Review of Andrew Goodman's Winning Results with Google AdWords Book

I have been doing way too little book reading, but was recently able to finish Andrew Goodman's print book on Google AdWords. It only costs about $16 on Amazon. Well worth splashing out if you are interested in PPC and don't want to spend the $50 to $100 most PPC ebooks cost.

On to the review... Google AdWords changes rapidly, so some of the features since publication have already significantly changed. For example, instead of disabling ads with a low clickthrough rate now Google increases the price if the relevancy of an ad is considered to be low (and apparently Andrew has already updated this in his ebook). Even today Google announced that they are trying to kill off even more of the bottom feeding market by showing less ads on search results that are not deemed to be exceptionally commercial. Andrew has long insisted that Google believes advertising to be a type of information, and in his book he predicted they would continue to innovate to focus on relevancy. Instead of focusing on tricks that work right now his advice is grounded in techniques that should yield long term success.

He also pointed to the fact that Google's organic search results tend to have an informational bias to them, which typically is true. Beyond the aging factor associated with print books the only other downside I would say there is to Andrew's print book would be the heavy bias toward PPC marketing over organic search. But I suspect that makes sense since that is Andrew's bread and butter. I probably am equally biased (or maybe more biased) toward organic search (because that is where I have done well thusfar).

At around 350 pages his print book is pretty beefy. It takes a while to work through, but Andrew worked hard to not just write the hows of the ads but also explain why he felt certain things work well and certain things would prove ineffective long term. His book also touches on many important online issues, such as brand credibility and conversion. He points heavily at viewing the process as an ongoing process that you continue to work at from end to end.

I think I learned much more from his ebook than this book, but that most likely consists as a sum of the following:

  • I read his ebook when I was totally new to the market

  • I read every post on his blog and his occasional newsletters
  • I read his Google Groups posts
  • I had already read his ebook before reading the print book

I just looked at the sales letter for his $69 ebook and saw that he gives you a free copy of this print book with it. My recommendation is to buy his ebook, read it first, and then if you want a bit more of the background and history information give the print book a read.

Anoother nice compliment I would like to dish Andrew's way is that many books or ebooks try to hook you on hiring the author, buying junk through affiliate links, or subscribing to an "informational" newsletter that hits you up with junk product offers weekly.

When you buy off Andrew you get good information, and you pay for honest advice without the upsell upsell upsell mentality that is all too common with most internet marketing informational products.

Killing Google AdWords Search Arbitrage

Recently someone published a funny rant video about Google AdWords arbitrage. Google began killing off that market last July, when they started quality based minimum bids. Today Google furthered that mission, by announcing they will be showing less broad matched AdWords ads on queries they deem to be informational.

Their initial post was clear as mud, but Danny got some clarification.

With Google opening up their keyword tool and offering their search suggest service on the toolbar while killing off some of the underpriced informational query inventory many commercial terms will grow more competitive.

They are trying to keep ads as relevant as possible to prevent AdWords ad blindness.

Hacking Movable Type to Create and Integrate Advertising Posts

A few people asked me how to customize MovableType to add advertising posts on the individual archives, category pages, and main pages in MovableType powered blogs.

MovableType is fairly easy to customize, but you have to customize the different templates differently. I have been a bit slow to getting around to doing this, so sorry on that.

Opening Tips:

  • The day I changed the format of my blog to include the advertising post inline my income tripled. That is a huge deal if you participate in keyword markets where you pay per click. It may make many keywords that were once prohibitively expensive become affordable.

  • If you are unsure how to do something ask at the MovableType forums.
  • If you are changing a template make a file called something like templatename-old and save a copy of the old template before making any changes.
  • Each template that you want to change will require customizations.
  • My template is a bit hacked up from a normal install, so the code to change your layout 1 for 1, but this post aims to show the general idea of how to change your templates.
  • I do not sell MT customization services. I can offer general ideas, but I am not a template or code expert on any level.

Customizing the main page:


The MovableType templating system has a couple important features that make this easy to do. The three big things you need to know are:

  • lastn - how many posts you want to feature in that segment

  • including your post - easy enough, eh
  • offset - how many of the most recent posts to skip before you start posting the next set of posts

So you start your blog and you have your container and whatnot. The first thing you need to decide is how many posts you want to show above your advert. Currently I show 1.

So you start your content area, and after the div id=content you enter
<MTEntries lastn="1">

So my home page content container area starts with

<div id="container">

<div id="content">

<MTEntries lastn="1">


<div class="post">

<a name="<$MTEntryID pad="1"$>"></a>


<MTDateHeader><div class="date"><$MTEntryDate format="%b"$><br /><$MTEntryDate format="%e"$></div></MTDateHeader>

<div class="entry">



<p><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#more">Continue reading "<$MTEntryTitle$>"</a></p>



<div class="post_meta_left">

<p class="categories">Posted in: <MTEntryCategories glue=" "><a href="<$MTCategoryArchiveLink$>"><$MTCategoryLabel$></a></MTEntryCategories></p>

<p class="post_author">by <a href="">Aaron Wall</a></p>


<div class="post_meta_right">


<p class="thoughts"><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#start_comments">Your Thoughts?</a> [ <$MTEntryCommentCount$> ]</p>


<p class="perma"><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>"><$MTEntryDate format="%x"$></a></p>




If you wanted 2 posts above the advert post the above would be lastn=2.


Advertisement or Offer Post:


After you create your first post you can include the advert post. I recommend creating a mini post instead of placing a huge advertisement. I probably would do better if I had an autoresponder series in a small advert post rather than my current ebook one.

To input your advertisement post you can create a backdated post and then just include that in the templating system. My post 142 is my advert post. So for me the code looks like this

<MTEntry id="142">

<div class="post">


<div class="entry">






Remainder of Home Page:


After the advertisement it is time to publish the rest of the page content. So now you need to use lastn again, but this time you have to offset it. So you use code that looks something like

<MTEntries lastn="10" offset="1">


<div class="post">

<a name="<$MTEntryID pad="1"$>"></a>


<MTDateHeader><div class="date"><$MTEntryDate format="%b"$><br /><$MTEntryDate format="%e"$></div></MTDateHeader>

<div class="entry">



<p><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#more">Continue reading "<$MTEntryTitle$>"</a></p>



<div class="post_meta_left">

<p class="categories">Posted in: <MTEntryCategories glue=" "><a href="<$MTCategoryArchiveLink$>"><$MTCategoryLabel$></a></MTEntryCategories></p>

<p class="post_author">by <a href="">Aaron Wall</a></p>


<div class="post_meta_right">


<p class="thoughts"><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>#start_comments">Your Thoughts?</a> [ <$MTEntryCommentCount$> ]</p>


<p class="perma"><a href="<$MTEntryPermalink$>"><$MTEntryDate format="%x"$></a></p>






Individual Entry Pages:


I simply hard coded the ad text into the template on individual entry pages. After the post and comments section were closed I added this:

<div class="post">

<h2><!--#config timefmt="%B %d, %Y" --> <!--#echo var="DATE_LOCAL" --></h2>

<div class="entry">

<p>Ad entry text</p>




Server Side Includes:


Notice how that date of my advert uses what looks like a comment. That is actually a server side include that is used to parse the date from the local machine as being the current date. Useful to do to make your content look fresh if you are using freshness as a sales point for your software, information product, or other offer.

If you are having your site created dynamically I think you could insert that information using a php date command.

Also note that I stress the date instead of an offer. For most people the date is probably not so important, and they could probably put their post title or whatever in the H2 tag or whatever type of post heading they were using for other posts.

If you are outputting to static html files by default your server will not process server side include directives. You can set your file extensions to .shtml inside the MovableType settings, but doing that would cause you to lose whatever link equity you have built up from pages located at the old locations.

Instead, you can configure your .htaccess file so that your site processes .html or .htm files as though they were .shtml. Your .htaccess file is simply named .htaccess and exists in the root of your site. Please note that some FTP programs do not show .htaccess files, so you may want to ask your host if you have one if you can't find it.

Please note that I do not recommend screwing with your .htaccess file on an important site without supervision, as a poorly configured one can cause a site to not load at all. I have temporarily screwed up a number of my sites playing with them...but you have to learn somehow. Also, make a copy of your htaccess file before screwing with it.

Also be aware that you may already have a .htaccess file that you do not want to write over. Instead download it to your local machine. After you download the file change it from .htaccess to htaccess.txt. After whatever code is already in it you can add

AddType text/html .shtml
AddHandler server-parsed .htm
AddHandler server-parsed .html
AddHandler server-parsed .shtml

Save that file. Then change it from htaccess.txt to .htaccess and upload it to the server in the root of your site.


Date or Category Archives:


Here I just inserted the post after the opening container and content area

<MTEntry id="142">

<div class="post">

<h2><!--#config timefmt="%B %d, %Y" --> <!--#echo var="DATE_LOCAL" --></h2>

<div class="entry">






If you have further questions I probably can't answer them, but I hope that helps a few people.

This Item is No Longer for Sale

Branded searches are some of the highest volume and highest value search terms. Many products or systems go out of date though.

To provide the best customer experience many websites that offered outdated products quickly remove related content. The thing is, you can't build up a billion dollar brand and then expect people to stop searching for it overnight. Many people keep on searching long after your products are no longer for sale. And because it is often hard to find information about discontinued products it is not only easy to rank for it, but people search hard for that type of information.

So if you have some content about old products don't remove it when it dates or is no longer sold. Perhaps depreciate or remove the category listings or prominent internal navigation pointing at it from your site, but still leave the page up with whatever few scraper or affiliate links it has gained over time.

Then remind the people that find those pages that the product is no longer for sale and recommend what is for sale. Do that, or maybe throw AdSense or something on it.

Also blogging about old dated stuff...I think so many people chase the right now stuff that it becomes hard to find original content when you surf from channel to channel to channel. It would be just as easy doing research or writing about old things that interest you, and perhaps looking for content sources that others are not using, like collecting junk or making 3d models of stuff.

