Search Engine Optimisation

Tim Bell – rogues and vagabonds and bare… oh my!

My scanner is having some emotional problems right now (it’s never quite recovered from the mammoth task of scanning all those Page 3 girls) so formal recruitment and data distribution for The PR Transparency Project will be subject to a minor delay.

In the meantime, I thought it would be appropriate for me to acid-test the waters with what I suspect will be one of the most contentious items from this 1997 book about Tim Bell and get it out of the way. Having read the book, I can assure you that there are many more items of greater relevance to any discussion about Tim Bell’s conduct as a PR/ad executive (more), so if we can all get past this and move on, that would be a very good thing indeed.

I post the following without comment or analysis. While the following passage only refers to ‘Bell’, it is definitely about Tim Bell, Chairman of Chime Communications (holding company for a portfolio of 35 companies including the Bell Pottinger group), and it is an accurate scan and verbatim* transcript of Page 45 from The Ultimate Spin Doctor: The Life and Fast Times of Tim Bell (ISBN-10: 0340696745). I did not personally witness the incident, and being only 7 years old at the time, I would expect Tim Bell to be rather glad that I didn’t.

Mr Tim Bell, Mrs Palm, and her five lovely daughters.... allegedly

———–

EXTRACT FROM PAGE 45 OF ‘THE ULTIMATE SPIN DOCTOR: THE LIFE AND FAST TIMES OF TIM BELL’

This exhibitionism asserted itself somewhat differently in one of the most controversial incidents of his life. In the early hours of 21 October 1977, three days after his thirty-sixth birthday and close to the peak of his advertising career, Bell stood naked in the bathroom of his second-floor flat at 13c West Heath Road overlooking Hampstead Heath, and exposed himself to several women while masturbating. At 8.35 a.m. he was arrested and a month later, on 19 November 1977, appeared at Hampstead Magistrates Court. According to the official conviction certificate, he was charged with ‘wilfully, openly, lewdly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act. He was found guilty and fined £50 with seven days to pay. Curiously, this newsworthy case was never reported in the local newspaper, the Hampstead and Highgate Express and only his close colleagues at Saatchi’s knew of it. To his credit, Bell never flinched when the incident, which later assumed an importance of some magnitude, was raised. He admitted the conviction but denied that the event took place. He confided to a colleague that his lawyers, Butcher Brooks and Co. advised him to plead guilty to avoid a scandal.

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[*Hyperlinks have been added. One to a Google Street View of the property involved, and one to the relevant Act. Text has not been altered.]

The PR Transparency Project – Part 1: making an example of Tim Bell

After his company was caught secretly editing Wikipedia on behalf of some very unsavoury clients toward some no-less-unsavoury ends, Tim Bell has had the audacity to project this wrongdoing back onto Wikipedia and Teh Internets as a whole:

James Thomlinson, head of digital at Bell Pottinger, apologised, admitting: “We did get some of the things wrong.” But he called for Wikipedia’s rules to be updated, blaming the wrongdoing on its “confusing” editing system and “the pressure put on us by clients to remove potentially defamatory or libellous statements very quickly, because Wikipedia is so authoritative.”

Lord Bell, who as Tim Bell advised Margaret Thatcher on the former British prime minister’s election campaigns, said he was sorry the situation occurred but was less apologetic about the content of the changes.

“As far as I am concerned, we have done absolutely nothing wrong whatsoever … We did not make any change that was wrong, it’s a means and ends discussion,” he said.

He said he believed Wikipedia’s guidelines implied that “if you are a paid adviser, you must be lying. Obviously we find that offensive.”

He bemoaned the lack of a “regulatory body” to complain to online, where reputations can be destroyed “in one minute”.

Source: Financial Times (subscription required)

That last assertion comes to you from a shameless liar who has spent decades destroying the reputations of others covertly for personal and political gain, and this behaviour continues into the 21st century. What comeback did any of these victims hope to have against Tim Bell’s anonymised attacks? This is blatant projection from a sock-puppeting liar, I won’t stand for it, and neither should you.

Tim Bell’s straw man relies on the widely-held view that there is little-to-nothing wrong with lobbying on behalf of a client (OK by me), making factual updates to Wikipedia (OK by me), or attempting to put your best face forward in the top ten searches for your name/brand (OK by me)… but what Bell Pottinger have engaged in is secret lobbying, including some wholly unacceptable commercial updates to what is supposed to be a reference library, in an attempt to covertly influence both Wikipedia and the top ten searches for a series of names/brands.

