Matt Cutts On How Google Handles Keyword Synonyms

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Lina

Google’s handling of synonyms when it comes to searcher behavior and the results it displays has been a topic we’ve visited several times in recent memory. We noticed in one of Google’s lists of “search quality highlights” that a number of changes Google has made have been related to synonyms. Clearly, Google has been working on getting better in this department.

Interestingly, the topic came up in the latest Google Webmaster Help video. Matt Cutts responds to the question:

If two terms are used essentially interchangeably, does Google realize that the terms are interchangeable? Should you be trying to use both terms, or just focus on one term to get the best search engine traffic? An example is EMR and EHR.

“My advice would be, all of the things being equal, as long as you can do it without sounding artificial or stilted or spammy, is to go ahead and use both words,” Cutts says. “We have an entire team at Google called the synonyms team, and their job is to sort of realize that car and automobile are the same thing, but I wouldn’t claim that they’re perfect all the time, and so rather than relying on the search engine to really be able to intuit that you’re not only about electronic health records, but also about electronic medical records, my advice would be to make sure that you mention, in a natural way, that you are good at both of those.”

He continues, “A good way to do that is to have some paragraphs of text or a background about what you do, and just make sure that when you’re talking about what it is – maybe once it’s a USB drive, and the next time it’s a USB stick, and at the bottom of the page it’s a flash drive or whatever, but just read that tex aloud, and maybe even ask a friend to read it and say, ‘Does it sound stilted? Does it sound artificial?’ And if you’re trying to incorporate really a lot of keywords, then you’ll notice that your text does become stilted, artificial, or maybe even spammy.”

“But, in general, if you are able to use synonyms or the words that users wold actually type in a natural way, then you reduce or remove that uncertainty, and Google doesn’t have to somehow guess or estimate that that’s what your page is really about, so that can be kind of helpful, and I would recommend that you try to use the words in a natural way as long as it doesn’t go too far, and people start to notice that it sounds weird,” he concludes.

It sounds like, depending on what you’re trying to rank for, there may be a fine line for what Google will actually like in terms of using various synonyms on a page. Read our discussion on this topic with former Googler Vanessa Fox.

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Google Acquires Incentive Targeting, As Both Companies Point Out

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Lina

Google Acquires Incentive Targeting, As Both Companies Point Out

Google has acquired Incentive Targeting, and no the source is not a bogus press release. This one appears legit.

The news was even tweeted by Googler Mike Dudas (h/t: TechCrunch):

Mike Dudas

Google acquires Incentive Targeting to power highly targeted manufacturer and private label coupon programs:

The Incentive Targeting Team says on its site, “When we founded Incentive Targeting in 2007, we set out to do for retail couponing what Google had done for online advertising: make it simple, relevant, measurable, and effective. So, it is both humbling and gratifying to be joining the ranks of the company that inspired our initial vision.”

“As part of Google, we will have the resources and expertise to continue the transformation of couponing from a way to give discounts to a way to build business,” the team adds. “And, we can now work towards that vision as part of a company that improves the lives of hundreds of millions of people every day.”

“We didn’t reach this milestone alone,” the team says. “From day one, we have relied on the support and commitment of our retailers, brands, investors, partners, and advisors, as well as the hard work and dedication of our team. We could not have done this without them, and as we look ahead, we are thrilled to be part of Google!”

Incentive has been around since early 2007. It partners with retail chains to provide targeted marketing services to manufacturers of grocery and consumer products.

No word so far on terms of the deal.

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Monitor Google AdWords Ad Disapprovals With New Reports

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Lina

Google AdWords Logo

Google quietly added additional columns you can add to your AdWords reports to monitor and maintain your ad disapprovals.

Jon Diorio, a Google AdWords representative, made a note about this new feature on his Google+ account explaining that this can come in handy for who “regularly deal with monitoring and managing ad disapprovals.”

There are three new ad performance report columns for this including:


  • Approval Status
  • Disapproval Reason
  • Ad Policies

This can help AdWords advertisers and marketers stay on top of one of the more frustrating parts of AdWords, ad disapprovals.

Forum discussion at Google+.

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Google Webmaster Tools Security Breach Fixed

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Lina

Google Webmaster Tools Security Breach

Last night, there was a pretty significant security breach giving unauthorized access to your Google Webmaster Tools. Google has fixed the security issue this morning but not after it being an issue for probably about 12 hours.

