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It has been a while since we have heard anything on the net neutrality front, so I thought I would give some recent updates in the ongoing battle. Net Neutrality (NN) is a contentious issue to be sure. For a more detail look in what the issues are so contentious, be sure to check out this previous article for an in depth look at what Net Neutrality debate is all about. At the heart of the debate came down to whether you should fear the government or fear your ISP regulating the flow of data that you receive on the internet.
In December, the five-member FCC voted 3-2 to approve net neutrality rules that stopped service providers from blocking or retarding online access. The three Democrats on the commission voted for the rules, while the two Republican commissioners voted against it. Republicans have stuck by their arguments that a less-regulated Internet would spur investment and innovation.
Republicans argued that the FCC did not have the authority to pass such rules and introduced a resolution to overturn them The Senate and President Obama stated that they would veto the resolution if it came to his desk. A two-thirds vote by both houses would be needed to override a veto. On April 11th 2011, The House of Representatives overturned the FCC’s ruling.
On April 4th the debate continued over NN as members of the House took to the floor to debate and vote in a proposed resolution to overturn the FCC (Federal Communication Commission) standing net neutrality rules. After an hour long debate, over whether NN rules are even necessary, members voted 241 to 178 to take up the H.J. (House Joint) Res 37 later in the week. At the crux of the debate was whether government intervention and regulation will maintain the internet status quo, or lead to a web-based police-state. In the wake of the FCC’s rulings, Verizon Wireless and MetroPCS are planning to sue the FCC over their authority to regulate.
Some of the comments from the debate were:
"We should not trade the freedom of the Internet for a toll road provided by and for ISPs," said Rep. Jared Polis, a Colorado Democrat.
"We need to protect the Internet from government regulation," countered Rep. Rob Woodall, a Georgia Republican.
House majority leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., hailed the House vote for trying to thwart the FCC’s "harmful and partisan plan to regulate the Internet."
Sir Tim Berners-Lee, acknowledged as one of the creators of the internet, has spoken out to favor of the principle of net neutrality. He says that "self-regulation might lead to commercial interests taking precedence, and if this happened, governments should be prepared to step in to ensure that the web remained freely accessible to all."
The FCC rules have not only pitted Democrats against Republicans, but it has also split the business community. Internet service providers, such as AT&T, Comcast, and Verizon, opposed the rules, while companies thriving on an open internet, including Amazon, eBay, and Google, supported the regulations.
JCPenny had some impressive holiday revenue this year due to some usually good results on the search engines. The results were in fact a bit too impressive and lead some researchers to question why JCPenny.com should be the #1 ranked site for something like Samsonite Luggage, above the well established manufacturer, Samsonite.com.
As it turns out JCPenny has a lot of links, with an unusually large increase in links over the last few months, which they claim no responsibility for. In fact the links for JCPenny items are so extensive that they appear all over the internet in places completely unlikely to be organic in any way. While you could loosely find some connection between a “little black dress” and a casino-discussion site, such clothing terms were also linked to JCPenny on engineering sites, banking sites, and other completely unrelated discussions.
The case against JCPenny is so strong that Google had little disagreement that some corrective actions were needed to make the results more organic.
If you were to hit Google on Wednesday of last week, J. C. Penney was still the No. 1 result for “Samsonite carry on luggage.” Look again in two hours, and it would have been somewhere near position 71 for the exact same search. Today a quick search for that term with 100 results doesn’t return a positive hit for “jcpenny.com” on the entire first set of results.
At this point JCPenny has claimed that they want to remove the links, plus they went ahead and severed ties with SearchDex (a search consultant previously hired to assist JCPenny). It might be a step in the right direction, but only time will tell how far the Google anti-spam team’s “manual action” will effect the company’s position in the SERPs.
Clearly the way things are now, it was a well timed ‘mishap’ for JCPenny, and obviously if they can manage some swift damage control, they are likely to come out ahead of the game even with a period of poor rankings on the search engines during the next month or so.
