Web Listings, Inc – SEO Scam?

If I sent you a letter saying you needed to pay $65 per year to get your house listed with the Post Office, would you pay it? NO, you’d toss it in the trash and possibly file a complaint with the FTC.

If you have a website, chances are you’ve received a solicitation from Web Listings Inc. that is designed to trick you into thinking it’s an invoice.

So why do people pay them to submit their websites to search engines that already know they exist?

Web Listings, Inc.

Web Listings, Inc.

 Look closely. If you read the fine print, it says, “This is not a bill. This is a solicitation.” A simple Google search for “Web Listings Inc.” turns up dozens of scam and fraud alerts. It’s common knowledge that search engines have no problem discovering new websites and crawling most types of content. Finally, the top 3 search engines account for 95% of the search volume in the U.S.. There’s no need to submit to 20!

Lessons in Persuasion

So why do people still pay Web Listings Inc. to submit their websites to “20 established search engines”? I think it boils down to three reasons:

  1. People don’t read the fine print. It’s common practice to hide the true terms of a deal in small print.
  2. People don’t properly research a company before doing business with them. It looks official so it must be legitimate, right?
  3. People are motivated by fear of losing their visibility in search engines. Fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than potential gain.

Why I Hate This

It deepens the distrust people have for SEO and our industry in general. It wastes small businesses’ hard-earned money. It adds absolutely no value to a website or business. It preys on people’s fears.

I also hate this because it’s apparent that enough people are still falling for it to remain profitable, and probably wildly so.

Please, research a company before you send them money. Read the fine print. Ask around.

If you still need help, Google it. I’m sure you’ll find a helpful answer from somebody that didn’t pay $65 a year to have their site listed there.

My Take on Google Instant

I have been flooded with questions from clients, colleagues and friends since Google’s announcement of Instant search. If you’re not familiar with Instant search, check out this quick video I shot before the official announcement. Or, of course there’s always a highly polished video from Google:

The new reality of SEO and PPC?

Personally, I found Google Instant distracting at first. After a couple of days, I am pleasantly surprised that it seems useful in a lot of cases where I’m not quite sure what I’m looking for. The general use case is somebody starting with a broad search (i.e. “flowers”) that will benefit from seeing suggested search queries based on their predicted intent (such as “flower delivery in richmond, va”).

That being said, the implications for SEO and PPC marketers are currently being discussed and analyzed throughout the industry. Here are the key themes that I believe are becoming the new reality:

1. More concentration on “head” terms. These high search volume, highly competitive, expensive keywords are likely to show up more often in Google’s suggested or predicted queries. Our keyword research needs to take these suggested or predicted queries into account so that we can optimize websites and PPC campaigns accordingly.

2. Long Tail keywords will be less productive. As Jeremy indicated, I believe most searchers will be distracted or tempted to click earlier as the search results change in real-time. This will likely lead to more clicks on head terms and more search query refinements.

3. Ultimately, relevance is still key. Organic and paid search rankings have not changed with Instant. No matter how the User Experience of search evolves, a well-thought out SEO strategy will include tactics to improve a site’s relevance to the keywords people are most likely to search for. Even if you rank #1 for a popular query, a poorly written Title tag or call to action are going to diminish the likelihood of people clicking on your organic search result or converting on your site.

4. Google will get richer. The logic behind this is obvious, since the head keywords are typically more expensive on a Cost Per Click basis. When it comes to their golden goose, Google really only makes UX changes like this that will improve their bottom line.

5. Brands matter more than ever. Large brands stand to gain considerably because Google inherently trusts them more. Over the last year, we’ve seen Google start to rank well known brands higher than lesser known but potentially better-optimized sites. This evolution is not debated in the industry, but the pundits and experts disagree on whether or not this actually improves search results and the search experience for the average Google user. I tend to believe that less variety and choice leads to lower quality search results.

6. Instant doesn’t mean permanent. Google is well known for launching a major UX change or search feature only to roll it back if user acceptance is not high and/or it doesn’t have the intended outcome (higher profitability for GOOG, better user experience, ease of use, etc.) Remember how short-lived Google Wave and real-time search results were?

7. The proof is in the analytics. We won’t know the full impact of Instant on SEO and PPC until marketers and analysts have had time to gather and interpret any changes in site analytics or campaign metrics. I expect to see preliminary results being reported as early as next week but a full understanding may take weeks or months, especially when seasonality is considered.

8. Remain calm. We’re on the leading edge of this change and word travels fast in the SEM industry. We are better off taking a wait-and-see approach to making changes rather than jumping into the unknown. Even waiting a few weeks or months to modify an SEO or PPC strategy will still likely give you an advantage over the vast majority of competitors that will be slower to act (if they act at all).

