Archive for the ‘Search Engine Optimisation’ Category

Posted by Tim Ireland at April 7, 2005

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

God, people like this give me the pip. No link, because the site is totally undeserving of juice:

More from this moron here:

Posted by Tim Ireland at March 23, 2005

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

Googlebombing describes the process of a group of sites (usually weblogs) linking to a target site with a chosen word or phrase (that may or may not appear on the target site) in order to make that target site the top search result for that word or phrase. The screengrab below shows you one example of a working Googlebomb from the Left (complete with a democratic response from the Right).

There are, however, a few things that can compromise a Googlebomb In Progress.

The following rules have been set out to help you to avoid the most common problems associated with developing Googlebombs.


Posted by Tim Ireland at March 17, 2005

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

Here’s a shock… during January and February, I actually found some time to get some work done! For several weeks, I worked my guts out over a 10,000+ word report on 18 High St retailers (like Boots, Tesco, etc.), how they approach search engines, and how they perform in search engines.

This report has now been finalised and released.

My personal executive summary is as follows:

By and large, they appear to not know about search engines and how they work or they simply don’t care. Instead, they are heavily reliant on their brands (e.g. a quarter of a million UK web users search for ‘dixons’ every month, so why bother chasing ‘electrical goods’?).

More key findings and details are posted here at the Screen Pages weblog.

You can order a copy of this report here (there’s also a preview version of this report for those of you in the cheap seats).

Cheers all.

Posted by Tim Ireland at February 9, 2005

Category: Search Engine Optimisation, The Political Weblog Movement

First, a bit of good news.

Channel 4 – Political Impact Award: Boris Johnson has won the Channel 4 award for the person who made the biggest impression on the politics of 2004.

Now, a housekeeping report on Boris Johnson’s website.

OK, here’s how it works:

2-7% of web users have their own website or weblog. Due to the influence of link popularity, it is this 2-7% that largely determines what major search engines like Google present as their search results. (That may not sound very democratic, but there’s a level of community-led accountability built in and if you have a problem with the whole thing, perhaps you should start a weblog of your own.)

Not a lot of people know that there is also a historical aspect to Google’s ranking algorithm. Sites that take control of certain top search results for a long period of time are difficult to unseat quickly without some serious inbound link activity and/or a lack of updates on these dominating sites.

So, for the first 6 months of operation, Boris’s weblog climbed no higher than the 3rd search result in Google for ‘boris johnson’ – largely because the Boris Johnson Fan Club and Boris Watch had been in operation longer.

But no longer.

Boris is now the top search result for ‘boris johnson’ in Google and the new MSN database. Yahoo is still pending.

But wait… there’s more.

I have this little example I like to use in business meetings when trying to show clients or potential clients the difference between creating something of interest to the weblog community and integrating fully with it. That example is Tom Watson.

I begin by explaining that when Tom first came online, his site didn’t appear on the front page of any search engine for his name, because there was a golfer by the same name with a 20-year career under his belt. Profile, news and tribute pages for this individual dominated the search results.

So I then show them the weblog and how it works. I pop over to Technorati and show them the ‘buzz’ around his weblog. I show them the difference between static links (such as a blogroll link) and transient links (such as a individual posts) and make it very clear that the former is much harder to earn than the latter. I try to convey the community aspect as best I can.

Then we go to Google and search for ‘tom watson’… this is the point when most people get it. Because of his integration with the weblog community, Tom Watson the MP is seen to be the most relevant ‘tom watson’ there is. He is the Tom Watson that is more accessible and whose website is the most highly regarded.

Then we search for ‘labour mp’… this is the point when most people see the potential. Because of his integration with the weblog community, Tom Watson the MP is seen to be the most relevant ‘labour mp’ there is. He is the Labour MP that is more accessible and whose website is the most highly regarded.

I guess you know what’s coming…

Yes, while it may come and go in the first few days (as many fresh results do), yesterday Boris Johnson achieved the top search result in Google for ‘conservative mp’.

