mikeleeorg on Caffeine

I took a peek at Google’s new Caffeine update for their search engine today.

Just for yucks, I started to type in “Mike Lee” because I’m always curious about how I rank amongst the gazillion Mike & Michael Lees out there. Imagine my surprise when I saw the second result in the auto-complete dropdown for both “mik” and “mike”:

Google Search for Mike Lee

Google Search for Mike Lee

Then I noticed the “remove” links to the right of each. Apparently, these results only show up for me, based on my previous search history. Awww. (Oddly enough, I’ve never actually typed in “mikeleeorg twitter” into Google Search. I wonder how they came up with that result.)

And here I thought my Twitter account was ranking high on Google!

How to Manage Your Personal Online Reputation

I’ve been thinking about one’s online reputation lately.

There are a lot of tools for businesses to manage their online reputations, but how about individuals? How about small-time bloggers, web designers & developers, and general netizens who don’t have access to marketing budgets, yet are concerned about their personal brand?

These questions bubbled in my mind after reading this comment from George of Illuminati Karate:

I made a list of my random social accounts recently, and was surprised to come up with 15. Making a list can be a good check to make sure you’re effectively managing your online reputation.

That is certainly true. Here are some more free ways to manage your personal online reputation.

How to See What Others Are Seeing

First, you need to find out what other people are seeing about you. What are potential employers seeing? Or potential dates? Or your parents?

Google Search
Who hasn’t used Google (GOOG) to find themselves by now? It is so common that it’s even a verb – as in, “I Googled myself last night” (which kinda sounds dirty). Simply type your name, email address, user ID, or URL into Google and look at the results. If you have a common name (like me) or have very little published about yourself, you may not find yourself. If you have a fairly unique name and even a moderate online presence, it will all come pouring into your search results. Unfortunately, you can’t receive an RSS feed or email alert for these search results; you’ll have to perform a search every time you want to monitor your reputation.
Google Alerts
Every time the Google search engine indexes a new occurrence of a particular line of text (say, your name, email address, user ID, or URL), Google Alerts will email you. It’s like Googling your own name every day, except having a service do it for you. Utterly efficient vanity.
This service will track what is written about you in the blogosphere. Google tends to cover some of the same info, but sometimes Technorati catches something that Google hasn’t gotten to yet. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
Twitter Search
If you have a Twitter account, this may be especially useful. You will be able to monitor what others are saying about you in near real-time. Instant vanity gratification at its best. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
If you have a Facebook account, look through all of your photos. Your friends can tag you on their photos, which can sometimes lead to embarrassing snapshots that you may not want on your profile. Also look through your wall posts, fan pages, groups, apps, interests, and other profile info. This is what your potential dates, employers, and parents may see.
If you have a MySpace (NWS) account, look through your entire profile. It’s the same drill as Facebook: check your photos, friends’ comments, blog entries, interests, and other info from your profile.
If you have a LinkedIn account, look through your profile, recommendations to you, and recommendations you’ve written. Chances are, there isn’t much here that will be inappropriate, because of the nature of this social network. But it’s still a good place to check.
Do a search for your name on Flickr. Sometimes people will tag or title a photo with your name, especially if you attend lots of public events or have friends with eager cameras. Similar to Google Search, common names can turn up lots of other people before you find yourself.
YouTube is similar to Flickr in that other people can tag you if they’ve filmed you with their video camera. Hopefully it’s not some kind of scandalous video with night-vision and an interrupting phone call. Ahem.
This new service scours a bunch of search engines, including Google, Yahoo! (YHOO), MSN (MSFT), Technorati, Twitter Search, and many others. I haven’t found its results to be that comprehensive yet, even though it claims to pull from all of those sources. But it’s still a young service and hopefully will improve over time. You can receive the search results as an RSS feed.
Other Social Media Sites
If you have an account on another social media site, such as Delicious, Digg.com, last.fm, etc, create a list of them. Go through each one with a mindful eye towards potentially inappropriate content, just like I mentioned with Facebook, MySpace, and LinkedIn.
Your Own Site
Lastly and perhaps most importantly: your own site. Look through your site with the same critical eye as you did for the aforementioned social networks. For many people, if they manage to find your site, they will consider this a goldmine of information about you. Everything you publish is subject to their interpretation.

How to Control What Others Are Seeing

Next, you need to control what others find about you. While you can’t control every little thing, there are ways to steer the overall findings, and thus, your online reputation.