I hope this puts your mind at ease. It’s an exciting change to keep an eye on, but the end result will ultimately depend on whether or not the average Google user accepts the changes or not.

Want: ReWork by 37signals

Update: REWORK was just released yesterday, but it’s already up to #12 on Amazon.

REWORK by 37signals

REWORK Cover

I’m adding this to my bedside table: REWORK by 37signals. It’s gems like these excerpts that make me want to read the whole thing:

From “Workaholism”:

Workaholics aren’t heroes. They don’t save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is already home because she figured out a faster way to get things done.

From “Pick a Fight”:

Having an enemy gives you a great story to tell customers, too. Taking a stand always stands out. People get stoked by conflict. They take sides. Passions are ignited. And that’s a good way to get people to take notice.

From “Planning is Guessing”:

Why don’t we just call plans what they really are: guesses. Start referring to your business plans as business guesses, your financial plans as financial guesses, and your strategic plans as strategic guesses. Now you can stop worrying about them as much. They just aren’t worth the stress.

About 37signals

Not familiar with 37signals? They created the popular BaseCamp project management tool (read my review). They also published Getting Real, a book that turns traditional project management and product development on their respective heads (read my review).

And if this doesn’t pique your interest enough, they created a series of YouTube videos to put a humorous spin on their concepts:

Web Design Sketchbook Makes Life Easier

Web Design Sketchbook

Web Design Sketchbook

Attention web professionals: do yourself a favor and check out the Web Design Sketchbook. It’s a spiral-bound time saver that helps web designers and developers capture thoughts and concepts on paper.

From the site:

This 52 page book features pages of varying canvas sizes complete with grids and browser chrome and areas for taking notes, adding descriptions and rating your concepts. Save time and produce better creative work for less than the cost of your monthly coffee bill.

It’s a handy tool to keep around. Ross Johnson created a few prototypes to use in his web design company and decided to refine the concept and make it available to others.

Dissecting the Google Analytics TOS

Google Analytics

Google Analytics

What did you really agree to when you clicked “I Accept” on the Google Analytics Terms of Service (TOS) agreement? You may not be aware of all of the caveats and safeguards that Google put in place to protect themselves and potentially start charging for the service. Read carefully!

I have signed up for multiple GA accounts and never took the time to read the TOS until now. Like any legal document, it’s dry and at times full of legalese and formality. Here’s what you need to know…in plain English (emphasis and italicized comments are mine):

Google Analytics Terms of Service

This agreement is between you and Google. By accepting, you confirm that you are eligible for an account and agree to abide by all of the terms and conditions.

1. Definitions

Account - the “billing account” for charges for using GA based on page views. Yes, they openly discuss charging for access to Google Analytics. Even though it is currently a free service, Google may be reserving the right to add fees later.

Customer Data – data collected related to your visitors’ activity.

Documentation – online or offline help content.

Page View – the standard unit of measurement for GA; any time the UTM (tracking code) is executed on a page. Note that if you have more than one profile tracking activity on a single page, you will be “charged” for multiple Page Views.

Processing Software – the Google Analytics software that analyzes and reports on Customer Data.

Profile – the settings for including or excluding data to be tracked and reported. A single Site can have multiple Profiles.

Report - the analysis of any Customer Data; includes charts, graphs, and statistics.

UTM – the GA tracking code that you install on your site.

Servers – the physical servers where Customer Data is stored and Processing Software resides.

Site – a group of web pages linked to an Account and use the same UTM. A Site can have one or more Profiles.

Software – the tracking code (UTM) and Processing Software.

2. Fees and Services

Unless you or Google terminates this agreement (section 15), you can use GA for free to track up to 5 million pageviews per month per account. You can track unlimited numbers of pageviews if you have an active Google Adwords account.

Google may change the fees and payment policies at any time, including additional charges for geographic data, importing of PPC data, or any other fees passed along by 3rd party providers. Again, a mention of fees!

3. Member Account, Password, and Security

You must provide complete and accurate info on the registration form. It’s your responsibility to protect your password, even if you supply it to 3rd parties. You are solely responsible for any activity that happens within your account. You must notify Google immediately if your password is breached. You agree to let Google personnel log into your account to “maintain or improve service” (no guarantees of not using your data for other purposes).

4. Nonexclusive License

Google is licensing (letting) you to use their software within the uses outlined in the TOS. You agree not to copy, modify, adapt, re-engineer, reverse engineer, de-compile, rent, lease, sell, remove any Google branding, or interfere with the collection and processing of data.

