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December 22, 2006

A Look Back at 2006

I would first like to wish everyone the happiest of holidays!

Now that the year is coming to the end, I thought I would do a post that looks back at all of the things that we covered in our blog. While we didn't blog as much as I had hoped, there were some good things that came out of 2006. In 2007, our blog will become a lot more active so please sign up for our RSS feed and get ready for a great year ahead.

Here is a list of all the different topics that we covered beginning in February of this year in chronological order:

December 12, 2006

Relative or Absolute Links for SEO?

For those who need a refresher, an absolute link is a link where the full URL is given in the link such as "a href=http://www.masterlink.com/news.cfm" whereas a relative link only provides the name of the folder/file such as "a href="news.cfm".

Now, while most people have been taught to just use relative links, it is actually not the best for both search engines and preventing people from scraping your site content. Some people tend to use relative links because the shorter code can decrease a page's download time and decrease the amount of typing they do. However, a millisecond is about all that is saved this was as far as load time and the majority of users these days are not on a 14K dial-up anymore.

At the Search Engine Strategies conference in Chicago last week there was a Q&A session that had top engineers from MSN, Google, Yahoo & Ask as well as other top figures in the SEO world. A question was posed as to which type of links were preferred, all of the search engines agreed that an absolute link is the way to go. I agree with them not just because they are the experts but because their reasoning makes sense.

People who go to a site by typing in the URL (although many people are just typing the url into a google search and then clicking the first result) may enter the www or may not (e.g. www.masterlink.com vs masterlink.com). To a user, either one makes sense as they see the pages the same. Now, when search engines crawl links they don't want to crawl the same thing over and over again. If they crawl a link to the non www site, then every page linked from there (if it has relative links) will keep the spider on the same non www URL. Now, when they crawl through a link with the www in front of the domain - they see this as a different page and will index all pages again. Essentially they are giving each page a rank twice and crawling twice as much.

So, if you put all absolute links and a spider comes in from a link that doesn't have the www, you will guide them back to the www pages and then only rank those pages and save them the time of crawling a site twice or more. This also stops what is called PageRank bleed - meaning that the one page gets all the juice and isn't spread across two versions (the www & non www) of the same page. This is can actually be seen on our site (no, we are not perfect here, but always work to improve ourselves) if you check the PageRank of http://masterlink.com/news.cfm and

Please follow this link and paste each of the above URLs into the box to see the difference in ranks.

Another thing that should be done is for all requests for a website without the www to be redirected to the www version of the site. So if I typed in masterlink.com there would be a 301 redirect to www.masterlink.com which is just a back up guarantee that they hit the right pages. Search engines can sometimes still get mixed up so this solves this canonicalization problem.

Now, some of this may sound crazy, I agree to an extent, but ultimately search engines drive the majority of Internet traffic (~87%) so playing by their rules can only enhance the opportunity for good rankings.

November 28, 2006

"nofollow" - Does it Really Work Like Google Claims?

I am not one to usually try to stir up debate or call the search engines out for misleading people, but I still can't figure out what a "nofollow" tag REALLY does. That being said, I know what it SUPPOSEDLY does, but there is data to contradict this claim. After reviewing an experiment I did, it seems that Yahoo and MSN are obeying the rules, but Google, who was first to encourage the use of this tag is not doing what people think it is.

For those of you who do not know what the "nofollow" tag does, here is a quote from Search Engine Watch:

"If Google sees nofollow as part of a link, it will:

    1. NOT follow through to that page.
    2. NOT count the link in calculating PageRank link popularity scores.
    3. NOT count the anchor text in determining what terms the page being linked to is relevant for."
Now, I did a little experiment that anyone can do (some may call it blackhat - but to me it is just research) to test whether these benefits of the nofollow tag actually work in each of the 3 major search engines.

What I did was go to the AskDaveTaylor.com blog and found an article to which I posted a comment. I chose this site due to its strong page rank and its level of trust in the search engines as seen by his many rankings - thanks Dave :-). The post that I left is under the name of "Mark Warranty Peterson," just a random name with a keyword in it and linked to the site "theautoclub.com". Now, since the comments are on this blog are treated with the rel="nofollow" tag, you would assume that none of the 3 rules of nofollow as outlined above would be disproven.

Ok, so here it is a few months later and the page that I left the post on has a PR5 and the SE algorithms have all had time to fully evaluate this page. So, I went in and did an exact search in Google, Yahoo and MSN for "Mark Warranty Peterson". Now, one would think that the only page that would show up in the results would be for the page in which the post was left. Well, the only search engine that lived up to this belief is the infamous Microsoft Live Search. Microsoft also did not include the page with the post in a backlink check to theautoclub.com

Yahoo's results showed the page of the post and one spammer page. A backlink check of the domain (theautoclub.com) in Yahoo did, however, include the page from the post that had the nofollow tag.

What did Google show? Hmm.....this is where I was VERY SURPRISED. The results show the page with the post on it, AND the page to which the nofollow link points! They did not show this page in a backlink check, but when does Google ever show many links there anyways. Now, the other interesting thing theautoclub.com is now ranked #74 for "Mark Warranty Peterson" (edit: now showing at #70 on page 7). Notice that this is a broad match for this term and not an exact match query and the site does not have the word Peterson anywhere in the whole site. I then decided to check the cache of the page after finding it at #74. What did Google have to say about the search query?