Get Your Own Website
The best defense is a good offense. If you create your own website, you could potentially appear high in search engine results for yourself. This will give you a way to explicitly control your online reputation. You don’t need to go all out and start a blog; even a one-pager with basic info will do.
Get Your Own Name On Social Media
Create social media accounts and get your own name before somebody else does. Although the risk of someone pretending to be you is low, you will at least have these online appearances under your control. Even if you don’t actively use those sites, put up a basic profile.
SEO Your Content
If you optimize your site for search engines, then your actively-controlled content will rank higher than other potentially embarrassing or outdated content. Since most people only look at the first page of search results, the further back you can push the bad stuff, the better. Creating various social media accounts can also help here, because they will appear in search results and push undesired content away.
As you go through your Facebook profile, remove any potentially inappropriate photos or info to clean up your profile. You can remove yourself from a photo by clicking the “Remove tag” link next to your name, though you cannot delete the image yourself – you will have to ask the owner of the photo to do it for you.
Again, the the same drill as Facebook: remove any potentially inappropriate photos, friends’ comments, blog entries, interests, and other info from your profile. Social networking is all fun and games, until someone loses a date or job from it.
Generally, you don’t have to worry too much about inappropriate content in LinkedIn, due to its professional nature. But a less-than-flattering recommendation could be bad. You can email the author and kindly ask for a rewrite if that’s the case.
Unfortunately, you cannot remove someone else’s photo, nor can you remove their tag mentioning your name. All you can do is email the owner and appeal to their kindness, generosity, and discretion. If negotiations get rough, consider buying them a premium Flickr account as a gift.
Similar to Flickr, you cannot remove someone else’s video or tag of your name on YouTube. You can try flagging the video, but that won’t remove it. The best way to do that is to email the owner directly.
Other Social Media Sites
If you have created a list of your accounts on other social media sites, go through each one and remove any potentially embarrassing content. Tedious but worth it.

Duct Tape Marketing also lists a ton of reputation management tools, though I didn’t find many of them to be worth the time needed to learn & use them. I know that the services I’ve listed here may already take the average person quite a while to do.

They are worth it though, especially in today’s connected world. You never know when a potential date, employer, friend, business partner, or family member might be doing some online snooping on you.

Photo by: Photo Mojo

Dynamic URLs vs Static URLs for SEO

Google Has this ever happened to you? Someone looks you in the eye. Takes a deep breath. Then tells you how dynamic URLs are bad for SEO on Google (GOOG).

That’s happened to me a few times. Sometimes without the deep breath and a little less drama, but the message has been the same. So I just wanted to offer some clarification, straight from Google’s Webmaster Central Blog (emphasis theirs):

Myth: “Dynamic URLs cannot be crawled.”
Fact: We can crawl dynamic URLs and interpret the different parameters. We might have problems crawling and ranking your dynamic URLs if you try to make your urls look static and in the process hide parameters which offer the Googlebot valuable information. One recommendation is to avoid reformatting a dynamic URL to make it look static. It’s always advisable to use static content with static URLs as much as possible, but in cases where you decide to use dynamic content, you should give us the possibility to analyze your URL structure and not remove information by hiding parameters and making them look static.

Myth: “Dynamic URLs are okay if you use fewer than three parameters.”
Fact: There is no limit on the number of parameters, but a good rule of thumb would be to keep your URLs short (this applies to all URLs, whether static or dynamic). You may be able to remove some parameters which aren’t essential for Googlebot and offer your users a nice looking dynamic URL. If you are not able to figure out which parameters to remove, we’d advise you to serve us all the parameters in your dynamic URL and our system will figure out which ones do not matter. Hiding your parameters keeps us from analyzing your URLs properly and we won’t be able to recognize the parameters as such, which could cause a loss of valuable information.

John Mueller, a Googler, added this bit in the comments:

In general, we would prefer to see a “messy” dynamic URL instead of an incompletely or incorrectly implemented static-looking URL scheme.

Barry Schwartz, Search Engine Land’s News Editor, added this to the discussion:

You shouldn’t start changing what works for you now. Just because Google says things are fine when using dynamic URLs, it may not be fine in your case. When I told two of my developers about this Google post, they asked me what they should do. I said, keep developing using rewrites on pages you want Google think are static. If you want Google to know that certain pages are dynamic, like filtering products based on colors or size, then maybe in those cases I would leave the dynamic URLs. Again, it really depends on your situation and the site at hand.