You are responsible for following the laws in your jurisdiction. This agreement is terminated if you break the rules.

5. Confidentiality

Nothing is confidential unless it is proprietary or labeled “confidential”. Neither you nor Google will disclose confidential info to the public. You are responsible for the confidentiality of your password (again) and you must alert Google to any breach (again).

6. Information Rights and Publicity

Google may use your data if you consent, the law requires it, it will protect Google or others, or Google’s 3rd party vendors need it (e.g. billing and data storage).

7. Privacy

You may not use GA to track or collect personally identifiable information (PII). You may not join GA data with other sources of PII. You must obey the laws in your jurisdiction related to data collection. Your website must have a privacy policy and disclose the use of a tracking cookie that collects anonymous data. The privacy policy requirement may be a CYA (Cover Your Arse) clause to insulate Google. I would be interested to know what % of websites actually have PP’s and how many of those mention tracking cookies.

8. Indemnification

Google is not responsible (you are!) for claims or lawsuits brought against you or them related to your use of Google Analytics if you A) violate the TOS, B) break the law, or C) your products or services stink. You will pay Google’s legal expenses if they must defend themselves in a 3rd party claim against your use of GA.

9. Third Parties

If you register or administer a GA account on behalf of a 3rd party (a friend, a client, etc.), you agree that they own their data, you have their permission, and you will not disclose their info to anybody else without their consent.

You are responsible for their actions related to GA and you are supposed to inform them of the TOS. Google is not responsible for any actions taken by a 3rd party or lawsuits against them. You are!

10. Disclaimer of Warranties

The Service or Reports are not guaranteed to be “accurate, timely, or otherwise reliable” or free of viruses. The software can change at any time, with or without notice. There may be downtime. They may not fix errors if they don’t want to. Everything is “As Is”. This is not applicable in every state. Check your local laws.

11. Limitation of Liability

Google is not liable for any lawsuit or problem arising from your use of GA. This is not applicable in every state. Check your local laws.

Google’s total liability to you for loss or damages related to GA is $500.

12. Service Levels

The GA service may go down due to things outside Google’s control. Statistical accuracy is not guaranteed.

13. Proprietary Rights Notice

Everything Google provides is proprietary. The rights belong to Google. Steal them at your own risk.

14. U.S. Government Rights

Any government (or gov’t contractor) usage of GA must conform to the TOS.

15. Term and Termination

You or Google may terminate the Agreement (TOS) at any time for any reason. If terminated, you must delete all tracking code from your site.

16. Modifications to the TOS and Other Policies

Google can change the TOS at any time without telling you, simply by posting it online (anywhere, not just at google.com/analytics). You agree to changes in the TOS simply by continuing to use the service after the TOS changes (even if you aren’t alerted to the change).

17. Miscellaneous; Applicable Law and Venue

Google is not liable for anything. Your jurisdiction’s laws may vary. Google is an independent contractor. This agreement is binding for all successors of either party.

The Bottom Line

Google Analytics is a fantastic service for most small to medium-sized businesses.

But just because it’s free and it comes from Google doesn’t mean you should ignore due diligence. Read the complete TOS carefully before agreeing to anything. Make sure that anybody that administers your website analytics reads and understands the agreement.

Note: This is my interpretation, not a legal opinion. The TOS was retrieved on August 16th, 2009 and may have changed or vary by location.

Book Review: Neuro Web Design

If you follow me here or on Twitter, you know that I read a lot of books and I like to share my thoughts so that you can get the facts and decide if it’s worth your time and money to get your own copy. Have a suggestion or your own opinion? Leave a comment and let me know about it!

Neuro Web Design, by Susan Weinschenk, Ph.D.

Neuro Web Design Cover

Subconsciously Scintillating?

I’m not sure where to start with this one. The book started off strong with a high-level overview of how the human mind works, both consciously and subconsciously. Towards the end though, the brain train jumps the tracks and the book loses focus.

The brain, as you probably don’t remember from high school biology, is divided into three parts. The “old brain” is the primitive home of the “fight or flight” response and survival instincts. The “middle brain” is the emotional center and the “new brain” (cortex) is responsible for thinking, speaking, and seeing.

The concept of “Neuro Web Design” is that designers can create websites and interactions that leverage visitors’ subconscious thought processes to evoke seemingly conscious decisions about whether or not to take a desired action on a website.

The Human Brain

Your Brain on Blogs

The Good

Lots of screenshots and “Bottom Line” tips make it easy to grasp the main concepts in each section.

It’s a fast read, clocking in at under 150 pages with largish text and wide margins. I finished it in a couple hours.

