Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Google Inc. is set to introduce its own instant messaging system

Google Inc. is set to introduce its own instant messaging system, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, marking the expansion by the Web search leader into text and also voice communications.The logo of Google Inc. is seen outside their headquarters building in Mountain View, California in the August 18, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Clay McLachlan

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - Google Inc. is set to introduce its own instant messaging system, the Los Angeles Times reported on Tuesday, marking the expansion by the Web search leader into text and also voice communications.

Citing unnamed sources "familiar with the service," the Los Angeles Times said that Google's Instant Messaging program would be called Google Talk and could be launched as early as Wednesday.

Google Talk goes beyond text-based instant messaging using a computer keyboard to let users hold voice conversations with other computer users, the newspaper quoted a source as saying.
A Google spokeswoman declined to comment on the company's product plans.
If confirmed, the combined computer text and voice-calling service would put Google in competition with a similar service pioneered by Skype, which has attracted tens of millions of users, especially in Europe, to its own service.

Separately, independent journalist Om Malik on his blog at http://gigaom.com
pointed to technical clues that suggest Google is preparing to run an instant messaging service based on an open-source system known as Jabber.

Jabber technology would allow Google instant message users to connect with established IM systems that also work with Jabber, including America Online's ICQ and Apple Computer Inc.'s iChat, Malik said.

"This is the worst possible news for someone like Skype, because now they will be up against not two but three giants who want to offer a pale-version of Skype," he wrote. Earlier this week, Google said it was branching out beyond pure search to help users manage e-mail, instant messages, news headlines and music. It introduced a new service called the Google Sidebar, a stand-alone software program that sits on a user's desktop and provides "live" information updates.

Over the past year or so, the company has expanded into e-mail, online maps, personalized news and more.

The product push comes as rivals Yahoo Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Time Warner Inc.'s AOL are all pushing to upgrade existing instant messaging systems and expand into new Internet phone-calling services.

Google's moves take it beyond its roots in Web search and closer to becoming a broad-based Internet media company. With instant messaging, Google would be breaking into a market in which its major competitors boast tens of millions of subscribers to their established instant messaging services.

America Online, with its AIM and ICQ brands, counts more than 40 million IM users in the United States alone. Yahoo has around 20 million and Microsoft's MSN Messenger numbers some 14 million users, according to recent comScore Media Metrix data.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Search Engine Spiders Lost Without Guidance - Post This Sign!

Robots.txt Signpost Warns Trespassers From Private Property,
By Mike Banks Valentine (c) 2005

The robots.txt file is an exclusion standard required by all web crawlers/robots to tell them what files and directories that you want them to stay OUT of on your site. Not all crawlers/bots follow the exclusion standard and will continue crawling your site anyway. I like to call them "Bad Bots" or trespassers. We block them by IP exclusion which is another story entirely.
This is a very simple overview of robots.txt basics for webmasters. For a complete and thorough lesson, visit Robotstxt.org.

To see the proper format for a somewhat standard robots.txt file look directly below. That file should be at the root of the domain because that is where the crawlers expect it to be, not in some secondary directory.

Below is the proper format for a robots.txt file ----->

User-agent: *Disallow: /cgi-bin/Disallow: /images/Disallow: /group/
User-agent: msnbotCrawl-delay: 10
User-agent: TeomaCrawl-delay: 10
User-agent: SlurpCrawl-delay: 10
User-agent: aipbotDisallow: /
User-agent: BecomeBotDisallow: /
User-agent: psbotDisallow: /

--------> End of robots.txt file

This tiny text file is saved as a plain text document and ALWAYS with the name "robots.txt" in the root of your domain.

A quick review of the listed information from the robots.txt file above follows. The "User Agent: MSNbot" is from MSN, Slurp is from Yahoo and Teoma is from AskJeeves. The others listed are "Bad" bots that crawl very fast and to nobody's benefit but their own, so we ask them to stay out entirely. The * asterisk is a wild card that means "All" crawlers/spiders/bots should stay out of that group of files or directories listed.

The bots given the instruction "Disallow: /" means they should stay out entirely and those with "Crawl-delay: 10" are those that crawled our site too quickly and caused it to bog down and overuse the server resources. Google crawls more slowly than the others and doesn't require that instruction, so is not specifically listed in the above robots.txt file. Crawl-delay instruction is only needed on very large sites with hundreds or thousands of pages. The wildcard asterisk * applies to all crawlers, bots and spiders, including Googlebot.

Those we provided that "Crawl-delay: 10" instruction to were requesting as many as 7 pages every second and so we asked them to slow down. The number you see is seconds and you can change it to suit your server capacity, based on their crawling rate. Ten seconds between page requests is far more leisurely and stops them from asking for more pages than your server can dish up.

