AdSense vs SpamSense: AdSense Tips and Linkworthy Content

Many affiliate and AdSense sites make their goals so obvious that it likely hurts the linkability of their websites. Sometimes you can still get a fairly solid clickthrough rate on your ads while still having a site that is much easier to link at than the typical SpamSense site.

The few biggest keys I would suggest to increasing your income per pageview without hurting your linkability would be:

  • Build decent topical authority and a good link profile before worrying about getting as much money as you can out of visitors. Links are a currency, and without them your other options and earnings potential are at best limited.

  • Less ads on the homepage than the rest of the site - for many sites (even many entirely legitimate ones) the bulk of the link popularity flows in through the home page. In some cases that link popularity is self reinforcing to where people search for your main topic, find your site, and then link at it. Making a quick proper impression in those cases is huge. That link popularity makes your other pages more authoritative.
  • Adding a search box is easy incremental income without increasing your perceived ad weight.
  • Blending adlinks into navigation or near images can help improve CTR.
  • A skyscraper ad on the left column where navigation usually is can pull a great CTR without making the whole site look spammy, so long as the site looks like its main goal is to push the ads.
  • A skyscraper on the right hand column probably won't make much because that is a traditional ad location.
  • If you control your page width it is easier to integrate high CTR ads than if you use fluid designs.
  • If you put ads in the content area near the top of the page, if they go left and the content floats right around it that looks pretty spammy. If you float the content to the left side of the ads it can still get a decent CTR without looking anywhere near as spamtastic.

Creating an Official Page to Reference

Mar 30th

So I have been cleaning broken links out of an old directory, and most of the time when I search Google for the phrase that was the anchor text for the old link the #1 result is a new site location for the same site. That is definitely a good thing for most of those sites that moved, but sometimes even within live sites people do not provide a definitive page to be linked at, which often forces them to miss out on income.

As cheesy as sales letters are, I have seen many non affiliates link to the sales letter for my ebook on this site. I could just have the mini sales letter on each post, but by having that common sales letter page it guarantees much of my link popularity associated with recommendations is consolidated around a certain controlled entry point, from which I could improve sales copy or customize offers if I decided to sell other products or services.

Even if you don't sell your product on your own site (or the web at all) it is still good to have a topical page beyond briefly announcing the launch such that you can make associated offers down the road (we have a new _____ coming out, etc.) and so you can switch where you direct traffic at depending on which resellers are providing you with the best value and conversion rate.

If you create a brand and the brand is something other than your site name / domain name you really want to give people something to link at on your site before you let resellers take that margin without giving you a chance at an enhanced cut for referring leads at a particular vendor. Branded terms are some of the most valuable terms in many markets, so it is best to get the #1 organic spot if you can so you are not forced into heavy PPC prices to get exposure for a brand you created and should have ranked for anyway.

The Authoritative Guide to Unethical SEO Business Practices

Mar 30th

On February13th, the judge threw my case out of court based on jurisdiction (background here), but offered the plaintiff up to 30 days to file a request to amend. The plaintiff has been late on just about every filing the whole suit, which is rather sad, considering they sued me. Based on their lack of replying up to this point (at about 45 days), I would say that my case is probably over (my lawyer thinks so anyhow).

This case might help free speech online by being easy to reference, helping other bloggers not get bogusly sued by sleazy companies based in Nevada (I am not saying all Nevada companies are sleazy, but certainly at least 1 is exceptionally sleazy).

I think the biggest thing the web as a whole got out of this is these bogus lawsuits is the industry defining document for what it means to be an unethical SEO firm. I logged into Pacer to check out the Traffic Power Sucks.com case and found this 196 page motion with ALL KINDS OF EVIDENCE IN IT!!!!!

Now there are rumors here and there about this and that around the web, but never before has it been so neatly compiled into a single document. I find it absurd that Traffic Power more-less asked for the document to be compiled (how stupid can they be) by stating the bogus claims in their lawsuit. Feel free to link to it, or grab it and put it on your site.

Some legitimate well branded SEO firms may even find this document useful as sales material to show people what happens when you sign up with the wrong SEO partner.

There are some SEO companies that will take your money and then do nothing at all, but outside of them this document has a bit of most everything in it:

  • tons of customer complaints

  • media coverage of lies to customers
  • extortion claims
  • multiple cross referencing ways showing alternate company names
  • reports from workers who were inside the company about showing false ranking materials and a manager at sales meetings standing on desk saying "a sucker is born every minute."
  • cold calling - if their search marketing techniques are effective then how come they can't drive enough leads to their own business with them? these jokers even cold called me to promote a trashy site (that is what in part lead to others commenting on my site and causing these slimeballs to send me a bogus lawsuit)
  • stolen content - obviously not cool - many examples
  • sketchy links - yup
  • sneaky redirects - yup
  • what a banned site looks like - traffic-power.com
  • confirmation from Matt Cutts (of Google) on the ban of an SEO service site - the first time in the history of Google as far as I am aware of
  • filing bogus lawsuits to try to silence smaller and poorer sites who do not make millions scamming small businesses - yup

While I believe my case is over Dave's still might be dragging out for a while. Please donate to his cause if you can spare a few bucks.

Here is some further background on the CEO of Traffic Power. Don't forget to help spread the court paper if you need an example of what happens when someone hires an unethical business partner to provide SEO services.

The Most Important Search Document Ever!

Mar 30th

My favorite paper about search is an article by Vannevar Bush called As We May Think. The Atlantic Monthly published it in July 1945, as WWII was winding down to a halt.

Vannevar suggested that an extensible personal memory extension be created to help people navigate their own experiences and the world's knowledge base. Here are a few quotes:

Specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.

The difficulty seems to be, not so much that we publish unduly in view of the extent and variety of present day interests, but rather that publication has been extended far beyond our present ability to make real use of the record. The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.

A record, if it is to be useful to science, must be continuously extended, it must be stored, and above all it must be consulted.

Our ineptitude in getting at the record is largely caused by the artificiality of the systems of indexing. ... Having found one item, moreover, one has to emerge from the system and re-enter on a new path.

The human mind does not work this way. It operates by association. ... Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it. In minor ways he may even improve, for his records have relative permanency.

Presumably man's spirit should be elevated if he can better review his own shady past and analyze more completely and objectively his present problems. He has built a civilization so complex that he needs to mechanize his records more fully if he is to push his experiment to its logical conclusion and not merely become bogged down part way there by overtaxing his limited memory.

Pretty sharp thinking for 1945! If you read this paper I think you would understand at least 99% of what Google is all about, and why their company value has so much more baked into it than next quarter's predicted earnings.

Who's on Drugs? SEO Research

Mar 29th

Wired has an article about the changing face of the prescription drug market, noting that growth has slowed in established markets while new markets are booming. Worldwide spending has hit over 600 billion dollars, with 252 billion in sales in the US. They also point to Forbes slide show of the 10 best-selling drugs.

The markets those drugs serve probably have other up and coming drugs that few people have been publishing content for. With the kind of money the pharma corps spend on marketing (more here, here and here ) you can be certain that they will create plenty of demand for new drugs as patents for the old ones lapse. This press release (imshealth.com/ims/portal/front/articleC/0,2777,6599_3665_77491316,00.html) points out drug sales by region:

In 2005, North America, which accounts for 47 percent of global pharmaceutical sales, grew 5.2 percent, to $265.7 billion, while Europe experienced somewhat higher growth of 7.1 percent, to $169.5 billion. Sales in Latin America grew an exceptional 18.5 percent to $24 billion, while Asia Pacific (outside of Japan) and Africa grew 11 percent to $46.4 billion. Japan, the world’s second largest market, which has historically posted slower growth rates, performed strongly in 2005, growing 6.8 percent to $60.3 billion, its highest year-over-year growth since 1991. That performance was fueled by growth in angiotensin IIs, antihistamines and oncology therapies, as well as significant uptake in geriatric-related therapies such as Aricept®, for treating Alzheimer's, and Cabaser®, Permax® and Bi Sifrol®, for treating Parkinson’s Disease.

Pharmaceutical sales in China grew 20.4 percent to $11.7 billion in 2005, representing the third consecutive year that market has achieved 20+ percent growth. IMS estimates that China will be the world’s seventh largest pharmaceutical market by 2009.

some blockbuster drugs will be losing their patents this year:

The number of blockbuster products (those with sales exceeding the billion-dollar level) reached 94 in 2005 compared with 36 in 2000 and included 17 new members of the billion-dollar club. While six blockbusters are expected to lose their patents in 2006, the launch of new products and continued growth of those already on the market will result in an increasing number of blockbusters over the next five years.

“The end of blockbusters is not upon us, despite what some analysts are saying,” observed Aitken. “In fact, we expect that blockbusters will continue to be an important part of pharmaceutical market growth over the next five years, due to new uses for existing therapies, the emergence of niche/specialty products, and the ongoing demand for chronic disease treatments.”

and some of the types of drugs currently in Phase III testing:

In 2005, more than 2,300 products were in clinical development, up 9 percent from 2004 levels, and up 31 percent over the past three years. A promising range of drugs are now in Phase III clinical trials or pre-approval stage, including 96 oncology products, 51 products for treating cardiovascular disease, 37 for viral infections and HIV, and 28 for arthritis/pain. Of the total pipeline, 27 percent of these products are biologic in nature—an all-time high. Biologics also experienced strong growth overall, adding $7.6 billion in sales to the global pharmaceutical market in 2005. Led by Amgen, Roche/Genentech and Johnson and Johnson, this sector grew 17.1 percent in 2005, generating sales of $52.7 billion.

