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SEO Egghead Consulting Group is a web development firm dedicated to creating custom, search-engine-optimized web site applications.

We specialize in eCommerce and content management web sites that not only render information beautifully to the human, but also satisfy the "third browser" - the search engine. To us, search engines are people too.

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Nov 18
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

So you pay your $0.10$1.00 Adwords tithe, someone wanders in your online store, and then Google Related shows anyone with a Google Toolbar installed your competitors' products? Do they return the tithe if they wander out? Heck no — thought not! So if you haven't heard, let me explain what Google Related is.

Google Related is a pretty do-no-eviladware-like 'feature' of Google Toolbar that shows competitor products on your web site without your permission or consent. It actually modifies your web site's HTML and injects a bar with lots of competing content (and products) right in at the bottom of the page. Understandably, many of us are upset about this, as was one of our clients. Here's a spiffy screenshot of the competitors injected in one particular retailer:

In this case, luckily, they were the lowest price, but do they really want to rely on luck? Google doesn't make it trivial to disable with CSS deliberately, and other more straightforward attempts have ceased to work. So here is our jQuery-based solution. Just throw this JavaScript in your HEAD tag, and you'll be done. You'll need jQuery, but most of us have it installed already.

<!--Disable Google Related-->
<script type="text/javascript">
// (<a href="http://www.seoegghead.com/blog/google/how-to-disable-google-related-with-jquery-p859.html">http://www.seoegghead.com/blog/google/how-to-disable-google-related-with-jquery-p859.html</a>)
var cnt = 0;
var interval = 0;
var f = function () {
var css = {cssText:'display:none !important; visibility: hidden !important'};
var gr = $('iframe[src^="http://www.gstatic.com/webgps/grelated"]');
gr.css(css).prev('div').css(css);
if (++cnt > 5 || gr.length) clearInterval(interval);
};
f();
$(function () {
interval = setInterval(f, 500);
});
</script>

If you're going to use this, please like or tweet it. Thanks.

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Oct 4
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

After SMX, everyone is scrambling to support Schema.org's embodiment of Microformats. Our customers are asking us to implement it, but I don't think everyone is thinking this through. What do you think? This is what I think—

1. It's Sex for Spammers

Take a Mozilla Instance, fire up jQuery, walk the internet as you please, and select the same things over and over again. It changes a whole lot for spammers because you can write exactly one commodity spammers' toolkit to handle exactly 1 Microformat standard (Schema.org) and get reliably clean data. It hurts you. It hurts Google. It hurts the internet. There is no way to avoid this.

Vendors will be ripping off other vendors trivially for their painstakingly massaged data. But Google doesn't care about that. To Google, information is free. Information is free, but facilitating plagiarism on a massive scale of refined embodiments of that information is a big deal. Furthermore the synthesis of the information is copyrighted. We all know vendors scrape other vendors' product PDFs, descriptions, etc., but up until now it required writing some custom code per site. Using tools like Boilerpipe and DiffBot make this easier, but with Microformats this becomes trivial for even amateur spammers with 1 silly little toolkit.

2. It's Broken

For example, the markup for breadcrumbs is idiotic. This was obviously a rush job, and it's not a community effort. Nope. Google owns it, much like Sitemaps. See #4.

The test tool doesn't work, ironically, mostly for the Schema.org format. The preview rarely works—if ever, and it doesn't even understand the (broken) breadcrumb microformat.

I would link directly to the part of the page that describes the specification for breadcrumbs, but their markup is ridiculously bad. I'm not saying I'm a saint, but if you're going to preach about the semantic web, at least use semantically-meaningful markup.

3. It's a Cop Out

Google is admitting its natural language processing just isn't there yet. Much like rel=canonical and friends, this is basically an admission by Google that it can't really figure this stuff out, so you'll just have to do it. It's like asking your friends to diagram their sentences.

Buzz (VB.) off (ADV.)?