(You can discover how fast robots and spiders are crawling by looking at your raw server logs - which show pages requested by precise times to within a hundredth of a second - available from your web host or ask your web or IT person. Your server logs can be found in the root directory if you have server access, you can usually download compressed server log files by calendar day right off your server. You'll need a utility that can expand compressed files to open and read those plain text raw server log files.)

To see the contents of any robots.txt file just type robots.txt after any domain name. For instance for this web site http://www.visionefx.net you would type: http://www.visionefx.net/robots.txt Neat huh? If they have that file up, you will see it displayed as a text file in your web browser. Click on the link below to see that file for Amazon.com http://www.Amazon.com/robots.txt

You can see the contents of any website robots.txt file that way.

The robots.txt shown above is what we currently use at Publish101 Web Content Distributor, just launched in May of 2005. We did an extensive case study and published a series of articles on crawler behavior and indexing delays known as the Google Sandbox. That Google Sandbox Case Study is highly instructive on many levels for webmasters everywhere about the importance of this often ignored little text file.

One thing we didn't expect to glean from the research involved in indexing delays (known as the Google Sandbox) was the importance of robots.txt files to quick and efficient crawling by the spiders from the major search engines and the number of heavy crawls from bots that will do no earthly good to the site owner, yet crawl most sites extensively and heavily, straining servers to the breaking point with requests for pages coming as fast as 7 pages per second.

We discovered in our launch of the new site that Google and Yahoo will crawl the site whether or not you use a robots.txt file, but MSN seems to REQUIRE it before they will begin crawling at all. All of the search engine robots seem to request the file on a regular basis to verify that it hasn't changed.

Then when you DO change it, they will stop crawling for brief periods and repeatedly ask for that robots.txt file during that time without crawling any additional pages. (Perhaps they had a list of pages to visit that included the directory or files you have instructed them to stay out of and must now adjust their crawling schedule to eliminate those files from their list.)

Most webmasters instruct the bots to stay out of "image" directories and the "cgi-bin" directory as well as any directories containing private or proprietary files intended only for users of an intranet or password protected sections of your site. Clearly, you should direct the bots to stay out of any private areas that you don't want indexed by the search engines.

The importance of robots.txt is rarely discussed by average webmasters and I've even had some of my client business' webmasters ask me what it is and how to implement it when I tell them how important it is to both site security and efficient crawling by the search engines. This should be standard knowledge by webmasters at substantial companies, but this illustrates how little attention is paid to use of robots.txt.

The search engine spiders really do want your guidance and this tiny text file is the best way to provide crawlers and bots a clear signpost to warn off trespassers and protect private property - and to warmly welcome invited guests, such as the big three search engines while asking them nicely to stay out of private areas.

About The AuthorGoogle Sandbox Case Study. Mike Banks Valentine operates Publish101.com Frëe Web Content Distribution for Article Marketers and Provides content aggregation, press release optimization and custom web content for Search Engine Positioning. http://www.seoptimism.com/SEO_Contact.htm

Saturday, August 20, 2005

How Important is ALT Text in Search Engine Optimization?

By Robin Nobles, Professional Writer and SEO

For years, search engine optimizers have included their important keyword phrases in ALT text for images, feeling confident that many of the search engines considered the contents of ALT text when determining relevancy.

The big question is, has this changed?
Yes . . .
None of the Major Engines Considers ALT Text When Determining Relevancy

According to research by expert SEO researcher Jerry West of WebMarketingNow and Search Engine Academy, at the present time, none of the "Big Three" search engines (Google, Yahoo!, nor MSN), considers ALT text when determining relevancy.

West explains, "Over the last six months, we have seen a trend on our testing servers that shows that using ALT text for SEO purposes has not only diminished, but adversely affects the rankings in the SERPs. It is clear that search engines continue to catch up to "SEO tricks" that are intended to improve search engine ranking while damaging the visitor experience. The American Disabilities Act (ADA) has strict guidelines as to wha your site needs to contain in order to be ADA compliant. I guarantee you, they do not look favorably at ALT text that has been keyword stuffed.

"Have you ever witnessed a visually impaired individual use th Web? With a device which reads aloud the contents of a Web page, the impaired individual will be inundated with what I refer to as, ALT Text Sp@m. Sometimes the reader is stuck on one graphic for more than 40 seconds reading all of the keywords that have been stuffed.

According to a Google engineer, what you should do is create an ALT tag that is relevant to the picture, so it gives the user a good experience, including the visually impaired. The ALT text is indexed, but it is down graded in the algorithm. The reason?

