Google Related Searches – Cheaters Rejoice

I have a tradition every Sunday morning: no matter how much work I need to catch up on, I always start the day with the New York Times crossword puzzle. I almost always finish it, too. (Thanks, Brandeis University Department of English and American Literature. It seems a liberal arts education has a purpose after all.)

Now and then — very rarely, I assure you — I find myself stumped. In such cases, I swallow my pride and run a web search to see if the internets hold the elusive answer. That happened today: 85 Across asked for “Carnaval sur la plage” artist and I was at a loss. I’d never heard of the painting, so I had no idea of who the painter might have been.

I went over to Google, ran the search, and there was my answer within the snippets of the second and fourth results on the SERP. I didn’t even have to click through to find out that it was that famed Belgian painter, immortalized by They Might Be Giants.

But here’s the really interesting thing: above the regular results, Google had inserted links to a couple of “searches related to carnaval sur la plage artist”:

carnaval sur la plage artist google search

Erm… “Ron Guidry nickname?” “Mario Puzo sequel?” Those searches are related to this painting?

Carnaval sur la plage by James Ensor

I don’t see any pitchers or gangsters in there. So how can those searches be related to the search I ran?

Well, if I cheated more, I might have noticed right away, because if you go to today’s puzzle, you’ll see that the clues for 94 Down and 21 Across are “Nickname for Ron Guidry” and “Mario Puzo sequel.” They’re related by the fact that they’re in the same puzzle.

I tried running searches based on other clues in the puzzle to see how much of the puzzle the engine had determined to have this relationship:

  • 4 Down: “My Fair Lady” composer returns related searches for Mario Puzo and Bad Moon Rising — the clue for 49 Down is “__ bad moon rising” – 1969 song lyric
  • 21 Across: Mario Puzo sequel returns related searches for Mario Puzo books and balalaikas — the clue for 22 Across is relatives of balalaikas
  • 22 Across: relatives of balalaikas returns no related searches
  • 54 Across: Chinese dynasty before the Shang and 103 Across: harmonica-like instrument both return related searches, but without any connection to the crossword
  • 42 Across: Chief city of Moravia and 48 Across: “Revelations” choreographer return no related searches

So apparently, Google hasn’t indexed the content of the puzzle and related every clue to it. Rather, it looks like it has detected a trend: someone searches on some of the clues, someone else searches on the same clues, someone else searches on some of those and a few others, and this all happens within a few hours, so Google determines that the searches are related to each other based on that, so when I come in and search on one of the clues, Google offers up some of the other searches that were run today by other people who ran that same search.

Interestingly, I’m finding that a search on the exact clue for 94 Down, Nickname for Ron Guidry, isn’t returning any related searches. That only comes up when I search on Ron Guidry nickname, which is the more likely search syntax, considering the absence of the stop word. (And by the way, the related searches now coming up for that one are now Mario Puzo sequel and state flowers — the latter being the theme of this week’s puzzle.)

Apparently, this is something new. A search for [google related searches crossword] didn’t give me any useful information, but I did locate a post from just over a week ago on the Official Google Blog: Two new improvements to Google results pages. Here’s some of the text from the post:

Starting today, we’re deploying a new technology that can better understand associations and concepts related to your search, and one of its first applications lets us offer you even more useful related searches (the terms found at the bottom, and sometimes at the top, of the search results page).

For example, if you search for [principles of physics], our algorithms understand that “angular momentum,” “special relativity,” “big bang” and “quantum mechanic” are related terms that could help you find what you need.

We are now able to target more queries, more languages, and make our suggestions more relevant to what you actually need to know. Additionally, we’re now offering refinements for longer queries — something that’s usually a challenging task. You’ll be able to see our new related searches starting today in 37 languages all around the world.

There’s nothing in there about tracking groups of searches over a short period of time and relating them to each other, but that seems to be what’s going on here.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , ,

What Does Google Mean When It Asks What I Mean?