Off Site Offsite SEO - Nuclear Waste Style

If your main site does not have a brand to the scale of BMW then maybe it is true that your site has only 1 or maybe a few lives in the search results. For your main company site it may be worth it to take the slow and steady path to the top.

If you aggressively market pages on other sites that prominently feature you then you can do it over and over again, while likely significantly lowering your risk (as compared to directly marketing your own site aggressively).

For example, looking at the Google Viagra SERPs, the SERP is about 50% spam. You got:

  • .edu subdomains

  • other subdomains of other sites
  • Yahoo! news syndication of a press release
  • humor page turned advertisement

Since Google is overtrusting root domain trust and heavily leveraging that trust when evaluating the rankings for other pages on that same site many people are simply moving all spam external to their own sites, in favor of placing it on another well trusted domain. Then some of them are creatively using aggressive link strategies to promote those pages where they are prominently featured.

For many of these types of pages the creation and redirection and link building is entirely automated. But if you take a bit longer and create something like that humor page or create a real resource page it may stick in the SERPs longer and eventually grow into a self reinforcing position.

With as wide spread as some of these off site spam activities are I would expect Google to eventually find a way to break down the domain trust scores into pieces, ie: something like only trust a page on a domain in proportion to how much link popularity from that domain flows at that page.

What held Google SERP spam back was the need for placing spam on a trusted domain. Now that many people are exploring that option the system must once again evolve.

Branded Search Results - Protecting Your Brand in Google SERP

I recently noticed I had 9 of the top 10 Google search results for [seo book]. Many brands could use help keeping their brand search results happy.

It is going to be hard to keep competing for the term [SEO], especially with guys like Matt Cutts getting links from the cooperative link exchange network. I never would have thought Matt to do something like that.

How Does Google Create Multi Link Listings?

SEO Question:

My site already ranks number 1 in Google. How do I get Google to post a mini site map in the search results?

SEO Answer:

I believe that Google primarily displays multi link listings when they feel a query has a strong chance of being navigational in nature. I think they can determine that something is navigational in nature based on linkage data and click streams. If the domain is well aligned with the term that could be another signal to consider.

If you have 10,000 legit links for a term that nobody else has more than a few dozen external citations for then odds are pretty good that your site is the official brand source for that term. I think overall relevancy as primarily determined by link reputation is the driving factor for weather or not they post mini site map links near your domain.

This site ranks for many terms, but for most of them I don't get the multi link map love. For the exceptionally navigational type terms (like seobook or seo book) I get multi links.

The mini site maps are query specific. For Aaron Wall I do not get the mini site map. Most people usually refer to the site by it's domain name instead of my name.

Google may also include subdomains in their mini sitemaps. In some cases they will list those subdomains as part of the mini site map and also list them in the regular search results as additional results.

Michael Nguyen put together a post comparing the mini site maps to Alexa traffic patterns. I think that the mini site maps may roughly resemble traffic patterns, but I think the mini links may also be associated with internal link structure.

For instance, I have a sitewide link to my sales letter page which I use the word testimonials as the anchor text. Google lists a link to the sales letter page using the word testimonials.

When I got sued the page referencing the lawsuit got tons and tons of links from many sources, which not only built up a ton of linkage data, but also sent tons of traffic to that specific page. That page was never listed on the Google mini site map, which would indicate that if they place heavy emphasis on external traffic or external linkage data either they try to smooth the data out over a significant period of time and / or they have a heavy emphasis on internal linkage.

My old site used to also list the monthly archives on the right side of each page, and the February 2004 category used to be one of the mini site map links in Google.

You should present the pages you want people to visit the most to search bots the most often as well. If you can get a few extra links to some of your most important internal pages and use smart channeling of internal linkage data then you should be able to help control which pages Google picks as being the most appropriate matches for your mini site map.

Sometimes exceptionally popular sites will get mini site map navigational links for broad queries. SEO Chat had them for the term SEO, but after they ticked off some of their lead moderators they stopped being as active and stopped getting referenced as much. The navigational links may ebb and flow like that on broad generic queries. For your official brand term it may make sense to try to get them, but for broad generic untargeted terms in competitive markets the amount of effort necessary to try to get them will likely exceed the opportunity cost for most webmasters.

How Useful is Usage Data?

Features such as toolbar search suggestions and inline query suggestion show that search engines value global usage data enough to suggest alternate routes / queries. So to some extent they must trust usage data.

On an individual page or site level basis it is much harder to tell how important usage data is because it is hard to naturally create the other quality signals without creating some usage data. Opinions are as follows:

Assuming you are doing other things right (like building a citation worthy brand that people regularly revisit) then adding usage data to your site guarantees that you will gain more of virtually every other quality signal an engine can use. Even if engines do not look at clickstreams directly, then having more traffic still helps because it expands your reach and how many quality votes you get anytime you do something that is citation worthy.

The difference between an A list and C list blogger is not just content quality or originality. Just as often it is likely due to the size of their subscriber base, which grants them the mindshare necessary to quickly spread information.

I think the Google Toolbar and SERP click-through tracking can be combined with all the other forms of tracking to give them some signal of quality. Sure it can be spoofed, but the places where it is being spoofed ... most of those places probably lack the other corroborating quality signals necessary to rank.

Remember there are user accounts too. Faking user accounts with real search and usage history over extended periods of time is much more difficult than spamming Direct Hit would have been back in the day.

When you search Google for things like VOIP some sites like Skype do not show up anywhere near the top of the search results, so you know the algorithms are much more than just usage data, but usage data could be a key component to the algorithm.

Profiting From Publishing

Great interview of Tim O'Reilly

I think that we'll find in some ways that this is the real secret of the relationship between free and non-free content. There will be so much free content that it's going to be hard to find and those who can help you find what you want will be able to charge for it - in one way or the other, whether it's through advertising or through subscription or something else. It's about managing to find "the best", and "the best" is a kind of metadata.

I still think there are many overlooked creative ways to add value to the publishing value chain. More on that in about a month ;)

2006 WebmasterWorld Pubcon Boston Pictures

I took some pictures while at the Boston.

A few pictures:
Jim Boykin celebrates his 27th birthday.
Tony Spencer had his birthday.
Joe Morin gives me clothing intervention.
Andy Hagans says thumbs up.

View the Boston Pubcon 2006 pictures.

On Being Average

On average we are all average. There is no money in average though:

Bob would fail if he did average work for average editors just to make a living. But by turning down the average stuff and insisting on standing for something on the edge, he profits. By challenging his clients to run stuff that makes them nervous (and then having them discover that it's great), he profits.

This is scary. It's really scary to turn down most (the average) of what comes your way and hold out for the remarkable opportunities. Scary to quit your job at an average company doing average work just because you know that if you stay, you'll end up just like them. Scary to go way out on an edge and intentionally make what you do unattractive to some.

Which is why it's such a great opportunity.

This is sorta like my recent porn post, except more sanitized and generally much better.

Some people are going to outragiously overpay. Why not let those people be your customers.

Rambling too Much = Bad Blogging

Ever since I started doing some of the Q&A posts I started making many of my other blog posts unnecissarily long just because I got used to it.

I felt I was doing a bit too much rambling. I was right. Not 1 but 2 friends today told me that they wanted to read what I was writing but did not because it was too long and packed too many ideas into the posts.

Short snappy posts focused on 1 topic work well if you actually want people to read them. Seth is a master at this.

Here are the problems with rambling:

  • too long and nobody reads it

  • the added content dilutes the value of each point (to readers and search engines)
  • wastes content by making 1 post instead of 5 hyper targetedc posts
  • if too many ideas are in one post it is hard for you to reference your earlier content
  • it is hard for others to reference

If you are going to be longwinded make sure it is so focused, topically relevant and interesting that it becomes the industry standard for that topic. Elsewise you are best off writing quick posts.

I wrote this more as a reminder to myself, but if you ramble and want people to read it hopefully this helps you too. Feel free to call me out if I am not following my own advice ;)

Collecting Junk as a Form of SEO

Lets say you write a blog about poker. It is pretty hard to get legitimate links to a poker blog, but lets say you talk about how you met Phil Ivey but the story is not that interesting sounding. You can add a bit of authenticity to the sound of the story by buying a Phil Ivey autographed poker chip for $23 and include it in your post.

In certain markets (like poker) just about any type of link is worth $23. There are also other types of junk or collectibles that may be selling for far less than their linkability factor - weather you post about them and get a few links or you hold a contest of some sort to give them away, and get many more links.

Collecting allows you to easily create original linkable content which leverages the value of a celebrity or brand without needing to fully invest into the cost of building that brand or getting a celebrity to endorse your site. Branded keywords or celebrity keywords are typically high traffic and / or high value terms.

Passion and Pornography

Many markets are said to be hyper competitive and beyond competitive reach for most people. Amongst this group are porn, pills, and casino sites. But most websites are garbage, and lack passion.

I am not advocating this idea for everyone, but...

Imagine a blogger who created the ultimate fan blog for one porn star. Reviewed all of their work. Eventually the porn star finds the blog and likes the blog owner so much that they want to have sex with the blogger as a thank you. The blogger, being a savvy business person, decides that they should shoot a video and sell it directly and exclusively on that blog.

Ultra targeted readers and an easy marketing story to spread. What more do you need?

Now I know that idea sound ridiculous to most people, but that is exactly why it would work so well if it was done well.

In a recent post I mentioned a couple Viagra humor examples and there are many ideas that would work equally well in the gambling vertical. All competitive markets are less competitive if you think of them in terms of how people share ideas and information.

What about a more mainstream vertical that is hyper competitive? How big of a competitive advantage would it be for an online flower shop to buy and integrate a design color tool like this one into their site? Something that no other site has.

Sell water purification equipment? Talk about how many people are going to be without clean water shortly as the population grows. Source other important documents, create an authoritative topical document and channel. Teach people how to solve the problem even if they do not buy your equipment.

In any and every vertical there are ton of easy marketing opportunities. How does your product, service or idea relate to people? How can you invoke an emotional response or get them to want to share it?

If you get to where you are evangelizing your industry instead of just selling stuff it is going to be hard to fail.