Boris Johnson – the first Tory MP with a weblog – has the more dynamic and most accessible site. His site is more highly regarded than the websites of other Conservative MPs. He is therefore the most relevant ‘conservative mp’ there is. At least, according to Google he is. MSN and Yahoo will take a while to catch up.

Posted by Tim Ireland at December 13, 2004

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

Yahoo has a new partner-weighted streamlined look. You can take a tour here.

Also, Google has – for the first time – started forcing UK users of their search engine to (although I have a dim memory of them doing this on a trial basis at least once before).

If you live in Ireland, you’re already familiar with this technique (fair enough, I’d say… as adding ‘ie’ to a search isn’t likely to bring many Ireland-specific results forward) but it’s going to be hard going for UK-based purists who insist on using and adding ‘uk’ to their queries at their leisure.

Good news for me, though. The amount of traffic my clients get for UK-specific queries (of the ‘not-adding-uk-but-clicking-the-button’ variety) is about to increase dramatically.

Posted by Tim Ireland at November 12, 2004

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

WebProNews – Did Someone Break The MSN Beta Search?: Today was the official launch of MSN’s newest creation, a new search beta which was promised to feature search results powered by their own algorithm… but what happened?

Yes, it fell over from time to time yesterday, but let’s be fair. MSN Search is in beta mode and was under heavy demand. So let’s get past this obvious opener and move on…


Posted by Tim Ireland at May 28, 2003

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

The folks in Hollywood need a serious clue regarding the location and promotion of official movie websites. Most promotional material will drive you via one of the following methods… (Hulk used as example, because Hulk good. Hulk understand.)

‘AOL keyword: hulk’
‘Visit the official website at the’

In this case, the studio was lucky enough to be able to secure a solid and direct domain name, but in most cases, the studio would be reduced to using a URL like:

All of this activity is a complete waste of time and money, and shows no concern for long-term strategy. Here’s why:

– In most cases, people do not navigate by URL. Even if they think that they know the URL, they will more often than not search for that URL in a search engine – usually Google.

– AOL is powered by Google. What the bloody hell are you wasting money on an AOL Keyword for?

– The precedent of location by named URL is open to use or abuse by cybersquatters, opportunists, and genuine fan sites. Even if you have the time and money to hassle such people, you can’t fight them all (and in some cases you haven’t got a leg to stand on). In this case, there is a notable fan site located at – and it’s very hard to see the difference between the two sites at first glance.

– This approach does not take full advantage of the link popularity generated by interest in any given movie.

If you run the official movie site, you would (or should) be the top search result in Google for searches relating to that movie, due to the official site being linked to from heavy-duty sites such as the IMDB and a bunch of other smaller sites – that’s the way Google works. It’s also why 90% of your search traffic will come from Google in one way or another.

(The Google system works better than any other, that’s why portals such as Yahoo! and AOL have been forced to integrate it into their systems. If anything comes along one day to beat Google, it will do so by beating Google at its own game. The approach of feeding valid content and generating link popularity is a sound one, and pretty much future-proof.)

Right now, most studio and/or movie sites are flash-heavy and impossible to index. That’s the first thing that’s got to change.

Phase One – Opening Up To Indexing

Urgh! Hulk released by Universal Pictures. Hulk look at Universal Picture site. Site make heavy use of Flash and not fully indexable. Google not able to see in and feed relevant information to Hulk when Hulk search for specific movies or other stuff Hulk need to know. Hulk go to Hulk site and Universal site and have no idea that studio also make good movie Bruce Almighty!

Folks, we know you often make excellent movies and spend lots of money on them. You do not need to impress us with great swathes of Flash. You certainly shouldn’t use Flash for primary navigation. Flatten it out, invite the indexing robots in. This allows people to navigate their way directly to the most relevant section of your site via a Google search.

You also need to remember that they call the main page an ‘index’ page for a reason. There should be navigation to every primary section of the site (with highlighted versions of the most popular/useful sections) right there on this front page.

Keep it simple. You’re big enough to get away with it, and we’re too cynical to be impressed by anything OTT.

Right. Once you’ve got that sorted out, you can move onto the most critical phase of this strategy:

Phase Two – Hosting Movie Microsites at Studio URLs

Forget all of that buying domain names rubbish. The hosting/naming format you need to adapt as the norm is as follows:

Why is this important?

