Search Engine Optimization: Get Out Your Checkbook

October 5, 2015

No traffic? Low traffic? No mobile traffic? Can’t find your site on Bing or Google?

If these questions poke your marketing nerve, you may consider hiring an “expert” to help you out. Most of the traffic and “find you in Google” specialists are doing business as SEO experts. Personally I would skip the SEO baloney and just buy traffic love via Google Adwords.

Search engine optimization is a catch all to address expensive Web sites which no one visits. Yikes. Considering that most traffic on the Web flows to five percent of the billion plus Web sites, traffic to a personal or small business Web site is terrible.

What’s the fix?

The SEO crowd wants you to spend money with them, not Adwords. Google’s approach is different. The company wants to sell you traffic. The two ideas are intertwined, but you would not know this by reading “How Much Does Good SEO Cost?”

The write up summarizes a number of ball park costs; for example:

  • Hire a full time employee: Maybe $50,000 to $100,000. How’s that fit your budget, gentle reader.
  • Hire an agency: No cost given. Use your imagination.
  • Hire a dedicated SEO firm: No cost given. Use your imagination again.

But the way to go is to set aside money for an expert consultant / practitioner. At each stair step, the customer gets more SEO goodness. Exactly what the payoff is, is not clear to me. But here are the suggested price levels spelled out in the write up:

  • Put folks on a monthly retainer. Less than $500 per month. Cheaper than a daily Starbuck’s coffee
  • A retainer for $1,000 to $5,000 per month: This is SEO hog heaven for an outfit with 10 clients, the SEO wizard may generate more free cash than your business
  • $5,000 to $10,000 per month: “Ambitious goals”. You bet
  • $10,000 to $20,000 per month: The owners will retire early if their customers pay their bills.

The canny business owner in search of SEO love can sign a contract. This is interesting. Here are the price points from the article which I assume are based on thorough research in fees charged by a statistically valid sample of SEO firms. (Somehow I question the rigor of the information gathering process.) Let’s look at the benchmarked fees:

  • Link profile audits: $2,500 to $7,500
  • SEO / Web site audits: $2,500 to $7,500 or higher, gentle reader
  • Link building: $250 to $2,000 per link. Wowza
  • Per page optimization and implementation: $100 to $250. (Fascinating since some content management systems make per page operations pretty darned exciting for a skilled programmer. For dabblers, think about downtime, gentle reader.)
  • Copywriting: $0.75 to $1.00 per word.

If you are on a budget, you can hire a consultant for an hour; for example, a $100 to $300 fee seems to be normal. Keep in mind that there are roughly 2,000 billable hours per year, so this fee range is designed to compensate an expert in SEO at a minimum of  $200,000 per year. Ready to abandon your day job, gentle reader?

Now these costs spark several thoughts in this addled goose’s mind.

First, exactly what is the payoff from SEO versus spending the money for Google Adwords?

Second, what specific changes the SEO expert makes results in “more” traffic, likes, or whatever? How is an SEO action tied to a payoff?

Third, what happens to the client’s Web site if the SEO activity gets the site down checked, blackballed, or less traffic?

Dear old Google wants folks to make Web sites so it takes Google as little computing time as possible to index the site, extract data, and do all the Googley things which makes me love the company so darned much.

My experience is that making a change to a site or putting up a new site leads to a bit of Google love. After a couple of indexing cycles, the traffic declines. Desperate site owners embrace SEO. After that doesn’t work, the road leads back to buying traffic via Adwords.

Thus, the Google likes anything that does not work as well as buying traffic.

Perhaps the SEO crowd should just sell Adwords? But that may not be as lucrative or create opportunities for the client to engage in the “Why isn’t your work producing traffic meetings?” I bet those are fun and inevitable too.

Stephen E Arnold, October 5, 2015

Google and SEO: Fudging Relevance Okay. Robocalling Out of Bounds

September 17, 2015

I read “Google Sues SEO Company over Harassing Calls Selling  Front Page Domination.” I like the notion of front page domination. I like it even more when irrelevant results are generated because of search engine optimization.

The Alphabet Google thing wants to sell ads. Free visibility is just not job one. The write up points out:

Google says that Tustin, California-based Local Lighthouse has bombarded consumers with “incessant, unsolicited automated telephone calls” since mid-2014, making “false guarantees of first-page placement in Google search results.”

The surge in ad blockers is another issue. The fact that I am bombarded with ads when running a Google query is just not as annoying as robocalls.

I agree.