Clicktracks for Free

Clicktracks offers up a free version of their analytics software by the name of Clicktracks Appetizer.

Sensationalism, Hoaxes, and Bogus Predictions: SEO Techniques

Internet to peak soon - the guy is full of shit with his claim, but it is an easy claim to link at.

Viagra Prank - hahaha to $5,000 a day

how many ways can an email spammer spell Viagra? - imagine that, another funny Viagra page that became a high ranking advertorial

Like humor, it is just as easy to work the ethics angle and then switch the purpose to promote what the site once claimed to hate. Even if you are creating a fake business or site that will be hated many of the people hating it will be so stupid that they link at it anyway.

penny stock scams - decent link popularity

Google is an easy target. Google China's name is no good - link link link

You can even run ads that are irrelevant or violate Google's guidelines, then claim that Google censored you as a link building trick. Just get Google in the press release and some media person will be dumb enough to pick it up.

Suing Google is, of course, easy press.

And everyone loves sex. if you link at me I win sex - long after the traffic falls the links stick, which can be leveraged in a nearly unlimited number of ways, although it helps if you can get the perfect anchor text built right into the initial marketing.

As long as you are first with the angle you take (see point #4 here) and know a few people who can help spread the message you are good to go.

New Flash Detection Script

At WMW Boston Mike Nott pointed me at FlashObject, which is a Javascript Flash detection and embed script.

It is XHTML compliant and allows you to use flash detection and is probably the best way to do SEO for a flash site. A couple old related posts:

Flowing Internal Links Popularity on External Sites

Dominic posted on DP about flowing Wikipedia PageRank internally to pages where you are mentioned.

Search wikipedia in goog for a mention of your keyword / phrase. Edit those wikipedia pages to link to the lovely wiki page that links to your page.

And, of course, if you can't get your stuff linked to then a few additional options are:

  • point Wikipedia pages to other pages that link at you

  • add links to your Wikipedia profile page (and link to your profile page by commenting on a couple high profile controvercial subjects)
  • add links with questions to talk pages for controvercial subjects.

Some people may also point Digital Point coop weight or other external links at the pages linking to them to help build up their citation value.

Do More With Less: Getting Rid of Junk

I am probably not the biggest conversion expert in the world, but after you start playing around with pixels and offers sometimes doing a few small things makes you realize how important some of them are.

One of my web only clients was making about $3,000 a month in sales when he contacted me. I did SEO and PPC for them and got them up to $12,000 a month. I tweaked some of the conversion aspects of the site and the same traffic now brings in over $40,000 a month in sales. Some sites have their link equity split up between the www version and non www versions of their sites. By consolidating that link popularity (via a 301 redirect) your net number of pages in the index goes down, but each page becomes more authoritative.

My sales letter had a couple broken links to reviews (due to a JupiterMedia analyst moving on and another site changing its URL structure).

My sales letter had a couple broken links to search results due to MSN changing their search string and Ask killing the Teoma brand.

Some sites use sequential URL names and screw up their page level link reputation when they add a new page.

Some about pages or sales letter pages place AdSense front and center, which end up killing the brand credibility of those sites. Many of these sites would also make far greater profits if they sold ads directly instead of through AdSense.

Many websites have Liveperson contact me buttons even on content pages about topics they would not want contacted about. Many many many sites have too many things competing for attention which end up killing their conversion ratios. Give me too many things to do and most likely I will do none of them.

If you flip a person to a related idea in your content make sure you label it as being relevant and explain why the related idea is relevant and useful to the site visitor.

Many sites have content areas with text but no headings or subheadings, and worse yet no links in the active content window of their site. Assume people are going to ignore your sitewide navigation if you want to build a site that converts.

If you are using pay per click marketing try to aim some of your ads at the high end of the market. Write ads for conversion instead of clicks, and perhaps sell the idea of selling a quote for large orders instead of selling an item. If you already rank in the regular search results then you can limit the incremental spend of PPC while ensuring you attract the big fish by reminding them that you service big orders.

Use analytics. Some of the terms you are focusing on may be a complete waste of time.

Your email address may also hurt your conversions. If you are selling relationships some people may prefer to email help@, name@ or support@ instead of sales@.

If you give people information via your site give them an automated follow up email. This is an area where I need to work on. I also should have an autoresponder series set up, as that would surely help me make thousands and thousands of dollars for minimal effort.

Direct transactions also likely convert at a better rate than transactions which require you to go to another site. Eventually I hope to either better integrate the payment system or move away from Paypal for some of my transactions.

What are some common errors you see on many sites that could be corrected to drastically increase their profitability?

Does Domain Extension Matter?

Some countries have certain rules which make it harder or more expensive to get a local domain than a global one. For local search queries sites which match the local domain extension or are hosted on a machine in that country may get a boost in relevancy over global domains. (ie: .uk may rank well in UK, .de may rank well in Germany)

Google can use the increased price of local hosting and/or the rules associated with gaining a local domain extension to assume that locally hosted or locally registered domains may have a greater local relevancy.

Likely due to less spamming incentive, a smaller content base, and a lesser understanding of local language many of the filters that are applied to the global search results may not be applied to some local results.

By looking at link reputation scores Google lets pages on websites vote for other pages. On the commercial web the purity of many votes may be in question. Weblogs Inc., for example, has gambling ads on over 40 of their blogs - in spite of Google being a minority owner in that network.

In a recent WMW thread someone mentioned this URL ( as a .gov domain that accepts advertising links, but generally it is much harder to buy .gov or .edu links than .com or .net links.

Beyond .edu and .gov there are also other rare domains which people probably do not talk about that much which also have similar importance. In the UK is the equivalent of a .edu, and perhaps some .mil extensions may be trusted a bit more than the average .com, .net, .info, or .biz type domain.

The factor of trust would be three fold:

  • The standards required to get a .edu (or other rare domain extension) implies a certain level of credibility.

  • When the web started educational institutions and governmental bodies were at the core of it. Thus, with greater history, they are more likely to have more link equity. Over time webmasters of scraper sites and legitimate web pages are going to be more inclined to link at the top ranking pages, which reinforces the link popularity.
  • Generally much of the well cited college papers or governmental pages are of higher quality than the average web page due to internal requirements. On top of that they are harder to influence than most average web pages. For example, it is pretty damn hard to get a professor to link at your site or update his or her outdated links. No professor wants some random self promotional asshole (which is how they will view many people who contact them) telling them that their content is outdated or inaccurate.

When you read about Trustrank the seed set of sites were all backed by government, educational, or corporate bodies. If you don't think Google relies on third parties in this way think about how they limit what sources they accept for their local search product or for their news search.

Surely many college students are selling .edu links by now, but those are still a bit harder for the AVERAGE webmaster to find than .com links for sale.

That which is rare, hard to obtain, hard to influence, or vetted by other trusted bodies may aid in relevancy scoring.
It has been a long time since a link is a link.

Google's Recent Search Result Changes

Google has been testing adding more information near search listings, including
- search this site
- inside this site (links to other pages on that site)
- related (links to related sites)

Testing the above, inline query suggestions, including vertical results via Google Onebox, and suggesting specific verticals for the most broad query types allows Google to attack vertical search from many angles.

Suggesting the broadest databases (shopping, news, images) for broad query types allows them to prevent too many large verticals from being created unless their creators do something fundamentally innovative. Increasing minimum bids for low quality ads also filters out some of the arbitrage model.

Query suggestions as you type and inline suggestions guide searchers toward more common (and likely more meaningful) search paths which will - on average - lead searchers to more useful results. They also aggressively aggregate data in some of the larger verticals, which adds value to the top few players they trust while making it harder for new players to spring up in those markets.

By adding more information near regular search result listings (including site search, related internal links and related external links) they only have to get near the search answer without necessarily needing to precisely answer it. Get close enough and then teach people about things like related links and site search and they should be able to get the rest of the way where they want to go.

The search box has the most value per pixel second, and until some major publishers find new monetization models or ways to challenge Google it is obvious that Google is going to keep adding more and more information to their results. Google may even be the one who helps them find better ways to monetize.

Unlike the competition, Google is not afraid to keep pushing the boundaries of their results, even if in the short term those tests lead to lower earnings. Why hasn't Yahoo! done anything with their Mindset search yet?

Once an engine gets enough marketshare there is a virtual endless stream of revenue possibilities so long as they listen to their users.

The value isn't just in the network, but in how quickly and smartly it reacts to changes. Google generally is the king at that.

They lower costs across the board while making information more accessible. Clicktracks now has a free version. If companies like Britannica listen to the advice they are given then Google may have access to encyclopedias of information for free, on top of having the largest userbase.

I think Wall Street is a bit stupid for reacting to quarter to quarter results. I just don't see a way of Google losing at this point. Even if eBay partners with another large player it still does not change the fact that their value add and relevancy is decreasing with each day of non innovation at eBay.

While keeping an eye on general search Google has also refined some of the more important verticals, which allows them to more precisely answer queries for those who care so much that they want to get much closer than just nearly answering the queries. In some of those verticals they are creating new standards for what is important.

You can count on Google hitting the education market hard, from funding literacy to pointing librarians at lesson plans.

From a marketing perspective these changes all add value to legitimacy while making the marketplace and SERPs more relevant. But as Google pushes these types of features they will also create new types of spam. For example, if you can't easily rank #1 for a competitive phrase, but you can easily make Google believe your document is somehow one of the most related documents to what is ranking at #1 that might be a cheap way to garner targeted traffic. Learning how to become related will be exceptionally useful if the current results may not answer the query as well as it should.

Inline Query Refinement - the Cheap Way to Rank

Instead of going after broad terms sometimes frequently searched for slightly less broad terms will rank in the search results for the broad terms.

It is likely going to be much easier to rank in the top 2 to 3 results for a longer query than it is to rank in the top 10 for a short generic query. Bill reviewed Google's query refinement here, and on this post I noted that on under $1 I was able to rank #4 for Marlboro by ranking #1 for Marlboro Miles.

The Memex Revisited

So I was thinking more about random stuff...hey I do that a lot, but what would happen if someone made something like a tagging site, but was not constricted to the barriers of using simple language to show relationships.

