Archive for November, 2010

EU launches antitrust probe into alleged Google abuses

November 30, 2010 1 comment

The European Commission has launched an investigation into Google after other search engines complained that the firm had abused its dominant position.

The EC will examine whether the world’s largest search engine penalised competing services in its results.

The probe follows complaints by firms including price comparison site Foundem and legal search engine

Google denies the allegations but said it would work with the Commission to “address any concerns”.

Earlier this year the attorney general of Texas launched a similar investigation following complaints from firms including Foundem.

The objections in both cases are from competitors which allege that Google manipulates its search results.

“The European Commission has decided to open an antitrust investigation into allegations that Google has abused a dominant position in online search,” the body said in a statement.

It said the action followed “complaints by search service providers about unfavourable treatment of their services in Google’s unpaid and sponsored search results coupled with an alleged preferential placement of Google’s own services.”

The Commission’s investigation does not imply any wrongdoing by Google.

“Since we started, Google we have worked hard to do the right thing by our users and our industry,” said the firm in a statement.

“But there’s always going to be room for improvement, and so we’ll be working with the Commission to address any concerns.”

Core business

Google offers two types of search result – unpaid results produced by the firm’s algorithms that are displayed in the main body of the page and “ads”, previously called sponsored links.

The investigation will try to determine whether the firm’s method of generating unpaid results adversely affects the ranking of other firms, specifically those providing so-called vertical search services.

These are specialist search providers, and can include sites that offer price comparison, for example.

Foundem alleges that Google’s algorithms “remove legitimate sites from [its] natural search results, irrespective of relevance”. It also says that the firm promotes its own services over those offered by competitors.

“Google is exploiting its dominance of search in ways that stifle innovation, suppress competition, and erode consumer choice,” Foundem said in its complaint filed in February 2010.

But Google argues that there are “compelling reasons” why these sites are “ranked poorly”.

For example, it said, Foundem “duplicates 79% of its website content from other sites.”

“We have consistently informed webmasters that our algorithms disadvantage duplicate sites,” the firm said.

The Commission will also look into allegations that Google manipulated elements of its system that determine the price paid for ads from these sites.

Finally, the investigation will also probe how the company deals with advertising partners.

Advertising is the core of Google’s business.

Google is alleged to impose “exclusivity obligations on advertising partners, preventing them from placing certain types of competing ads on their web sites, as well as on computer and software vendors,” according to an EC statement.

In addition, the EC said it would also look into “suspected restrictions on the portability of online advertising campaign data to competing online advertising platforms.”

Google says it already allows customers “to take their data with them when they switch services” and that its contracts “have never been exclusive”.




One in ten Brits will do their Xmas shopping via mobile

One in ten UK shoppers will be buying Christmas presents via mobile rather than using their computers this year, according to new stats from Tesco Direct.

This, and other surveys from the US, provides further evidence of the growth of mobile commerce, and the key role that mobile shopping will play this year.

So how can retailers make the most of this trend?

Tesco’s survey of 4,000 consumers found a number of different uses of mobiles for shopping, and not all were while out and about.

Half of mobile shoppers uses their phones while watching TV, one in six while sat on the bus, and a quarter during their daily commute. More than a third of all respondents said that shopping via mobile reduced stress levels and allowed them to fit it around busy schedules.

Tesco said that 500,000 mobile users had visited the Direct site in October, and more are expected in the run up to Christmas. The retailer recently released a mobile version of its website.

Recent US stats point to similar trends in mobile shopping, with the MMA finding that 59% of US consumers intend to use their phones for Christmas shopping, and 13% using it to purchase gifts.

This trend towards the use of mobiles for research, browsing and purchase is set to continue, so retailers need to do more to make the most of this trend. Here are a few suggestions:

Launch a mobile site or app

This is the most obvious way to appeal to the mobile shopper, and many UK retailers have now released mobile versions of their sites; M&S, Tesco, Argos, John Lewis, and Debenhams have all launched sites or apps in the last six months.

The stats show that mobile sites can work too. Both eBay and Amazon, who have been at the forefront of mobile shopping, have released impressive mobile sales figures. It has worked for high street retailers too: From May to October, the M&S mobile website attracted 1.2m visitors and 13,000 orders.

There are now plenty of convincing reasons why retailers need a mobile website or app.

Get listed on mobile comparison apps

If you have no mobile site, then making sure it is as easy to use as possible on a phone (i.e not too much Flash, clear page layouts etc) is one way.

Another way is to ensure your products show up on mobile comparison and voucher sites, such as Sccope or Vouchercloud. As mobile users increasingly compare prices on their phones when shopping offline, then this is one way to get your products in front of them.

Reserve and collect

If retailers have a mobile site or app, then reserve and collect is one way to help drive customers into stores. We know that this works online, but If this is combined with mobile it becomes a very effective tool.