"These terms only appear in links pointing to this page: mark peterson"

Now, if I read correctly, according to a Google post, ''when Google sees the attribute (rel='nofollow') on hyperlinks, those links won't get any credit when we rank websites in our search results." Well, this seems to be pretty good proof that this isn't true. I also have the server logs to show that Google has crawled through this link to the destination website in the link with the nofollow. That disproves that Google will "NOT follow through to that page."

Now, I am pretty sure that I am not the only person that has done this test and seen the results. This must explain why I haven't seen a decline in comment spam on my blogs as it looks like the "link condom" is broken...

So, can somebody help me out and explain exactly how Google REALLY treats the nofollow tag?

November 21, 2006

My Top 10 Reasons to be Thankful for my Job at an SEO Company

I am fairly new to the SEO game and being Thanksgiving week, I thought I would follow up my "Why I Love My Job in SEO" blog with my personal top ten reasons to be thankful for my job at an SEO Company.

10. I am thankful for being in an industry that is constantly changing, each day is new and different and I am continually learning.

9. I am thankful for tools like Web Position, Google Analytics and Digital Point for making my job easier.

8. I am thankful for blogs and forums, like SEOmoz and WebProWorld, where industry experts are eager to share their knowledge with newbies like me.

7. I am thankful for MasterLink’s own experts; Mike Shaffer for his technical expertise, and Scott Peterson for his design expertise.

6. I am thankful for Firefox and tabbed browsing! (And also some very useful extensions.)

5. I am thankful for Clif Thompson being hired on to join our team as PPC Specialist. (I am terrible with numbers!)

4. I am thankful for never having to deal with the Google sandbox. (Knock on wood.)

3. I am thankful for advanced searches, like "linkdomain:" for link building strategies. (Now if only Google would play nice with me.)

2. I am thankful for Mark Barrera, my boss, teacher, mentor and friend. I have learned so much from him and he makes everyday of work fun.

1. I am thankful for MasterLink and Brenda Molloy for giving me a chance with a job in SEO when I had relatively no knowledge of SEO only 8 months ago.

November 16, 2006

Why I Love My Job in SEO

I have a crazy love for and collect two things, monkeys (not live ones, of course, though that would be kinda cool) and kaleidoscopes. Monkeys are just so fun, I smile every time I see one. I love kaleidoscopes because they are so beautiful to look at the ever-changing colors and patterns. You will never see the exact same design twice in a kaleidoscope and can never predict what pattern you will see at the next rotation.

So, what does this have to do with why I love my job in SEO? Well, it reminds me a lot of my two favorite things in several ways.

How does my job in SEO remind me of monkeys, besides the fact that Ask.com is using monkeys in their new commercials? Well, SEO is fun. Monkeys are fun. My job can also sometimes be quite tedious. Take yesterday for example; I spent the majority of my day doing link building for a client. Now, this reminds me of monkeys simply because I believe I could train a monkey to do link building for me. Search, copy, paste, repeat. (Now if only I did collect live monkeys, I'd be set!)

As for kaleidoscopes my job in SEO reminds me of them because it too is ever-changing. Yesterday, I was link building. Today I am blogging and writing articles and press releases for clients. Tomorrow, I may be doing some keyword research or on page optimization for another client. Another similarity between kaleidoscopes and SEO: the ever-changing SERPs and search engine algorithms. You may find your site ranking well for a particular term one day and fall back down the following day. Like a kaleidoscope you can never predict what results you will get.

My job in SEO, like monkeys, is fun even though sometimes it can include some tedious monkey-work. My job in SEO, like kaleidoscopes, is ever-changing; and that is a beautiful thing.

November 13, 2006

Hitwise Releases Top 10 Search Terms in 10 Categories

From ClickZ: Below, the top 10 search terms by search volume. Data are provided by Hitwise.

Top 10 Search Terms by Category, Four Weeks Ending October 28, 2006 (%)
IT and InternetAutomotive Manufacturers
Search TermSearch VolumeSearch TermSearch Volume
paypal.com1.09kelly blue book1.03
people search0.89used cars0.64
white pages0.77ebay motors0.62
pay pal0.52auto trader0.54
MoviesInternet Advertising
Search TermSearch VolumeSearch TermSearch Volume
imdb1.11free samples0.71
netflix1.02free stuff0.46
fandango0.33unclaimed money0.33
netflix.com0.28work from home0.31
saw 30.27ares0.26
harry potter0.21napster0.25
hollywood video0.21www.smcorp.com0.25
movie times0.17work at home0.24
Food and Beverage Brands and ManufacturersPharmaceutical and Medical Products
Search TermSearch VolumeSearch TermSearch Volume
pizza hut1.77lexapro0.95
betty crocker0.51xanax0.34
burger king0.48depression0.29
dominos pizza0.48merck0.28
Blogs and Personal Web SitesBroadcast Media
Search TermSearch VolumeSearch TermSearch Volume
yahoo 3600.48msnbc1.12
livejournal0.42fox news0.82
www.xanga.com0.40sara evans0.72
perez hilton0.28bbc0.43
3600.22abc news0.42
dailykos0.22bbc news0.34
Shopping Rewards and
Travel Destinations and Accommodations
Search TermSearch VolumeSearch TermSearch Volume
consumer reports0.22hotels0.56
halloween costumes0.14hotels.com0.50
coupons0.12holiday inn0.32
froogle0.09las vegas0.18
free stuff0.09best western0.17
mycokerewards.com0.08hampton inn0.16
free samples0.08motel 60.15
www.webkinz.com0.06disney world0.15
myrewardzone.com0.06days inn0.15
Hitwise logo
View: Top 10 Search Terms by Category, Four Weeks Ending September 30, 2006

Hitwise monitors how more than 25 million Internet users interact with over 500,000 Web sites across 160 industry categories. It collects Internet usage information through a combination of ISP data partnerships and opt-in panels. Data are collected in accordance with local and international privacy legislation and are audited by PricewaterhouseCoopers.

