Superstitious and Mathematically Incorrect

asian elevator buttons

Okay, I get the missing “13” (bad luck in Western cultures) and no numbers with “4” in them (bad luck in Chinese and Japanese cultures), and the –1 is clever, but where’s the zero? C’mon Asian people, we’re supposed to be good at math!

This article also appears in Global Nerdy.


Notes from “Introduction to Search Engine Marketing” at Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto

Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto logo

More notes from Search Engine Strategies 2008 Toronto — this set is from the session Introduction to Search Engine Marketing, whose description is:

“Search Engine Marketing” (SEM) is a general term that encompasses the entire field of web search visibility, including paid search ads (sometimes called “PPC” for pay-per-click) and improving visibility in unpaid organic search listings (generally referred to as SEO, for “search engine optimization”). This session will provide a broad-ranging and concise survey of how search engines work, where to prioritize your time and effort, and key marketing concepts. The session is particularly useful for newcomers to the field, and first-time SES attendees.

Search Engine Marketing

Search engine marketing (SEM):

  • is a general term that encompasses the entire field of web search visibility.
  • includes improving visibility in unpaid “organic” search listings. The process of improving this visiblity is SEO, search engine optimization.
  • includes paid search adverising, also known as PPC, pay per click.

Google’s Algorithm

One of the things Google will admit: there are over 200 factors in their algorithm. They won’t say what those factors are, though. In spite of this, you can still take Google and boil it to these two components:

  • PageRank: An index of the “importance” of your page, based on things like who links to you.
  • The words on your page.

Google has been getting cleverer with how they treat the words on your page. Features like latent semantic indexing allows them to recognize synonyms and related words. They also have the flexibility to respond to challenges such last year’s SEOmoz campaign to make Stephen Colbert the number one result for the search term “greatest living American” through Googlebombing and similar gaming. “Every now and then, when you think you have Google figured out, they’ll surprise you.”


The first phase in any SEO/SEM campaign is keyword research. For this, we recommend The Search Engine Marketing Kit by Dan Thies and Dave Davies.

The old way of marketing was: we create a slogan, then hammer it into people. It doesn’t fit search. When people are looking for an affordable hotel, they type the search term “cheap hotel”. “Cheap hotel” is not something that a brand manager would want associated with his or her hotel, but it’s what potential guests are looking for.

The first step in keyword research is thinking like your customer. Think about the words users would type to find your pages. Brainstorm keyword categories that address your customers’ wants. Compile the brainstormed keywords for further review of traffic potential, competition and other factors.

Recommended keyword research tools:

  • Adwords keyword tool — you can “use it in reverse” to do SEO research.
  • Google Trends is “good for the executives”. You can use it to show them how pathetic the search terms they’re coming up with are.
  • Microsoft adCenter. This is new, and has some new features, including a feature that projects keyword trends 3 months into the future. It also gives you a sense of demographics — who’s more likely to use a given term?
  • Trellian and Wordtracker are also useful. They’re available in both free and commerical versions.
  • Overture is no longer on the list. Yahoo! stopped updating it about 2 years ago.

Once you have the data, the temptation is go for most popular keyword. Typically, it’s one word, and the likeliness of “winning” the one-word term is nil. Besides, the average search term is two or three words long, so use two- and three-word key phrases. Examples: “Russian nesting dolls” and “online press release” (which also contains the often-looked-up “press reelase”). Build each page around the top two or three phrases that you would like it to be for: company or description, products or categories, benefits or lcoations.

Follow Google’s Guidelines, Use Google’s Tools

Follow Google’s design, content, technical and quality guidelines. Make sure that you keep up with the webmaster guidelines, as they’ve been updated a lot. The guidelines, used to be cryptic and vague, with suggestions like “It’s good to have links, but not bad links”. Google doesn’t really want to be cryptic, but they also don’t want to be gamed.

Over the last couple of years, they’ve creating some webmaster tools that will help diagnose your site and show you what they’re having trouble crawling. You have to sign up for it.


Good SEO requires a mix of “writing and crossword puzzle” skills.

Some page writing tips:

  • Include key phrases in your <title> tag.
  • Titles should ideally be created by the marketing department.
  • Find a natural way to reinforce the title tag with headings and subheadings
  • Headings and subheadings also break up the text in a natural fashion and enhance readability
  • Crawlers use an “inverted pyramid mentality”.

SEO copywriters need to learn white-hat linkbaiting techniques — see Matt Cutts’ January 24th, 2006 blog entry for more on this. In fact, be sure to follow his blog: he’ll clarify issues even faster than Google’s official pages, and what he writes often becomes policy.

Getting Links

Link building is as hard as getting publicity in the Globe and Mail. Quantity, quality and relevance of links count towards your rating. One high-quality link is better than many low quality links.

Getting listed on directories is tricky. Being listed on some directories is okay with Google, being listed on some others is not. There’s always some confusion: welcome to our world!

Another good source of links is the “Buzzing Blogosphere”. You need to understand blogger link love!

Be sure to read Eric Ward’s blog entry titled LinkMoses’ Linking Commandments, Part One (there’s only one part). If you follow only one of them, follow this one: “Thou shalt not use the name of Matt Cutts in vain (at least not publically or where it could be dugg)”.

Social Media Optimization: a new frontier, a new world shaped by Digg, Flickr and so on.

Pay Per Click

  • 97% of PPC programs use Google AdWords. They’re the most expensive. (“If you don’t get it right, you’re putting money in Google’s pocket, not yours.”)
  • 70% of PPC programs use Yahoo! Panama. Cost-wise, they’re in the middle.
  • 53% of PPC programs use Microsoft adCenter. They’re the cheapest.


Analytics tells you more than how many visitors you got this month.

A thought about Google Analytics: Google is selling you the ads and knows what people are clicking on. Some people think that’s too much information for a sales vendor to have. Use multiple vendors so you can maintain control over your information — split it up, use tools that belong to different entities.

Vertical search has been around a long time. Not much attention has been paid to it, but there are all sorts: B2B, book search, blog search, local search, image search, news search.

Here’s an important tip: optimize press releases for search. A well-optimized press release can hold its ranking for a long time. I’ve seen a 2003 press release that’s still a result in searches today.

Google Universal Search

Google Universal Search: one of those things that search engine companies are creating that we’re still inventing words for. “This is the challenge that you have entered into.” It blends results from its vertical searches — images, news, video — with the organic results. Search results aren’t just about text anymore! If you’re thinking about optimizing your multimedia assets, now is the time to do it!

Google has not rolled out universal search universally. Only about 17% of searches will feature universal search results.