Google’s “Three Black Teenagers” Controversy — And How It Works the Way It Does

Three Black Teenagers

It all began, as so many things do today, with a tweet. Just this week, teenager Kabir Alli noticed that typing in “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers” produced notably different results. In the case of “three black teenagers,” many of the search results were related to arrests. In the case of “three white teenagers,” many of the search results were for stock photos. Many are understandably angry — but who should we be angry at, and why?

Why Google Isn’t to Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

Google has come under fire for showing racially skewed results, but that’s not how Google works. Google works by promoting the most relevant results — the results that are most likely to be desired when searching for a certain query. This is why Redditors have been able to bomb Google in the past: they upvote an unrelated image under the title of a search query and that image begins to show up in Image Results. You can take a picture of a frog and label it “Grand Concert Pianist.” If the link becomes popular enough, queries for “Grand Concert Pianist” will come up with a frog.

Essentially, Google reflects the temperature of the global Internet zeitgeist. All it can do is reflect what is on the Internet. It’s an unbiased system that reveals social biases. In the case of “three black teenagers” vs. “three white teenagers”, it’s showing us that articles with the phrase three black teenagers tend to be crime-oriented. It’s also telling us that stock photographers do not take photos of black teenagers together as often as they take pictures of white teenagers together.

Three Black Teenagers
Two out of the five top results for “three black teenagers” are now related to the three black teenagers Google results — showing that Google is only reflecting what people are searching for when they look for images associated with that query.

Why We’re To Blame for the “Three Black Teenagers”

But though Google might not be biased, it certainly is showing bias. It’s just our bias. Three black teenagers indicates that more positive media is being produced about white teens than black teens — and that race is generally made into an issue when crime is involved. It’s easy to become outraged at the most obvious source, which is the source that is providing the data. But that isn’t always the most effective path. Google cannot censor its search results without opening the door for some troubling issues. All it can do is reflect reality.

The “Three ___ Teenagers” Explored

Black teens and white teens aren’t the only ones with bias. “Three asian teenagers” almost universally produces images of girls and the stock photos are mixed in with porn. “Three mexican teenagers” produces cultural images interspersed with mugshots and gangs. These biases show the stereotypes that we most often connect with race — and it’s an interesting lesson in content and search engine optimization. For social media marketers, it’s even more interesting how quickly controversy about “three black teenagers” has dominated search results.

The Key to Developing Solid Local SEO

Local, geo-targeted SEO has become the Holy Grail for digital marketers. Google’s landscape is increasingly turning towards the geographically relevant, often automatically boosting search engine results based on their physical proximity to the user. Even historical searches can have an impact on the location of the data shown — search for “zoos in Wisconsin” and then “restaurants” and you’re very likely to get restaurants in Wisconsin. But how can you quickly boost your local credentials?

Maintain Your Google+ Listing

It probably goes without saying, but in order to promote your company, Google first needs to know where you are. But your business listings are more important than just that. Google has been steadily moving towards a “knowledgebase” format for years now, attempting to provide information and answers rather than simply return websites. Google no longer wants to give a search engine results page when you search for “New York plumbers,” it wants to give you a formatted list of plumbers in your area. By updating your listings with Google, you can integrate yourself with this format.

Build Your Content through Buyer Personas

In order to bring in local customers, you need local content. But what do your customers really want to know? One of the easiest ways to figure it out is to create buyer personas. Use your demographic information to create a picture of a specific buyer. Create an inventory of buyers that represent your key demographics, and then tailor your content to them. If your product is being developed towards a 20 to 30 year old sports fan demographic, you know that you need to cover local sporting events.

Don’t Be Afraid to Get Hyper-Local

The more niche your content is, the better it will rank. If you service five areas, your content has to be targeted towards those five areas — not just your city or your state. The more hyper-local your content is, the more likely you will be to draw an audience and to prove to Google that your website is relevant.

Keep Your Eye on the Competition

When geo-targeting your content, your competition is more important than ever. You should always keep an eye on what your competition is doing and what spaces they are competing for. If your competition is already entrenched, you may not want to go after their leading keywords — you may instead want to create an entirely different focus for your content, at least while you build authority. Knowing where your competitors are helps you determine where you should be.

Don’t forget that the best SEO works with the search engine rather than against the search engine. Google wants to provide your customers with the best data — so you should want to provide your customers with the best data. By keeping your information up to date, creating relevant buyer personas, and drilling down to niche markets, you should be able to rank high wherever your customers are.