October 18, 2006

Yahoo Launches New Search Advertising Platform: “Panama”

Yahoo has begun converting advertisers to their new Panama ad system. Yahoo previously announced they were going to delay the launch of Panama earlier this year. Advertisers will be migrating to the new system in stages via an invite from Yahoo over the remainder of this year and early next year; however users may request an early upgrade from Yahoo.

Yahoo made the announcement after it said its quarterly profit slipped 38 percent and also forecast that fourth-quarter revenue will be below analyst expectations. The announcement immediately impacted Yahoo's stock price, and may have implications for Google as well.

Panama's new design promises to be more intuitive with the addition of Ajax and improved graphical interfaces. Also included in the new release is instant activation of keywords and enhanced forecasting features. Andy Beal at Marketing Pilgrim provides a great description of the new Yahoo Search Marketing system along with screenshots of the improved interface.

Yahoo also plans to change the ad ranking algorithm, taking ad quality into account as well as bids, similar to how Google Adwords currently works. This change will not be rolled out until early next year.

I, myself am extremely excited about the launch of Panama and cannot wait until we receive our account upgrade invite so I can begin using the new and improved features.

October 12, 2006

Yahoo and Google Fall Updates

Yahoo has announced that rolled out an index update on October 10, 2006. Marketers should notice a change in some rankings and a shuffle of the pages in the index.

Matt Cutts, the well known engineer at Google, has also announced some updates going on at Google. Google just recently exported PageRank info, so people should be seeing some changes in PR as viewed in the Google toolbar. The rest of the changes at Google are infrastructure changes and deal with the Supplemental results and making sure that "site:" queries are more accurate. Google has also pushed out new "link:" query information to reflect more backlinks pointing at sites.

I also want to mention the recent upgrades to Yahoo's Site Explorer. This program is a simpler and less enhanced version of Google's Sitemaps program but is improving slowly. Check it out and watch for future enhancements. I also recommend converting your Google Sitemap to a Yahoo Sitemap and submitting it to Yahoo.

-Mark B

September 22, 2006

Accessibility and Web Design

Recently, a federal judge issued a ruling that is shaking up the way that websites are designed. The ruling lets a lawsuit by the National Federation of the Blind against Target Corp. to proceed. This does not mean that Target has lost the suit, only that the case would not be dismissed and would proceed. The suit charges that Target’s website is inaccessible to the blind and therefore violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and several California laws designed to protect the disabled.

Targets argument for dismissal was that accessibility only applies to physical locations and not websites. The court disagreed saying that all services must be accessible to “persons with disabilities.”

How Does a Website Become Accessible to the Blind?

People who are blind commonly use text to speech software that dictates the contents of a website to them. This means that any images on a website that have text in them won’t be read by the speech software. For example, if you look at this site that sells yamaha parts you will notice that the navigation on the left has text that is presented as an image. There is a way to label the picture with any text you want so that a speech reader can speak to the contents of the image. This is done using an “Alt” tag. In the case of the Yamaha site, each image would need to be alt tagged with the same text that is contained in the image. So for the “buy accessories online” link, the code would have “alt=’buy accessories online’”. This way, a blind user would know to click that link if they are wanting to buy the accessories. Without these tags, the user would have to navigate to each page and hope that there is text on that page to tell them what the page is about.

A good example of proper alt tagging can be seen at the site of an extended auto warranty company. If you point your mouse over one of the green tabs that links to more info on the warranties, you alt text will appear (only in Internet Explorer, Firefox users must right click to view image properties). The text in the alt tag should reflect where the image link will take you in the site. Every image on this page has an alt tag provided.

How Does This Affect My Search Rankings?

Search engines act in a similar fashion to text to speech software because the search engine spiders that read your web page also cannot read text in images or decipher what the image contains. By using the alt tag you are able to tell the search engine what exactly is in the picture. Search engines also use this data to better help them when indexing images into their image search engines (images.google.com, search.yahoo.com/images & others).

When linking to a specific page, the search engines prefer that you use text, so that they can tell what the content of the page being linked to is about. Essentially, it is like voting for a page to rank well for a keyword in their search rankings using the text in the link. For example, if I wanted to link to the Complete Landsculpture site, I would use the text “Dallas landscape design“. If I used their logo to link to them, the search engines would see the link as having no text associated, so it would be like a vote without giving the site credit for the content it contains. This is why you need to alt tag the image with same text “Dallas landscape design” or something similar so that the search engines then know that that site is about landscape design. This will help to rank that site better for the text used either in the text link or as an alt tag.
You may be wondering, why not just stuff every image alt tag with keywords to rank better for those terms. The answer is that the search engines have evolved and can detect this keyword spamming. A rule of hand is to use a phrase less than 4 words to describe the image and don’t stuff keywords into the tag. Many people will tell you that the search engines don’t rank on alt tags but I can say that I have seen sites with only images show up in search results and the description that Google displayed used text found only in the alt tags.

How Can I See My Site Like a Text to Speech Reader or a Search Engine?

There are a few ways to make sure your site is readable to both the search engines and to people with disabilities. The first is to use a website standards validation tool. This also makes sure your site can be viewed properly in all browsers. All you do is put in the URL of the page you want to check and they will create a report with all errors. If you want to see how your site actually looks to search engines and browsers for the disabled you can use the SEO Browser tool or the Lynx text browser. This will strip all of the CSS styles and Images out of your site so you can view it at its most simple form.

