90di travel search blog

Posts Tagged ‘google’

Strange Analytics data; Likely work of malicious SEO; Hope Google is paying attention!

Sunday, August 14th, 2011

Travel is a very hotly fought category in the search space and all colors of SEO are at work! We have been by and large a very reluctant participant in this game. Here is an opinion piece on state of search, earlier this year. But at the same time, we will not restrain from articulating our observations and analysis of any suspected malicious “SEO” activities, when it possibly could affect us.

The past two days data shows some strange user behavior from a category of users coming from Google search engine (which not-coincidentally happens to be the target game of most SEOs).

First lets see the data:

1) Visits from Google for the past month:

So far so good. The visits from Google have increased in the past 2 days. When the direct and referral traffic have relatively decreased, due to the independence day weekend in India. But more traffic. Surprised but Fine! We take it.

2) Now lets look at ‘Average time on Site’ (for users coming from Google):

Whats happening here? Why has the average time on site gone down? And by 2 minutes or so!

Bad. But we can’t do anything about it. May be the new people coming on our site, are not liking it as much. As we can’t think of any reason, why existing users would behave in such a way (and that too en-masse).

3) Bounce rate (for users coming from Google):

Ditto with Bounce rate. High by some 14% or so! in the past two days. So new users are not really liking it. Seems kind of weird but Okay, what can we do.

4) All the above might have made sense … until we see the ‘% of new users’ graph (again for users coming from Google):

 

Shockingly & Mysteriously, this is down by roughly 14% in the past two days. While for the previous 29 days, it has remained fairly straight. So what’s happening here? What the hell is happening? And where are the new users? And if there are less new users, then why is the total number of visits high?

After some thinking, yesterday and today, we came up with a theory. That these graphs are easily explained, taking into account, the behavior of people doing “SEO” labor. Explain it in a minute.

The data shows that there are actually less new users in the past two days, from Google. And it would be very strange for existing users to suddenly start typing random travel queries on google and start bouncing our site.

But however strange that may be, the data clearly suggests that it is some of the existing users who are doing this. Now who, then, could be these existing users?

What, likely, is happening is that for a lot of travel keywords, e.g. ‘chennai-mumbai train’ those existing users, are just searching google, clicking on 90di.com and exiting it immediately (i.e. bouncing it). And all this in a bid to decrease the good parameters on 90di.com (and possible other competing sites as well).

And at the same time, those existing users, are also perhaps searching for the same query on Google and clicking on <the-website-paying-for-his/her-work>.com and then spending a decent amount of time on that site. All this activity, and likely paid work, in a bid to increase the ‘avg-time-spent’ parameters on the <the-website-paying-for-his/her-work>.com.

If this is happening. And unless, someone has a better explanation, this is clearly black hat in our opinion. And a very sophisticated one at that. This is evil!

And Google (Attention: Matt Cutts!) may do well do to get to the bottom of all such activity. Perhaps they are already aware of such activity and their search engine algorithm takes care of this. So it will help, if somebody, points to some article/post which explains how this is handled.

We have heard that Google looks at hundreds of signals, to rank a website/page. Hope this case is also easy to handle. We hope that it does the following:

Ignore all increase in bounce rate, and decrease in avg-time-on-site, when accompanied with a proportionate increase in overall visits and a decrease in percent new visits.

If its already handled, it would not hurt to get reassured,by a post from somebody at Google (official or unofficial). If somebody has an alternate explanation for this, we would like to listen.

It must also be said here that our direct and referral traffic has been very consistent during this time. Normal long weekend dip. With flat avg-time-on-site and bounce rates (Displaying two relevant ones for direct users below for reference):

a) Direct visits graph:

Expected early dip for the long weekend.

2) Average time on spent by users who come directly:

By and large remains flat. Rather the usual upward hump, in the weekends due to visitors in perhaps a relaxed weekend mood and not in the usual hurry.

So, would want some action to be taken to curb such activity. And also, if possible, would be great to get reassured, that Google takes care of this, if indeed this is a sophisticated black hat at work, as we have deduced that it may just be.

 

Additional Note:

Why bother about all this? Why not just focus on your own work?

Because, if this is indeed happening, then it directly affects us negatively. If somebody is doing conventional SEO of link building, in whatever shade of grey, it is usually none of our business. But what allegedly happened in this case is not fair, its evil. We will do our bit to bring it to notice.

And on a totally unrelated note, but nevertheless important. Not to forget, Wishing our Indian users a very Happy Independence Day Weekend and safe traveling if they are!