What would happen if there was a site where one could not only tag stuff like delicious and select trusted sources for different ideas or groups like Yahoo! MyWeb, but also be able to connect ideas using more than just a common word tag...

ie: the system could

  • passively archive shared information supply and relationships like Google search (to use as a backfill of your experiences)

  • passively archive stuff you have seen like Google Desktop (to use as a backfill of your experiences)
  • actively archive stuff you trust or like more
  • let you annotate why something is important AND how it relates to other things that were annotation worthy (this would allow you to tag many ideas together, even if their relationship was harder to explain than what is allowed by a simple tag with a single word or two)
  • track when you first saw something, when you revisited it, and how often you visit it (with giving you the ability to select or hide this information)
  • let you track when content has been revised, showing current versions and giving you the option to quickly see what has been added, removed, or changed
  • track when an idea or document or experience superseded a past one (and give you the ability to select or hide this information)

No, this idea is not my idea, it is Vannevar Bush's idea (from the 1930's and well explained in As We May Think).

I am just wonder what is stopping someone from making a true Memex device. Is it still too cost prohibitive? Is it the lack of monetization model for quality publishers? Is it a feared death for publishing houses? Is it because we sometimes enjoy forgetting some of the things we have seen or done? How do you get past all that? And should we?

The Keyword / Brand Timeline for Companies and Ideas

Growing Irrelevant with Each Passing Day:

Easier access to information and new technologies force many companies unwilling to change to focus heavily on silencing pieces of the market which claim they are growing irrelevant. Many individuals, systems and organizations evolve slower than the market to where their purpose becomes nothing more than causing a need for their own existence. I tend to think that many lawyers are born with this train of thought in mind. Rarely has one ever contacted me without an immediate threat at hello and offer to escalate the issue, even if the issue is only caused by (and a symptom of) poor customer service to their customers. The lack of investigating the root causes of the problems, and instead offering immediate escalation, is a sign of piss poor customer service on the part of the clown lawyers who tried to scare me. Especially if it is blog related and a simple search for my name would already show that the last company that sued me got featured in the Wall Street Journal.

When Being a Market Leader is Good:

Sometimes being the leader in a market is a great thing. You can't see a person write about search without comparing them to Google. The launch of any new information product requires people to ask about how it compares to Google. Google takes hits for many of the things they do, but when push comes to shove, and stories really blow up they usually play the media and market much smarter than competing companies do.

When Being a Market Leader is Bad:

In certain markets growing in scale or being #1 means you have lost touch with your customers or you get a documentary about how you destroy your customers health. Meanwhile some of your competitors jockey for position and enjoy marketshare growth at your cost and smaller regional firms find it easier to tap into their local culture.

If you are in an industry that is found questionable by many, then being at the top means that toys about killing babies (or other bad things) may look similar to your brand. And they will likely look progressively more and more like your brand until you change your business model or eventually you threaten or sue somebody. When you finally sue or threaten the story spreads through the media and the world is reminded of things like

The design of the package of toy cigarettes--which are actually unscented incense--is intended to "evoke an unsavory association with Philip Morris," alleges the letter, a copy of which you can find below. The company also claims that a "Li'l Smokes" refill pack also infringes its Marlboro trademark. Along with leaning on Toy Lounge, Philip Morris also apparently contacted the novelty doll's manufacturer and was told that the offending products would be altered to address the tobacco company's concerns. Commendably, Philip Morris has never been shown to market its products to newborns. However, the company has previously tracked Marlboro's "market penetration" with smokers as young as 15, since the teenage years are when crucial "initial brand selections" are made, according to one internal company memo.

This is the web though, and we all get to be good dirt diggers, so after reading one story like that people dig up stories about how their company argues things like

Dead Smokers Are Good for Government Budgets

In making the threat to sue Marlboro increased the authority and mindshare of most any negative piece of information about them.

Initiatives That Focus on End Goals Without Tuning Into the Market are a Lost Cause:

Not surprisingly, these "let's clear up our brand" and "lets care about our customer" lawyer based initiatives go in waves or phases, and a lawyer claiming to represent Marlboro recently sent me a cease and desist too. Nice email subject BTW, "see attached". Assholes.

They stated that one of my pages might aid and abet identity theft because some of their customers were posting personal information on it. Sometimes I wonder if companies post that stuff themselves, and then claim identity theft or defamation.

I decided to pull the content they cared about because I after just ending my first lawsuit I don't want another. I want to spend more time learning about things that interest me, dealing with trying to create useful ideas and helping people.

The big irony is that the market for my idea was well created and well branded by them. I will discuss it in a bit though.

Keyword Markets are Just Like Companies:

Just like how companies grow and then lose touch with their customers then fade away the same thing happens with keyword markets. Keyword markets are nothing more than a reflection of our thoughts.

While the core terms may have decent volume and competition, if you really target your messages and go deeper than most competing sites you will find it easy to rank.

Where to Start:

It is hard to create a consumer generated media site or even solid traffic streams if you only focus on what other people are already doing.

If you want to focus on ranking for well established markets or brands you are probably not going to do well unless you do one or more of the following:

  • are working off an aged well trusted idea

  • are good at creating controversy, causes, or making people talk about you
  • are focused on solving problems that the market currently does not easily solve
  • are going after niche phrases
  • are focused on phrases late in the buying cycle.

Keyword Modifier Love:

If you add on modifiers, say [McDonalds health] or [McDonalds Unhealthy] then it is easier to get exposure, and the people are more receptive to the ads for other ideas when they add a specific modifier. A few good ideas to focus on would be calories, nutrition facts, fries, and nutritional information.

An Example Keyword Market:

Online markets are best create value when they solve problems that are not already easily solved.

For example, if you did basic keyword research for Marlboro, based on search volume, they push the Marlboro Miles concept rather hard. Their customers want it, need it, can't get enough of it. It makes sense since it is strongly tied into the brand and they promote it on most every pack of cigarettes.

However, if you search for that query no official site shows up in the search results, so one of the following must be true

  • they intentionally do not care to solve that issue (ie: they don't give a shit about their customers)

  • they do not know anything about online search / SEO (they are ignorant)
  • they hired an exceptionally sub standard SEO (they hired someone who is ignorant)

Imagine that, some of their most loyal customers not being served AT ALL. They don't make it easy for consumers to solve the Marlboro Miles Catalog problem.

Errors They Could Fix:

  • Create a page about the topic, or at least mention the topic on a page on their website

  • the domain they are using ( sounds generic, and they are missing out on the plural versions of the domains
  • most of the domain they own that handles the Marlboro Miles Catalog stuff is all secured so you can't see any of it in the search results
  • even if they couldn't promote the catalog actively on their site and make that accessible to search engines (maybe there is some weird legal issue that stops them) it wouldn't be hard to point a few links at the smokerservice site that had Marlboro Miles Catalog in the anchor text so engines knew what to rank and people knew where to go
  • if they were too lazy to do the above they could at least find one result that answers the query and then work to point a few links at that page

By not addressing a strong offline brand points anywhere online they have pretty much created a marketplace where nothing but scraper sites, competing merchants, or customer complaints about their brand show up whenever their best customers search to continue the offline dialog started by their product packaging and branding.

Why I Got a C&D:

One of my sorta spammy sites (2nd site I ever made, and it was so bad that people bookmarked it on social sites for being so pathetic) had content that solved they query better than most other sites. A single page focused on that single query which gets hundreds of real searches every day.

Given enough time and a few links that page ranked. Given enough exposure I started getting a ton of email from their customers (which easily could have been set up to autorespond with affiliate deals and offers from various merchants which sold the same, related or competing products) but I didn't do that.

The emails I got from Marlboro customers were growing in volume and aggressively more bizzare so I then made a blog post about how bizzare they were and how I thought the people were crazy. Then hundreds of people started pouring in ON THAT PAGE leaving their names, addresses, social security numbers, and one even put in their credit card number and security code.

Many Seemingly Competitive Markets Are Not Competitive, at All:

The page i created about Marlboro Miles was so ugly that it got referenced on social bookmarking sites for being ugly. It had 0 high quality links and ranks #1 in Google, largely for the following reasons

  • it was a whole page / document focused on something most scraper sites just mentioned in a page

  • most competing sites are exceptionally spammy and do not actually solve the customers problems
  • after it started to rank well it picked up scraper links, which sorta helped reinforce its market position

Including automated scraper junk sites there are only 400 pages competing for [Marlboro Miles Catalog]

Given that many of the searchers landing on my page were customers addicted to a drug and focused on a single brand it would be an easy market to make a ton of money from if I was a bit less lazy on it.

Now that I took my pages down likely the search results will not answer the needs and wants of Marlboro's customers. I wouldn't be surprised if that customer relationship remained poor because they solved symptoms instead of problems. 100's of customers per day are finding it hard to get their questions answered.

There is a Shitload of Traffic There!

If you look at this screenshot you will see that after the #3 organic search result for Marlboro searches that Google suggests Marlboro Miles inline.

That page has 34 junky links and is ranking #4 in Google for Marlboro right now.

Article summary:

  • scaling often means becoming less efficient, more stuck in your ways, and/or less in touch with your customers

  • being a leader in a sketchy field opens you up to tons of negative plublicy
  • search makes it easy to view many of your customer's needs and wants
  • keyword markets rise and fall with offline market brands, companies, ideas, and news
  • your customers want to talk about you. if you do not participate in the market or make it easy to contact you then your customers will look elsewhere.
  • immediately offering escalation during confrontation (especially when it is without considering the root problems) is generally an ignorant business policy across the board
  • once you start trying to control who talks about you and what they say you are long on the way to irrelevancy
  • in the long run it is usually far cheaper to solve problems instead of symptoms
  • even competitive keyword markets are not that competitive if you create even somewhat decent content and focus on longer search queries

AdSense 101 Tip: Controlling Page Width for Readability and Profitability

Fluid page designs are supposed to be nice, at least in theory, but if you don't control the page presentation it is hard to maximize the advertising offer opportunity and to blend ads into the layout as best you can.

