Are Blog Carnivals Negative SEO?

I recently read a post from Mike on Jim’s site Microblogger that shows some pretty irrefutable proof that blog carnivals are dead.  Or, at least that using them for link building can have the opposite effect that you might like to have on your site.  In the article, Mike goes through the work he did, and explains how he then used the Google Disavow tool to disavow some links.  Most of those links were from blog carnivals and blog festivals.  The results he gets are pretty spectacular, really.  He’s got some nice graphs to show it, but I won’t be stealing those, so click on the link above to see them.

Hurting Your Friends with Google’s Disavow Tool

One of the first things that popped into my head when I read the article on Microblogger was that I had hosted a few blog carnivals on Beating Broke.  And what would happen if, instead of first requesting the links be removed, someone that had been included in those carnivals just decided to go straight to the disavow tool and disavow the link?  Would it negatively effect my site?  What if I followed the advice of the article and asked for links to be removed and then disavowed the rest?  Would I be negatively effecting the owners of those sites?

In short; would I be hurting my blogging friends by disavowing links from carnivals they had hosted on their sites?
Blog Carnivals Negative SEO

Google’s Disavow Tool and Negative SEO

As is usual when I have a question about something like that, I go straight to Google and start doing some research.  What I found was somewhat reassuring.  Eric Ward wrote for Search Engine Watch about asking Google specifically whether disavowing a competitor’s links would hurt the competitor’s search rankings.  He details the answer he got, but the general gist of it was that using disavow would not hurt the competitor’s search rankings.  Eric goes on to give a little more detail and explanation as to his understanding of the answer.

The longer I think about it, the more reasonable it seems that using the disavow tool would not cause the domain of the disavowed link any real harm.  After all, think of what that would open up as far as black hat negative SEO options!  It’d be no time at all before the disavow tool would be devalued by all the excess noise and wouldn’t present any kind of reasonable signal for the algorithm.

Disavow Tool as an IQ Test

While I was reading more on the subject, I also stumbled upon this post from Danny Sullivan where he has a Q&A with Google’s Matt Cutts.  Matt is the head of the web spam team at Google.  In the Q&A, Danny specifically asks if the disavow tool could be used as a negative SEO tool.  The answer he gave is somewhat interesting, and gave me pause.

Right now, we’re using this data in the normal straightforward way, e.g. for reconsideration requests. We haven’t decided whether we’ll look at this data more broadly. Even if we did, we have plenty of other ways of determining bad sites, and we have plenty of other ways of assessing that sites are actually good.

We may do spot checks, but we’re not planning anything more broadly with this data right now. If a webmaster wants to shoot themselves in the foot and disavow high-quality links, that’s sort of like an IQ test and indicates that we wouldn’t want to give that webmaster’s disavowed links much weight anyway. It’s certainly not a scalable way to hurt another site, since you’d have to build a good site, then build up good links, then disavow those good links. Blackhats are normally lazy and don’t even get to the “build a good site” stage. 🙂

As usual, Matt is somewhat vague when he’s giving his answers.  But, I found it of note that he doesn’t directly slam the door on the disavow files to be used as a part of the algorithm.  The second part of the answer is even more interesting.  “If a webmaster wants to shoot themselves in the foot and disavow high-quality links, that’s sort of like an IQ test and indicates that we wouldn’t want to give that webmaster’s disavowed links much weight anyway.”  He goes on to call Blackhats lazy, which may or may not be true, but that’s besides the point.  What he’s really saying is that blackhats are unlikely to put all the effort into building up a good site, with good links, and then disavow those good links.  In that regard, he’s right.

But, we bloggers aren’t blackhats.  We certainly aren’t lazy.  We have put a lot of effort into building up our good sites, with good links.  Are we failing the “IQ test” by then disavowing some of those good links from carnivals?  The answer to that really depends on whether those links from carnivals are considered good links or not.

What is a good link?

I’m sure there are many indicators that Google looks at to determine what is a good link or not.  I also think we can probably look at a few indicators that can give us a pretty good guess as to what Google is going to think of that carnival link.