Future of search engines

Monday, January 31st, 2011
What would a future search engine be like?
The age of brute force search engines may be about to be over. Or atleast the nature of search engines, are due for a drastic change. By brute force I mean, an approach to crank out meaning, information, and relevance, to the search query, by just looking in tera bytes and peta bytes of data on the Internet. And of course, things like number of back links to that page.
To those, following the areas of Search Engines, its pretty common knowledge, that the conventional Google-like Search Engines are no good for “high quality relevant discovery”. In fact they have been no good, for such information for a good 4 years or so, in my opinion. What we have now, is a situation of “relevant but random discovery”.
Let me explain, it with an example.
Try searching for “video cameras in India” and you get some results. And they all are relevant. But there’s no guarantee, that they are sorted in terms of a criteria, which you may want, e.g. sites having quality information about a camera. So I call this as a “relevant but random discovery” rather than a “high quality relevant discovery”.
As the information they get is still relevant, in some way, is the reason, why most folks are still happy to live with it.  And people are used to just getting by, by tweeking their queries, and getting some satisfactory enough result. The problem is that people don’t even know what they may be missing. Remember no body actually wanted a real nice search engine, when Google silently arrived.
Another thing, why no body sees a problem is that, when using the search engine just for navigation. For e.g. finding out “Java 5 TimerTask”. Its brilliant. You get precisely what you want in the first two results (Aside: they still have 32,100 results for that. That’s why I perhaps used the phrase ‘brute force’)
Was the situation, always like this and people didn’t know?
Certainly not. After the Google arrived in 1998, for some good 5-7 years or so, its PageRank algorithm worked very well. The algorithm works very well, if people don’t game the system. But, we have full blown SEO industry around the Search Engine. And despite Google’s efforts to keep the SEO clean. It’s simply not possible to do it. In today’s Internet world, it will be increasingly difficult to identify for a clean link to a site, to a paid (SEM’d) link. The links from social media, only further add to this noise.
So what’s the solution?
On your machine, how do you find a file. You often search for it, using the file system search. But you know, what file you are looking for. Think, the conventional brute-force search engine, will move more towards navigation, in which a person knows what he wants, and tries to find it.
So something similar will happen on the Internet. Ofcourse the person, doesn’t know which website to look for often, so he will ask his friends for advise. Wait a minute, did you say, ask friends, come on who has the time to ask, and then wait for a reply?
Well the answer is that the asking and replying will happen asynchronously. On all the social media, people are continously telling what they like and what they don’t and sharing various experiences. “This rose smells nice”, “This coffee is not so great” and “this travel site is so great” Or “this site doesn’t rock”. So some body has to just assimilate all these statements of expressions and churn them as replies when a question is being asked.
Several folks are already at play in this area e.g. quora.com – the arguments against it are that its a closed service, bu that’s a different story. But there is far-far from a clear winner. Its possible, but unlikely, that the likes of Google itself, will totally transform themselves into a totally different kind of a search engine. Unlikely I say, is because, its not always possible to kill a cash cow. The conventional brute-force search engine is perhaps at the peak of money making curve, by the various Ad programs – Ad words and Ad Sense. So in such a scenario, will somebody be able to shake of the inertia and start from a clean slate. Possible but unlikely.
There were some efforts, which I was very excited about like blekko.com. But they appeared to be working on a conventional ‘brute-force’ search engine (of course on a better version of it), atleast until about a couple of years back. This was around the time when cuil (remember?) failed spectacularly. It will be interesting to see how they launch, in a post twitter/facebook world.
It will be interesting to see, who get’s there first, and importantly who gets it right.
PS: Had written this piece a few months back. When blekko was yet to be launched. But shied away from blogging it.
NOTE: This blog has thoughts, which are personal opinion of Khushnood Naqvi, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of 90di.

What would a future search engine be like?

The age of brute force search engines may be about to be over. Or atleast the nature of search engines, are due for a drastic change. By brute force I mean, an approach to crank out meaning, information, and relevance, to the search query, by just looking in tera bytes and peta bytes of data on the Internet. And of course, things like number of back links to that page.

To those, following the areas of Search Engines, its pretty common knowledge, that the conventional Google-like Search Engines are no good for “high quality relevant discovery”. In fact they have been no good, for such information for a good 4 years or so, in my opinion. What we have now, is a situation of “relevant but random discovery”.

Let me explain, it with an example.