SEO Company, e-Ventures LLC, Sues Google for Censorship on SERP

Everyone knows that Google reserves the right to blacklist websites that don’t play by its rules. But what happens when you initiate a lawsuit against them? e-ventures, LLC, an SEO company removed from Google, is trying to find out. The answer, however, is likely to be “not much.”

Google’s On-Going Fight against SEO

Google doesn’t like SEO. In fact, one of the things that Google has cited as hurting your website is being “overly optimized.” Google wants to give information that is truly relevant and it’s invested a lot of money into trying to determine whether naturally produced documents are relevant. When marketers “optimize” their texts, they’re usually seen by Google as trying to game the system.To that end, Google often removes spammy and potentially irrelevant queries in waves, when new detection systems are developed.

e-ventures LLC vs. Google

e-ventures LLC claims that its websites were removed from Google due to the tactics of a third-party competitor. Not only were its own websites blocked, but new websites that they also put up were blocked. This isn’t unknown within the industry. Potentially, e-ventures LLC could have been using black hat or gray hat SEO techniques, which were reported by a competitor. e-ventures LLC could also have been the victim of negative SEO — a third-party could have essentially framed them. The question is whether or not this would be actionable.

Google attempted to get this claim dismissed in court on the basis of freedom of speech, but a judge has allowed the claim to progress. That doesn’t mean that Google is guilty, merely that e-ventures LLC will have a chance to prove their case in court.

Censorship in a World of Google

Does Google have the right to censor its product? Of course it does — it’s a private service. But this might have more consequences than it seems. The right to freedom from censorship only applies to government agencies. The government is not allowed to censor private individuals (in theory and with some notable exceptions). Google owns a private website and can remove any information they want. They could remove every website besides Google, if they wanted to, though their shareholders probably wouldn’t be thrilled.

This raises an interesting point, as Google has essentially become a public utility. If Google did decide to censor a competitor, service, or product, it would actually have a dramatic influence. However, Google also has a vested interest in providing the best and most relevant search results.That being said, e-ventures LLC vs. Google isn’t strictly a case of censorship, but instead breach of contract. e-ventures, LLC is claiming that — through the actions of a third-party — their website was removed from search engine results even though they didn’t violate the company’s Terms of Service.

e-ventures LLC vs. Google will be a case to watch for SEO companies. That the case has been allowed to progress at all means that there may be some merit to claims against Google — specifically, claims by companies who have been removed by Google but have adhered to Google’s Terms of Service. This case will likely set some form of precedent, as it’s the first time an SEO company has sued Google for exclusion.

All About Bounce Rate: The Real Deal

Bounce rates are one of the most important metrics for marketers, but there’s still a lot of voodoo surrounding them. In short: bounce rates do matter, but potentially not for the reason that you think they do. For beginners, a “bounce rate” is the number of users who click through to your page but quickly leave it.

The Truth About Bounce Rates

What does a bounce rate really mean? A high bounce rate is an unfulfilled promise. It means that whatever the user thought they were going to get when they reviewed the title of your page and its description wasn’t what they actually got when they clicked the link. This could happen for a few reasons:

  • You misrepresented your content. Obviously they were interested enough in your title to click the link. But did the title truly represent the content? Or was it intentionally designed to mislead?
  • Your website loaded too slowly. Most users will only wait two to three seconds for a page to load. Any longer and they will get frustrated and leave.
  • Your website is ugly. There are a few things that will get users to immediately exit out: auto-loading videos and modal windows are two of them.

A high bounce rate is, in other words, one of the best indicators that something is wrong with your website. But what is a bad bounce rate, anyway? It may surprise you to know that the average bounce rate for a website is 41% to 55%. That’s right — if you’re capturing more than half of your clicks, you’re doing good.


The Lie About Bounce Rates

There’s one really big lie about bounce rates that’s been going around just about forever: it doesn’t have an impact on your SEO. That’s right. While bounce rates may impact your overall user experience, it has absolutely no impact on your search engine performance. This has been confirmed directly by Matt Cutts at Google.

It’s easy to see why this type of lie might proliferate. It would make sense for Google to track bounce rates as a method of determining whether a website was truly relevant. But then consider the fact that a “good” bounce rate could be as high as 30%. The metric itself is highly variable and dependent on a number of factors.

So there you have it. Bounce rates are an important metric that indicates the overall user experience of your content but not necessarily its search rankings. A high bounce rate indicates that the content is not providing the value that the user anticipated — but bounce rates in general are quite high. To lower your bounce rate, you need to ensure that your content is fulfilling the promise of its meta data.