@patrickaltoft pinged me about this last night on Twitter but I didn’t see the issue myself in Google Webmaster Tools. Plus I didn’t see any other complaints about it in the Google Webmaster forums. But State Of Search blog and David Naylor saw it and documented the issue. We later covered it at Search Engine Land after not hearing back from Google about the issue.

This morning, Google sent us a statement saying:

For several hours yesterday a small set of Webmaster Tools accounts were incorrectly re-verified for people who previously had access. We’ve reverted these accounts and are investigating ways to prevent this issue from recurring.

It is unclear if any damage was done over that 12 hour period but for some, it was incredibly nerve racking knowing that some people may have unauthorized access to your Webmaster Tools account and do some serious damage to your site in Google.

Here is a screen shot from David Naylor showing the unauthorized access:

click for full size

This morning I spotted only a couple threads with complaints about the issue.

Did any damage happen to your site’s due to this?

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Google Is Trying To Figure Out What You’re Not Already Searching For

Posted on: November 28th, 2012 by Lina

Google Is Trying To Figure Out What You’re Not Already Searching For

Google is calling up people at random times, and asking them what they want to know at that moment, in an effort to uncover new types of information that it can potentially provide to users. This is a research strategy that Google is conducting, as it looks to shape the future of how people consume information.

The project is described by Tom Simonite at MIT Technology Review. He claims to be a participant in a group of about 150 people Google has chosen to help it conduct its research. According to Simonite, Google called at eight randomly chosen times a day for three days last month, and asked “What did you want to know recently?” He says Google is looking for the types of information that people are looking somewhere other than Google for, or perhaps things that the user wanted to know, but simply didn’t attempt to search Google for.

What Google finds from its research could be crucial to how it approaches future features of Google Now and Google Glass, or perhaps something even beyond these. The research effort is being called the Daily Information Needs Study, according to Simonite, who has spoken with Google Search lead user experience designer Jon Wiley about the project:

If Google is to achieve its stated mission to “organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible,” says Wiley, it must find out about those hidden needs and learn how to serve them. And he says experience sampling—bugging people to share what they want to know right now, whether they took action on it or not—is the best way to do it. “Doing that on a mobile device is a relatively new technology, and it’s getting us better information that we really haven’t had in the past,” he says.

If we’re being honest about Google’s mission to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible, Google is far from accomplishing it. As many strides as Google has made over the years, and as better as it gets in some areas, we’ve also been exposed to major obstacles in this goal – increased resistance from other keepers of information. How can Google really accomplish this goal, for example, without access to our Facebook accounts? How can it accomplish this without providing tweets in real time as news breaks on Twitter in the moment?

That said, as such an ambitious goal may not be possible to achieve completely, Google can still find ways to make our lives easier, and maintain an edge over its various competitors. If people have information needs that aren’t being met, it’s in Google’s best interest to meet them, and this particular “study” may be a surprisingly simple way of sparking some ideas for innovation in information consumption.

Google Now, while in its infancy, already shows tremendous potential in this area. If Google Glass manages to become even close to what Google presented in its initial concept video, things are going to get very interesting very fast. If the device is useful enough, could that outweigh the vanity factor? In other words, if you can do amazing things with Glass, would you wear the device all the time, regardless of how ridiculous you might look? Of course, there’s a very real possibility that this could evolve past the Glass stage and directly into the contact lens stage. Then, all of a sudden, vanity is no longer even an issue.

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Mozilla Launches Firefox With MSN

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Lina

Mozilla Launches Firefox With MSN

Mozilla announced the release of a new version of Firefox for MSN fans called, appropriately, Firefox with MSN. It’s described as a customized version of the browser for MSN users, which sets Bing as the default search engine in the search box and “Awesomebar,” and saves msnNOW in a Firefox App Tab. It also makes your default home page.

Last year, Mozilla introduced Firefox with Bing. This takes Firefox deeper into the Microsoft ecosystem for those who like it just enough to still avoid using Internet Explorer.

“It also gives your Firefox an MSN theme and provides quick access links to popular MSN channels so you can easily get real time updates for news, entertainment, sports and the things that matter most to you,” Mozilla says of the new offering.

You can download the browser itself here, or if you are already using Firefox, simply download the Firefox with MSN add-on.