So there you have it:

  • If you’ve already rewritten your URLs, keep them as is.
  • If you haven’t yet, dynamic URLs are fine.
  • Static URLs can sometimes have a slightly higher CTR.
  • If you don’t know how to rewrite your dynamic URLs into static ones, don’t, because a poorly rewritten static URL is worse than a dynamic URL.
  • If you can remove some of the unnecessary parameters from your URL, then do so; if not, don’t worry about it.
  • If you are using WordPress, their custom permalinks feature generally rewrites URLs just fine.
  • No direct guidance has been given about other CMS systems, but I would assume that the more popular ones are fine.

I hope this helps!

How to Write for the Web and Search Engines

Tokyo Shopping This is the first post in a series on How to Make Money as a Freelance Blogger:

  1. How to Write for the Web and Search Engines
  2. How to Market Yourself
  3. How to Find Writing Jobs

First, you need to know how to write online. Since reading an article on a computer monitor is different than reading it on paper, online reading behaviors differ significantly.

Second, you need to know to optimize your articles for search engines. Also known as Search Engine Optimization (SEO), this means getting your articles to show up high on a search engine’s results.

Now for a list of must-read articles and resources:


Alertbox is a bi-weekly column with a number of useful research reports on general web usability.


Copyblogger is a popular blog with a lot of useful online copywriting tips aimed at marketers and copywriters.


ProBlogger is a popular blog with useful writing tips aimed at professional bloggers who make a living writing blogs.

More tomorrow!

The How to Make Money as a Freelance Blogger series:

  1. How to Write for the Web and Search Engines
  2. How to Market Yourself
  3. How to Find Writing Jobs

Myth: All The Good Domain Names Are Taken

Now for some Friday fun. Can’t find a good domain name? Think all the good domain names are taken? Well, you’re wrong, according to the NYC- and LA-based sketch comedy group Quiet Library.

My personal favorite:


(Think I might have missed some L’s in there…)

Via: Self Made Minds

Relying Solely on AdWords as a Business Model

How would you like to make $115,000 a month? I sure would. That’s how much Sourcetool.com was making off of Google AdSense ads.

And that, apparently, caught the eye – and ire – of Google (GOOG).

Joe Nocera of the NY Times wrote about Sourcetool.com’s dilemma last Friday in his article, “Stuck in Google’s Doghouse“. In short, Sourcetool.com was making $653,000/month in revenue by spending $500,000/month on Google AdWords. That means bidding on sponsored search keywords for about $0.05 – $0.06 a pop to bring traffic to their site, then getting around $0.10 each time someone clicked on an ad. Though Sourcetool.com is adamant that what they’re doing isn’t ad arbitrage, their business model essentially is.

Then Google made some changes to their AdWords algorithm, resulting in an increase of Sourcetool.com’s minimum bid requirements to $1, and in some cases: $5 or $10. The reason given was that Sourcetool.com’s landing pages were not high-enough in quality – they weren’t sufficiently “googly”, in Google-speak. Even after numerous phone calls, rebuttals, and changes to their landing pages, the minimum bid requirement remained. Google’s stance is that their algorithm has spoken. Sourcetool.com’s stance is that something unfair is going on, since Google has made exceptions to others before, including to one of Sourcetool.com’s competitors.

Whatever the case, this basically killed Sourcetool.com’s business model.

One Customer Source, One Revenue Source

Let’s put aside our feelings of ad arbitrage and Google’s practices for a moment here. There are already lots of opinions in the blogosphere, from debating whether or not Google is a monopoly to potential dishonesty within Google’s algorithm to Google doing what’s best for their customers.

Let’s instead talk about Sourcetool.com. Here’s a business that had figured out a way to generate nearly $1.4M a year with a single web property. Not bad!

However, 100% of that revenue was dependent on one source – Google. (Or, more specifically, Google AdWords to bring in traffic, Google AdSense to monetize that traffic.) There’s a strong inherent risk in that. They are at the mercy of one source, and should that source change its policies, go under, or simply turn its back on them, then they’re screwed. And that’s exactly what happened. They got screwed.

To be fair, there are lots of small businesses that rely on one source for their customers and revenue, be it a single product or service, or a single online marketplace like Amazon (AMZN) or Ebay (EBAY).

You know the cliche “don’t put all your eggs in one basket?” When that basket breaks, you’ve lost all your eggs. That’s what will happen if you have only one customer or revenue source. When it breaks, you’ve lost all your customers and all your revenue.