As a follow-up to my previous post regarding the accusations from Google that Bing is using click-through data as part of their ranking methodology. It is pretty certain that Google does as well and there is evidence to show that they both have been doing so for some time. Even Matt Cutts said in 2002 that "using toolbar data could help provide better SERPs." Although to this day, Google hasn’t officially disclosed if they use the click-stream data as a factor in their search ranking algorithm.
To try to prove their accusation, Google created some fake SERPs for "non-words" and sent clicks through to Bing to make sure they got hold of the data. Even though it was nonsense data, Bing still took it serious enough to use it in about 10% of their search results. Bing then accused Google of click-fraud, but because there was no PPC component it was immediately dismissed.
Bing was not forthcoming in their practices, stating: "We do not copy results from any of our competitors. Period. Full stop." Bing now reveals that they DO use 100% click stream data from sources like their IE toolbars and use this information as factors in their ranking algorithm.
In an additional statement from Bing they revealed that:
"We use over 1,000 different signals and features in our ranking algorithm. A small piece of that is click-stream data we get from some of our customers, who opt-in to sharing anonymous data as they navigate the web in order to help us improve the experience for all users."
I think the bigger story here is why this seems to be such a contentious issue for Google? Why the cloak and dagger routine between the two? I can understand that Bing may not want to divulge its practices, but it seems like adding insult to injury by denying the accusations and then admitting to them later. Both Google and Bing appear to behaving like temperamental juveniles in school yard.
What can we take away from this? Large corporations often behave like children. Even if clickstream data isn’t a leading factor in the ranking and probably never will be, it is part of the equation and as such cannot be ignored. As SEOs, we should be looking for ways to get URLs into the data stream of toolbar users.
Since the first rumoured whisperings of a buyout offer from Google to purchase the “Fastest Growing Company in History” (http://www.forbes.com/forbes/2010/0830/entrepreneurs-groupon-facebook-twitter-next-web-phenom.html), the web has been abuzz with speculations as to how much Google would offer, what this would do for Google, and what it will do to Groupon. The deal has had as many twists and turns as a tired television soap opera.
The fact that Groupon might actually decline the offer of $5.3 billion never really occurred to anyone. With gross revenue of $800 million, Google’s buyout price seemed a more than substantial offer to make it worth their while. Groupon’s rejection of Google shocked many in internet business and blogging communities alike who thought Andrew Mason (CEO of Groupon) must be daft to reject such an offer. This has lead to even more scuttlebutt with the rest of us scrambling to figure out what happened.
Some speculations are that Groupon may still be at the negotiating table with Google. Marissa Mayer, (Google’s VP in charge of search and the user experience) was heard to remark at a conference that “the larger the company, the more complicated the deal is” …and the longer it takes.
Some were not surprised at all by Groupon’s decline of the offer. Tech insider, Ron Conway, wasn’t shocked. “No, not really,” Conway says. “Andrew is a powerful entrepreneur.” And on those lines Mason stated that “What we’ve done so far at Groupon is just the beginning.” Implying that with Google out of the picture, the company is free to continue its unprecedented growth. Where it will stop is anybody’s guess.
Many have speculated that Groupon walked away from Google because the Chicago company wanted to preserve its own culture, continue building its own story and pursue its own IPO (Initial Public Offering) in 2011 and was also concerned about its employees keeping their jobs with the acquisition.
Still another thought permeating the blogosphere is that the deal was cancelled due to Google’s unwillingness to offer enough security to help offset potential legal antitrust issues that could arise from such a purchase.
A Silicon Valley source told Forbes (http://blogs.forbes.com/christophersteiner/2010/12/08/why-groupon-dumped-google-is-the-government-to-blame/?boxes=Homepagechannels) that Groupon was likely asking for a breakup guarantee from Google that the search giant would have to pay Groupon if, in the end, a Justice Department or FTC inquiry broke up the acquisition. Google simply may not have been willing to potentially sacrifice up to $1 billion for nothing. But there’s nothing stopping Google coming back to Groupon’s board with a bigger breakup fee to sweeten the deal either.