For more in-depth analysis of the things you need to consider to make a site ADA compliant please click here.

September 01, 2006

The Internet Marketers Creed

Over at The ComTech News Blog Jack Spirko, who served in the US Army Airborne during the First Gulf War, has posted The Internet Marketers Creed. Jack has been involved in Internet marketing for 10 years and I can speak to his abilities due to a time in which we worked together. His post speaks to the passion and thought processes of interactive marketers and even printed a copy to hang by my desk.

This creed is a kickback to the Marine Corps Rifleman's Creed as heard in the opening of the classic movie Full Metal Jacket. This creed by Jack speaks to all Internet marketers who truly have a passion for the art and science of Internet marketing.

Check it out and leave your comments to a guy who gave a bit of his life to serve our country!

August 01, 2006

Matt Cutts Video Blogs Some SEO Answers

Matt Cutts, a now famous engineer at Google, has posted six videos on Google Video answering different questions about SEO and Google's ranking methods. He posted the first three and the last three at his blog.

* Session 1: Including qualities of a good site.
* Session 2: Including some SEO Myths.
* Session 3: Should you Optimize for Search Engines or for Users?
* Session 4: Static vs Dynamic URLs, organic geotargeting, sitemaps reporting
* Session 5: 301s with acquired domains, split testing, site architecture
* Session 6: All about Supplemental Results

Overall, this information can be very beneficial when wanting to adhere to the Google Webmaster Quality Guidlines.

-Mark Barrera

An Intern's View on Search Engine Optimization

Coming to MasterLink this summer, the only thing I knew about Search Engine Optimization is that it impressed people to hear the title, even if they had no clue what it meant. Learning the ropes of SEO under Mark Barrera it all started to come together.

My first lesson was that companies do not pay for top rankings in Google, they had to earn them and that is what our job is as search engine marketers. My second lesson and maybe the most important was that SEO takes time. This is the first thing MasterLink tells their potential clients so they fully understand what to expect. This I have found to be true and backed by all the books I have read on the subject. My advice there would be to anyone working with a company who has given them false hope by telling them changes will happen instantly, we all know that Rome was not built in a day.

Another lesson I learned early on was that the industry is constantly changing. What is working for you today may not be the case tomorrow. Thus following changes in the industry from sites such as SearchEngineWatch is very necessary.

Something that caught me by surprise was that search engines such as Google, MSN, and Yahoo must know that your site exists. Meaning you can’t just slap your site up on the World Wide Web and have instant exposure to millions of people. What a sad and disillusioned soul I was, it’s pertinent that your page have quality site maps submitted to each search engine so they know exactly what you or your company is about.

The more tedious work involves pay per click campaigns. There is a lot going on and you must be at the top of your game to manage a successful PPC campaign. You have to look at many pieces such as conversion rates, click through ratios, impressions, and the average cost per click to inform you as to what you’re doing well and what you should do differently. This part of SEO is a little overwhelming when first introduced to, and time will make it easier, or at least I hope.

Aside from that SEO is overall a very fun and exciting industry to be a part of because it is constantly changing, never boring and always keeps you on your toes. Every day is different!

These are just a few of the many lessons I have learned during my short stint with MasterLink which goes to show that SEO is something that takes constant attention and top priority.

-Stuart Frazier
SEO Intern

July 21, 2006

Yahoo Delay's Search Marketing Upgrade

Yahoo’s search marketing upgrade, code-named Project Panama, won’t arrive until at least the end of the year according to Yahoo Chairman and CEO, Terry Semel.

The upgrade is expected to bring Yahoo's pay per click model more in line with Google's. With Panama ads placement will be based on price and relevancy of ad. Currently, Yahoo places a paid ad solely based on the amount you are willing to pay for the keyword. The new algorithm will be similar to how Google AdWords works.

Yahoo had planned to release the upgrade in the third quarter, but Semel said during the company’s quarterly earnings call on Tuesday that the company was delaying the release of Panama to prevent disruption in ad purchasing and management during the holiday season.

"We think this is the right decision for ensuring the most successful commercial launch possible," he said, adding that we should expect to start using the upgrade in 2007.

July 06, 2006

Benefits of Email Marketing

Whatever kind of business you are in, success and profitability start with marketing. Driving interest in your products and / or services is the number one goal for any company.

E-mail marketing is one of the most basic and effective marketing tools available today. It's easy, affordable, direct, and powerful. When you add e-mail to your marketing plan, you spend less time, money and resources than with traditional marketing (ie: direct mail or print advertising). You can have your time-sensitive information sent in minutes, not days or weeks.
E-mail marketing also allows you to proactively communicate with both existing customers and prospects instead of quietly waiting for them to return to your website, visit your store or office, or call you on the phone.

E-mail marketing will also allow you to communicate more information, more often. Your communications can include newsletters, preferred customer promotions, sale notifications, new service announcements, event invitations, surveys and more.

With e-mail marketing you can see the results of your efforts instantly. The benefits obtained from most types of marketing and advertising are difficult to measure. With e-mail marketing, however, you can easily measure the number of e-mails delivered, e-mails opened, bounce backs, unsubscribes and click-through rates.

You can also tell who opened your e-mail, which links in your message resulted in the most clicks, who clicked on each link and how your contacts respond to surveys. All of this practical information can help you send targeted campaigns to those most likely to respond to your offer, significantly improving your results moving forward.