  • What domain does it originate from?  If the domain is loaded up with terribly written posts that are stuffed with keywords, bad English, and not very helpful, chances are Google doesn’t think much of it.  On the other hand, if the domain is an informative site that’s well respected in the community, Google probably knows that too. Most blog carnivals are probably hosted on pretty decent domains.
  • What is the link density of the page with the link?  How many links are on the page?  In the case of a carnival, there probably are no fewer than 50.  Some of the more popular carnivals receive hundreds.  Before, this might have just devalued the amount of “juice” you got from the link, but it may be penalized further based on the results that the Microblogger post showed.
  • What is the link neighborhood like?  If there are 100 links in the carnival, are they all good links?  Chances are that they aren’t.  Chances are the host of the carnival didn’t take the time to fully vet and edit the links.  Most are probably O.K., but there are going to be quite a few more nefarious links in there too.  You’ve heard the saying that “one bad apple spoils the whole lot”, and this is a case of one bad link spoiling the whole carnival.

There are many other indicators that Google is going to look at, but I think those three factors are the ones that are most relevant to the blog carnival discussion.

One other small note here; As time passes, the answers to all three of those indicators could change.  Blogs die every day.  What might have one time been a very upstanding, informative blog might get recycled by a spammer after the domain fails to get renewed.  That’s a good reason to continue to be vigilant about all of your incoming links, but especially ones where all those factors could make the carnival a very bad place to be linked in.

Disavow Carnivals or Not?

With all of that being said, should we disavow links from blog carnivals, or not?  From a strictly SEO perspective, I think the answer is a resounding yes.  Ask to have as many of them removed as you are able.  Those that aren’t removed, add to your disavow list.

I still think it’s a bit hazy from a blogger’s standpoint.  The disavow lists aren’t being used as indicators of domain quality.  Right now.  Cutts leaves that wide open for future use in his Q&A with Danny Sullivan (link above).  So, are we doing harm by adding quality sites (just not necessarily quality links) to our disavow lists?  Honestly, I think only Cutts and Google really know the right answer to this one.  Site SEO changes pretty rapidly.  At the moment, adding low quality links from high quality sites doesn’t appear to do any harm to the high quality site, so I think it’s probably fine to disavow links from those high quality sites that we think are low quality links (like carnival links).

Is Hosting a Carnival Just as Bad?

If links from carnivals pointing at your site is bad, what about being the site that hosts the carnivals?  Probably just as bad.  For all the reasons that having that link pointing to your site is bad, hosting those links is probably just as bad.  In fact, it may be even worse.  After all, having those links pointing to your site is fixable by having the links removed, or adding them to your disavow list.  If the links in a carnival that you hosted are disavowed, it (probably) doesn’t do anything negative to your site.  But, you can’t disavow your own pages…  The posts and pages you host on your site are directly tied to your site (obviously) and if there’s reason to disavow a link on one of your posts, chances are that it is being taken into account by Google for your search rankings.  Hosting bad content with bad links is always bad.

Removing Bad Links and Blog Carnivals

If you own/run a blog, you really should be using something to check your site for broken or redirected links.  Spammers like to pick up used domains that used to have a lot of quality links because there are sites out there that don’t check for broken or redirected links, and those links can then be redirected or repurposed for their spammy purposes.  I use a plugin for WordPress called Broken Link Checker.  It automatically goes through and checks for broken and redirected links and then gives me the ability to work through the queue and delete or fix those links.

With the devalued nature of Carnivals, it’s probably a good idea to just go ahead and delete any that you hosted.  Especially if they’re older, or if you didn’t take the time to edit and vet the links that were submitted to the carnival.  It’ll probably also cut down on the number of emails you get from carnival participants asking for their links to be removed.

Have you participated in blog carnivals in the past?  What steps are you going to be taking (or not)?


Powerocks Magicstick Portable Power

Disclaimer: I was provided a Powerocks Magicstick in consideration of providing a thorough and honest review of the product.

If you’ve done any travelling at all, you know just how much fun (or the lack thereof) it can be when you forget a charger, or when your battery dies half way through your day.  It’s painful and unpleasant.

