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Dateline Cairo: Tuesday, February 01, 2011

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Cairo, Egypt Tuesday, February 1, 2011 “I used to call them the spoiled brats of the internet,” one Cairo woman confessed. “Now I kiss their feet,” she said, referring to young men who broke the Egyptians long record of endurance under a dictatorial regime. Today, the seventh day of the revolt against President Mubarak and for democracy in Egypt, 2 million people are said protesting in Cairo.  Some have estimated 8 million nationwide; that’s 10% of the population and that, technically speaking, is a revolution. In Alexandria, the people are standing shoulder to shoulder from one end of that long city to the other. It’s not the usual protestors; everyone knows them – like the Kifaya party (Enough) and the April 6 movement people. No. This is everyone: we see huge clusters of women in their bright colored scarf’s – like a meadow in spring – and the men don’t even flirt with them because the ethic of protest is respect. Crowds open up for people in wheelchairs and assist those walking with canes. The people, once assured that the Army’s interest was in protecting them, fell into easy cooperation.  Troops and people parade side by side,  Egyptian flags raised.  They work together to check people for weapons. People who live near Tahrir Square cook for the protestors.  In Helwan, south of the city, supplies of cooking gas ran out.  Some of the young men in the area located supplies in a neighboring area and delivered them back to Helwan, door-to-door. In the upsurge of pride, some protesters have pulled framed photos of Gamal Abdel Nasser, president of Egypt from 1954 to , off the walls of their homes and wave them above the heads of crowd – reminding their fellow Egyptians of the last time, during the pan-Arab movement, when they felt such self-respect and promise. Everyone uses the same words of protest.  Everyone is on message. There is no doubt that Mubarak is leaving. Power of the Army. It’s true that the army has tremendous economic power in Egypt and that they may be thinking of their own interests as well as those of the people in allying with the protesters.  But, in this country, the army is highly respected; it’s considered the institution of last resort and so far, they are deserving of that respect. Furthermore, from a realistic standpoint, a revolution without their blessing wouldn’t succeed, if only because they hold that tremendous economic power. Muslim Brotherhood, not. The Brotherhood will not assume leadership.  Contrary to what many westerners believe, they don’t have that influence – fact seriously distorted by President Mubarak, who wanted to keep his US allies nervous. Amr Moussa interim leader? Amr Moussa, whose term as head of the Arab League ends on Wednesday, could be the best choice for an interim leader. He’s 73, has spoken for the people for decades and has been treated accordingly by the regime. The people know him and respect him.  During the Africa Cup finals, President Mubarak appeared on the big screen to take credit from the players’ success. The crowds turned their flags down. When Moussa appeared, the flags flipped up. America not looking good. America is not looking good on the streets.  If Secretary of State Clinton has spoken one day earlier, it...

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Dateline: Cairo, Egypt January 30, 2011

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This is a post from an Egyptian-American psychologist friend in Cairo who sent this to Rita Zawaideh for sharing. Cairo, Egypt Sunday: 9:30pm Today, the fourth day of what must now be called an Egyptian revolution, 100,000 people showed up in Tahrir Square, the political center of the people’s protest against President Hosni Mubarak and his government and for democracy and government respect of the people. Not a bare spot was to be found. The size of the gathering was unaffected by the government’s shutdown of the internet and cell phone services. Nor the fact that it shut down Al Jazeera in Arabic, the county’s main source of news. That fact is, that in spite of the tremendously rapid growth in internet and cell phone use in Egypt, the major pathways for news are mosques—whose messages sound throughout the city each day and which provide public gathering places for the people, and word of mouth. Neighborhood are extremely tight-knit; people help each other—lending money, bartering for services, adjudicating quarrels, offering aid and spreading news. Since very few move house, the ties are long, complex and meaningful.  Neighborhoods tie the country together.  Word travels efficiently. Mohamed al-Baradei At some point, Mohamed al-Baradei, former Nobel Peace Prize winner and spokesman for authentic democracy in Egypt, announced that he would be willing to form an interim unity government. The people’s opinion of al-Baradie is mixed. He’s been out of the country for decades, most recently as head of the IAEA International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), and many see him as an interloper and there are others with long established reputations for leadership and opposition to the government. Still, in my opinion, it’s important now that a titular leader emerge. The people will get tired; they need people to replace those who were in positions of power and who are leaving the country in droves. Among many others, President Mubarak’s son, Gamal, often mentioned as a likely successor to his father—much to the peoples’ disgust—is said to be in London with his brother and their respective wives. Meanwhile, the police have returned to the streets and  protesters keep the pressure on one of main sites of oppression, like the Ministry of Interior (known locally as the Ministry of Torture). Today shots were heard from inside the building and there are rumors that the Minister abandoned the country. F-16s over Cairo Early this evening, my apartment rattled violently. Two F-16 fighter jet coming in low to buzz Tahrir Square. The people shout louder. In a phrase which rhymes in Arabic, they yell “You fly; we stay.” Army tanks rolls toward square while rumors spread that they had been ordered to use live ammunition and that they had refused. I suspect that’s true. In Egypt, the army is thought of being on the side of the people. It would simply be “un-Egyptian” of them to shoot Egyptian’s distaste for violence People here are terribly upset by the violence. They genuinely hate to see people being hurt. They avoid confrontation. In fact, a major turning point in the revolt was provoked by government violence. In the beginning, the protest was mostly young middle-class men; but when the police started bruising, bloodying and in some cases killing, the lower classes joined up en masse. And now, as...

