Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Orz and other considerations

Sorry. Busy month.

=Sorta Table of Content=

Triggering Google AI via SEO pages
Measuring global clicks in Google time
The mythical 2,000 keywords mark
Moving keywords - not operator error
Made-up news
Small people need shirts too
More oars in the water


SEO pages - triggering Google AI testing

I must say one of the most interesting things that I have noticed with the SEO exercise is the interaction with the Google adwords program.

SEO (search engine optimization) pages are suppose to help a particular set of web pages show up in higher ranking for the corresponding set of search terms. So, say I want to drive traffic to people who search for "panda bear adoption", I can hire an SEO company that would produce a set of web pages that are designed to have a lot of information on panda adoption and therefore when somebody searches on yahoo for "panda bear adoption" one of these pages would show up as the #1 page. That is the theory anyway.

So, I rolled out a set of SEO pages for the corporate site. And, yes, I definitely see these SEO pages climbing the organic search result ranking. But, what is not expected is that somehow it also triggered the Google AdWords engine to re-consider some of my adwords keywords and ad's.

In all fairness, this is a conjecture in my part, but frankly, I cannot see another explanation. Basically, because my organic search/corporate site has this infusion of new content that target specific service that my corporate site has been relatively weak on, somehow, Google noticed the change in the organic content and activates the AdWords engine to try out some of the existing keywords that have been relatively dormant.

Let me give you a made-up example. Say that I have a set of keywords in AdWords related to New York Taxi. However, due to a number of reasons, none of these keywords have good performance and, as a result, Google's budget auto-optimization gives these keywords low bid prices which, in effect, renders them rarely used. Then, with the SEO pages on New York Taxi added to my corporate site, suddenly, Google noticed the difference and started to experiment on these same keywords to see there is a change in click-thru rates.

Okay, I suppose this does not need to be a coordinated efforts between Google organic search and AdWords as Google has always maintained an official separation between the two operations. And, I suppose it is possible that Google adwords simply found the new content and decided to experiment with those dormant keywords. But, I think that kind of separation is kind of artificial.

Anyway, the SEO pages are out and we are seeing a nice increase in our web hit rate. This is actually a bit problematic as I use to scrub through the daily web hits to get new keywords. But, with the longer list, I do not that kind of time to eyeball all the entries...


How long does it take for Google adword's conditions to proliferate around the world. How do I know?

I noticed a term that seem to invite quite a bit of click-spam. So, I removed it from my list of keywords and, as an added security, I added the term as a negative keyword to indicate that I definitely do not want it.

Guess what, two days later, I noticed in my daily web hit log, the exact term was being used by a click-spam-er from Japan.

Naturally, I reported this to Google and asked for a refund. And, this also proves that it takes a while for the Google data centers around the world to sync up with the central servers.

Interesting, huh!


Oh, this is kind of exciting. I have reached the mythical 2,000 keywords mark with one of my AdWord group. I remember reading about it in a forum a while back about the problem of reaching that limit and wondered when I'll hit that number myself.

Basically, when you hit the 2K mark for the number of keywords, Google AdWords tells you to par it down because it impacts the server performance. And, there are certain things that it no longer do such as providing estimates on the budget auto-optimization engine.

But, upon further investigation, the 2k limit is artificial and you can request to have the limit increased. Which I did. It took a bit of back and forth to get the limit increased, but it is do-able.

Of course, this is only the first half of the story. I'll need to break down that monster list into smaller chunks for different campaigns and groups. With 2K+ keywords, however related they are, there are ways to make divisions into smaller groups. I just dread the task. Scrubbing through 2K+ keywords is not exactly a fun thing.


You may have heard about the google adwords function of copy/move keywords between groups. A pretty nifty tool for those of us that works with thousands of keywords. The problem was that I could never get it to work.

Being the noisy type, I was never shy on asking Google for help. The first inquiry yield a rather unsatisfactory result as the reply basically quoted the information available in Help. Gosh! I know how to read and I have read the darn thing already.

Second time, I asked again and told them not to give me the run-around this time. And, interesting enough, there was a perfectly good reason that I was not able to use the tool and it was not even an user error. Basically, it does not work with the budget auto-optimization engine turned on! Who would have guessed? I have included the actual text below for your info. Hopefully this info makes into the AdWords Help section soon.