I have a client who is a Minneapolis interior designer. (Yes, that’s a plug for them. As if you wouldn’t do the same thing.) Earlier today, I was checking out the progress of their rather new site using Google’s webmaster tools, and was pleased to see them starting to move up, and even get some traffic, for searches like [interior designers minneapolis] and [interior design firm minneapolis]. They’ve got a ways to go, but they’re definitely moving in the right direction.

Google also listed them at #4 for [interior designersminneapolis] (note the missing space). That’s a little troubling. They rank higher for the search with the typo than without. I took that to mean that either someone’s linking to them with the typo in the anchor text, or they’ve got the typo somewhere on the site. I couldn’t find either one, though.

I was further confused by Google’s attempt to correct me:

Google search result for interior designersminneapolis

Google wants to know if I meant “interior designers minneapolis” and if I meant to search for “interior designers minneapolis.” Wha? Obviously, if I meant it, I meant to search for it. What else would I be doing at a search engine?

And the two searches being offered to me are indeed identical. The first one links to
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=0&ct=result&cd=1&q=interior+designers+minneapolis&spell=1 and the second to
http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&sa=X&oi=spell&resnum=1&ct=result&cd=1&q=interior+designers+minneapolis&spell=1

So what’s the point?

As it turns out, this is not Google’s doing. I run a Greasemonkey script called GoogleMonkeyR. I use it to number G’s results. If I disable it and run the search again, I only get the “Did you mean: interior designers minneapolis” line. I have no idea why it’s adding that extra “Did you mean to search for” bit.

So, problem solved, for the most part. I’ll write to the script’s author about the bug, and I’m no longer freaked out about tripping over a bug in the all-knowing Big G.

It’s still a bit odd that my client is ranking for that search containing a typo, though.

Anyway, it gave me a decent excuse to link to them.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , ,

Another URL Thought

I wrote some thoughts last month about how we choose to communicate URLs to people — what’s essential to getting the message across, what’s not, and what may be changing with time.

Tonight, while waiting for Gary Indiana to finally give the Clinton campaign the coup de grâce (Updated: OK, not quite, but really close), I saw a spot for a certain flower company. It is almost Mother’s Day, after all. “Which flower company was it, qwerty?” I hear you ask.

1-800-flowers logoIt was this one. And there’s the URL, right in the logo (assuming you ignore the flower growing out of the dot). You can read it out: “one dash eight hundred dash flowers dot com.” But you watch the commercial and there’s the founder of the company and his daughter (shades of Frank and Jim Perdue?) referring to it as “one eight hundred flowers dot com.” No dashes. Why are there no dashes? In my line of work, I advise people not to get domains with dashes, and a big reason for that is because it’s harder to communicate. But in this case, the dashes are there in the branding. Are they assuming people will think of the logo and know that when they think of “one eight hundred flowers dot com” they should remember that there are dashes in there? No, that can’t be it.

This is from the site’s About Us page:

Jim McCann, founder and CEO of 1-800-FLOWERS.COM, INC., opened his first retail store in 1976 and successfully built his own chain of 14 flower shops in the New York metropolitan area. In 1986, he acquired the 1-800-FLOWERS phone number and continued to grow his business under the 1-800-FLOWERS® name. His immediate focus was to create a reliable brand name built on trust, and over the next few years he achieved this through his understanding of his customer base and market. The next logical step was expansion, and McCann successfully expanded his business into other retail access channels-going online in 1992 and opening a web site in 1995. Today, 1-800-FLOWERS.COM® has a well-known web site (www.1800flowers.com), and maintains strategic online relationships with a number of online services, including America Online, Microsoft Network (MSN), and Yahoo!.

So whatever they were called from 1976 to 1986 doesn’t matter much. In ’86 they branded the company based on that phone number, 1-800-flowers.

The way we communicate phone numbers has certainly changed over the years. I believe everyone in the US has been on a system that requires them to dial 1 at the beginning of a long-distance call since the 1970s. We no longer say “area code” before announcing an area code. And it’s probably been thirty or forty years since one would identify an exchange (the first three digits after the area code) with two letters and a number, which was itself a streamlined version of naming an exchange for a place, followed by a number. Wikipedia notes that the Ricardo’s phone number on I Love Lucy was MUrray Hill 5-9975, which would later be referred to as MU5-9975, and later 685-9975. I remember this commercial from my misspent youth (spent in the glow of the eye of hell):

There was another hotel with ads that included a phone number with a full on “Murray Hill” exchange, but I couldn’t find that one.