Google should be able to bombard me. Local Lighthouse should not be allowed to bombard anyone.

To make matters worse, Lighthouse allegedly says that it has some relationship with the Google. That spells trouble.

Google is not happy with misrepresentations.

So if I pay Google for storage or some other Google product and service, I do not have a relationship with Google? Guess not.

Anyway, irrelevant search results and nips and tucks at the very specious search engine optimization sector will not change the reality of online information access.

Robocalls, unwanted digital ads—what’s the difference? Perhaps I could receive a robocall on my mobile as I browsed ad choked results? Seems about par for the relevant results game.

Stephen E Arnold, September 17, 2015

The Four Vs Arrive for Semantic Search

September 1, 2015

When I first encountered the four Vs, I thought someone was recycling the mnemonic trick I was taught when I was a wee pre-retirement person.

I associate the four Vs with IBM and Vivisimo. The hook up is probably a consequence of my flawed thought processes. I have a slide in my files showing an illustration of Volume, Velocity, Variety, and Veracity artfully presented as a cartoon.

One of the goslings showed me this image, but I am not sure it is the diagram of which I speak. Here it is, and you can figure out how the four balls, the plugs, and the tough to read cyan type explain Big Data.

These have migrated to semantic search. Now that’s as good a home for these buzzwords as any of the suburban developments in Jargonville.


As applied to semantic search, the four Vs appear to guide the would be enemies of relevance to write a lot, make lots of changes, post content in many forms, and provide “accurate” information.

Good advice.

I assume that somewhat revenue thirst search engine optimization experts will be raking in the dollars and euros explaining these concepts to their clients.

I am still baffled about the connection between IBM, Vivisimo, and Big Data. I will leave semantic search to the SEO mavens and the mid tier consultants whom I associate with hard to read azure colors. I much prefer the hard edge tones of the blue chip folks.

Stephen E Arnold, September 1, 2015

Jargon Overload: MoSCoW

August 28, 2015

Vladimir Putin is probably confused. My hunch is that when he hears “Moscow” uttered, he thinks about a lovely city, its courteous drivers, its delightful social groupings with idiosyncratic tattoos, and outstanding Moskva stile borshch.

Gentle reader, Mr. Putin would be off base.

MoSCoW, according to “Bats, Dolphins, and Semantic Search,” means Must, Should, Could, and Would. The application of these parental verb structures is to search engine optimization.


Please, take out the garbage and straighten your room, kiddies. MoSCoW now.

No, I don’t understand this, but you may want to check out the presentation. You may need to register for LinkedIn/Slideshare. I am never sure what I do to access the knowledge jewelry on this site. Here’s the link to try.

I am not into the parental thing. Click if you want. If not, no biggie.

Stephen E Arnold, August 28, 2015

Wikipedia: The PR Revolution

August 17, 2015

i read “The Covert World of People Trying to Edit Wikipedia—for Pay.” I am an old fashioned backwoodsperson. I look up stuff. I try to figure out which source is semi reliable. I read and do some (not much, of course) thinking.

Other folks just whack 2.7 words into the Alphabet—oops, I mean, the Google—click on the first link which is often a pointer to Wikipedia and take the “information” displayed. Easy. Quick. Just right for those who have no time, like social media, and use handheld devices.

The write up points out what seems to me to be an obvious “evolutionary” leap:

How can a site run by volunteers inoculate itself against well-funded PR efforts? And how can those volunteers distinguish between information that’s trustworthy and information that’s suspect?

The write up explores one example of public relations folks cranking out objective articles for Wikipedia.

Why worry? Getting accurate information involves more than relying on Alphabet – oh, there I go again, I mean the Google – and its all time fave number one Wikipedia.

Dialog Information Services pioneered this default top hit. When I logged on, the default database was Education Index or something like that. The clueless would run their query for diamond deposition in that database, thus having an upside for Dialog. Too bad about the system user.

The burden, gentle reader, falls not on Wikipedia, which is fighting a losing battle against the forces of Lucifer – I am sorry, I mean public relations.

The burden falls on the person doing the search to figure out what information is correct. Bummer. That’s real work. Who has time for that anyway?

Stephen E Arnold, August 17, 2016

Semantic Search Word Play: Nail and Hospital Edition

August 15, 2015

I find the semantic search hoo-hah fascinating. Not long ago, I reported that Yebol, which some semantic wizard was promoting, bit the dust in 2010. No matter. The semantic search boomlet continues to echo. I don’t hear it in my neck of the woods, but apparently some folks are tuned to this semantic razzle dazzle.

