Correlation the SEO Way. Maybe Not?

April 11, 2018

Here is a fact about Hollywood: They love to boil movies down to a formula and regurgitate every movie into said formula over and over again. Some examples are Disney animated films, superhero films prior to the Disney Marvel franchise, and the Roman/Greek epics circa mid-twentieth century. Instead of focusing on how to tell a good story, Hollywood focuses on the auxiliary components like location, actors, and special effects.

Micheal Martinez from SEO Theory recently wrote, “Google Correlation Studies Are Sham Search Engine Optimization” and expressed that trying to learn anything from Google correlation studies is worthless. It is like Hollywood trying to develop a formula that delivers absolutely nothing. Martinez explains that Google changes it search rankings based on an algorithm. That algorithm is updated in real time from Google’s search index, so trying to create a formula to guarantee top hits is useless:

“The illusion of the power of correlation studies was driven by the popularity of one or two well-known “SEO” blogs — but I don’t want to single anyone out because, frankly, this problem didn’t arise due to the popularity of anyone’s blog. This problem arose because people in the SEO industry are too gullible and willing to accept any bullshit that is embedded in a Power Point presentation or infographic. That is, 100% of us put too much credence into presentation and insufficient analysis into methodology. I can’t exclude myself from that — not because I have ever believed any of these “correlation does not equal causation (wink wink)” arguments but because I find it too easy to point to what someone else says and use that as a reference for something I want to believe. I catch myself doing this all the time.”

There is not a reliable way to track and measure Google’s algorithm data. The only people who know that information are Google employees and they are not about to share their secrets. It is smart to be aware of SEO practices to develop good content, just do not follow them religiously.

Whitney Grace, April 11, 2018

SEO: A Growth Business and a Relevance Killer in One Go

April 6, 2018

Beyond Search believes that SEO is more appropriately characterized as “the relevance destroyer.” For companies unwilling to pay for traffic, search engine optimization “experts” have worked to make sure that irrelevant results are the norm. The goal is putting their clients’ Web links in a results list. Nice and annoying to us here in Harrod’s Creek.

In our opinion, SEO is not what we would call reliable. It’s a great way to dispose of extra cash for those with money to waste. Still, as Search Insider reminds us, the profession persists; they ponder, “Are Search Professionals Optimistic About 2018?” Writer Laurie Sullivan cites the recent Local Search Industry Survey from research firm BrightLocal, and one glance at the graph she shares shows most SEO pros expect a rosy year ahead, undeterred by certain challenges. Sullivan specifies:

“Despite the continual search algorithm changes by Google and Bing, 92% of search-engine-optimization professionals feel optimistic that 2018 will be a good year for SEO professionals. But 73% think delivering client results will become more difficult. A study conducted by BrightLocal that benchmarks business practices, pricing, services, attitudes and growth expectations during the past year reveals the average search professional does 7.7 different SEO and business-related tasks weekly. For that, they earn on average $61,711 annually. Overall, the local SEO industry has a positive outlook for 2018, with 92% admitting they feel optimistic about what’s to come for search next year. About 34% are very optimistic and 92% of SEO professionals think 2018 will be a positive year for the search industry. Just 9% said they feel pessimistic or very pessimistic.”

An interesting addition to this year’s annual study is discussion of SEO pricing; they found that the average hourly rate to be $110 per hour. Most respondents say they work about 40 hours a week, and report an increase in clientele in 2017. Their favorite jobs, most report, involve wrangling large amounts of data, like performing optimization and analysis tasks. See the write-up for more statistics from the survey.

Cynthia Murrell, April 6, 2018

The Old The Article Will Be Just a Click Away Ploy

March 31, 2018

I saw a link in one of my newsfeeds.

The starting point was a story called “8 Data and Analytics Trends to Watch” in a blog called The story ended about half way through. To see the rest of the story I had to click a link.