Try searching for “video cameras in India” and you get some results. And they all are relevant. But there’s no guarantee, that they are sorted in terms of a criteria, which you may want, e.g. sites having quality information about a camera. So I call this as a “relevant but random discovery” rather than a “high quality relevant discovery”.

As the information they get is still relevant, in some way, is the reason, why most folks are still happy to live with it.  And people are used to just getting by, by tweeking their queries, and getting some satisfactory enough result. The problem is that people don’t even know what they may be missing. Remember no body actually wanted a real nice search engine, when Google silently arrived.

Another thing, why no body sees a problem is that, when using the search engine just for navigation. For e.g. finding out “Java 5 TimerTask”. Its brilliant. You get precisely what you want in the first two results (Aside: they still have 32,100 results for that. That’s why I perhaps used the phrase ‘brute force’)

Was the situation, always like this and people didn’t know?

Certainly not. After the Google arrived in 1998, for some good 5-7 years or so, its PageRank algorithm worked very well. The algorithm works very well, if people don’t game the system. But, we have full blown SEO industry around the Search Engine. And despite Google’s efforts to keep the SEO clean. It’s simply not possible to do it. In today’s Internet world, it will be increasingly difficult to identify for a clean link to a site, to a paid (SEM’d) link. The links from social media, only further add to this noise.

So what’s the solution?

On your machine, how do you find a file. You often search for it, using the file system search. But you know, what file you are looking for. Think, the conventional brute-force search engine, will move more towards navigation, in which a person knows what he wants, and tries to find it.

So something similar will happen on the Internet. Ofcourse the person, doesn’t know which website to look for often, so he will ask his friends for advise. Wait a minute, did you say, ask friends, come on who has the time to ask, and then wait for a reply?

Well the answer is that the asking and replying will happen asynchronously. On all the social media, people are continously telling what they like and what they don’t and sharing various experiences. “This rose smells nice”, “This coffee is not so great” and “this travel site is so great” Or “this site doesn’t rock”. So some body has to just assimilate all these statements of expressions and churn them as replies when a question is being asked.

Several folks are already at play in this area e.g. quora.com – the arguments against it are that its a closed service, but that’s a different story. But there is far-far from a clear winner. Its possible, but unlikely, that the likes of Google itself, will totally transform themselves into a totally different kind of a search engine. Unlikely I say, is because, its not always possible to kill a cash cow. The conventional brute-force search engine is perhaps at the peak of money making curve, by the various Ad programs – Ad words and Ad Sense. So in such a scenario, will somebody be able to shake of the inertia and start from a clean slate. Possible but unlikely.

There were some efforts, which I was very excited about like blekko.com. But they appeared to be working on a conventional ‘brute-force’ search engine (of course on a better version of it), atleast until about a couple of years back. This was around the time when cuil (remember?) failed spectacularly. It will be interesting to see how they launch, in a post twitter/facebook world.

It will be interesting to see, who get’s there first, and importantly who gets it right.

NOTE: This blog has opinions and thoughts, which are personal of Khushnood Naqvi, and do not necessarily reflect the opinion of 90di.

PS: Had written this piece a few months back, when blekko was yet to be launched. But shied away from blogging it here. Thanks to Vijay, Patrick, Shaurabh, Kiran and Abhinit for reading it. Since then the noise around search quality has only increased as seen in these blogs: Codding HorrorBlekko founderGoogle.

Get your software implemented by 90di

Tuesday, August 18th, 2009

Greetings!

We are happy to announce a new initiative – of that of venturing into custom software development for other people i.e. for our clients. We look forward to  work with a few clients at a time, alongside our travel product development.

The rest of the details are explained as a FAQ below.

1. Why are you starting to do consulting?

Short answer: For revenue.

Long answer: We are a boot-strapped/self-funded Internet product company and look forward do do some software development/consulting to fund our efforts for product development by sharing our knowledge and expertise with others.

2. What kind of consulting work will you pick up?
We can do anything related to software ranging from software development, to design and architecture of systems. Some examples of the nature of work we would do:

a. Software Design & Development

b. Architecture consulting

3. What Technologies can you provide consulting in?
Although we have thrived on FOSS (Free and Open Source) software for a large part of our career. But technology is not a barrier.

We are comfortable in languages ranging from Java to C++ and C.

Operating systems from Linux, to any kind of Unixes (Solaris, AIX, HP-UX) to Windows.

Web servers like Apache, IIS, etc.

App Servers like Tomact/JBoss to Databases like MySql, Oracle, SQL Server, Ingres.

So in one short phrase – ‘Technology no bar’

4. Why should we chose you?
If you like 90di.com travel site and would like to get a site or any other application of the same kind of quality get developed for you, then you should contact us.