It is clearer now more than ever that if we wish to change how things are done at Bell Pottinger, the person we need to reach is Tim Bell, and we are going to reach him through the top ten search results for his name. We are, at the same time, going to attempt to bring about positive change in the PR industry as a whole.

When I say ‘we’, I mean me and you. Yes, you. If you’re up for a bit of danger and detail, that is.

Speaking of the latter…

Lord Tim Bell is Chairman of Chime Communications plc, a communications group which owns Bell Pottinger Group plc* (aka Bell Pottinger), the multinational public relations company that bears his name, and follows his principles.

The problems Bell Pottinger have run into recently stem directly from Tim Bell’s long-standing resistance to transparency. He appears to think that secretly editing a reference library in favour of commercial interests in exchange for money is OK, and this ethical blind spot has been there since long before the web and Wikipedia became an issue. Mr Bell needs to learn that the age of secret lobbying is over, and while it may be difficult to change the mind of someone as obstinate as he, I think we have a jolly good shot at changing the landscape that surrounds him in the attempt.

I invite you to join an informal lobbying group with one simple demand; that PR companies/professionals declare any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, name and link to them plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).

(This, in much the same way that web users would expect them to declare the names of Twitter accounts under their control, for subtly different but fundamentally similar reasons.)

Once PR companies/professionals declare these editing profiles and link to them from their sites (and link back to their own sites from these same profile pages), we enter Wikipedia territory. There is a significant debate to be had here about whether these profile pages generally should list all of the previous profiles/edits at the outset in a clear declaration of interest, but with the exception of Bell Pottinger and other bodies operating under Tim Bell**, personally I think it a matter for PR bods and Wikipedians to negotiate between themselves. It is not within my power to grant amnesty for any past indiscretions, and that is at the heart of that particular debate about any company who has not yet been caught out; should their new account be impacted by any of their past activity, and what measures can be taken to clean the slate?

Getting back to the simple demand for transparency, we are going to face some resistance here from people like Tim Bell who do not agree about the need for it.

To counter this resistance, we are going to speak softly and carry a very big stick. But first we are going to seek to bring vital perspective to the debate about transparency while initially demonstrating the effectiveness of our very big stick.

Here we reach the part about making an example of Tim Bell.

Tim Bell is all about shaping reality more to his liking by using image, lies and illusions to make others behave in ways that get him what he wants. He earns money by claiming that he is an expert in reputation management and his underlings make all sorts of claims about their capacity to ‘cleanse’ the top ten searches for names and brands by means both fair and foul.

The current top ten results for ‘Tim Bell’ are presently dominated by absurd puff pieces where Bell is simultaneously described as “the most influential man in PR” as he nobly declines the title of “founder of modern PR”. (Interviewer: “Lord Bell thanks very much for your time today.” Bell: “Please call me Tim.”)

Seeing as Tim Bell rejects the concept of transparency outright, those of us who ultimately pay the price for his profiteering are going to have to impose some; we are going to displace much of the existing top ten with factually accurate and highly relevant material that Tim Bell would much rather faded into the distance. Note use of the word ‘relevance’ here; we do not seek to G-bomb anyone, but instead feed new and entirely legitimate relevance into the system.

On my desk is a copy of The Ultimate Spin Doctor: Life and Fast Times of Tim Bell by Mark Hollingsworth. The contents are at present largely invisible to Google and other search engines. That is about to change.

This is an unauthorised biography that Tim Bell tried very hard to prevent, and it’s a fair bet that Bell doesn’t want material*** from it populating the top search results for his name, not least because he is going to look like a hopeless manager of reputations if he cannot cleanse his own top ten.

Tim Bell bio book

Chapters from this book will be shared out to participating bloggers who are part of our lobbying group. Each will then write a post based on any short extract they may choose to draw from the chapter assigned to them. In this way, the 10 chapters will be shared among an unknown number of bloggers, and the top fifty or so searches for ‘Tim Bell’ will begin to take on new relevance.

(Psst! Chapter One of this book talks about Tim Bell pretending to be Australian in the hopes of bypassing the class system, and I sure hope I draw that one myself, but I expect the most popular chapter will be the one detailing Tim Bell’s conviction for ‘wilfuly, openly and obscenely’ exposing himself ‘with intent to insult a female’ under Section 4 of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.)

Also, once I/we start releasing verbatim extracts from this published material, portions of it will begin to appear in Wikipedia, coalescing into legitimate points of reference on that page, which will probably remain the highest search result for his name.