The descriptions of the brain’s parts and functions are simple and straightforward, but without all of the detail of a textbook.

Many of the examples early in the book are useful and related to everyday web design and conversion optimization.

The Bad

Many of the anecdotes are common sense and leave you with a “I already knew that” aftertaste. I was not surprised to read a testimonial by Steve Krug (author of a favorite book of mine called “Don’t Make Me Think”) that said the exact same thing although it was spun in a positive light.

The first few chapters include a lot of practical, “actionable” advice alongside the theories presented. The last few chapters (especially the last one) seem to leave out the tips in favor of larger screenshots and longer theories.

The last chapter just stuffed in a lot of mentions of various social sites with no useful info about how to incorporate social behaviors into a website or product. It almost seems like an afterthought or “I don’t know what to say about these so I’ll include them and just punt.” There are no payoffs or advice, just a vague “these ideas work on social sites as well”. Perhaps a cliffhanger for the next book?

The Verdict

Given that this book is relatively brief, it is worth skimming the first few chapters if you stumble across it in a bookstore or can borrow a copy from a friend (as I did). But honestly, you can get enough information to paint a pretty clear picture simply by reading the table of contents which are available on the book’s website.

Personally, I prefer “Call to Action” or “Don’t Make Me Think” for specific, tactical recommendations for conversion optimization and general usability/user experience best practices.

More Links

Three Reasons I am Leaving Network Solutions

1. They Can’t Answer My Questions

I tried reaching out for help twice now and have been let down both times. Once on Twitter on July 20th and once to NetSol’s Tech Support phone line (Service Request # 1-410445817). Nobody responded on Twitter and the info I got from the tech support was wrong!

Here is my situation:

  1. I attempted to use my site’s .htaccess file to redirect some “old” pages to new pages (about 15 in total) when launching my site redesign.
  2. The old pages have a .php extension. The new pages are all in WordPress.
  3. The standard .htaccess 301 redirect syntax wasn’t working or isn’t supported on Network Solutions hosting:
  4. Redirect 301 /search-marketing-services.php http://www.yoursearchadvisor.com/services/

  5. I had to fall back to using PHP redirects within the “old” .php files themselves, which is suboptimal for SEO. .htaccess redirects for .html files work fine.

2. Tech Support Gives Out Wrong Information

I called NetSol tech support with the details mentioned above and was told the following via email:

The only ones which do not work are the ones where the page you are rewriting does not exist.  When you use the “Redirect 301″ command, Apache checks to make sure the page is there first before it does the rewrite, so if the page is not there, such as resources.php, you will get a 404 error instead. If you use RewriteRule instead, the original page does not have to exist.”

This is not true! I tried the redirects with .html extensions instead and it worked, even without the “old” .html file in the server directory. They are confusing mod rewrites with redirects. I was given this information several times.

Eventually my requests for explanation were elevated to a very nice lady in the “Executive Office”. She seemed genuinely willing to help, but after several phone calls and emails they still were not able to understand that .html files redirected properly while .php files do not and that that mod rewrites are not the same thing as a redirect.

3. They Make Up Silly Names for Things

I had already made up my mind to switch to DreamHost (site transitions in the works) but then I get this message when I logged back in to NetSol to make some DNS changes:

New Network Solutions Product Names (click to expand)

New Network Solutions Product Names (click to expand)

Seriously? What’s wrong with calling a domain name a “domain name”? And I no longer have a web site, I now have an “nsBusinessSpace”?

It’s bad enough that Network Solutions is selling half-assed fixed price SEO packages to unsuspecting small business owners (another post for another time), but they continue to prove that they don’t get it. Sorry NetSol. Your tech support and Twitter people are nice folks and seem eager to help. The fact that nobody can answer my questions AND you insist on trying to trademark silly names for commodities has brought us to this. Goodbye.

Book Review: Getting Real by 37signals

“Build less, not more.”

“Ignore details.”

“Half. Not half-assed.”

“Forget feature requests.”

If you are a web designer or developer, you are probably not used to hearing this type of feedback. Most marketing and development teams that I’ve worked with preach the exact opposite.

Enter 37signals, the company behind the BaseCamp project management software. They want to re-introduce the concepts of minimalism and simplicity and encourage teams to:

Get Real

Getting Real

"Getting Real" From the Makers of BaseCamp

The book is billed as “a smaller, faster, better way to build software.” The principles are easy to understand, but do they work?

If you’re a design or development team with limited resources and defined constraints, then yes, the “Getting Real” approach can work for you.

If you’re a large team with sophisticated software and regulatory requirements, “Getting Real” may be too idealistic and therefore unrealistic.