The Argos iPhone app is a great example of this. It isn’t possible to buy direct from the app, but users can check stock levels at any Argos branch and reserve items for immediate collection.

Barcode scanners

A useful extra for retailers on mobile apps is a barcode scanner, which allows customers to scan products when out shopping and compare prices or find reviews.

Amazon’s app takes a slightly different approach, using photo recognition instead of a scanner, but it’s a great tool for offline shopping as it allows shoppers to easily check prices on the site, as well as reading user reviews of a product.

Kiddicare, eBay and Debenhams are among the retailers who have released barcode scanners, and the beauty is that, once customers have them, it means that even if they are shopping at a competitor’s store, retailers still have a chance of grabbing the sale.

Robin Hood Airport tweeter takes battle to High Court

The legal case of the man who tweeted about blowing up Robin Hood Airport to his girlfriend is to go to the High Court.
Paul Chambers reacted to the news earlier this year that snow had shut down the airport near Doncaster by sending a joke message on Twitter which read “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
A routine internet search by the airport discovered the tweet which was written off by almost all officials as not serious. However, the message led the former accounts manager to court where he was convicted of menace by a Doncaster magistrates court.
The incident has since attracted widespread attention and in protest at the result Twitter users have retweeted the message under the hashtag “I am Spartacus”.
Meanwhile Celebrated Twitter fan Stephen Fry has offered to pay Chambers’ legal fines.
Now Chambers, who has since lost his job and faces fines of £3000, will be supported by a legal team which includes a senior human rights lawyer as he fights to clear his name.

Bulgarian Parliament to Vote Changes in Tax Laws

Bulgarian Parliament will vote at second reading the amendments to the tax laws, including the flat 9% value-added tax (VAT) in the tourism sector.

The most serious changes are envisioned for the taxation of tourist services. If adopted, the changes will be implemented as of April 2011.

The move comes in response to the demand of the European Union that Bulgariashould harmonize tourism VAT, which currently stands at 7% for organized groups and 20% for individual tourism.

The amendments to the Corporate Income Tax Act aim to prevent tax frauds by envisioning payments for services to a provider, registered in an off shore area, to be taxed at 10%, which means that the client would submit them to the state treasury. The same applies to rents, when the landlord is a foreign company.

Changed in the Excise Duties and Tax Warehouses Act provide increasing of excise for cut tobacco (used by smokers of pipes and people who roll their own cigarettes) from BGN 100 per kg to BGN 132 per kg.

The government’s motive for the increase is that it would equalize the tax burden for this product with the excise duty for manufactured cigarettes. Following its last year’s increase, cut tobacco turned out to be much cheaper than manufactured cigarettes and its consumption increased over 200 times, according to data from the Finance Ministry.



Entrepreneurs bemoan Bulgaria’s investment gridlock during Sofia travel conference.

“Missing links” in the chain are preventing sufficient funding reaching young travel business entrepreneurs in the Balkans, and, in particular, Bulgaria.

That was one of the conclusions of a discussion on investment in travel technology at the ongoing Trends and Innovation Travel Distribution Summit at the Sheraton Hotel, on November 5 2010.

A panel of experts, including John Hazlewood, CEO of, Farley Duvall, CEO of and Victor Papazov, Chairman of the Board of the Bulgarian Stock Exchange, noted that it was harder to obtain investment from venture capitalists and banks in Bulgaria than it was elsewhere.

Koos Schouten, of, commenting from the audience, noted that “too many great ideas and big opportunities for investment go south because of missing links in the market all over the Balkans”. He attributed this to “a lack of communication between entrepreneurs and ideas people and ‘the money'” and noted that “when you need money down the line, the doors stay closed” in Bulgaria.

Schouten remarked that in his native country, The Netherlands, budding entrepreneurs received a more favourable hearing from financial institutions and there are investment consultants ready to help people starting up.

Another member of the panel commented that in Hungary the situation is much better, citing the establishment of the venture capital association and the encouragement of corporate social responsibility.

The panel commented on the importance of presenting ideas attractively. “You might have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t package it, forget it,” said one speaker, who also noted “the importance of doing your homework if you’re looking for funds”. Above all, he said, don’t present your programme to your mother – seek unbiased and objective views!

Speakers agreed that those companies that are going “global” find it easier to attract investment. If, on the other hand, your market is exclusively that of a small country, such as Bulgaria, you could find it harder to secure funding.

The bigger countries, such as Romania, Poland and Turkey, will, of course, do better but companies with a global reach will always find it easier to get more financial backing.

Gabriel Hershman – Sofia Echo

37 Takeaways from SEOmoz Master Class in Bulgaria by Paris Childress

What better opportunity for my first YOUmoz post than to recap the most significant SEO event to date in Bulgaria–the SEOmoz Master Class at the Webit Conference in Sofia last Friday.

