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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

When You Can’t Google It...

The nice thing about Google is that you can find anything. Anything? No, actually not. You can just find what you are looking for. But sometimes, you don’t know what you are looking for.

Especially when it comes to forming an opinion, you may not yet know what you are looking for. And when you already have a strong opinion of something, Google will only help to verify it.
Want to find proof that Bush is the worst President ever? Search Google for “bush” and “worst president”. Want to find proof that Bush is the best President ever? Go to Google and enter “bush” along with “best president”.

Another tough spot in Google is when you are looking for something but you don’t know its name. Say, you vaguely remember a new technology, it had this 4-letter abbreviation, and it sounded mighty interesting. But you can’t for the life of it google it, because you’d need the technology’s acronym to start out.

So sometimes you will find yourself sitting in front of Google scratching your head. You might want to dig up a site you lost. Want to go back to where you browsed 2 weeks ago. Want to research that hot new programming language. What was it called? Sure, Google provides the dry wood, but you are missing the spark to light the fire. In situations like these, you have several options:

  1. Forget about what you were looking for or wait until you come across it some other day. If you can’t even remember it, it can’t have been that important, right? (This is the easiest solution, but also the least satisfactory.)
  2. Ask someone else – your neighbor, colleague, spouse, or sibling.
  3. Pay to ask online (like at Google Answers).
  4. Try getting a free answer online (a newsgroup, or web forum – this takes from several hours, to a full day, to never to receive an answer).
  5. Try to take another site as jumpboard (maybe you vaguely remember where you read about the thing).
  6. Try to take your own site as jumpboard. I often go to my own blog just to follow a link to another site I previously mentioned. Like other bloggers, I successfully outsourced memory.
  7. Brainstorm. When I can’t remember a word I often go through the letters a-z in my head. For every letter, I pause a second. Does a bell ring? If not, I progress to the next letter. (If you reach z without a conclusion, you need to either start over, or give up.)
  8. Use associative searching and try to find your way “around the word”. Try not to think of the word you are looking for, but find the kind of words that likely appear in its neighborhood. (E.g. if you look for an opinion, instead of “political commentary” you’d search for phrases like “I think” or “in my opinion”.)
  9. Check your browser history or past notes you made. This can be tedious, especially when you don’t have a clue about the site you are looking for (you might remember its color schemes much better than its title, but Google doesn’t allow you to search colors).
  10. Take a walk, drink some coffee, go for a cigarette, listen to relaxing music, or do something else to divert your brain. If even that doesn’t help at least you did something useful...

6 Degrees of Link Separation

Following up on Scott Niven’s “Meme Separation" idea, here is another “N Degrees” game.

How many degrees of link separation do you have to CNN, Microsoft, or Google? Can you find a way to find your blog at all in this web maze?

The History of Google Contests

The current Seraphim Proudleduck competition is just the latest in an ongoing series of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) contests. This one is might have the highest prize, but let’s take a look at past Googlesport challenges. The target is always to climb to the number 1 spot in Google for a specific (usually nonsense) search keyword or phrase.

What’s to gain? Sometimes, just fame, and other times, some fortune. And besides, these contests teach us about Google and how different optimization strategies work (or fail) when confronted with heavy competition. And of course, they are all great fun to participate in.


SERPs is short for “Search Engine Result Pages” (in a different context, it also means “State Earnings-Related Pension Scheme”). It was the keyword for a Search Engine Optpimization contest. A group of people started the challenge in the Newsgroup I came up with the term “SERPs” on January 16, 2004, because it was self-referential and relatively harmless (that is, not a lot of people were searching for it, presumably – there were only 30,700 pages prior to the contest).

I started my own entry as a normal blog post, wanting to see how it would fare in the contest (it was pushed out of the top ten pretty early on). However the leading entry was deserted by its owner, Sam – I took his place by opening a Blogspot site with the same name. Kidnapping Sam’s tactic (which included a lot of guestbook spamming), I was the winner with on February 16th, 2004.