June 30, 2006

Yahoo PPC and Microsoft Search Deal Comes to an End Today

As previously reported, the agreement where Yahoo Sponsored Listings were being shown alongside search results in MSN will be coming to an end today. The end of this agreement was announced when MSN began running its MSN adCenter beta campaign earlier this year. MSN gradually reduced the percentage of sponsored ads being shown by Yahoo on its search listings and this transition to its own sponsored ads will be complete today. This change only affects US advertisers as non-US markets will still have Yahoo ads shown alongside the MSN results until adCenter is rolled out worldwide. The official announcement from Yahoo can be seen here.

This change should not cause much change for Yahoo Search Marketing clients as the transition has been gradual. Many accounts have noticed a decrease in their impressions as a result of not being shown alongside MSN search results. For advertisers looking to purchase sponsored listings in Microsoft's new adCenter advertising platform can visit here or give MasterLink a call!

-Mark Barrera

June 12, 2006

Adwords PPC Advertisers Have Another Required Task

If you are a current Google Adwords advertiser or are thinking about joining the Adwords program, take notice of recent changes by Google.

Recently Google displayed a notice in all Adwords accounts notifying advertisers of a change in the terms of service and a change in the way an ad's quality score is determined.

In the new Adwords terms of service it states that the price an advertiser now pays is partially determined by the relevance of the landing page. Google will now be sending spiders to crawl the landing pages and check for the presence of keyword material that is relevant to the term that the searcher intially used.

What does this mean?

This means that you can most likely no longer simply pick a page in your site to send traffic to any more. The better targeted your landing page is, the less you will pay for each click. This can mean big savings for large ppc campaigns. Web site owners must now put up the initial investment needed for the creation of optimized landing pages in order to achieve long term savings.

I am pleased that Google has implemented this requirement as it rewards the advertisers who already knew the importance of post click marketing and the value of a properly optimized landing page. If you need help creating landing pages, choose a web design and internet marketing firm that is able to understand all aspects of proper on page optimization as well as in depth knowledge of the PPC advertising programs.

-Mark Barrera
PPC Management and Consulting

May 26, 2006

Blogging Below the Belt - Corporate Blog Support Services

By Michael L. Clark

“Unless you’re a parent, you really can’t understand what I’m going through.” Ever heard that? The truth behind those simple words lies in one’s inability to identify experientially with another. For companies, however, the mantra they fear repeating may be, “Unless you’ve been targeted by attack blogs, you can’t possibly understand.”

Blogs began several years ago as a tool for online diaries. Today, they are the primary method for brand-bashing, personal attacks, political extremism and smear campaigns. With an estimated worldwide audience of 900 million, millions of blogs already in existence, and a hundred thousand new blogs created daily, the rapidly expanding blogosphere serves as both an advertiser’s dream and a marketing nightmare – depending on the nature of information that’s being promoted.

The blend of immense reach and legal immunity makes a potent recipe for corporate character assassination. Scores of often anonymous, virulent “investigative” and “factual” articles have crippled and even destroyed businesses, and the intoxicating power of negative “press” will only intensify. Some attack blogs are produced by individuals with an agenda, others by companies criticizing their competitors, while still others exist for the sole purpose of creating a stir. Regardless of the source, attack blogs are a reality that must be addressed by companies both small and large.

If a blogger wants to initiate an attack against your company, he has only to sit at a keyboard. However, MasterLink has developed a system of proactive, aggressive defense. The MasterLink Standard Blog Support Services program consists of 5 Levels, all at competitive investment pricing:

• Level I – Initial Internet Scan and Response
• Level II – Monthly Blog Service
• Level III – Third Party Blog Production
• Level IV – Company Blog Creation and Operation
• Level V – Forensic Blog Research/ Legal Review

Click here for details and subscriptions.

Blogs are here to stay. Once the attacks begin, companies can risk being blacklisted and having reputations shattered, or refuse to live in fear and fight smears with facts and expertise.

May 16, 2006

Yahoo Undergoing a Major Overhaul

Yahoo has launched a new look to its homepage at http://www.yahoo.com. The new design has blended different programming languages by seamlessly integrating AJAX, Java, and HTML to create an easy to navigate and well laid out homepage.

Yahoo is the world's most visited page followed by Google, MSN, Baidu (the most popular web search engine in China), Yahoo Japan, and the fast growing Myspace. In the U.S. Yahoo is beating out Google for page views while Myspace has the third largest following.

An interview was conducted by
with Yahoo! Chief Product Officer Ash Patel and Vice President of Front Doors Tapan Bhat on the features that have been added and the reasoning behind all of the changes. The podcast is available here.

Yahoo has added access to more content from the homepage and has started to emphasize videos, photos and multimedia. Yahoo is recognizing that many people are using broadband connections and is attempting to satisfy these users needs for multimedia rich websites.

The homepage is still in beta testing and no timeline has been presented for complete removal of the old homepage. Overall, I like the look and feel of the site and am glad that Yahoo has not given up on satisfying its users. Their last overhaul was in September of 2004, so it was time for a change.

-Mark Barrera

May 12, 2006

Free Yahoo Sitemap Creator: Converts Google Sitemap to Yahoo

Mike Shaffer here at MasterLink has created a neat tool that allows you to convert your Google Sitemap to a Yahoo Sitemap compatible format, in this case a text file. A text sitemap is simply a list of the URLs of your site in the form of a text file. These can then be submitted to search engines such as Yahoo! to notify them that all the pages exist and by doing so invites their spider to visit.

Why do I need a Yahoo Sitemap?

Unless your pages are indexed in the search engines they can't send you the free visitors you are all looking for.