But I digress. The point is, we know how to say a phone number. Even with all the changes that have taken place over time, we’ve never had to actually say “dash”. The hyphens were in there just to make the printed version of the number easier to parse. So if we know that 1-800-flowers can be read “one eight hundred flowers,” the people marketing the web site feel that we can look at that logo with its hyphens and hear the domain name spoken as the phone number with a “dot com” tacked on the end, and not have our heads explode.

Beyond that point, here’s the real point, courtesy of my pal the WebBug:

If I request http://www.1800flowers.com, the server returns the following:

HTTP/1.1 302 Object moved
Location: http://ww21.1800flowers.com/

A “temporary” redirect, but I end up at a domain without any dashes.

If I request http://www.1-800-flowers.com, the server returns the following:

HTTP/1.1 200 OK
Date: Wed, 07 May 2008 05:31:28 GMT
Server: Apache
Cache-Control: no-cache=”set-cookie,set-cookie2″
Set-Cookie: JSESSIONID=0000UzUSX5tGcqe8AriacpxKyf7:120mbebeh;Path=/
Set-Cookie: ShopperManager/enterprise=d7b1c7dc-1bf6-11dd-b18b-cbe10af70195;Expires=Mon, 25-May-2076 08:45:35 GMT;Path=/
Cache-Control: no-cache
Pragma: no-cache
Expires: Thu, 01 Jan 1970 00:00:00 GMT
X-Powered-By: 1800Flowers web server
X-AspNet-Version: 1.21.366
Connection: close
Transfer-Encoding: chunked

No redirect. So both versions get me to the site, but excluding the dashes from my request does require the server to take an extra step. Should I take that to mean that the version with the dashes (the one that the logo looks like the domain name would be) is the default and the one without them (the one that you hear when they say the name) was set up to catch errors and keep the competitors from getting control of mistyped traffic?

One last thing to note, now that Clinton’s “apparently” won Indiana, according to MSNBC: In the footer of the site’s home page they’ve got links to other sites they run. Among them are 1-800-Baskets and 1-800-Greetings, with links anchored by “Greeting Cards” and “Gift Baskets” respectively. And the targets of those links? 1-800-Baskets is at http://www.1800baskets.com/ and 1-800-Greetings is http://www.1800greetings.com/. And just for fun, what happens when you add the dashes so the URLs match the company names on those two?

http://www.1-800-baskets.com/ returns a 301 redirect to http://www.1800baskets.com/ and http://www.1-800-greetings.com/ returns a proper 200, but the news isn’t quite as good as it appears. If I request http://www.1800greetings.com/ I get a 301 to http://1800greetings.cardways.com/cp001/clientinterface/creategiftcard.asp?cltid=121&returnid=0 (an affiliate deal, apparently), which looks like this:

Screen capture of 1800greetings.com

And yes, a request for http://www.1-800-greetings.com/ returns a 200, but it looks like this:

Screen capture of 1-800-greetings.comThe wrong site.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Google Me This

I received a piece of mail a few days ago — old fashioned, analog mail, that is. It was a bright yellow postcard from a local company that provides a service to homeowners. I don’t want to give their name away, but it’s three words: an adjective expressing a quality of service, followed by a noun (the thing they work on), and a noun based on the action they perform. Let’s say it was Best Floor Refinishers, just to make things easier.

So… Best Floor Refinishers sent me (“RESIDENT”) a postcard offering a $30 “off-season” discount rate. (Yes, I know floor refinishers don’t have an off season. The name is just an example. Pay attention.) The postcard also displayed the logo of some apparently authoritative national agency, implying that they have every right to use that “Best” (or something like that) in their company name. There was a toll-free telephone number, along with three other numbers for specific towns in the area: Cambridge, Needham, and Medford (say it with me: “Meffa”).

