Archive for the ‘Out on a Limb’ Category

Google’s Estimating Algorithm

Thursday, February 12th, 2009 |

As always you have to take anything from Google with a grain of salt, espeically since most of their ranking algorithms are closely guarded secrets.

However you really have to wonder when their estimating algorithm has trouble counting to 17 as illustrated below with screenshot snippets from the first two pages of results I witnessed today.




The Twitter CNN Breaking News Bot: A lesson in “Good” Trademark Infringement?

Tuesday, January 6th, 2009 |

With over 70,000 followers, the CNN breaking news bot (@cnnbrk) is the third most popular “user” on Twitter.  The bot posts stories sent through CNN’s breaking news email alerts, but, contrary to what the average Twitter user might believe, the account isn’t owned or operated by CNN.  It’s actually the creation of London web developer James Cox, who built the bot simply because he wanted a way for CNN breaking news alerts to be delivered directly to his cell phone.  I had an opportunity to catch up with James and ask him about the account’s creation and rampant success.  I also got to the bottom of that burning question on the minds of Twitter users in the know: why is CNN allowing someone to infringe on their trademark?

Talk about the genesis of CNNBrk.  Why did you decide to make it?

Back before @cnnbrk, I was looking for a way to get breaking news alerts onto a mobile device in any way possible; I wanted to feel connected even when I was out. It was sort of systemic from 9/11–knowing when to go find a TV set began to make more sense. It took me a while to find the CNN alerts.  Back then it was all desktop tickers or other more convoluted streams (I even spoke to Reuters to see if access to their output was feasible). With the advent of Twitter, especially when it still delivered to my cell phone (I’m in the UK), it seemed like the easiest way to solve that problem, and so @cnnbrk was born.

Did you actively promote the account at the beginning or was its growth mostly organic?

This was the first announcement: – almost two years ago! I didn’t really do much else to promote it; I didn’t really have to. I have tweaked the page a bit to ensure it has decent Google rankings.  The account is the 3rd or 4th listing for “CNN breaking news,” which is nice. At no point has Twitter even mentioned it in a blog post or email, so it’s been very organic.

You’ve mentioned that CNN has been in contact with you.  Describe the nature of this contact.  Have they given you their blessing?

We’ve had a few conversations. Blessing is a difficult word in mainstream media, but certainly the guys over at CNN have done a lot to protect and help me.

Do you think the sheer popularity of the account was what prevented CNN from forcing you to pull the plug?

The popularity has been a defining factor, certainly. I think CNN is aware of the real costs involved with seizing accounts and have done the right kinds of things so far to keep the status quo.

Your bot was at the center of controversy during the summer Olympics. When Michael Phelps won his eighth gold medal of the Olympics, many Twitter users who planned on watching a taped, prime-time version of the event complained that @cnnbrk had spoiled the surprise for them.  I found it bizarre that Twitter users who opted into a breaking news service would whine about receiving breaking news.  What was your reaction?

Yeah, it’s a tough one. I certainly felt for the people who were looking forward to seeing the Olympics without the result being pre-empted.  But I think it’s the same as any action replay: you avoid all forms of media till the game is on. There’s a great episode of The Simpsons where Homer ends up running around Springfield avoiding the score, only to be told it by Marge just before the game is on. At the end of the day, the world doesn’t stop, so news doesn’t stop. We’re very much in a 24 hour news cycle, where a story might live or die in the space of just a few minutes–you can’t expect it to pause.

I would think that a better reaction should have been for people to realize the potential for this to happen and choose how they wanted to avoid it. It was pretty amazing to see everyone pile on after the Bolt time and records were announced, as if people hadn’t had enough warning yet!

From my perspective, I chose not to pause the updates.  There’s a healthy percentage of followers who are non American, and therefore un-encumbered by NBC’s tape delay.

When did it first hit you that your account was, for lack of a better phrase, “famous on Twitter?”

I knew early on that I was trending in the top ten/top five Twitter users; a bit of insider info and solid circumstantial evidence pointed me there. With the growth of tracking apps like it’s more apparent. It also makes you realize you have to be responsible with how you choose to behave with it.  I’ve been more and more careful not to add any non-CNN content into the feed of late, for example.

According to, your account grows by an average rate of 275 followers a day.  Assuming that your account’s growth can keep pace with the growth of Twitter, you’ll have over 170,000 followers within a year.  Do you think this is likely to happen or do you see Twitter’s growth flat-lining?

Actually, the number is a bit depressed, and I’ve not seen any new sign-ups. I think the account has been temporarily flagged, which is annoying. I do fully expect to see the account scale in the same way twitter does. I think it’s responsible for a large number of new twitter users who discover it by Googling for breaking news. But it is also the sort of low volume account that people should subscribe to almost right away.  It’d be great to see it as a suggested account, a sort of “Myspace Tom” if you like.