5. How do we contact you for consulting?

Just write in a hello mail with small description of your need to sales@90di.com and we can take it forward from there.We ensure a response to your mail within one business day.

[On a lighter note: We read all our mails and are hyper communicative in general, so don't worry about your mail getting lost in pile of other mails. We reply to each and every mail we get, even try to reply to cold call marketing mails]

6. What would the engagement cost me typically?
One liner: It may not price you the cheapest, but it would be one of the most cost-effective solutions for you.

First up: We don’t compete on price. If you are looking for just low price ‘web development’, we recommend to you upfront that we may not be the best people for it.

We look forward to compete on quality and productivity, and these are not just marketing words for us. Here’s our one liner for the two words:

Quality – Clean code with elegant design which solves the most of complex problems in the simplest of ways.

Productivity – Quality code written fast.

As per Joel Spolsky, productivity between programmers can vary by some 10s of times and more! Just for an example: It’s rumored, that companies like Google have an average productivity per programmer/per month of some 2500 lines of code. We make a promise upfront to at-least double that for you.

So hopefully, it should be the most cost effective software that you can get written anywhere. We will even refuse work and advise you to go to other people, if we think we are not the best guys for you.

7. You arrogant fools, you fancy you are more productive than Google, eh?
Not at all. On the contrary, we are overwhelmed by what companies like Google have achieved. And we are sure they have genius programmers in their ranks. Seems the Page Rank algorithm was just implemented in two weeks. Paul Buchheit (no longer with Google), wrote the initial version of Gmail in just a day, yes just a day!

But we also believe, that average productivity per programmer comes down in a inverse proportion to number of programmers you have in the company. Example 37 Signals had just 5 programmers till about some time back, and their revenue was in millions of  dollars (don’t no exact figure).

So we suspect Google’s productivity might have have been as high as some 25000 lines of code per programmer per month when it was running in a garage.

Our mention  is about  this supposed number of 2500 lines of code per month per programmer. As this looks seriously less to us (as I am sure to many other programmers). On some good-bright-sunny days, we do reach upto couple of 1000s of lines of code our selves. Honestly.

8. I am a loyal visitor of your travel website 90di.com, won’t quality of that be affected?
In one word, No.

Just to elaborate, we actually have been doing some consulting in the past year, did you notice the website quality going down or the pace of feature addition being reduced?

We assure you that 90di Travel product is our first love, and we will continue to do full justice to it. Also please do not hesitate to give us a piece of your mind, in case you feel us lagging or lacking in any way.

9. Okay so what’s the secret of your claim to such good productivity?
That’s a secret! :)

But seriously we think there are several. Like our experience working for the very best of Indian software companies (Please check the team page to see our brief profiles).

Also to name one best practice we follow: Less meetings. Yes, we try to have as less meetings between us as possible. We just have a few stand-up meetings like 10-15 minutes meeting, when we feel the need for it. We have a bias for asynchronous means of communication like email (yes email still works for us) And as said earlier, we do read our mails.

10. Hmm… you people look like you can be given a try?
Thank you! Please do so and we promise we will strive to make you one delighted customer. just write a mail to us at sales@90di.com with a short description of what you want.

11. BTW, Doesn’t Paul Graham say that product Startups should not do consulting? ;)

First up: A lot of our work culture has been picked straight out of Paul Graham’s essays. So we do respect and pay a lot of attention to his views. But we also think ourselves, and so we don’t agree to all the things he has to say. Two examples of where we disagree with him:

a. Product Startups should not do consulting work:
We believe in the philosophy of  ‘to each his own’ meaning each startup can not run on one fixed formula. And people can do some tactical stuff to avoid other time wasters e.g. Running after VCs.
(NOTE: If a VC approaches you its a different matter altogether)

b. Another example where we disagree with him is with the use of Lisp.
Again we believe: ‘To each his own’ meaning language is but just a tool and we won’t shy away from using Lisp if we had to.

But seriously, come on…,  Java has got so much momentum behind it and you can easily get so many great piece of software for free e.g. Double MetaPhone implementation.

And we also try to remember that finally what matters is how fast you can convert your ideas to code, and languages like Java are simply, and equally, great for that purpose.

Finally, we look forward to working with you on your upcoming software projects. Do tell us, even if you have a need which you think may come up in a few months time. Also please do tell about us, to a friend who you think can benefit by you recommending us. In any case, please do not hesitate to write to us for any more information at sales@90di.com

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