The “Kebapgraz” SEO competiton ows its name to “Döner Kebap”, a Turkish dish popular in Germany and Austria; Graz is a city in Austria. Most of the participants of this challenge are from Germany or Austria, using German-language pages. The “Kebapgraz” was started on June 16, 2004, as a follow-up to a previous challenge for “Haltezeitmessungen”. Linkfarms or other kind of spam were not allowed in this contest. The end date was September 10, 2004 (the birthday of CMA), and the Google PageCount for this word went from 0 to currently 167,000. A Wiki entry by German was inhibiting the top rank for almost all the time, only to be pushed to number two in a 24 hour period starting shortly before the end date.

David Reisner of, age 17, from Austria (near Graz) started the Kebapgraz contest.
“One day I thought, there are some funny contests going on, but there was no Kebap on the web” David said. I asked him for lessons learned, and he answers one should think about the exact competition rules beforehand to avoid some longer fights he’s been through. He adds: “In SEO there is a nice tip: give and you will be given, be it advice, links or content.”

Another Austrian SEO contest is for the word “Rasenfeldmeister”, but it only attracted a small group of optimizers. The winner will be decided on December 31, 2004. (If you’ve never been in a SEO contest before, this one might be a place to start – there’s plenty of time left, and competition is low.)


Yet another German-language Google contest is the hunt for “Schnitzelmitkartoffelsalat” (steak with potato salad). It was started by Steffi Abel on November 15, 2002, in a German newsgroup. At that time the word Schnitzelmitkartoffelsalat did not return any pages in Google. More than two years later, 1,880 occurrences can be found.

According to German webmaster Lars Kasper, who covers the challenge on his site, variations of the “SMKS” challenge include the nonsense words Telefondesinfizierstudium (the study of phone desinfection) and Walnichtfischmitkartoffelsalat (whale not fish with potato salad).

Mangeur de Cigogne

This is a French Google contest for the phrase “Mangeur de Cigogne”. Launched by Promo-Web, the games began in March 2004, and were to be ended in June 15 2004. This has got to be one of the weirdest and most obsessive of all SEO contests. And naturally, because most content is French, you won’t understand a word unless you are fluid in this language.

What does “Mangeur de Cigogne” mean? It literally translates to “eaters of stork”. But, according to Jerome Chesnot from the south of France, “It means nothing really. This string was choosen to not pollute Google results.”

Jerome held the 1st place in this competition for the 15 last days, but then came in second. He told me Mangeur de Cigogne was “really a good experience (...) in terms of HTML optimization and other technical things.”

Nigritude Ultramarine

Nigritude Ultramarine was the biggest SEO contest to this date. It received enormous coverage including articles on Wired and Slashdot. The competition was started by SEO company DarkBlue (hence the name “Nigritude Ultramarine”, which is another way to say “dark blue”).

Blogger Anil Dash nearly won the main prize in the first round ending June 7 with a blog entry (the prize finally went to the aggressive contenders at Merkey Forums). His post was linked from various other high-PR blogs who wanted to push a friend up the Google rankings. Anil wanted to prove a point that good old content is king, and was successful doing so. Missing the “player” prize by a bit he did win the second round of the contest, the “stayer” prize on July 7, 2004. (My blog in the meantime got a “Honorable mention for consistency” because it was pretty much a constant in the top ten.)

Wiki spamming was a rather new approach during this contest, and it was creating quite a controversy among the SEO crowd, as well as other webmasters and Wiki owners. A Wiki, as you may know, is a place for everyone to create and edit content. I started posting backlinks in Wiki Sandboxes (those places specifically created for playing around and post nonsense, to try out the Wiki formatting, syntax etc.) and believe it did slightly improve the ranking. I later on stopped this approach because too many Wikimasters felt it was hurting their site.

Seraphim Proudleduck

This latest contest – get to be Google number 1 for the search for Seraphim Proudleduck – just started out, but it should be another fun ride. The top three prizes awarded by Shaun O’ Connor of the Salmonbones SEO company are £1000, £300, and £200 (for 1st, 2nd and 3rd prize). There were 0 pages at the beginning, and there are 13,300 pages now. Surely the numbers will rise in the days and months to come to make for a memorable event.

Google Local Canada

“So you live in Canada, eh? Oh, you don’t – but you’re nonetheless looking for a coffee joint with Internet access that’s open right now in Toronto? Well, lucky you – we just launched Google Local Canada.”
– Bret Taylor, Google Product Manager, Northern Exposure (Google Blog), September 21, 2004


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