– It makes it immediately clear which is the official site and which isn’t in any given set of results.
– This location will still be the top search result for queries relating to the movie.
– Using a folder approach such as this allows you to take long-term advantage of resulting link popularity.

Google not only takes note of who links to your site; Google remembers. Link activity around not only benefits this specific location, but also the overall ranking of other material hosted at the core URL.

Why is this important?

There are other smaller movies that you release that may not receive significant link attention, but Google will regard your site overall to be a rich source of information, and will therefore rank you highly for any other information you choose to host correctly under this URL. This goes not only for specific movie titles, but general queries relating to types of movies (more on this later in Phase Four).

Phase Three – Microsite Format and Evolution

It’s all very well and good having a big Flash presentation, but the introductory page for any given movie needs to be standardised, indexable, concise and text-based. There will be other search queries relating to different aspects of the movie (such as those relating to the director or star) and you’ll want to collect a few punters on the basis of these searches as well.

This approach also allows you to present information about other movies from your studio that may be on the same theme, by the same director, or featuring the same star(s).

This page can then evolve with the needs of the film. A quick and quiet location detector can tell you which country the visitor is in, so it’s a snap to feed them info such as:

– When it will be released in cinemas, and where it can be seen.
– When it will be available on video/DVD, and where it can be purchased.
– When it will be on cable/pay-per-view, and which channel it will be on.
– When it will be on terrestrial television, and which channel it will be on.

All of this opens the way for some healthy partnerships. Why should the Internet Movie Database have all the fun? It’s your movie, right?

Also, most movie sites will arrive with a splash and then be suddenly withdrawn. Some may stay or return for a DVD release, but more often than not a new site is built for this purpose – usually at a new location. This is not only wasteful; it tends to piss fans off.

Again, it’s your movie. For as long as there is a fan base for that movie, your studio site needs to be the primary source of information. Feel free to change, reduce or improve the content as time goes by, but keep it in one location, FFS!

It saves you money, done right it stands to actually make you money, and further down the line it makes it easier for you to promote smaller movies, the inevitable sequels to your main movies, and – most important all, I would argue – related movies:

Phase Four – Generic Search Terms

Over half a million people search for ‘action movie’ or ‘action movies’ each and every month. Where is your ‘Universal Studios – Action Movies’ page?

Sure, it’s a pretty generic search term and saturation is high (Hulk say: saturation mean when big lot of people fight for top result on same search term) but we’re talking about some hefty cumulative link popularity here – you stand a much better chance of winning this battle than most independent sites.

That’s half a million people – using one generic search term – each and every month. Why aren’t you introducing these people to your wonderful selection of movies?

Do your mainstream promotion right and people will seek a particular movie out. This is to be expected. Top search results for this movie can almost be guaranteed. Let’s take that as a given.

However, you’re not reaching the people who may not even be aware that any given movie exists! Your current Internet strategy relies heavily on offline expenditure. Assemble and present your assets correctly, and this can change.

Posted by Tim Ireland at August 12, 2002

Category: Marketing, Search Engine Optimisation


At the moment, there’s very little commercial intrusion into weblogs. Most of this is due to ignorance, leading some bloggers to think that this is working to preserve the integrity of our interactive community. It is. For now.

Unfortunately, due to the impact we as a community have been enjoying, nothing can stop awareness from spreading. Awareness does not counteract ignorance.

What this article sets out to do is make clear what weblogs are (and are not), plus what can and can’t be done to make them work in a commercial sense.

What is a Weblog?

Well, we have to include this, but I’ll be quick. A weblog is a running log or diary that is published on the web. Weblogs are not an enclosed community of geeks, but an eclectic selection of individuals, groups (and sometimes organisations) that feel suitably empowered by this new publishing format to get out there and have their say.

Previously, establishing a web presence required a great deal of planning and forethought. For many, this was simply not worth the effort. What a weblog interface allows you to do is publish your thoughts, interests and opinions one sentence at a time.

Look at this amusing site. Read this interesting article. I like kittens.