Product Diversification

Although it’s not as relevant to Sourcetool.com, I’m going to touch on product diversification first. In today’s economy, product-line diversification is essential for business stability – just as portfolio diversity is essential for investment stability. Even large corporations realize this. The Walt Disney Company (DIS) is famous for diversifying from cartoons to movies to amusement parks. Apple (AAPL) went from personal computers to mp3 players to mobile phones. And Starbucks (SBUX) sells everything from espressos to board games to CDs.

Which, of course, begs the question – can there be too much diversification? Yes, if it goes beyond your core competencies and brand. But that’s another discussion.

Channel Diversification

Now let’s touch on marketplace or channel diversification. You can look at Google as a kind of distribution channel for Sourcetool.com – it was the primary way for them to acquire customers. No Google, no customers. That’s a pretty simple and scary formula.

The reality of the situation is that Google directs the majority of web traffic nowadays, so most any web-related business needs to work with Google to some extent. But fortunately, there are alternatives.

According to the article, Sourcetool.com was only using Google AdWords to generate traffic. I’m sure that wasn’t the only method, but for the sake of this discussion, let’s assume it was. Here are some other methods:

Using the direct URL method means massively branding your URL so your customers know it and can type it into a web browser manually. It’s probably the most costly method, but lots of start-ups with strong brand recognition do this – such as Flickr.com, YouTube.com, and PayPal.com. Same goes for large corporations like Pepsi.com, BankOfAmerica.com, and NYTimes.com. (Sure makes having a .com domain name pretty important, huh?)

It’s certainly not easy to diversify your online channels, but relying on one 100% can be disastrous. Say you relied on Google for 80% of your traffic, Yahoo for 15% and MSN for 5%. You’d still have 20% of your traffic if your relationship with Google changed. That’s better than 0%, right?

And as a bonus, for ecommerce retailers out there, Amazon and Ebay aren’t your only channels. The list above also applies to you, as well as these online shopping comparison engines & marketplaces:

Revenue Diversification

Now let’s touch upon revenue diversification. Sourcetool.com’s only source of revenue is Google AdSense. Though their current problem is more about customer acquisition via a single channel, it wouldn’t hurt to diversify their revenue streams too, especially if Google were to kick them out of AdSense.

Fortunately for business owners, AdSense isn’t the only ad network in town. There are dozens of others, though none seem to do content matching as well as AdSense right now. Since I’ve listed a bunch of them in my entry about blogging for cash, I won’t repeat them here.

There are also affiliate programs, which work like sales commissions. If you help a retailer sell an item, they’ll pay you a percentage of the sale. Some savvy affiliate marketers are able to make six-figure checks doing this. You’ll also find a number of affiliate programs on my list.

Along with the ads model are sponsorships. Sourcetool.com could try to get sponsorships from various retailers to earn extra income. That would change the nature of their directory though, as they tout themselves as a free directory right now.

There’s also the subscription model, though I’m not sure what kind of premium content Sourcetool.com could offer.

In Conclusion

Relying on a single source of customers or income from a single product or service is an inherently dangerous business model. If that source goes away, so does your business. To solve that, you need to diversify.

If you’re relying solely on Google AdWords for traffic, consider diversifying. Try Yahoo. Try MSN. Try social media marketing. Diversify your customer acquisition methods.

Same goes for your revenue sources. If Google AdSense is your only income generator, consider diversifying. Try another ad network. Try an affiliate program. Try subscription models. Diversify your revenue sources.

Good luck! And remember – diversify diversify diversify!

The Click-through Rate of Google’s Search Results Page

This is an oldie but a goodie. SEO specialists know this already. You should too, if your internet business depends on traffic from Google at all.

Back in August 2006, AOL (TWX) released the search records of 500k users collected over a three month period. The data was removed as quickly as it was published, due to privacy concerns. It is still available on various mirrors on the internet, however (nothing is ever completely erased from the internet).

Then Richard Hearne of Red Cardinal took the data and figured out the average click-through rate of each position on Google’s search results page:

SEO specialists and internet marketers can then use this data, cross-reference it with the Google’s Keyword Tool, and figure out potentially how much traffic they can receive per keyword if they’re able to achieve a high search engine rank.

How reliable is this data? Pretty reliable, since the selection size is so large. There may be some bias (they were all AOL users), but I’m guessing it’s fairly accurate. Ed Dale believes it’s pretty spot on.

