Where do You Place Yourself on the Value Chain?

Dan Thies, an expert in many fields, recently announced his retirement in a podcast highlighting the increasing complexity of internet marketing, and his future plans as an instructor at StomperNet.

Specialization is Needed for Growth:

In Vannevar Bush's As We May Think, a 1945 article about creating a memory extension, he stated:

There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

Many Great Markets Grow Fast:

Even within a field that once cottage industry can feel like a broad niche. Fields worth being in will eventually grow beyond the means of one person. Danny Sullivan recently stated:

This is rocket science. SEO is only not seen as rocket science BY THOSE WHO ALREADY KNOW IT. Everyone in the industry forgets how much knowledge they've acquired, learned, absorbed to the point it becomes second nature. I've joked at that some point, how second nature it is reminds me of a classic scene from The Matrix

Did you see Todd's recent video about Digg? Did you see this .htaccess file for fixing duplicate content issues? Did you know audio search can match words in videos? Did you know you can use geotargeting on AdSense ads, or that they now allow some publishers to pick a list of video ads to run, or that they allow advertisers to filter out an unlimited number of bad publishers?

You Can't Do Everything:

And that is one of the things that makes the web difficult...it is so easy to think that you can do everything that you try to do everything. A few years ago I was a moderator at about a half dozen forums, had many clients, took on a client who had an asp website and started learning how to tweak the asp code, and answered every email I got even if a person would ask me 20 questions in a row without buying anything. That works well if you are unpopular and your job becomes your identity, but eventually that tears your health apart, and as soon as you start trying to live away from the computer it seems a bit silly. You need to start filtering things.

Once you have significant demand or significant market influence the market will push your prices higher but your time toward a commodity and force you to filter.

Signs of a Bad Customer:

Daily I get emails with subjects like "Site review for a broke man :)" but the problem is most websites and businesses are broke on many levels. That email subject that I just mentioned... that person stated they read my ebook, but he didn't even have unique page titles on his site. How is that possible?

And then if you reply, you get more emails until you stop answering them or provide obtuse answers. They ask can I run my ads with Google's ads. You answer read Google's TOS. Or eventually you stop answering.

And even worse, if you seriously engage bad customers who refuse to listen they not only waste your time, but also do stupid things like spam your site, and then blow up when you stop them.

Long after they give up on ineffective marketing methods and broken websites you will have another customer pitching the same or requesting things like the following:

the author of SEO Book,
I just want to say:

the contents of your SEO Book is ok, but a horrible problem is that most of your contents are organized under completely wrong English grammar, which made it a hard job for translators.

Before you put your SEO Book online, you should know that readers would be from every corner of the world, somebody will not fully understand your SEO Book, if their Engish is not good enough, of if you wrote many many sentences organized under wrong grammar.

I don't know where you are from, but all those disordered contents just made peope think maybe English was only your second language, maybe you were not a native English speaker, at least, not well enough to compose a "socalled" book.

The author, I just want to suggest you that you ask somebody else that is a native English speaker to check all the contents of your SEO Book, the most important point is to revise all the wrong sentences organized under wrong grammar, which already made translators hate you .......

The contents of my SEO Book is ok? I didn't realize my target audience was short fused translators that use bad grammar in attempts to criticise mine. But live and learn, eh?

You know you are answering too many emails when people are sending you support questions for competing products and services, and out of making my email less easy to find other webmasters have told me they are getting traffic for things like Aaron Wall email address.

Waste Caused By Servicing Bad Customers:

And even if you want to help people you end up getting jaded by some, frustrated, and miss others. A couple months ago a customer wanted to pay me to work a day at $500 an hour and I didn't have enough time to, even though they were pre-sold. Refusing thousands of dollars of income for a few hours work is absurd.

All Value Systems Are Challenged as They Grow or Change:

The reactive (not proactive) Web 2.0 news sites echo the echos. Jimmy Wales, on his open source search project list said:

One of the things that I believe in passionately is genuine human communities, as opposed to "crowdsourcing".

What do I mean by that?

I mean, people who get to know each other, over time, as real human beings, and through that process, gain a sense of trust and responsibility for each other and for the task at hand. So for me, if we are to succeed here, this is the first place we need to focus attention...