The postcard also contained a message addressed to “Dear Past Customer or Current Resident,” about the importance of refinishing my floors (or whatever) for safety’s sake. “BE SAFE, CALL TODAY!!” Moreover, I needn’t worry, because my “satisfaction is GUARANTEED !!!!!!”

Fascinating as all that may be, the thing that really caught my attention was right under the company’s name and logo: It was the word “Google” in a font very similar to Google’s own logo, but in all black letters, followed by a colon and the first two words of their company name, mashed together into one word and intercapped. Sort of like this:

Google:
BestFloor

OK, fine. I ran the search, and here’s what I got:

Google result for search on BestFloor: Did you mean Best Floor?

Well, no Google. I meant “BestFloor,” because that’s what the postcard said to search for.

At any rate, the top result for both [Best Floor] and [BestFloor] was the same site: bestfloor.com, which happens to be the site of Best Floor Refinishers. Pretty impressive, eh?

No! It’s not impressive at all. What are they trying to tell me — are they bragging that they rank #1 for the first two words of their company name? That they rule the SERP for their domain name? Wowzers.

I think they just wanted to let me know where to find their site, but rather than just telling me the URL, they tell me to search for the domain.

I’ve known plenty of people who navigated around the web this way. If they wanted to go to Qwerty’s Qoncepts and they knew the URL, they’d go to Google or Yahoo and search for qwertysqoncepts.com. This is what we in the search marketing business refer to with the technical term “stupid.”

It’s doubly stupid for a company to promote itself by telling people to search for its domain name, especially without the TLD. What would happen if their competitors over at bestfloor.net got to work on improving their site and took the top spot for [bestfloor]? Our postcard pals would be sending their potential customers straight to the other guys.

A word to the wise: if you want your print material to let people know where they can find your website, give them the damned URL. A one-step hunt for it is one step too many. At best it’s stupid. At worst, it’s an advert for the competition.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , ,

I Lost

I was a finalist for a SEMMY. See? Down there.

→ 2008 SEMMY Finalist ←

You could say I was a “SEMMY finalist,” but that would be pretty confusing, and not particularly amusing.

It wasn’t for a post here at qwerty’s qoncepts. It was for a little something I wrote for isos, called “This Just In.”

Did I win? Did you look at the title of this post? No, I didn’t win. In fact, if you look at the results for my category, you’ll see that I tied for last place among the finalists.

I’m over it, though. It was an honor just to be nominated…dammit.

Besides, with the WGA strike going on, the awards weren’t televised, so it’s not as if I had to rent a tux to find out I’d lost.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , , ,

Somebody Set Up Us the Googlebomb

googlebombAn old college chum of mine is a fairly well-known leftie political (and sex, religion and knitting) blogger. She also writes for Crooks and Liars, so yeah — she’s pretty big in that pond. About a week ago, she published a post announcing that she was joining a googlebomb associating the phrase “Liberal Fascism” (the title of Jonah Goldberg’s latest screed) with the word “fuckwad.”

Smarty-pants SEO that I am, I left the following comment on her post:

Sadly, googlebombs don’t work anymore. If they did, I’d be telling everyone to do this: lying sack of shit.

Anybody who follows these matters knows that Google modified their algorithm a year ago to diminish the chances of a googlebomb succeeding. Right?

Well, all I can say is that I’m glad I don’t have a hat, or I’d be eating it. In spite of the fact that, as liberals, their concerted effort wasn’t all that concerted — they didn’t all link to the same URL — it looks like they’ve pulled it off. Check out result #8 in the SERP below.

Google results for liberal fascism

Go ahead. Take a look at the page and its source code. No sign of either “liberal” or “fascism” in there, much less the exact phrase. Have a look at the page’s backlinks — left-wing political blog after left-wing political blog.

Go figure.

Update, January 13

As of this morning, the Urban Dictionary page is at #1 for the search. However, someone has edited the page to include two instances of the keyword phrase, so sadly, it doesn’t really count as a bomb anymore.