You can follow James on Twitter at @imajes, and if you’re not already receiving breaking news updates, you can join the masses at @cnnbrk.

Big Oak SEO Christmas Party

Thursday, December 18th, 2008 |

Big Oak SEO is now five years old and to celebrate our success and the Christmas season we had our Christmas dinner on December 13th. We rented out a facility at a local restaurant, Shacklefords and had a wonderful party for our employees, some of our closest vendors.

Many of our clients are not in our local Richmond, Va area and therefore have never seen us in person. So, if you are a client or intend to become a client, here are some of the only pictures of our wonderful staff available on the Internet. George may have more candid photos on other mature sites, but that is none of my business. ;-)

All kidding aside, my partner Chris Alexander and I started Big Oak on January 1, 2004 with the two of us working from our home offices. Little did we dare hope or dream we would be a successful SEO business with 7 employees just 5 years later. We both feel very blessed and fortunate to have a business that is thriving, especially in this tough economic environment. Of course we have great employees (Alyssa, George, Will, Eric and Bradley) who have helped us become the company we are today; excellent partners and vendors (Julia, Charlie and Tom) to support us and we have some of the best clients you could hope for that continue have faith in us.

So thank you from Chris and I for a great year; we are already excited about the possibilities for next year. Of course, we do need to take off a week or so to ready. Enjoy these very low-light, amateur photos. You may notice a small strange visitor who resembles a demented gnome. That is our creepy Santa mascot affectionately named Chucky. The inspiration for ‘Chucky’ came from The Top 10 Unintentionally Scary Santas post.

[nggallery id=2]

Twas the night before Google

Wednesday, December 10th, 2008 |

Twas the night before Google

Twas the night before Google when all through the net
the users and SEO’s were all upset,
Search Wiki, and GMail Themes were rolled out in style
Lively was nuked and GOOG sat with a smile.

Matt Cutts and the Spam team were out on the prowl,
with visions of Black Hatter’s on a moonlight howl.
Comments and Blog post were active indeed
Tweets and Diggs until some fingers did bleed.

Pushing the Chrome, the browser of GOOG
Collecting the data of the unknowing newb.
Signed into Google for a Search Wiki rating
Seeing spammers explode like a round of speed dating.

Knowing that Search Results are the victims of Change,
Exploring the options and manipulating the range.
There is a way to succeed with out a Adwords Budget
Social Book Mark Me Please for a Link Back, Nudge (it)!

Webmaster tools now showing me data,
my info is delayed come, back Later.
The Capcha’s not working on Signups for things,
Google Local Maps verification not giving me rings.

Twas the Night before Google and Tool Bar Page Rank still not Updated
the Indian outsources were on alert for some projects we stated.
The Ranked Hard Seo Comic issue explains it all well
It’s all Will‘s fault,  What the…

So Digg me, Tweet me, This Link Bait attempt
At humor towards Google et al,  I am feeling a little “verklempt!”

SEO Rockstars

Thursday, August 21st, 2008 |

When you think of basketball, you think of Michael Jordan. When you think of golf, you think of Tiger Woods. When you think of swimming, you think of Michael Phelps. These people have elevated themselves, and what they do, to the next level — they are the rockstars.

How about in SEO? Are there any SEO rockstars? If so, do these rockstars help the industry like Phelps has helped swimming?

The Trend-Setting SEO Rockstar: Aaron Wall

Aaron WallWhen you pop SEO into Google, what do you get? Some Wikipedia entries (naturally), a .org for the Sponsors for Educational Opportunity, but one of the entries that catches your eye is probably “Learn. Rank. Dominate.: SEO” Learn, rank and dominate? Sign me up; if I put SEO in Google, I’m certainly not looking for Sponsors for Educational Opportunity — I want to learn about Search Engine Optimization!

Such is the star power of Aaron Wall. He, quite literally, wrote the book on SEO — “SEO Book,” which first debuted in 2003. He started very simply with, but quickly learned his trade by trolling through forums, writing articles and eventually setting up his new site,, writing his SEO book and then tirelessly marketing it.

Wall has grown his newest site to a massive scale. He is a sought-after speaker at almost every SEM and SEO conference and everywhere he goes in the SEO world, people follow what he says.


Is Cuil the Internet startup Joke of the Year?