That second link sent me to “8 Data and Analytics Trends to Watch” on a site called The story ended about half way through. To see the rest of the story I had to click another link.

That link sent me to a MicroStrategy Web site at No story this time but I was invited to click a link in order to download a white paper.

I declined.

Several observations:

  • I wonder if anyone at these firms asked themselves this question, “How will people react to this play?”
  • I made a note about each of these sources. That note says, “Avoid these outfits.”
  • Perhaps each of these “real news” outfits should consider shifting to a consulting service along the lines of the GSR-type of outfit?”

Oh, the trends revealed were of little interest to the deadbeats and unemployed in Harrod’s Creek. A group of MBA students from the disgraced University of Louisville could have generated a comparable list of data and analytic trends. Scary intellectual parity.

Stephen E Arnold, March 31, 2018

Stephen E

SEO Tips for Featured Snippets

March 26, 2018

We like Google’s Featured Snippets feature, at least when the information it serves up is relevant to the query. That is the tool that places text from, and links to, a site that (ideally) answers the user’s question at the top of search results. Naturally, Search Engine Optimization pros want their clients’ sites to grace these answer boxes as often as possible. That is the idea behind VolumeNine’s blog post, “Featured Snippets in Search: An Overview.” Writer Megan Duffy sees Featured Snippets as an opportunity for those already well-positioned in the search rankings. She explains,

There’s no debate that holding the primary spot on a search engine results page helps drive a ton of traffic. But it takes a long, disciplined approach to climb to the top of an organic search result. The featured snippet provides a bit of a shortcut. The featured snippet is an opportunity for any page ranked in the top ten of results to jump straight to the top with less effort compared to building a page’s search rank from, for example, from eighth to first. Having a featured snippet effectively puts you at search result zero and allows your business to earn traffic as the top search result.

Duffy goes on to make recommendations for maximizing one’s chances of being picked for that Snippet spot. To her credit, she emphasizes that good content is key; we like to see that is still a consideration.

Cynthia Murrell, March 26, 2018

New SEO Predictions May Just Be Spot On

March 7, 2018

What will 2018 bring us? If the past twelve months were any indication, we have no idea what will hit next. However, that doesn’t stop the experts from trying to cash in on their Nostradamus abilities. Some of them actually sound pretty plausible, like Search Engine Journal article, “47 Experts on the Top SEO Trends For 2018.”

There are some real longshots on the list, but also some really insightful thoughts like:

In 2018 there will be an even bigger focus on machine learning and “SEO from data.” Of course, the amplification side of things will continue to integrate increasingly with genuine public relations exercises rather than shallow-relationship link building, which will become increasingly easy to detect by search engines.


Something which was troubling about 2017, and as we head into 2018, is the new wave of organizations merely bolting on SEO as a service without any real appreciation of structuring site architectures and content for both humans and search engine understanding. While social media is absolutely essential as a means of reaching influencers and disrupting a conversation to gain traction, grow trust and positive sentiment, those who do not take the time to learn about how information is extracted for search too may be disappointed.

We especially agree with how the importance of SEO will grow in the new year. Innovative organizations are finding amazing new ways to manipulate the data and we don’t expect that to stop. It’ll be interesting to see where we stand twelve months from now.

Patrick Roland, March 7, 2018

Google Search: Looking for PHIL

March 6, 2018

If you want information about Google’s PHIL (Probabilistic Hierarchical Inferential Learner), you can get a decent run down by two Googlers, who revealed the system and method in 2003.

Here’s the link to Ruchira Datta’s presentation at Ohio State.

How important in the algorithm? Well, since it is at least 15 years old, it’s okay. But one of the most important algorithms at the GOOG? An SEO maven alleges that this single patent is more important than any other Google patent except PageRank. Well, PageRank is assigned to the Stanford University Board of something. In a sense, it is not Google’s anymore because PageRank was funded by US government money. (You know what that means, right?) You can chase down the patent application. Try this number: US Patent 20040068697.