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1 Little, 2 Little, 3 Little Keywords

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I’ve never understood the idea of SEO consultants offering packages that are priced by how many keywords they research. What sense does that make? My process in analysis is not to target a certain number of keywords but to find the keywords that will get my client on to page one. Because the goal of getting you on page two or three, regardless of the fact that some people do click through that far, is inadequate to me. The number of people who will find your link if it’s not above the fold on page one of Google rapidly diminishes. I’m much more interested in who your competitors on page one are and how they got there. I can analyze your page and their pages and come up with a pretty good idea of why they are there. That informs my strategy for going after placement. But in the process, I’m going to analyze many more than just 50 or 150 keywords. When I optimized JOEY’s Tacoma Hair Stylist website, I put her competitors through Rank Tracker, the Google Keyword Tool, SEO Spyglass, and other tools. By the time I was finished, I could see every keyword and backlink, knew how many pages they had, and how many pages were optimized for the target keywords. Then I set about optimizing JOEY’s site to compete. She’s on page one for several keyword phrases now. But the idea that you can just get 15 or 100 keywords from a client and look at the global monthly searches to determine which ones to use mystifies me. If you do that, you’re going to leave business on the table. So here’s one methodology: 1. Use the GKT to pull keywords out of competitor sites. 2. Eliminate the duplicates. 3. Find out how the client site and the competitors rank for keywords. 4. Choose the top-ranking keywords with the most volume. This is incredibly simplified but it’s along the lines of one process I use. You have to tailor things to specific websites but this will...

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Who’s on First

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I love data. I really like to find logical, methodologically sound ways of approaching a problem to find a solution. SEO provides this kind of challenge because we essentially have to reverse engineer what the search engines are doing. We can’t ever reverse engineer it all so it’s logical that it comes down to a sensibly-sized set of questions. To approach any new project today, my overriding question is, “Who is on the first page of Google?” Yes, Google. They’re still the 800 lb gorilla and if your goal is to drive traffic to a site, you want Google paying attention. You can ask a client who they think is their competition but they often think in terms of the real world, not the web. Whoever is getting the business in the real world, on the web your competition consists of the sites that rank ahead of you. If I get a list of competitors, I can extract keywords from all of those sites and compile them to get an idea of the common important keywords and who is ranking for them. Then by analyzing page counts, backlinks, and several other factors, I get a sense of who is the competitor to watch and beat. Sometimes they can’t be beat. Clients often want to rank on page one for a keyword that is very broad. I can’t tell you how many times a client wants me to get them on page one for a keyword that returns a SERP that is full of Wikipedia articles and online directories. There is no way to get ranked ahead of Wikipedia unless you’re Amazon or something similar. For JOEY | Hair Salon Tacoma, I started with a number of phrases that were all optimized for local search. Now that I’ve got her site ranking for some of them, I’m broadening the search and getting backlinks to the site. I believe that within about 90 days, she’ll be on page one for most of the important terms that a Tacoma hair stylist would want to rank for. She just got her first booking through her website. And that’s...