The write up which caught my attention this morning is “Semantic Search: Is It Time for a Think Building Campaign?”

My answer is, “No.”

Let’s look at the argument because I am often wrong, off base, and addled. What do you expect from a goose living in rural Kentucky where 300 baud is a speedy network connection.

The write up points out a traffic hungry person could sign up for directories. Anyone remember those? Yahoo was one, but the Xoogler has anchored Yahoo’s revisionist history is “search.” I don’t expect much in the history department. Sorry.

The article leaps to this point:

The biggest reason to re-evaluate the power of moderated local directories, and related resources, has to do with Google’s shift towards semantic search. If you aren’t aware of this transition, the premise is simple: instead of simply matching keywords to pages that exist in the search engine’s databases, Google’s engineers are trying to get better about understanding the context of the search, and the intent of the searcher.

Sounds great, right. The problem is that Google engineers (not the Alphabet crowd) are trying to find ways to pump up the advertising revenue. I am not sure “semantics” is going to help as much as other types of content processing activities.

Nevertheless, the write up then makes this interesting statement:

This sounds technical but it’s conceptually straightforward. Imagine for a moment that I pick up my iPhone and tell Google’s app that I’ve “driven a nail through my leg”. Matching that exact search phrase isn’t important to me in interpreting results – what matters is that I want “hospital” instead of a “hardware store.” That’s the essence of semantic search.

Now, hold one’s mules, please. The person who pounds a nail through one’s leg may not need a hospital. If the nail misses the femur and threads around (not through) the popliteal, posterior tibial, anterior tibial, peroneal, planar, and dorsalis pedis arteries—one might pull out the nail.

Here in Kentucky, the person who performs this act of self mutilation or willful or unintentional abuse might want a link to this health care facility:


Disagree? That’s what makes horse races.

The write up points out that one can purchase “reputation.” The article points to WhiteSpark and MOZ Local.

The conclusion to the write up certainly is upbeat:

Taking advantage of citations and directories can still help you improve your findability – on search engines and elsewhere in the real world – but only if you’re focused on providing valuable information for potential customers, instead of trying to beat those ever-changing algorithms. In many ways semantic search takes us back to the golden days of the Web, when in terms of working online anything was possible as long as you had passion, belief in yourself, and energy to work at it.

Yep, the golden days. The issue I have with the write up is that semantic search as a way to distort Google’s already flakey relevance algorithms is an example of SEO adaptation. The carnival has arrived. The SEO snake oil sales person will cure your site’s pancreatic cancer and maybe help a a customer avoid pounding nails into one’s body parts.

Stephen E Arnold, August 15, 2015

Alleged Semantic Tips Spot on for Freshman Comp Students

August 5, 2015

I find the amount of attention given to semantic search as it applies to search engine optimization a fascinating development. “Semantic”, like Big Data, is fast becoming meaningless. The root of semantic is the Greek word for significant.

The application of the word semantic to information search and retrieval is a bit less straightforward. Toss in the concept of “search” and “content processing” and the output is an an information smoothie with big chunks of tough to identify systems and methods; for example:

  • Methods to discern user intent
  • Methods to figure out the context of an ambiguous element
  • Programmatic data inserted into a content object which makes sense to a content processing system set up to recognize these instructions
  • Systems which use pre-compiled look up tables or programmatic methods to figure out which words go together (White House or white house) or which alias goes with which person of interest
  • Systems which attempt to “make sense” of content objects which signify some other information such as “Harrod’s teddy bear” as a token for an illegal substance
  • Systems which deal with multi lingual corpuses
  • Malformed Web accessible content which is supposed to comply with the W3C standards for semantic “stuff”.

You get the idea. Semantic drags in a number of interesting systems and methods. Many of these are complex and evolving as innovators try to deal with lousy precision and recall which is the norm for many “semantic” methods.

Now navigate to “Semantic Search Strategies That Work.” I would suggest that the tips in this write up apply to a person in an introductory college writing class. Here they are:

  1. “Forget about content as a daily grind.” Now that is music to a freshman’s ears. The silly notion that many professional writers have is that writing is something one must do every day and pursue with discipline. Nah, for real semantic search, take it easy. Chillax.
  2. “Concentrate on quality.” Now this is an interesting point. Google calculates quality based on a number of factors. The idea that a person who writes a high quality post and benefit from that effort is intriguing. In my experience, many excellent write ups get absolutely zero attention. These are usually write ups that address topics far from the pop music, Netflix, and Donald Trump scene. Here’s an example: Alon Halevy, et al, “Biperpedia: An Ontology for Search Applications.” This is a high quality paper, and I doubt that SEO mavens can match the effort which went into this 12 page write up. The write up deals with semantic issues, by the way.
  3. “When you write show who you are.” Not so fast. With the data lapses at various government agencies, health insurers, and corporate entities, content generated for the Web may require some thought, grooming, and vetting. How many SEO wizards want me to know about their behaviors and thoughts beyond their asserted expertise in fooling Google to rank an irrelevant site high in a query results list? How many SEO experts want the world to know that Google dropped a site in its rankings due to SEO missteps? What SEO expert wants a system to know what the person did prior to becoming an SEO expert? What about those secret actions like hunting lions in Africa or a dust up at a local watering hole? Think about this “who you are” stuff. Think carefully.
  4. “Focus on your prospects.” Ah, the bias is explicit. The motivating factor is that one writes to sell consulting work. Wrong. My hunch is that Dr. Halevy writes because he is curious and has colleagues with whom to collaborate in order to advance a particular area of inquiry. Halevy already sold a company to Google and, I assume, could sit at home and do volunteer SEO work. So far, he has resisted the siren song of easy money via baloney expertise.
  5. “Spend time on engagement.” I think this means attend conferences, post to social media, and hang out at watering holes without being captured in an on looker’s mobile phone picture.

Snake oil is available, gentle reader. Use with caution because it can damaged certain cognitive functions while emptying one’s bank account.

Stephen E Arnold, August 5, 2015

Semantic Promotions and a Nutrition Free Exercise

July 26, 2015

I saw a link to an item called “5 Basic Steps to Make Sure You Hit Page 1 on Google.” I followed it to this message:


One link pointed to this page:


But this image was the message.

Intrigued I chased the other urls in the post and located this write up:


What happened? I am not sure how the link bait promising number one on Google leads to “Semantic Search: The Future of Marketing.” There must be an informing hand somewhere.

I looked at the write up. Like many odd duck semantic search honks, the article explains that semantic search allows software to understand the context of a search. I am not sure how software would have navigate the original message but broken html is not the focus of the future of marketing. Or is it?

The write up zips through schemas, provides an example of structured data testing courtesy of the Google, dips into the knowledge graph thing, mentions Google’s direct answers, and more. Just briefly and in an earthworm manner. The write up strings out screen shots in order to explain the future of marketing I assume.

The conclusion is an interesting collection of “opportunities.” One of them is to be “mobile friendly.” Got it.

Now if we go back to the starting point we see that this is a collection of links and digital pabulum, an insufficient comestible for the addled goose. My hunch is that others may want some more substantial victuals. On the other hand, SEO experts may find the article’s information a feast at the Golden Arches.

Stephen E Arnold, July 26, 2015

Semantic Search: How Far Will This Baloney Tube Stretch?

July 12, 2015

I have seen a number of tweets, messages, and comments about “Semantic Search: the Future of Search Marketing?”

For those looking for traffic, it seems that using the phrase “semantic search” in conjunction with “search marketing” is Grade A click bait. Go for it.

My view is a bit different. I think that the baloney manufactured from semantic search (more correctly the various methods that can be grouped under the word semantic) is low grade baloney.

Search marketing is on a par with the institutional pizza pumped out for freshman in a dorm in DeKalb, Illinois. Yum, tasty. What is it? Oh, I know it is something that is supposed to be nutritious and tasty. The reality is that the pizza isn’t. That’s search marketing. The relevant result may not be. Relevance is jiggling results so that a message is displayed whether the user wants that message or not. Not pizza.

Here’s a passage in the write up I highlighted in pale yellow, the color in my marker set closest to the dorm pizza:

Semantic search is the technology the search engines employ to better understand the context of a search.

Contrast this definition with this one from “Breakthrough Analysis: Two + Nine Types of Semantic Search” published in 2010, five years before the crazy SEO adoption of the buzzword, if not the understanding of what “semantic” embraces:

Semantics (in an IT setting) is meaningful computing: the application of natural language processing (NLP) to support information retrieval, analytics, and data-integration that compass both numerical and “unstructured” information.

The article then trots out these semantic search options:

  1. Related searches and queries
  2. Reference results (dictionary look up)
  3. Annotated results
  4. Similarity search
  5. Syntactic annotations
  6. Concept search
  7. Ontology based search
  8. Semantic Web search
  9. Faceted search
  10. Clustered search
  11. Natural language search

Now there are many, many issues with this list. How about differentiating faceted, concept, and clustered search? Give up yet?