SEO and Google’s GBoard: What You Need to Know

Google’s new keyboard app for iOS may return results slightly differently from other use cases — something that digital marketers and SEO professionals may want to track. Google’s keyboard app is designed to make it easier than ever to query the search engine, and to that end has a couple of differences:

  • It doesn’t use long-term memory. Google will usually use past search results to inform future search results. It will notice if you’re always searching for activities in New York and will assume that a subsequent restaurant search is also for New York. But GBoard is only going to do this for a single session. Once you close the app, all the prior information is gone.
  • It wants to give direct answers. It’s likely that Google will use GBoard to promote its knowledgebase, something that Google has been slowly working towards for some time — attempting to provide direct answers to questions along with its assortment of links.
  • It doesn’t support ads. GBoard isn’t going to be a good place for mobile advertising because it isn’t going to have any. Instead, the results are provided in a concise format.
  • It gives news additional prominence. News articles are already promoted to the top of traditional Google results, but GBoard adds even more news links into the mix.
  • It uses mobile search algorithms. But other than the above changes, GBoard primarily uses the same algorithms as traditional mobile search.

GBoard doesn’t alter mobile SEO results significantly, but many of the small changes represent shifts that Google has been working towards for years. It also highlights how search results may differ not only on a device-to-device but also an app-to-app basis.

New SEO Crawler, Botify, Optimizes Sites for Google

A new SEO crawler, Botify, recently launched at Disrupt NY and has subsequently garnered interest from companies such as eBay and Expedia. Reportedly, Botify is able to fly through websites at speeds that sometimes the servers can’t even match, identifying non-compliant URLs and providing suggestions for optimization and improvement. Though Botify is certainly not the first crawler of its kind, its benefits lie in its efficiency. Botify is designed to be a high performance engine, combing through exceptionally large sites in a matter of minutes.

Botify is the answer to a problem that webmasters have been dealing with for years: identifying pages that haven’t been crawled or indexed by Google and resolving the issue. When pages aren’t crawled, they won’t show up in search engine results — and all of a marketer’s carefully laid SEO plans can go to waste. The speed and efficiency of Botify doesn’t come cheap, however: the most affordable plan for Botify is $500 a month, with a total of 5,000,000 URLs crawled.

SEO Secrets: The Truth About the Ubiquitous FAQ

Have you ever come across a FAQ page and just flat out wondered why it existed? “Surely no one is asking questions about concession management at the 1923 French tennis championships frequently,” you think to yourself. To a certain extent, FAQ pages reside in an area of shared fiction. Both reader and writer contentedly pretend that these are questions that have already been asked, rather than questions that they simply want you to know the answer to. But there are reasons why FAQ pages are still ubiquitous even if they don’t seem to fulfill their intended purpose.

Why Do FAQ Pages Really Exist?

Of course, some people put up a FAQ page simply because that’s what has always been done. They see FAQ pages on other sites and decide that it looks professional. Ideally, however, FAQ pages are designed to:

  • Deliver basic information to the reader in a compelling way. The Q&A format simply makes something more readable — for the same reason an interview is often easier to digest than a biography. Of course, the company could just list its history, services, store hours, and address, but the text would be dry, dense, and (more importantly) ignored.
  • Bring the reader’s attention to something that they didn’t even know. The interesting thing about a FAQ page is that it often asks a question that the reader couldn’t possibly ask because they wouldn’t know to ask it. A seller of shoes might add in, nonchalantly, “How Long Do Custom Orders Take?” Herein is the embedded, implied knowledge that the store does take custom orders, neatly slipped into their consciousness.
  • Allow the customer to self-serve when encountering issues. FAQ pages can fulfill their stated intent by actually answering questions that are frequently asked, such as “Why is my hoverboard exploding?” But for the most part, these questions are now covered by a troubleshooting or knowledge base system, rather than  a FAQ.
  • Improve the website’s SEO. Finally, this is actually one of the major reasons FAQ pages still exist — they’re superb for SEO. They can answer questions that customers are actually searching for, such as “What are Milliways’ operating hours?” or, again, “Why is my hoverboard exploding?” This boosts search ranking and appropriately directs queries about the company to its actual website.

But all this potential usefulness can’t change the fact that most FAQ pages aren’t really helping anyone at all — not the owner, not the customer, and certainly not the search engines. FAQs have become so obligatory and so obvious that they are usually just used as filler.

