The Universality of Information

May 3rd

Some of my most profitable ideas have not been the most valuable...a true disconenct often exists, in fact. I
have made thousands of dollars by accidentally misspelling a word, and uncovering a market others mised.

You can accidentally stumble into profits, but generally the value you can extract from a market is often directly proportional to what knowledge you have about that market which most others lack (o, if you are selling information, how well you can convince others this is the case).

That is part of the reason why it is hard to have useful and hopefully somewhat original content for TW and seo book. As I start to get more business savvy and learn how to exploit more and more algorithmic holes it doesn't make economic sense to post all of them. Most people are not going to be interested in some advanced creative marketing techniques, some might sue me for them misapplying them, and if I am too sharing some people who share great tips with me may want to cut me off.

If you share all of your best tricks and many people follow them then the algorithms change to accomidate that. In a competitive marketplace it is no good to make yourself the squeezepoint unless you are building some scalable network that can leverage a large volume of transactions.

It is easy to recommend some resources so long as the provider selling them has little incremental cost to each additional unit or client, but if you share your best workers you increase their rates AND make them less available to yourself. The same thing is true for some techniques. Why would a person lose $100,000 testing a business model and then finally share the profitable techniques they figured out after they tested them? Especially if others have more resources and would quickly saturate the market inefficiency?

Most of the market willing to spend money is either at the high end of the market or people new to the market. People who write for beginners will end up making far more cash typically than those writing for mid market (or even the later end of the market), especially if they are good at conveying complex ideas in simple straightforward naratives. Seth is good at doing just that.

From my experiences it seems that the high end of the market tends to follow the sources which have largely built their brand by focusing on the beginer end of the market. For instance, by largely writing for the beginning end of the market on this site I frustrated some of the readers who used to be interested in me digging up the research type stuff. At the same time sales went up at least 50% (most likely more if you also consider citations and recommendations future sales waiting to happen). And the same beginner content has caused people from the high end of the market to be interested in hiring me. I have got leads for companies at the high end of the market, some of which I never would have thought would contact me. Some of which are companies worth tens or hundreds of billions of dollars.

The tip here (as Andy Hagans reminded me - cool cat he is) is to write for your customer. Not write for your reader. Threadwatch is an amazing community site, but it is not a largely profitable one because it writes for the mid market reader, not to customers. This blog has become far more customer centric, because it is stupid for me to help less people and throw half of my income in the trash can by focusing on things that only advanced SEOs would want to read.

It is also easy to be seen as patronizing if you focus too much on the early end of the market. In the goal of reaching the beginning part of the market and exploiting that opportunity for profit many people do not consider the effect of dating information or who all will read what they say. Initially I was writing for people new to the web, who were like me, and trying to get by doing their own thing. But from day to day I have no idea who may read my blog. I have got calls from venture capitalists, media, board advisors of search engines, search employees, etc.

What is hard about selling internet marketing information is that most people generally want quick fixes. Income increases as:

  • you make stuff sound simple

  • you hook people on your subscription based service or system
  • they believe you are the competitive advantage or end to end answer to all their problems

Rarely though is any single idea, tool, or piece of information the edge needed to succeed across the wide array of human desires that search and the WWW represent.

Some people who read my book will fail. Others would read it and were hyper successful may have done great even if they never read it. As you increase your userbase you get more people at both edges. Bought and happy. Bought and pissed off. You can't make a person see the true end value of anything until they reach their final goals.

In selling stuff we are forced to use proxies for success. Ie:

  • Some will tell you how important Alexa is. As you track yourself going through your own site you see how great you are doing in Alexa, but in no other statistic.

  • "The more websites you can get to link to your website, the higher you will rank in the search engines, guaranteed!" - Last week I chatted with someone who uses that sales line on their sales letter. They know it is outdated advice and factually incorrect, but they still use it because it sounds authoritative and sells their link exchange service.
  • Some people will buy testimonials, leveraging value offers in misleading emails titled "free gift" where they only give the product after a glowing testimonial is posted.
  • I push that I rank #1 for SEO Book, which short of a penalty should be a joke for me to do so given my market position and domain name, but to many people new to the market saying I am #1 for that sounds more credible than saying I am #5 for SEO.

I don't think there is any problem with using proxies as an indication of value, and it is not surprising that sales letters focus on the value end of stuff.

However inside many tools and information products there are often many upsells. These should make you question the validity of the product, business model, motives, and quality. If the advice people give you is mechanical in nature, and does not teach you about the larger picture or the social aspects of the WWW, the advice giver is probably hurting more people than they help. That is the biggest reason why I think most for sale SEO tools are garbage.

This post rambled a bit again...I am getting bad at that. But the point is:

Published: May 3, 2006

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Comments

May 3, 2006 - 10:21am

Hey Aaron, Interesting post but it looks like you are starting to wander down that crooked path to what is the way to make the maximum amount of money again...

Well part of the answer Aaron, is to be absolutely sincere in what you are doing and be a hell of a nice guy - which as much as your (in the beginning non-existent) expertise moved you along so quickly. While everyone else was busy sharpening their knives and preparing affiliate "launches", you were actually helping people, saving sites and telling the truth.

No wonder your balloon floated.

And that's why the high end people are calling you. This guy has some integrity. He's not an instant sellout. So stick with that.

Hooking up as a partner with others and selling your personal services expensively are a fine next step. If people can afford it, why shouldn't they be able to hire your wits and experience and at this point fame.

The next part of this model is continuing to offer the freebies and the inexpensive broadmarket product which keeps your name out there and the high end customers calling.

And for heaven's sake, keep telling the truth. I agree that you can't give away every secret somebody shares with you. That would be dishonest. But you can give away your own discoveries and you can give away common knowledge. And those are the long term strategic values in Search anyway. The tactic du jour is for the advanced crowd.

It looks like I've outrambled you here. See you at Threadwatch. Over and out.

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