Such posts may seem trivial when observed individually, but together they form a running commentary that defines the experience – and purpose – of the user. (And, just for the record, I loathe, despise and distrust kittens.)

What and Where is the Weblog Community?

On a wider scale, bloggers communicate not only with their audience, but also each other. Some of these relationships are strong and ongoing, others are tenuous and fleeting, but all contribute to an enormous ecosystem of constantly exchanged information.

We aren’t hosted at a single server, we don’t all use the same publishing tools, we’re not all into the same things and reaching one certainly weblog does not guarantee that you will reach all of the others.

The only thing we really have in common is our wish to share information and a publishing format that lets us speak our thoughts and store them sequentially.

What’s This Whole Google Thing About?

Google, the world’s most popular search engine, has recently taken to listening in to this global conversation, which is what most of the excitement in the commercial sector is about. To put it briefly, your audience does not have to know about weblogs for you to reach them via weblogs. I’ll go into more detail in a moment; hang in there.

Yes, this situation can be used for commercial gain, but first you have to get something into your head: this new publishing format has encouraged many to exchange information in new ways, but we’re still communicating for much the same reasons that we always did on the web, via email or in Usenet.

This is a conversation. It’s fun. It’s fulfilling. We’re learning things about ourselves and each other. If you come charging in with a commercial message, you’ll be about as welcome as an Amway rep at a cocktail party. Cool your jets, shut your mouth, grab a drink, and listen up.

The World’s Largest Cocktail Party

So here we all are, a wide variety of people from all walks of life, getting together purely because we like to interact with each other. Like any form of fulfilling social interaction, listening is as important as talking. Those in your immediate circle know what you do for a living, and this may even form part of your introduction or crop up in normal conversation, but if all you talk about is work, then you’re going to find yourself in a very lonely corner of the room before the ice has melted in your first drink. If you were stupid enough to bring some pamphlets or maybe even an educational slideshow with you, then you can be sure that everybody will be laughing and pointing as well.

At this stage, it’s time to leave. You probably won’t be welcomed if you ever have the guts to return.

So how does your message reach this audience (and the wider one outside the party)? Well, this is where Google comes in. Google, as we said, listens into this conversation. By opting to index weblogs daily (because they update daily) Google has provided a function that brings forward the most recent information available. It actually rates ‘buzz’ as an important factor, so much so that as few as three weblogs can have a significant effect on the search results for any given web page, merely by linking to it.

If you interact with people, if you engage them in conversation, then when someone on the other side of the room (or even outside the building) mentions to another individual that they are seeking your kind of service – or even better, questions the almighty and all-seeing eye of Google – then your name will crop up.

The more highly regarded you are, the more likely you will be seen to be relevant by Google – and the more likely people will be to refer you on a direct and personal basis.

Exactly the same kind of real information exchange is required to gain both of these differing forms of recommendation.

So, Are We On The Same Page Now?

OK, so hopefully you’ve learned enough to put your goddamn pamphlets away. You know how important it is to show respect for the community (even if it’s just from a practical standpoint). It’s now time to learn how we as a community might be of help to you.

What you want to do in the end is reach Joe Blogs (heh, it tickles me that this classic pseudonym now has a much wider meaning) and if you don’t mind, we’re going to continue with the cocktail party metaphor from time to time to keep you on track.

Two Examples of Weblog Marketing

1. Join The Conversation

One of the most perverse methods of cashing in on the daily indexing function of Google is the ‘reinvention’ of the press release section of your site as a weblog. This would be incredibly easy to do, as the updating function exists already, and all you would have to do is slip in a bit of code that instructs Google to drop by daily or weekly for regular updates.

The only problem is, we don’t care which industry award you won or how many fucking units you shipped last quarter. We want to hear about the human side of what you do. We want to talk to a real person.

What you need to do is appoint an ambassador and get them to publish either at your presence or at a new one that links to yours prominently. You’ll have to sacrifice a great deal of control, as there’s no point in sending someone to give a formal presentation when what the audience is expecting is conversation.