A page width set to 100% gives the ads a relatively small % of the screen width unless the ads are huge, and huge ads get ignored because they scream I AM AN AD.

If the content area is exceptionally wide it makes a page hard to read due to making the eye move further left to right on each line than is comfortable.

If you limit the page width but align it to the left the ads still may not get clicked as much because they may not be viewed as well if they are on either side of the content.

So, to make more bank per page view, it makes sense to set a page width and center the page. If you still want to make the page somewhat liquid but controllable to a maximum width you may want to use max width.

760 px is a common page width. People are migrating to bigger browsers, but more people will also be connecting to the web on mobile devices.

Another good AdSense tip is to match (or nearly match) your text size and font to that of the AdSense ads
Depending on your ad units sometimes the size may change. If you right click on an AdSense frame you can view the source of that frame to get that information.

Many designers recommends setting text sizes using em instead of pixels.

Google Image Search Optimization - Paris Hilton Pics

DaveN points at a screenshot of a Google search result with Paris Hilton giving.... well nevermind. ;)

I did a search on the same phrase and saw someone was putting thier URL in a top ranked image. Pretty smart marketing there, and no doubt one of the cheapest ways to tap into popular culture.

I bet eventually many non profit groups and others sites which have significant authority and limited funds will start making their voice heard in the search results far more, especially on image searches, where they may put the names of people they feel caused problems (and/or other messages) on horrific images of piss poor humanity in action.

I haven't done much on the image optimization front, but there can only be a limited number of factors for images:

  • file name

  • image alt text
  • image title
  • text near the image
  • image age
  • click streams
  • trust of site image is on
  • links referencing the image

Will There Always be Gate Keepers?

A while ago many people referenced this article in response to a Wall Street Journal article about bloggers disclosing their relationships.

The thesis of The New Gatekeepers is spelled out in the opening paragraph:

For all that is being said about the democratizing effect of the blogosphere, the truth is that systems of hierarchies that have existed for thousands of years still exist in the online world. It may be that humans are hard-wired for hierarchies and find an innate need to give more power to a certain amount of gatekeepers.

Not sure if I would want to view myself as a gate keeper, but if that is part of my role while typing these keys I may as well open the floodgates to a few friends sites...

I am not sure what I think on the disclosure issue. I think if people read your stuff consistently they should get to know you. If there are lies in it that will eventually wash out. As content builds and people learn you over time more eyes are there to cross connect inconsistent behavior.

One of the biggest advantages small publishers have is the ability to blend content and advertisement to increase their effective income per unique visitor. But is there a magical line on weather or not there is cash involved in a deal? What makes something worthy of disclosure? Given that the web is social in nature shouldn't my content and context say what I think of something without having to restate things? If I link to it doesn't that say I like it or trust what is at the other end?

What would scare you more...

  • a site where everything referenced had a disclosure link next to it; or

  • a site which typically did that but did not put a disclosure next to 1 link

Disclosure: I wrote this post while tired ;)

If the role of gatekeepers remains it will move from those who have wealth toward those who are inherently exceptionally social beings, especially when they are willing to stand up to commonplace scams presented by old gatekeepers.

I recently started working with one of the larger internet companies. The return I will give them for the price I am charging will be immense, but at their gain someone else will lose. Luckily I think their business kicks ass, so I have no problem supporting them. It is really hard balancing content quality, features, and profitability.

Tag, You're It

Tag Viewer is a Ruby on Rails AJAX application that makes it easy to cross reference tagged resources at popular tagging sites.

The idea sorta came to life after I started to find the footer tag links on my keyword research tool rather handy. Your thoughts on Tag Viewer would be appreciated.

I don't intend to commercialize Tag Viewer in any way. I had it made because I think it will be useful for helping me do web research. While I claim to be an SEO, I am much more of an info porn junkie than an SEO ;)

Using Video for Affiliate Marketing & Chopping Up Communities

  • Affiliate marketing via video content. As the end merchant who's product is being sold I can tell you that Brendon converts amazingly well.
  • Dan Thies is getting serious about blogging daily. As more search marketers offer free daily doses of original content the forum market is going to get chopped to bits.
  • More SEO experts will focus on personal blogs, largely because many of the SEO communities do not design for selfishness.
  • Submit your spam papers. This is probably an easy way to get a few high authority links if you are one who likes to write. I am tempted to write a paper titled something like "Creating a Scalable Distributed Spam Ad System to Undermine the Relevancy of Competing Search Services," in honor of Google AdSense. Should I?

Earning Google Trust With User Feedback & Engagement Metrics

Via Brickman comes an interesting WMW thread stating Google may be using traffic analysis and user feedback (clickstreams, etc) to help determine the quality of a site.

I have spoke to a well known engineer at another major engine who told me that it plays a significant role in their engine.

It makes sense that they would want to allow users to give feedback, but they wouldn't want to use just traffic analysis, because that would just promote large conglomerate sites and/or stifle innovation across the board (by promoting first movers at the expense of better products that followed).

In the WMW thread Walkman said:

Traffic? This would mean that a search engine is the last to know /show that you're popular.

But when you think about it, hasn't search ALWAYS been this way? Following links that OTHERS PUBLISHED. The links were not only used to crawl, but also a good way to imply trust or quality.

Quality global web search has never been about helping you find stuff first. That is what vertical databases, vertical search services, human editors and reporters are for.

Links to a site without traffic no longer imply the same level of trust that it used to. Sites selling link trading services use sales copy like:

The more websites you can get to link to your website, the higher you will rank in the search engines, guaranteed!

And even the mainstream media is talking about SEO.

Some people will claim that using searcher feedback as a baseline to help determine site quality is nonsense, but most of those people are probably launching new brands off of their old brands and current popularity, which make them much more likely to instantly get significant traffic / mindshare / linkage data.

It is easy to learn from your own SEO experiences, but it is also easy to extend what happens to you as to be the way things happen everywhere, even if that is not the case.

I don't think Google would want to base a ton of the overall relevancy algorithm on site popularity (and clearly they don't since the top results are not always the most popuar sites), but they can and may use traffic patterns and searcher feedback to filter out junk sites. And it may help certain types of link spam stick out (ie: a site that just picked up 50,000 backlinks but few of them drive any traffic) may be a red flag for spam.

Couple some of the temporal ideas with power laws and much of the spam should be pretty easy to detect.

Google talk recently even started redirecting chat URLs through Do you think they would do that without reason?

The Day Search Engine Optimization Became a Legitimate Profession

Recently MSN UK listed an SEO job. Danny also spotted a post about eBay and Yahoo! looking for SEOs.

For a while these networks (and especially Google) have painted SEO as being shady and/or illegitimate. Google killed SearchKing's PageRank for years, only starting to show PageRank again this week.

Yahoo! has long been a buyer of links, Google cloaked itself, sold kiddie porn ads, openly funds piracy, and steals clients.

As companies that openly manipulate their own databases they have no credibility talking trash about SEOs. After actively seeking workers in the SEO field they won't have much credibility going forward when they try to talk it down.

In that regard I think SEO is going to seem far more legitimate.

As SEO keeps getting more exposure year over year and offline ads become less profitable huge media companies are starting to notice SEO. Yesterday the NYT admitted that they write titles with SEO in mind.

After a couple more months or years of declining offline profits more newspapers will write about SEO in positive articles as they tout their new value model to investors.

Sure there will still be isolated incidences, but as an industry as a whole I think SEO has just became legitimized.

Google PageRank Leakage & Misconceptions on PageRank

Sometimes I get quotes like this

"Bottom line, out-going links are always a BAD IDEA for SEO. It creates what we in the SEO community call SEO hemorrhage. It BLEEDS off GOOD PR. Not a good thing. We actually NEED MORE incoming links."


Somewhere in Google's webmaster guidelines is a warning about having more than 100 outbound links on a page. My advice is to take that point very seriously.

Using the same principle proves, at least to us here in this one office, that 101 outbound links on a page (don't forget to count navigation links in the total) may lead to an immediate decrease in absolute PageRank even if it's not demonstrated in the toolbar.

These ideas are typically short sighted and miss a broader view of the web. Is it possible to start from scratch and build up a brand while being completely greedy with your link popularity? Sure it is, but generally it is going to be easier to create a useful site if you are willing to link out to some related resources.

Especially if you write about your industry you have to source some ideas or information. Why avoid social interaction? How can you only view links as a cost? If you link out enough sometimes they come back. Heck sometimes other content authors will even defend your brand for you without you even knowing about it.

What are search engines but link lists? And most of the links are free. And people come back and use them again.

I do have some clients that for a period of time did not link out to some sites that they should of. For about a year or so a client outranked their own manufacturer for the manufacturer brand name in Yahoo! and MSN. In that case I was greedy with the link popularity because I didn't want to lower our exposure. After Yahoo! started ranking the appropriate site #1 for the brand name then I freely linked out to it.

For most any site there are probably at least a few sites that can be linked to.

As far as controlling internal link popularity goes, the reason for the 100 link suggestion was based on page usability. How many options can you give a person before you give them too many to be useful?

As recently noted by Matt, crawl depth is typically a function of PageRank:

One of the classic crawling strategies that Google has used is the amount of PageRank on your pages. So just because your site has been around for a couple years (or that you submit a sitemap), that doesn’t mean that we’ll automatically crawl every page on your site. In general, getting good quality links would probably help us know to crawl your site more deeply.

The theory that I have though is that you have to point at others thoughts that you find interesting if you hope to have others find you interesting. There is only so much one person can do. As a bonus to getting free content ideas by reading and linking at other people sometimes those links come back.

Some people have taken the PageRank funneling concepts to an extreme where they are even heavily using the link nofollow attribute on their own internal links, or whenever they point at official documentation on other sites. Both of which are usually bad form.

To snag a quote from DG

Sorry you fucksticks, but if you've ever used nofollow as anything other than a joke or to fuck someone else, yer an idiot, Just bend over and wrap yer lips around yer own asshole and suck until yer head explodes. At the very least, you'll reduce the number of stupid people that can breed. Follow?