Fortunately, the search engines want your content too and there are a number of ways you can help them, which they encourage you to do - by creating sitemaps of your website. Sitemaps created for the various search engines will enable these search engines' spiders to crawl faster, more systematically, and more extensively into your website's pages.

By doing so, you get the maximum exposure you can. Such exposure will boost your pride in having your pages viewed, read, and used by more and more visitors the way you intended them to. On the financial aspect, the more visitors your website gets, the higher your website's potential advertising value.

Please let us know what you think of our Free Yahoo Sitemap Creator.

Click here to use the MasterLink Yahoo Sitemap creator:

-Mark Barrera
SEO Specialist

May 04, 2006

MSN adCenter Launches; MSN Contextual Advertising Coming Soon

Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates will be speaking to representatives of big advertisers and leading advertising agencies at a conference at Microsoft's headquarters today. Ballmer will be announcing the formal launch of MSN adCenter. This means that all paid advertisements on MSN in the US are now supplied by Microsoft's own ad network, fully competing for the first time with the more established networks of Google and Yahoo!. Previously, ads were coming from Yahoo! and MSN has slowly been phasing Yahoo! out over the past few months as their contract will expire at the end of this month.

MSN Contextual Advertising Network to Come Next

On Wednesday, Microsoft outlined a broad new offensive against Google as it laid out plans to insert the targeted advertising generated by its new AdCenter system into a range of digital services beyond internet search. The next step for MSN will be to get these ads showing across a broad range of sites and not just its search network. MSN is reportedly working on a contextual advertising program and that MSN will call this targeted ad netword "ContentAds." More information posted here as soon as we can gather more information.

On a side note...

The Wall Street Journal reported this week that MSN and Yahoo! have been in talks to combine aspects of their business to have a better shot at competing with Google. The report speculates that MSN might buy Yahoo! or some part of their technologies.

Recently, Microsoft reported lower than expected earnings due to increased investment in search technology and plans to continue to increase spending in this area to compete with Google. This makes you wonder what part of Yahoo's services that MSN would need because they are working to improve their algorithmic search results as well as develop their own advertising network. It seems that if MSN wanted to make quick advances in these areas they would not increase their R&D and branch out with their own network, but would instead partner with Yahoo! to battle Google.

Need Help in adCenter?

MasterLink was one of an estimated 6,000 advertisers to participate in the Beta testing of MSN adCenter and participate in a demo of adCenter from a group of MSN adCenter specialists. If your company is wanting to advertise in adCenter, please contact the PPC specialists at MasterLink who have experience in using MSN adCenter!

-Mark Barrera
Search Engine Marketing Services

April 25, 2006

Creating Web Pages & Driving Search Results Based on Analytics

According to a news report WebSideStory this week is announcing that it will marry its back-end Web analytics engine with consumer-facing search engine technology in Search Version 4.0.

The technology, dubbed Active Ranking and Active Navigation, allows the search engine to write to a suite of APIs in the analytics engine to pull data out of the system. Consumer searches on retail sites, for example, could present results based on most commonly purchased model, color, or style of product.

Essentially, this tool allows the analytics to determine in real-time what is most popular over a set period of time such as the last 30 days or 3 months. If a user on a cell phone site searched for Motorola on the site and the Pink Razor had the most purchases, then the search results would list the Pink Razor at the top of the results. This allows previous consumers to somewhat dictate what current shoppers are seeing.

Most web sites are currently using the analytics to determine the most popular items and then adjusting their site accordingly. Also, many sites such as Amazon.com utilize similar technologies to the recommend the products that people commonly buy that are related to the product that you are currently viewing. This technology takes it one step further and takes the manual labor out of the picture and automates the process in real time using these API’s.

What the future holds…

This technology has the ability to increase conversions dramatically. If sites can present these search results in this manner, one would think that the ability to build the site dynamically according to consumer preference is right around the corner. Here is a possible scenario:

A customer is on a phone company site. If they click on a link for phone service, the site would be able to instantly determine the most plan that has been purchased most frequently in the past week and then lead the customer to a page featuring that plan and then list the next most popular below, and so on.

Creating web pages or driving search results based on analytics was typically a behind-the-scenes manual operation, but now it can be automated. The end result for companies is less time spent analyzing data and more time to focus on other aspects of their marketing and their business.

-Mark Barrera
Search Engine Marketing Services

Please do not use this article unless you plan to keep all links active and please supply a link to this article.

April 20, 2006

Pew Internet & American Life Project: Report on influence of the Internet

The Pew Internet & American Life Project recently released a report on the effect that the Internet has on people's lives. According to the report:

"The internet has become increasingly important to users in their everyday lives. It is also the case that for many of online Americans, the internet has become a crucial source of information at major moments and milestones in their lives.

Our surveys show that 45% of internet users, or about 60 million Americans, say that the internet helped them make big decisions or negotiate their way through major episodes in their lives in the previous two years.

Specifically, we found that over the three-year period, internet use grew by:

  • 54% in the number of adults who said the internet played a major role as they helped another person cope with a major illness. And the number of those who said the internet played a major role as they coped themselves with a major illness increased 40%.
  • 50% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they pursued more training for their careers.
  • 45% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they made major investment or financial decisions.
  • 43% in the number who said the internet played a major role when they looked for a new place to live.
  • 42% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they decided about a school or a college for themselves or their children.
  • 23% in the number who said the internet played a major role when they bought a car.
  • 14% in the number who said the internet played a major role as they switched jobs."