Do you think it is number two on the Algorithm Hit Parade? Remember: I don’t. Why? That bound phrase method is not exactly spot on even though Google uses the jargon “dynamic compounding.” Hey, “bound phrase” works for me.

Stephen E Arnold, March 6, 2018

Not Quite 15 SEO Assertions: Commentary from the Addled Goose

March 1, 2018

I read “Stay in the Online Marketing Game With these 15 SEO Statistics in 2018.” I am sitting in my log cabin in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. The flood waters are rising, and the odor of mine drainage run off fills the morning air. What’s a good use of my time? Commenting on the 15 search engine optimization “statistics.” The write up presents ten items, but, hey, for the SEO wizards that’s close enough. Ten is a really big number. The 15 in the headline is just marketing.

Buckle your seatbelts. Here we go.

“Statistic” Beyond Search Honk
Desktop search traffic This is cratering. Most queries are from mobile devices. Web sites and blogs are going the way of the dodo
Searches per second Bogus data because “searches” happen without the user taking action
Number of words in a search Look at results from multi word queries. See the strikeouts. That’s cost reduction and advertising in action
Mobile devices Smart searches mean less user control
Link building and high quality content Nope, the name of the game is buying ads. That triggers relevance
Length of content Baloney
Shares and links Yep, just like the Russia method. Flooding causes some algorithms to go bonkers
Focus on SEO Sure, why not just say, “Hire and SEO expert”?
Strategies Want traffic? Buy ads. See. Simple.
Local SEO Works great if one does business in a area where users rely on their phone for products and services. Here in Harrod’s Creek, I know the stores.

Now you and I know how to stay in the online marketing game with “statistics”:

  • Make up a headline which is inaccurate
  • Present generalizations without back up
  • Statistics? Hey, who wants to deal with numbers.

Plus I am thrilled that the missing five elements were not in the write. No intellectual loss?

Stephen E Arnold, March 1, 2018

Google Retains Opt-Out Option

February 15, 2018

While the desire by most organizations to land at the top of relevant Internet search results was strong enough to spawn the entire SEO profession, some entities are not so eager for traffic. Now we learn Google will continue to let sites opt out of its search results, even though the legal requirement to do so has expired.  Ubergizmo reports, “Google Will Let Websites Opt Out of Surfacing in Search Results.” Writer Adnan Farooqui writes:

Google settled an antitrust investigation by the FTC back in 2012 by promising to change its behavior in several areas. The commitments it made included removing AdWords restrictions that made it harder for advertisers to run multi-platform campaigns and giving websites the option to opt out of being displayed in search results and having their content crawled. Both commitments that Google made to the FTC back in 2012 have expired as of December 27th, 201[7]. It’s under no obligation to continue honoring them but Google has said in a letter to the FTC that it will honor them. ‘We believe that these policies provide additional flexibility for developers and websites, and we will continue them as policies after the commitments expire,’ Google confirmed in the letter.

So, fear not— if you’d prefer your site not be found by drive-by Google traffic, the search engine will continue to have your back.

Cynthia Murrell, February 15, 2018

SEO Relevance Killer: Semantic Search

January 22, 2018

I am not sure if this Forbes’ write up is “real” journalism or just a pay-to-play story. Either way, it makes clear that the trajectory of search has been to destroy the once useful methods for determining precision and recall as part of an effort to explain or define relevance.

The write up which made me reach for my bottle of Tum’s is “Why And How Semantic Search Transformed SEO For The Better.”

Here’s a passage I highlighted in bilious yellow:

instead of finding exact matches for keywords, Google looks at the language used by a searcher and analyzes the searcher’s intent. It then uses that intent to find the most relevant search results for that user’s intent. It’s a subtle distinction, but one that demanded a new approach to SEO; rather than focusing on specific, exact-match keywords, you had to start creating content that addressed a user’s needs, using more semantic phrases and synonyms for your primary targets.