A lot of the content on this weblog won’t focus directly on your company, but as you should already know, successful networking requires charisma above content. Popularity is the key, and if you’re successful, then Google will be more inclined to recommend your site over another that doesn’t contribute to this natural form of informational exchange.

2. Bring a Few Links To The Party

A lot of noise has been made about viral marketing in the past, and its image has suffered because so many folks have got it wrong. The key to viral marketing is weaving your commercial message into a mechanism that people want to share.

Formatting this mechanism in a way that it encourages people to share it by linking to it (rather than, saying, directly forwarding it by email) increases its commercial benefit greatly.

Be it in a game, a novelty, or a useful tool, even the most cleverly integrated commercial message can go astray. Indeed, in some cases, it often pays to be as low-key as possible about the commercial message in order to increase the mechanism’s viral potency. Normally this would be a Catch-22, but when weblogs, Google and the factor of link popularity get involved, the odds are tipped significantly in your favour.

People may not know who brought the links to the party, but Google will. General search results for your main page(s) can improve significantly – often overnight – due to this kind of activity.

Warning: Word Count Approaching 1,500

So here you are, a little bit older but hopefully a heck of a lot wiser. There’s not a lot more I can do for you now except suggest that you get out there and do some research. Yes, articles can help, but each and every one represents a single opinion of something that’s very hard to define. What you really need to do is mingle. Listen to the conversation, find out where you fit in and come back to us when you’re ready.

We’ll still be here and willing to listen, but try not to fuck up the party for the rest of us, OK?

Posted by Tim Ireland at April 11, 2002

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

In my book, The Net-Works Guide to Marketing Your Website, I took the following position on paid inclusion:

Should You Pay for a Search Engine or Directory Listing?

“No. If a search engine, directory or other site requires payment before they list you, look elsewhere. Even large search engines that charge a fee for listing are not worth your time, especially when there are so many ‘free’ search engines that are far more popular with web users.”

Times and circumstances have changed considerably since I wrote this, so I thought it might be best to clarify one or two points on the issue and indulge in a minor rant in the process.

In the last year especially, more and more search engines have started offering different models of paid entry. Yahoo! recently used their strong market position to not only adopt a compulsory paid inclusion model for any kind of business listing, but also set it up as an annual fee (more on this in a moment). Google has adopted the GoTo system (which seems to have annoyed the original creators, Overture, somewhat). With this system, known as paid placement, you pay for advertising-style placement at or near the top for keywords that you nominate. Google, of course, supplies all the back-up data for Yahoo! – who, on top of the paid inclusion method we just mentioned, have also formally teamed up with Overture to include this same model of paid placement.

It’s already looking messy, and so far we’ve only looked at three databases! So, to avoid making your head hurt and to keep things on a even keel, let’s talk about this is general terms for a short while, m’kay?

Not too long ago, most commercial sites that wanted to get your attention did so via banner ads. Why? Well, most of the marketing bods who were in charge of this kind of thing came from a traditional background. They understood the principles of paid media placement, and were comfortable with it. Blinded by stats quoting ‘millions of hits’, it took them a while to wake up to the fact that the average click-through rate for a banner campaign was somewhere around 1-5%. Some optimistic folks justified this low percentage rate with the theory that this 1-5% represented better potential customers, in that they had already been partially ‘sold’ by the ad. Others saw it to be a problem but thought that the difficulty lay in the shape or position of the banners, which I personally considered to be more than a little amusing. Do you remember the advent of the ‘skyscraper’ banner? Have you noticed how many ads are being thrown in your face via all manner of technical wizardry and interactivity?

Steve Jones of ABCnews was recently quoted as saying; “Any kind of ad that’s technically available is something we’ll consider running,” before hastily adding, “provided it doesn’t diminish the quality of”

These people are still fighting a losing battle – but many of those that did become aware of the importance of search engine optimisation did so too late – and got the wrong end of the stick in the process. Because paid placement is so prevalent these days, it’s reached the point where many SEO engineers feel it necessary to include consultation on paid placement as part of their service.

