Negative SEO Extortion is Real

According to three commentators, emails extorting webmasters are real – pay us $1500 or we will create thousands of bad links that will trash your Google ranking.

For years Google told us that it wasn’t possible to negatively influence someone else’s ranking. Then they said, well it might be possible, so here’s a link disavow tool.

The big problem is that the extortionists can create thousands of bad links with the click of a button, but the disavow process for so many links can take many hours – and worry!

Fortunately this problem will only occur for those in the middle tier – not so small that nobody cares, and not so big that such tactics won’t harm them. Still, that’s a lot of vulnerable websites.

You can guarantee Google is working to fix this, but it remains to be seen how successful they will be.


Google Acquires Word Lens

For an undisclosed sum…. and makes it available for free.

The app translates words in images and photos into your own language – a typical example is to help decipher road signs in a foreign land.

Unless Google just bought it to reduce competition, the purchase could indicate an extra dimension will be coming to its mobile search offerings. I can imagine being able to enter an image directly into the search app. This already is kinda possible with image search, where you can enter an image URL and let Google find similar images.

Future uses could include:

  • Take a photo of a restaurant sign – and Google will combine that with GPS to bring up a menu and reviews
  • Take a photo of a product (as an alternative to its barcode) and find price comparisons
  • Take a photo of a person and find their social media profiles!
  • Take a photo of a numbered letterbox or house and order a taxi (again, combining the image data with GPS

Right To Be Forgotten

The tide is turning, and members of the public are now able to remove inaccurate search results that negatively affect them – in Europe at least.

Hundreds of people including an ex-politician seeking re-election, a paedophile and a doctor have applied to have details about them wiped from Google’s search index since a landmark ruling in Europe on Tuesday.

The deluge of claims trying to exercise the “right to be forgotten” follows a decision by Europe’s highest court, which said that in some cases the right to privacy of individuals outweighs the freedom of search engines to link to information about them although the information itself can remain on web pages.
[The Guardian]

It is really hard to see how far this will go in the future. In one direction this is just a glitch, and it will be a case of collateral damage (bad luck if a few people are affected) vs the greater efficiency.

In the other direction, people get to control how they are represented online. This might (ironically) require unique identifiers so we can distinguish between people with different names.

I certainly don’t want this, but for the sake of efficiencies I suggest that people can choose to have a unique identifier / username / handle that would be displayed alongside your regular name online. It would be a case of claiming or disclaiming online references. In doing so you risk legal action that makes the connections more definite (or not).


Google Helpouts: Same Fate As Google Answers?

Many years ago Google had a Q&A service where people paid for answers to questions that were able to be researched (properly) online and offline. It provided an income of sorts for 500 researchers, and overheads were low. Yet Google decided to kill it off. If they had left it running, by now there would be an incredible body of knowledge that they could enhance their search results with.

Now we have the newly launched Google Hangouts. You pay for help and advice that you receive over video.

The categories being offered initially include art and music, computers, cooking, education and careers, fashion and beauty, fitness and nutrition, health and home and garden.

The Helpouts range from free to $240 or more. Some examples include chemistry tutoring and homework, learning to play guitar, yoga instruction, French language lessons, fixing computer problems or refrigerator repair.

“With Helpouts, you can choose who you get help from based on their qualifications, their availability, their price, their ratings and reviews,” Manber said.

“You can connect instantly or book in advance. You can get help from individuals or from brands you already know and trust, like Sephora, One Medical, Weight Watchers, Redbeacon (a Home Depot company), and Rosetta Stone.”

Given Google’s track record of giving up on products, I hope nobody invests too heavily in this…

Google Hangouts Easter Eggs

At Google Hangouts it is easy to send someone an animated gif. Consequently Google have chucked in a few special animations, just because they can (via Mental Floss)

Typing in “/Pitchforks” in a Google Hangouts dialogue box will launch a stream of angry townspeople racing across the screen with pitchforks. “/ShyDino” will feature a green dinosaur hiding behind a small house in your chat window, while typing “/BikeShed” will also change the background color. And they didn’t forget My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic in Google Hangouts, either: Typing in “/Ponies” or “/Ponystream” will make animated ponies dash across your chat window.

40 and still a virgin

You’ve probably noticed by now that Google Search has an auto-complete function. Start entering a search query, and Google gives you a few popular choices that will save you typing all the keywords.