So what happens now?
Will Google find happiness with another partner (perhaps livingsocial.com or buywithme.com) and continue with its plans for local market domination?
Will Groupon hold out for more money? Or will they lead us to believe that business can have the morals and ethics to stand against the almighty dollar to become a shining beacon of hope to the world?
And what about the mysterious stranger lurking in the shadows called “Yahoo”?
Hopefully they’ll come up with a better name than that …
Ask around the techie water-cooler what the hot topic of the day is and you will hear about the apparently imminent move by Google to acquire the online mass coupon vendor, Groupon.
The deal could be worth a staggering $5-6 billion USD and could happen as early as this week. While the buyout amount is a matter of some debate, leading analysts are considering it a good move given the potential of local advertising revenue. Earlier this year, Yahoo was rumoured to have offered over $3 billion to acquire the company.
For those of you not sure who/what Groupon is, they are a “deal-of-the-day” website, localized to major geographic markets in the US and Canada. The company offers one “Groupon” per day in each market that it operates in – up to a set number of coupons purchased. Naturally, Groupon takes a cut of the deal from the retailers. This business model is attractive for any size of business as it reduces the risk for retailers as the coupons can be regarded as “quantity discounts” and also makes for very effective marketing and sales promotion tools.
Current CEO Andrew Mason launched the site in 2008 after acquiring several similar companies such as MyCityDeal, Qpod.jp, ClanDescuento, and Darberry.ru. After only two years in operation, the company has over 20 million subscribers, projected revenue of $500 million for 2010 and is currently valued at over $1.35 billion.
While nothing has been officially announced as yet, all one has to do is to look at the recent implementation of the recently launched “Google Places” service. The service is designed to promote and attract Google users to geo-specific markets for products and services. It would appear that perhaps Google has been planning the acquisition of Groupon for some time. Taking a look at the Google Places launch page, you can see that they already have a “coupon” area, making the implementation of the “Goopon” very seamless.
What does this mean to you and me? This writer sees it as another business-savvy step by Google to keep providing its users with value-added services. This is the reason why Google are the corporate giants they are, and will continue to dominate the market for many years to come.
Taking us into the weekend (and a long weekend up here in Canada on top of that) we’ve got two big happy birthdays going out.
John Lennon – Jon Lennon would be turning 70 tomorrow and Google has a video logo to celebrate. I’m not even going to get into the significance the man had on 60′s/70′s culture – if you don’t know you’re probably too young to care but I will post the Google’s logo:
Mario – And our little friend Mario will be turning 29 on Sunday. On October 10, 1981 he was born of Nintendo as Jumpman in the arcade classing Donkey Kong. Still an awesome game today. He wasn’t named Mario until Donkey Kong Junior. Also a classic. And now, a little fun to take you into the weekend …
For those of you who have noticed significant fluctuations in your rankings – you’re not alone. Across the web people have reported significant changes in their rankings. We at Beanstalk were fortunate on this one in that we had ranking reports running for the past few days and got to watch the changes over the course off the report. A happy coincidence.
Unfortunately the algorithm shift isn’t particularly favorable to solid site optimization. There was an odd connection is what we’re seeing. Site that had link building that focused on high relevancy and high trustability lost ground and sites who’s links building was focused on volume in recent months have gained ground. This indicated a shift to volume over quality. For obvious reason we’re convinced that this shift won’t last.
This shift in quality isn’t just apparent in the sites we’re working on but as we analyze various sites across the web we’re noticing a larger degree of lower quality backlinked sites ranking.
Now – to be sure we’re always in favor of diversified link building strategies and that includes strategies that focus more on volume and other strategies that focus on trust and relevancy but from everything we can see indicates that this update puts a disproportionate emphasis on volume. I expect to see the rankings shift again – likely over the weekend.