(Note – One cannot legitimately participate in this lobbying group while editing Wikipedia entries relating to Tim Bell, especially not anonymously. It goes beyond hypocrisy; it amounts to a conflict of interest, it is not fair to the wider Wikipedia community, and it is wholly unnecessary; allowing what we publish from the book to filter into Wikipedia naturally will be more than enough.)

Please keep in mind here that we are talking about the online publication of material that has seen print without legal challenge. That said, Mr Bell may choose to exploit a little-known loophole in English libel law that allows him to challenge each instance as a fresh publication (see: The Bastard Duke of Brunswick) and if this does happen, then Bell can be expected to use any or all of the following methods to effect removal with the likely exception of #10 (consider yourselves warned):

Bell Pottinger guide to online reputation management

I expect what is going to test if not defeat Tim Bell’s capacity for reputation management is the ability of any web user to conduct themselves according to his standards, and it is on this note that we come to the hook…

Those of us familiar with Teh Interwebs know that there’s a world of difference between your average Joe maintaining a single anonymous blog/identity and PR boffins using multiple false/anonymous identities on behalf of clients for money, and we can’t expect Tim Bell to learn that much in such a short time, but I am hoping that the prospect of dealing with an unknown number of anonymous account holders based in several different countries will help him to better appreciate his own position, if only to the extent of having him revise his policy on covert lobbying.

Admittedly, there is a danger that within the group of people who target Tim Bell anonymously but legitimately, there will be people with a hidden vested interest who use this exercise as ‘cover’ to engage in a little subterfuge for reasons of profit, politics or personal payback (i.e. to attack him illegitimately), but should Tim Bell change his mind and decide all of a sudden that he doesn’t think it appropriate to lobby covertly, then my support for anonymous briefing against him will fall away naturally, as will that of others.

Now that point is made, I hope you understand the primary reason why I do not publish the chapters immediately today, and instead provide Mr Bell with a single and short-lived opportunity to consider the scope of what I propose. It is entirely possible that the above has the potential to change his perspective even before it grows beyond the status of thought experiment. (And if he doubts my capacity to engage at this level, he should search for ‘Billy Brit’ and consider that it took less than a week to effect total pwnership of that brand in Google, at a time when Google moved a lot slower than it does today.)

Should Tim Bell fail to take advantage of this opportunity, we can go about making an example of the man with our consciences clear and our position unassailable. Should he unexpectedly take the opportunity to embrace transparency, the effectiveness of our very big stick will be clear to others, who will take note.

Either way, it will then be time to put the following repeatedly and succinctly to any and all in the PR/lobbying industry, and those operating at its fringes:

PR companies/professionals should reveal the name any profile(s) they use to edit Wikipedia, state this plainly in the ‘About Us’ section of their website, and link back to that same website from their Wikipedia profile(s).

The nature of this campaign should make it clear that these changes are in line with public expectations about what is fair and right. Those in PR who believe otherwise will, of course, be free to lobby for secret lobbying, and I wish them luck. They’re going to need it.

The landscape of PR is about to change. Clear boundaries are about to be set, and the covert lobbyists who operate outside of them are about to become far more obvious than they would prefer.

(Psst! If you’re a blogger and you want ‘in’ on the outing, recruitment begins shortly, and chapters will be distributed randomly soon after that. Please stand by.)

——

[*Also Good Relations, Harvard, Stuart Higgins Communications and Resonate, but I'm sure we'll get to those PR company names and Chime Communications plc too in good time if the fight looks like taking a while; we're talking consequences so natural that effort will be required merely to keep this powder dry. Then there are client names, and all the relevant client-specific ammo Bell Pottinger have yet to defuse because they refuse to name their past editing profiles or even admit to any wrongdoing.]

[**Tim Bell is prone to telling people what they want to hear in order to get what he wants. Should he ever announce a change in policy regarding tranparency, only complete disclosure of Wikipedia accounts/edits to date is likely to convince me of his sincerity in this matter. I am not inclined to take Tim Bell at his word, because it means nothing.]

[***Some people in PR, like some people in law, do not mind being portrayed as bastards. Often, bastards are needed by other bastards. But Tim Bell cannot afford to be made to look incompetent, or petty, or disloyal to clients who suddenly find themselves mired in scandal. Material covering all this and more is contained in Bell's unauthorised biography, and he won't want it out there, though he may be forced to pretend otherwise shortly.]

[It should go without saying that this principle should apply to anyone engaging in PR-like activity, including SEO companies/professionals offering any image-oriented services. I personally do not edit Wikipedia. At all. I advise clients against it generally and against covert forms of influence quite specifically. I recognise that mine is a rigid standard, but I do not seek to impose it. Rather, I seek to popularise a widely-agreed standard of transparency for those who do engage in Wikipedia editing as part of their PR efforts. Just tell us who you're paid to represent when editing what's supposed to be reference material, folks. It really is as simple as that.]