Google Buzz Tags: , , ,

Google Playing Dumb

I noticed today that someone came to my site recently via a Google search for [how to seo my site]. I’ve never checked that one before (and I sincerely doubt it’s ever brought me any business), so I ran the search myself, and found that my site is in fact number one, showing up before a couple of pages from Webmaster Guidelines. Pretty cool, apart from the fact that it’s a search just about nobody ever runs, and I’m not likely to ever earn a penny from any traffic it brings me.

Google results for the query how to seo my site

Then I noticed something else about the SERP. Have a look:

Google results for the query how to seo my site

Did you mean: how to use my site

Who do they think they’re fooling? Suddenly Google’s forgotten that “SEO” is a word? Sure, the acronym isn’t usually used as a verb, but I’ll bet more people are curious about how to seo a site than how to use one. After all, sites can be used in lots of different ways. The question is terribly unclear. You’d think that a search on [how to use my site] would bring up Did you mean: how to seo my site. It doesn’t.

I for one find this a bit insulting. I know Google doesn’t have the utmost respect for people in my line of work, but to pretend we don’t exist? That’s cold, Google.

Let’s look at Google’s competition. Maybe one or two of them will be more respectful.

  • Ask has no problem with the query. In fact, they put a couple of videos about SEO in the right column, and a link to “Seo Tips” in the left.
  • MSN doesn’t seem to be having any difficulty figuring out what the user is looking for.
  • Yahoo has the gall to ask, “Did you mean: how to see my site.” Duh. People really ask that? You’re looking at a browser right now, genius.

Worst of all, my site doesn’t show up on any of the SERPs apart from nasty, disrespectful Google. So am I better off with an engine that ignores me, or one that recommends me while pretending I’m a typographical error?

Google Buzz Tags: , , ,

Zero Wing – Search Marketing Edition

Narrator: In A.D. 2007, war was beginning.
SEM: What happen?
Webmaster: Somebody set up us the PR drop.
Designer: We get signal.
SEM: What!
Designer: Main screen turn on.
SEM: It’s you!!
CUTTS: How are you geeks!!
CUTTS: All your paid link are belong to us.
CUTTS: You are on the way to a penalty.
SEM: What you say!!
CUTTS: You have no chance to profit make your nofollows.
CUTTS: Ha Ha Ha Ha ….
Designer: Captain!!
SEM: Take off every ‘AD’!!
SEM: You know what you doing.
SEM: Move ‘AD’.
SEM: For great link juice.

CATS with face of Matt Cutts

Google Buzz Tags: , , , ,

Google’s Political Connections

No, I’m not talking about relationships between the company and any political figures. I just want to point out something I noticed regarding Google suggesting other searches when I look for information about a politician.

Let’s start with the names of the leaders of the two major parties in the US Senate:

I was planning on writing a post that would serve to mock Mitch McConnell’s minuscule mouth, so I ran a search on his name and then clicked “Images”. What did I see? This:

Google image results for Mitch McConnell

Why is Google suggesting I try searches for Durbin and Lott? And why are they leaving out Reid, who is (at least officially) the most powerful of the four? I doubt it has anything to do with the relative size of their mouths — only McConnell’s is comically tiny.

If I run an image search for Harry Reid, Dick Durbin or Trent Lott, I don’t get a recommendation to look at other people. It’s as if Google is telling me to avoid looking at pictures of McConnell, which is totally unnecessary. I know he isn’t pretty, but I can handle it.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Google the Yenta

I was doing some research for a blog post earlier today. I needed to get some information on a member of Congress who’d officially come out as an atheist, so I ran a Google search for [atheist in congress]. Look what I got in the onebox:

Google results for atheist in congress

It seems my mother has been speaking with Larry and Sergey. They’re all in cahoots, trying to get me a date even when I’m not looking for one. A word of advice: I’m not going to date someone all the way down in DC, even if she is an atheist. I’m sure there are plenty of perfectly nice atheists right here in Boston, so stick that in your algorithm and smoke it, Google.

Google Buzz Tags: , , , , ,

Next Page »