Huge markets abound. Here are lists of:

Home Based Business Opportunities - Start By Firing Bad Clients at Hello

Mar 27th

I typically find it more than a bit perplexing how many people contact me with this sort of email (always worded slightly differently than this - but with the same message).

I am almost broke because I just purchased a competing product to yours for 3 times the money. Actually two of them. Great stuff. But they are getting me nowhere.

I want to rank for home based business opportunity (nevermind that I know nothing about that market, am too lazy to learn about it, am nearly bankrupt and earning nothing from home based business, ie: I have no authority or credibility on any level) and need to make $20,000 in the next 3 months but have not made a cent yet.

I have been on the web for nearly a month. I am frustrated by this stuff. Where is the easy money at? Can you show me how to make lots of money while doing nothing? I don't really value your opinion and I was too cheap to buy your product (figuring that it was just the same as everything else on the market), but I thought I would send you a two page email asking you to set up my business model for me. Although I would never help you, and if you are a sucker and help people like me you would be miserable day in and day out and then eventually bankrupt, I think you should help me. I have no foresight to see the value of the market or how you could help, but be a decent human being.

Do the right thing Aaron!

Invariably, the right thing to do is ignore that email. Label it as trash or spam or put it in some experimental folder for when you may want to later compile a rant. It is really all that email is good for.

If they are a paying customer you might want to give them a bit of a nudge in the right direction (they probably deserve a shot if they already paid you), but usually it is just better to give them a refund than to engage in an ongoing conversation with someone like that.

You need a certain mindset to do well. Placing blame and/or expecting free personalized in depth help is typically not going to get you very far.

If you take on clients that are like that you are just as good off sawing off your arm and sticking it up your rear end, because you are throwing half of your productivity out the window trying to help someone who will be a pain in the ass that never intends to appreciate or help you in any way.

If people do not see value in what you do then there is no point doing it for them.

Teaching vs Manipulation and Controlling Thought Patterns

Mar 27th

Where is the separation between teaching and manipulation? While leaving adequate room for profit and learning in a competitive marketplace how do you teach people how to learn without teaching them what they must learn, who they must learn it from, with what biases and from what perspective? As we keep records of the world and it is easier for us to match our exact interests, desires, and biases our standards change.

When we get what we want when we want it far more often many things are considered noise. What was once acceptable tutelage or a normal business practice becomes hypocritical censorship or information as a marketing mechanism with a hidden agenda.

But the large aggregated demand offered by the web (and search) means that even micro niches can be profitable. And the marketing feedback loops get faster while search engines and other information systems are offering up more data to marketers at a cost quickly approaching free.

Even as information systems get better at helping us solve problems quickly marketing gets more sophisticated. The analogy at the end of this post about networks destroying the corporate structure states how hard it may be to have a sense of organization of the chaos of human intentions.

An analogy might explain the concept intuitively: the army is like a corporation. the terrorists are like a network.

Especially since when a competing network gets beyond a certain level it can leverage its efficiencies to destroy competition. For example, Google pays AdSense spammers millions of dollars a month to spam up Yahoo! and MSN search results.

Search systems promote publishing business models founded on marketing through creating arbitrary controversies or mass automation while serving us ads from who can pay the most for our demand (which frequently is based on solutions that fix symptoms instead of going to the core problem - if you never fix the real probably you can create recurring subscription revenues).

A friend recently set up an SEM company. I set up the PPC account for his first client (largely because he wanted to do such a good job that the client would refer others). As it turns out we did such a good job that the client fired him. Too much efficiency was introduced into his business, and without greed business people are just not business people.

What you get a bunch of in search results is:

  • an abundance of fake recommendations based on payout levels:

  • biased content and content marketed largely through controversy:
    • most people passionate enough to create content at a loss probably have a decent amount of bias they want to express (that is why I got on the web)

    • biased information is easy to link at since it is easy to remark on (person x is right on or person y is full of crap)
    • my income went up when I got sued
    • in one search engine the company that sued me even started ranking for my name
    • even when people talk negatively about stuff they still link at it
    • citations due to search are self-reinforcing in nature
  • and whatever content can be created by a machine.

I am not saying that I know the answers to the problems, but I can sorta see some of the ones that exist. Searching for Dummies sorta states that the ease with which we can find things tends to make us lazier and less educated. Is that perhaps because many people lack ambition? Or is it because we settle for good enough more often so we can focus more time on other things we find more interesting?

I guess my real questions are: is there such a thing as pure information? And if yes, are there any viral self-sustaining business models that would promote it to flourish? Is the diversity of biases promoted by search enough? Or am I just biased in my thinking? ;)

I like how Tim Berners-Lee said computers and algorithms can be arranged to solve social problems. It would be a cool topic to learn.

So we could say we want the Web to reflect a vision of the world where everything is done democratically, where we have an informed electorate and accountable officials. To do that we get computers to talk with each other in such a way as to promote that ideal.

Creating Controversy Out of Nothing?

Mar 26th

Controversy can help build or destroy your brand, but either way it can also help build your linkage profile ;)

Whenever you start a new site where you want to sell direct advertisements sometimes it makes sense to list a few temporary ads pointing at some of the top sites to make others think your ad inventory is useful and they need to be there. Of course, if you do this with blogs using their graphics, while targeting the blogging community you can expect it to backfire. Being evangelical, and creating a bullshit ethics cause leads to many links.

If you create a cause and get that story syndicated on Boing Boing you will get a lot of links out of it. Ironically, Boing Boing even linked to the site that was being hated on. Silly move for how tech savvy they are supposed to be over there. Anyone who thinks that leveraging names or the brands of other companies is something new to the web is simply naive to the business world. Leveraging real brands or names and then using that to sell ad space or a magazine is done in the publishing world often as well, by well known “prestigious” companies like Eli Research.

They contacted me to ask me if I wanted to be on their advisory panel for Search Engine Marketing Alert
elifinancial [dot] com/search_engine_marketing.htm

After they talked it up they never contacted me again and started mailing people things that sorta looked like bills. Some of those people later bitched me out for it, as if I knew they really didn’t want my opinion, just my name to throw on aggressive marketing.

You need only look at their page title on their sales letter to know I was not involved with it. I did give them my name though. And that was a mistake. After you get established you really need to be greedy with what you agree too. Most people looking to leverage your name are doing just that, often with more aggressive marketing techniques you would never approve of.

But companies set up shop near other shops all the time. One can go to far with it, and there are instances when it is absolutely wrong, like one guy that used a picture of my ebook to linking to another one of his blog to sell a different ebook about SEO - that is obvious consumer deception.

I can see how some people would say using their image without permission is wrong, but if it references your own site in a non derogatory way where are the limits to fair use? Is someone giving you free marketing for your own site such a news item that you have to post it shortly after hating on people trying to control words? Words are like tags, and because of search we have the ability to rank for the things we write about.

I get a bit perplexed when people like Darren Rowse make statements like this:

the ends wouldn’t justify the means in my books. They are using the hard work of others to launch their own business off.

That perturbed me enough that I had to reply:

As opposed to search engines which build an ad system over the top of others contents? Or bloggers who heavily cut and past content, and then scatter AdSense ads around the content to where it is hard to find the content?

Much like the SEO ethics crew, the blog ethics crew push the issues so hard because they don't want people to dive deep into what is really going on, seeing that what they advise others to do and how they directly make their money are often not one and the same. Without social currency the other pieces do not work.

If you are an evangical blogger, and rush quick enough you can register blackhatblogging.com or whitehatblogging.com. Blackhatblog.com and whitehatblog.com are already on Sedo for $250 each. I am half tempted to build a network which will rely on idoit ethics blogs to provide it enough free marketing to make it a success.

Please link at me. Rest assured all the unethical people are elsewhere.

Abstract Website Publishing Niche Discovery Approaches

Mar 25th

How do you find topical niches? I wish I had a bit more time to just play around with stuff. I always learn so much just surfing around and looking for patterns.

Here are a few suggestions for ways to find good niches to build sites:

  • just surf around...search for something and start following links

  • referral logs
  • check out some of the trending and tracking ideas mentioned here - tons and tons and tons of ideas there (ie: what is getting tagged, what are people writing about, what do search trends and content production trends look like)
  • footer links or related suggestion links on the SEO Book Keyword Tool
  • enter URLs into the Google Keyword Tool
  • enterk keywords in the the Google AdWords Sandbox or the Google Keyword Tool
  • clustered terms at MSN's test clustering engine (or meta search engines, etc)
  • look at ads selling on popular blogs and niche publishing sites via BlogAds or AdBrite and the like - if it looks like the company buying the ad is small that is a plus
  • look through directories
  • look through 3rd party affiliate sites (like Commission Junction or the the Clickbank Marketplace) for top earners or top sellers
  • have a general and/or niche directory that people can submit sites to. after you build it up a bit if you are no longer interested in it stop working on it...just use it to check what people are trying to market.
  • have a fake blog that accepts blog spam comments
  • build a good brand and take on clients for one time and small projects
  • look at the domain names of expiring domains or domain names being sold at popular domain auctions
  • watch or read the news. Now might be a bit late to get into the bird flu market, but there are many markets that the media will create out of thin air.
  • what are people trying to market on forums and usegroups?
  • oblique strategies cards - I have came up with AMAZING website names by playing with these or a deck of regular cards

The advantages of the paid ads or paid services are that they often filter out some of the lower end of the marketplace, which means your odds of finding a hit are greater than if you randomly pick from the techniques to generate ideas from the free sources.