Improving the SEO of Your FAQ

FAQ pages are uniquely useful for SEO because they are specifically designed to answer questions — just like a search engine. Any FAQ can be easily modified for SEO purposes — just remember that the ultimate goal is to provide usefulness to people. 

  • List full and specific questions. “How much does it cost?” may make sense in the context of your page, but it’s not going to make any sense to a search engine. “How much does a hoverboard cost?” is far better — and it makes it easier for readers who are just scanning down the page.
  • Separate larger FAQs into smaller FAQs. You might need a product FAQ, sales FAQ, and company FAQ. The goal of this is to make it easier for your potential customers to find information once they’ve been directed to your page.
  • Incorporate your focus and long-tail keywords. Just like any other page on your website, your FAQ should be designed to target a variety of keywords. In particular, focus on geographic keywords — it will make it easier for the search engine to direct users in your area to your website.

FAQ pages are interesting precisely because they are everywhere. Most people never think about their FAQ at all — let alone in an SEO capacity. But truly conscientious SEO marketers will optimize everything from their FAQ to their Terms of Service; if it’s on the website, it should be doing something for the website. A properly written FAQ has the opportunity to further the customer relationship while also adding a tremendous amount of SEO value. It only requires that you ask the right questions.

SEO Q&A: Is Cross-Linking Between Websites a Bad Practice?

Question: I have multiple domains that are all related. Should I be cross-linking between them to boost each other’s signals, or should I avoid cross-linking entirely?

When we say “cross-linking” we’re usually referring to the act sending links back and forth between two or more websites, either habitually or as a static element on each website. Cross-linking is often seen as a type of search engine manipulation, but there are times when cross-linking can be a valid technique.

We know from Google that linking 20 domains or more together will often be seen as a cross-linking scheme. But anyone would likely see that 20 domains is excessive, especially if they are low quality sites. When it comes down to two or three sites, it’s a different ballgame. When properly used, cross-linking can be used to shift an audience from one related site to another, such as the way The Onion, The A.V. Club, ClickHole and Onion Studios all link together into a single network. This is unlikely to produce any negative results, either from a user experience standpoint or a search engine optimization standpoint.

Ask yourself why you want to cross-link your sites. If you’re trying to cross-link for the purposes of increased PageRank, it’s probably not altogether helpful to cross-link (though you might want to send users from a high authority site to a lower authority site that you’re currently boosting). After all, if you’re cross-linking between two sites that don’t have any PageRank to begin with, you’re netting to the same end result. But if you’re trying to cross-link to improve user experience, directing users to information that is truly helpful to them, that’s another situation entirely.

Answer: Cross-linking between sites sparingly and when relevant is not harmful. Cross-linking between a multitude of websites (20 or more) could be harmful. Use discretion, but don’t shy away from it entirely when it’s needed. 


Bing It: Does Bing Even Matter, Or Is It Just a Waste of Time?

Let’s be honest. When we’re talking about search engine optimization, we’re talking about Google. We can ask ourselves questions like “Who’s Really Winning The Search War?” but they’re hypothetical at best and, yes, even a little patronizing. Google is clearly the girl that we all want to take to the dance. Realistically, anywhere between 80% and 90% of search traffic today comes from Google. So should we even care about Bing?

weight-loss-648689_1280The Internet Is Made for Porn

Every time the question of Bing comes up, someone kind of laughs and says “Well, it’s great for porn.” Then everyone kind of nods their head and chuckles, as though it’s just a joke. But it’s not. For the past few years Bing has actually been a remarkable search engine for pornography. Even when you didn’t want it to be. Even innocent searches would turn into pornographic ones, if you didn’t have your safe settings in place.

This is actually due to Bing/Yahoo’s algorithm, which has not “learned” the way that Google’s has that not all Internet searches can be judged based on popularity… because then the Internet would just be porn. What initially appears to be nothing more than a joke or a curious fluke is actually a very telling revelation of Bing’s major flaw as a search engine. It has no context; it’s not “smart.”

But that also means that it can be taken advantage of. Google has many exceedingly complicated algorithms designed to promote good content and demote spammy content. Bing/Yahoo provides a little of that — just enough that the web isn’t really, really atrocious — but not as much of it. So it’s probably understandable that some low quality sites may still focus on Bing, or that black hat techniques may frequent it.

hands-545394_1280But Some People Do Use Bing

And they’re not all perverts. For instance, this guy switched to Bing literally because he was being paid to do so (through Bing’s rewards). This weirdo thinks Bing is more aesthetically pleasing, because my search queries require a scenic backdrop. Others admit to using it because “it was default on [their] phone.” And it’s dumb, but that could actually be something we need to watch out for in the future — because most people don’t change the default search engines on their mobile devices, or even on their computers. (Who knows, maybe when Project Spartan ships, it’ll create a whole new wave of people who don’t know how to change their browser settings.)

