Face Time with a Competitor - Priceless!

I believe work in competitive intelligence, and one area of special interest to me is the way search engines gather and use competitive intelligence to understand and manage search spamming. When I read about Dave Naylor visiting the Googleplex and just-by-kismet running into Sergey Brin and Larry Page in the wee hours, I chuckled. I have the utmost respect for all of these guys, but you have to consider my perspective. If I could get an hour with my competition, late at night, on my own turf (perhaps with my chair slightly higher off the ground than his LOL), I'd jump at the chance.

Face to face time with a competitor is priceless. Given such an opportunity, I'd be gracious - "Can I get you something, Dave? A coke, a Latte, or a beer maybe?" - to test his social confidence. During the meeting I'd suffer a brief but intense coughing fit, or take a call from a concerned wife telling me of a child's fever, to elicit signs of his compassion. I'd probably spill my coffee and feign clumsiness just to test his arrogance, and watch his facial expressions as they reveal his expectations and beliefs. Does Dave recoil in flight mode to save his lap from the spilled coffee spreading across the tabletop, or step up in fight mode to block the flow with whatever is at hand, saving everyone from the flood? Does he guffaw at the unexpected clumsiness of the thought-to-be-almighty CEO of one of the most successful companies in the world, or respectfully acknowledge through is reactions that we're all human, and shit happens? Everything I could learn at that meeting would help me understand how much of a competitor he really was, or could be. More importantly, it would help me to judge his intent; to judge how he would act under pressure. After all, if we share some common goals, maybe I ccould make him an ally, or perhaps hire him to run my anti-spam initiative. On the other hand, if I ever decide I really have to compete with him, the first thing I will do is attempt to put him under pressure. If I put him under the kind that makes him thrive, I'm doomed to waste alot of resources energizing my competitor. But if I know what kind of pressure touches his heart.... well let's just say I'd jump at the chance for that face time!

So whatever questions got asked (and answered, or evaded) during that meeting were probably revealing on their own. I suggest that because Dave has the experience of meeting those guys, he is ever more valuable as an SEO (and I'm not referring to the PR value!). But Dave is an exception for sure. They already know him. To them, he may have been considered representative of SEO spammers in general. What about YOU? What about all of the other webmasters out there, trying to get the #1 spot for widgets? Without face time, how does Google collect competitive intelligence on webmasters, and how can it use that to identify and counter search engine spammers?

For the time being, I believe webmaster sophistication is proportional to search engine concern. In other words, if Google could track webmasters by their level of technical sophistication from an SEO perspective, would that help them to manage the threat of search engine spamming?

The more sophisticated a webmaster becomes, the more he stands out from the crowd as an "outlier". This trend is increasing, partly due to the commoditization of website platforms (blogs, content management systems, and hosts) but also partly due to search engine business activities designed to assign IDs to webmasters responsible for site mechanics and search strategies. The website technologies are subject to market forces, but the search engines can actively pursue webmaster identification and qualification and they have already begun.

I will pursue this thought in this blog, looking not at on-page or on-site SEO factors, but internet infrastructure and the evolving business of being a competitive webmaster. It is true that once a site is identified, it can be examined for on-page and on-site factors. But Google can find those sites automagically? I suspect that the "sandbox", which I consider to be an embrassingly-crude method of spam moderation, is a placeholder for plenty of advanced analytical stuff yet to be deployed by the brains at the Googleplex.

Some of the areas I'm looking at, especially as it relates to my own exposure as a competitive webmaster:

  • Adwords and AdSense programs that "follow the money"
  • Google as Domain registrar
  • "Google buys GoDaddy, Gains access to WHOIS Proxy data" - could this happen?
  • Google as ISP: Who owns routing data? How is it secured?
  • Open Proxies / Is Port Scanning a crime yet?
  • False Whois vs. Erroneous Whois vs. Proxied Whois - I am not a lawyer BUT....
  • The SEO Sunk Cost Effect Syndrome vs. Google's "Do No Evil" - is it even possible for Google to play fair without transparency?
  • Setting the Hook: Google sitemaps and webmaster registration


not so fast

The only problem with multiple accounts etc. is that is usually either against the TOS or illegal, or both. Which is what makes life so damn interesting!

These things are usually pretty well thought out on the corporate side, and the legal side is just a mess of inconsistency and irrationality due to bad laws and lack of updates.

I've added some footprint management to the list. Feel free to PM me with suggestions or comments I could use.

My essay on "False Whois vs. Erroneous Whois vs. Proxied Whois" already highlights certain conflicts between Google's (and others') Terms of Service, account operating mechanics, and the current crop of anti-identity theft statutes enacted in the US post-9/11.

I think it is important to recognize that "reasonable people may disagree", and therein lies the key to preserving certain pieces of business intelligence in this mis-understood competitive online business world. I won't incriminate myself by offering a "how to" for avoiding compliance with laws and terms, but I do hope to put you in front of a color-by-number canvas, as an academic exercise, of course.


I can remember Matt C and a few (in)famous "black hats" talking in N.O. and Matt was saying how almost everyone leaves a footprint. Might want to open up a few different adsense accounts and not have all your sites under the same account.

Setting the hook

I have often wondered about the easy money Adsense offers vs opening up your network of sites. Today I added Adsense to another site and felt a twinge of fear - not the fear of someone out to get me (yet) - more the fear of having a lack of cover when and if anything were to go wrong.

I also wouldn't touch Google sitemaps for anything short of my next two years income.

Setting the hook..

.. section is what I have been especially afraid of. I see the google API initiatives as a potential replay of the Extend, Embrace, Extinguish philosophy

My tin foil hat is polished,

My tin foil hat is polished, primed and in place :)

Bring it on John, im particulary looking forward to talking about:

False Whois vs. Erroneous Whois vs. Proxied Whois - I am not a lawyer BUT....


Setting the Hook: Google sitemaps and webmaster registration