And I saved my favorite idea for last. PostSecret - people mail in post cards with their secrets on them. Anything people like to keep secret is good stuff for the computer, because some people will be to afraid to even go to a library or buy information or products for certain things, so they will want to search for answers online. There is also a PostSecret book.

I read the book today (always easier when it is an artistic picture book, eh) and saw some pretty inspiring stuff...from an emotional perspective, and a few business gems. An example idea from the website? Breast implant removal. Look how little competition there is in Google's SERPs. PageRank 2 pages on 2002 PageRank 4 sites with few legitimate citations are ranking and there are only 8 ads right now, with many of them being arbitrage sites. In spite of showing a few thousand searches a month Overture only has 3 bidders for the phrase with only 1 above 11 cents a click. How many girls are frustrated by implants?

How easy would it be to market a site that was against breast reduction and offered girls other solutions outside of implants to improve their self image? You could attack that issue starting with ranking for the uber niched down idea of removal of implants, and then if your story and content were good you could start ranking for the general phrases as well. Either way you have a rather targeted group of people who would be easy to sell to one way or another if you wanted to.

There are a ton of identity issues and social issues examined in the PostSecret book. And most of our needs and wants are somehow covered from an exceptionally personal level that is rarely seen in print or person.

Google Changes the Web Graph

Mar 24th

Google has made some SEO business models less profitable and their search results less useful by placing too much trust on old domains, with the goal of forcing new publishers to be interesting or profitable without love from Google. Of course there are consequences to Google's moves.

Now those older sites have a certain value, and many are drastically underpriced. If you are a creative searcher you may be able to find a few sites worth getting links from or buying outright. Based on Matt Cutts recent FUD post it is pretty clear that short of manual review Google is straight up lacking in the ability to prevent older trusted sites from dominating their search index right now. Worse yet, automated content generation is getting so good that most people will not even be able to detect much of it.

If you have old domains, ranking in Google is like stealing candy from a baby, especially for newly established markets, especially because most competing sites will be too new to be able to compete in the SERPs. As long as the new market is not tech heavy and it does not have huge legal and social implications there probably won't be too many powerful sites. The old domain barrier to entry also lowers the number of people competing for the money to further consolidate the wealth (now you need to either be sitting on an old domain or you need to have BOTH money and knowledge). It almost reminds me of the Affinity Index Rank stuff at Become.com (where you trust authority at the exchange for lower relevancy), but Google has a slightly greater weighting on relevancy, IMHO.

Many old sites hold up fairly well with age. Content based articles about slow changing topics can remain relevant for many years. Until the usage data goes down, people stop citing it, and some citations die away the documents continue to rank strongly. And, of course, there is a rich get richer effect to ranking at the top of the SERPs.

As the web continues to grow, with more bloggers and other news sites providing temporal linkage data and sending usage streams I think Google is going to have to put more weight on those rather than raw domain age and how long it has had links for.

As far as aging goes I think about the worst type of site to buy in terms of monetization is a large directory in a general non business category. The big upsides to buying a non business site when compared with a business site would typically be:

  • lower competition in the SERPs

  • cheaper price
  • better link citation data - on average when compare

But if you cant turn that site into something with a fairly commercial twist to it general non business categories will mean little value from cheap (un)targeted contextual ads. For a general site the ads are hard to target to high value relevant niches, and the search results are obviously more competitive for general terms. In affiliate marketing targeting is even more important than with contextual earnings because you need people to click AND buy.

As far as why old directories are bad, in a couple years of aging what was once a well kept directory could end up looking like a war zone. Sure the link titles and descriptions look good at first glance, but then you click through to find things like:

  • broken links

  • domainer pay per click ad pages
  • totally unrelated sites like porn

Plus if you sell ads next to a directory those will get less clicks if the content area offers users many ways out of your site.

Creating useful directories takes a bunch of upkeep. In spite of paying $20 million for Zeal in 2000 Looksmart is now killing it off in favor of a social bookmarking site. As companies that own major directories shift in favor of bookmarking sites you have to think that search engines are going to start moving in the same way - looking more for temporal data (Yahoo! obviously already is with MyWeb and Del.icio.us).

Think of older link lists as being similar to a directory category page. If you were a search engine would you want to trust these older than dirt links as votes next to their votes for porn sites, domaining sites, and broken links? Google does a ton right now, but eventually that will change.

If sites get too junky people use them less and they stop acquiring as many links, and thus would be hurt by temporal effects, but it takes a while for that to filter through the web.

As the web grows what would stop Google from ranking pages with broken links (or other aged and not well kept indication) much lower (they may already do this in some cases) and passing less outbound link popularity on pages chuck full of broken links.

They could stop their over reliance on links from crusty old domains a few ways:

  • looking at temporal data more

  • if a page has above a certain percent (or number) of broken links do not allow it to pass PageRank (you would most likely have to do that on a page by page level since so many sites eventually decay away and many published sites offer dated articles that do not change)
  • if a page has above a certain percent of broken links allow it to cast its voting power proportional to what percent of links work...ie: if only 10% of the links work only allow it to pass out roughly 10% of that page's PageRank (or 8.5% if you wanted to assume the original .85 dampening factor)
  • if a site has above a certain percent of broken links or bad links flag it for review

Many spammers are well tooled up and cash flush. As the ad systems grow in advertiser depth and better target ads spamming gets more profitable. Invariably I think Google is going to have to start doing a few things to fend off from what is going to be a very spam filled year.

Just about everyone with a year or two in the SEO game knows going old is going gold, but outside of the link graph so many other factors are easy to manipulate, and relying too heavily on traffic streams or linkage data could result in them creating an index where every site had some annoying viral marketing aspect to it. Where do they go from here?

Surely posting about hosted content pages over and again isn't going to get people to stop doing it. Also note that Google still serves AdSense ads on the sites mentioned for "still hosting doorway pages," which means Google is still paying them to play.

Google is going back in time with their relevancy and trust to a time when the web was less commercial...largely because their current business model does not foster a functional web. Google placing so much weight on the past is, in my humble opinion, a fundamental admission of that they need to change their business model to inspire higher quality content.

Which of the following two are more profitable (especially when you consider upkeep costs):

  • a site with editors that creates original useful compelling content and frequently cites external resources

  • an automated algorithmic site that typically limits choices to that which is recommended by third parties, or more often to automated ad optimization services

Google is making more of the web like itself. In a sense, Google's current business model limits the quality of information that you can editorially produce and maintain if the content production needs to be a self sustaining project. They are squeezing the margins on all media by making the ad market so efficient and easy to track.

Having recently bought an old directory I cringe at the idea of sprucing up the directory by cleaning out dead links and replacing them with other similar resources costing nearly as much as the site itself did.

People doing things with passion may not be so easily deterred at creating content at a loss, but for those looking to go independent it probably is nowhere near maximally profitable to have high quality content unless you can create industry standard resources, make others want to create content for you, or use your content to leverage subscriptions, high priced consulting fees or other business relationships.

Here is a review of a 6 page JupiterResearch report that sells for $750. With that price point they probably are not selling a bunch, but price points are a signal of quality. Paying a lot for information means you are more likely to act on it, but paying more for ads just means you are wasting money.

"I know I waste half the money I spend on advertising," department store pioneer John Wanamaker said. "The problem is, I don't know which half."

Some people are touting the cost per influence concept to set up ad networks, but you really don't buy influence. If you do then the people selling it LOSE their influence. As more pages become ad cluttered people will become even more skeptical about what they click.

If you want a parallel about how well the cost per influence strategy works take a peak at how well advertisers and publishers enjoyed Google's print ads. Influential magazines...horrific return on investment.

I think while Google's competitors are scrambling to catch up on the search ad front Google realizes that they have squeezed out much of the efficiency out of that market that they can, and that they are going to have to create a framework that helps:

  • lower the cost of content production

  • lower the cost of content distribution
  • increases demand for media consumption and creation
  • helps content publishers create and distribute premium content and / or subscription based content products.
  • gives consumers adequate samples while allowing publishers to protect their rights
  • organize vertical data streams for data consumption
  • takes a cut on the value they create

Peter D (who seems to be on a back and forth link thingie with me right now) recently wrote:

We started with the site being the destination (Yahoo! directory listed sites), then the page (AltaVista serp, or Adwords landing page), and now - the data unit.

In practical terms, it might work like this: if you've got something to say, or to buy, or to sell, make sure that chunk of information is in GoogleBase. The publishers who pull the data from GoogleBase will do the rest, potentially giving you much wider distribution, in the blink of an eye, and with little effort on your part.

Compare that to building a website, marketing it, and managing it. There may, in future, already be an existing, third-party expressway between you and your audience.

I think Google (and others) want to keep making it easier and more efficient to access quick data streams, but I think Google also wants the other end of the market...Google wants a cut on the high end content that isn't profitable enough being monetized by contextual ads.

Their attempts at print ads are probably not only so they can become a market leader in selling them, but also so they can learn how efficient the different media models are, how much value they have, and try to approach publishers with different models that puts Google at the center of the information world...for both free and paid information.

