On SEO Scepticism

I think I’m going to form a new society. It’s called the “SEO Sceptics Society“, but it’s not about being sceptical of optimising sites for search engines, but sceptical about the industry that has grown up around it.

To explain.

Google is by far the world’s most popular search engine with around 80% market share which, as an aside, makes you wonder why competition monitors haven’t had a crack at it yet.

The fact that its very name has become a verb meaning “to search” must suggest that it gives searchers the best, most relevant sites in response to their search, ranking results by relevance to the search term. So how does it do this?

Firstly, it encourages sites to think about the key words or messages which they want each page to convey and to use these messages in the text, the headers and the page titles. This makes it easy for Google to index the pages, preferring them to be clean, well-written and fast-loading.

Great, so far nothing to be sceptical about. But, Google’s real selling point is the concept of a site’s authority.

Let’s imagine that I wrote the best article ever on the 2008 banking crisis. An article so good, so definitive, that Robert Peston and the Bank of England themselves linked their sites to it before giving up their day jobs. Google would already know that their sites are authorities in their fields (because of the sites that link to them) so for them to link to me would be a massive vote and my site’s authority, or Page Rank, would shoot up. Thus, the next time you Googled about the banking crisis, my site would be at the top of the results page. Still no reason for the scepticism. Assuming that my motives for writing the article were academic or informative, then I would have earned links and, therefore, authority.

But what if I wasn’t trying to earn links, but to bait them? What if I wrote articles on my site or blog just to attract links? What if I sought to procure links to my site simply to bolster my Page Rank and, consequently, traffic and possible sales?

Less optimisation, more manipulation.

Although Google frowns on the widespread practice of paying for links, even seemingly innocuous techniques like blogging, commenting on forums and other link-building campaigns have spawned a lucrative industry. By paying specialists to create or bait these links, it is possible, common even, for low quality sites which offer little real authority or value to rank top of Google.

Now, please don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that you should not create content or blogs to inform or communicate and therefore earn links. My issue is with the idea of creating content solely to attract, justify or embed links.

Inadvertently, Google has created a monster. An industry that it cannot control and yet which is totally dependent on it.

Illegal? Not at all. Unethical? Not really. Immoral? Nah. Wrong? Just possibly.

Now see why I’m sceptical?

On not being a Terrorist

Writing this, sat in my office, I’m pretty sure that I’m not being watched by ‘them’. Yeah, I realise that Google records every search I make, that all my e-mails are scanned and stored and that my ISP logs every site I visit, but I meant actually watched, you know video and stuff.
But, if I venture out of my front door, things are very different. As many people like to say, we are the world’s most watched citizens. The level of daily surveillance in our lives would shock George Orwell and make the Stasi throw in the towel.
Which is odd, because if we want to take photos, we have to watch our step. I remember, maybe twenty years ago, taking some photos at my nephew’s under-16, Sunday morning football game. If I tried that now, I’d be chased out the park by torches and pitchforks. Last August, at Worthing’s Bird Man event, a man was arrested and subsequently charged with photographing children. Think about it… in a public place, at a public event attended by tens of thousands amongst whom, surely, were thousands of cameras and camera phones, one man was pointed out and bundled away. For what? When did taking photos of children in a public place become a crime? OK, at the trial it became clear that the nature of the pictures were sick, but not in any way obscene or illegal. So this time, the Police caught a bad guy. Who’s going to be brave enough to take a camera to this year’s event?
Ok, fair enough, photographing children is now a crime. So, sorry Grandma, no more photos of the grandchildren, because anyone who would want to photograph a child must be a pervert.
At least we can still photograph Britain’s natural beauty and cultural heritage.
Err, no… because then we’d be terrorists. There is a worrying trend for amateur and pro photographers to be confronted by police under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for taking photos in public streets and public buildings. Some have had cameras seized or have been forced to delete images, neither of which the Police are allowed to do. Photography magazines recommend photographers carry “bust cards” explaining what they should do when their collar is felt and reminding the Police that there is no law against taking photographs in public places. Yet.
What worries me is that our society is becoming suspicious. Whatever we do, we are being watched and someone, somewhere is wondering what we are up to. Your average Joe, the perfect law-abiding citizen, fears prosecution for driving slightly too fast. We fear being suspected of being terrorists, paedophiles or racists for making an inadvertent comment or gesture. Or for taking photographs.
“Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering” – Yoda

