How to Trick Google and Hide Your Keywords

I recently had a great conversation with a really smart internet marketer. He was sharp and bright, but I vehemently disagreed with him on one point.

I mentioned a technique I’ve used to hide keywords from google.

Why would you want to hide words from Google? This short answer is that sometimes you need content on your page this is off-topic.  Most of the time that is legal terms and service info. Or it could be a return policy. Maybe you just want to inject a political message into your cute puppy blog.  Or maybe you have a black hat and can think of some more nefarious uses. Who knows?

My friend countered that Google has the ability to read text in images, OCR. And therefore it isn’t a legit method of masking your info.

I don’t doubt Google OCR capabilities. Just that they don’t heavily weigh that info and don’t really incorporate it into the main content.

But he had interesting point. So, when there is any question about the way a system functions, turn to the data, TEST IT.

I created new webpage with just a photo. No exif info. No file name of the text. No alt-image text. It’s clean except for the words in the photo.

Try this for yourself.

Search in Google or Bing for this unique phrase found here:

Does it come up for you?

When it does, we’ll know Google has started counting image text more heavily as a “ranking” factor.

Until then, hide in the bushes an necessary!


UPDATED: Dec 20, 2017

Looks like this is no long a valid strategy.  Google will index text in photos.

See here.

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The Crazy Bag Lady That Doesn’t Want My Help & The Myth of Domain Authority

I’ve had a few conversations recently with Marketing leaders at startups here in the Bay Area. The conversation usually starts with them stating they need SEO help. That they know they should be ranking better than their competitors.

When I ask them how they know, they say they have a better Moz DA than their competitors. And they’re currently working on increasing their DA.

When I run into the subject of Moz Domain Authority, I find myself at a crossroads.

It’s as if I’m in the middle of rainstorm. And I see a homeless crazy woman out in the rain. I want to rescue her. Get her out of the rain. But she doesn’t see the rain as a problem.  She’s happy where she is.

Do I find her some shelter even though she’ll fight me the whole time?

I’ve just conjured up this analogy for the discussion of DA.

What is Domain Authority?

Domain Authority is an aggregated measurement of Moz Page Authority and Moz Trust.

What is Page Authority?

Moz Page Authority was a metric conceived off the original page rank patent back in the 1990s.

Moz Trust score attempts to determine the quality of the Moz Page Authority.  They have their own “seed set” of trusted sites and determine the distance from those sites.

What are the Problems with Moz Domain Authority?

Woo doggies, there are many.

Let’s start with the fact the Google has never actually talked about Domain Authority. Ever. Neither has Bing.

Or let’s look at one of the building blocks, Trust. This is based on a decade old Yahoo patent from to see how far your site resides away from a trusted seed set. Think New York Times, Stanford University, or the IRS. Does Moz use the same seed sets as Google? Has Moz ever updated their Trust seed sets? Are these seed sets the only way to calculate how Trusted a website is?

Next what about Page Authority(ie pagerank). It might’ve made sense to use this in 2000 when all links were created equal. But in today’s environment, they’re not. Thanks to the Penguin Algo not all “do follow” links pass pagerank. In fact many have implicit “no follow” tags because Penguin has determined they aren’t trusted sites. Moz Domain/Page Authority are completely absent of a Penguin link quality algorithm.

Also, going back to at least the Hill Top update, Google has different flavors of Page Rank. Your site about cars won’t rank if all your backlinks come from foodie cooking sites. Subject specific pagerank isn’t included in Moz’s Authority metrics.

Why do People Use Moz Domain Authority?

So why do people use a Domain Authority metric if it’s so flawed. This is what I believe:

  1. They are just really busy and they want an easy answer.
  2. It comes from a psychological concept called Uncertainty Avoidance. Essentially people tolerate ambiguity at different levels of comfort. If you can’t tolerate the unknown, you’ll gravitate to a label. Even if that label is wrong. It eliminates your own internal anxiety.
  3. Last, related to Uncertainty Avoidance, I believe it comes from a culture of wanting to forecast everything. Steve Blank talks a little about this. How startups are asked by VCs for these ultra precise growth projections that have nothing to do with reality. How can you know what growth will be if your startup has only been in business for 2 years. You have no steady track record to forecast growth against. But I’m getting off topic. The point is that there is a culture of wanting to assign imaginary metrics to your operations.

Is Moz Domain Authority Good for Anything?

When evaluating your own site, no. If your site is a 65 or 72 or 29, what do you do with that information. There are so many incomplete and outdated inputs, it’s really no different than declaring your site is a Virgo, Sagittarius, or Aquarius. It’s nice to know your water sign but it doesn’t really change anything you’d do from day to day.

The only way I can think that Domain Authority might be useful is in evaluating websites for outreach. If you have limited time and a plethora of targets, DA might be tie-breaker if you’ve already evaluated relevancy, authority, trust, traffic, or visibility.