I think things like many nofollows to internal pages might set off some sort of SEO flag. Just like being stingy with outbound links often forces some sites to have unnatural inbound link profiles.

It is just as easy to use links within your content to funnel your link popularity and actively drive users toward your desired goals. In the end goal to funnel visitors one way make sure you make it easy for them to go back in the other direction if they make a mistake or arrive on your site on the wrong page, otherwise you may hurt your conversion rates.

Bleeding PageRank is probably a bit arbitrary when you factor in the larger social aspects of the web. Plus some engines may also look at outbound links when trying to theme the content of your site.

Most content publishers have to vote for at least a few others before too many people are willing to vote for them. If you are a business selling products and services it still makes sense to link to business partners and other useful resources just to increase the depth and richness of your site without needing to recreate the web to do so.

Filtering Bad Leads & Filtering Information

Lets say you sell SEO services and want to aim for the high end of the market.

keyword modifiers and/or ad copy:

  • high end

  • complex
  • corporate
  • fortune 500
  • custom
  • bespoke (I love that word)
  • search brand management

negative ad trigger keywords:

  • - cheap

  • - outsource (maybe some testing might be needed on this one...depends on their meaning when they type outsource
  • - India
  • - free
  • - discount
  • - budget
  • - wholesale
  • - economic
  • - low cost
  • - cost
  • - price

Create content designed around being relevant to search queries likely to be performed by desired clients. Best XYZ. Top rated XYZ. Award winning reliable XYZ.

Offer a free or low priced information product to point beginners at. Perhaps get their information in exchange for giving it away, but sometimes it is even better just to give away good value without expecting anything in return.

Make sure you qualify as a GAP and Yahoo! Ambassador and throw those logos on your site.

Cheap Blowhards:
As soon as you realize a lead is a blowhard make it a goal to be off the phone in less than a minute. If via email tell them that you would have no problem answering their questions if they would pay for the consultation time upfront.

Proxy for Search Ad Spend:
Some industries are web only, and thus may not spend much money on traditional offline marketing, but if a lead is in a field that tells normally spends big offline, and they tell you they have no offline budget than they may also have limited or next to no online budget.

Anyone who has excuses about how poor they are or how the search engines are destroying their business typically falls into one of the following groups:

  • a person down on their luck who can't focus beyond the past

  • a person unwilling to change, stuck with a legacy business model
  • a person too lazy to try to build any real value
  • a person trying to waste your time making you earn far less than you are worth

Proxy for Their Opinion of Value:
If some told you they just hired someone from India and were rather happy but...

You may as well avoid that lead. Their perceived value bar is likely too low and/or their expectations are probably too high.

If they got burned in the past they may be afraid to invest enough to be able to afford useful services.

Some leads that generally can not afford to competing in marketplaces where the SEO is the only thing that makes it a possibility whine to the SEO about their business being destroyed if things ever slow. Keep in mind that in many of these instances the SEO did create that business opportunity and build those businesses for diminishing scraps as the marketplace and algorithms advance.

List your prices (I am surprised by how few SEOs do this):

Justifying Your Price:
If the client is exceptionally concerned about how much you make per hour one of the following conditions is probably happening:

  • you are selling to the wrong person

  • you are selling the wrong stuff
  • you have not adequately prequalified them

The amount of time it takes you to do something is irrelevant to how much value you create. For example, on a one hour consult yesterday in a single minute I saved my client over double what the hour long phone call cost.

Peter D pointed at a story about a $10,000 hour recently. Earlier this year I think I had a million dollar minute, but that idea still won't launch for a few months. I sure hope that goes well ;)

If You Suck at Pricing (I Generally do):
If you tend to under-price your services try to bring on a partner who is more business savvy, or created automated income streams that help sell themselves without requiring you to negotiate prices.

I recently took on a trusted friend as a partner for some large scale client work. The details of that million dollar minute were told to a friend because he is much better at executing on ideas of that scale than I am. As a minority stake holder I will likely make more off the idea than I would have if I developed it myself.

Recommend other companies:
That makes you look both reliable AND exceptionally selective. Rand does it.

Customer forms...just ask questions. Good ones. And lots of them!
Have a long customer form on your site that really allows you to learn the client's business. If they take an hour and a half to fill out an inquiry form then the odds are pretty good they are not a cheap ass or tire kicker.

Plus asking questions helps build trust and makes them realize how many things you consider when you provide your services.

I created one for a friend's PPC services, but I have yet to see many of these in the SEO industry. If you wanted to know how to a great customer inquiry form check out the questionnaire on Clear Left. Their customer inquiry form would be a fantastic model for any company selling web development or marketing services.

Say You are Not Available:
Some people have emailed me dozens of time because being unavailable made them more attracted to wanting to hire me. Some of the leads were so appealing that I couldn't say no.

Email Overload:
I am getting exceptionally behind on emails, so my advice probably lacks credibility here, but if it is not personalized delete it.

If it is personalized, but the same person keeps asking you questions that could easily be answered by a search engine politely remind them that search engines exist by answering their questions with a link to a relevant search query.

Use an email program that lets you mark and store messages by priority level.

If you get asked the same question many times create content on the topic so you can answer the question once and have the answer there for many people.

Always time to chat with your best friends, but if you sell a cheap product to someone and they want your email to chat for an hour a day for free cut that stuff off right away. It doesn't scale.

If people want to chat to sell you stuff without having met you beforehand tell them you are not interested and never will be. And you have to go now.

Sometimes it helps to subscribe to keywords and cut out a few channels. Or, use Google toolbar buttons and just subscribe to your 15 - 20 favorite blogs.

Read through your favorite channels maybe a few times a day. Read through the other ones much more rarely.

Overall Selling Theory:
I won't pretend that I know everything about selling high end client services, but I think some of these tips would be useful to anyone new to the market who wanted to set up shop selling SEO services.

Monthly Keyword Research Marketing Data

SEO Question:

Are you aware of a tool or a service that can provide reliable search volume history for certain keywords? Like how many searches there were for "keyword phrase" in each month of 2005.

SEO Answer:

Keyword Intelligence and Keyword Discovery (in depth review of many keyword research tools) both offer seasonal data to some extent, but both are limited in their database depth. Search traffic falls off sharply when you leave Google and Yahoo!. Unless you are Google or Yahoo! it is just plain tough to gather exceptionally useful and meaningful data (unless you are in a non English market with other major players).

With Google and Yahoo! their own commercial motivations are to show increased volume on core terms to create artificially competitive markets. Google and Yahoo! don't make tons of money when advertisers buy a bucket full of long tail 10 cent clicks instead of bidding up the core heavily searched industry terms. They don't mind if you find some long tail terms, but they want everyone bidding up the core terms.

Due to the engines recommending the most obvious terms and some advertisers feeling they NEED to advertise on those terms some keywords get so competitive that the margins are negative. This slim or negative margin environment spurs on rank checkers, click fraud, and other market manipulating activities which drive up the core search volume numbers provided by the major engines on the most common terms.

Yahoo!'s keyword research tool (my cooler version tool is available here) will show you the raw number of searches for the prior month. For example, last month they stated that SEO had 51,787 searches on Yahoo!.

Since that is a short term in a hyper saturated market you shouldn't be surprised if 90% of that search volume is junky automated traffic or ego searching. I usually rank in the top 10 in Google and Yahoo! for SEO and it typically sends me about 5 visitors a day. While Yahoo! only shows "SEO Book" as getting about 5% of the search volume as the term SEO I get way more traffic for SEO Book.

Yahoo! has recently started mailing out keyword promos reminding people to bid up the most competitive holiday related terms. Those are probably good words to steer clear of paying for. Many ignorant bidders jumping into the market at the same time creates an ugly overpriced playing field, although if you can sell them their PPC traffic the overpriced bidding may be a beautiful thing. Keyword terms with a large standard deviation may create good arbitrage opportunities.

Google recently started offering 12 months seasonal search data with their keyword tool. Unlike Overture, they only show graphical estimates and trends instead of exact search volume numbers. But I think it is only important to get a glance at trends since exact numbers usually do not matter much (due to automated traffic etc). They also provide quick snapshots of ad market competition and estimated bids. Both of which may be useful in deciding which markets are valuable to enter prior to investing into content creation.

In many markets the breadth of the keyword space matters much more than just the volume of the top few keywords. Some markets which are driven around a well known brand with few well known product names may have 90% of the search volume come in under the brand name or a couple slight variations of it. Most markets have much more traffic at the other end of the keyword spectrum though. Keyword phrase modifiers and alternate phrases may be huge. For example, yesterday over 75% of the search queries referring visitors to this site were unique.

You can also learn about many of the odd search patterns, consistent seasonal trends, and how search relates to society by reading the Hitwise blog. While they do not have anywhere near the amount of data Google or Yahoo! do, the Hitwise blog is always an interesting read, and does a great job of marketing their services.

Mind-share leads to more mind-share. And mind-share leads to expression. If the search volume trends are going up then likely the number of people talking about the topic will go up as well. If you are looking for what is hot right now there are numerous buzz trackers.

When thinking about keyword data remember:

  • the biases of the providers (wanting to sell expensive clicks or having small a keyword database size)

  • the numbers provided by any tools are just estimates
  • consider how spread out the search terms likely are in your industry.

If you are new to an industry, have limited capital, limited brand equity built up, and your market is hyper-saturated it may be far more profitable to go for niche long tail search phrases, since those will be easier to compete for and they typically have more implied value / targeting / demand.

Easy Linkbait...

You can get burned if you do it too often, but if you call others out you can get easy links.

This is pure horseshit. One surefire indicator that something is rotten in this particular pulpit is that Mark's "oops, sorry" Bob's column contains no links. In fact, his columns never link to any external sources of information. Isn't it remarkable that someone who writes a weekly column for the Internet never links to anyone else?

Notice the post also has an update with another link in it. You sometimes can even leverage another person's story about someone else being full of it for a strong link of your own. Of course sometimes you can get even more by being a contrarian to the contrarian.