[Declaration of Interest: Due to a minor matter of libel against me that Carter-Ruck refuse to discuss, I have a vested interest in compelling Tim Bell's chosen law firm to take part in any form of communication/negotiation. That said, this is only going to happen if Tim Bell does the most stupid thing imaginable and risks unleashing the Streisand effect. That said, I have good reason to believe that Tim Bell is prone to bouts of extreme stupidity, so better safe than sorry.]

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Wonga.com are lying about student loans

Hi folks. I’m facing some delays on the Dorries matter (mainly waiting for evidence; the Met are 5 weeks late), but I’m sure we’ll be back on track shortly.

In the meantime, here’s an open letter to loan company Wonga.com, who today reacted to a massive backlash (more) by claiming they did not actively target students.

To: john.moorwood@wonga.com
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 9:44 AM
Subject: “we do not actively target students as potential customers ”

Dear John,

If you do not target students, how do you explain the following Page Title and META Tags that are still live on the same page where you claim “we do not actively target students as potential customers”?

(*Please note that chevrons have been replaced with brackets to avoid any data display issues. Otherwise, code is verbatim.)

[title]Student Loan – Alternative to Education Loans | Wonga.com® Official Site[/title]
[meta http-equiv="Content-Type" content="text/html; charset=utf-8" /]
[meta name="description" content="Are you a student? Need a fast loan? For loans in the UK, Wonga is the fastest! Wonga gets you cash within 15 minutes of approval." /]
[meta name="keywords" content="student loan,student loans,short term loan,cash,credit card,personal loan,loan,money" /]
[meta name="robots" content="index,follow" /]
[meta name="DC.title" content="Student Loan - Alternative to Education Loans" /]

source: http://www.wonga.com/money/wonga-student-loan/ (mirror – ‘view source’ to see the code)

You also claimed the following in that same statement on that same page:

“The previous article on this page was several years old and one of many brief pieces we have written about the broad subject of credit since we launched our online loans service. No-one was directed to this page, nor was it prominently promoted on the website.”

But there is a prominent indexable link to this page from your front page and every other page. It is one of only 13 links of this type, so it is clearly a high priority and promoted very heavily in SEO terms:

Payday Loans | Short term Loans | Cash Loans | Cash Advance | Fast Cash | Quick Loans
Quick Quid | Loans Online | Loans for bad credit | Borrow Money | Student Loan | Student Overdraft | Credit Card Debt

A similar page which also carries today’s statement targets queries about student overdrafts (a link to it is included in the list referenced above). This page ranks 8th in Google for queries for ‘student overdrafts’, and this is clearly by design and not by accident. According to SearchMetrics, you also currently rank 34th in Google for ‘student loan’ and 19th for ‘loans for students’.

Do you still wish to pretend that these pages were an accidental afterthought of no current significance to you?

Be warned that I am an SEO professional with over a decade of experience, and I am unlikely to react favourably to further distortions. Also, this is an open letter that I have published on my blog, so do yourself a favour and don’t waste my time by hiding behind the sofa and pretending that you’re not home.

Tim Ireland
www.bloggerheads.com

As usual, you can expect updates to follow. Cheers all.

-

UPDATE – I think it’s best if I let the resulting correspondence speak for itself at this stage:

From: John Moorwood
To: Tim Ireland
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 10:23 AM

Hi. We will be removing the pages / links completely soon, we just wanted to have a message there temporarily to make a few points.

[John Moorwood ]
Sent from my iPhone

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From: Tim Ireland
To: John Moorwood
Date: Thu, Jan 12, 2012 at 10:26 AM

Yes, but the ‘points’ you make are demonstrable lies and distortions, and I have published an article saying/displaying this quite clearly. Do you seriously have no response to that?

Tim Ireland

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UPDATE – Greg Power has noticed that Wonga.com are still actively bidding for queries relating to students and student loans in AdWords. This is completely distinct from their SEO efforts/excuses, and it is not something that happens by accident. Wonga.com are actively pursuing students and trying to flog them loans at a typical APR of up to 4214% while claiming that they never intended to do any such thing:

Wonga

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UPDATE – Take a look at this page from the Wonga site (spotted by Tom Hatton). It features an expensive-looking video that tries very hard to look like a news programme. The nice lady behind the desk encourages students to use Wonga.com in order to avoid “a nasty debt hangover after graduation”. (Hey, why risk “hefty overdraft fees” when you can simply take out a Wonga loan with an APR of over 4000%?)