There are about 20 different customized versions of Firefox available, including versions tailored to fans of AOL, Bing, Yahoo and Yandex.

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Does Google the Link Lister Equal Google the Publisher?

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Lina

Does Google the Link Lister Equal Google the Publisher?

Is Google a publisher? Or is Google simply a displayer of links? Are these two things the same?

Those questions are at the heart of a Australian case that just tipped against Google, and are likely at the heart of many cases to come. An Australian high court has found Google liable for libelous content tying a man to organized crime. Of course, Google didn’t create the article that made the references, it simply provided a link to it within its search results.

The man’s name is Milorad Trkulja, and he claimed that Google defamed him by associating his name and image with (untrue) claims of ties to organized crime, both in regular search results and in Google Image search. The jury in the case found Google guilty and therefore responsible for the content that they link to. They’ve been fined $200,000, but are in the process of appealing the ruling (as you would expect).

Here’s what the Judge in the case had to say:

The question of whether or not Google Inc was a publisher is a matter of mixed fact and law. In my view, it was open to the jury to find the facts in this proceeding in such a way as to entitle the jury to conclude that Google Inc was a publisher even before it had any notice from anybody acting on behalf of the plaintiff. The jury were entitled to conclude that Google Inc intended to publish the material that its automated systems produced, because that was what they were designed to do upon a search request being typed into one of Google Inc’s search products. In that sense, Google Inc is like the newsagent that sells a newspaper containing a defamatory article. While there might be no specific intention to publish defamatory material, there is a relevant intention by the newsagent to publish the newspaper for the purposes of the law of defamation.

Basically, Google may not want to publish it, but they are publishing the publishers. And since Google’s algorithms are tooled to find said content, they are responsible. Or at least it is plausible that a jury could see it that way. The Judge is clearly unconvinced that this stance is set in stone.

The Judge also differentiated search results pages from Google Image searches. The plaintiff also complained of images tying him to crime figures. The Judge notes that a Google Image search is a more-sophisticated version of cut-and-paste from magazines, and importantly a Google-created page:

As was pointed out by counsel for the plaintiff in his address to the jury, the first page of the images matter (containing the photographs I have referred to and each named “Michael Trkulja” and each with a caption “melbournecrime”) was a page not published by any person other than Google Inc. It was a page of Google Inc’s creation – put together as a result of the Google Inc search engine working as it was intended to work by those who wrote the relevant computer programs. It was a cut and paste creation (if somewhat more sophisticated than one involving cutting word or phrases from a newspaper and gluing them onto a piece of paper). If Google Inc’s submission was to be accepted then, while this page might on one view be the natural and probable consequence of the material published on the source page from which it is derived, there would be no actual original publisher of this page.

You can see just how much of a charlie-foxtrot this is. Which pages are Google’s creation, and which are simply the “consequence of the material published on the source page from which it is derived?”

The jury concluded that Google was a publisher, and was liable for the defamatory content even if they weren’t notified of it yet. Although Google contended that it doesn’t matter if they were notified of the content of not – they’re not responsible – the Judge rejected that notion as well.

It follows that, in my view, it was open to the jury to conclude that Google Inc was a publisher – even if it did not have notice of the content of the material about which complaint was made. Google Inc’s submission to the contrary must be rejected. However, Google Inc goes further and asserts that even with notice, it is not capable of being liable as a publisher “because no proper inference about Google Inc adopting or accepting responsibility complained of can ever be drawn from Google Inc’s conduct in operating a search engine”.

This submission must also be rejected. The question is whether, after relevant notice, the failure of an entity with the power to stop publication and which fails to stop publication after a reasonable time, is capable of leading to an inference that that entity consents to the publication. Such an inference is clearly capable of being drawn in the right circumstances (including the circumstances of this case). Further, if that inference is drawn then the trier of fact is entitled (but not bound) to conclude that the relevant entity is a publisher.[42] Google Inc’s submission on this issue must be rejected for a number of reasons, the least of which is that it understates the ways in which a person may be held liable as a publisher.

Of course, $200,000 to Google is basically nothing. The appeal really has nothing to do with the monetary damages. Google knows that this kind of decision sets an unsettling precedent for their future defenses in similar cases. Google as “automated news agent that’s responsible for what their algorithms pull out of the depths” is a view of Google that the company can’t afford to have stick.