Lately, I’ve been seeing lots of my fellow travelers carrying portable power packs.  As they’ve come down in price, they’ve become a popular way to help keep your devices running by providing reserve power on the fly.  In fact, at the last conference that I attended, they were handing them out in the swag bags.  (I might have acquired one or more extra ones after asking the vendor representative.)

So, when Powerocks asked me if I wanted to take a shot at their Magicstick and give it a review, I took them up on it.

When it arrived, I opened the box to find exactly what you see to the right here. A Magicstick, charging cable, and a handy carrying bag for all of it. There was also a little sheet of instruction. There really isn’t much to these things, so you really don’t need much for instructions.

The Magicstick is a 2800 mAH power supply. According to the Powerocks documentation, that’s enough to give a iPhone 5 about 1.5 full charges. With a standard USB charger, it’ll take about 5 hours to fully recharge once you’ve used it all the way down. I’m currently using a Motorola Defy XT from Republic Wireless, and was able to use the device pretty easily.

With the Defy XT nearly fully dead, I think the Magicstick would give me about 2 full charges.  I say “I think” because I have this habit of not letting the device just sit and charge my phone.  My actual usage is a little less than ideal.   I tend to run the phone almost all the way down, then plug the Magicstick in and then continue to use the phone.  Depending on how much I continue to use the phone, my results range from getting about a 3/4 charge to a full charge.  That’s not a knock on the Magicstick though.  Remember, I’m using the phone while the Magicstick is trying to charge it.  That’s actually pretty good in my opinion.

One of the things that I really liked about the Magicstick is the design of it.  The ones I mentioned above that came in the swag bag have similar features, and even similar performance, but are square/rectangular in shape.  They have buttons on the top of one of the sides that turn them on/off and give you an indication of how much of a charge they currently hold.  That’s all well and good, but what ends up happening is that I throw them into my backpack when I’m traveling, only to find that somewhere along the way, they got jostled, the button got hit, and the thing discharged itself prematurely.  The Magicstick, in comparison, is much better designed.  On the end opposite the ports, there’s a button.  The button is inset just a bit into the end.  That’s the power and charge indicator.  Again, all well and good.  Simple and functional.  But, unlike the other ones, the button on the Magicstick isn’t as prone to getting hit while it’s floating around in a pocket or backpack, which increases it’s rank in my mind.

Overall, the Magicstick isn’t that much different from any other similar device.  Capacity is about the same, and the function is exactly the same.  The thing that set it apart from the other devices I have is the design of it.  It’s had a permanent place in my jacket pocket since I got it, and is likely to remain there for a while.


How to Build the Best Case for a Structured Settlement Sale

You would think that selling a structured settlement would be a relatively simple process. However, if you’re not prepared for the realities of this situation, it can be quite complicated. The most important thing to understand is that you have to go back to court, and the judge MUST approve the sale of your settlement. Without the judge’s approval, your sale is out the window. Of course, you’ll still enjoy your regular scheduled payments, but you will not receive a lump sum. The trick is to make the best case possible for the judge to approve your sale. How do you do that?

Real Financial Need

One of the first things to understand in this process is that you need to have a real financial need. If you’re selling your settlement simply because you want the extra cash on hand, the judge is going to take a dim view of your sale. If you’re selling your settlement to help make ends meet because you’re out of work, but haven’t done any actual job hunting (and are able to work), the judge likely won’t approve your sale. While there’s no way to give a 100% guarantee that a judge will approve the sale of your structured settlement, having a real, verifiable financial need for a lump sum payment goes a long way.

Prove You’ve Gotten the Advice of an Attorney

Let’s get something straight – you do NOT have to consult an attorney concerning the sale of your structured settlement. However, it’s a wise thing to do. If you can prove to the judge that you’ve spoken with an attorney about the sale and been advised that it’s the best move for your situation, he or she will mark that in your favor. Of course, consulting an attorney before selling your settlement really is a good idea in order to get some necessary legal guidance here.

Working with a Reputable Buyer

Not all buyers out there are on the up and up. Some have a long, verifiable history. Some are newcomers. Some are “shady”. The judge is going to investigate the buyer and if he or she finds that the buyer isn’t up to par, your sale is on the skids. Make sure that you’re working with a reputable buyer capable of upholding their responsibilities after the sale is finalized. That can be difficult for most consumers who have never been in this position before. There is a way around this obstacle, though. You’ll find third party service providers available that work in the seller’s best interests. These firms vet and verify the quality of all buyers so you don’t have to stress about it.