Yahoo! would like some people to believe that they are ahead of Google on the content syndication business, but I don't think they are. The thing that I think will kill Yahoo! in that fight is that they will go after partnerships with bigger companies, whilst Google will get some of those, but also attack that from another angle. Using low cost structure (partly from low overhead from independent publishers, partly from their cheap clock cycles, partly from the value of all the media consumption data they store) and quirky nature and expertise of amateurs to build so much demand that it forces the larger high quality official publishers to need to be part of GoogleBase, either by monetizing the pageviews they get from it or selling their content in it.

Comments are Easy Marketing Opportunities

Mar 24th

People talk about things everyday. When most people talk about SEO (especially those who have never tried to understand anything about how search engines work) they typically tend to spew out biased ignorant garbage that needs corrected.

Of course I don't want to make it sound like I never make mistakes or do stupid things. They both happen all the time. And people have corrected me as well.

The error I tend to have a distaste for is one of intent...the people talking trash about SEOs...what percent of them even tried to learn anything about the industry before they paid a scammer and got mad, or just posted some hate speech with no knowledge on any level?

It is the equivalent of me saying all PHP programmers or web designers are scum because I was cheap and lazy and hired a bad one. I try to go out of my way to make sure I express my name and brand as being a person not being afraid to call a spade a spade. Sometimes people like it. Sometimes they hate it.

Sometimes I intentionally piss people off. One of the most effective ways to do that is to change the frame of reference of the conversation to use their own words 100% against them to make them look silly. The beautiful thing about the web is that you can take a few minutes to craft your response. You don't even have to be immediately good with words to drive a point home.

You can also do well being exceptionally polite to people if you prefer not to be known for calling people out. Any way you slice it, each ignorant post is a marketing opportunity for hungry SEOs. Sometimes even when well respected people outside the industry make positive comments about members of the industry (or reference their content) someone will come along and quickly denounce their posts.

Here is a quote from Andrea, who tends to think Todd is a bad person because his is guilty of being a knowledgable SEO:

BS. That guy is a SEO consultant, most of which are purveyors of snake oil to the unwary. And that's putting it politely. Traffic comes from content, from passion and from something, anything that actually means something to people. If you haven't got something worth talking, nobody will be talking about it, SEO optimized or not.

to which I replied (not sure if he will post it there, so I will post it here):

Andreas,
Anywhere that there is $$$$ and confusion sleazeballs will follow and sell snake oil. But for you to write off the entire industry is ignorant at best. And that's putting it politely.

I recently wrote an article about some of the reasons the SEO industry has a black eye. seobook dot com/archives/001561.shtml

Part of it was that sleazeballs sell snake oil. Another part of the equasion was that most clients are lazy.

>If you haven't got something worth talking, nobody will be talking about it, SEO optimized or not.

People talk about stupid crap all the time. Some people even talk about things they know nothing about. Take yourself, as an example.

You really believe that quality content and passion are the only thing that makes pages rank?

How come I have pages ranking in Google right now that are only page titles, waiting for me to develop and place ad filled content on them? For terms that are worth thousands of dollars a month?

In fact, I have ranked domains where the site was not even up. One of my sites was ranking #6 for "search engine marketing" when Google's cache showed no content at the URL. Since the site was not even up clearly it was ONLY links that made it rank.

The term it was ranking for? search engine marketing.

Here are a few screenshots. This is the search result:
seobook dot com/images/no-page-1.gif
Here is the cached copy of the site not existing:
seobook dot com/images/no-page-2.gif

>I can tell you first hand that SEO only works for sites with great content since building link popularity is nearly impossible for sites without great content.

I have made thousands of dollars off sites that were of such low quality that I was ashamed to have owned them...some of which now only exist as trophies for how to make bad sites.

You can get links to ANY site if you are creative enough. Links are just citations or references.

Look at this page, published today no less:
problogger dot net/archives/2006/03/24/pixel-ad-site-targeting-bloggers-with-deception/

Also some people will sell a link to anyone. And as shown from that Problogger post, some people get links exclusively because their content quality is so low.

MetaFilter and MSNBC even referenced an auto content generator
www dot metafilter.com/mefi/41549

Content quality typically does not get much lower than that which is automated or machine composed.

Whenever people talk in absolutes they are easy to shoot down, because the array of human emotion and human activity is so broad. Those who speak in absolutes typically (although not all the time) do not consider much beyond their own perspective.

For anyone who thinks Andrea had any credibility on any level to talk trash about SEO, check out what Google sees as their home page. As of writing this it has no text, no links, and the even the word BIG in the page title is ran together with numbers with an underscore separating them BIG_v1.02 (so Google sees the page title as two words - BIG_v1 and 02). That is literally the single worst SEOed page I have ever seen in my life.

Lowering Search Conversion Rates as You Increase Visibility

Mar 24th

Generally longer search queries indicate more implied demand and a higher qualified visitor than short queries. Thus they tend to convert better, but sites that lack strong visibility for terms outside of their core brand may convert visitors exceptionally well, because often their sites are so hard to find that visitors have already they wanted to buy from them before they got to the site. As your site gets more exposure your conversion rate may drop since you start getting industry focused leads, and not just leads for your official branded name.

As you build out a PPC account you can find cheaper terms if you think peripherally and laterally. Odds are that some of these terms may not convert as well as the core brand or industry standard terms, but the discount offered by a lack of competition typically more than offsets this, especially in hyper competitive markets.

Similar could be said for organic search. Lower competition means lower cost to get to the top of the results, although related terms may not convert as well as the core term set.

If you start an aggressive SEO campaign your overall conversion rates may drop because an increase authority score will make your site relevant for some terms where your site is not one of the most relevant resources. Due to less qualified visitors finding your site your overall conversion rates may go down, but eventually if you make your sales process more efficient you can help offset that and raise your conversion rate on your core terms.

If you rank well enough to be seen over and over again and do heavy contextual advertising you can also help boost your brand visibility, which can lead to more search volume your strong converting core branded search terms.

Why Goog is a Buy: Killer Value Per Inch / Pixel / Second

Mar 24th

Hehehe. So I know nothing about the stock market, but I recently revived the ads on a low profit site that is in a general and low profit category.

What ad unit that provided the most value per unit space? My AdSense search box. BY A LOT!

Moderate to high traffic publishers are probably screwing up if they litter their sites with ads and don't have a profit share search relationship with a major engine.

As search eats more of the web many publishing models are getting chewed up. Those who are good at monetizing usually do one or more of the following:

  • create content late in the buy cycle;

  • find uncovered niches that are easy to compete in;
  • leverage viral non commercial ideas to give their site an unfair authority advantage over competing sites;
  • are good at mixing in a few affiliate advertorials (if you can spend 12 hours creating a page that makes a few hundred a month for years on end that is a nice ROI and passive income stream);
  • use their market position to make money in other ways; or
    negotiate strong ad prices directly.

Those who lack every piece of that skill set may still make a decent living off the web by just making it easy for their visitors to search for more information.

If the next major OS and browser release gets people to view the web differently (ie: search is ALWAYS done from the browser) that may change, but for now the search box is the easiest loose money waiting to be collected by most content publishers. (Millions of dollars a day are waiting to be collected).

Also when advertisers opt out of contextual AdSense ads their ads usually still show up in publisher partner search ads, so that advertiser depth can still be rather appealing to publishers that do not fear losing their visitors (and typically the feel for the need to keep visitors misses what the web is about).

Another nice benefit of the Google search box on your site is that most people view it as a service instead of an ad, so it is an effective way of cramming another ad or two on your site without your site looking any spammier or ad cluttered. People also sense that THEY are in control when they search, so they find the ads there more acceptable. Provide search inline with content and you will be surprised at how many people use it.

Cough

Web 3.0: Google as the Web

Mar 22nd

Peter D thinks Google = web.

The basic web unit is no longer a site, or even a page. It's a piece of data. And that piece of data can appear anywhere.

Like in Google Base.

Or at least I chose to literally interpret his post that way.

If your sites don't have any of the following:

  • access to a specialized database that is hard to compile or gain access too

  • a strong brand
  • tools that save people hundreds or thousands of hours a day
  • a human voice
  • original ideas
  • a history of creating and sharing value
  • a reason to visit your site or channel daily

and make your living off the web, you may want to read this post to see the trend, and look to quickly develop one or more of the above.

The trick for Google as they consume verticals is for them to find the balance of what they can take while fostering relevant efficient business models (ie: turning legacy publishing business models into always on web friendly models). Until legacy models are reformed or displaced Google will promote some trashy stuff as a casualty on the way to their end goal. Each new market Google creates will have holes that act as a marketing mechanism to market the marketplace.

Some articles highlight that content ads should have more value since they are around for more time than search, but the quicker you can solve my problems the more value you create. That is the point and power of search.

The problem with the traditional ad model is that most content ads are still a distraction. Yahoo! remains clueless on this front - optimizing ads for earnings instead of relevancy - which will only work until stupid advertisers stop overpaying for ads and calling it brand spend.

Most quality content is not produced to let ads become an important part of the content. Writers do not trust the ad networks well enough, and there is a long standing belief that ads and content need to be separate. Heaven forbid the ads are allowed to become actionable content. Advertisers are scared at the idea of integrating ads into active channels.

Think of Google as a market maker with search being at the top of the market, and most of their secondary goals and markets being based around making their primary goal better. With Google's cheap computer cycles and their ability to organize information they have the ability to make many markets far more efficient, then take a cut of the profits from the efficiency they created.