That crazy old woman getting rained on. I’m still trying to help her get out of the rain. But she does give me dirty looks every time I tell her Domain Authority is meaningless. She digs her heels in and refuses to listen to reason.  But the ethical thing is to keep trying to help her. Even if growth stagnates because she won’t listen.


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There’s a SEO Party in Your Pants, Bluma Zeigarnik and Steve Blank are Invited!


So my interests have recently turned towards direct response copywriting. I wouldn’t even call it copywriting per se as it is more  psychology and influence. There is this concept call the Zeigarnik effect. Basically humans are pattern matching/finishing machines.  The beginning of something always needs a close. For example take the nursery rhyme and try not to fill in the blank:

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a ______,

Did you fill in the blank. If so that is the Zeigarnik effect at play.

I was also thinking about a story Steve Blank told back in his B2B warrior marketing days. Basically he slaved over spec sheets for microprocessors his company sold. They were a work of beauty. After he presented it to management, they had an interesting reaction. They took his spec sheet, 16 pages long(remember this was the 80s), put it on a BBQ and burnt it. Horrified Steve asked what he did wrong. The CEO’s response was ‘nothing.’ Basically Steve’s data sheet would’ve stole the thunder of the whole Sales department. If that material was put out, and a customer lead was passed onto Sales, Sales would have nothing new to talk about. EVERYTHING was already disclosed in the data sheet.

This illustrates the tension in B2B companies between Marketing( SEO specifically) and Sales.  As an SEO I want to get as much quality material as I can out there for Google to crawl and index; I’m thinking FAQ pages specifically.  But if Sales gets a lead that knows everything, or worse gets no lead because this person’s questions were already answered, that Sales person is rendered impotent.

The answer to this came to me in reading about the Zeigarnik effect. If you strategically leave out finishing pieces of information for the FAQs, you can still set up Sales to be the hero while getting your content indexed and ranking.  So what would that actually look like for your organization. Well, I’m about to do it right now. Use that contact form to ask me how.

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Hacking Knowledge Graph Cards for Fun & Profit

If you want a fun trick to play around with the SERPS you can try messing with url parameters to hack the Knowledge Graph cards. Aaron Bradley is the first one that found this hack. I had so much fun with it I made a video of it below.

I picked on Chris Christie as it looks like he’ll be Trump’s VP nominee. The Washington Post did an interesting job highlighting his opportunistic-hypocrisy. Or this one with a little inner reflection.

But enough about politics, this is a Marketing blog. No need to make Google angry by shifting semantic focus.

So the key to all this is getting Knowledge Graph identifier (a digital Social Security Number for a Person, Place, or Thing). This is the KGMID for Christie:

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 2.22.30 PM

This is what it looks like for NOW.

Screen Shot 2016-05-05 at 2.30.10 PM

Who knows if/when Google plans to kill off access to kgmid paramters.

In the meantime have some fun with it. Share on social. Irritate your grand parents. Prank your boss.  I’d love to see what you come up with.

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SMX 2016 Ranking Talk – Paul Haahr

I just watched the latest SMX vid of Paul Haahr. He was surprisingly forthright. Some notes just to organize in my brain.

What google shows in response to a query is based on two basic scoring signals:

  • Query Independent:  ie……Pagerank, Language, Mobile Friendliness
  • Query Dependent: ie…..Keywords, Synonyms, Proximity

Paul then shifts gears to talk about pages themselves and brings in quality raters guide. Paul says “If you wonder why Google is doing something[experiments] it is to make it look more like what the raters guidelines say.”  Paul’s statement emphasizes that this is a document that was created with much effort and needs to be digested to fully understand current SEO.

So key metrics for scoring are broken down into two major categories:

  • Needs Met
  • Page Quality
  • Time to Result(pretty simple, be fast)

Needs Met

Needs met translates to relevance. But the more Paul talks, the more he sounds like he is actually talking about intent. That seems to dovetail with what Roger posted on SEJ.  Give searchers what they think they want, not what they ask for.

Page Quality

Paul gives an anecdote about 2009-2011 results being quite high in relevance but awful in quality. He calls that the definition of a content farm.

So page quality is then further divided into Expert, Authority, and Trust. Paul mentions that Trust is more heavily weighted with Your Money or Life pages AS WELL AS “buying a product.” The raters guide say legal and sensitive areas like child adoption or car safety are pertinent. My first thought was SSL.  Probably not the only trust signals?

Some of the things that make High Quality content:

  • Good Rep – Gotta be defensive and offensive with ORM
  • Expertise – How to establish that your authors are experts? During a Q&A Paul won’t answer directly but does say that manual quality reviewers have the ability to determine that. I’ve got a few ideas on what that means.
  • Authority – Thinking this has to do with site/theme historical topicality. Although citations may be in play as well.
  • Trust – Too many factors to count. Suffice to say this is where you have to put your big boy digital pants on. Churn and burn sites don’t survive here.
  • Sufficient helpful main content which means secondary content isn’t distracting. Oldie but goody of GOOPLA, h/t Gypsy Dave.

