, who each have dubious methods. comScore essentially runs software on enough individual’s PCs to get an average cross-sampling. Alexa too runs special software in the form of their toolbar. comScore has the superior method of cutting deals with ISPs to get a direct and pure sampling, but potentially skewed by region due to ISP service areas.

Alexa is the only one so far that has turned around and put its data out for popular general use. But their numbers can be challenged if put in absolute terms. The solution is to make it relative, and I am never done with explaining their Traffic Rank, Reach and Page Views. Of these numbers, Reach is the funniest. They call it reach “per million viewers”. They are essentially saying “parts per million”, measuring traffic that visits a site as one would measure ammonia levels in a fish tank. The trick is, you can’t tell how much ammonia is in the fish tank without being given the total volume of water. So, you can’t know how much traffic is reaching a site in absolute terms unless you’re given the total number of Internet users.

Similarly, while the Google Trends tool is amazingly useful in comparing keyword traffic on a word today versus last week, or between keywords A and B, it’s not telling you traffic on a keyword in absolute terms. This is still a process of piecing it together from the clues.

Superior Search Optimization Suggestion Tool

I cannot help but be disappointed each time I try a new analytics package. They are all concerned with Top-5 this, Top-10 that. They, by definition, distill down all the data into reports that show you only the most important data, which ignores all the granular information, where the long-tail goodies exist. This, by definition, makes traditional analytics packages poor choice as search engine optimization tools. But the alternative seems worse—being overwhelmed with log file data. Either way, paralysis is the result.

HitTail specifically addresses data analysis for natural search optimization by keeping the entire data granularity, but skimming off only the bits that are important for SEO. As a result, you can easily look at the details of every single search hit that led to your site. You can even go as far as clicking to reproduce each and every search engine hit, reproducing the first page of your visitors’ site experiences.

Log files need to be deleted, or else they will fill your hard drives. Analytics packages have similar limitations. Neither keeps all the cumulative data that represents the life of your website from a natural search optimization standpoint. When did your first search hit occur? When did the first search hit on each new term occur? What was the latest new term to lead to your site? No data is left there to be mined. You essentially lose all of your memory after each reporting cycle. It is therefore impossible with today’s tools to create superior search optimization suggestion tools that uses all the available competitive intelligence off of your own site! Enter HitTail.