Also worth noting that outbound links are perhaps the single cheapest form of marketing available to someone new to the WWW who is trying to break into their field. All the blog tracking and link tracking tools make the self agrandizing must-track-myself even more pervasive. That makes it easier to break into a field by making sure the right eyes see it when you agree with industry leaders, and more importantly, when you do not.

People who say hello through a topical post or a link are far more likely to get a receptive reply than lamers asking for links to spammy ad cluttered sites at hello.

Boiler Room

I just watched Boiler Room, a flick about shady stock market dealings from a chop shop, with people selling shit they don't believe in themselves.

The movie serves as a solid reminder why I generally have such a distaste for bogus push hype telemarketing in the SEO / SEM community.

One of my fundamental theories of marketing (and I - the marketer - view employment opportunities and social relationships as a subset of marketing) is that the harder something is sold to you the less value it must have. Granted I always think you should sell yourself first, but on the web pull marketing is much more efficient than push marketing, especially since it is so easy to hyper-target your messages and find and create niches.

If you ever go to New York City and look around at all the different niche businesses or read various types of spam (email, blog, etc etc etc) it is easy to see the core human emotions people are trying to profit from and just how much you can hyper-target a market and still be profitable.

As the web evolves and more of our lives and knowledge are integrated into the web it will only become easier for pull marketing to work well.

Tax Time...

So, tommorrow I have an appointment to go over my taxes. I haven't started putting them all together yet, so I may not be blogging much today or tomorrow ;)

I make most of my profits from this site, but in many ways this site has thrust so much opportunity on me that it is mind boggling. In the past I wasted many great opportunities by lying to myself about what I am good at and where I should focus my efforts.

Recently I decided to expand my business and web presence significantly beyond this site, realizing that I can't do everything I want to if I do it all on my own, and that having a vested interest in many other ideas will help me learn. The main desire to expand comes from wanting a broader knowledge base and experience base. While I could do really well by just focusing on this site I think the stuff I will learn from getting a much more broad experience set will increase my understanding of the web, marketing, and business in general.

Here are some of the cookie jars I have put my hands in over the past few months (most cookie jars involve at least 1 friend partnering):

  • buying a few old websites (been doing this on my own, though got some cool ideas from chatting with Jim Boykin and Stuntdubl)

  • creating lots of content for them (hired one friend to make some content, hired another friend to fix broken links and write content, and partnered with a friend for some of the other content)
  • starting 2 content networks (this is going unfortunately slow, largely due to resource limits, especially when compared to the instant ROI provided by the older more established sites)
  • buying Threadwatch and then taking DaveN on as a partner
  • trying to learn affiliate marketing a bit more aggressively (while he doesn't talk too much about it in public, Andy Hagans is a bad ass at it for being somewhat new to that market)
  • partnering with a friend to try to make a social network (I think I have a good idea with this, and a good viral marketing idea)
  • partnering with a friend to try to make another network (this one is just a bit out there. I would be a minority stake holder in it. Am chatting with the majority guy to try to make it pretty innovative, but they are being a bit more traditional than my uber idealistic - and perhaps a bit flawed for being a bit too idealistic - original idea.)
  • hiring a programmer - I think it would be cool to have a full time programmer to make lots of random fun or good ideas. I am sure eventually as I get further into the affiliate stuff he will help come up with some cool content ideas.
  • ownership stake in 3 companies (one of which may already be in the hurt locker, but the second and third could not be looking any brighter)
  • that second company has more potential profit in its first month than I made in all of 2004, largely because I joined up with an absolutely kick ass partner
  • the third company could be much larger than the second
  • working on some rather large client projects

So hopefully I will post saturday...think I am going to turn IM and email off so I can start on taxes ;)

Always Sell Yourself & Always Sell Yourself First

Recently a reader asked me why I didn't have other ads on my blog. My response was:

As a business model most quality SEO services do not scale. Those who really want to provide consumer level services have more referrals than they know what to do with.

Most of the ads in the SEO industry are for scam crap that people do not need. Why diminish my own credibility by plastering them all over my site?

All content, is in some way an advertisement. For example, good comments help add value to content and help the original author learn.

Plus I already sell my ebook on this site. When Threadwatch had AdSense ads front and center (to the point of being somewhat spammy about them) this site was still making way more than that one.

The viability of a business model or publishing model not only is reliant on the quantity of ads but the quality and relevancy of ads.

Giving people other options for other products would likely only hurt my conversion rate and credibility.

Recently I have been getting too much email to keep up with, so I took the send me an email part off of my site. I need to catch up. It may go back up sometime down the road, but if I ask for people to contact me and don't quickly respond then I am just going to piss a lot of people off (thanks to Andrew for the link).

If you are feeling stressed out, sometimes making yourself less accessible will help you build your brand and improve your customer service because you will be able to focus more on each person who contacts you.

I am sure some sociologists have studied the value of strong and weak relationships, but the mind is limited in how many relationships you can keep. If you got more weak ones than you know what to do with and are finding that you have not put as much effort as you would like toward growing some of your stronger relationships maybe it makes sense to try to build a few stronger ones, or to try to hit a different market segment.

As a test, when I pulled down the contact me note I put up a new sticky thingie on the side selling 1 hour of consulting services for $500. In the last 3 days that sticky note has made far more money than I made in ebook sales, and I haven't even marketed it other than putting that note on the right side of the site.

Not surprisingly, a couple of the people who purchased the service were people I remembered emailing back and forth with in the past.

The value in ads is in the targeting. How much more targeted of a prospect can you get than a person who regularly reads and like your stuff? If someone else can get more value out of that ad space then perhaps it is a hint that the business model might be worth changing.

A few big goals most consultants should really want to achieve:

  • automated passive income streams

  • diverse revenue sources
  • creating and/or packaging information in chunks that either need rarely updated or can be sold on a subscription basis (I am screwing up with that idea at this point)
  • packaging similar content in different formats
  • make sure that if you create good stuff that many people see it (I screwed up so much in the past by answering tons of questions via email and just throwing away boatloads of content by not formatting any of them into articles or blog posts)
  • getting so much demand that they can't keep up with the market, to where they can afford to raise their rates and control their ease of accessibility or price point to keep up with market demand
  • using price as a filtering mechanism to filter out bad leads

Even though I sent out thousands of emails helping people the free help I gave over the past couple years was a form of selling myself (even if I didn't really know it when I started doing it).

Always sell yourself first. That is especially important if you are trying to break into a crowded marketplace. After you start doing well you need to keep selling yourself, but if you can't keep up with the market demand intentionally filtering some of your relationships (even if only temporary) is much better than doing a poor job of communicating with almost everyone who tries to contact you.

You also have to leave room to invest in yourself. If you stop learning then eventually you are going to be trading on outdated reputation, which may eventually hurt people. Its a hard balance to strike with SEO stuff because you don't know who will read what you write or when they will read it...and the market is growing increasingly competitive and what provides the quickest best ROI today may be a sure ban tomorrow.

Testing the Value of Smaller Pay Per Click Providers

Sometimes you do not even need to test a pay per click search engine to know there isn't much value there. In much the same way you can determine the quality of a directory by the sites listed there, you can also determine the (lack of) value of a PPC engine by looking at the sites listed there.

Check out these LookSmart ads:

And then look at this search result:

  • they throw tribal fusion pop up ads at site visitors.

  • they sell off target banner ads at the top of the search results.
  • they don't even have good ad placement on their own site, putting dumb banners and pop up ads front and center - making users hunt for the ads.
  • what is up with the dumb blue triangle on the left? It points at nothing.

If they sell trashy off topic ads front and center on their own site what does that do for advertiser or publisher trust in their ad network?

Dumb. Really.

They couldn't even keep Zeal, their free volunteer directory, running with their own ads OR Google's ads (due largely to ignorant ad placement / integration).

They may be able to leverage all of their content to make some sort of a content play, but they would probably gain more credibility if they stopped selling ads directly and / or got rid of pop ups and integrated the ads appropriately into their search results (ie: place off topic banners AFTER the relevant ads).

And they probably would do better in other engines if they cleaned up their URLs and page titles a bit. They probably cut off 50% to 75% of their traffic with their current URLs, page titles, spreading their content over many domains with poor internal link structure, and marking it hard to get back to the root site from some of the sub sites.

Combine that with making their own ad market less efficient due to poor ad placement of the relevant ads and scaring off visitors with pop ups and you can see how the margin based network business they are running is doing less than stellar.

It might be different if they didn't also own a search engine, but how can they be so not clued up?

MSN Search Spam Research

SEO by the Sea has a great post about spam analysis done at MSN. While MSN's credibility on finding web spam might be a bit questionable (since they rank it so well), but the research ran through a variety of factors associated with web spam. Most were related to temporal page variance and running things like inlinks and outlinks through power laws. If you hate to read research pages Bill also mentioned this 36 minute video.

Power laws are probably not something that many low level search spammers look at, but if you are going to do well at it, then it helps to see where you fit in the big picture and how it affects you. Although I have noticed some sites (particularly old, well-established ones) that have done pretty stupid things that should flag penalties that do not. The biggest thing that makes spamming easier than it should be is the number of badly coded sites with good content, but if you have the same number of links on every page, the same page size on every page, and the same link profiles as many spam sites you can expect that your site stands a good chance to get penalized.

Using Viral Content Ideas or Technology to Build Links in Spammy Industries

In some industries, like payday loans for example, it is hard to get legitimate citations.

If somehow a well discussed technology runs close to your core field it may be worth creating content around that linking opportunity and ask the right people for feedback on your end produt. Many of them will give your site authoritative links that are going to be hard to compete with.

Even run of the mill online flower shops may go from a me too site to a heavily linked industry authority if they added something like this to their sites. As storage costs go down and more people filter information in more and more ways there become more and more marketing opportunities. Largely because there become more overlapping intersections between industries. Many of those intersections get talked about and heavily linked at.

Comparative Advertising in Naming, Linking, and Tagging

Comparative Advertising Through Obscure Naming:

If I soft launch something sometimes I give it a name that is kinda keyword rich and spammy, to inspire a few descriptive links. After I lock in a few of those I may change the name to something that sounds more brand friendly.

