How Shady is Your Site?

Most sales consist of a series of micro sales. Most people do not just go to a website and buy right away.

We learn to trust brands, companies, people, and websites. Network marketplaces offer user feedback which act as currency. If you are on eBay and are about to buy an expensive product you are probably going to look through some of the other feedback the merchant has.

The web as a whole also offers many layers of feedback. If people search for your brand what do they find? When people search for SEO Book most of the feedback (except for the occasional BrantRant) is positive in nature. When people ask about your brand in a forum do you get ripped to shreds or does your site usually stand up ok?

I recently had an SEO executive tell me I was an idiot for saying I ranked well for SEO Book, and then he used Overture to show that term draws no traffic.

In search terms keywords are all important and with the keyword book on SEO "seo book" receives 322 searches per month in 1st position you will receive an estimate, for argument sack 10% CTR, meaning 32 clicks to your website.

If one of those 32 convert you have value.

Unbeknown to that SEO professional, most people looking for SEO related stuff use Google, and his traffic estimates for my site for my well branded term are off by at least a factor of a 100.

But the point of my post is not to try to talk up this site. This site is complete rubbish to over 99% of the people on the web. To them it has less than no value. But (hopefully) not to you. And thanks for reading it!

The feedback I have gained from readers in that other 0.001% have helped me to

  • offer a better product

  • increase brand awareness
  • sell more
  • meet great people
  • come across other amazing opportunities

Brand related search queries and consumer feedback come at the end of the trust cycle though. First you must gain attention, awareness, and credibility. Each time someone takes the time to read something you write or revisits your site you have made another mini sale. A bit more mind-share. Maybe they link to your site. Maybe they come back for another read. Maybe they tell a friend about it. Maybe they mention your site on a forum or say good things if someone flames you, etc.

If I could give my book away free without being 99% certain that people would think it is worthless based on its price I probably would. It would give me a ton more mind-share (that could be leveraged into currency in other ways), but it would give me access to a brutal group of customers:

Actually it's kinda sad in a way. I've given away almost a hundred copies of the SEO Tutor© optimization book to newbies and intermediates alike and with a few exceptions, the message is always the same, "I don't want to do any real work; I just want to get rich fast."

That is not to say that I think I (or SEO Tutor) have low product quality, just that feedback is exceptionally valuable, and pricing at free might prevent you from getting the feedback you need while adding a ton of noise to the feedback you do get.

Most value based systems are arbitrary in nature. Money is a means to barter, but not a finite resource. Stocks are just pieces of paper, as are baseball cards, and books, etc. Diamonds are just stupid rocks. But most established value systems (moral, financial, etc.) have value because people have pushed them long and hard.

Why was slavery legitimate in the US long after most of the advanced world considered it repulsive if we are the land of the free? Someone pushed and sold that story. Why must we have a war on drugs? Why must you be afraid of terrorists? and sugar? Someone is selling those stories.

Value based systems (and thus the perception of value) typically take a long time to build. To get people to value what you are doing you have to over-invest for a while with the hopes that the value will come back, but retail only has value if you have exposure and people are buying.

Many of the people who read my ebook and say "I need help with SEO and your book did nothing for me" have a one page sales-letter site that says "buy now or forever screw off". They limit the types of sales they can make, and the speed with which they can gain mind-share or learn from feedback.

Each feedback route or potential audience presents another opportunity to gain mind-share. For example, if you are multilingual and typically write in one language also post your thoughts in another. If you have a news site then try to get in Google news. If you have an informal news site maybe call it a blog to make it easier for other bloggers to identify with your work and link at you.

If a site does not give people reasons to come back and does not give people many reasons / ways to show trust then the odds of the project becoming a long-term success are much lower. If no humans show that they trust your site then why should search engines?

Let's pretend you are walking the streets of Amsterdam at 1:12 AM and someone comes up to you and whispers

coke charlie, coke charlie, got what you need

then the next guy walking past you says


There is no rapport building there. Buy now or forever screw off.

Compare that to a local mischief guide (perhaps a topical authority?), who might start a dialog with something like:

Are looking for a drink or a smoke? The coffeeshops just closed, but there are still a few bars are open a few blocks up. If you need papers they sell those right up the street. If you need a smoke I sell some ______ right here.

Which one of those people would you be more willing to trust?

I am not advocating drug use, but if you assumed that 99% of everything on the web is shady (coke charlie got what you need) then you would be viewing content the way a search engineer does.

9 times out of 10 (with the other 1 in 10 being their own content, or content from partner businesses) they want to rank the least shadiest offers, and hope the other ones wind up buying ads, which they can plaster all over the web, to help spread their value based system.

coke charlie, etc. ;)

Published: September 3, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


September 4, 2006 - 4:48pm

This article is much better advice than most people will realize.

People trying to build white hat site that are essentially sales flyers are doomed to failure because you will be competing with people that can build thousands of similar sites that have the same value proposition (buy now!) in a matter of minutes.

If you are just starting out, remove all the ads from your site and focus on building ethos and traffic. The payoff in the end will be much higher.


So much for staying off the Net for 2 weeks! I think you may be a web addict. ;)

September 4, 2006 - 5:54pm

Some people may not think ranking for SEO book is too big an accomplishment, but it achieved the goal in my case in much the way that Aaron has described above.

Way back when I did a search for SEO books and found the one promoted on this site. I didn't buy it at that time, but I liked this site enough that I subscribed to the feed. I've been reading commentary on this site ever since.

Months later, I bought the book as my department afforded me a decent-sized SEO budget as the new fiscal year kicked in. I didn't even repeat by previous search for seo books to see what was released since my original search. I just remembered that this one existed and I wanted to check it out.

September 4, 2006 - 7:16pm

The analysis of putting in a lot of work into something of no value to create value makes sense. Those damn carbon rocks are expensive, and what true value does it have? Likewise to build a valuable website, continuous work has to go into it.

September 5, 2006 - 8:48pm

I love the phrase "I don't want to work...I just want to get rich quick".

Well, I can tell you that is not me...I bought SEOBook 2 years ago and have read the updates. I'm quite busy busting my ass to make my site good, with some good results.

If there is a Newbie out there who does not want to buy the book, if he does NOTHING ELSE, let them implement the strategies on posts from June 13-"Search Relevancy" and August 15-"101 Ways to Build Link Popularity".

If all of that is done....then you will see results in the search engines, otherwise there is no magic rocket to the top.

Google is all about AUTHORITY. If your site has authority, it will rank, if it doesn't it won't.

Keep up the good work Aaron. I'm glad you rank for a worthless term like SEO Book.

September 5, 2006 - 10:04pm

Two quick thoughts. 1) Still considering myself a beginner, I am shocked that someone calling themself an SEO Professional would look at Overtures data to make an assessment of potential traffic. 2) We live in a lottery culture. You cant win if you dont play is the mentality. The problem is people who do get rich quick don't have the skills to handle it. Those who do the hard work and get rich over time typically have developed the skills to handle the wealth when it arrives.

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