Google reply

The reason why you are unable to locate keywords in campaign 'XYZ' using this tool is because that campaign has the Budget Optimizer enabled. In order to successfully use the Copy/Move Keywords and Ad Text tool, I would suggest that you temporarily disable the budget optimizer while using this tool.
End Google reply


I think I have mentioned that I recently contracted with for their PPC program. I heard about them via a conversation with a potential VC investor. After all VC is suppose to be smart money. Right?


I must say that's performance has been rather dismal since day one. I am paying good money but it is not driving any meaningful traffics. In particular, the conversion rate is nil! So, I am paying for the clicks without getting the benefits of conversion.

The account manager is nice enough but that does not compensate for the lack of performance. The other thing is that makes it difficult to adjust and retrieve information vis-a-vis Google.

Finally, and this is not related (I do not think), my biz.como traffic is not showing up in GA(N). Don't ask me why. I just got a reply from GA claiming that they can see it. So, I promptly asked them where they saw it! Hope to have the mystery resolved in a few more days.


Creating news is a funny business. But, it is important when there is general market interests but people are not looking to you for information. So, in the spirit of shaping public opinion, I have commissioned a consultant to conduct a study that links to the business concerns over Sarbanes Oxley. We'll see if anyone bites on the topic.

And, the beauty of this exercise is that it can become a living thing itself. First with a PR piece on the study. Then, another PR piece on the result of the study. Then, a whitepaper or a webinar on the study. And, if I keep pounding on the issue, maybe somebody would think that I know what I am talking about...

It is all very sinister. And, I am not even left handed.


Oh, so that t-shirt saga has come to a good conclusion. I found a vendor who was able to do it in Silicon Valley. I also found the contact of the co-worker who was most interested in the project. Very good news for my poker event.

The interesting thing is that I am out of the L size already. It seems like that is a rather popular size for the company. Alternatively, maybe we are a company of small people...


Not sure if you remember the old saga on how we could not get sales people to show up. Our fortune must have changed. Two new sales people just came on-board. I do not know much about them yet but it is good to have more oars in the water as the saying goes.

Maybe one of them will make it into this blog one of these days?


Finally, on a completely unrelated front. do you know what is "Orz"? Apparently, this is a popular term for text message in Asia.

One hint, it is similar to the idea of the smiley ":-)" but on a large scale.

Still not sure, that is okay - I never got it myself. It is a pictograph showing a person bowing down on all four. Kowtow, I think that is the technical term. To deconstruct the expression - "O" represents the head, "r" represents the shoulder/arm touching the floor, "z" is the butt, leg, knee on the floor.


How cool is that! It is too bad that I do not use text message. But, I am using it here! I do wonder how long it would take for Orz to make it into an auto conversion symbol like ":-)" by MSFT?

Oh, Oh! How about finding Orz in ODE? Actually, I do not know if :-) itself is in ODE - I should check.

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Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Accounting for GAN and GAW, t-shirts, and an endorsement for filth

I think I am a fairly ethical person. I have my shortcomings, for sure, but when somebody drops a wallet, my first instinct which I usually follow through is to let the person know that he dropped his wallet. My point is that for a reasonably ethical person, I hate those "company values" and "mission statements". When was the last time these values or missions said anything interesting? And, I have never felt any of my actions in a particular company is guided one way or another by stated values and mission. Neither have I seen any of my co-workers from CEO on down, follow these ideas.

(Oh, don't get me started on this one time that a CEO insisted that I use some ill gotten data set from the competitor. Welcome to the real world.)

Anyway, the reason I am reminded of these observations is that Mr Proper recently wanted everyone to come up with an agreed list of company values in a corporate meeting.

We want to be (in no particular order):
* Accountable
* Patient
* etc.

You get the drift. And, half way through the process, I was already in my semi-fetal position. On one hand, I really have nothing against these values, nobody is going to argue against being accountable after all. On the other, this does not seem to be something that anyone, with the possible exception of Mr Proper, would remember after the discussion.

To my surprise, Mr Whupass started to challenge the whole idea as well as the individual statements. For example, what is being accountable? Is it a way to pin fault on people? Why cannot we just use common sense to tell whether somebody is being accountable?

I loved it!