It also has to be noted that search engines and directories are under a lot of pressure from various regulatory bodies to maintain the integrity of their databases by making it very clear what is an ad and what is an actual search result – not that web users don’t know the difference already. Average click-through rates for these kinds of ads are estimated to be somewhere around, you guessed it, 1-5%. (Though it must be noted, in the spirit of fairness, that Google is trying to do the right thing in respects by offering a function that discontinues ads performing below 1% – erm, and then helpfully encourages the advertiser to take out a new ad with new wording in the hope that this will be more effective.)

Now, as the Overture model only has you paying for the traffic you receive, many people are happy with this situation – but you can see what’s happened, can’t you? Despite the illusion that this is some form of search engine optimisation exercise, it is in fact a clear and set model of paid media placement. Well, I suppose if they understand it and feel comfortable with it, the trend will continue in one form or another – but it’s this current trend that we’re talking about today, and I want to highlight a few of the negatives for you.

Some Negative Aspects of Paid Inclusion

We’ll get onto to Yahoo! soon, but first I want to tackle the issue of niche databases. Many of these are run by guys who knock together a so-called directory or search engine on a specific subject or business sector (usually by recycling someone else’s database). They will then, more often than not, email everybody they have in their new database with a message outlining how much they will have to pay for an enhanced listing, or even just to stay in the database. We enter two very, very grey areas here:

1. This kind of activity borders on unsolicited invoicing (an illegal practice in most countries).
2. It’s also borderline Spam, which they justify by wording the initial greeting as a request to have the webmaster’s ‘permission’ to list the site before, of course, swiftly moving onto the matter of payment.

With these directories, I stand by my original statement on this matter. It’s simply not worth paying to be in some two-bit directory that some idiot knocked together in his basement. But what about Yahoo!?

We’re talking about the most popular directory on the planet here, and with many of my clients I simply don’t have a choice in this matter. Because this listing is so vital in terms of basic SEO strategy, the payment has to be made. This year, and the next, and the next after that. With this we come to what I see being the biggest problem that’s going to develop in this arena unless somebody keeps a bloody close eye on it.

In my young and carefree days, I rode out the late 80’s recession as a DJ. The company I started out with ran a 1/4-page ad in the Yellow Pages and had the prime spot on the top right of the first page for mobile discos. The cost of this was somewhere in the mid 5-figure range – and seemed to go up every year. However, the poor guy who ran the company had to keep forking out year by year for fear of losing his prime spot. He also felt the need to massage whoever was top of the sales team at the time with calls and gifts, just in case they accidentally ‘lost’ his annual submission and somebody else got this top spot. He only gave up the game after it finally became economically unsustainable. Yellow Pages had him over a barrel, and he was all but forced to abandon his business as a result. This kind of crap does not make for a healthy economy.

In my less young and far less carefree days in TV advertising, I also became acquainted with one of their former salesmen who had moved into TV media sales. He told me many a tale of businesses that he had over that same barrel and the joys of commission and contra. He was, and I’m sure I can say this without offending the man, a right bastard – and therefore one of their top sales people. I’m pretty sure that, if the current situation with online directories is left unchecked, that the same will soon be said of salesmen for these top listings online, calling and emailing you from a number of different core directories with all the charm of double-glazing salesmen and with a frequency that will make you yearn for the good old days of recruitment company cold callers.

Some Negative Aspects of Paid Placement

Paid placement is advertising, pure and simple. People know what advertising is. That’s why the click-through rates are as low as they are/were for banner ads, but this is by no means the worst aspect of this kind of service.

With your typical paid placement model, you pay to be highly placed (as an ad) for search queries that you nominate. Actually, the word they use is ‘bid’, because at any time one of your competitors may choose to up the ante in order to secure the top spot ahead of you. He pays more, you pay more, he pays more, a new company comes onto the scene with a big launch budget and doubles this out of the blue – where does it end? It doesn’t. Who wins? Well, I’m sure you can guess.