Thursday, August 7th, 2008 |

Every Internet startup company deserves a chance to prove itself. Unless, of course, that startup comes out of the gate and immediately starts making bombastic claims like “We’re better than Google” and “we index more of the web then they do.” Then an examiner has every right to shove that startup under a microscope and pull out its insides. But, in Cuil’s case, you don’t need to pick apart its internal organs to uncover its deficiencies. In fact, all you have to do is a simple long tail search, like “how to train a cat.” <click image for larger view.>

click to enlarge

So, what’s wrong with this picture? Well, for starters, if Cuil has 120 billion pages indexed, then why is it only displaying about three thousand for this keyword, which is roughly 29 million less than what Google shows. Secondly, why are there two pictures of dogs on the page? I recall searching for cats. Thirdly, why is there a Tropicana can on the page? I could go on, but I’ll stop in the interest of time.

Why don’t we look at another long tail keyword people might search for, like “how to give a dog a haircut.”

No results. I suppose if Cuil has its way, we’ll all live in a society where dogs walk around with hideously long hair.

Now, I don’t wish Cuil to fail. Quite the contrary, I think any competition in the search space is desirable. But, sadly, I think Cuil may end up going down in history as one of the most “borked” Internet startup companies of all time. Venture capitalists gave 33 million to a search engine that couldn’t even handle long tail searches on its launch date. Seriously? Have we entered the twilight zone? Ever heard of a soft opening, Cuil? If their algorithm was truly going to be as underdeveloped as it was on its launch date, they should have announced a public beta (and had it be real beta and not just a catch phrase). Instead, Cuil did the complete opposite. They worked the media to ensure they would be mentioned everywhere on their launch date and hyped their product to ludicrous proportions.

The often spouted but obviously wrong cliché is that all publicity is good publicity. Let’s evaluate that cliché in terms of Cuil. Now Cuil is in a hole it has to dig itself out of. The general perception is that its algorithm is awful, and the burden is on Cuil to make people change that perception. Is this really where Cuil wanted to be? Is this the finest demonstration of why all publicity is allegedly good publicity?

At least search engines like Powerset and SearchMe had premises they could back up. Powerset said it could handle natural language search, and it does an adequate job (depending on many variables). SearchMe merely claimed to offer a visual display of search results. Cuil’s tagline is that it indexes more of the web than Google. You’re really just asking for it when you say that.

I’ll end this rant with two predictions. 1.) Someone at Cuil will come across this article and attempt to fix the search results for the keywords I mentioned and 2.) when someone mentions the name Cuil a year from now, the person standing next to him will have to choke to hold back his laughter.

Now it’s Cuil’s job to prove me wrong. They do have a lot of that venture capital still sitting in the bank.

Be Afraid of Google…Very Afraid

Wednesday, July 30th, 2008 |

Here is the beginning of a very good article on why we should be suspicious of Google. Sooner or later some entity will have to get involved to monitor this information Goliath. You can read the full article here: Top 10 Reasons to Fear Google.

Once just a search engine, it is now sprouting up extensions like Jack’s bean stalk on steroids. These extensions are what’s making Google so irreplaceable for many people who want the one stop shop. Google is fast becoming the Wal-Mart of the Internet. And it’s for that reason that some people are starting to fear the company.

10. Google Video

When most people think of looking for videos, YouTube is the automatic choice. However, Google has gone a step beyond YouTube. Not only does a Video search yield all of the YouTube results and play them in the Google window, but the search engine also searches the entire web for your content. While Google Video may not feature categories like YouTube, when you can search the entire web, who cares?


Twitter Graph

Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 |

I found this funny graph at I thought it was appropriate considering my latest post on twitter. Agree or disagree?

Why I Don’t Like Sphinn

Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 |

This is perfect example of why I don’t use Sphinn anymore. And yes, I realize the irony of writing that statement and then posting a screen shot of Sphinn. I was curious to see if a comic we wrote (which has a gravestone with Sphinn on it) had been “sphunn”. I scrolled down the front page and saw the following item had been sphunn 44 times. Unbelievable.

What is so amazing about this story? Well, nothing.

I apologize to Lisa Barone, I’m sure she is an excellent person and I wish her a happy birthday, but is this really worthy of going “hot” on Sphinn? Is this the Internet Marketing information we crave? From their own “What’s Sphinn?” page:

Sphinn is a social site for search and interactive marketers. It’s designed to allow you to share and discover news stories, read and take part in discussions, discover events of interest and network with others.

Does this story fit that ideal? I firmly believe the top sphunn stories are usually made so by a group of people mutually sphinning their own stories and I have seen many sphunn stories like this, both frivolous and unrelated to the cause that Sphinn is supposed to have. It feels like a gated community where only members are allowed to achieve success.

This is exactly why I stopped supporting Sphinn a few months ago and removed the Sphinn buttons from this blog. Too many stories making the hot list that shouldn’t be there. Do we need anymore proof that the Sphinn site has little value and is really a marketing tool for a select group?