Being the CEO, when Whupass showed his cards, the people fall into line rather quickly then. (We may try to be accountable, but we also know how to kowtow to the big boss.)

This kind of got me thinking though. Why are these company values important and who cares? I still maintain that these values are not worth more than the material that they are printed on. This is basically, my conjecture, a global conspiracy by marketing and HR people to create work and production opportunities. Having said that, having a list of company value can also be interpreted as a sign of being a real company since "real" companies have those silly lists. Do you think that is what Mr Proper wanted? A bit artificial, wouldn't you say?


I finally got my acts together to poke around the Google Analytics Help forum. So, the first thing is that it is not Analytics or Urchin (the original vendor/product name for the product). It is call "GA". Logically enough, but how about Google AdWords? It would seem that to avoid confusion that AdWords would be known as GAW where as Analytics should be called GAN.

Yeah, you've probably guessed it, I have not learnt much on how to use GA yet so I can only make these tangential observations.

I poked around my GA numbers on a daily basis to get more familiar with them. Man! They are not intuitive to decipher. And, there is not an easy consolidated source that would serve as the user manual. Technically, there is a help section which I am in the process of reading through. But, this is nothing like AdWords where you can print out a 400 page tome on how to use GAW.

Is Google turning sloppy? The wind is not favorable.


I must confess that I have not watched any TV program in an organized fashion, meaning having a fixed time or a favorite show, for years. So, it is only logical that I have no cable. And, in any case, I have only heard of the recent popularity of poker games - I think I read it in an article while waiting in a doctor's office a while back.

So, imagine my surprise that one of our partners is hosting a poker tournament as part of the product/vendor program - come for one hour of sales pitch and you get to play three hours of poker.

I love that idea, mixing business with sinful pleasures. (Disclaimer, I have nothing against gambling. In any case, I am for anything that would help to shock the sensibility of some segment of the civic society. So, please take my use of "sinful" in that tongue-in-cheek spirit.) So, I quickly signed up for the program as one of the vendor "acts". In addition to the sales pitch, I will also be hosting a blackjack table for those who are not playing poker or got eliminated from the tournament. Finally, I will be handing out t-shirts to all the participants.

Nobody can fault me for not being able to spend money in the name of marketing. :-)!


So, this comes to the latest saga on the t-shirt making front. For several months now, one of the field support engineers told me that he has a friend who can make t-shirts. I am all for routing business to people we know. So, I have been asking for more information so I can make a batch.


Anyway, with the poker event looming, I really need to get my acts together. So, I quickly sent out a bunch of queries for local t-shirt guys and got a few quotes going.

Not sure if you ever made t-shirts in the 80's. It used to be a pretty simple operation. I used to go to a photo copier with the image I want silk screened and make a photocopy onto a thick transparency. The transparency goes to the t-shirt maker and, a few days later, a batch of t-shirts. A good way to make a little spending money on the side.

Well, things have changed. I was asked for an EPS format file for the company logo. I said, sure, I've got exactly what you needed. Then, when I talked with the graphic designer, she informed me that the EPS file that I had was in pixel format as oppose to vector format. Now, you have to bear with me on this point as I am not clear on the details. Basically, a pixel format cannot scale easily since the images are in pixel, i.e. when you blow it up, the gaps between the pixels become visible. On the other hand, vector format, being of mathematical (vector) expressions, can be scaled to whatever size since these expression are robust unless you go into the imaginary plan (okay, I add the conjecture about the imaginary plan but it is probably true.)

Being the good marketing executive, I told the graphic designer to come up with a new logo that is close to the current one but in vector EPS format. It does not need to be perfect for the few people would really notice the discrepancy in a t-shirt.

Then, there is the issue of size. This is basically a statistical question and I have no data to go on. So, I talked with one of the t-shirt making guy and gave him the instruction that I would like to make 50 shirts for a population that is mostly male (90%). The triangulated recommendation is: 2 Small, 8 Medium, 20 large, 18 XL and 2 XXL. I think there is a surcharge for XXL. I may stick with 20 XL instead.

I wonder what kind of sizes I did in the 80's.


This is not exactly marketing related, but I just want to say that I enjoyed documentary films. And, the most interesting one that I have seen in a long time is "The Aristocrats". It is not, by a long long shot, family friendly, but it exposes a side of the entertainment world and American psyche that are often considered taboo to explore.

