Stop search engines assuming you can’t spell

This article shows how Using the Plus operator lets you largely bypass any auto correction features on the main search engines. If you look closely, you’ll also see a minor bug in Bing.

I have to admit that my typing is poor. Rarely do I post an article that doesn’t need at least one correction after it goes live. I am therefore mostly grateful that search engines seek to correct my poor typing by suggesting alternatives.

But there are many, many times that the search engines jump too quickly to the conclusion that I mistyped my query. I am sure that happens to us all.

There is an easy way to fix this which works on both Google and Bing, which is to use the “+” operator before your search. Try typing in “searche” into either engine and you get results for the phrase “search”. Bing, though, is more helpful if you actually WERE looking for results with an “e” on the end, by telling you that it changed the results.


It also lets you rerun the search again without the assumption. When you press that button is adds a “+” symbol to the search phrase and different results appear.


Infact, Google has the same operator, but it is much harder to find intuitively, so you just have to add it.


So that’s the tip.

Now did anyone notice the bug in bing’s plus operator search results?

Proving a page passes PageRank and other secrets

I came up with an interesting finding or two today, whilst testing whether having a link on a Google Profile passes PageRank. The test itself is explained – as well as the unusual findings that thwarte a few theories about how Google works.

I came up with an interesting finding today, whilst testing whether having a link on a Google Profile passes PageRank. Writing it up prematurely, I am going to end up tainting the experiment, but since I inadvertently spotted something interesting, I decided to stop anyway and tell the world. So this post:

  • Shows you how to tell whether a page really passes page rank
  • Shows you why I think Google Profiles don’t pass PageRank (even though they are not nofollow) and
  • Shows an error in Google’s algorithm…. clear as day.

How to tell if a page really passes PageRank

Well first… I don’t believe in Page Rank. What I am actually testing is whether a link from page A to page B actually influences the ranking of page B in the SERPS. If you think that’s the same as green fairy dust, then please go back a few steps.

My test was to put some unique anchor text on page A that did not appear at all on page B. Most people trying to check or claim a page passes any authority or relevance tend to completely ignore this important part of such a claim. If the anchor text has any similarity with the content on the landing page, then you have screwed up your test, because there could easily be (and probably are) other factors affecting whether the landing page shows on a search engine for that term. Below is my test in pictures.

Why I think Google Profiles don’t pass PageRank

I did the above test on a Google profile… My own google Profile. I used the unique text:  “I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.” The profile went live in late November. Now in THEORY, that link is not “NoFollowed” so if Google finds it, then it should take some authyority from it’s parent domain (which is!) and then in do couse, the landing page would show in the Google results for either the phrase “I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.” or just “just take out an allotment”… even though these words do not appear on page B right? Of course, just because Google doesn’t put “NoFollow” tags in its own links, doesn’t mean the links are “DoFollow”. Anyway… Heres what has happened with the test so far.

Day 1: Google hadn’t indexed anything. So no screenshot to show you.

6th January the result was like this:


Very cool… seems to have cached the page, and its cache made it into Google’s SEPS before the original post! However… no sign of the landing Google profile or the landing page yet.

Jan 15th the result was like this:


Google has found Page A (The Google Profile) and has indexed it… and to be fair has given it more relevence than the Cache, even though Google iondexed the Compete’s page before its own.

Feb 1st the result was like this:


Google managed to kick Compete out of the results altogether. But the Landing Page (page B) is still not appearing for either of my test search phrases. Now that I have published this post, my test must stop, because I have other links to the landing page. But a new test continues, I suppose, to see if THIS page passes anchor text link juice to the landing page. But I stopped the test, because the test already found two new things:

An error in Google’s algorithm…

Look closer at the above image. Is it my eyes, or does it say “No results found for ‘I live in Harlington with Marie and my two kids and I have just taken on an allotment.’ and then… right underneath it… show a page with EXACTLY that result. Syntax correct… match case correct… everything correct. So the Hazard symbol lies.

Here’s another bonus secret for reading to the end…

Most people think that Google will call the first page it indexes with duplicate content the authoritative version. However, Google clearly indexed compete’s version first… some days later, it indexed my profile… then some days later again it dumped

So that debunks the theory that the first call on content wins.

Much to think about there. Can you add to my findings?

Google Adwords Goes Wrong

Google Adwords occassionally sends messages to account managers which – I would have thought – will ruin the confidence of the not so savvy adwords manager if the advice was taken at face value. Here is just one short example of Google getting WAY too clever… and way too wrong.