"We see ALT text as relevant as the Keyword Meta tag,' said the engineer. That should say it all as Google has nevër used the Keyword Meta tag due to the high sp@m rate.

"How do we test? I have outlined our testing methodology below," continues West.

"Our Testing Setup:

* We have four servers (Two Apache servers, one Windows, one Sun Solaris);

* Each server is located in a different part of the United States;

* Each test server has 16 test domains;

* Domains are matched in pairs for A/B testing;

* All domains are "dot com"; no testing is done with other extensions for the algorithms;
The 8 pairs are configured as follows: 3 pages, 8 pages, 25 pages, 50 pages, 100 pages, 150
pages, 300 pages, 500 pages;

* When performing testing, one of the domains in the pair is tested while the other remains

* Due to varying issues within the algorithms, it takes approximately six weeks to see consistent numbers in order to formulate accurate conclusions.

What Does This Mean to SEOs?
Search engine optimizers no longer need to use keyword phrases in the ALT text of images on their Web pages.

However, let's look at a smarter approach.

I've been recommending to my online and offline SEO students for a long time that they needed to use ALT text in the manner in which it was designed to be used by the W3C: to describe the image. Then, they can include the keyword phrase in one or two images on the page, if appropriate.

Continuing with that strategy is still viable. The major engines don't consider the contents of ALT text nöw, but that doesn't mean they won't six months from nöw. Always remembering the "basics" is one of the best strategies to follow.

Other ALT Text Tips . . .
1. Remember that the purpose of ALT text is to describe the image for the benefit of those who surf the Web with images turned off and for those who have the contents of Web pages read out loud to them. The WC3 highly recommends that Web site owners use ALT text to describe images.

2. Use your keyword phrase in one or two instances of ALT text on the page ­no more. Use moderation in everything you do in search engine optimization.

3. Don't use text that is non-relevant to the image. Don't keyword stuff. Jerry West adds, "Give the visitor information that is worthwhile, especially for the visually impaired."

4. "Consider using a description below the graphic. Based on recent test results, this is read often," states West.

West continues, "Basically, remember to be compliant, not just with the W3C but also with the ADA. It all comes down to intent. If your intent is to fool the search engine into giving you a higher ranking, you are performing 'grey or black hat' strategies. Stay on the right side of the path and the engines will bless you.":)

Remember . . . ALT Text is Just One "Piece of the Pie"
Relevancy and ranking are determined by over 100 different factors. ALT text was just one piece of that pie, a sliver at that.

Don't ever focus on just one piece of the pie. Always remember the basics ­- the SEO foundation ­- and make sure it's solid.

If you know you're weak in one or two areas, you know you have to beef up on other pieces of the SEO pie.

We'll talk more about the "SEO pie" in future articles. Or, attend our on-location workshops, where the SEO pie is always a topic of conversation.

About The Author Robin Nobles teaches 2-, 3-, and 5-day hands-on search engine marketing workshops in locations across the globe as well as online SEO training courses. They have recently launched localized SEO training centers through Search Engine Academy.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Deep Thoughts From the Googleplex

Deep Thoughts From the Googleplex
by Gord Hotchkiss, Thursday, August 18, 2005

IT WAS ONE YEAR AGO that I wrote my first Search Insider column. I remember that by the fact that I wrote about the San Jose Search Engine Strategies Show and now here I am, back in San Jose, going for my semi-regular search marketing total body immersion. Thank goodness this only happens occasionally. It can do strange things to one's perspective to spend four days with thousands of people who live, breathe, and eat search. Compare this to my other life, where my wife is still not exactly sure what I do for a living.

For those of us privileged to live on the inside of this industry, we gain a glimpse into a fantastic and highly illogical world. It's a world where empires can grow from mere ideas overnight and where vast territories can disappear just as quickly. Intellectual capital is the currency here, and it can be redeemed only through the acceptance of the masses. The winners in our world are the ones that pull the gem of an idea, nurture it into life, and find it picked up by the world. It's like throwing little bits of our soul at the public, and hoping one of them sticks.

Case in point: Google. While here in San Jose, I had the opportunity to visit the new Googleplex in Mountain View. I walked through the immense complex (on the morning after the Google Dance, so I was still bleary-eyed) and joined my host for a hot breakfast in Google's gourmet cafeteria, one of many places to grab a meal. I was surrounded by impossibly young, blue jean- and t-shirt-clad Googlites (Googlians?) that were all searching for the next big idea that will resonate with the public. They bellied up to the counter for a custom-made omelet or fruit smoothie, and then gathered around tables to start discussing the future, built in their terms. As my host said, this was the kingdom of the engineers, and Google is still very much an engineer-driven company.