The film retells the same joke by many famous comedians each with his own ways of telling it. I won't ruin the fun for you by telling you the joke here, but suffices to say that the whole point is to shock and disgust the listener. In a way, it is sort of like the "my brother can beat up your brother" game to see who can top each other in the category of shock and disgust. And, that in and of itself is fun aplenty.

What I also find fascinating is that the joke really allows a person to explore the notion of taboo and boundaries in the American context (since the jokes are told by American comedians.) Wouldn't it be fun to tell the same job around the world and see what are the taboos and boundaries that people have?

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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My First SEO toys and PPC tools

Now that Analytics is on, I still have not had a chance to really go through it. The documentation front seem a bit thin compared with AdWords. This could means that Analytics is the new wild west or I am just looking at the wrong places. Surely, Google won't make software that is hard to use...

I suppose I have been procrastinating on Analytics. But, I have a good excuse. We just brought the SEO pages live. I purchase/licensed the SEO content for a list of 30 keywords that I want to get good ranking on. It turns out that one keyword I cannot use after getting a better understanding of the system. The key reason is legal, it gets too complicated to do SEO on a competitor's name. So, if you have come up with a good way to do SEO on a legally registered (competitor) name, please let me know!

The structure of the SEO pages are fairly plain. So, I spent some time with the web people to spruce it up so that at least the touch and feel is similar to the overall corporate site. Of course, this process can be taken too far. So, when my VP of engineer told me that it is time to push them out to make the licensed content earn their keeps, I readily agree.

The funny thing about SEO pages is that it could impact the performance of the AdWords program. Based on historic data, when people search on the company name, naturally, we rank highly in both the natural and paid search results. And, there are very few click on the paid search results.

You may think that this is a good thing, why pay when you get the click through natural search. the trouble is that the paid search is optimized to create conversion events. In other words, when you click on the paid search, the route is designed that you either abandon the path or leave your contact info. This is how we generate the bulk of leads.

Now that SEO pages holds the promise of getting really good natural search ranking for the keywords that have been generating the bulk of conversion traffic, this could be a problem when people no longer leave their contact info with us.

Theoretically, I would love to do an empirical A/B test to see if the concern is valid. But realistically, the stake is too high that I have no intention to taking the hit. So, I have been working on these pages to create as many conversion traps as possible.


So, here are a few good tools to have

1. To figure out exactly what a viewer would see when doing a google search

Why bother: say that you want to see what a viewer in Germany searching for "tiny boots" using a German interface would see. This tool automatically generate the appropriate tags. A very helpful tool if you do regional/local advertising from afar.

2. US location keywords generator

Why bother: you would be surprised the power of regional/targeted ads - at least that I have been told many times over. I have never personally tried it but I am looking for an angle to do it with a regional partner - that is a separate story though. Anyway, the interface is reasonably intuitive. It does not capture ALL permeation in terms of location keywords, but it wold give you a good start. And, that is all that we can ask for in life, a good start.

3. Google match option wrapper

Why bother: well, if you have not heard my rant, let me just say that it is a worthy effort to include all three match options for every keywords - broad, phrase, and exact. The problem with the level of dedication is that it is painful to do manually. I constructed a macro using Word for the job, but that was still painful. Then, this site comes along and all you need to do is to plug in the broad match keywords and, voila, out comes all three permutations of the match options.

The truth is that I still manually add the match options on a day to day basis when it is just one or two keywords to add since it is a bit of hassle to open up another browser. But, for a mass job, this is definitely the ticket.

4. Statistically predictor on performance

Why bother: well, I think the original premise of the tool is to help you predict how your ad will perform relative to a benchmark ad with minimum data. Think of it as a way to predict the result of the A/B test. I actually have no idea what kind of statistical model they use in the backend. But, I think it is an interesting idea and until I am willing to sit down and figure out my own statistical prediction model, this is a good standby tool.

On a related front, I think the model can be expanded into additional usage than just comparing ad's. For example, why can't I use the same model to compare the number of click through vs conversion rate? I think these would be much more interesting.