Google Base will make the real estate market more efficient, then as categories grow Google will charge for listings a la Craigslist. Google also plunged into the financial market.

As consumers become engaged content creators they will become more educated about the world not being sustainable and will demand more corporate accountability. Many business models will shift from one time sales to recurring subscriptions based largely on relationships. Items, relationships and outcomes will become easier to track.

As more of the offline world goes online they will be the default inventory management system for many consumers, retailers and wholesales.

Think of Google as the ultimate CRM system. Sure my business is web only, but I have regularly used Google's search, email, chat (easy to use - free voice to anywhere), advertising, contextual, and tracking systems. That is pretty much everything but hosting, payment, packaging and order fulfillment. They also offer hosting via Blogspot and Google's page creator, and payment via Google Base. For electronic content they will also do order fulfillment. Given enough time they will probably create extensible hosting and operating systems that allow you to create and store ideas and software.

They don't take any money off the value add from many layers because they are not yet dominate enough in them and they want to take more value off search...and vertical search. Many of Google's other layers are about keeping competing models honest to keep business costs low.

I think that within 20 years they will become the default commodities trading platform worldwide. Not only do they tie historical performance to news, but they also have the largest database of intentions and allow anyone to look at historical performance or compare brand strength and trends at the keyword level. What sort of bets, spreads, and prices could Google offer compared to others when so many people are willing to share their dreams, desires, consumption habits, needs and fears with them.

Give Me All Your Monies: the 12 Sins of SEO's Black Eyes

Mar 22nd

Via SER the latest SEO scam marketing technique is to cold call and threaten well ranking sites that their site will be banned if they do not pay you. If you say no, they threaten to turn you in for spamming to get your site blacklisted quicker.

According to David Wallace the firm that is allegedly doing this is Paramount Webmasters. A funny detailed email exchange is posted here.

Important to note that this blackmail issue is not any of the arbitrary black hat seo vs white hat seo crap. Search spamming actually has the ability to teach you algorithmic criteria for ranking well in the engines. Many of the best SEOs are also search spammers. Think of them as field tested experts. But search spamming is not the problem here.

This problem is purely a business ethics issue. In any market where business owners are uninformed some sleazeballs will come along and try to bilk a few hundred or few thousand dollars out of businesses. Those people are just like the pieces of garbage that mail me domain monitoring, domain registration, and trademark monitoring scam mail.

I think the reason SEO gets more of a black eye than domain registrars, hosts, and web designers is largely determined by roughly 12 criteria (3 here and the rest later on):

  • legitimate SEO services may have a fairly high price point due to their great value

  • most people seeking SEO preclude honest service providers because they think in terms of free traffic
  • many people only hear of search engine marketing WHEN a scammer contacts them

Because you notice registrars have a practical function BEFORE scammers contact you, if you ever get ripped off by a bogus bill you don't associate that with registrars, you associate that action with scammers. You have to have a certain sense of curiosity or an analytical mind to naturally want to think about how and why search engines determine relevancy. In SEO all too many webmasters discover the topic WHILE a scammer has contacted them offering to blackmail them. Thus their mental frameset is first determined by their interaction with scammers.

Worse yet, after getting scammed once or twice a business owner might feel beat down and never have enough trust in the field to be able to spend enough to afford someone who would do honest quality work, so they keep going back to

  1. scammers OR

  2. new SEOs who do not know the value of their services, which are also likely to have many of the following downsides:
    • limited experience

    • spreading themselves too thin because they need to do too much work to get by
    • limited self confidence
    • poor communication skills
    • such a low price point that massive algorithmic updates could cause their service prices to go into negative margins
    • a lack of understanding how SEO fits into the broader marketing spectrum
    • a margin based business that undercharges off the start is doomed to fail as the medium grows more competitive (Some businesses may change their prices, but the odds of finding one that is deeply undercharging which raises their rates prior to a huge algorithm shift almost destroying their business is probably next to none. If they raise their rates after an algorithm has caused your traffic to diminish your business relationship stands a good chance of ending.)

Either way, after a business is burned once or twice they are likely to keep getting burned due to a fear of committing too many resources.

Other issues that give SEO's a bad rap are:

  • many business owners are lazy and want to outsource the blame for their own failures and lack of ability to adapt to evolving technologies

  • some updates cause bad algorithms to roll out and screw with even well establishes sites
  • while new updates are rolled in SEO's may get contacted by nearly all of their customers at the exact same time, and until things settle down sometimes it does not make much sense to make any changes
  • SEO is a game of margins. Unless you are creative or really understand social networks creating a future proof well ranking site costs much more than satisfying the current ranking criteria.
  • many people carpet bomb the web with marketing messages. some of those messages are used to manipulate search results. blogs are viral in nature and blog software makers were slow to adapt.
  • some people scraping by at low price points seeing more of their budget getting turned toward search instead of design or other services are chuck full of envy
  • SEO is largely an invisible process to the average business (ie: they don't see the link building or much of anything until they see the results weeks or months after a campaign starts), but if it works most businesses are not likely to share that information. Would you share the secret to your success? If it doesn't work people are far more likely to share a complaint. With so many people chasing the top results most of them are going to end up disappointed. Not everyone can rank #1.
  • Competition: With the algorithms advancing and the field getting so hyper saturated it is getting harder for any one SEO or SEO company to stick out in a good way and get noticed. Often one of the best ways to create new buzz is to mention controversy or when things go awry elsewhere. Thus for the sake of interest or plublicity we - as an industry - eat our young. The media also prefers to paint the controvercial angle - because it sells more news print.
  • Competition: Search is an easy concept to like. Google has a strong brand. It hurts their relevancy and revenue when people manipulate their index. As recently as a week ago Matt Cutts was quoted in the Economist saying renting links was unethical. Financially Google is primarily a link broker, making roughly 99% of their revenue from selling links. Google is worth over $100 billion and makes roughly 99% of their revenue by selling links. By their own standard Google must be exceptionally unethical, especially since they sell links promoting child prostitution!

In the same way I would like to disassociate Paramount Webmasters from the SEO field, it is also worth noting that a business can use direct mail or the phone for marketing (even Yahoo! cold called me asking me to join their ambassador program) and be an ethical business, but it is important to look for independent signs of quality and do a bit of research before buying from anyone who first contacts you. It is usually better to chose your business partners than to let them chose you.

Google AdWords Opens Up Keyword Research Tool, Adds Seasonal Data

Mar 22nd

Google recently opened up their AdWords keyword research tool by allowing it to be accessible from outside AdWords accounts. They also added seasonal search volume data for global and local searches, and allowed it to be accessible by match type (ie: broad, phrase, exact).

That will likely just about kill off most of the paid keyword research tool market.

I told MSN that I thought one of the ways they could possibly catch up a bit with Google on the SEM front is to make the default keyword research tool. Google's now is feature rich, shows seasonal data, data by match type, and the data is easy to export. As Google, Yahoo! and MSN jocky for position you can bet that their keyword research tools are only going to get better - although I don't think Yahoo!'s crusty old tool has changed in about a decade hehehe.

Google Transfering Domain Trust to Spam

Mar 21st

On Strike Point today DaveN noted that subdomains are doing well in Google again.

SEO Blackhat posted about a site making big $$$$ by getting indexed as framed content off a well established .gov domain.

It is easy to find those sorts of sites by searching for something like [inurl:.gov frameredirect]. Although Quadzilla said Google is already plugging that hole I am sure there are others still open.

Although the links are in javascript, it really shows what a scam in general the web filtering concerns and the Ready.gov site are when you realize just how easy it is to have Ready.gov reference your site or a porn site or an Al Queda site of your choice.

How pathetic is that?

A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall!

Why I Think Most SEO Software is Trash

Mar 21st

Recently the Pittsburgh Post Gazette quoted a person offering tips to ranking in MSN:

Mr. Sweet, who is senior sales consultant for Nauticom Internet Services in Sewickley, posted several paragraphs, trying not to use the term "yellowware" more than 4 percent of the time so it wouldn't be classified as spam but also to include enough content to lure the search bots.

Within three weeks, his listing showed up at the top of MSN.com's "yellowware" search -- at no cost.

Now when you look at the page ranking in MSN you notice the following problems:

  • the page title is one word, and thus generally not very compelling, having no modifiers (to pick up related traffic or appeal to prospective clients) and no calls to action in it

  • the URL has ID in it twice, with a long variable string after each one
  • many search engines would not want to index URLs like that if they thought those stood a good chance of being session IDs. In fact in Google's guidelines state "Don't use "&id=" as a parameter in your URLs, as we don't include these pages in our index."
  • not sure if the page may be indexed in Google AFTER I linked at it, but in spite of the site being around for at least a few months and already showing PageRank the example page is still not cached in Google yet.
  • Google is the biggest search engine. Not even being in their index is a brutal miss for an example SEO page.
  • the content reads like it was crafted with search engines in mind, which is not the type of content that tends to convert well if you are selling stuff on your site (though ugly content like that might be great for getting people to click off onto PPC ads)

One of the biggest advantages of mixing PPC in with organic SEO is that it forces you to appreciate lead value, and to create content that converts.

Most SEO software gives you an arbitrary framework which prevents you from focusing on conversion and profits. Not every site is for profit, but you still want to create content that people would like to read and perhaps share.