A couple of months later, several researchers from Cornell University did an eye-tracking analysis of Google’s search results page. They came up with slightly higher click-through percentages, as Oleg Ishenko of SEO Researcher shows with the following heat map:

The Cornell study is less reliable, however. Their sample set was only 26 undergraduate students who performed 397 Google queries in a usability lab.

In either case, these results show a strong click-through rate for the first result (no duh). The rates taper down until the last result, which enjoys a slight uptick. It should also be noted that this data only shows rates for organic search results and not PPC/sponsored listings.

Cool stuff though. I love free data.

Google Knol and Search Engine Woes

Will Google’s Knol start taking over Google’s search results? Who knols?

Ha! Sorry, I was dying to make that joke. Moving on now…

Just a week after it’s launch, Google’s Knol is beginning to stir up some controversy. First, Wil Reynolds of Seer Interactive noticed that a Knol article was already ranking high on Google for the search phrase “how to backpack“. As of this post, the article is ranking #1 on Google. (Incidentally, the author, Ryan Moulton, is a Google employee.)

“Really?” exclaimed Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land. “I mean, how many links could this page have gotten already?” Then Aaron Wall of SEO Book tried a test: he created a Knol that replicated content he’s published elsewhere—an article on SEO basics. Just compare the two (original and duplicate) and you’ll see they’re a word-for-word copy.

Say you tried to search for that exact article (using an exact sentence from it). What would you expect would happen? You’d probably get the original article—since it’s older and thus more likely the original—and perhaps the Knol article somewhere below it if Google has started ranking its Knol articles, right? That’s what Wall expected too. What happened instead was the Knol article ranked higher than the original. Of this, Wall says (emphasis his):

Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.

Whoa boy, time to copy some of my old content and slap it into Knol! But… aw rats, the “create a Knol” function seems to be down right now. Perhaps there are too many other people trying to do the same thing?

Quite a few others feel similarly to Wall. Dare Obasanjo of 25hoursaday.com also tried his own test similar to Sullivan’s, and concluded that (emphasis his):

Google is clearly favoring Knol content over content from older, more highly linked sites on the Web. I won’t bother with the question of whether Google is doing this on purpose or whether this is some innocent mistake. The important question is “What are they going to do about it now that we’ve found out?

This observation kind of runs counter to what Google told Sullivan earlier:

Google assured me that the authority of Google’s domain wouldn’t give Knol any additional trust. Knol pages will be scored based on the links and PageRank pointing to individual pages.

Huh, really? Doesn’t quite seem that way, does it?

Mahalo.com’s Jason Calacanis isn’t very happy either. He blasted Google in his latest email:

Now, Google says they will do no evil and since I’ve worked with their team across three companies I tend to believe them. However, with the launch of Google Knol I feel like they are not being totally up front with us–their partners. It feels like they’ve stabbed us in the back to be honest. I’m not the only one who feels this way–even if I’m the only one stupid enough to say it.

If Google is going to be in the content business and compete for the top ranking in the operating system they control why not be honest about it? Why not have David Eun say, “listen, we’re experimenting with content and we want you to be involved in it. Put your content in Knol!”

Frankly, it’s insulting to say you’re not in the content business and then launch Knol and compete with content companies for their authors, users, and placement in the rankings that you control.

For the record, dishonesty falls under evil in my book.

Tell us how you really feel, Calacanis. Heh.

Business-wise, this is pretty smart. They’re adding more instances where users could interact with their properties. More instances means more pageviews, more ad space to sell, and more control. And in their eyes, if Knol’s content really is of higher quality than, say, Wikipedia’s content, then it deserves to rank higher.

Also, just to compare—Yahoo’s search engine already does this. A search for Dark Knight yields a search results module from Yahoo! Movies at the top, above the official movie site from Warner Bros. and IMDb. No one’s cried foul on Yahoo for this.

But then again, Yahoo! Movies has editorial content from Yahoo, whereas Knol has user generated content (that is rated and possibly written collaboratively). Plus—to Calacanis’ point—Yahoo makes no mistake that it’s a media company, whereas Google has always stated that it’s not

Controversy indeed. I wonder what’s going to come of all this. Whatever it’ll be, I agree with Internet Entrepreneur Joe Duck: “I expect knol to be a huge topic at the upcoming search conference – SES San Jose.” It sure will be.