We’ve seen this story play out numerous times over the past couple of years with Google’s autocomplete feature. In August of 2011, Google lost a case in Italy and was forced to remove autocomplete suggestion in its search box that tied a man to the word “truffatore,” meaning con man. A few month later, Google was fined $65,000 because one of its autocomplete suggestions labeled a French man “esroc,” meaning crook.

And this year, Google made an out-of-court settlement with French anti-discrimination groups over a “Jewish” autocomplete suggestion.

Google’s argument in these cases is similar to the argument in the Australian case. We’re not suggesting anything. We’re not defaming anyone. Google’s autocomplete suggestions are based on popularity of terms. That means that if anything, Google users are the ones linking people’s names with unsavory terms. Google’s search results are also based on an algorithm. Just ask Rick Santorum about how much responsibility Google claims in what people find using its search engine.

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Google Explains Basics Of Paid Links In New Video

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Lina

Google put out a new Webmaster Help video today about paid links. There’s no new information, and most of our readers can probably skip this one, but essentially, Cutts is just explaining to the uninitiated the difference between a paid link that passes PageRank and an advertisement link, which does not.

Clearly, this is still something that comes up with people new to the game. This was, after all, a direct response to a user-submitted question.

This is still an important part of online marketing that any webmasmter needs to know, so it’s probably a good thing to keep it in the conversation. If you fall into the camp that is still learning the basics, and you want to know more about Google’s guidelines, and paid link policies specifically, start here.

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Do you want to see in the future what you are looking for?

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Lina

The Bundestag advises soon an intellectual property right. This should publishers against search engines and other services give them the right to prohibit results for press articles or make a payment dependent. For you it would be so much more difficult in the Internet to find the information that you seek. Defend your network, a single intervention against this world, mixing it for yourself and share this page with your friends!

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How PRWeb Helps Distribute Crap Into Google & News Sites

Posted on: November 27th, 2012 by Lina

“What’s the use of PRWeb?,” tweeted Megan McCarthy of Reuters, trying to digest how that service ended up circulating a fake Google acquisition story. Come along, Megan and others, and I’ll explain one of the sorriest uses, getting crap into Google News and out into news sites.

For those who somehow missed today’s big tech news, PRWeb ran a press release saying that WiFi provider ICOA was being acquired by Google for $400 million. Plenty of outlets carried the news, until denials from both parties started circulating. Instead, the release appears to have been written by someone trying to pump up ICOA’s stock.

It’s a big embarrassment for PRWeb, which has now issued its own statement on the matter:

PRWeb transmitted a press release for ICOA that we have since learned was fraudulent. The release was not issued or authorized by ICOA. Vocus reviews all press releases and follows an internal process designed to maintain the integrity of the releases we send out every day. Even with reasonable safeguards identity theft occurs, on occasion, across all of the major wire services. We have removed the fraudulent release and turned the matter over to the proper authorities for further investigation.

Others will delve into what Vocus — the company that owns PRWeb — does to supposedly ensure that someone who says they’re posting news on behalf of a company really is representing that company. I’m going to focus instead on the idea that PRWeb is apparently reviewing all press releases to ensure the “integrity” of them. That will help explain why, in this day when any company can instantly issues press releases, a service like PRWeb still exists.

This Is Integrity?

It’s all about distribution. In the past, you’d get a press release out and hope newspapers might pick up the story, often using the release as a basis for writing their own stories — ones that might be fact-checked, or sourced with others, or get turned into something other than a promotional item.

Instead, with PRWeb and other services, you can get whatever you want published and distributed verbatim into a wide range of news sources. To illustrate this, let’s start with some published press releases that should all have the required integrity promised by PRWeb.

We’ll begin with a search for releases on the important news topic of viagra:

I’m going to focus on the third release listed, one headlined, “How to Buy Drugs – Lowest Price Viagra, Buy Levitra Viagra – Online Pill Store,” as you can see below:

There’s so much to love in this release. My favorite part is probably the pullout quote, “Levitra Buy Viagra.” But also, apparently the online pharmacy is both “trustworthy” and able to sell prescription drugs without customers needing a prescription. I guess that’s because it’s a “licensed and legal European” pharmacy, which is pretty clear given that big American flag and “American quality” logo in the press release image, along with a Canadian maple leaf and the words “Canadian Online Pharmacy.”