Interesting email from Google Adwords:

You currently have 2 pending proposals for 2 client accounts. You can view a complete analysis for these accounts by clicking the ‘Want more clicks?’ links on your My Client Center page:

For example, according to our analysis, the following campaigns would benefit from budget adjustments:

This campaign met its daily budget of GBP £64.50 on 10 of the last 15 days. Increasing the budget to GBP £143.28 would allow the ads to show more often and get approximately 11% more clicks per month.

So let’s look at that advice from Google… Increase the spend by 122% in order to increase the clicks by 11%.

Am I missing something – or does Google think I am a complete plank?

Google’s Glass Ceiling

There is some evidence that Google may be throttling traffic to some sites on purpose, thereby creating a Google glass ceiling for your site. Is it happening to you? Are you getting more or less the same number of visitors every day from the world’s favourite search engine?

A small “Google awakening” happened on Tuesday night. There seems to to be a “Google Glass Ceiling” in the serps for certain types of sites. Mileage might vary, but if your site is pulling more weight than Google thinks it should, there is mounting evidence that Google is throttling your organic SERPS traffic. It has been something that has nagged at me for sometime, but I was a little reluctant to risk the collective derision and laughter of the SEO community for bringing it up. But now I seem to be finding followers to the theory.

The awakening happened on a boat on the Thames. Maybe the Glass capsules of the London Eye provided the trigger? Maybe not. But there were 500 people on the boat – and pretty well every one of them is affected on a daily basis by Google… because A4U is by far the largest affiliate conference in the UK and – if Mathew Wood‘s peformance was anything to go by, will soon be the largest affiliate conference on the planet. These guys are good!

So I heard a person say “I can’t seem to break through a glass ceiling of XXX visitors a day from Google”. I then asked another well known affiliate, Loquax, who also admitted that even though his major site had dropped to 10th for his big one phrase keyword recently, his traffic had remained static from Google for nearly a year. Plot it weekly… flatline!

I talked to Jo Conner – with his inspired Can’, a man who does far too much Tai Chi and far too little “real” work as I understand it. He said the same. I look at one of my own sites, Murder Mystery Games and I see the same. It seems to be that sites are “flatlining” on Google and although everyone seems to be settling at a different number, that number represents Google’s Glass Ceiling for the domain. You can push through it, but you’ll need to do something just a bit more… or at least a bit different.. to break the ceiling and take it to the next level.


Now I’m happy enough for Matt Cutts or Brian White or Adam Lasnik or John Mu to jump right in here and say “no, no, no Dixon – you must be dreaming” – but then it’s only going to take a few people to say “hey – yeh – that’s happening to me” for the idea to stick. At that point… if their really is a Glass Ceiling for some if not all sites, then one has to ask if Google are being fully transparent here? (Pun intended… an affiliate suggested I use it… I won’t name him).


It doesn’t – on the surface – seem to make sense. Google is all about pushing the best result to the users… aren’t they? But when your site is in that twilight zone of being well enough established in Google to stop looking at the daily rankings with fear and intrepidation, but not established enough to start getting “One Box” results (the ones where you get several links in poition one) on your almost generic brand name, then these are the kinds of sites that seem to be getting the Google throttle. Google knows there are several sites that may offer similar value to the user and it is in everyone’s interest (conveniently including Google’s) to give each of these sites a slice of the proverbial free action… in the spirit of “competition is good as long as it’s all done on Google”.


Not all styles of site face this ceiling. WordPress and the general blogosphere really wouldn’t notice this, as the blog content tends to work on link baiting and social network seeding rather than the traditional index to succeed. The result for bloggers is a far more volatile existence. There should be a saying – if there isn’t already – you are only as good as you last blog.


What worries me the most, is that if this hunch is correct, why has it taken so long to be “outed”? surely most of us look at traffic not rankings as a better key performance indicator don’t we? Maybe we jumped straight from looking at rankings before the Florida update many years ago all the way to looking at conversions from organic without stopping to look at the obvious middle statistic of the good old fashioned click?

Number 1 for “Search Engine Optimisation”

Back in 2001, who was number 1 for “search engine optimisation” on Google? Yes! and here’s the proof.

Ah! Memory lane. Look at THIS search result:


Unfortunately, it’s based on Google’s first ever Index in 2001, which they have brought back for their 10th birthday. We were number 1-3 for about a year on Google, Lycos and Yahoo, generally sharing the results with Mark Garwell from Webplacing and Barry Lloyd from MakeMeTop.