  • -Mark Barrera
    The MasterLink Group
    Dallas Internet Marketing

    April 11, 2006

    MSN adCenter Launching New Features

    I just received the following email from the MSN adCenter team:

    We have listened to your feedback during the MSN® adCenter pilot, and we are excited to announce an upcoming update of the tool, with some new features that will offer you a better, easier, and more productive customer experience.

    With these new features, you will be able to:
    • Add multiple keywords when creating campaigns, rather than manually typing each keyword.
    • Sign up for MSN adMail with the new Communication Preferences checklist.
    • Print billing statements through our updated Billing tab.
    • Estimate bids to help reach position one ad ranking through our improved price estimation tool.
    • Insert text dynamically into an ad title or ad text (formerly known as parameters).
    Please note that MSN adCenter will be down briefly while it's being updated on the afternoon of April 18. This should have no effect on your existing data or campaigns, which will remain live during this time. However, you will not be able to access your account or its features while we update adCenter, so we encourage you to make any needed immediate changes to your account beforehand.

    To ge
    t more information about MSN Search, or to review frequently asked questions about MSN adCenter, check out our FAQ and Troubleshooting sections in the MSN adCenter Learning Center.


    The MSN adCente
    r team

    These changes are going to be very beneficial to adCenter advertisers, with my favorite being the ability to add lists of keywords instead of the previous time consuming way of typing each keyword one at a time. The other key benefit of the upgrade will be the addition of the bid estimation tool. This will be very beneficial for advertisers who are targeting a specific ranking position. The part of this upgrade that is new to me is the MSN adMail. I assume that this will just be a way for MSN to communicate the latest news and changes to adCenter in an easy fashion. We will just have to be patient and wait until April 18th and test out the new features once the system is back online.

    -Mark Barrera
    Dallas Search Engine Optimization

    April 07, 2006

    Yahoo Search Marketing Upgrade in Beta Testing: Great for Advertisers

    Rumors in the search industry have been confirmed by Forbes that Yahoo will be testing a new and improved advertising system. They are claiming that it will be the best system to date, but I will only believe this when I see it. Reports say that they are testing the system with select advertisers in Scandinavia. The beta tests are expected to begin in June or late summer for the US advertisers. This new advertising system will feature dynamic bidding similar to Google and MSN which would take such factors as Click-Through-Rates and max bid price to determine the actual Cost-Per-Click. We will be searching for any screen shots and other fresh news on this MUCH AWAITED upgrade to Yahoo's antiquated system, so keep checking our blog for more info.

    -Mark Barrera
    Dallas Search Engine Marketing

    April 03, 2006

    Yahoo Index Updated

    Yahoo just announced that they have done a major update to their Index over the weekend. As a result, we ahve noticed some changes in ranking as well as some shuffling of the pages that are included in the index. Most of the changes seem to have had time to stablize but some search query seem to still be bouncing the results around pretty good. Thus far we have not seen much negative effects from this update. Meantime, if you have any comments or concers about the new index, feel free to email Yahoo at ystfeedback@yahoo.com.

    -Mark Barrera
    The MasterLink Group
    Dallas Internet Marketing

    March 13, 2006

    MSN adCenter Support/Help Desk Phone Number

    This post is for all advertisers using MSN adCenter and are in need of help from an actual person. If you advertise in MSN adCenter and have clicked on the "HELP" button, you know that this button does nothing. The same is true when you attempt to "Contact Support" by means of the "Give us Feedback" link. It took me almost half an hour to find a phone number for adCenter technical support.

    The phone number that I located that puts you in direct contact with the support desk at MSN adCenter is 1-800-966-7361. Their hours are 6:00am to 6:00pm PST. (TTY phone number is 1-800-877-9580).

    I called this phone number and was directly connected to an MSN support representative, without having to go through any menus and withour entering any account information, which was very nice. I asked my question and was put on hold for less than 5 minutes and an answer was given to me. The answer was not the one I was looking for as they told me what I wanted to do was not yet possible, but none the less I had an answer from the adCenter help desk. I was also told that the issue of the "help" was being worked on by an MSN adCenter team and should be resolved "soon". This has been an issue for at least the 3 weeks that we have been using adCenter, so I hope this "team" can figure this thing out soon.

    -Mark Barrera
    Online Marketing
    The MasterLink Group

    MSN adCenter Ads soon to be on Xbox Live? You bet!

    It seems like the big news in the Pay Per Click Search Marketing war seems to always be about Google.  I would say though you should never underestimate a billion dollar giant like Microsoft which many search engine marketers seem to do all to often.  Microsoft seems to be getting ready to display adCenter advertising to millions of Xbox players via the XBox Live service.
    According to Reuters Business Channel with a report released on Sun Mar 12, 2006 4:34 PM ET.
    “Microsoft envisions adCenter to one day be a one-stop shop for advertisers to gather information then buy ads on search results, Microsoft-related sites and services, non-Microsoft sites, mobile phone software or even online Xbox video games.
    You can read the rest of the Reuters Report, “Microsoft takes on Yahoo, Google for Web ad dollars” at the Reuters Website and the rest of my thoughts on this matter at my Cracking the MSN adCenter Code Blog in my post, adCenter comming to an Xbox near you.

    ~ Jack Spirko
    Web Site Optimization Specialist
    The MasterLink Group

    March 06, 2006

    Google to Provide Hosting? - What's Next?

    Well, for years Bill Gates and the boys and girls at Microsoft have tried to basically own the operating system market. Goggle has seemed to be on the same track in the internet world now here comes more evidence.