Bulgaria’s top SEOs settled in–mildly skeptical yet very eager to listen to and challenge the SEO ambassador they’d seen on countless Whiteboard Fridays. Rand was ready, though, and he delivered.

In the 3-hour marathon session (broken up by a brief 10-minute break), we drank SEO from the fire-hose. No important topic was left uncovered. So, to the takeaways already…

On ranking correlation data

1. Correlation does not equal causation, but ignore it at your own peril. Data convinces clients & stakeholders better than opinions and anecdotal evidence.

2. Short, exact match keyword domains are best, if you can snag them. If not, go for hyphenated keyword domains as your next best option.

3. Differentiation opportunity for alt image tags–these had surprisingly higher correlation than other more popular on-page factors, like the over-optimized page title (I sense low-hanging fruit).

4. .gov & .edu domains… perhaps a bit overrated on authority, however they do tend to host quality sites. Overall, TLD’s don’t correlate especially well.

5. Number of linking root domains correlates even better than exact keyword match domain! News to me.

6. Metrics for predicting a site’s collective ability to rank pages, i.e. domain authority, are still not as reliable as page-level metrics.

On Google Instant

7. It does NOT mark the death of SEO or the long-tail. Google Suggest trained people to read ahead a long time ago. Case closed.

On site architecture and related on-page conundrums

8. Map your site structure before doing keyword research (I suggest using an actual mind mapping tool for this); this forces you think like a user before thinking like an SEO.

9. Editorial categorization beats user-defined categorization (e.g. user tags), which can get complex & messy as it grows.

10. Workaround for minimizing click depth and elevating deep pages:  link to a custom sitemap in your nav menu.

11. Buttons are more clickable than links. Mail Chimp’s homepage demonstrates this well. No surprise, really, yet so many big sites still not getting it.

12. Rel canonical tag works like a 301 redirect.

13. What to do when spammers scrape and republish your content:

  • Use absolute urls in source code–lazy scrapers may inadvertently link back to you
  • Report it to DMCA
  • Do NOT attempt to block bots (or allow select few) in your robots.txt file–bots change names.

14. Suspect incomplete indexation?

  • Don’t trust ‘site:command’ on any of the engines, it’s flaky
  • DO trust organic search visits to pages, shown in Google Analytics (GA)
  • Track site sections separately in GA to better isolate trouble areas
  • Syndicate content
  • Create RSS feeds for the content you care most about getting indexed
  • Tweet those pages!

15. Got a search-based site not accessible to crawlers? Create static category landing pages for popular keyword queries.

16. Thin content pages? Try:

  • User-generated content (UGC) — this is what makes an Amazon product page truly unique.
  • Outsource writing assignments to Odesk or Elance copywriters
  • If you don’t care about them, keep them out of the index (meta no-index) to help your better pages get more easily found

17. Workaround faceted navigation (e.g. list re-sorting) by:

  • Using rel canonical tag
  • Use AJAX to reload page content
  • Offer faceted navigation only to logged-in users (if possible)

On Twitter’s cannibalization of the link graph & how to get more links, tweets, whatever

18. People who linked in the past Tweet today… links to viral content–when compared to a few years ago–are down; replaced by tweets.

19. Backtype, which captures all social sharing done on a page, helps complete the real picture of editorial endorsement.

20. Embeddable infographics–turn data into visually-appealing graphics… more low-hanging fruit that can reward well-optimized creativity.

21. Badge re-publishing works best when recipients have worked hard to earn them.

22. Be the first to write about trending topics on Twitter. Traffic may be short-lived, but replicate it over and over for sustainability.

23. Bundle tweets into weekly round-up blog posts (WordPress plugin Twitter Tools does this automatically).

24. Create an award.

25. Create citation-worthy content, where sharing requires a link to the source (e.g. heavy drinkers outlive non-drinkers).

26. Find and target content niches where content supply is low relative to high demand.

27. Lots of sites still ‘do-follow’ links. Don’t overdue it, but…

28. Get links from friends, family, customers, vendors. Ask politely for a link in every email (duh). Wouldn’t you link to a good customer or vendor if asked?

29. Don’t ignore Twitter’s potential to send direct traffic; use Twitaholic to ID people who can send you real traffic.

On making Google Analytics (GA) actionable

30. Ask upfront: (i) Why am I measuring this? (ii) What would I do if the results were different?

31. Measure number of visits per search engine over time, taking into account engines’ market shares. (e.g. does more traffic from Bing mean improved rankings or Bing’s growing market share?)

32. Measure unique pages and unique keywords receiving search referral traffic.

33. Monitor number of visits sent from search over time for top keywords. This may help flag drops in rankings.

34. Compare conversion rates of first time vs. returning visitors. Expect to see higher conversion rates for returning visitors.