Here we have a newspaper quoting a guy who has a site that messed up from a SEO and conversion perspective, and his tip for people is to focus on keyword density, in spite of keyword density losing its relevance years ago.

Imagine a conversation inside a shop selling junky outdated SEO software that has been rendered irrelevant by improving search technology.

Worker: Hey we are giving people some bad information here. Our software is kinda bogus and without purpose now isn't it?
Boss: It makes us $70,000 a month. It clearly has a purpose.
Worker: But doesn't it gives people bad advice and outdated tips that actually hurt their businesses?
Boss: It makes us $70,000 a month. It clearly is a valuable piece of software.

And so people continue to chase keyword density, getting ripped off along the way.

Creating the Ultimate Resource

Mar 20th

I recently took another peak at Rand's Beginners Guide to SEO, and think this is one of the most useful points to SEO (worth noting over and over again):

One Great Page is Worth a Thousand Good Pages
While hundreds or dozens of on-topic pages that cover sections of an industry are valuable to a website's growth, it is actually far better to invest a significant amount of time and energy producing a few articles/resources of truly exceptional quality. To create documents that become "industry standard" on the web and are pointed to time after time as the "source" for further investigations, claims, documents, etc. is to truly succeed in the rankings battle. The value of "owning" this traffic and link source far outweighs a myriad of articles that are rarely read or linked to.

Rand's point there is exceptionally valid. As the amount of information available increases what is link worthy changes. I am sure there will always be exceptions to rules, but in a new market a link list may be link worthy, then as it gets more established a directory might be useful, but then as it gets even more competitive people like editorial content, quotes and specific reasons why cited resources are important. Then some may eventually expect focused regularly updated channels.

While the core message of most internet marketing information sites may be exceptionally similar (containing the following ideas)

  • be original

  • be interesting
  • it is all about the reader

it helps to come up with something that defines success on your own terms from your worldview. For example, Brian Clark recently gave a free viral copy report, trying to define viral content in the terms of a copywriter who understands blogging. It helped to add the with blogging part to his idea because Seth Godin already snagged the free viral content market position with Unleashing the Ideavirus.

Once you grab a market position it is hard to lose unless you become lazy and/or uninspired, or create massive barriers to distribution.

Digg the Wikipedia Editors: a Bunch of Flamers!!!

Mar 20th

Since running Threadwatch I realized I am probably not the strongest community leader, generally having a hands off mentality. I tend to find the most entertaining threads at Threadwatch are very flamy in nature. As the person running such a site it is hard to derail flames while they are causing active heated discussion. While Brett Tabke has never done anything wrong to me personally (in fact he has generally been rather cool with me multiple times) TWers roasted Brett pretty bad in this thread and it even caused the following comment love this thread, everyone can sigh in relief, the old TW is BACK baby!

I think in small niche communities flames cause more people to cite more resources and better information to try to prove their points. Sure it is easy to get irrational, but that thread linked to above has links to and quotes from so many useful topical resources. But as decentralized communities widen out it seems it is easier to get more irrational quicker. Things seem to become more of an overgrazed commons fast.

My old roommate tended to view information on the web with a sense of purity, but when you look at Danny Sullivan needlessly getting flamed on Wikipedia and then again at Digg it makes you wonder if leaderless community sites only obviously fail in topics you know well, or if they are bad across other topics as well.

Without flames and emotions can communities exist? Can people debate without occasionally going after each other? Can people get past their differences if the communities are rather broad in scope? If communities get too broad can we get past our lack of trust?

Surely the controversy offer link opportunities that should have their motives questioned, but when the Wikipedia editors flame Danny Sullivan and naturally cite this site as a resource for their Free Republic page (which is a political ideology that is not mine) and do not cite it for the SEO topic isn't something screwed up? How pure is the information? How well does THAT scale?

And I am not whining about not being able to get a link, I already have a few and know some of the workarounds, but the point is more that if they drive away people like Danny Sullivan (a guy referenced by Larry Page & Sergey Brin when they were founding Google) then who - other than novices or self promotional spammers - do they expect to contribute to the Wikipedia search section?

Every Site is a Wiki

Mar 20th

If you think of other sites as wiki's it is easier to get links. You just have to think of how you can become an editor for them.

  • Even whining gets attention (so long as it has outbound links in it).

  • http://www.federalbudget.com/ - linking opportunity in the page footer? How many people are willing to trade authoritative links to help spread their message?
  • Did you know that Mathworld could use help on their Markov Chains page?
  • Did you know they state exactly what they could use help with?
  • Did you know that they cite external references on their pages?
  • It doesn't get much easier than that, with people telling you exactly what they want. Create the external resource, fix up the page, and then cite yourself - or have a friend involved to make it seem less suspicious or less self promotional. :)
  • How many other sites need that type of help? What search queries could be used to help find them?
  • Did you know that Wikipedia profile pages and talk pages get indexed (and old talks get archived and indexed)?

Links Links Links

Mar 19th

Here are links to a bunch of resources I recently found interesting.

Mixing Organic SEO and Pay Per Click Marketing

Mar 19th
posted in

SEO Question: What is the best way to determine what resources should be put into pay per click marketing versus organic SEO?

SEO Answers: There are a near endless number of factors in determining how you should spend your marketing money online. The good thing about search is the implied intent while people are searching - which can lead to quick feedback on efficient accounts, but there are certain businesses that are hard to sell via search.

This site ranks fairly well via search, but most of my conversions come from other marketing mechanisms because there is so much hype in online marketing and so much distrust toward marketing ebooks. About the only search terms that convert for this site are searches for my name or the official name of the site (part of that is also because the brand name of this site is rather generic in nature). When selling unbranded commodity based products at low cost I think search works much better than expensive products or services that require building trust first. If you build a brand it makes it hard for competitors to compete on your branded terms because your conversion rate will be so much higher on the branded searches.

I think prior to determining how you break down your marketing spend you first have to determine what your short term and long term goals are. Do you want to rank for certain competitive terms in Google? Is your goal to get a certain amount of traffic? A certain amount of profit? Develop a brand or market reach that allows you to profit indirectly?

Some business models work great with pay per click marketing. Particularly small uncompetitive niches or high value markets that do not have much advertising depth. Using PPC to market in local niche markets tend to offer under-priced leads. In many markets people bid on the most common terms but leave off higher value related terms. Also some markets are far under-priced since PPC is newer there. Based on talking to a few friends I think PPC in Germany on average would offer higher returns than PPC in the UK or US.

Some business models work horribly with pay per click marketing. Particularly businesses that have no recurring income streams and/or lower product prices in a market crowded by competitors with higher price points or higher profit margins. If you have a product which may be priced out of the more common high value terms you still may be able to find a few niche terms and bid on your brand, but you may need to rely more on organic search for traffic in this scenario.

Within pay per click marketing I have seen some topics where the Google AdWords ROI is much greater, but, more commonly, Yahoo! has less reach but greater ROI. Because of differences in how their systems work it may mean that leads which are prohibitively expensive in one channel may be cheap in another.

Since right now MSN has few ad distribution partners and is still in beta they should have some of the cleanest traffic and least competition within their new beta system. But they may not have much traffic in some markets due to their small search market share compared to Google or Yahoo!

To do pay per click well you really have to track your conversions so you can calculate your lead value / income per unique visitor. If it is hard to track the exact lead value it is important to find a proxy for value. If your costs seem prohibitively expensive and your business model is similar to competing sites you need to look at what is going wrong in your conversion process. Competitive PPC markets force you to be more efficient, which helps you woth conversions on both PPC and organic search.

Many non search ads are also sold through the PPC interfaces at the major search engines. Cash rich companies or exceptionally efficient businesses may consider bidding low on contextual ads to help give them a brand lift. Since many of these ads have a low clickthrough rate you can get hundreds of thousands or millions of impressions for a few hundred dollars. Increased mindshare leads to greater search volume, so the contextual ads play back into your PPC and organic search marketing campaigns.

There is an appeal to the concept of retail without the risk, or turn key operations, but a business without risk is a business without growth or purpose. Even if things seem like they are churning along smoothly with pay per click marketing the players may change the rules of the game, and overnight many of the terms and techniques that were once exceptionally profitable are less so. In much the same way they want to keep noise out of their regular search results to keep them relevant they also want to keep ads relevant. And then competitors can enter the market and shift the game plan overnight as well. This can happen in organic or paid results, so using both can help lower your risk from things going wrong with either, plus you can take information your learn from either discipline and use it to refine the other.

As far as organic SEO goes I could write a 100 page long post that nobody would read (or perhaps I could sell it as an ebook and then people would read it), but generally the four major questions are:

  1. Should I do PPC? is composed of the following elements:

    • Do I have enough cash to at least give PPC a try?

    • Does my business model preclude PPC?
    • If so, are there ways I can improve my business model?
    • You can learn a lot from PPC, like market value estimates and what terms are really important. I think just about everyone should try and track PPC, at least for their own brand names and some of the underpriced edges of the market (although I think it is best to stick with the major players - Google, Yahoo! and MSN Search).
  2. Is there enough traffic to justify outlaying an SEO expenditure?
  3. Can your site compete in Yahoo! and MSN?
  4. Can your site compete in Google?

One way to test how much traffic there is for a given keyword phrase or group of keyword phrases is to start up a test Google AdWords account. If you need a primer on PPC marketing my free PPC tips ebook may be of use.