I have no reason to doubt all of this, to doubt the claims at all, because as you can see from the PRWeb statement, this release was reviewed to ensure it had the right “integrity” that PRWeb apparently feels it needs to maintain with its service.

Distribution Time!

Once the release was posted, it was then distributed to a range of outlets that PRWeb helpfullyitemizes, including Google News and, if you paid extra, through the Associated Press and thus to news outlets like the New York Times to The Oregonian:

As it turns out, the Viagra release above didn’t make it into Google News, perhaps because only the “Standard” package of $159 was purchased. Google News and news search engines seem to require going up to the “Advanced” package for $199.

Injecting Integrity Into Google News

That’s OK, we can see how even a release that isn’t directly distributed on PRWeb to Google News can still pollute it, in the “how to buy viagra” search below in Google News:

All those sites marked “Hacked” are Google News sources where some or all of the entire article that Google News saw, when it visited the site, was completely different than what the actual article was about. If you’re wondering why Google’s “Penguin” spam fighting update hasn’t caught this, the answer is likely two-fold:

  • Penguin is applied to Google Web Search, rather than Google News
  • Google News is radically screwed-up

There’s an entire separate article we’ll get to eventually on how the relevancy of Google News seems to have gotten worse recently, with stories being surfaced that can be woefully out-of-date. The fact that all these hacked sites are showing up is just one sign that perhaps Google News needs more attention than it has been getting from Google.

Postscript: Technically, the Penguin update was aimed at fighting spam, not hacking attempts. That’s a bigger reason why Penguin isn’t having an impact on the hacking within Google News. But then again, the people hacking these web sites are doing so with the intent of spamming Google’s results. So, I still count it as a disappointment that you see so much of this happening.

Injecting Integrity Into News Publishers

But let’s move on to that “News Publisher” item. That, supposedly, is a story from the Houston Chronicle called “Levitra Buy Viagra.” It was indeed published by the Houston Chronicle, and it was a legit story in the sense that the paper wasn’t hacked. Rather, it’s a PRWeb distributor:

It looks to be exactly the same press release, from the same company, that I mentioned above. I haven’t done a word-by-word match, but at the very least, it’s virtually identical. Oh, there is one difference. This release was published at the end of October, rather than the end of November. I guess there was that much change with the company that it made sense to issue the same release again just a month later.

Try doing searches for “lowest price viagra” or “online pill stores,” and you can see similar things to what I’ve described above happening.

“But wait,” I hear you say, “No one searches for such things in Google News!” Maybe. Maybe not. But they search for many other things, both in Google News and in Google, where news results may appear. Say, for example, “vitamin injections,” which generates these results on Google News:

Plenty of news coverage on the topic from the San Francisco Chronicle. Er, make that from the San Francisco Chronicle running PRWeb press releases.

Injecting Integrity Into Bing & Yahoo

It’s not just Google, of course, that gets infected by this madness. Here’s the same search, this time at Bing:

Bless, at least Bing gives me an actual news story up top, sadly from the Daily Mail, but this is Daily Mail fare. But after that, it’s PRweb distribution taking over. I particularly like the stories tagged as being from Yahoo. This is a PRWeb twofer win!

You see, the PRWeb “stories” on vitamin injections got distributed to Yahoo (here’s one of them), where they became available to those searching on Yahoo News. But in turn, they also became fodder that Bing News carried.

The Legit Way To Buy Links

I haven’t even gotten into the other aspect of why people buy on PRWeb, which is to get links. Links are still an important ranking factor for search engines. Buying a press release through PRWeb is an easy and legit way to effectively buy links, a way that Google doesn’t penalize you for.

Postscript: Doing a little more digging, it appears that the head of Google’s web spam team, Matt Cutts, specifically said way back in 2005 that links from PRweb don’t carry credit. Of course, there are plenty of people who might assume they still do. It’s not like there’s any easy-to-spot notice informing people that Google discounts these links. And the “Advanced Package” that PRweb pitches as being “search-optimized” has “anchor text links” as a selling point.

Fake News About Google In Google

By the way, today’s fake press release that Google had to deny ironically got visibility through Google itself. That fake release generated stories that assumed it was true, and around 12:15pm ET today, when the denial stories were picking up, Google was still giving visibility to the incorrect stories:

Bing, on the other hand, got it right with the denial stories showing up.

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