I should note that this isn’t just something we’re noticing but that has been noticed by a wide array of SEO’s. My advice? Don’t react too quickly – corrections are coming and you don’t want to adjust the wrong way.
And in other news …
And also noticeable in the current ranking report we’re running for our clients is the merging of Yahoo! and Bing search results. A couple days ago Yahoo! announced that their organic results in North America were being fed by Bing. This is of course the first set of ranking reports though that have refected this. This is (in my opinion) very exciting news and you can read more about it on Search Engine Journal here.
And stay tuned – I’ll be posting more as the Google update continues.
For the past week the Internet world has been abuzz with the Google/Verizon deal and how it will affect Net Neutrality. For those of you who have heard me speak at conferences or listened to my radio show you’ll know that I’m not the biggest supporter of Net Neutrality legislation. I tend to take a pretty hard line in a debate (almost always against Jim Hedger) but so does he and it makes for an entertaining debate with him referring to me as a closed minded hater of equality and me accusing him of communist tendencies and wanting to implement policies and laws that counter the entire spirit of capitalism. It’s a fun debate.
But today we saw eye-to-eye Jim and I. While we may argue the reasons we agree – we both object to the way that Google is handling the current issue with their Verizon deal that would give their 1′s and 0′s a bit of preferential treatment. More on that in just a bit. First – let’s get some basic history on Google’s stand on net neutrality, the arguments of those who oppose net neutrality and go from there. But first -
What Is Net Neutrality?
Net Neutrality is, at it’s core, the idea that the Internet is a mandatory service and that complete equality is required in the way packets are treated as they flow across it. The idea that the Telco’s should have the ability to charge more for preferential treatment of certain packages (say … YouTube videos if Google slipped them a few extra bucks) violates this idea. Well who can argue that? Don’t I have the same rights to the Internet as everyone else?
The problem arises in that the Telco’s need to pay for the infrastructure and access to that network. They argue (and let’s remember – we’re all capitalists here) that they have the right to monetize their services in a way that maximized profits. The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) has opposed Net Neutrality legislation noting that there are consumer protection laws in place that provide the protection in productive ways and that bloating the law books with more jargon isn’t going to make the issue simpler, or solve any problems that aren’t being solved with current legislation as has been witnessed many times – including a decision again Comcast when they tried to restrict access to torrents on their network and were order to stop doing so. Basically – Net Neutrality is protected even for a file type that is used primarily for exchanging illegal material (yes torrents are used for legitimate purposes but …)
Initially there were two camps, those who opposed net neutrality and those who supported it. The line was drawn basically based on profit like so:
Against Legislation – the “greedy” Telcos who just want to make a buck. For Legislation – a bunch of people who stand to profit from it such as Google, Microsoft and others who claim that this will hinder innovation and growth in the technology industry. To ask them – it has nothing to do with the fact that it would cost them more.
In 2007 Google as on record as saying:
“The nation’s spectrum airwaves are not the birthright of any one company. They are a unique and valuable public resource that belong to all Americans. The FCC’s auction rules are designed to allow U.S. consumers — for the first time — to use their handsets with any network they desire, and download and use the lawful software applications of their choice.”
At the time they were bashing Verizon from taking the stand that the decision by the FCC (Federal Communications Commission), “that would require the eventual winner of the spectrum to offer open devices and applications.” claiming such a decision was, “arbitrary and capricious, unsupported by substantial evidence and otherwise contrary to law.” You can read more about this on Google’s Policy Blog here.
So Here We Are 3 Years Later …
So here we stand 3 years later and Google and Verizon are in bed together working out a deal to prioritize some traffic over others, basically pulling a reference from George Orwell’s Animal Farm that, “some animals are more equal than others.” They use the example of medical applications but left the door open to gaming, 3D, entertainment, and more. I’m sure none of us would have a problem with a heart monitor connected to a doctor’s office over the Internet getting a priority over an MSN chat but we all know that’s not where this is going or it wouldn’t even be a debate.