And in spite of that belief system he decided to apply nofollow to Wikipedia in an attempt to filter out some of the noise, but odds are that it is too little too late. Google trusts Wikipedia too much for people to stop spamming it.

Every community or authority system, left unchecked eventually kills itself unless it reacts to the shifting marketplace - just see Clay Shirky's A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy.

Every Publishing Format is Dated or Full of Noise:

Forums build friendships, but generally are noisy. I have had my instant messengers turned off for most of the past 3 months and spoke to one friend who just told me he started his IM list with a new username from scratch. Many blog posts (especially on my blog) are incomplete thoughts or just echo what is already stated elsewhere.

It is important to consume information from a variety of sources and in a variety of formats. Unless you have market leverage and inside sources it is easier to create value by relating information from other markets to your own field rather than trying to always be the first with the story, especially if you are an individual competing against groups or entire companies which have more resources.

Growth Forces Change:

As time passes, we learn, markets change, and business models evolve each of us find ourselves doing different jobs at different points on the value chain. At the low end, some of us work half the day to pay interest on debt as slaves controlled by computers:

Early this year, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., using a new computerized scheduling system, will start moving many of its 1.3 million workers from predictable shifts to a system based on the number of customers in stores at any given time. The move promises greater productivity and customer satisfaction for the huge retailer but could be a major headache for employees.

But as you gain trust, mindshare, and market influence it is easier to create real value if you filter out the noise, but as you learn and time becomes more scare what used to be useful becomes noise. In an ideal world you would be able to learn from your students, and have the price point act as a filter to prevent potentially bad students from wanting to participate. If your framework is set up well your students will want to help one another as well. This site (and the associated business models) are probably quite far from that ideal world, so that is part of the reason it is important to keep trying new things.

Trying New Business Models:

Our early feedback on the first Elite Retreat was great. Chris Hooley knows his shit, and he said the following about me:

Aaron Wall gave his SEO seminar (which started with the basics then was nice and detailed. I think he could have gone a bit further with specific new NEW linking strategies, but he was still pretty good and to his defense my expectations were probably extremely high). I loved when he spoke of trusted sites like wikipedia and how to leverage their power without being at all shady.
Aaron may be the most brilliant single mind in the SEO space. As he spoke, he brought up tons of his web properties (some that you may not even know of) and explained in depth how / why each of them worked. He also used our (attendees) spaces as examples and busted through numerous tools.

which I take as a huge compliment coming from him.

The hardest part with working in a group of successful people is generally related to egos and making time for everyone, but once you get past that the sum of the parts turns out to be greater than the pieces.

  • Would I be anywhere near as good at working with large clients if I wasn't working with Caveman? No way.

  • Would ReviewMe have went as well if I launched it myself? No way.
  • Would I have wanted to put on Elite Retreat by myself? No way.
  • I can only create so much content myself. My cohort in crime that works on my content websites is a well oiled machine that can produce quality content for less than $20 a page and in two weeks he went from new to a top 500 Digger. But the key to working with people like him and getting full value out of each other is trusting one another AND limiting how many people you work with. Working with 3 great partners is probably far better than working with 10 bad partners. Working with 3 great clients is better than working with 10 bad clients.

What Are Some Ways I Filter?

  • Instead of answering the same question over and over again I sometimes make blog posts I can point at. For example, if someone asks "how do I build links" I send them a link.

  • Give people a free spot to start from. If people ask for a free intro to SEO to see if my book may or may not be worthwhile I send them a link.
  • If they instant message me and I do not know them I usually block them.
  • If they send me an email and I respond only to read "you need to confirm your email..." I delete it.
  • If they are a blow hard or start their introduction with excuses or reasons they can't change and won't listen to suggestions do not service them.
  • If I call the support center of a monopoly to cancel something I lie and say I want more services so I actually get a human response instead of being lied to when they say they are overwhelmed with calls (thanks Verizon).
  • If a telemarketer calls I am never me and never home. In fact I just moved or died.

Filtering Your Way to Profit:

Ultimately your ability to create profit and enrich the world revolves around your willingness to learn, your work ethic, your marketing, your creativity, and how good you are at filtering out noise. And people will hate you for filtering out noise because it may make them feel insignificant, may challenge their value systems, or may make them envious.

If you are so consumed with petty tasks that you stop learning you are dead, and need to come up with new rules to filter noise out of your life. If you don't filter you lose market-share and become less efficient than competitors who are filtering out the bad parts of the market.