Rank Brain

In the Q&A Danny asks about RankBrain. Paul gives up the following:

  • “[He] knows how it works but doesn’t know what it is doing.”
  • Is part of the post retrieval adjustment segment
  • “It sees webpages, queries, and Other Signals.”

What are these other signals? So far most people are only talking about unseen long tail query reformatting.

Brand Bias

Danny asks about brand bias by raters. Paul mentions that they have metrics to try to counter brand bias that aren’t built into quality. He gets quiet….almost somber for a few seconds. But then perks up and mentions that the raters do a great job rating small quality site.

I never paid much attention to Aaron Wall banging on about big company favoritism. Maybe he is on to something though. I don’t think Google is intentionally punitive to small brands but perhaps a flaw in their quality theory.


Lastly Danny asks about CTR being used in ranking. Both Paul and Gary Illyes squirm in their seats. Gary says engagement is hard to interpret.  Neither outright deny the use of engagement for rank scoring. Again I think it’s one of those things that doesn’t have an easy answer and they’d rather not go down the rabbit hole.  Many panda hit sites see steep increase in traffic before they fall. I’ve always thought it was Google measuring Quality engagement data before a demotion.

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Artifacts for a Museum: Floppy Disks, Flip Phones, & Keyword Rankings


Gary Vaynerchuck advises people to jump on the newest social platform and master it as quickly as possible. Doing so gives a temporary first mover advantage. New users of the platform haven’t developed ad blindness nor grown calluses to spam. Eventually they do though. And when users reach peak marination in the new platform, they become immune to shitty marketing. Simply being there first isn’t enough to keep an audience engaged.

This is the way many still treat SEO. 10 or 15 years ago people were enamored with this thing called Google. They didn’t care what company was in the number one spot for “Buy _____.”  “Hey it’s the internet lets choose the first website we see and buy from it.” With this impulse purchase attitude, ranking #1 carried lots of potential. You didn’t really have to be that popular or trusted of a company. You just had to be present in the SERPs. This mindset is how many business owners and C-suite still measure the effectiveness of SEO today.  But as Wil Reynolds points out in his brilliant Conductor talk, ranking isn’t good enough anymore.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is a place for checking the rank of semantic keyword baskets. We want to squeeze as much juice from the SERPS as possible.  But the addiction to keyword rank represents a overly simple measurement that soured years ago. Even if rank did guarantee revenue, not all SERPS are the same. These are just a few of the reasons a #1 rank isn’t universally achievable: personalized search when you are logged into google, different results for mobile devices, different results geographically(not only by country but sometimes by closest metro area). Add to that local results, one boxes,  knowledge graph cards, “people also ask” cards,  and were dealing with totally different real estate.

So if SEO black magic no longer works what does? Brand building is the answer you are looking for. Does this mean that you’ll have to spend more time and energy to drive revenue through your website? Possibly yes, sorry. Does this mean SEO is dead. Absolutely NOT. SEO is doing what it has done since the 1990s, it’s evolving.  Good SEOs evolve with it. Bad SEOs complain how unfair Google is. To illustrate the intersection of SEO and good ole fashion Marketing/Branding, I’ll leave you with another awesome anecdote from Wil.

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Rank Brain for Dummies: My 2 Cents on Google Recycling It’s Garbage

Screen Shot 2016-03-22 at 3.02.51 PM


Ok so I’ve seen a resurgence of talk about Rank Brain chatter amongst the SEOs. I honestly wasn’t familiar with Rank Brain as I wanted to be and because Google is typically cryptic, I went to research. So Rank Brain is similar to Word2Vec as The SEMPost reports. Word2Vec basically attempts give words numerical values, vectors, or coordinates.  So days of the week tend to have close numerical values.  Verbs like can, will, may, and their contractions would have similar numeric values.

So what does this mean? Basically if we can give a numerical value to words, we can mathematically understand the meaning of a word, without the word actually being present. The closer the assigned value of two words, the closer the relationship.

Is this the death of SEO and Keywords? I don’t think so, at least not yet. This is just another step in the direction of Strings to Things. Things are covered by entities in Google’s Knowledge Graph. Rank Brain fills in the holes.

Ok so what are the takeaways. Not much has changed in SEO strategy.  If you didn’t get the memo and you’re new to SEO or have time traveled back from 2005, the message is the same. Keywords aren’t enough. If you’ve got a page about [minimalist running shoes], it’s probably important to talk about subjects surrounding it: the materials it’s made of, injuries sustained by minimalist running shoes, the benefits, how to transition from a thick shoe to a thin one, some good places to take them out for a spin, yada, yada, yada. Even if Rank Brain hasn’t figured a query like “foot gloves that are  great for strengthening plantar fasciitis injuries”, it will soon. Use your exact match keywords, stemmings, modifiers, and synonyms are for the present. Surrounding concepts for the near future. As Andy Grove said “Only The Paranoid Survive.”






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