Determining searcher intent automatically

Here is an example of how useful it is to learn SEO from research papers.

If you’ve read some of my previous posts, you will know that I am a big fan of finding out what exactly search visitors want. I posted about classifying both visitors and landing pages, so that search visitors looking for information find information articles, searchers looking to take action land on transaction pages, etc.

I really like the research tools MSN Labs has. One of my favorites is this

You can use it to detect commercial intent. Try it. It is really nice.

I’ve been wanting to do something like that, but I didn’t have enough clues as to how to do it. Until now.

Search engines patent expert, Bill Slawsky, uncovered a gem. A research paper that details how a team of researchers achieved exactly this.

I still need to dig deep into the document and the reference material, but it is definitely an excellent find.

I will try to make a new tool for this. I will also try to make this and other scripts I write, more accessible to non-technical readers. I guess most readers don’t care much about the programming details. They just want to be able to use my tools easily :-)

What to do with the money you make online

Some readers coming from John Chow dot Com, might be wondering if I make money on-line.

Showing big checks and bragging is not my style, but I do understand most people want proof. Instead of showing checks, bank statements, etc. I am just going to show you what I do with the money my companies make for me.

I just added pictures from my nice little golf villa in Casa de Campo. I bought it last year and I recently remodeled it.

If you want to have an idea how much it costs, here is the current list of villas for sale at Casa de Campo. You can alternatively do a search in Google for “buy villa in casa de campo”.

Remember I don’t live there, it’s just for renting and relaxing.

Robots.txt 101

First let me thank my beloved reader SEO blog.

Thanks to him I got a really nice bump in traffic and several new RSS subscribers.

It is really funny how people that don’t know you, start questioning your knowledge, calling you names, etc. I am glad that I don’t take things personal. For me it was a great opportunity to get my new blog some exposure.

I did not try intentionally, to be controversial. I did ran a back link check on John’s site and found those interesting results I reported. I am still more inclined to believe that my theory has more grounds than SEO Blog’s. Please keep reading to learn why.

His theory is that John fixed the problem, by making some substantial changes to his robots.txt file. I am really glad that he finally decided to dig for evidence. This is far more professional than calling people, you don’t know, names.

I thoughtfully checked both robots.txt files and here is what John removed in the new version: Read more

John Chow fixes anchor text and pleases Google

As I reported before, John stopped showing up in Google for “make money on-line” for a few days. He is now back at #1 for the term.

What did he do? He is not telling.

I was going to use this post to explain exactly what I did to restore my number one ranking. However, after reading Kumiko’s comments in my Taipei 101 to number 1 post, I’ve decided against it. I think everyone will agree that this kind of information is extremely valuable – some “SEO Guru” tried to take me for $4,000 by saying he knew the answer (which I highly doubt since he made no guarantee).

While I won’t give the step by step I can offer this piece of advice if you lose a ranking for a desired keyword – Google webmaster tools is your friend! Get to know it really well.

This is what Kumiko said:

Comment by Kumiko

2007-06-02 18:24:47

48) { this.width = 48; this.height = 48; } ; if (this.width Reading how you got back to #1 will be a great read! Aren’t you worried about Google reading it though and simply changing the algorithm again?


He is hinting that he used Google webmaster tools to figure out what the problem was. I can tell you what specific section he looked at: Webmaster Tools -> Statistics -> Page analysis -> In external links to your site. That section shows the anchor text people are using when linking to your site. Read more

Competitive research or privacy attack?

I found an interesting tool via It exploits a “feature” of current browsers that do not properly partition persistent client-side state information (visited links and caching information) on a per site basis.

The tool can identify URLs in your visitor’s browsing history. Aaron suggests this be used to check if your visitors come from competing sites and adjust your marketing strategy accordingly.

This might not work as Aaron might expect. You can only tell that the visitor visited those URLs in the last n days (n the number of days the user keeps in his or her browsing history). You won’t be able to tell when, how often or how recently those URLs where visited. Read more

Segment visitors by intention with Google Analytics

As I mentioned before, understanding what visitors want and giving it to them is the key to a successful website. That is the big picture.

Now let me tell you how to actually measure this. My tool of choice for this is Google Analytics.

With Google’s Adwords Conversion Tracking you can define goal pages and track conversions that happen once visitors land on those pages. For example: thank you pages for signing up, downloading a white paper or for purchasing a camera.

Many e-commerce websites have a multi-step check out process. Once you hit the “buy” button you are taken to a page where you can select the quantity of the selected product and other variables. After this you are taken to a page where you input your shipping information. Later to another page for you to input your billing information. Followed by a confirmation page and finally to the thank you page. This is commonly known as the “conversion funnel”.

You can use funnels to identify and reduce drop-out rates throughout the conversion process. Google analytics provides tools to create such funnels and reports to measure them.

The main problem is that most people optimize their conversion process, but don’t measure and optimize their persuasion or pre-selling process as well.

Once a visitor clicks on the “buy” button, he or she is already set on buying the product, but the path to conversion starts way before that, it begins with the persuasion process. I explained that process on this post.

In short, visitors come to your site with a specific mindset (expecting something in particular and the keywords they type are the best clue to what that is). It is important they land in the right pages and that those pages induce them to move to the next step in the persuasion process.

Now let’s see how we can use Google Analytics to segment your visitors based on what they want. Read more

Shoemoney challenges Ranfish on full disclosure

Shoemoney invited Rand Fishkin of to record an interesting dialog to be aired on his radio show, next Tuesday. Rand says they discussed their opposing viewpoints on whether bloggers should fully disclose affiliate/marketing deals to readers, especially if they are endorsing those products. It is going to be a lot of fun to listen.

My personal opinion on the matter is that it’s all about trust. Trust is one of the hardest things to earn on-line. It can take a lot of time and effort to build it and if you lose it, it’s practically impossible to recover it.

The advantage of disclosing is that if the product or service mentioned does not live up to the expectations of our visitor, we can always say that we didn’t endorse it. It’s nice to make commissions for our marketing efforts but that should not be in detriment of the relationships we are trying to build with readers.

“Make Money Online” link bomb defused?

If you read my previous post advising John to change his link-building strategy, then you won’t be surprised to learn that John Chow is no longer ranking on the first page for the term “make money online“.

On January this year, Danny Sullivan from Search Engine Land, reported that Google had devised an algorithm to catch “link bombs” – a common practice consisting on having many sites link to yours with a particular target phrase in their link text.

SEOs had a great deal of success with this particular link bomb regarding David Colbert: “The greatest living American”, and it took Google a couple of weeks to defuse it.

This is Google’s official response to “link bombs”, written by Google Search Evangelist Adam Lasnik (source:,):

“Our effort to defuse Googlebombs continues to be purely algorithmic. We do not make manual changes. We prefer to tune these algorithms to avoid all false positives in exchange for less immediacy and slightly less thoroughness in catching all Google bombs.”

I wasn’t really sure if I understood the last part, did this mean that Google knew the link bomb fix wouldn’t catch ALL bombs in order to avoid having their filters exclude helpful uses of anchor text? Adam replied:

“Correct. We don’t want to impact situations with search results that may be associated with, say, breaking news events… things that have nothing to do with groups of folks (however playfully) attempting to game search results.”

Luckily for John, this ranking only represented about 150 visitors per day to his blog which receives several thousand visitors daily. Anyhow, he decided to stop the “review me for a link” campaign. It’s too bad Google spoiled all the fun.

This highlights the importance of having a diverse marketing mix and not to rely solely on search engines for your traffic.