Wonga.com removed the page very quickly after it was spotted/highlighted on Twitter, but if they ever remove the video itself, the text on this mirror of that page contains the entire script. I have also saved a copy of the video should Wonga.com ever care to deny that at the very end – during the fade-out – there is a blink-and-you-miss-it alert in news-ticker style text (spotter: Jon W). This text announces that “unauthorised” debt with Wonga carries a 46,000,000% interest rate. No, totally not kidding:

Bloody hell, Wonga

Wonga.com’s repeated claim that they did not intend to target students is a demonstrable lie, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
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[MINI-UPDATE - I previously typed '47,000,000%' when the accurate figure (as per the screen capture) is 46,000,000%. Now corrected.]
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UPDATE (16 Jan) – Errol Damelin, founder and CEO of Wonga.com, has been made aware that his staff lied about targeting student loans. He took no detectable action in response, and offered no reply; he simply forwarded my email to the same people who have been lying to the public. (Just for the record, should he later wish to pretend that he knew nothing about this at the time.)

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UPDATE (16 Feb) – It is now over a month since this article was first published. Yesterday, I emailed the CEO of Wonga.com for a second time, and for a second time, I watched as the recipient merely passed the email on to underlings who continue to (a) ignore this evidence and (b) stand by a demonstrable lie:

To: Errol.Damelin@wonga.com
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Wed, Feb 15, 2012 at 8:47 AM

Dear Errol,

Wonga.com currently invest heavily in TV ads claiming that they offer “straight talk” about money. Meanwhile, they stand by what you know to be a demonstrable lie about targeting the student loan market.

It is over a month since I last wrote to you about this matter. I should warn you that I tracked my last email, so I know it was read by the recipient and then forwarded to the same team at Wonga who continue to stand by a demonstrable lie.

What does this mean? It means that you cannot claim to be unaware of the details*; you do not enjoy the luxury of plausible deniability.

This dishonesty and inaction in the face of due criticism is entirely unacceptable. I seek a response to my article (see link) and my original email (below), plus a fitting explanation/apology for my being stonewalled by your staff, even after I contacted you directly and pointed out that they were ignoring me and the evidence I had published:

http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2012/01/wonga/

A man in your position cannot afford to turn his back on evidence that his staff are misleading the public about their practices. I urge you to take this matter seriously and respond today.

Tim Ireland
www.bloggerheads.com

(*Unless you’d care to take a page from James Murdoch’s book, and claim that you saw the email but didn’t read it.)

To: Errol.Damelin@wonga.com
From: Tim Ireland
Date: Fri, Jan 13, 2012 at 10:01 AM

Dear Errol,

Since the initial (dishonest) response, your staff have seen fit to ignore me rather than admit to any of the evidence I have uncovered that reveals they lied about targeting students.

Wonga.com definitely did target students, and there is evidence that they assigned budget to do this in SEO, in PPC, and even through video production:

http://www.bloggerheads.com/archives/2012/01/wonga/

So I dare to email you in your mighty tower of ivory and ask just what in the hell is going on at Wonga.com, and if you approve personally of (a) the targeting of students in this way, and (b) the dishonest response to the resulting backlash.

I would even go so far as to mention that you may want to cast an eye over your customer base and determine if there are any customers you have gained through your targeting of students who are currently accruing any significant debt with you; it’s a ticking time bomb.

Tim Ireland
www.bloggerheads.com

PS – How do you justify a penalty rate of 47,000,000%?

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Scaling

In the coming weeks and months, I am going to be writing quite a lot about a goal-oriented philosophy I have dubbed scaling. Several projects will be based on this same philosophy.

For reasons that should become clear to you almost immediately, I wish to begin with the modest goal of explaining this philosophy and the dual meaning of the word ‘scaling’ when it’s used to describe it.

‘Scaling’ is a term I first applied to a specific method in search engine optimisation where you gain immediate if modest returns via search engines, and then gradually build on this over time in a way that brings ever-present and increasing rewards with each incremental improvement:

Scaling Relevance

OK, so now you know enough about Page Titles and their importance/role to understand this key example; what follows is a Page Title that is descriptive, contains a call to action, and also contains a combination of keywords that might be of importance to a site selling chocolate. A brand new site with no reputation to speak of has no chance of being the top search result for ‘chocolate’ immediately, but the site owner might hope to immediately/quickly be a high search result for a more unique (but still potentially lucrative) query such as ‘buy chocolate online uk’. If they work on the link popularity of their site over time, the likelihood of them performing for more lucrative queries increases, (important bit #1) they are enjoying increasingly lucrative rewards on their journey to this goal, and (important bit #2) they do not have to pay some joker money to come in and fiddle about with their keywords on a monthly basis because all of the relevant keywords are contained within a single, unchanging Page Title.