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JOEY’s Style

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Getting to the top is hard work. It doesn’t seem like it sometimes when you start a new venture that is in a realm that you’ve already mastered. But we forget that it seems easier because we’ve mastered the parts that seemed so hard before. Take the WordPress site I made recently for JOEY | Hair Salon Tacoma, my hair stylist in Tacoma, WA. I’ve worked pretty intently on WordPress sites for about a year, so the speed at which I was able to plan, construct, and optimize JOEY’s site surprised me. The first thing I did was look at who was ranking for keywords I wanted to go after. The same websites tended to show up in several searches; not surprising. I extracted keywords from all of them and used Rank Tracker to see how they ranked comparatively. More surprising is how quickly I’m able to get niche sites like this to rank for specific terms. I have a formula of sorts, but every site is unique so there’s no real formula you can apply everywhere. But there are certain things you must do to optimize for local search. Google Places and Bing Local Listings are indispensible. You’re not going to rank well locally if you don’t set up AND optimize those two accounts. Google now has the Magnificent Seven. The organic rankings are getting pushed farther down the page when you search on a keyword phrase that includes location. You have three sponsored listings at the top and then seven local listings before you get to the organics. Of course, the local listings are organic but they’re optimized for local search. They have Google Places or Bing Local accounts and if the space is competitive, they’ve gotten happy customers to leave reviews. If you’re optimizing a Google Places or Bing Local account, don’t forget to use images and as many categories as there is space. JOEY is already ranking well for some of her keywords and her Yelp reviews are positioned well too. She’s extremely good at hair color such as bleaching and is well known for this. This is a very fun exercise in local...

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Hair Salon Tacoma

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I thought I knew lots about local search but I’m learning more every day. I’ve started a project that is yielding great results and I want to share some of how I’m getting visibility for one of my local clients. My hair stylist is amazing. She’s sunny and funny and extremely talented. Her clients absolutely adore her. She’s the kind of stylist that everyone tells their friends about a swear they’ll use her for life. Full disclosure: she’s my niece. That said, I’m much too vain to have her do my hair if she wasn’t as good as she is. When she moved to Tacoma, WA this year from Seattle, she had clients following her. If you live here, you realize that is a long haul through traffic to get your hair done. So I said, niece, we need to get you online. She’s renting a chair at Salon Baroque, a beautiful shop in a very cool neighborhood. I began looking for a domain name and was astonished to find that hairsalontacoma.com was available. Keywords in domain names do make a difference. I’ve seen instances where that can help a site rank well above various other factors, especially for place names. I’m going to detail some more of the things I’m doing to get her rankings in future posts but within only TWO WEEKS, we’ve got her ranking on Page One  for a few keyword phrases. If you’re in the Tacoma area, I encourage you to visit JOEY at Hair Salon Tacoma and come back here if you want more tips on local...

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Local Search and You

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I’m officially amazed at how important both Facebook and local search are becoming. I shouldn’t really be amazed because all of who do SEO have been watching this train barreling down the track for some time. I have found, however, that most anything I read in the SEO world doesn’t become fact in my head until it affects websites that I’m optimizing for the search engines. First Search Results on Facebook Example, for the first time, I have a client whose initial visibility on the web is on Facebook. Given that his e-commerce site is tiny (five pages and a slowly growing blog), it’s difficult to get visibility because there isn’t much content there to optimize. But if you Google his product name, his Facebook page appears number three on the SERP (search engine results page). Need I say it: Facebook is important. Social is important. Google Places, Bing Local Listings The other example was optimizing my site for local search. Many searchers today include place in their searches (e.g., “copywriter SEO seattle”). It’s much easier to compete in local search because there’s not as much competition generally (depending on the industry) as there is globally. We always push Google Places and Bing Local listings on our clients. We want them to sign up and optimize those listings. They matter. They get you local visibility and that means traffic, either over the phone, on foot, or to your website. If you don’t already have listings in Google Places and Bing Local Listings, do it now. Make it as complete as you can. It’s free, it’s easy, and it will help you get seen on the...