The next step is that they get everything force fed to you, use it for Google Products, and don't even want or need your navigation. Trust me, that's next.

On a truly semantic web, Google can take your ItemPages, but ignore all of your CollectionPages. After all, they have your SKU, product name, description, and price. They don't need you. Once everyone realizes how toxic this can be, it will be too late. Much like those people who vow they won't shop at Walmart, the follow-through never really materializes. They're not going to remove the data.

4. It's a Power Grab

See #2. This is a rush job. RDFa-based approaches are much cleaner, but we have to do what Google says. Google also laid down the law on Sitemaps if we recall Google, after all, wants to organize the world's information, so it's natural that they'd also want to control the underlying format. Some others have noticed this. See:
http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/is_schemaorg_really_a_google_land_grab.php

5. It's Yet Another Thing To Do & Maintain

When you re-template, you're going to have to do it all over again. No, you can't just throw all the data in a hidden DIV. GodGoogle said you'll be turned into a pillar of salt if you try to make your life easier. Whenever you modify your document, you're just going to have to make sure you don't mess up the microformat data.

See: http://www.google.com/support/webmasters/bin/answer.py?answer=1093493#hidden

I'm not in love with this. Not at all, but on some level I'm also disagreeing with Tim Berners Lee, so take this with a grain of salt. Joost de Valk's blog has only positive thoughts on this topic. That's not to say there aren't positive aspects. It's just pretty clear that there are things to worry about.

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Sep 26
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich

All things have still been quiet over here. Why is that? Well, it turns out SEO blogging is a cheap commodity these days. Heck, I'd be willing to bet that Indian SEO firms are outsourcing their SEO blogging to Indian SEO firms—and so on. If you're a nerd, you'll see the recursion in that.

Who really knows the depth of the Indian outsourcing toilet from which random marketing-related content we read emerges? I'd be willing to bet Panda despises most content from India. So it's fitting that the Grand Panda Master is Indian. Don't get me wrong. India has produced some great scientists (see below), but the good ones are working at Google—not freelance web sites with $200 projects.

I talked about search engine optimization a whole lot in Terra Blogga, and some of the things I wrote in SEO+PHP are well-understood now. Thus we've drifted into the realm of information retrieval (IR) and faceted search. Interestingly, the considerations faceted search pose for SEM comprise a huge topic. I spoke about this at Search Engine Strategies at length. People seemed very interested.

As usual, people lose interest when they realize there's programming involved. As usual, about 5 years from now they'll realize how important it is to consider the bots in faceted search. As usual, fixing it is harder than getting some of it right from the start. There are murmurs about it now on various blogs.

Trust me. Faceted search is not going away. This other guy from India was smarter than our domestic library scientists many moons ago. Library of Congress classification is a perfect example of how categorization doesn't really work. Trying to classify something using 1 tree is a futile task. India was light years ahead of us.

Meanwhile we're still obsessing like The Monk about how to best paginate results. It's seriously getting boring. Matt Cutts could end it now by issuing SEO Fatwas like these. Either way, anyone using our nascent eCommerce platform will be well equipped when more people start talking about faceted search and SEM.

Of course faceted search is a challenging topic alone. uxMatters contains two of my most recent publications:

Categories, Facets—and Browsable Facets?
Supporting Hierarchy with Multiple Selection

I also published a perspective published in Designing Search about faceted search and those pesky bots. Everyone should read that book, and not only my contribution. In addition to Greg's depth of knowledge on all things UX, there are also perspectives from industry heavyweights like Endeca and IBM. I'm honored to be in such amazing company.

My prediction: we'll be talking about faceted search + SEO for at least as many years as pagination. It's much more complicated, and certainly less boring.

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Mar 23
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

All has been quiet on the SEO Egghead front for awhile — but no, we haven't been sleeping. We've been researching, researching, researching, and developing.

… and developing more. It turns out faceted navigation is hard — both from the perspective of humans and those pesky robots.