In our world, this is as close to Camelot as it gets. Our society has switched paradigms. Many of us no longer look to our governments or spiritual organizations to make the world a better place. We've put our faith in the raw power of ideas. And if we happen to make a few billion in the process, so be it. Empires like Google no longer need assembly lines or oil wells, smelting plants, or factories to grow and prosper. All you need is people with bright ideas.

It was a telling note that my host told me that the new Google campus was in fact the old Silicon Graphics headquarters. As technology passes on, a new king has come to occupy the castle. The old guard has passed the torch to the new. He acknowledged the irony and said, "Hopefully we'll be able to stay here awhile." Meanwhile, the engineers downed their omelets and smoothies, blissfully unaware of the fact that, more often than not, history is doomed to repeat itself.

As I took in the sheer immensity of the complex, with all its high-tech touches and iconic lava lamps, I couldn't help but think that all this came from one single idea. And it's not even that defensible an idea. The Google Empire has been built from a clever thought, a shard of the souls of Mr. Page and Mr. Brin that has lodged in our collective bosoms. By making "Googling" a verb, they have built an enormous company. And they've done it in seven years. Yet no one seems aware of how ephemeral this all is. The phrase "Castle in the sky" couldn't help but come to mind.

I felt torn between the father in me and the self-acknowledged tech geek. Part of me loves the idea of a world built on sheer intellectual horsepower. I am excited by the constantly shifting challenges and the persistent question: "What's the next big idea? Who could be the next Google?" As I often say, working in this industry is like dancing on quicksand. But the dad in me says: "Be careful. This could all come crashing down tomorrow."

Gord Hotchkiss is the president of Enquiro, a search engine marketing firm. He loves to explore the strategic side of search and is a frequent speaker at Search Engine Strategies and Ad:Tech.

You amy reach him at:

Enquiro Search Solutions Inc.
800 277 9997

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

SEO and Effective Web Design

by Stephen Harris of www.sph-associates.com

HOW MANY TIMES HAVE YOU been approached to perform search engine optimization (SEO) magic on a Web site? It would seem that a lil' dab of content density adjustments, a dash of linking strategy, and an H1 tag make-over is all that is needed to give a Web site that spark. Sales will certainly follow, right? I need SEO! When I hear this, my first instinct is to take a step back and review the person's Web site. Often it is apparent that the answer to that question is, well, no. It will take more than SEO to bring on the sales.

Is SEO important? A resounding yes, of course it is. For many Web properties it's a critical element for a site's overall success. However it is not the only element for a successful online experience. Absolutely, a well optimized site, under the right keyword(s), delivers enhanced branding and establishes credibility and ultimately the coveted "free" clicks. However, what some Web site owners fail to realize is that a well crafted title tag is just one factor for success.

When discussing SEO, I first explain what SEO can do and then step back to view the complete online marketing landscape. An analogy often works best:

Think of an effective SEO as an advertisement for your coffee shop, which is well placed at a train station. Your sign for fresh brewed coffee is the first one a commuter sees, and it's enticing enough that all other coffee shop advertising is bypassed. However, when the visitor arrives at your store, they can't easily find your selection of coffees and are distracted by signs for lunch specials. Not to mention, there is no one at the cash register.

In other words, effectiveness doesn't come just from having a No. 1 ranking. It also takes an effective destination.

To create an effective Web site, marketers should, at a minimum:
Create a well integrated and seamless experience from the search phrase entered by the visitor to the first message they see when the site is displayed. Imagine the coffee shop now with a large sign displaying the available coffees and the smell of fresh roast.

Establish credibility and provide basic information on the main Web page. It's like having the local newspaper do a great review of your coffee shop prominently posted on the walls.

Provide easy and intuitive navigation; make it very easy for your visitor to find what they are seeking. A clearly defined area where you can learn more about the available coffees and someone who can answer your questions.

Establish a strong call-to-action, well positioned on the Web page. Make it easy for your well motivated, and caffeine starved consumer to purchase that fresh cup of coffee.
SEO and a poor Web site experience are like buying a cup of stale coffee. Of course, an effective SEO dictates effective use of content, but it doesn't necessarily require intuitive navigation and a strong call-to-action strategy. Further, there are some SEO practitioners that focus on the behind-the-scenes or black-hat methods, which do not aid in providing a quality user experience. High ranking perhaps, but what about the conversion?

Combining effective search optimization with an effective Web site creates a strong synergy that may well deliver the sales that the site owner is ultimately seeking. Online marketers can use SEO to leverage a better overall experience and relationship with the client by delicately pointing out that a high ranking is nice, but selling more coffee is so much better.

Stephen P. Harris is managing director of SPH Associates. He can be reached at