NomNom (UK) – Buy chocolate online

Contains:
- chocolate
- buy chocolate
- buy chocolate online
- chocolate uk
- buy chocolate uk
- buy chocolate online uk

Coordinating Relevance

Of course, the example above only takes into account a single page and Page Title, as it is designed mainly to help you appreciate the point (i.e. it is not a strategy in itself). What you need to do is scale your relevance on a site-wide basis, and it is here I hope you will understand how it is possible to generate a commanding search result for your entire product/service range without attempting to list every product/service on your front page, and how it is possible to have every Page Title on your site working towards your main keyword strategy without having the same damn Page Title on every single page. (I still see this on some sites. It makes me want to cry.) At the top are three Page Titles, one for the front page and one for each of the main categories, and under that is the keyword query pattern that should help you appreciate how scaling works on any scale:

NomNom (UK) – Buy chocolate online
NomNom (UK) – Buy dark chocolate online
NomNom (UK) – Buy milk chocolate online

chocolate
chocolate uk
buy chocolate
buy chocolate online
buy chocolate online uk
dark chocolate || milk chocolate
dark chocolate uk || milk chocolate uk
buy dark chocolate || buy milk chocolate
buy dark chocolate uk || buy milk chocolate uk
buy dark chocolate online || buy milk chocolate online
buy dark chocolate online uk || buy milk chocolate online uk

(read more)

This method is unpopular among SEO providers who seek monthly cheques from their clients, as it rules out any earnings from constant keyword shuffling and focuses investment on long term goals instead of short term gain through various shortcuts/sidesteps such as AdWords. However, for you to learn about the philosophy of scaling, you need to appreciate this choice of paths from the client’s point of view; if the client wishes to generate an immediate high search result for ‘chocolate’ or bypass the need for an organic result and instead place ads adjacent to the highest results, then a hefty investment will be required to either generate a sufficient number of inbound links to the site and/or pay for advertising bills.

This kind of journey involves a threshold that most of us could not hope to meet immediately, as it requires an enormous monetary investment of one form or another before any results/rewards come in:

Now compare this to the philosophy of building your site with a scaled generic keyword strategy (as outlined above) and making modest, ongoing investments designed to improve your site’s reputation:

When used to describe this philosophy, ‘scaling’ does not just apply to the increasing size of the goals and rewards at each step of the way (i.e. the measurement of amounts and dimensions); it also describes the journey you take on the path to your ultimate goal (i.e. your means of ascent via these same steps).

One thing that has put people off political blogging in recent years is the entirely false sense of scale pushed by ‘leading’ bloggers who have not only been cheating by lying about their traffic statistics for years, but responding to criticism by sniffily rejecting the author(s) as insignificant according to this scale, and asserting their authority over them using these same (fabricated) traffic numbers. It is in this way that they set themselves up as gatekeepers of information in a field where they themselves insist that information should be allowed to flow freely. (One of them even had a widely-understood policy of withholding link-love from anyone who dared to be critical of him. I’m sure I do not need to name names for people to understand the way this might be used to force an agenda on a false premise/mandate.)

Party politics involves a similar deceit that convinces not just candidates but voters that the only viable path lies through assimilation with established parties.

To give other examples outside of politics, until recently, the threshold one had to cross before you could hope to make a living from the music or video production industry was enormous; you were going nowhere fast unless you had a deal with one of the monster-sized organisations, who had a vested interest in maintaining that same threshold and associated illusions, seeking to justify it with the same flawed ‘quality’ argument I describe in relation to political blogging. A similar false threshold persists in the world of print.

I hope to awaken you to the possibility that in the 21st century, with the advent of the web especially, you do not need to scale impossibly steep inclines or beg for favours from the wazzocks manning the cliff-tops.

The rewards of this awakening are potentially immense; think about all the people who sold out their values and/or surrendered a great deal of personal power just so they might hope to secure a seat, gain a record deal, have a script produced, write for a newspaper, have a book produced, or get a product made and/or on the market. See Dragon’s Den especially on this last point, and the impossibly large amounts of expenditure retailers/supermarkets require before they will even stock your goods; this path leads only to stagnation, and dross, and the joy of eating out of a trough.

Scaling is about your right to realise your own potential, and making it happen through realistic and manageable means.