The reason Google became the most popular search engine on the planet, seemingly out of nowhere, is that it included aspects in its ranking methods that improved the way that cultural forces were taken into account. Things like link popularity, link context and deeper copy indexing produced an almost supernatural ability to ferret out the best results first time, every time. Of course, a lot of SEO engineers know how to create some of these effects artificially, but Google is still one of the last places you can search for something and pretty much get the best result, based on how good the offering is and how many people believe in it – which is why I’m so surprised that they’ve gone all-out on this paid placement model. It seems to go against everything Google is supposed to stand for.

A few weeks ago, a colleague noticed an interesting ad that came up for the search query ‘child safe chat rooms‘. The top-placed ad served up to many countries had the headline text ‘SEXY CHAT & WEBCAM ROOMS’. Despite at least two formal complaints that I’m aware of, the ad still appears (albeit somewhat lower down these days – last time I looked, two other companies had outbid this advertiser).

The first thing most people point out when they see this result is that it appears to be an understandable anomaly, in that the ad is also served up for the search query ‘chat rooms’, so appears to be ignoring the words ‘child safe’ – but shouldn’t there be some form of control mechanism to stop this kind of thing from happening? Especially considering that Google has such an excellent history of removing or controlling undesirable anomalies from its general database. Why should paid listings be any different? Gosh, do you think that maybe it has something to do with money…?

Paying For Search Engine Optimisation Services

Given that I earn a living optimising sites to achieve ‘natural’ results, I really have to address this issue here or the whole article is going to come across as being somewhat hypocritical. How is paying to have your site perform better in search engines and directories different from paying the directory or search engine directly just to get the top spot?

Well, typically, things like basic keyword arming can only go so far. While you can format a page in such a way that gets you the top spot for any given search query in some search engines, in databases like Google this becomes somewhat problematic if nobody else links to your site. Establishing link partnerships (for large sites at least), costs money. Even going out and creating a bunch of fake personal sites that link to the core URL is expensive (don’t laugh – I’ve seen this done before). You can even produce multiple doorways that see you turn up for all manner of largely unrelated search queries, but this tends to piss people off more than anything.

Funnily enough, the best bet for a site that has to fight this battle is the creation of a resource (or even some form of entertainment) that gets people to link to them – and gravitate to them – naturally. This borders on viral marketing, but I don’t tend to point it out too often, as this widely misunderstood term tends to confuse some clients.

Basically, I’ve always believed that for a site to perform well in search engines – and do so consistently – it needs to offer something of value and build a relationship on this. Paid placement bypasses the need for this value.

In Summary

Look, there are lots of things that make this kind of business necessary from the point of view of the search engines and directories (after all, the money has to come from somewhere), but I still don’t believe that it’s a good thing for the average web user or site promoter.

You see a girl. Your eyes meet, there’s a moment of magic that passes between you. You ask her out, she accepts. You take her out for drinks and a meal. Discussion reveals many common interests. If all goes well, maybe afterwards you’ll go back to her place for coffee and, one would hope, the creation of the mythical hot and sweaty double-backed beast.

Of course, for the same amount of money you could just go out and have cold and impersonal sex with a prostitute. Hell, with what dinner and drinks costs these days, you could probably afford to go twice – but, despite the outlay being more or less the same, the nature of these two encounters is very, very different. Which, for example, do you think is going to be the more intimate and enriching experience for both parties? Which do you think might realistically lead to future relationship? When it gets down to it, which do you think is simply going to be the better quality shag?


Posted by Tim Ireland at February 6, 2002

Category: Search Engine Optimisation

(Yes, I was inspired by the success of Bernard Shifman Is A Moron Spammer – who wouldn’t be?)

Last year, I was digging through my search engine results for buymybook and noticed something odd. A site called was turning up in a lot of the same search results. I didn’t have to dig far to discover that the webmaster, one Matt Vartan, had stolen my META Tags and Page Title wholesale. (Erm, with one minor change. He switched the description from “Books on the Internet by Tim Ireland” to “Books on the Internet by MatCal Fox”…)

As he failed to answer me by email, I brought the issue up on his public guestbook. The exchange is quoted in full below:

[IMPORTANT UPDATE – Following this link to the guestbook is not recommended as it will more than likely crash your computer. Since this page featured on a large number of people have dropped by the guestbook to wish Matt Vartan well. At last count, it was over 22MB in size, including many unsavoury pictures and what looks to be the complete works of Hans Christian Anderson. There have also been recent reports of a virus implanted in the page. Do not visit this page without full protection.]