    Garett Rogers posted on his Google blog a discovery of some code hidden in GMail. This following line was the code in question

    function vJ(){if(uy){;return''+"Manage this domain"+" "}else{return""}}
    Don't worry if you don't know code all that well the only real piece that you need to grasp is the part that says, "Manage this domain".
    What this indicates, (according to Garett) and I would tend to agree, is that Google will soon be allowing people to set mail.google.com as thei mail server as they develop their own mail servers for public use. This is nothing like Gmail it would be like me using @masterlink.com for my email but then have the mail traffic run over the google servers.

    Taking this one step further and based in part on the launch of Google Web Page Creator last week and building on the launch of Google Analytics (for free) it appears that the folks at Google are preparing to not just index the Internet, they want to control it by monitoring how people use your site (Google Analytics), control how you design and host your site (Google Web Page Creator) and now, control how you communicate over the Internet with others.

    So whats next? In my opinion full scale hosting (for less then most quality competitors). Will we see Google's top three in front of Congress some day in a "Microsoft Like" set of hearings? Who knows but it is certainly possible,
    Jack Spirko
    The MasterLink Group

    March 02, 2006

    Is there a Rogue Google Data Center not Using the Sandbox?

    Recently we have launched several new websites with brand new top level domains.  We quickly got them indexed and began to gain ranking for some non competitive terms as is the usual pattern.  However, we also have noticed with some of them, a major traffic spike for some quite competitive terms.  This issue is that all the traffic seems to be coming from one particular google data center.


    While the other centers have stuck to the pattern of making it tough to rank new sites for the more competitive terms (more then 100,000 exact matches) and you really have to throttle your link building to avoid a "google bomb" this new data center has picked up, on one particular niche not only our site but 3 others that appear to be new as well and ranked them in the top ten among some very powerful sites with high PR and a good deal of age on them.


    (clearly we are unwilling to release the exact terms and the sites in question for obvious reasons)


    This has us thinking [and for now it is only a thought], that this data center may be rogue in nature and perhaps Google is looking to see if the "sandbox" is being over used and having a negative effect on their results especially on new topics.  Here are the factors we have noticed that at least are worth considering.


    1.  40% of the top ten terms on this one data center are new to very new sites (one is less then 5 days old! and drawing close to a thousand visits for one term per day all from one data center)


    2.  While some decent links were used to get the indexing done swiftly they were from PR4 to PR5 sites (not pages) so now major power of a PR7 or PR8 is at play here.


    3.  More interesting the traffic is from all over North America so it is not like this data center is serving a particular region or anything like that.  If you wanted to "test" something you would get better results with a broad sample.  The traffic logs clearly show that this traffic is from a very broad geographic region.


    4.  The sites are all indexed by the other data centers and rank for non competitive terms but not the competitive ones that rank top ten in the rogue center following the typical pattern.  Only this one data center gives the newer sites a high rank for the harder terms.


    This is an interesting concept to consider.  We have not yet decided whether or not we are going to publish the IP address of the Google Rogue Data Center so stay tuned and may be we will release it. 


    Of course we did all the things right with these sites to avoid the sandbox and they are optimized well, have reasonable links for a new site, etc.  Still it is clear one data center has for some time treated this group of new sites a lot differently then the rest.  Dusting off and old quote, "things that make you go hmm".  There is no doubt that highly revelant new sites are penalized by the sandbox and that it must hurt searches as well that are looking for the newest content available.  So may be just may be there is indeed a Rogue Google Datacenter and perhaps it is intentional.  As marketers we know that testing is the best way to get answers based on facts so that could be what Google is up to. 


    Any thoughts or comments are appreciated,


    Jack Spirko

    SEO Specialist

    The MasterLink Group

    Dallas Web Design and SEO Firm

    March 01, 2006

    MSN adCenter Blog

    Recently I decided to launch a new Blog Dedicated 100% to MSN's New adCenter called The MSN adCenter Code Blog. We will continue to post MSN adCenter and all intenet marketing news and tips here but all MSN specific posts and some exclusive posting will go on this new blog.

    Jack Spirko

    MSN Adcenter Taking Away from Yahoo Search Advertisers

    MSN Search has recently turned up the amount of ads that will be served from its new AdCenter advertisers. MSN had been showing their ads 25% of the time and announced that this Monday they were increasing that amount by 75% meaning that almost half of the ads shown alongside organic MSN Search results. This rollout should be done by the end of this week.

    The upside to this is that advertisers who are currently advertising in the AdCenter Beta program will be seeing better results from their campaign. These advertisers need to watch their budgets carefully if they have set budgets higher with the expectation that they would not be reached in the beginning. Their impressions and click throughs are expected to climb immediately.

    The downside to this change affects advertisers in the Yahoo Search Marketing program. Currently these advertisers are having their ads shown not only alongside Yahoo search results, but also along side MSN Search results. This means that as MSN stops showing the ads on its network the number of impressions and click throughs that will been seen on the Yahoo Search Marketing will inevitably decrease. Many self-serve advertisers with Yahoo Search Marketing will have to search out new keywords for the traffic -OR- as Bill Gates is hoping, put that money into MSN's AdCenter.

    MSN has also announced that they will be showing their own ads fully by June so Yahoo Search Marketers need to hurry to get into the MSN AdCenter Beta or else face losing a large chunk of their traffic.

    Now you may ask how to start advertising in MSN AdCenter when they are only sending out invitations into the Beta program. The answer to that is to call up an Internet Marketing Firm who manages large accounts and has a little more pull with MSN. Otherwise, it looks like you will have to wait and watch as others reap the benefits.

    -Mark Barrera
    Online Marketing
    The MasterLink Group