You can use this to complete statements, such as “Barack Obama is…” – first choice from Google is Barack Obama is the devil. So obviously for certain searches this is being gamed. With that in mind, here’s a story from the Daily Mail about auto-completes of “I’m [age] and ”

A YouTube video posted by Marius Budin shows what words are automatically completed by Google Instant when you type the word ‘I’m', followed by your age.

The most common phrase across all age groups was ‘I’m [age] and still a virgin’, yet ‘and pregnant’, ‘never kissed a boy/girl’, and ‘don’t have a career’ were also popular.

As I said, these can be gamed:
When Budin typed in ‘I’m 10′ the top result was ‘and pregnant’.

I think it is pretty obvious that neither is this the most common search that starts with “I’m 10″, it also isn’t the most common phrase appearing on the web. What seems to have happened is someone wrote about being 10 and pregnant at Yahoo Answers, and because of the shocking nature of it, many people linked to it. That got it to #1 for “I’m 10 and”, which results in top billing for the auto-complete.
The story is a result of people reporting on topics they don’t understand!


Farewell Google Affiliate Network

As an example of how little Google cares about a product once they decide to shut it down, we only know about this via a brief mention in a blog post, sneakily titled An update on Google Affiliate Network:

We’ve made the difficult decision to retire Google Affiliate Network and focus on other products that are driving great results for clients.

To be fair, Google didn’t buy the network deliberately, it was a minor component of their multi-billion dollar purchase of DoubleClick. Known as Performics back then, the affiliate network was worth perhaps $50 million (based on what Double Click paid for it 2 years prior).

But also to be fair, if they didn’t want it they could have sold it to someone else and pocketed $50 million. Perhaps it wasn’t worth their bother for such a piddling amount.

Since Performics became GAN, it hasn’t changed much. Apart from making it look more like a Google product, it seems they put little effort into it. They didn’t even give it its own domain name!

And now, merchants and affiliates who have perhaps had a relationship for a decade through the Performics / GAN platform, will now have to shift to a new platform. Of perhaps just give up, emulating the mega-successful Google?

Google: Product Killer: 70 & Counting

That’s not 70 all time, that’s 70 in the last 18 months. How many businesses have the luxury of ditching products at a rate of one per week??

Woody Leonhard says:

By my count, Google has discontinued more than 70 free-standing apps and major sets of APIs in eight different “spring cleanings” over the past 18 months. Perhaps Larry Page took Steve Jobs’ advice to figure out what Google’s good at, and focus … mercilessly.

It is easy to forget in these fast-moving times, but these are some of the more notable dumps:

  • Aardvark – peer-to-peer Q@A, purchased for $50 million, lasted 19 months
  • Google Desktop Search – best you could get, great brand advocate, but not an earner
  • Fast Flip – interestingly the similar product FlipBoard is all the rage these days…
  • Jaiku – like Twitter but they didn’t want to play second fiddle
  • Google Wave – email 3.0, but too advanced to make waves
  • iGoogle – a landing page that was used by millions. They’ve re-animated it until November, but this is one of the more senseless killings
  • Google Reader – it seems almost certain that the most popular replacement will make a $billion
  • FeedBurner – purchased for $100 million, massive user base, hanging on by a thread. Do they dare kill this as well?

Google Caught Using Paid Links

Google promise to do no evil… but they have been caught manipulating website ranking using the very same technique that has seen other sites punished – paid links.

Basically, Google has paid for “advertorials” in online newspapers, and within the content is direct links to Google products. According to Google the only legit way of doing this is to ensure the links are “no follow”. In the examples uncovered, the links are just regular, meaning Google benefits from the link juice.

Full story at SEO Book

These things can easily happen when a company gets too big, and especially when they assign a publicity campaign to someone who has no knowledge of SEO practises. I doubt it was deliberate!

Meanwhile, in the UK Google has punished flower delivery service Interflora, as well as more than 150 news sites that they had advertorials on, just like Google, without “no follow” links.

Impossible Queries Find Adult Answers

By the time you have read this, Google will have most likely fixed the “bug”. While it certainly isn’t a feature, or an Easter Egg, it is curious:

The Verge highlighted a Quora post about the bug, where doing some searches for “contradictory” or impossible to solve queries brings back porn listings.

For example, queries like the ones below currently do this (and be forewarned, you’re going to get porn results at Google if you click on these links):


Found at Search Engine Land