5. Where do you rank on Google

Why bother: Technically, this site offers mostly keywords related services. Which, to be honest, I have not really looked into. The last option on Google ranking, however, is a great tool. This is especially important if, like me, you are embarking on an SEO project and need to have a third party benchmark to see how things are coming along. My favorite part is that you just dump in all the keywords that you want to have ranked and just let it run in the background. It is not the fasting service. But, for the data provided, I do not mind the wait.

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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Passing keywords, amongst others

Yeah, yeah. I know. I had taken a bit of time off. No good excuse. But, then, it is not like this blog is a life and death issue either. Hopefully.

All is well. Life is still crazy in the Silicon Valley startup land. The good news is that our performance for the past year has been so good that we are planning on starting a fund raising process. And, almost to validate our performance, some of the current investors are already jockeying for position with pre-term investment to help us ramp. Well, we will see how it works out.

Google is giving me a bit of heart burn lately. In particular, it has become unruly to manage and I am finding ever more lack of features. For example, I have begun the process of cherry picking the top performing keywords to their own campaigns with higher budget and dynamic keywords to make it perform even better.

That is the theory. But, it has not worked out so far. I am definitely paying more since the bid prices are many times higher than the standard campaign. But, I am not seeing better conversion.

Anyway, it is partly my fault, I am sure.

Oh, the Google Analytics account is finally turned on. I am glad. Of course, I still need to hook it up with Google AdWords to get the full details. I just logged into the Analytics account the first time about one hour ago and I am sure that it will take quite a few days for me to get up to speed and figure out what I am looking at.

This should be a good challenge.


So, I have begun to apply more pressure on the PR firm. They seem competent enough and there are certainly enough carrots that they have been dangling in front of me.

I have been pretty "easy" on them in the past month or so since it was the Thanksgiving/Christmas season. For one, I was not that motivated to work too hard. The other thing is that the PR firm has been saying the the reporters and calendars were closed for the year. May or may not be true but I was not pushing them too hard.

Now, it is a new year and I have made it fairly clear that I want to see results. They have had their play time already and it is time to earn their keeps.

It would be interesting to see how much can they deliver. The verdict is out but I want to give them Q1 to really perform and if Q1 is no good, then Q2 would be their chance for redemption.

Will keep you posted.


Here are some other cool undocumented Google tags. With them, I can tell the following thing when a viewer clicks on my adWord ad:

1. If the click comes from Search vs Content network.
2. What is the keyword match (if search network) or the site (if content network)
3. Which ad is triggered.


Taken in their individual components:


If the click is from search network, pass the text "keyword"


If the click is from content network, pass the text "site"


Pass the actual keyword match.

*This is important* the parameter passes the matched keywords instead of actual key words. For example, with broad match, a search for "big shoes" can match the keyword "large shoes". In this instance, the passed keyword is the matched "large shoes" instead of actual "big shoes."

One way to address this issue is to scrub it against the web log to find the delta and add to the keywords list.


This gives the position of the ad if the ad appears in the Content network site (I think, but I stopped using Content network a while back so did not bother to find out the details.)


This passes a numeric string which is the ID for the specific ad. Using the ID number, you can match it with the actual ad under AdWords reports. (A rather clumsy process for users who want to optimize the content, but that is another issue.)


I am not much of a decorator and I was pretty resistant to the idea of doing office decoration. Mainly because I am too lazy to get involved. But, what must happen, must.

Everyone was assigned a task in terms of to-do and to-get. Then, we had a pretty miserable time in agreeing on a common decor vision. To be politically correct, it was an issue of styles and tastes. But, of course, *I* have the better taste and *fortunately* my style prevailed.

On the other hand, prevailing on that front does incur the issue that I had to manage the execution which was the whole reason that I was not keen on the idea to begin with. Not exactly a "winner's curse", but it felt like it.

So, the office is now decorated and I am curious to see how long we will keep it up. Good thing that the new plants are plastic. (Yes, I am cynical.)

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Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Confession of a Googletizer

Let's face it. Google dominates the pay-per-click market and is THE benchmark for search engine.

Translation: if you engage in any manner of online marketing, you are a Googletizer.

Like me.

I used to have very warm and fuzzy feelings toward Google but I do wonder if the recent success, financial and otherwise, of Google is turning it into your typical hi-tech bumbling hydra since there are so many things going on in those campuses.