35. Focus on boosting keywords currently ranking on page 2 results. Just a few more links, or on-page optimization, will likely bump you to page 1, which will mean lots more traffic.

36. GA gives you 20 goals–use ‘em! Create micro conversions for things like time spent on site, newsletter sign-ups, shares, tweets, etc. Do your best to assign unique values to these actions.

37. Fix GA’s latent last-click attribution bias (meaning the last click before the conversion gets the credit)  by (at least) also measuring the first touch point. Here are instructions for setting up first touch tracking in GA.

Again, hats off to Rand! Lots of folks clearly learned lots of great info that they’re already applying today. And keep an eye on the SEO talent in Bulgaria. It can make people happy enough to do handstands!

Webfactory CEO, Koos Jan Schouten, co-moderates @ Sheraton, Sofia. 3-5 November 2010.

November 4, 2010 1 comment

Koos Jan Schouten is moderating several panel discussions at @ Sheraton Hotel, Sofia. 3-5 November 2010.

The eCommerceAcademy is organised by

Among the speakers and panel members are:  John Hazlewood, CEO TSM, Koos Jan Schouten, CEO, Krassi Simonski, Head of e-Commerce Academy, Eric Ingrand, Director Business Development EMEA at Enveritas Group, Brenday May, European Sales Manager for IDeaS Revenue Optimization, Gerasimos Perdikaris, General Manager Sheraton Sofia Hotel Balkan, Petar Panayotov, Managing Director HotelWebSiteOfTheFuture, Davide Rosi, CEO BCD Travel Italy, Henning Kripendorf, Tracklayer Ltd.,Kamen Zahariev, CEO MyWebSiteSEO, Nicky Nikolaev, Managing Director  of Webboratory, Vladi Krastev, Head of Video Productions, Marin Yotovski, Design Guru, Tony Iliev, Manager, Vera Genova,  CenTransit Concierge,, Kostas Trivizas, Managing Director Aeolus Hospitality, Angel Kozludjov, VP Innovations and Technology, Orak Engineering  Katerina Nikolova, Product Manager ORAK Hotel Vera Genova, Director of Operations TranslationsBPO, Nikolay Ognianov PhD, Director of Technology and Chief Science Officer, Atanas Kebedjiev Ph.D, Director Technical Operations, Ivan Toshkov, Chief Software Architect, Ramy Ramadan, CEO RoomsXML/WebSource, Krassimir Stoyanov, CEO ORAK Engineering  Bogdan Stefan, Sugar CRM Consultant, Vera Genova, Managing Director, Prof. Irena Misheva, Dean of Faculty Higher School for Insurance and Finance, Hristo Galbachev, CEO Astral Holidays,Bobby Pankov, SpotsTours, Farley Duval, WhiteBull, Pavel Ezekiev, CEO Neveq Fund, Tom Higgins, Global Finance, Victor Papazov, Chairman of the Board of Bulgarian Stock Exchange, Valery Petrov, Bancroft, Martin Paev, Owner and General Manager SORTIS INVEST and others.


Bulgaria’s Health Ministry has announced it is starting to gradually close orphanages for children below three years of age.

According to the ministry, all the children from the orphanages have to be returned to their biological parents or given for foster care in the next 15 years.

The first nine orphanages for children below three years of age will be closed in the next five years. The financing, which is expected to be more than BGN 26 M, will be provided under the operation programs “Regional Development” and “Human Resources Development.”

The process of shutting down such institutions is part of the “Vision for deinstitutionalization of children in Bulgaria,”

The number of institutions for children below three years of age is 32. They have accommodated 2,334 children and only 0,7% of them are orphans.

According to the Health Ministry, the most common reasons why parent abandon their children are social-economic problems, lack of skills or capacity for raising children, health problems, family violence, unwanted or premature birth.

Analyses, however, show that appropriate policy could allow children to be returned to their families or could prevent their abandonment in the first place.

However, the opportunities for every child depend on the specific circumstances.

Data from the ministry shows that a total of 1,260 children from the 32 orphanages are not disabled and at least half of them could be returned to their biological families. The rest could be adopted or accommodated with foster parents.

At present, there are more than 475 foster families in Bulgaria, which have accommodated more than 417 children. Last year, 800 children were adopted. The rest 1,074 children that are left in the institutions have disabilities or chronic illnesses.

Because of the large number, the Health Ministry is starting verification of the diagnoses they have been given. The goal is to check whether the children are receiving adequate care and treatment.

The checks will begin November and will continue throughout the whole month. The procedure will then continue with development of individual plans for reintegration opportunities for every single child.

A priority in the process of removing children from orphanages will be their interest. The first option will try to accommodate the child in a family environment or in conditions close to it.

For this purpose, the government’s efforts will be focused on providing support for parents who have difficulties raising their children. Also, family advisory centers will be built where pregnant women and mothers will be able to receive assistance.