Then after a year two things happened. The first was that our site at number one got booted from DMOZ by a zealous editor and we found out that the customers with the money weren’t looking for “search engine optimisation”, they were looking for “internet marketing consultancy” or some other term.

So where was your site ranking in 2001 on Google Matt Cutts? Go and check it out.

Google erodes corporate privacy rights

Are the search engines are becoming fiefdoms in their own right, unrestrained by the notion of corporate responsibility? Corporate privacy may need protecting a law at some point in the future.

Google have just changed the terms of use for Google analytics. More about the change below. But first my rant…

Isn’t it about time small companies started getting similar rights online to those of individuals? I don’t use Google Analytics much – because I worry about giving my sales data to the very company that changes the cost of my traffic based on a variety of undefined metrics. The same company who’s directors have a moral obligation to maximize the revenue for their shareholders. Not mine.

I do use Google Analytics on though. Let’s face it, until a few weeks ago it was the best free analytics tool in the market. So I looked at my mediocre stats just now (well… I haven’t actually LOOKED yet…) I saw the following “stick em up” message as I logged in:
Google Analytics Data Sharing Settings
In order to improve your experience with Google products, Google Analytics is updating its data sharing policy. You now have the ability to share your Analytics data with other Google services. This will improve integration, enable additional features in Google’s advertising services (including Google Analytics, AdWords and AdSense) and improve your experience with these products.
Press “Accept” to enable data sharing between Google Analytics and other Google services or for additional options, choose “More data sharing options”.
Remind me later | More data sharing options | Do not share data | Learn more
Now it looks to me like they have just made me accept allowing Google the RIGHT to charge me more for traffic based on what they know about my site if they should so desire.
Doesn’t it mean that to you?
So – I could of course – reject the notion, but Google has been built on offering you something you want, in exchange for giving up something you don’t worry about too much. But every time you give something up, we really can’t mentally recall the inter-relationships between all of the things we have agreed to. Like those Adwords terms of use? Those Google Docs terms of use? and more recently Google Health… where they are giving you access to YOUR OWN medical records. Now I don’t mean to sound like a paranoid android here but… OK. I do mean to sound like a paranoid android. This is getting absurd. Viacom needs to spend millions defending their business model, and individuals have the protection of governments at least in theory in the UK but smaller companies really don’t have anywhere to turn, nor do they have the will to even try.
Ironically, Google feels justified to demand privacy laws of the US government for individuals at the very same time that it erodes the rights of businesses on the web.
In the UK we assume that the monopoly laws that protect us apply in other parts of the world. They don’t. In the US, the “right” way to do business is to be seen to entirely demolish your competition until you are the last man standing. Every other website on the planet apart from Google is going to eventually have to decide… are you with Google or against Google? It’s going to be hard to stand against something that large. It will be worse than not paying taxes.

Link building: Short term vs Long term strategies

Why I still believe short term link building is bad – even though it works.

I read an unusually philosophical post from Joost about not getting ahead of yourself in being too visionary. He started after Roy started talking about being visionary in the first place. Everyone on Joost’s blog seems to agree with Joost that you should do what works today in SEO, to do the best for your client.

Joost – Someone’s gotta disagree with you 🙂

I agree with Roy. But before I make my argument, paid links are still working. I was alarmed to see a significant but smaller competitor to a client of ours hit number 1 for a BIG “PPC” volume keyword (Porn-Pills-Casino for the uninitiated). In the last three months, the competitor’s backlinks from sites CONTAINING the target keyword increased… from hundreds… to 70,000.

Now that smells of paid links to me, and the number one slot has ensued. Certainly artificial links. But when we PROPERLY explain to a Brand savvy client how the competitor did it, the client doesn’t say “yum, I’ll have some of that”. They just don’t want to risk their brand reputation and to be frank, nor do we. In fact – the opposite.

Roy is right – big companies are so darn useless at understanding and implementing SEO recommendations, you cannot make recommendations that won’t outlast the latest fad. Link manipulation still works – but every link brings with it an association with the web page it is on. That can be a bad thing. We have a client asking legal questions about backlinks they didn’t ask for (and we didn’t provide them with).

Back in 2000 I was looking at Links (well before the Google reason) and found Shell Oil linking to Friends of the Earth on its corporate responsibility pages. Probably not in the FOE’s interests I would wager.