The most recent beta launch of adeptCommerce is the fruit of our efforts — here. Introducing adeptCommerce, and its soon-to-be released hosted sister —

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Jul 4
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

I have to admit, I underestimated the power of Twitter for awhile — but now that Twitter helped to organize a national uprising in Iran, I've reconsidered a bit.

I opened my Capital One statement this month and I noticed an APR hike from 10%->17%. When I called, there was no reason they could give me except some vague nonsense about the economy. No recourse — none. He was obviously operating out of some call center in some country thousands of miles away. My only recourse after pressing for awhile is to fax a letter to some invisible office regarding my 70% rate hike. I might just do that, even if I zero out the card.

OK, but this has to be relevant somehow, right? Let's get that —

I Tweeted something, searched for others — and even followed some of them. Hundreds of tweets I can't (politely) repeat on this blog. I did, however, notice one set of Tweets in particular:

Capital One customer meets Fox News anchor? Interesting how efficient that was — interesting in the same way that Twitter organized a national uprising in Iran.

Twitter will be causing a bunch of reputation management problems for guys in suits

And because some of them outsource their customer relations entirely — Capital One included — they might not know until the viral process gains traction and has started to wreak irreparable damage to their brand. They may indeed monitor Twitter — but there's little they can do if the complaints are real and it's not just a misunderstanding — except perhaps reevaluate said business practices. Even then, if they wait too long, the damage is done.

And Capital One doesn't have guns like the Iranian Basij Militiamen

When and if anyone gets upset, Twitter provides a very easy viral starting point. If Twitter potentially upsets a government, it may cause Capital One to treat customers better.

Twitter is a major threat to anyone managing the reputation of a brand — and even a country

If I were some guy in a suit, I'd be watching closely. It's clear that some companies are watching, and do resolve complaints as a result of a renegade employee or genuine misunderstanding — but if there motives are actually malicious, there's very little they can do to put out the fire.

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Jul 3
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

Authorize.NET dropped the ball again on July 3, 2009. Authorize.NET was down from approximately 03:15 EST, and they're still not 100% up @ 15:51 EST. That's pretty much 12 hours.

12 hours of downtime when you're dealing with money is really awful, and I won't even go into the details re: that.

Here's the thing. Regardless of your eCommerce package, in the case that Authorize.NET returns no pulse, you can at least retrofit your web application — and send yourself an email with customer information. You can also store the credit card information encrypted (carefully) elsewhere. Granted, it's not ideal to store credit card numbers ever, but this would only be in times of system failure. So here's the list:

1. Send All Failed Transactions to Your Email Account

If all else fails — and Authorize.NET returns nothing — you'll have customer information, cart contents, etc., and you'll be able to recover many transactions simply by calling the customer. Do not send credit card numbers via email — ever.

2. If Possible, Store the Order in an "ORDER_FAILED" State

Our eCommerce platform does this, and it (optionally) stores credit card numbers in an encrypted state until such time as the order is CANCELLED. We automatically move orders from a ORDER_FAILED state to CANCELLED after 72 hours and user confirmation to minimize danger.

3. Do not use or at least do not rely on Authorize.NET's CIM Platform

We were developing this — and we have it partially implemented. However, CIM presents an awful single point of failure. If you use CIM to work with customer information and logins, your software must be able to fall back somehow — and the timeouts for the API requests would be extremely irksome. Really — what's the point of PCI compliance if you can't process orders at all whenever Authorize.NET drops the ball like this. I don't suggest storing credit card numbers — but at this point I have to think harder about completely relying on CIM.

Also — you might consider signing up with another failover gateway that supports Authorize.NET AIM-emulation. Nobody supports CIM-emulation, however, so reliance on CIM will preclude that option as well.

Our customers were able to recover most transactions because they went into a ORDER_FAIL state. I can only imagine how many people are upset today — you're not alone.

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Jun 29
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich
Tags:

In your typical game of cat and mouse, the cat only wins sometimes. Unfortunately, for the cat — eventually he meets a pretty smart mouse. And then he loses.

