Archive for October, 2008

Causality part II

Sunday, October 19th, 2008

I left it a little longer than a week, during which time I didn’t change any of the blogs, add or edit any posts, or even check the search results.

Today, the home page of the site is back up to #9 for the search term “search experiments”, which makes the previous change look something like the usual non-random churn.

Could it be that the initial dip was some kind of penalty, but the fact that no new splog posts have been published means that the penalty has diminished? It could, but there are a hundred other possible explanations. Beware of jumping to conclusions.

Causality, splogging and speculation

Thursday, October 9th, 2008

Here is a common issue for anyone involved in SEO or Google-watching, and I suppose in many other areas as well.

You take an action X. Event Y follows. You can build a plausible hypothesis for a connection between X and Y. X therefore caused Y.

The SEO version of this goes: you released new feature/code tweak/section on your website. Traffic went up the following week. New feature was a success! 

My latest version of this runs as follows: I experimented with some splogging on another blog (the relationship with this one is not disguised: they are cross-linked and hosted on the same account). I created a number of automatic posts using RSS-generated content about Google, ensuring that every time the word “search” appeared in the posts, it linked to the home page of this site. Before I did this, the home page of this site was #5 or #6 on Google, which it had been for a while. Today it is #20. So it might be very easy to jump to the conclusion that Google has spotted my nefarious tactics, and has penalised my site. 

Is that a reasonable conclusion based on the evidence?

WP-o-Matic and “linkbuilding”

Monday, October 6th, 2008

Following my experiment yesterday – downloading RSS feeds about US politics, then replacing and autolinking certain words, it seems that a few repetitive entries on an obscure blog can get picked up.

I put a stupid, made-up phrase to replace the name Sarah Palin – scaryspiceus – and linked every instance of it to Palin’s Wikipedia page. 

Unsurprisingly, yesterday there were no results for that phrase. Today, the wikipedia page comes up as the sole result – that is to say, the blog posts themselves don’t show up for it.

I’ll keep an eye on this and report any changes.

WP-o-Matic – early experiences

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I’ve been having some fun playing around some more today with this plugin. The first thing that I should say is thank you Guillermo, as it really has been enjoyable. 

I’ve successfully managed to do what I suggested would be possible earlier, which was to take a specific RSS feed – I created a BBC news feed based on the phrase “Barack Obama”, and as the news items arrived, I set the plugin to find the full names of Obama, McCain and Palin, to change them into some stupid words/phrases, and to make each one of them a link to another site. 

You can see an example blog post here. As you can see, this could very easily be abused. The beauty of swapping out names and nouns is that with minimal effort you can ensure that you are sufficiently different to avoid duplicate content penalties, but also, because the original content is likely to make good semantic sense, the variant version will also look like proper English to a machine, even if it might look odd to a real person.

What could you do with this?

Here’s an example. Say you decided, on the basis of this old data, that you wanted to pick up some of the traffic that might be attributable to the most popular misspelling of “Britney Spears”.

Well, you could mash up whatever feeds you could find about Britney Spears, change all the instances of Britney to Brittney (or Brittany), pick on some other likely words to occur and change them as well, to try to avoid being seen as a duplicate – so “chanteuse” replaces “singer”, “fling” replaces “marriage” and so on… You could also link all instances of the full misspelling back to your main target page. The possibilities are endless, although one might argue that you would not be adding much to the richness of human experience.

I have had a few issues. Whatever setting I used to control dates (ie whether I gave precedence to the feed’s dates or not) I found that importing my delicious feed put the older posts at the top on the initial load. Once it was in there, and I added a new bookmark, the new story appeared in the correct place at the top as I would have expected.

Feeds from Yahoo Pipes seem not to work yet, which someone has already reported. I’ve also had some problems sorting out automatic updating using Cron, but that’s nothing to do with the plugin.

It’s worth noting that this plugin is currently a release candidate, which means that it still has a few issues to be ironed out. Good luck with getting to a full first release.

Splogging and search

Sunday, October 5th, 2008

I’ve been experimenting with the WordPress plugin WP-o-Matic on another blog of late. In combination with the SimplePie plugin, it allows you to automatically post to blogs using RSS feeds. 

The plugin allows you to create campaigns, into which you can place multiple RSS feeds – or just a single one if you prefer. For each campaign, you allocate a category, and the plug-in will post items from the feed as individual blog posts categorised accordingly. 

You can control how often each campaign checks the feed for new items, although I’ve had some teething problems getting this to work exactly as I would like. Ideally, you would want to organise this so that it published stories on a drip-feed basis pretty close to their publication dates, so you want to set the check time at about the same frequency as new items are published.

Incidentally, I’ve also had some difficulty getting the campaigns to refresh. I think it is something to do with being a bit new to cron jobs. More on that later.

So, why would you want to republish someone else’s RSS feeds as if they were your own blog posts? Isn’t this (a) a rather unethical theft of content and (b) unlikely to do you any good for search optimisation, as it will all be duplicate content?

I’ll leave the ethical questions for another time – for now, let’s just remember that the second S in RSS stands for “syndication”.

So, what possible benefits, including SEO benefits, could flow from republishing this material? The idea of each item in an RSS feed being reproduced as a new, individual post is definitely just dupe content spam, right?

Not really. There are all kinds of possible legitimate uses for this. For example, you might want to do some judicious selection of RSS feeds, perhaps filtered automatically as well, and combine them so that your particular blog carried every story that you thought was going to be of interest to your audience. Provided that the posts have links to the original story, your users could be reading the truncated RSS summary in your blog and then deciding whether to go to the full post.

Another possibility is that you effectively own the RSS feed – for example, it could be something like your del.icio.us feed, which you wanted to turn into a linkblog without doing any more work, but creating a post for each one.

However, from an SEO point of view there are some further uses.

First, although the posts themselves will not be unique, the permutation of them may well be, so that your main page – and in particular your category pages – can contain themed content in a combination that is not to be found elsewhere on the web. If reasonably well-linked, these pages could have a chance of ranking for those terms.

Second, there is a very nice feature in the plug-in that allows you to process the feeds as they come in using a search and replace function.

This is separated into two functions for ease of use: the first is a simple word-swap. The example that the author gives is that you could have the plugin search for “ass” and replace it with “butt”. Incidentally, this kind of auto-bowdlerisation is a risky business – witness the embarrassment of the right-wing Christian site that decided that “gay” was too euphemistic (and happy-sounding) for them, and then ended up publishing a number of stories about the Olypmic sprinter “Tyson Homosexual”.

The second element enables you to automatically place links behind certain specified words/phrases. This is obviously pretty powerful for building lots of links with the right anchor text, quite quickly.

I’m not sure whether the two would work together – I will give it a go – but on the assumption that they do, it would be possible to pick a news feed filtered on say, Barack Obama, and republish all of those stories with the words “digital cameras” automatically replacing “Barack Obama”, and linking to your digital cameras site. You might even avoid some of the duplicate-spotting in this way…

Warning: very much of any of this kind of stuff is pretty likely to get your site banned by Google.