Taking a broader view, it appears that Yahoo/Bing has a more mature age group, with more men than women. And yes, a great deal of mobile searches come from iOS, since Bing is the default search engine for both the browser and Siri queries. One might wonder if this skews the audience, and it most definitely does: as a whole, users on Bing tend to be wealthier. Why? Well, not to make too many assumptions, but it’s probably because they’re old enough that they don’t know how to change their default search engine.

UntitledOK, The Snark Aside… What About Ads?

As we move into more niche markets for our Google advertising, we realize that traffic isn’t necessarily anything. We’re using long-tail keywords and demographics to drill down to specific segments in Google… so why not use Bing? It really doesn’t make any sense to both claim that a smaller audience is better (in Google) and then claim that a wider audience is better (in Bing).

In fact, it appears as though Bing paid advertising could actually be more effective than Google ads. And less expensive. (Of course it’s less expensive; they’re desperate.) And if we’re going for a demographic that’s already within Bing’s small but stubborn realm, all the better. And if we’re paying per click, we can simply extend our advertising campaigns. Very few of us are actually paying for as much traffic as there is on offer.

But, of course, a PPC campaign is a radically different beast from search engine optimization. What about organic search? Are there ways that you can tailor your content to Bing in a way that Bing isn’t utterly irrelevant?

search-engine-optimization-687236_1280Search Engine Optimization  for Bing

Believe it or not — and you’ll probably believe it — there’s not a lot of information out there for SEO and Bing. While Google maintains a significant amount of Webmaster documentation and tools, Bing/Yahoo probably lost their own internal documentation years ago. Tailoring your site for Bing is a lot like tailoring your site for search engines circa 2008: a lot of keywords, above the fold content and fewer backlinks. Perhaps most hilariously, Bing only actually reads the first 100kb of a page. But unlike search engines in the days of yore, Bing pays attention to multimedia documents and social media signals. This probably pushes back to the whole porn angle, somehow.

Okay, so actually — tailoring your content towards Bing can actively harm your Google standing. For instance, Bing likes keyword-laden anchor text; Google hates it. But there are other areas in which the search engines aren’t at odds; Bing uses social media signals and Google simply discards them.

So, is it worth it to work Bing into your digital marketing campaign? It certainly seems as though PPC advertising may be more effective on Bing, or at least compelling enough to be tested. And if you happen to have a lot of resources at hand, it probably won’t hurt.

Bing/Yahoo can represent up to 20% of your market, depending on your industry, and that’s not an entirely insignificant amount. Moreover, Bing can more readily be manipulated and it has rather specific audience demographics — I mean, there’s like a 50% chance that the person finding your website is doing it through Siri.


SEO Q&A: How Can You Quickly and Safely Remove Pages From Indexing?

Question: We have tons and tons of posts and pages from years ago that we believe are harming our search engine ranking. We don’t want to just remove them because we’ve heard that can hurt SEO. What should we do?

As always, a common misconception has within it a kernel of truth. Broken links hurt SEO — but simply deleting pages does not. You can delete the pages anyway you like, you just need to make sure that you don’t break your links when you do so. You have two solutions: you can either just delete them or remove them from crawling through Google’s Webmaster Tools.

Deleting them entirely. Usually the best solution for a significant amount of content; you can just delete the pages off your server. Run a broken link checker and delete the links to those pages, then log into Google Webmaster’s Tools and request that your entire site be recrawled. Easy, but you do lose those pages forever.

Deleting them from search engine results. If you have only a minor amount of content that you want deleted, you can submit the url to the “Remove Outdated Content” tool in Google’s Webmaster tools. You can also submit entire directories (such as if you want your /img/ directory to remain uncrawled). But you shouldn’t submit dozens (or hundreds) of individual URLs to this tool, as it generally looks like suspicious behavior. A side effect, though, is that the pages remain in your site and available to readers — they just aren’t indexed.

Of course, just because something doesn’t directly hurt SEO doesn’t mean that it can’t indirectly hurt your SEO, by reducing the usefulness of your site. Test your site before and after to make sure you haven’t lost valuable content.


Answer: As long as you don’t leave behind broken links, removing pages from your site should not directly hurt your search engine ranking. You can remove them either manually or through the Remove Outdated Content tool provided by Google.