Debkafile, over here writes how the Iranian intelligence services began to turn technology on citizens using deep packet inspection.

DEBKAfile's Iranian sources report that the day after the presidential poll and resulting street outbreaks, Iran's Internet control and tracking supervisors took over the 10 leading service providers in the country.

Here's the thing — that technology is entirely useless against VPNs with even the lightest encryption. There just isn't enough computational power to scale across all users of the internet. The only way to stop such "nefarious" VPN traffic would be to shut the internet off, or stop VPN traffic via the deep level packet inspection. But if they managed to do that, they would stop a lot of commerce, and threaten what's left of Iran's economy. Thereafter, one could still use SSL proxies — and blocking all HTTPS packets would be even more damning to the economy.

Persians have a rich history of innovation and technology. They won't stop now. And they know what VPNs are. Twitter has the details, and there are American companies in the VPN trade already jumping on the bandwagon.

The opposition will just get smarter. And the internet just dealt a clear blow overall to totalitarians — they're surely very paranoid right now. They should be. You don't have to be a genius to figure out the mouse wins eventually.

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Jun 17
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Author:
Jaimie Sirovich

You've done it. I've done it. We've all done it. PPC can be hazardous if it's not carefully watched. Sure, you can hire a PPC management firm and dispense the buck and responsibility to a third party.

But that doesn't actually dispense with any of the liability …

No. That's just an illusion. You can fire the firm, but Google won't give you your money back. They might like your money so much that they send you some Google swag — but that's about all you can expect to numb the pain. Wow, a fridge for $5000.00 — now I feel better!

That's not to say one can't do well with PPC. Many do. I just find the PPC process less-than-enchanting. Maybe I'm biased because I found out one day that between a news story and/or some bad luck, I lost a wad of cash a few times. But I'd much prefer the pay-per-conversion scenario. Less risk, no outside firm necessary to manage campaigns on a constant basis, etc.

eBay is making it a whole lot cheaper to feed them with databases of products — and economically at that.

eBay, last year, began to court larger businesses with a fixed price auction fee of $0.35/mo. Now they're opening up the floodgates with their API by allowing for product variations for the same price (color, size, etc.). Whereas you once needed to list your items in n-factorial incarnations for a product in 3 colors, it's now 1 for the price of 1 listing (up to 120 permutations) — with enhanced usability. Right now they're piloting it in certain categories, but I expect it will roll out throughout the category tree over 2009. See http://pages.ebay.com/sell/variation/index.html

"Include multiple product variations in one Fixed Price listing. Price each variation just the way you want. For example, sell all the colors and sizes of Hanes Women's and Girls' Classic Fit shirts in a single 35¢ listing. Charge $7.95 for girls' sizes and $9.95 for women's."

Same $0.35 fee. Did it catch my eye? Yes Siree, it did.

You should be watching too. If you can afford the ~10% tariff at the end, it's definitely another channel to attack. Even if your business already does well in PPCs & CSEs, eBay is making an extremely appealing offer. They will rarely cannibalize your sales (as is, they make it difficult for people to find out that you have a web site for obvious reasons), and it's more along the lines of pay-per-conversion.

ebay fixed price variations

With some programming, all of it can be automated — simply check off the items you want to submit (even if there are variations), hit submit, and the orders can theoretically flow in. We believe eBay is trying to market themselves more-and-more to larger brick-and-mortars and companies that generally use automation, in addition to their original mom-and-pop constituency. By only offering these rates for fixed price auctions, they avoid cannibalizing their bread-and-butter — auctions — too much.

By the way, SEO Egghead, Inc. can do this sort of eBay integration with our eCommerce framework. We think this is a very exciting development from eBay, indeed. If you're interested, talk to us or look over here. The documentation is a bit sparse, but we have it working, and can customize a solution for your particular set of business rules. If you fit neatly in one of the eBay pilot categories, certainly let us know as well.

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