Friday, February 27, 2009

More SEO/SEM comments

Christian Maund-Anderson posted in his SEO blog an entry titled Don't Tell Dot Tel. In it, he posits that ".tel is about linkspam". From the viewpoint of a web SEO/SEM person, I can understand his reasoning, but I hope to explain in this post that .tel cannot, should not and will not be viewed as a top level link farm.

First, an explanation of what link farming is. From wikipedia's entry on spamdexing:
(link farms) Involves creating tightly-knit communities of pages referencing each other, also known humorously as mutual admiration societies.

In a more general sense, link spam refers to linking pages for purposes other than semantic value, i.e. linking for the sake of linking because, for certain tools and services, the presence of a link is a Big Deal. Since Google first came out with the idea that links are more important than content for ranking results, everyone has started looking at links in a new light.

So, what does it mean for .tel? Well, nothing.

.tel is a publicly accessible distributed database of contact information, where each "node" of the database is owned by different people. This database is very structured, and allows each node owner to primarily store contact information, descriptive keywords and location (longitude/latitude). In addition, each contact info field in the database can also be encrypted using 1024-bit PKI.

This is it. The only relevance to link spam (and thus the confusion in the above-mentioned article) is a combination of two factors: first, one can enter a web url as a contact field, just like a phone number or an instant messaging handle. And second, Telnic has put together a service that allows the database to be viewable from the web.

So reviewing the above-mentioned article, the first point is that Telnic (not the TLD) does not have complete control over DNS. This is a fallacy. When you own a domain, you can have it served by whatever DNS server you want as long as the zone passes validation as an acceptable .tel zone. .tel uses the DNS as the distributed database infrastructure, so the rules are slightly different. You can't add A or CNAME records, but those are only rules, not control. It's similar to saying that a web page must have a starting and ending html tag.

Mr Maund-Anderson looked at the web interface to a .tel and determined that "The .tel pages are awash in links, links to websites, phones, social media." Well, no. There are no ".tel pages" per se. What he saw was a proxy server that queried .tel DNS information and displayed it to the web browser in a standardized way. He could have opened a shell on his computer and queried the DNS directly, and seen the raw data without using a browser. Or he could have loaded up any one of the available applications that query the DNS .tel zones directly, and gotten that info.

So the real question that is asked here is:

Will the search engines be gamed by .tel?

You'd have to be a very stupid search engine to be fooled by .tel: you're 100% guaranteed to know it's a .tel domain, and so you can decide, as a search engine developer, what value you'd like to assign to any information in the .tel, be it a web url or an email address. And instead of getting your bot to parse the web interface, get the perfectly structured raw data directly from the DNS distributed database. Querying the DNS is a piece of cake.
There's no point in Telnic adding a nofollow to the web interface to the database, in fact we should discourage search engines from using the web interface and instead query the data at the source. It's better, faster, cleaner, more distributed, and much less prone to mistakes.

I'd like to look at the problem Mr. Maund-Anderson raises and turn it on its head: with my .tel, I can finally tell the search engines what is relevant to a search regarding me. Let search engines use my .tel as a trusted source for info about me, if I make my WHOIS info public (and therefore they'll know I own my domain). My "profile" is not in crunchbase (, I've never given any of my info to these people and I never bothered checking their info. I'm not even linking it here because I don't want Google to think I'm giving it any value. If you do a search for my name in Google, you will find my .tel at the top, but the crunchbase url is somewhere in the first page as well, and I'd like that to go away. It's nowhere near as interesting as my twitter or facebook profiles, which I am linking from my .tel.

The next question is of course what will happen when .tel is adopted by the masses and gaming begins (as it always does, in any market). Well, in order to game a search for me, someone would have to effectively attempt to confuse readers and impersonate me with another .tel, and I will have legal recourse. There's a trusted paper trail in the WHOIS data. It's not perfect, but it's head and shoulders above what's currently available to fight impersonation.
There'll probably be a lot more gaming done, but I'm quite confident that search engines will be able to handle that at least as well as they currently are doing with web page that are infinitely more complicated.

No cookie-cutter layout

.tel has many "layouts". I've personally written half a dozen already, for different devices, and even embedded my .tel info in web pages on .com domains. The only cookie-cutter layout is again the standard web interface to the distributed database, and that's on purpose. The last thing people want is another round of parking pages, Google sponsored links and other flash and popup ads. When people put a .tel address in a browser, they'll know what to expect, every time: A set of contact info, keywords and possibly a location record.

The other .tel question
Next, the article states that "I don’t want to go to a page to get my contact’s information. This seems counter intuitive."
Well, where do you want to go? To your address book that's probably obsolete and doesn't have a tenth of the ways to contact me? Why not have a dynamic, always-accessible, global address book? The web "page", once again, is just a convenience for those who don't have another way of querying that address book. As an example, download the latest 2.1 beta of the Kiax soft phone, and enter "" in the dial field. Easier to remember than a phone number, and with a lot more features. Of course you can still use and store in your address book the phone number, but know that this is static information that will certainly become obsolete some day.



RefiBayArea said...

I have recently looked at the results for

When I searched for Largeco in google out of 297mil results, had 4-5 of the top results.

Excellent result for a domain owner who has a business and wants to be found and called online.

With 10 million Iphone users and growing and blackberry users a popular, we are in unchartered waters. No longer do people want to search for something on google, sift through results then dial several numbers by memory. I would be the first to tell you the other night in Silicon valley I was wishing was live.

I would just enter and then tap the number. That is huge, friends and family alike have all discussed what a great way this will be to contact businesses.

Thanks for the insight and keep up the great work.


Raff said...

Excellent article. To comment on the last comment above. In my opinion it is only a matter of time before .tel explodes into the mainstream.

Taxi.Tel and Taxis.Tel may not be live but I have noticed and have successfully been using local taxi area names, in my travels, such as and Single click is better than clicking from the country, state and then city.

I downloaded an application under for my blackberry and have these .tel's added along with for cheap cell long distance rates.

Anonymous said...

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