My last post noted Google's attempt at dictating how a word/expression should be used (whitepaper, bad; white paper, good). Now, I noticed that my ads are showing up at unexpected places. As a Googletizer, one of the main value of Google service vis-a-vis other PPC vendors is that Google seems to be pretty good at keeping its words and leveling the playing field. So, I was very surprised when my ad shows up at a location that looks like a link-farm - a website that offers nothing but links where the site operator gets paid when a viewer clicks on a link. However, as a Googletizer, I am most adverse to link farms because it does not provide high quality clicks and the operator has incentive to create click-fraud to boost their own earning. (The Economist even noted operations in China where people are hired to click on these links to generate money.)

For this and other reasons, I have opted opted out the Content Network option with Google to minimize this kind of exposure. So, imagine my annoyance when I found a click that come from a site that is a link farm (no search capability and no meaningful content). I filed a request to Google support asking for clarification of policy and how to avoid this kind of exposure. I got a reply assuring me that Google does its utmost to have the right content site operating for my ad's. I then replied with "but I have opted out of Content network." Google gets back with a comparison between the Content and Search network and advise me that if I wish to opt out of a specific site, I can do so from the Content network option. (But, I have opted out Content network completely?!)

Anyway, suffices to say that I am not impressed with this kind of service and find their black-box process wanting. I am perfectly willing to accept the argument that I have stumbled onto a special micro-site run by Google to improve my performance. that would have been kind of cool... But, at least be forthcoming about it!

Anyway, I recently read David Ogilvy's Confession of an Ad Man. He is my new hero. He is nothing like the average advertising types that I know - thank god!

Anyway, my latest experiment with Google is to separate out the winners from the pack and give them their own campaign. The idea being that these VIP's will get special treatment with better budget allocation to ensure good ad placement. For the rest of the pack, I will just use the auto-budget option.

The auto-budget option is not a bad thing, if you do NOT accept any of the Google suggested parameters. There is nothing inherently wrong with Google's suggestion. But, Google gives you the average and, unless you only aspire to be average, you should not take the face value.

Yes, my grand theory of inter-temporal black box optimization. I had some additional thoughts about it over the past few days when things are less crazy. I think it comes down to the ability to set out a systematic program to optimize from component level to system level. For example, selecting the keywords is the typical first step. Then, use the web log to optimize the keyword selection. Then, there are all sorts of tricks for keywords in terms of capitalization, order, and matching options. Then, the typical second step is to optimize the bid price. I have found it usually take a few days to get a good baseline and it is a constant adjustment between auto-budget and manual control.

I think one of the key points in the process is figuring out how to know when enough is enough. For example, how do you decide that a keyword/ad is a dud. For the longest time, I was thinking in units of time. It is a good proxy for similar campaigns. However, for a brand new campaigns where there is no basis for comparison, time is a tricky thing. Somebody suggested that I consider the number of impressions. This is actually quite an enlightening idea for me, I know - it does not take much to impress me. So, instead of waiting for two weeks, it has to wait for X impressions. Rumor has it that 1,000 is the magic number for Google engine. Of course, one early caveat is that if your keyword selection is rather poor, it may take forever to get to the 1,000 mark and, consequently, risking introducing too much temporal distortion into the analysis.

Speaking of temporal distortion, how does viewer/user preference change over time is another topic that I find fascinating. The key question being that how do I go about capturing the change at the earliest possible time? For example, in the old days (of course Al Gore has not invented the internet then...) people may search for a "personal computer" but at some point people would search for "PC" only and these days people probably only search for "Dell". So, how do I capture that shift in viewer/user behavior?

Another experiment that I am embarking on is SEO, search engine optimization. The idea being that PPC is still relatively expensive. And, as viewers sophistication increases, the legitimacy of a high natural search ranking is significantly higher than the paid-for high ad ranking. I have engaged in some SEO on the corporate site before, but it was a bit clumsy and difficult. My latest insight is to break the process into compartmentalized pages. So, instead of optimizing for the top five terms that I want for index.html, I can have five individual pages optimized for these terms and have it linked into index.html. On the face of it, the idea makes a great deal of sense and I am hoping to get these SEO pages implemented in the next week or so. This would indeed be a very exciting experiment for me.

Happy 2006!

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