The philosophy not only allows for success in line with your potential, it allows you to halt, change direction*, or even fail part-way while still enjoying rewards… and without crashing disastrously to the ground.

Most importantly, it destroys the illusion that stops some people from moving toward their goals at all until it is far too late.

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(*Sometimes a journey is required to help us learn more about our potential, and/or to offer us the insight that drives our goals. It is much easier to change direction gracefully when you are not falling off the side of a cliff.)

Battle of the Tims

I’m doing my first ‘Pecha Kucha’ style presentation at an event in Guildford this evening but was in two minds about showing off the current status of one of my long-term search results. Being second to Tim Berners-Lee is one thing, but I wasn’t sure if I liked being slightly less popular than Mel Gibson:

Tim Ireland and some other Tims

Happily, by breakfast this morning, it had all sorted itself out:

Tim Ireland and some lesser Tims

BORING FINE PRINT – This is a brand new result (I can’t recall overtaking Berners-Lee before) and Google runs multiple servers offering slightly different results at times, so your mileage may vary, especially if you are signed in to Google and have set some search preferences. These searches are from a UK perspective, and will appear only for UK-based users of Google. Currently I’m 37th in Google’s .com database. Search positioning should not be used as the sole indicator of the quality of your Tim(s).

Atomic batteries to power. Turbines to speed.

Hi folks.

Bit of an extraordinary post, this one. Apologies for bending your ear.

After a rotten 18+ months facing some quite extraordinary harassment from a range of Conservative-aligned dastards and assorted supporting fruit-loops, I face one of my greatest challenges in the coming months.

It is not a legal challenge or a sudden increase in bullying by anonymous cowards or anything like that; it is a deeply personal challenge, it is as serious as it gets, and it is going to eat a BIG chunk of my time as I work to care for those I love.

I wish I could tell you more, but I’m not at liberty to share the full details, and in the current circumstances I fear there are those who would take advantage of even scant details. (They’ve certainly stooped lower previous to this.)

So…

I will be offline for two weeks from tomorrow.

After that, I hope to continue blogging and working, but you may note that both my blog and my services have now been updated and streamlined.

I hope this will allow me to continue the mix of blogging and work that’s sustained me for the past decade (details of which are now finally available through a single, searchable database, BTW).

If you would like to help, there are two or three things you can do:

1. Check out my new series of articles on the subject of SEO (and the related seminar product) and bring on any link love as you see fit:

SEO Seminar: Understanding Google, Relevance and Optimisation

Relevance #1 – SEO: Search Engine Optimisation
Relevance #2 – Weblogs, Twitter & Social Media Marketing
Relevance #3 – Viral Marketing & Link Generation

2. Refer potentially interested parties to my new seminar/services through other means. Such as email, conversation or carrier pigeon.

3. Cut out the middle man and just send money (a ‘donate’ button has been added, top right, along with the rest of the gubbins).

I apologise for the poor timing, but there’s no getting around the way things are, and the way they will be.

Comments will remain open for today, and will then be suspended for two weeks.

Cheers all.

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UPDATE – Comments may be on and off today, too. IntenseDebate is taking much longer than expected to process previous comments. Apologies if your comment is held over. You are in a very long queue behind a series of historical comments.

The definition of relevance

The folks from Wordia asked me to choose a word and contribute to their project. I chose the word ‘relevance’, and this is the result:

If it’s seems I’m pressing one factor over the other, it’s because validity of the source is overlooked far too often (or all-too-selectively) in my opinion.

What goes on in Google’s wasteland (and why you should care)

BBC – Michelle Obama racist image sparks Google apology: Google has apologised over a racially offensive picture of Michelle Obama which appears when users search for images of the US first lady. The image comes top of the Google Images results for “Michelle Obama”. Google placed a notice over the picture titled “Offensive Search Results”, saying: “Sometimes our search results can be offensive. We agree.” But it refused to remove the image from its search. The White House has declined to comment.

Pardon me for jumping in on this debate (involving hahaha an African American hahaha portrayed hahahaha as a monkey hahaha), but I do believe I have something to add beyond a simple thought experiment:

1. The picture is no longer live at the page Google returns as the top result, therefore it fails the relevance test. All Google have to do is update their image database a little faster than glaciers move, and the problem goes away. Of course, the image may pop up again elsewhere, and the sites/pages that host it will have to be judged on their relevance, but at the moment they are defending a result without relevance, suggesting they haven’t really put much thought into the matter.

2. Google are at present refusing to remove some 50+ false claims that I’m a convicted paedophile from their servers, using free speech as an argument (when they can be bothered to reply), but I doubt they’ve put much thought into this, either.