If you follow these brief tips, you’ll make your case more palatable for the judge and increase your chances of being approved to sell your structured settlement. The most important consideration of all is to work with a reputable seller services company to streamline the process and protect your interests from unsavory buyers.

How to Get a Job on Wall Street

“Wall Street firms know they can train on the business — they want exciting, interesting, and motivated people,” says Matt Bodnar. In 2009, he landed a job with one of the most prestigious investment firms, Goldman Sachs, right out of college. Surprisingly, he wasn’t even a finance guy.

If you’re pursuing top finance jobs, odds are working on Wall Street is on your bucket list. Often thought of as the brass ring of the industry, a job on Wall Street can seem so elusive it is almost mythical. However, it doesn’t have to be. We spoke with some industry professionals to get their opinions and advice on how to secure a position on New York’s most famous street.

Differentiate yourself

“The single most important factor in getting my job at Goldman Sachs was being DIFFERENT and standing out from the crowd of finance majors with 3.5+ GPAs,” recalls Bodnar. “At the end of the day, those résumés just blend together. I was a political science major and studied abroad in China. I leveraged an internship in China to make my résumé stand out from the crowd by being memorable and unique.”

He points out that while it is crucial to stand out from the pack, you still need the right credentials if you want to get hired straight out of college.

“I still studied my butt off to get the fundamentals down for my interviews,” he explains. “I read about 14 books on everything from economics to accounting. I also poured deeply over the ‘Vault [Career] Guide to Investment Banking,’ which is a great tool to learn the industry lingo.

“Another more playful tip — read the book Liar’s Poker. This is considered mandatory reading for anyone wanting a job on the street,” says Bodnar. Today, he is a serial entrepreneur and angel investor with the Bodnar Investment Group.

Get your foot in the door

Elle Kaplan did not follow the same path that many seeking finance jobs follow. Her college majors were English and chemistry. “Headhunters I contacted said I would never get a job on Wall Street,” she remembers. Yet she was persistent and believed in her dream.

“My entrance into the finance industry was not automatic. I was rejected initially from every bank I applied to,” says Kaplan. “Finally, I accepted an interview for a receptionist position at a private equity firm.”

Once she got her foot in the door, she told her interviewer that she was interested in a more substantial role in the company, particularly that of analyst. “They changed my interview track, and four rounds of intense interviews later, I had the job.”

Kaplan went on to work years on Wall Street, earning her Executive MBA in finance from Columbia University in the process. She attributes her success to persistence, tenacity, and drive. Today she is the CEO and founding partner of one of the only woman-owned asset management firms in the U.S., Lexion Capital Management.

Be an expert in something

The most straightforward path to getting one of the top finance jobs on Wall Street or elsewhere begins, of course, with graduating at the top of your class at an Ivy League school with impressive internships under your belt. However, as president and co-founder Ian Aronovich points out, “not everyone is capable of doing that.”

So what can you do? Aronovich says another way is through expertise in a given field. High-growth fields, like healthcare, are attractive, but many others are as well.

“[I]f you are a top-notch securities or corporate finance attorney … you can always go in-house for a Wall Street investment bank, or even [segue] into investment banking, compliance or just about anything else you want to. … [I]f you are computer or math whiz, you can get hired to help out with proprietary [algorithms] and frequency trading.”

Don’t be selfish

When it comes to finance jobs or any jobs, certain universal truths apply. Employment attorney Lori B. Rassas says the key to getting hired is “to make the entire networking process … about the employer and meeting the employer’s needs — not the needs of the applicant.”

Rassas, author of “Employment Law: A Guide to Hiring, Managing and Firing for Employers and Employees” (Wolters Kluwer 2011), reminds jobseekers to keep their focus on the goals of the company for whom they are trying to work. “It is about the employer’s need to bring in clients, maintain clients, and earn revenue,” she shares.“Anything and everything a jobseeker communicates to a prospective employer should be directly linked to those goals.”