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Success Must Be Our Own

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The theme of this video fits nicely with my last blog post. When we think about success, it needs to be defined by our own values and not by something external. Otherwise we’ll end up living someone else’s idea of a...

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The Illusion of Success

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The Illusion of Success

I was flattered and very pleased this week to be selected by one of my favorite bloggers, Lisa, to guest blog on her site, 2CreateAWebSite.com. The topic that I’d chosen to write about was How to Court Failure. You might think this was a cautionary tale, and in a way it is. But not like you think. Read on… So what is the Harley emblem doing blazoned across the top of this post? I love Harleys. I hate loud noises but I love the sound of my Heritage Softail Classic. It’s also a beautiful piece of machinery, not unlike artwork by my friend, Ginny Ruffner, at least insomuch as they both use lots of heavy metal. Harleys were once the ride of the social misfit. Not that bikers were necessarily misfits but mainstream culture saw them that way. Now big bikes are the ride of corporate CEOs who want to play bad boy on the weekend. At $16,000 to $25,000 for a new Harley, that’s an expensive image. But it’s one that Harley has sold extremely well. Harley’s success cannot be measured in dollars alone. I don’t know what the company’s officers thought about their customers when Harley was associated with danger and criminal activity. But they effectively transformed the company into a respected worldwide product line that is one of the handful of instantly recognizable brands that scream “America” without being offensive (I’m sure that’s a matter of opinion, yes). McDonalds would have a very hard time doing that. In fact, part of the worldwide allure of Harleys is their association with “American” values of freedom and independence. (Please take note that I realize this is an illusion. My Harley does give me a feeling of freedom and independence but so did my Yamaha. It’s the association with those feelings that Harley markets so well. And there is something about the name, the styling, and the sound that sets Harley apart.) What does this have to do with illusions of personal success? Whether we’re talking about Bill Gates or Harley or AIG or you and me, we seem to have very narrow definitions of what success means. The worst part is that we often don’t define it for ourselves but we let the culture provide a definition into which we try to shoehorn ourselves. As I said in one of the comments on Lisa’s blog, perhaps the biggest failure we make in life is not defining success for ourselves, defining it narrowly by social standards, subsequently defining its absence as failure, and then being miserable with the results. I suspect what most people want is not really mega-success but freedom from worry and want. I didn’t need that Harley but I wanted it. I also didn’t define its absence as a personal failure. The truth is, some days that bike is just a thrill to ride and I’m so glad I have it. Other days, I can’t get into the groove on the road and it’s tiring to ride. (On those days, I’m still glad I have it.) We choose how we feel about the things that happen in life. Sometimes overwhelming feelings make it feel like we have no choice but we do. People in extreme situations have shown that over and over. This meandering post has...

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Impressive Impressions

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I was sitting in an office reception area yesterday. I don’t like doing this for some reason. It makes me uncomfortable; maybe because it was a doctor’s office and everyone coming in there has very personal reasons for being there. We all sit there sort of announcing in silence that we’re holding a secret. Part of the veneer of civilization. I distracted myself by looking at a beautiful photo on the wall of mountains reflected in a lowland lake. I started wondering why I “understood” the elements of this image without putting words to the various pieces. I didn’t sit there thinking, “That’s a mountain, that’s a lake, those are reeds, etc.” I just know it. I have a degree in psychology and I’ve never stopped having a deep interest in neuroscience and the mechanics of perception. Humans are wired for pattern recognition and the neurons that fired in response to that mountain photo are a well-worn pattern. When we don’t understand something, our neurons fire in ways that attempt to fit recognizable patterns in the various elements of the object that we’re trying to understand. There’s a kind of tension attendant upon a lack of understanding. We want it bad. In fact, we want it so bad (or at least the brain is wired so consistently to find patterns) that we make errors in perception all the time. We think we see things that aren’t really there or are different than reality because once something fits a neural pattern, the brain stops searching for a good fit. This is one of the reasons why eyewitness testimony is so unreliable. In terms of survival, it doesn’t much matter that our perception is flawed. It’s good enough in most cases. But is that all that’s involved in understanding? What does it mean to understand...

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