You can also estimate the size of a keyword market using keyword research tools, although many of them have sampling errors due to small search volume or inflate the search volumes of the most competitive keywords due to automated traffic sources.

If you learn SEO yourself and are in a small niche market you may be able to do it for a hundred or a few hundred dollars. But also do not forget the value of your time. SEO Moz also has a free keyword difficulty estimation tool which some people may find useful.

If you outsource SEO it is hard to find someone who is honest and willing to give you personalized attention unless you can afford a decent spend. Some people may not know what their work is worth and be willing to work dirt cheap, but if you are paying less than $1,000 you probably have about a 95% chance of being disappointed. Depending on your market the cost can scale up to a much larger number. Some people spend hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.

With MSN it seems that just publishing content, using targeted anchor text, and getting low quality links (like links from junky general directories and article syndication sites) is all you need to do to rank. Yahoo! is the same way, although they are a bit more advanced than MSN search is.

With Google, to compete in saturated markets, you need to have an old trusted domain name, or be able to come up with ways to get natural citations from quality sites - and even then it helps as the site ages.

There are ways to get some quality links that may seem like natural citations (like perhaps links for donating to related charities) but the easier it is to get a link the quicker that source will get spammed out. The more abstract your donations are the harder it is for competitors to compete with you. Realistically all links occur due to donations. Creating funny, useful, or compelling content is in a sense a donation to whoever reads it or watches it.

If you are in below-the-radar industries and are creative some of your links can stick for an extended period of time, but if you are competing in savvy fields you also want to ensure you get some legitimate citations that would be hard for your competitors to duplicate. Also keep in mind that if you get exceptionally powerful links via creative means some people in other industries may do research to see what other links you have, and may even start competing in your industry.

You need one or more of the following to compete in Google:

  • a brand that you can leverage

  • viral marketing
  • a rabid following that you can contact
  • influential web friends who can help spread your message

In non competitive markets you still may be able to do well in Google right away, but the keys there are to make sure you mix your link anchor text and also create content that is long tail in nature.

As stated above, the budget mix is going to be hard to come up with exact percentages due to various competitive landscapes and different business models working better with different parts of the search space. If a site already has a large brand it is important to make sure your content management system is working well with search and your site is getting well indexed.

For just about any long-term website I would recommend doing at least the following for organic SEO either before or in conjunction with starting a pay per click account:

  • Unique page titles on each page. If you have a huge branded content site and were not doing this you may see your traffic double just by placing unique titles on each page.

  • Ensure your site is getting well indexed (which has multiple parts to it):
  • Ensure you do not have duplicate content issues
    • each page has unique content on it

    • the same page is not available at multiple URLs
    • the PageRank should be the same at site.com and www.site.com (or at least they should not be different numbers unless one of them is 0)
    • when you did the site searches mentioned above you did not see the exact same content over and over again listed many times in one search result page
    • if you have many pages indexed in the major search engines you should probably be fine on this front.
    • also make sure that your Google listings do not have the words "supplemental result" near them. Those are typically caused by things like orphaned pages or duplicate content.

Rand Interviews Black Knight

Mar 17th

Rand interviewed Ammon Johns (Ammon is also known as Black Knight, and is one of the most respected names in the industry):

Pepsi don’t go to the same ad agency as Coca Cola and say “I want the exact same ad Coke just ran, but with our brand instead of theirs”. It doesn’t work that way. Companies and brands are not interchangeable and a package that attempts to serve all companies with the exact same thing is just a nonsense. In fact it is obviously ridiculous.

In all honesty, it seems like the vast majority of SEO practitioners and web marketers out there have developed one simple package that once worked and then just re-use it over and over until they have milked it dry.

When you get to the level Ammon is at you can be rather selective with which clients you are willing to take. Via SEW Benjamin Pfeiffer recently wrote an article titled What To Do If You're The SEO Client Nobody Wants?

It seems as though increasing opportunities for experienced SEOs, evolving search algorithms, and increased competition over time are making it much harder for unbranded businesses to find SEOs to service competitive marketplaces unless they have a holistic marketing strategy.

Ben also wrote an article titled Why The Big SEO Company Is Killing The True SEO.

This year alone, 60% of all new clients I have taken on have been what I like to call the "recycled SEO". A recycled SEO client is a client who has previously worked with another SEO company, who was either got scammed, not delivered upon, or cheated in some way.

I still think lowly of most large firms, but as Ben noted, if 60% of your leads come from one source are they doing your marketing for you? I got ripped off by a sleazy SEO outfit, and perhaps underpaying and getting junk or overpaying and getting junk is just part of the SEO learning cycle. I certainly am not scared when I read that WPP (or other large ad agencies) create SEO divisions, as I have never believed that SEO services scale, and ultimately large providers end up sending leads to smaller and better companies.

Should I Have Yahoo! or Google Set Up My PPC Account?

Mar 15th
posted in

SEO Question: I am new to pay per click marketing. Should I have Google and Yahoo! set up my pay per click account?

SEO Answer: Indeed Google and Yahoo! both are willing to set up your PPC accounts for you, but I would not recommend Google AdWords Jumpstart or Yahoo! Search Marketing Fast Start.

For small non-competitive niche markets it may not hurt you for the engines to set up your campaigns, but if your market is not well established odds are pretty good that the search engines will not do a good job of deep keyword research (since they will have few competing accounts to build your keyword list from).

In competitive markets many people end up losing money. It benefits the engines if most advertisers bid up some of the most common terms (and thus fully value or overvalue the terms that are frequently searched for). The people who make money off pay per click often avoid or underbid the most common terms, and spend more time thinking laterally and bidding on terms that competitors have not yet found. So the goals of the engines may not be well aligned with your own goals (ie: efficient profitable accounts do not mean the same thing when you look at the perspectives of buyers vs sellers).

For competitive terms that you want to compete on you may want to frequently test and retest your landing page and ad copy to help make their accounts more competitive (so in that regard you need to learn about PPC anyhow).

Google's keyword research tool is constantly improving. There are other free keyword tools on the market as well, like Yahoo!'s or mine.

I was able to write most of what I know about PPC in about 30 pages in this free PDF. I do recommend starting with the largest players (Google AdWords, Yahoo! Search Marketing, and MSN AdCenter), but in a game of margins you really need to do more than accept a default account set up provided by the person selling you traffic.

Also there are a number of questions you can't expect the traffic sellers to honestly answer, like:

  • does PPC even make sense given your current business model

  • what percent of your budget should be spent with a competitor
  • should content syndication be turned on
  • how should you bid on content ads
  • should you bid on the most common terms? what is the best position to rank?

Even if they know exactly what different keywords and ad positions will cost they still do not know your business well enough to know what is best for you. Good accounts should use ad targeting to limit their spend...instead of tying arbitrary budgets to bad bids and bad targeting, but it takes a while of learning and tweaking to set up an appropriate account...more work than most engines would like to do. And could you blame them for not wanting to tweak your account to REMOVE some of their income opportunities?

Keeping in tune with your account and your search data also helps you keep in tune with your customers.

Can I Get Penalized for Who Links at My Site?

Mar 14th

SEO Question: I was recently threatened by a competitor about them pointing bad links at my site. Can I be penalized based on who links to my site?

SEO Answer: For most people it is unlikely that a competitor is going to go to such lengths to try to sabotage your business, and it is probably not worth being too paranoid over. The whole reason SEO works well is that few people actively practice it.

Having said all of that, the answer to your question is yes. I have seen it done a couple times and there are many different mechanisms people can use to hurt your rankings. Google is constantly testing new algorithms. Sometimes sites will not rank for their own names due to too much similar anchor text. Then at other times sometimes Google creates new algorithmic holes while trying to patch old ones.

As far as building shady links goes, some search algorithms may ignore them and some may give them a bit of a negative weighting on your overall relevancy. Generally though the more positive signs of quality your site has the more low quality signs you can get away with. In that regard probably the best way to protect your site from competitive sabotage is to ensure you don't have domain canonicalization issues (ie: engines realize www.site.com and site.com are the same) and work hard to build legitimate signs of trust. Dan Thies offers some good link building advice in this video, but there are a limited number of quality votes any site can get. The key to beating competitors in the link game is to create more legitimate reasons for people to want to link to your site.

Different engines have different mechanisms for analyzing your link profile. For example, Yahoo! may place too much emphasis on sitewide links while the same links may not help you as much in Google. If you push the low quality links hard enough it may boost your site to #1 in MSN and/or Yahoo!, but you may end up with a link profile that prevents you from ranking well in Google (audio here). Also keep in mind that if competitors try to use links to hurt your site in Google they may also be boosting your Yahoo! or MSN rankings.

In summary I think the two best ways to avoid competitive threats are to stay away from hyper competitive industries OR work hard to create enough legitimate signs of quality that your site is hard to harm.

Can You Build Links too Quickly?

Mar 14th
posted in

SEO Question: I believe link popularity is the #1 criteria to rank in most search algorithms. Is it possible to gain links too quickly?

SEO Answer: Yes you can gain links too quickly, however I think gaining links too quick is rare. Here is an example of Google temporarily banning one of their own sites for building too many links too quickly. You have to appreciate the strength of Google's brand, and that is part of the reason their then new AdSense blog could have gained so many legitimate links so quickly - it is rare...an anomaly.

When people get in trouble for building links too quickly typically they are using automated link building methods, link exchange networks, or lack focus on link quality - all of which give a site an unnatural link profile with an emphasis on low quality linkage data (see TrustRank and the Company You Keep as an example).