The same goes for “bigbrand*com” getting links and recommendations from “dodgysite*com”… unknown quantities that may one day come home to roost.

So it’s not so much about being visionary, as it is about building on principals that will be as long term as the brands we represent.

Gordon Brown was at a Google Zeitgeist forum yesterday. When asked about the industry he paraphrased someone else saying “the first 500 years of any institution are always the most difficult



Integrated Search. The future of search.

Microsoft ran a “Live Search Syposium” for 100 or so specially invited guests. Here is the vision of search in the future that they showed us.

Last week I was privileged enough to be invited to Microsoft’s “Live Search Symposium” in a posh private venue in Knightsbridge. There were only a hundred or so guests, but when the guests include Danny Sullivan, Dave Naylor and the tech boffins at the British Library you know you are in the right sort of place.

(By the way – how short can you make YOUR domain name? The British Library is… Do you think their DNS could drop the www? that would be very cool. Anyway… I digress.)

The symposium was exceedingly slick. MUCH better than I am used to frankly, from Microsoft. They really put text based serps into perspective as being… frankly the very start of search. I know we have been banding about universal or blended search for over a year now, but in the UK at least, we really haven’t made the leap. Microsoft seem pretty joined up in their thinking about how that leap will change their fortunes in serach. Microsoft are not thinking “serps”. They are thinking vertical search and multiple media. They may still be weaker than Google in the organic results, but what they have been building an the infrastructure powerful enough to break Google’s market up entirely by encouraging different people to build different ways to search, based on different audiences. Danny reported on one such example of the Indiana Jones Search Engine straight out of the meeting and if you haven’t spent 30 minutes engaging with you really should! but Microsoft have gone way further and it looks like their new “Silverlight” product (a bit like flash on steroids). I am no developer, but seeing how the dots connect almost makes me wish I was.

Microsoft are not just paying lip service to these joined up dots either, They have created dozens of viral videos which must have cost a fortune! (sorry… the video below is probably still loading… bear with Microsoft…)

What Dixon Jones laughs at during working hours

There are several of these designed primarily (it would appear) for the UK market.

Probably the most impressive thiong I saw to show integrated search could already be was which was pulling news, image and data feeds in real time as the London elections were going on. Once built, the system was functioning and updating seemlessly straight through the election period and is still current now. You need to download Silverlight to see it, mind, but wow – that’s going to challenge the very core of the news providers. Apparently anyone with programming skills and some time on their hands could have built it, using Microsoft’s freely available APIs. It didn’t have to be MSN, but obviously they wanted to see how far they could take the technology.

When you have search that is so rich in any given verticle or topic, built by millions of enthusiasts in thousands of genres and styles… what does Google become by comparison? Just a directory of search engines – because the “most authoritative” source and “richest experience” on (say) bungee jumping will be a site that drags in every valuable news search, image search, map locations, addresses, forums and blogs on the subject in the most entertaining way… and that way will be based on Microsoft’s silverlight technology and Microsoft’s APIs. Not Google’s.

The better Google gets at retutning the “best site” at the head of search, the more Microsoft technology driven sites will be at the far end. That leaves Google with the long tail and no place to go.

I’m not saying Microsoft’s strategy will work. But it’s definitely a strategy that wasn’t thought up and developed to this level of sophistication on the back of a napkin. It might just work.

I’ve gone nofollow free… Good or bad thing?

Google promoted device to make a vague attempt at link spam. i think it may have also dampened the desire to debate on blogs though

Most WordPress blogs these days use nofollow tags – a Google promoted device to make a vague attempt at stopping link spam. i think it may have also dampened the desire to debate on blogs though. The debates are now being dragged into Facebook groups or back behind walled gardens at Google’s expense as well as the public’s.

What do you think? nofollow free – good idea or bad?

Regardless of your opinion, here’s how to eliminate nofollows in your comments:

I am experimenting with two plugins to do this “Nofollowfree” and “Nofollowcasebycase“. Not sure which is the better yet. To install a plugin to WordPress you really need FTP access to your WordPress site. You download the plugin, and then unzip it (Don’t try and put a zipped file onto the server. It doesn’t work). The unzipped contents should, themselves be in a directory and need to be put in the wp-content/plugins directory on the server. For some people, that will be /public_html/wp-content/plugins.

That’s not it though. You then need to activate the plugin from within WordPress. Log into the /wp-admin area and click on “plugins” on the far right of the screen to do this.