The point is that semantic search is not one thing. If one accepts this list as the touchstone, the functions referenced are going to contain other content processing operations.

The problem is that these functions on their own or used in some magical, affordable combination are not likely to deliver what the user wants.

The user wants relevant results which pertain directly to her specific information need.

The search engine optimization and marketing crowd want the results to be what they want to present to a user.

The objectives are different and may not be congruent or even similar.

In short, the notion of taking crazy, generalized concepts and slapping them on marketing is likely to produce howlers like this write up and the equally wonky list from 2010.

The point is that semantic baloney has been in the supermarket for a long time.

Obviously this baloney has a long shelf life.

In the meantime, how is ad supported Web search working for you? Oh, how is that in house information access system working for you?

If you want traffic, buy Adwords. Please, do not deliver to me the six pack of baloney.

Stephen E Arnold, July 12, 2015

More Semantic Search and Search Engine Optimization Chatter

June 10, 2015

I read “Understanding Semantic Search.” I had high hopes. The notion of Semantic Search as set forth by Tim Bray, Ramanathan Guha, and some other wizards years ago continues to intrigue me. The challenge has been to deliver high value outputs that generate sufficient revenue to pay for the plumbing, storage, and development good ideas can require.

I spent considerable time exploring one of the better known semantic search systems before the company turned off the lights and locked its doors. Siderean Software offered its Seamark system which could munch on triples and output some quite remarkable results. I am not sure why the company was not able to generate more revenue.

The company emphasized “discovery searching.” Vivisimo later imitated Siderean’s user input feature. The idea is that if a document required an additional key word, the system accepted the user input and added the term to the index. Siderean was one of the first search vendors to suggest that “graph search” or relationships would allow users to pinpoint content processed by the system. In the 2006-2007 period, Siderean indexed Oracle text content as a demonstration. (At the time, Oracle had the original Artificial Linguistics’ technology, the Oracle Text function, Triple Hop, and PL/SQL queries. Not surprisingly, Oracle did not show the search acquisition appetite the company demonstrated a few years later when Oracle bought Endeca’s ageing technology, the RightNow Netherlands-originated technology, or the shotgun marriage search vendor InQuira.)

I also invested some time on behalf of the client in the semantic inventions of Dr. Ramanathan Guha. This work was summarized in Google Version 2.0, now out of print. Love those print publishers, folks.

Dr. Guha applied the features of the Semantic Web to plumbing which, if fully implemented, would have allowed Google to build a universal database of knowledge, serve up snippets from a special semantic server, and perform a number of useful functions. This work was done by Dr. Guha when he was at IBM Almaden and at Google. My analysis of Dr. Guha’s work suggests that Google has more semantic plumbing than most observers of the search giant notice. The reason, I concluded, was that semantic technology works behind the scenes. Dragging the user into OWL, RDF, and other semantic nuances does not pay off as well as embedding certain semantic functions behind the scenes.

In the “Understanding Semantic Search” write up, I learned that my understanding of semantic search is pretty much a wild and crazy collection of half truths. Let me illustrate what the article presents as the “understanding” function for addled geese like me.

  • Searches have a context
  • Results can be local or national
  • Entities are important; for example, the White House is different from a white house

So far, none of this helps me understand semantic search as embodied in the 3WC standard nor in the implementation of companies like Siderean or the Google-Guha patent documents from 2007 forward.

The write up makes a leap from context to the question, “Are key words still important?”

From that question, the article informs me that I need to utilize schema mark up. These are additional code behinds which provide information to crawlers and other software about the content which the user sees on a rendering device.

And that’s it.

So let’s recap. I learned that context is important via illustrations which show Google using different methods to localize or personalize content. The write up does not enumerate the different methods which use browser histories, geolocation, and other signals. The write up then urges me to use additional mark up.

I think I will stick with my understanding of semantics. My work with Siderean and my research for an investment bank provided a richer base of knowledge about the real world applications of semantic technology. Technology, I wish to point out, which can be computationally demanding unless one has sufficient resources to perform the work.

What is happening in this “Understanding Semantic Search” article is an attempt to generate business for search engine optimization experts. Key word stuffing and doorway pages no longer work very well. In fact, SEO itself is a problem because it undermines precision and recall. Spoofing relevance is not my idea of a useful activity.

For those looking to semantics to deliver Google traffic, you might want to invest the time and effort in creating content which pulls users to you.

Stephen E Arnold, June 9, 2015

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