If you are getting natural citations in a viral marketing campaign I would not want it to stop for anything. Even if a site did temporarily get banned by a bad search algorithms as long as the fault is not your own the site will come back strongly. Plus natural viral link campaigns have the following bonuses:

  • are hard for competitors to duplicate

  • competitors even requesting links the wrong way from certain opinionated high authority authors can end up hurting their brand equity.
  • drive usage data - ie: they usually spread through the active portions of the web
  • give you a safety net...if your site is ever removed from the search results viral links will still provide direct traffic (and revenue) as well as help fill up search results for your brand with positive comments that further help improve your trustworthiness and conversion rate

If you are building links by submitting to directories and submitting articles to syndication sites I don't think it hurts to build 20 to 50 links at a time so long as you keep actively building links over time or already have an old estabilshed site.

Of course when you build links it makes sense to mix up your anchor text and descriptions so that you are relevant for a basket of keywords and do not make your link profile too unnatural looking.

Reporters and Parrots

Mar 10th

Google's Peter Norvig recently wrote an article called Reporters and Parrots, which, oddly enough compares reporters to parrots. I think it was partially based off of his recent frustrations expressed in his piece on global warming...which Seth thinks should be renamed to something more like "Atmosphere cancer" or "Pollution death".

Peter's parrot comparison is a bit hard on reporters, but if you know common reporting flaws you may be able to use them as a marketing angle. For example, if you can see a big deal bubbling up early make sure you plaster your lesser known angle or different angle early and often so you can later hear your voice echoed throughout the mainstream media.

After you feed them a few crackers you may be able to feed them other things as well, but you won't have a chance to feed them if you pick the same angle that is already well spoken for with better known experts. Of course reporters can misquote and you really want to be careful with how far you are willing to go to be quoted. Being seen saying the wrong thing to thousands of people might not be the best marketing vehicle unless you are creative and / or have thick skin.

Once you have an in from one story and reporters start trusting you then it becomes easier to get cited over and over again.

Dan Thies on Links...Great Free Video!

Mar 10th

Dan Thies has a great free video covering link strategy. It is from week two of his last link training class.

People look for concrete yes or no answers to link questions, but link strategy shifts as your market position shifts. Anyone new to linking and looking to have a long view on how the dynamics shift and how to weigh their risks and techniques would do well to watch that free video.

If you like that video and want more Dan's next 8 week link building Teleclass starts March 22nd and costs $795. Money well spent if you can afford it and are new to linking. This message is totally unsponsored. Although Dan gave me a coupon code I did not use it because I wanted readers to know this was not a sponsored recommendation.

What are Google Supplemental Results?

Mar 10th
posted in

SEO Question: Much of my website is in Google's Supplemental index? What is their supplemental index? How does it work?

SEO Answer: What a timely question...where to start...well if the supplemental problem has only hit your site recently (as compared to the date of this post) it may be a Google specific problem that has caused them to dump thousands of sites recently.

Believe it or not, other than the home page most of this site is currently in supplemental results as of typing this, and with the current Google hole you can throw sites into supplemental hell within 72 hours.

Matt Cutts, a well known Google engineer, recently asked for feedback on the widespread supplemental indexing issue in this thread. As noted by Barry, in comment 195 Matt said:

Based on the specifics everyone has sent (thank you, by the way), I'm pretty sure what the issue is. I'll check with the crawl/indexing team to be sure though. Folks don't need to send any more emails unless they really want to. It may take a week or so to sort this out and be sure, but I do expect these pages to come back to the main index.

In this thread SEM4U points out that 72.14.207.104 was showing fewer supplemental sites than he saw on others like 64.233.179.104.

Some people are conspiring that generally lots of listed pages were dropped and only the longstanding supplemental pages remain, but that theory is garbage on my site...since I still see a strong PageRank 6 Supplemental page that was recently ranking in the SERPs for competitive phrases (prior to going supplemental) that recently went supplemental.

I have done a site redesign just after this supplemental deal occured, but that was sorta in coincidence with this happening. One good thing about that MovableType update is that the last version of MovableType I was using created these aweful nuclear waste redirect pages...it don't do that on version 3.2.

As far as other reasons this site could have possibly been hit supplemental:

  • too much similar text on each page - but I do think it is common to have common sales elements on many pages of a site, so I doubt that is it
  • redirect links - affiliate links via Clickbank and the direct affiliate program might have flagged some sort of trigger if Google was trying to work on 301 & 302 issues... but whatever they did I don't think they did it better ;)
  • Google is a bit hosed right now

What are supplemental results?

Supplemental results usually only show up in the search index after the normal results. They are a way for Google to extend their search database while also preventing questionable pages from getting massive exposure.

How does a page go supplemental?

From my experiences pages have typically gone supplemental when they became isolated doorway type pages (lost their inbound link popularity) or if they are deemed to be duplicate content. For example, if Google indexes the www. version of your site and the non www. version of your site then likely most of one of those will be in supplemental results.

If you put a ton of DMOZ content and Wikipedia content on your site that sort of stuff may go supplemental as well. If too much of your site is considered to be useless or duplicate junk then Google may start trusting other portions of your site less.

Negative side effects of supplemental:
Since supplemental results are not trusted much and rarely rank they are not crawled often either. Since they are generally not trusted much and rarely crawled odds are pretty good that links from supplemental pages likely do not pull much - if any - weight in Google.

How to get out of Google Supplemental results?
If you were recently thrown into them the problem may be Google. You may just want to give it a wait, but also check to make sure you are not making errors like www vs non www, content manangement errors delivering the same content at multiple URLs (doing things like rotating product URLs), or too much duplicate content for other reasons (you may also want to check that nobody outside your domain is showing up in Google when you search for site:mysite.com and you can also look for duplicate content with Copyscape).

If you have pages that have been orphaned or if your site's authority has went down Google may not be crawling as deep through your site. If you have a section that needs more link popularity to get indexed don't be afraid to point link popularity at that section instead of trying to point more at the home page. If you add thousands and thousands of pages you may need more link popularity to get it all indexed.

After you solve the problem it still may take a while for many of the supplementals to go away. As long as the number of supplementals is not growing, your content is unique, and Google is ranking your site well across a broad set of keywords then supplementals are probably nothing big to worry about.

SEO Tools

Mar 6th

These are SEO Tools that I use and recommend to others. Most of these SEO tools are free. Warning on SEO Tools:
Many SEO tool vendors sell software which has been outdated and rendered useless by improving search technology. Worse yet, some of these people intentionally lie to get you to buy their software, even if it will get your site banned from the search engines.

Some of them will tell you that keyword density is the key to seo. That's a lie. Some of them will tell you that trading links off topic and lots of low quality link trades are all you need to rank in Google. That typically don't work well either.

Before buying any SEO software check to see if similar or better free software is available here or here.

Keyword Suggestion Tools:

  • Keyword research review - I prettymuch review most of the best keyword research / keyword suggestion software on the market. Most of the tools worth using are free. My two favorite tools are listed below

  • Google Keyword Tool - shows 12 month trending data. Can offer keyword suggestions based on page content or a word you enter.
  • SEO Book keyword research tool - driven off of Yahoo!'s keyword research tool, it makes it easy to cross reference the various keyword research techniques. It is a bit feature rich, but if you like lots of data you will love this tool. You can give it a test drive by searching in the box below:

Keyword Suggestions for:



Expand Your Keyword List:

Formating Your Keyword List for Google AdWords:
Formatting can be done inside AdWords. Google is also beta testing desktop software for managing your AdWords account. The keyword list generator above also makes it easy to set matching types on your keywords when you generate your keyword list.

Google AdWords also has a function called dynamic keyword insertion which inserts search queries into your AdWords ad copy.

Keyword Density Analysis:
Generally aiming for a keyword density is a waste of time for the following reasons:

  • each engine and query type is unique. there is no such thing as a universal perfect keyword density.

  • getting people to like your content and link to it is more important than what algorithms think of it
    • link popularity is weighted more heavily than page copy for competitive queries (I have even ranked pages that did not exist)

    • and readable useful to human pages are important to conversion
  • most pages made with bots in mind read like they are meant to be read by bots
  • this article covers keyword density from a more scientific standpoint, stating why it is useless

Having said all of that, if you want to look at keyword density here is a free keyword density analyzer.

Keyword Rank Checking Tools:
Digital Point Keyword Ranking Monitor - (free) Offers a quick way to check the backlinks and keyword rankings of a site on Google, Yahoo!, and MSN. Takes a bit to set up, but provides free graphs of ranking vs time and works within the Google terms of service.

Link Analysis Tools:

  • Hub Finder - free open source tool looks for co-occuring backlinks. If you read about hubs and authorities (and why they are important) you will find this tool exceptionally useful.

  • Link Harvester - free open source tool looks at unique linking domains, .edu & .gov backlinks, unique C block IP addresses. Tool has CVS export option. Both Link Harvester and Hub Finder work with the Yahoo! TOS.
  • Back Link Analyzer - like OptiLink and SEO Elite, but free. It is downloadable software that does anchor text analysis on links.
  • I would recommend sticking away from link exchange hubs. Typically the easier it is for the average person to get a link the less value it has. Many people using link exchange networks employ underwaged third world workers to make automated sites they know will eventually get banned.

Other Tools:

If you have a cool SEO tool you would like me to review just leave a comment below or send me an email :)






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