On Democracy and the Phoney Election

And so, as of today, the nation is officially on an election footing as Brown admits the worst-kept secret ever and announces the date of the election.
Now, I have no political affiliations – I belong to no party and I would never dream of supporting or endorsing a party, so I thought it would be fun to blog day-to-day on how the local candidates are doing in my estimation. Who will I vote for, did so-and-so have a good day on the campaign trail or did he commit political suicide?
Yeah, it would be fun. But it’s not gonna happen. No point, no point at all.
You see, for election purposes, I live in West Worthing. In 2005, the Conservative chappie got 47%, ahead of the Lib-Dem chap who got 26%. The result was exactly the same in 2001, but in 1997 it was very exciting because the Lib-dem guy got 31%! The ward was created in 1997, when Worthing was split into two. Up until then, the Conservatives had won every election going back to 1945.
So, quite honestly, if my Labrador was to somehow wake up as the Conservative’s prospective parliamentary candidate, she’d win. No problem.
So where is the incentive for new voters to vote? We talk about people’s democratic right to vote, but the tragic fact is that, if you live in Worthing and many, many other similar towns, you cannot influence the outcome of the national election.
The UK is world’s largest democracy in which the political head of state, and therefore the ruling administration, is not elected to that post. He or she is chosen by a mixture of the elected Members and un-elected committees – party members and Trade Unions. Brown has been Prime Minister for three years, but we have never been given the chance to elect him.
In a Country which likes to gloat about being the father of democracy, the electoral system is rotten to the core. At the last election, Labour won 35% of the overall vote, yet were rewarded with 55% of parliamentary seats. The Conservatives won only 3% less votes, yet only got 30% of seats while the Lib-dems got 22% of the vote and 9% of seats.
So will I vote? Yes, of course. Will it make a difference locally? Probably not. Will my vote have a bearing on who governs the country?
Sadly, no.

Please don’t follow me…

I’ve said before that I like to do my own thing. That doesn’t mean that I’m anti-establishment, but I cherish my own views and opinions and don’t feel any need to impose them on anyone else. I’m not religious, don’t belong to any political movement and don’t even support a particular football team. In short, I’m not a follower and have no desire to be followed.
Maybe that’s why I don’t get Twitter?
Now don’t get me wrong… I quite like Twitter and have an account (@voisardparsons). As I write this, I have Tweetdeck open watching for Tweets about Worthing or from people who sometimes have interesting things to say or share.
When I first signed up, I was flattered to receive notifications that strangers were “following” me. Great. I had no idea who these people were, but they seemed interested in me. Err, no. They expected me, out of courtesy, to “follow” them and that was their thing – having as many followers as possible, irrespective of who they were. Eeek.
Now, Twitter is a one-to-many medium. For example, I write something deeply profound and all my “followers” see it as can anyone who watches for keywords which I may have included. Some use it brilliantly: Chris Evans asks questions during his show, Duncan Bannatyne found his wife’s dress and, of course, Stephen Fry shares his life online when he’s not hibernating. Others use it badly – the BBC spams out headlines at a machine-gun rate, others “Tweet” their entire day in minute, banal detail. Twitter can be a great way to rapidly spread a rumour, news (Iran, for example) or a viral video.
Maybe I’m reading too much into this, but Stephen Fry is, of course, a national treasure. He is genuinely interesting and passionate about technology but the idea of “following” him, or anyone else, bothers me and, if I’m honest, I don’t really want “followers”.
What I’d really like is somewhere where I can choose “friends” and share the odd thought, cool link or photo with them, maybe chat occasionally and read what they’re up to. Wait a minute, that’s Facebook isn’t it?

What have Toyota done to upset the BBC?

So what exactly have Toyota done to upset the mighty BBC? I can’t help wondering whether one of the Trustees or Governors has had a falling out with their local service centre, because the Beeb are pulling no punches, are they?

Ok, Ok, there have been some issues with the sticking accelerator pedals which has caused “around 20” incidents in the US over the last few years. Alright, Toyota could have reacted sooner to invoke a simple re-call, but car manufacturers issue recalls all the time, often for more serious defects. So why have the BBC led on the story for at least three days, using words like “crisis” and even (I still cannot believe this) sending an outside broadcast crew this morning to a Toyota dealership to film – live!!!- one of the fixes being implemented.