So what’s this mean in actual practice.

Navigate to Google and run this query with zero quotes and no additional words or phrases: 4iq Madrid.

Now look at the results:


The information is about the firm’s US office. The company was founded in Madrid and has some R&D facilities in the high-tech section of that city across from what used to be a hunting preserve for a former government leader. No address is Las Rozas, no LinkedIn listings of staff in Madrid, zip.

The world of search as described in the Forbes’ flag waving prose is great for expanding a user’s query. The purpose is not relevance, providing answers, or delivering on point results.

The purpose is to make it possible to broaden a query so more and usually less relevant ads can be displayed.

If you want relevance in search, you have to work very hard.

For example, to get the Spanish information related to 4iq, you set up a proxy in Spain. Google no longer makes it easy to query its index for content in a language different from the one Google decides you speak based on where you are in the world the moment you run your query. Then you enter the query and peruse the Spanish Google index results.

Yeah, that’s something the average eighth grader will do when writing an essay about Madrid. I know lots of adults who cannot perform this workaround.

The Forbes’ essay states:

The SEO community is better off focusing on semantic search optimization, rather than keyword-specific optimization. It’s forcing content producers to produce better, more user-serving content, and relieving some of the pressure of keyword research (which at times is downright annoying).

Why even bother providing results even marginally related to the user’s query. Do what the NFL Sirius Radio Network does. Run ads all the time. Football is a bit of distraction to the real business of pay-to-play information.

Ads, ads, ads.

Stephen E Arnold, January 22, 2018

What Is Wrong with Web Search? Question Answered

January 15, 2018

I read “How People Search: Classifying & Understanding User Intent.” The article is an extract I believe from a new book oriented to those interested in search engine optimization. I will confess. I am not a fan of search engine optimization.

The write up is important, however. The author makes clear why today’s search returns off point, irrelevant, and ad-related content more often than not.

Quick example: I was running a query for information about a company founded in Madrid, Spain. The company has an unusual name consisting of a single digit and two letters. I assumed that the company name would be unique; otherwise, why would a firm choose a sequence of letters and a number which generated false hits. I also theorized that the company’s location in Madrid, Spain, would narrow the result set.

I ran the query on Bing, Google, and Yandex. None of these systems returned the information I wanted. Bing pointed to some biographies in LinkedIn, Google expanded the query to intelligence quotient or IQ, and Yandex just didn’t have much of anything. I don’t fool with metasearch engines; these just send queries to Web indexes with which they are in cahoots.

What to do?

The solution was not easy.

First, I set up a Spain proxy so I could run my query in Spanish against Google’s index for Spain. One can no longer point to a country’s Google search system. A bit of effort is, therefore, required. Who would want to search outside the United States. Stupid, no?

Second, I turned to my directory of specialist search engines. The one which delivered useful results was I know you probably use this system everyday, gentle reader.

As a result, I was able to obtain the information I needed.

The reason I had to go to such lengths was that the information revealed in the SEO oriented article makes clear that search means delivering what most people want.

You want Minnesota Vikings? Well, you are going to get sports. Forget an easy path to those brave warriors who made life miserable to my relatives in the UK.

Here are some highlights from the article which help explain why advertising and appealing to what the author of Democracy in America pointed out as a path toward mediocrity:

  1. Engineers look at data and shape the system to match the numbers
  2. Quality is conformance to what sells ads and keeps most users happy
  3. Disambiguation is resolved by looking at what numbers suggest is the “correct” or “intended” meaning
  4. You really want to buy something; therefore, pizza is a slam dunk when running a query from a mobile device
  5. Voice search means “I want information”.

If these observations ring your chimes, you are one of the helpful people who have contributed to the death of relevance, the increasing difficulty of locating on points research, and using tools to obtain specific, on point, highly relevant information. Good job.

Stephen E Arnold, January 15, 2018

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