How To Make it Work

Even large, bureaucratic teams can learn some valuable lessons from the “less is more” approach. Here are a couple of my favorite examples that run counter to popular belief:
Complex Problems can be Fixed with Simple Solutions (Build Less)

The answer is less. Do less than your competitors to beat them. Solve the simple problems and leave the hairy, difficult, nasty problems to everyone else. Instead of oneupping, try one-downing. Instead of outdoing, try underdoing.

Trim Scope, Don’t Extend Deadlines (Launch on Time)

If you can’t fit everything in within the time and budget allotted then don’t expand the time and budget. Instead, pull back the scope. There’s always time to add stuff later — later is eternal, now is fleeting.

Sounds Dreamy, But Is It Worth the Time?

Value is a relative term. But in terms of getting something for nothing, this book is a must-read. It’s fairly short and available for free online in its entirety. Or you can buy a $19 PDF or a $25 printed version.

At first, I was skeptical that such a simple process can be replicated with success. The more I read, the more I started to realize that even though the approach won’t work for every team on every project, there are nuggets of wisdom that can be applied to any project.

My recommendation: Take the time to read the book and skip any parts that don’t apply to your situation (how to staff a company, customer service, etc.) Use it as a “devil’s advocate” and try to re-think how you do things. Even if you can’t adopt any of the ideas, you will be forced to re-evaluate your own processes and workflows.

As Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

BlackBerry Storm Review

BlackBerry StormI’ve had my BlackBerry Storm for 72 hours now and I think I’ve gotten familiar enough to write up my thoughts to share with some Twitter friends that wanted to know what I think of it, especially in comparison to an Apple iPhone.

First off, I’m not here to say whether or not the BlackBerry is better or worse than the iPhone. I don’t care about technical specs. Oh, and Apple fanboys, don’t bother. I work on a Mac all day long and love it. I just can’t justify the added expense and diminished cell coverage inherent in the iPhone to get a little extra emotional satisfaction from a device. My judgement criteria are purely selfish and apply to my personal situation and needs for a cellular device.

I was skeptical when I walked in to the Verizon store. But the 30-day return policy convinced me to try it, knowing I could always cancel and switch to AT&T to get an iPhone. Here, in descending order of importance, are the reasons I decided to keep my BlackBerry Storm and not trade it in for an iPhone at the end of my contract this coming May:

Service & Reliability

Advantage: Verizon. I have been 99% happy with Verizon since I got my first cell phone in 2003 after graduating college. I’m a consultant with two offices and no landline at either. So my cell phone is my one and only phone line. It just has to work. I can’t risk dropping calls with clients or not having sufficient service to send and receive emails at critical times. While I’ve never had AT&T service, my family does and several friends in Richmond do, most with iPhones. They complain about the lack of cell coverage in various parts of town and actually described dropping that many calls as “embarrassing”. This would be unacceptable.

Email / Calendar

Advantage: Tie. iPhone and BlackBerry have sufficient native email and calendar apps that sync with my Google Apps service very well. Again, these just have to work.

Mobile Internet

Advantage: iPhone This is an important feature for any internet marketer. I frequently have to search for something or look at a client site from a mobile browser while out of the office. The iPhone’s Safari browser is superior to the Storm’s, hands down. But, the Storm’s browser is surprisingly strong (much improved over previous BB’s) and performs all the basic functions I need, although without as much “sizzle”.

Cost

Advantage: Storm As any self-employed person can tell you, every incremental dollar spent comes straight out of your take-home pay. As a long-time Verizon subscriber, I got a $100 credit towards a new phone because my “New Every Two” discount kicked in. Add the $50 main in rebate and I got the Storm for about $100, compared to the $199 iPhone.

Keyboard/Typing/Input

Advantage: Tie Despite some negative press about the Storm’s clickable touch screen, I actually find that I can type more accurately and just as fast as I can on my wife’s iPod Touch (the keyboard of which gets some negative reviews as well). It takes a little practice, but I don’t see a compelling reason why either phone is superior. It just depends on your taste.

Apps

Advantage:iPhone The iPhone wins this hands-down, based purely on variety. But even iPhone users will agree that most of the available apps are crap and not worth it. I have found all the basic apps for a BlackBerry that will keep me connected and entertained while on the go, so I’m only really missing out on a few games and time wasters. Currently I have installed: Flickr, Facebook, Google Maps, Google Sync, YouTube, TwitterBerry, WeatherBug and there are plenty more out there that I haven’t installed yet. Plus, the BB AppCenter is going to keep expanding and will offer a lot more variety in the coming months/years.

What do you think? Did I miss anything?