And now, of course, we have the smug sniggering about the Prius, the car that the BBC, in the shape of Top Gear, put down at every opportunity. No, I don’t have one, but I can appreciate the technology behind it and the fact that, like it or not, if we want to carry on driving individual cars, then hybrids and electric cars are the future.

I await, with bated breath, what new angle the BBC will find for tommorow’s lead. A expense scandal by a Toyota exec?

On “Postage & Packing”

I’ve been reading a lot of books, papers and blogs recently about online marketing. It’s probably true that many sites have really nailed the whole user experience thing. Sites such as Amazon are great at getting us to them – their reputation, our loyalty, high search rankings. And when we are on-site and we find what we want, there is plenty of reassurance that it is the right product – photos, descriptions and, especially, user reviews. We trust these sites. We trust them not to sell us fakes, or skim our credit card or sell our data to fraudsters.

But they are all rubbish when it comes to delivery.

I guess we all realise that “postage & packaging” is really a stealth mark-up. Somehow, we convince ourselves that if it isn’t included in the advertised price then we don’t need to include it in the cost of purchase. So, we get charged an extortionate price for them to put the goods in a cheap cardboard wrap and send it in the post. You want it in three days rather than five? Sure, that’s double. Overnight? Yippee, more profit.

And why can’t they be upfront about the dreaded p&p? Why wait until the very end of the buying process to add the delivery tax? Amazon have a particularly good scam: buy three things in the same basket, unwittingly from three different suppliers (when you thought you were buying from Amazon!) and pay three delivery taxes. Oh joy unbounded!!

And then comes the ritual of doorstep delivery. Despite the fact that they remain stuck in 1960s industrial relations, hell-bent on self destruction, the favourite deliverer remains the Royal Mail who now deliver once per day at noon.

When I’m not in.

So, armed with my “sorry I missed you” card, I have to wait until Saturday morning, drive to the central Post Office (ten miles round trip, say two quid in diesel), park (add another two quid for minimum of an hour) wait in line, show an ID and collect my goods.

What!!! I pay through the nose for postage and packing, then I have to pay more to go and collect it?

Look, if you’re reading this and you work for an online retailer:

– Show me the price inclusive of reasonable delivery – next-day great, day after ok, anything longer forget it.

– Delivery is not the same as dispatch. I don’t care when you dispatch it, I’m only interested in receiving it.

The Koi Carp Theory of Management

Now that I’m no longer constrained in my corporate straitjacket, I think I can safely publish my “Koi Carp Theory of Management”

No, really. Bear with me.

It came to me in a fish restaurant in Abu Dhabi.

You see, at the time, I had a boss that I didn’t understand. I didn’t understand why he was my boss, why those above him thought he was so great and why, frankly, he even had a job. Nice bloke, don’t get me wrong, but jeez…

Anyway, the fish restaurant in question had huge floor-to-ceiling fish tanks full of fish I couldn’t quite place (note how I avoided the obvious pun?). They were quite big, whitish with red discs and little barbels… ah, they were Koi Carp. I realised that I wasn’t used to seeing Koi from the side, only from the top, usually displaying and looking expensive in the hope I might feed them. For thousands of years, Koi have been bred to look good from above with little interest in what they look like to the other fish in the pond.

And that’s when it came to me: my Boss was exactly the same. He was a Koi.

He must have looked great from above, dutifully doing what was expected of him but, from the side, to his contemporaries, he was nothing special, just an ordinary looking fish.

Of course, to those below him – the scum at the bottom of the pond, enviously looking up at the light – all we could see was an arsehole.


Ok, the vexed question of what to do next needs an answer.
I DON’T want to:
– Commute
– Work for anyone that annoys me

I Do want to:
– work on the internet again (I miss it)
– write
– work at home

So, nothing for it then… freelance web copy, blogg, e-commerce adviser

Day One.

So this is it, or it soon will be.

After 24 years, 4 months and 18 days working for the same company, I’ve just learnt that my application for “voluntary” redudancy has been accepted. Technically, the voluntary bit is stretching the point a little – I was presented with a fait accompli, so volunteering is my way of retaining control, but the result is, or will be in January, the same.

How do I feel? (thanks for asking)

Well … odd. Excited, apprehensive

Let’s see what happens.