Gosh, those META tags at look familiar.
Do you mind if I have them back?
Tim Ireland
USA – Thursday, November 08, 2001 at 06:25:38 (PST)

Unless, you have a copy right (sic) on a particular word, tags stays (sic).
There are no copy rights (sic) on English language.
USA – Saturday, November 24, 2001 at 14:02:49 (PST)

Mat, a unique configuration of words (be they used to create lyrics, a book, or even META Tags) are considered to be copyright protected. You’ve ripped mine off wholesale, word for word, in their entirety. I don’t see much of a grey area here, but thanks for showing everyone how much you care.
Tim Ireland
UK – Monday, January 07, 2002 at 04:05:22 (PST)

No copyright on the English language?! Perhaps I should release a bestseller under my own name and claim that I sourced the entire thing from the dictionary…

There was no reply to the last entry, but, lo and behold, my Page Title and META Tags were finally removed from the offending page. This has only happened fairly recently, because last time I looked, they were still live in Google’s cache.

I’ve since updated my title and tags anyway (because I now sell more than one book, therefore I’m no longer the ‘world’s smallest bookstore’) so you may be wondering what my beef is.

Well, let’s take a look at the aforementioned guestbook and see what you notice about it:

You have to laugh, really...

Yep, that’s right – I appear to be in very good company. Matt Vartan has also stolen the META Tags and Page Title for! (I’d cut and paste the two to compare them here, but you know how touchy some people are about their META Tags…)

So I dig deeper, only to discover that the ever-so-slightly misguided Matt Vartan has swiped META Tags from other sites for no less than a dozen of his own crappy web pages.

The list of offences is way too long to quote in full here (I know how short your attention span is, you loveable web surfers, you) but I will point out the most brazen and/or entertaining of them. Feel free to dig around for the rest.

This search result from Google will show you two side by side. The only change made to the Tags and Title being what now appears to be the trademark injection of the Matcal Fox name in place of any mention of the original code owner. Apart from Amazon, that is. Matt does not fear the wrath of Amazon.

Meta Tags courtesy of

It doesn’t seem to have any rhyme or reason to it either. Not satisfied with describing his guestbook as being the home of the world’s largest bookseller, Matt’s sports page has a woefully misspelled Page Title describing comedy videos, plus a list of keywords from a games site (hints, cheats, help, walkthrough, etc.) with a few movie titles tacked onto the end in high caps. (Well, at least he’s showing some creativity.)

Let’s move on to Matcal Fox’s Internet page (META Tags and Page Title courtesy of

Another example from

Why he thinks that people searching for out-of-print books would be interested in his ‘Internet’ page is anybody’s guess – especially as it’s made up of one Alta Vista search box and three affiliate links.

What kind of person would fall for this kind of META Tag theft (and, let’s face it, Spam)? Perhaps the same kind of person who looks for employment by searching for movie westerns..

Unemployment Westerns? WTF?!

Well, that’s it really. I can’t be bothered digging any deeper because looking at his site makes my head hurt. I don’t really expect you to take any action, either. What can you possibly do to educate a man who is so shameless and so very, very clueless? Just remember him in your prayers, that’s all I ask.

UPDATE 2 – This page made the top result in Google for the search query ‘Matt Vartan’. Justice is done.

(Oh, and the ‘Male image galleries’ result? Nowt to do with me, but funny all the same…)

Another example from

UPDATE 3 – The Matcalfox guestbook now appears to be all cleaned up, with the tags and titles he ripped off left stubbornly in place (same goes for the rest of the site). The guestbook now features a message from Matt about ‘not giving up’ (he actually quotes from well-known web renegade Winston Churchill of all people). Looks like he’s gonna keep those Amazon META Tags until he gets a letter from their lawyers…

UPDATE 3 – (Nov 02 2004) The Matcalfox website has now disappeared without trace. Matt Vartan himself appears to have left teh Interweb. Probably in a huff, if I’m in any judge.

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