Ruud Questions: Henk van Ess

Not part of the SEO "scene" of constant testing and blogging and chatting it's forgivable if you think Henk who.

But to us, the somewhat older SEO generation, Henk van Ess is the Dutch journalist who in the summer of 2005 exploded the story onto the scene that Google was using human quality raters -- on a massive scale. He made official what only some had suspected: that Google isn't as (automatically) smart as it claims to be.

In 2005 you broke the story that Google was using a virtual army of quality raters to rank search results and entries in those results.

How did you get to that story? What's the story behind the story?

Henk van Ess One of my students in my multimedia class of the University of Amsterdam was one of the quality raters. Unfortunately, he didn't gave me much details. It took me 4 months before I could validate the story from other sources inside Google and another 4 months to get the actual documents.

Since it was the truth there was no point denying it. Googleguy, according to some a fabricated spokesperson of Google, begged me to remove the individual names of employees because they were harassed.  That request didn't hurt the actual story; the authenticity was already validated. I removed some of the names.

The problem I have with quality rating (and geo targeting ) is that organic search becomes less transparent.

It seems wise to give the public their information as local as possible. But if I search for (Ed.: a neo Nazi hate site) in Germany, I get nothing.


In the rest of the world I do get info.

Google is more and more sensitive to people who complain about the content of the search engine but this pollutes organic search.

An example from my new book The Google Code. A chairman of an athletic club became #112th in a rally. His colleagues, searching for his name,  humiliated him with his bad sports career. The chairman asked Google to remove the result. They did. Now no one knows the total results of that rally anymore because Google removed the complete link.

If this happens over and over again, as it does, Google will loose credibility. People will
start noticing that sources do exist, but not in Google. Check Chilling Effects for a very small list of links that were removed.

The more links they start to remove, the more information will be missing. I found out that it's very easy to get a link removed if you know what to say to whom. Basically, you have to know a little legal jargon to get this going

You outed a closely kept Google secret. Has that caused any problems for you? Odd problems with your sites or less access to Google people?

Henk van EssNo.

After the story, Google featured one of my sites on their own blog  under "What we Read" for two years and my PageRank rocketed to 7.

The Netherlands is small, about 16 million people, but we're still talking about a $600 million online market. Is it a niche market or a true cut-throat main one?

Henk van EssIt continues to grow. Online ads aren't mainstream yet.

Butchers who want to sell their meatballs in 48 hrs still advertise in print. That amazes me. With Google's nifty microtargeting, it's easy to get rid of the meat online for half of the costs.

You did a long tail experiment in which with the aid of univeristy students you set up 40 extremely niche blogs. Without a lot of promotion each site had about 10-40 visitors a day but as a result of the niche long tail matching, those people were more likely to click on the ads.

Is this a model for people who want to earn their living online?

Henk van EssYes!

It was called and I contacted Chris Anderson to check if our 40 blogs were niche enough.

It was an amazing experiment. We got almost no visitors at all, but those who did find the sites -- using very specific searches like blueberry red wine sauce -- were totally happy with the site and eager to click on the ads.

For some of the ads the CTR was over 70%.

I learned a lot from this experiment. Long tail should really be niche. Even a site about Icelandic music scene is way to general. A
site about Icelandic rappers is better. Best is a site about Icelandic rappers who use beatboxes.  Only a few people would like to read more
about that. But those who do, will love the site and the ads -- if they are targeted enough, of course.

I see huge opportunities for newspapers to use the long tail. Dutch publishers invited me to talk about making money with their content. I told them: you are suffering from 100 year of experience in the mass market. Internet is not a mass medium. Try to be small.

I promised them I would do another experiment. 24 hrs before my keynote I looked in Google Insight what keywords were searched for the most.

It was "michael jackson news". I opened a Dutch domain with those words in the URL and aggregated all Michael Jackson news from a large Dutch national newspaper. The site got CTR's of 60% from the start. What if every newspaper would embrace their assets and make special sites out of them like this? I think they could make a fortune.

I recommend reading Wired's Demand Media and the Fast, Disposable, and Profitable as Hell Media Model

While ongoing work in progress on his sites Henk van Ess can best be reached via his LinkedIn profile or on Twitter as @HenkVanEss

About the Author: Ruud Hein

My paid passion at Search Engine People sees me applying my passions and knowledge to a wide array of problems, ones I usually experience as challenges. People who know me know I love coffee.

Ruud Hein

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