What is the difference between good and bad clients? Andrew Goodman stated:

Looking back at the absolute worst business experiences I've had, it makes no particular sense to draw universal conclusions, because some bad stuff can't be predicted.
Just now I ran across a reminder of perhaps one of the most toxic I've ever met. And I thought: what might we have noticed that would have filtered this guy out?
At the time I missed a key difference: willingness to consider optimization (in the broadest sense of the term) suggestions. Someone who realizes that there are broken parts of the website and poorly optimized images and wants to fix and optimize the user experience as much as possible; vs. the one who disagrees, changes the subject, and uses a combination of profanity and sarcasm in his next anecdote, to further confuse the issue.

If you want to enjoy your job the key is to create an environment of abundance and then come up with algorithms and procedures to filter out the bad parts.

Google creates so much value because they create a framework that connects so many people and allow others to filter out the bad parts. Success is nothing more than pushing self serving rule-sets and giving others enough incentive to make them want to buy into and promote your worldview and filters.

Published: January 23, 2007 by Aaron Wall in marketing


January 23, 2007 - 5:44am

Aaron, excellent post. I get hit with "advice" mail daily. I do a podcast and send people to them or to blog posts. Sometimes..you can just never do enough. There are so many great points in this post. Your advice as always is spot on. Thanks for all you do. This is one person that values the time you put in.

January 23, 2007 - 5:51am

How to increase your productivity with simple math: addition by subtraction.

January 23, 2007 - 7:24am

Stop reading my mind for your blog posts, Aaron.

January 23, 2007 - 7:59am

Aaron I know how much noise and requests for free information I get as a relative unknown. I can only imagine how much you get.

I think it's easy for us to forget sometimes all the time we've put in to learning what we know. Writing a page title for example becomes second nature and it's only too easy to forget the value one provides. For anyone who does forget read some of the titles you come across daily and realize how much value you add for what to is a simple task.

When I first went into business for myself I forgot too often the value I add to projects. I've had to be reminded that things that are now second nature to me, aren't that way for most.

When you're struggling to turn a new business venture into something profitable there's it can be difficult to turn some business away, but there are some clients and customers that will never be anything more than a drain on your business and your well being. It's hard to turn them away, but it's also necessary.

Thanks for the reminder.

January 31, 2007 - 4:25pm

About the Verizon comment - you might find this site very valuable: www.nophonetrees.com I heard about it on NPR

January 23, 2007 - 1:37pm

Hey Aaron,

Great post. I read your blog often but don't make comments most of the time, but once in a while there are posts (like this one) that warrant a few extra strokes on my keyboard.

Keep up the fantastic work.


January 23, 2007 - 1:38pm

Hey Aaron,

Great post. I read your blog often but don't make comments most of the time, but once in a while there are posts (like this one) that warrant a few extra strokes on my keyboard.

Keep up the fantastic work.


January 23, 2007 - 1:39pm

Sorry for the double post :)

January 23, 2007 - 3:23pm

Man, that sounds all to familiar...

"If a telemarketer calls I am never me and never home. In fact I just moved or died. "

My favorite is to either:

a) Say I'll get my dad, and then just leave the phone on the table
b) Pretend to be a half deaf man and cough all the time so they have to repeat everything AT LEAST three times, or
c) pretend I'm extremely interested in whatever they're trying to sell, and after being on the phone with them for 30 mins say "You know what? I'm not really interested. Good bye."


January 23, 2007 - 4:17pm

Liked this bit the best...

... Unless you have market leverage and inside sources it is easier to create value by relating information from other markets to your own field rather than trying to always be the first with the story ...

Thats one thats been simmering in my head latley
Nice post & love the book.

January 23, 2007 - 8:23pm

I love when people tell me something I have done sucks. I take that advice and use it to improve my service. Isn't this what you did with SEOBOOK by hiring an editor Aaron?

January 24, 2007 - 9:01am

This post is fucking awesome.

(Pardone the profanity, but I had to say what I felt.)

July 22, 2007 - 3:07pm

Very illuminating and informative post. As a young person and junior SEM'er thanks for your time to write this. It brings some new thoughts to how should I work and respect my time.

your opinion on being "first with the story" is my winner.

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