In January 2009, I published on this website compelling evidence that a ‘terrorism expert’ had been falsifying evidence of extremism while selling related stories to tabloid newspapers. In March 2009, that same ‘terrorism expert’, posing as a Daily Mail reporter, falsely claimed that I was a convicted paedophile when posting comments to somewhere between 50-100 Blogger.com-hosted websites.

Despite police involvement, plus repeated emails and phone calls over the space of many months, I have never received anything other than a stock email from Google in response to my many requests that they remove this material, posted in contravention of their Content Policy and Terms of Service.

The writer was clearly engaging in a campaign of harassment, and clearly guilty of outright impersonation, but the stock reply I received did not address either of these points:

Thank you for your note. Please note that Blogger is a provider of content
creation tools, not a mediator of that content. We allow our users to
create blogs, but we don’t make any claims about the content of these
pages. We strongly believe in freedom of expression, even if a blog
contains unappealing or distasteful content or presents unpopular
viewpoints. We realize this may be frustrating and we regret any
inconvenience this may cause you. In cases where contact information for
the author is listed on the page, we recommend you working directly with
this person to have the content in question removed or changed.

(Unpopular viewpoints? Inconvenience? Fuck you, Google.)

Basically, what they are saying is that they don’t own the content on Blogger.com weblogs, but even if I were to accept this answer (that refuses to acknowledge the dual violation of their Content Policy and Terms of Service following the use of their servers for harassment and impersonation) many of these comments are on abandoned websites and were posted anonymously; there is no way to reach the (absent) site owner and the comments cannot be deleted by the man who wrote them, no matter how much he might want to undo what he’s done.

In short, the only visible owner (and potential beneficiary) of this content is Google Inc. who insist on maintaining vast swathes of wasteland for some reason.

Google is the only reason much of this information is still live…. and they refuse to even discuss the matter.

Is the content in keeping with the terms under which they host it? No.

Has anyone (other than Google) expressed a wish to maintain or defend the content? No.

Is it even relevant content? No.

So what the hell are Google playing at by continuing to host it, and how does this fit in with their ‘do no evil’ mantra?

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UPDATE – Some good news… for Michelle Obama:

Guardian – Michelle Obama ‘racist’ picture that is topping Google Images removed: A blog hosting an offensive image of Michelle Obama with monkey features has removed it and posted an apology. The image, which has been appearing at the top of search results when the words “Michelle Obama” are put into Google Images, was posted on a blog called Hot Girls, which is hosted by the Google-owned blog service, Blogger. Hot Girls’ owner has today removed the image, which appears to have originally been put up with a blog post on 21 October, and displayed an apology in Chinese with a very loose English translation. Google had refused to remove the offensive image from its picture search listings, despite complaints that it is racist, instead opting to run an ad next to it explaining its policy on how search engine results work. A spokesman for Google said that the Hot Girls blog and image may still temporarily appear when some users make Google Images searches but that it was coming out of the search engine’s indexing system.

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UPDATE – I’m reminded that Google’s commitment to free speech has its limits.

My, my, my… look at all that lovely real estate

Below is what a search for ‘billy brit’ returned last night (and this morning’s results are even better).

screen capture

That’s near-total ownership; strong control of the brand in Google within a week, using just a few short minutes of video, and it can only get better after the BNP muppets have surrendered.

Go us. Roll on, finale.

(For those who don’t know, this is pretty much what I do for a living, only I don’t play anywhere near this rough on the High Street.)

That’s the way you do it

Take a look at the real estate that’s now under the control of those offering an alternative view to that put forward by the BNP though ‘Billy Brit’. This took roughly 24 hours:

Matt Wardman also dabbles in the dark arts. As you can see, he’s doing well; he’s even placed above me in the early juggle and may do so again soon. Not that it matters when he’s carrying the same message.

You can join in, too; all you have to do is blog about my version of Billy Brit on YouTube.

It will also help at this stage if you actually rate the video and/or leave a comment rather than just thinking about it.

(Yes, it really is that simple. No keyword fuss or tricks will be required*. Just blog about the video – or include a link to it in a longer post about the BNP and their recent antics – and make sure you leave feedback of some kind at YouTube.)

Billy Br*t (the racist sh*t)

We should hear more from Billy after the weekend (possibly earlier, if I can ply him with cider this evening). Cheers all.

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[*Well, if you really wanted to, you could try including a single link like this - BNP - but it looks a bit cheap (i.e. in the tradition of 'A.A. Aardvark') and the effects will be temporary at best.]

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