While I believe Sphinn is just a ego massage for Internet marketers it really isn’t hurting anyone, but on the other hand I believe everyone should take information and opinion of Sphinn with a giant grain of salt and realize where the real spinning is taking place. is a Synonym for Spammy.Ad.Site

Monday, June 9th, 2008 |

We have a few clients that sell products that are not labeled as “cheap” but they are considered inexpensive. The problem is very few people do a search for the term “inexpensive”, they usually use the search term “cheap”. But you don’t want to put the word “cheap” in the text so you hope the search engines will figure out the semantics if you use word similar to “cheap” such as “inexpensive”. So I went to the online site and was very surprised to see the amount of advertising on the site and in some cases how far off that advertising was.

Of course every one has the right to earn a living and capitalism is the fuel of our country, but there has to be limits to the commercialization of a website, especially one that is an academic website, or so I thought. But even if you allow the number of ads they have displayed, the sneaky way in which they try to trick you into clicking is reprehensible.

If you click on the image to the left (view it larger) you will notice that the advertisements are the first links you will see to click. Luckily in the subject matter of text ads the ads themselves were so far off from my search term (Homemade Jerky showed up for a lookup of the word “cheap”) that I didn’t click them by accident. But I did additional searches and could have easily been fooled. Some of the ads actually had the clickable ad link read, “Synonyms For” which might lead an unwary Internet traveler to click it.

I’m certainly not idealistic enough to believe that advertising on the Internet will go away or even believe it should. Too many people feed their families and make their living through Internet advertising. No, I’m simply saying a website owner should take responsibility for the ads they show their audience and the consider the number of advertisements on the page. At some point, too many ads make the website in question extraneous, extrinsic, immaterial, impertinent, inapplicable, inapposite, incidental, inconsequential, insignificant, marginal, moot, nonessential, peripheral, pointless, tangential, unapt, unconnected, unessential, unimportant, unrelated, wide of the mark…well, you get the point.

Rant over.

Top Wuss Rock Bands of All Time

Thursday, May 1st, 2008 |

A few weeks ago a co-worker and I were discussing some bands we like (we are children of the eighties, so bear with me) and more than a few we labeled “wuss” rock bands. Now this isn’t necessarily an insult, but more of a classification. As I said we personally liked the bands, but we had to admit that a large number of their popular songs were kinda, well…wussy.

We then asked friends and colleagues who they considered the top wuss rock bands. So I included them below in order of wussiness, based on the number of times a band was listed. The top five bands have a link to a YouTube video for your listening and viewing pleasure.

Air SupplyTop Five Wuss Rock Bands (based on votes):

  1. Air Supply – Two guys you hope weren’t actually singing to each other.
  2. Chicago - Does every Chicago song sound the same to you?
  3. Abba - I was never sure if they were friends, siblings, spouses or what.
  4. Loverboy - The name says it all.
  5. REO Speedwagon – I can’t fight this feeling any longer…I’m numb.

Other bands receiving votes, in order of number of votes received. (I published comments as well):

  • Coldplay
  • Foreigner
  • Hall & Oates
  • Jefferson Starship
  • Journey
  • Radiohead – great musicians, but let’s face it, the Backstreet Boys could probably take them in a fight.
  • Styx
  • Survivor
  • White Lion
  • Winger
  • A Flock of Seagulls
  • Aaron Carter – it’s bad when your brother was a Backstreet Boy and he’s referred to as the “hardcore” one.
  • A-Ha
  • Ambrosia – Holdin’ on to Yesterday was their biggest song and their destiny.
  • Backstreet Boys
  • Bang Tango
  • Bread – I found your Diaper underneath the tree?
  • Creed
  • Culture Club
  • Dashboard Confessional – been singing about the same girl that left him for nearly 10 years…get over her dude.
  • Dire Straits
  • Everything But the Girl – I still have EBTG worship issues.
  • Extreme – Hole in my heart makes me want to put a hole in my head.
  • Fall out Boy
  • Fleetwood Mac
  • Genesis
  • Goo Goo Dolls
  • Heart
  • Huey Lewis & the News
  • Maroon 5
  • Mr. Big
  • N Sync
  • Nelson
  • New Kids On the Block (reunited)
  • Night Ranger
  • Teenage Fanclub
  • The Carpenters – They had a chick playing the drums. If Mama Cass would have given Karen a sandwich, they’d both be alive.
  • The Scorpions
  • Toto
  • Warrant

If you would like to contribute, feel free and post a comment.

Big Oak SEO Blog

This SEO blog is provided by Big Oak SEO, a SEO Company. Most blog posts are related to search engine optimization, short reviews, SEO tips and increasing site conversions. Email us at or give us a call 804-741-6776 to see how we can help your company. More

Want to know what Shell is doing?
Follow Shell with Twitter, just don't expect too much.

Want to subscribe?

 Subscribe in a reader Or, subscribe via email:    
Enter your email address:  
Find entries :