Now on the table is that mobile devices should be included in the list of exempt platforms and services. Alrighty – now we’re getting warmed up. So they’re OK with the standard old Internet getting Net Neutrality imposed (except for special applications and services as yet to be defined of course)…but mobile, the up-and-comer and largely increasing area of bandwidth consumption and connectivity – that area should be excluded from the legislation? Here’s where you lost me but not because I think it’s wrong to give preferential treatment but because I don’t like when people are trying to be sly.
Here’s the thing … “not all animals are equal”. I can’t tell Google that all the can change for a PPC click is $0.40 just to make sure that everyone can afford it. It’s just not that kind of a world (and I would argue further that it shouldn’t be).
What They Should Have Done …
Verizon has done exactly what they should have. The way the message was delivered puts any backlash squarely on Google. I have no advice for them, masterfully executed.
Google should have come forward and said:
“The world has changed in 3 years and we have a lot of great ideas about the direction of mobile that’s going to require that Net Neutrality legislation doesn’t apply. We need to be able to pay more for preferential bandwidth to insure that we can provide you with the services we know you’ll love at a price you’ll enjoy even more. We want to pay extra so you don’t have to.
We would have called them on going against the policies of earlier but really – there would have been a lot less rumors and conjecture about what was going on. They should have stood up for their actions, admitted they were contrary to their former statements and basically outlined what we all know, the Internet world moves fast and the rules have changed.
Sometimes it’s refreshing to just hear a spade called a spade. I don’t believe that Google has any huge secret plans to bring down the Internet – I think they just want to be more equal. At the end of the day I don’t even disagree with their right to be more equal – they just should have come out and said so. They should have stood up for themselves.
And Now For Some Fun…
And now that you’ve made it to the end of a post on Net Neutrality here’s a video done by “Ask A Ninja” on net Neutrality:
Have you ever wanted to use a font on your website and weren’t able to simply because it wasn’t a web-safe font? Perhaps you wanted a beautiful scrolling heading but knew that doing so would require creating an image heading and really – that’s just not good SEO is it?
Last week the solution to this issue was brought to my attention by Jacob Gube over on the Mashable site in his article on the implementation of Google’s New Google Font API. Basically this is a standardized mechanism for pulling in external font definitions into IE, Firefox, Safari, etc. allowing designers and website owners to finally use the fonts they feel would best work with their design.
The first thing I’m going to discuss today is the discount being offered by my favorite paid directory Best Of The Web. They always offer good value for the money in regards to both trust enhancement AND just plain old traffic but for the month of May they’re offering a $25 discount on submissions of both your site and your blog. Both the Beanstalk site and blog are in there so I’m not recommending anything I wouldn’t put my own money behind.
So if you’re looking for a good quality link from a solid and respected site, BOTW is a good place to head and I’d recommend doing so before the end of the month. Submission is typical of an advanced directory (find your category, click “Submit”). They charge both annual and one-time fees depending on your short vs long term goals. You can visit their site at http://botw.org/.
Google’s New Face
Some of you may have already noticed that Google is displaying their results differently with a left hand navigation allowing for some advanced tailoring of the search results. I’ve actually been seeing it on my work computer for a couple weeks now on and off. Basically the default results set is the same as always but with a click you can tailor your results by time, type (blog, regular, news, etc.) and they even offer suggestion additional searches to consider.
As an SEO I of course have to consider that this is yet another factor in clickthroughs that I have to consider and that will likely put more work on my plate BUT on the plus side – t also may reduce the bounce rate of sites by allowing people to tailor their results more specifically. Oh – and as a searcher I do like it which (I suppose) is what Google’s trying to do. You can read Google’s post on the new face on their blog at http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2010/05/spring-metamorphosis-googles-new-look.html.
Once again Google, you’ve made my life a little more complicated but I have to commend you on a job well done.