When I launched my keyword research tool initially I wrote the page title as something weird like Yahoo & Google Keyword Suggestion Tool. At the same time I made the page heading something like Free Google and Overture Search Term Keyword Suggestion Tool

By giving it various long obscure names like that it did the following:

  • allowed me to get a few natural citations with great anchor text

  • ensured other people who linked at the tool mixed up their anchor text, since it was sorta like a tool without a name (I have lots of links with words like Google, Yahoo!, Overture, free, keyword, research, suggestion, analysis, tool)
  • that wide array of anchor text makes it easy for that page to be relevant for many search queries
  • by making it hard to reference by any sort of official name it probably made some word of mouth mentions include my traditional site brand name, which is what I eventually changed the tool name to, but only after it got a few mentions

Please note that the semi official naming idea works best if you:

  • have something that is exceptional viral (good enough to spread in spite of the bad name); or

  • have a large readership and/or great brand equity (have a general brand name that people can fall back on and use to reference)

How you name things greatly determines how people will link at it.

BTW, I recently created a search box you can put on your site if you want to use the SEO Book Keyword Research Tool from your site. Here is an example search box:

Keyword Suggestions for:

By Aaron Wall's SEO Book

and the code is here.

Comparative Advertising in Linking:

I do not think there have been any legal cases involving using someone else's brand as anchor text to market your own site, but I wonder if one day there will be.

Also if a competing product or service has negative reviews you could help do a bit of behind the scenes link building for their negative reviews. If they place too much focus on trying to wipe away the negative reviews on their core brand terms odds are pretty good that they may short sell some of their other marketing opportunities.

Comparative Advertising in Layout:

My site content hopefully is of quality and informative, but the layout is also designed to show my relevant mini ad for just about any visitor who finds my site.

Comparison Advertising on Pay Per Click Search Engines:

Perhaps illegal in some areas or disallowed on certain engines you have to consider the potential down sides and up sides of bidding against competing brands.

Comparative Advertising in Tagging:

If your site is new it may be hard to rank for someone else's brand, but if you can spin a story against an established brand sometimes ranking is easier than you might expect. It may look tacky to tag your own posts, so have a friend submit your post to Digg with a "Better than competing brand!!!" in the page title. When Performancing stats launched someone did that.

Now when anyone searches for Google Analytics on Google you find that Performancing marketing did a damn near perfect job.

Hype is Just Hype, and a Marketing Opportunity

So I have been feeling a bit burned out on the controversy angle and have tried doing a bit less of that on this site...I figure it is better to post that sort of stuff on Threadwatch.

Jakob Nielsen, who is always great at hyping his opinion and putting it out in an informative column, recently wrote an article stating that Hyped Web Stories Are Irrelevant.

He is partially correct. After the hype wears off the only things that are left are a bunch of links and maybe a few new readers, which lead to a few more links and a few more readers. Who knows, after a decade of debunking everything else as hype and painting an industry with your opinion maybe you could have one of the largest newsletters on the web. Like Jakob.

Incredible that he is able to come up with interesting columns every month after a decade of writing them. You need only look at some of those article titles to see how good he is as putting a different spin on many of the hype stories.

You only need to occassionally look in the search results to see how much the hyped stories and hype channels typically outperform the channels lacking hype. Why do they? Because it is easy to argue or agree with something that is full of hype. Stuff that is boring and down the middle typically just isn't all that remarkable.

I not only see lots of Digg pages in the search results, but if you ever try to search for something like "Google + some rare word or idea" you may never find the information you were looking for because Google is unable to get past the heavily linked hype.

The search results are nothing but a popularity content. More bloggers are realizing that. More are writing inaccurate / biased / hyped stories just for the attention it brings. But eventually it wears thin. I have been going a bit lean on my RSS recently because of this sort of stuff everywhere.

With so much bias and hype crowding up the search results eventually good functional ideas and products may need to pay just to get any attention.

Changing the Perception of Content Quality of Amateur Products

I have seen some people write that they thought no ebook ever had any value, only to later see those same people say they found a video of mine (that had terrible formatting - when I get more time I will create more of these, but better), liked it, and then decided that the ebook must have value based on that.

In all honesty, in many ways, an ebook was probably not the most profitable way to format my knowledge. In the long run I could probably make more money by making that free and coming up with other miniature information products in other formats that are easier to sell and consume. I could create a new video every week for about a year straight, and always have new products to sell.

This example also shows the ease of distribution on vertical search and the importance of having oars in many lakes. While few people have watched that video so far (about 5 people a day), that has given me another channel to reach people and helps reinforce my brand. Also look at the economics of it - the distribution on Google Video is free. The only cost is time, but for a one time hour of work I get at least $1 worth of free exposure a day.

In many ways, for many content creators and small publishers, the Google brand, reach, and growing feedback mechanisms will make amateur or non-traditionally published content far easier to sell.

The web is also more about information than it is about shopping or selling. Google realizes the limits of content quality of free content in many verticals and they are eventually going to start pushing more people to pay for it (via micro payments, subscriptions, or other non straight ad models).

Content quality is probably the #1 limiting factor in search technology right now. The only way they are going to encourage more high quality content production is if they can create a framework that helps make it more profitable.

AdSense can only go so far until Google has a database of information products and purchase streams to recommend further products and information consumption habbits. And oddly enough, Eric Schmidt was recently talking about that.

"The quickest way to improve the quality of an ad is to have the ad instantaneously turn into a purchase that is 100 percent perfect," [Eric Schmidt] said. "We now have a solution that we believe enables advertisers to offer a digital product on the Web so that when people click on it, through a credit-card mechanism, it is automatically taken care of."

Web Directories...are They Relevant to SEO?

With Zeal recently closing (I think Looksmart are dumb to have closed it) some people have recently been questioning the value of directories.

$hoemoney recently had a mini interview of a few SEOs asking if they are still relevant. The general consensus was that if the directory sends traffic then it is a good link to buy.

I think that is a good rule of thumb, but I am also a bit more aggressive. I still buy a few links that I figure won't drive much traffic, largely because I think they still work well in Yahoo! and MSN. Having said that, I think there are certain quality signals or anti-quality signals that it helps to look at.

  • Is it ranking in the SERPs? - If a site ranks well in the search engines it stands a good chance to be trusted by them. Plus even if those links do not count to help boost your ranking they still can drive direct traffic. I frequently see directories like and JoeAnt ranking in the search results.

  • Do they sell direct links? - Direct links are more likely to be taken as editorial votes of quality. Some redirected links may still count, but many of them will not.
  • How frequently is their site crawled? - You need to check and see if the category pages are being cached in Google, and how frequently they are cached. If their pages are not getting cached or have not been cached for 6 months then the odds are pretty low of that link carrying much weight.
  • What is the quality ratio? - Does it list anyone who pays? Or do they hold sites to some quality standards? Do they categorize sites properly? Or do they sell links to anyone in any category, even if it is the wrong one? Does each page have unique content? Are most pages empty - adding nothing but clutter to search indexes? If they do not help engines categorize the web (ie: no editorial value) then eventually the engines are not going to trust their votes.
  • What is the ad ratio? - Are all the listings paid? Or will they list some useful sites without payment? Does the site look like it aims to serve end users? Or does it look like it exists just to get AdSense ads or affiliate ads indexed?
  • Do they sell outbound sitewide links? - Prettymuch the equivalent of selling out - when a directory puts sitewide outbound links on their site (especially if those links are to junky sites) the odds are pretty good that the links are not going to count much.
  • Is it decrepit? - Directories which have 50% of their links broken or pointing at URLs that have been purchased by spammers or domainers are not going to pack as much punch as sites which have few broken links. I recently bought a 25 page directory that has not been updated in a couple years, and it had about 400 broken links in it. Not good!
  • Does it have unique content? - Is it a DMOZ clone? Are its listings manually compiled and unique from what is offered at other directories?
  • Is it relevant to my site? - Many small niche directories can drive decent value due to offering decent co-citation data and having exceptionally relevant traffic streams.

Bob Mutch recently rated 40 top directories based on their age, how many edu and gov links they have and whether or not they are listed in DMOZ and Yahoo!. I would contest that WhatUSeek isn't a real directory, ISEDB is a directory of search engines and directories, and that should be counted as a directory, but other than those minor points this is a pretty cool study.

1 128,000 761 1999
2 111,000 2,060 1995
3 2,420 73 1998
4 106 1 2000
5 50 1 1996
6 23 0 2001
7 22 0 2001

I think the inbound link profile is a good starting point for rating (when you add it to the other criteria I mentioned above), but what I think is even more interesting is how quickly they fall off in the quantity of quality links. After DMOZ solved the general directory problem and Google solved the search problem no general directories were able to get many citations. That sorta shows the importance of market timing.

While there are many quality links that are not from a .gov or .edu TLDs, I think those are a good proxy for overall link quality. Notice how quickly the .edu count falls off. That is why the top directories may be worth $300 for a listing...they are trusted quality links.

The quick fall off in legitimate citations is why some types of link spam are easier to detect than many people think. When they manually build links many of the links they accumulate are outlier low power links, often ones sharing similar link profiles with each other.

What General Directories Provide Great Value?

I liked the ones I left linked above. There are a few others that are decent as well, but the broader I make the list the more likely I am to eventually promote sites that are doing lots of spammy things, like whoring out their sites to AdSense or sitewide casino links.

I see a couple of the unlinked directories listed above ranking in the SERPs for a broad range of queries, but some of them may not exercise much editorial control, and will eventually lose some of their authority.

For the sake of MSN and Yahoo! I still do submit to a number more directories than just what is listed above. The number depends on the field, but if the business is going to be a web savvy business that can afford to create strong brands and/or useful content then they will also have many links from outside the directory sphere.

Topically Relevant Directories:

It is hard for me to list quality topical directory examples because:

  • if you do not know a topic then it is hard to judge quality

  • directories change over time.

For example, I used to always use a certain directory as an example of a quality directory, but now that there are off topic airline ads on the home page and too much AdSense ads I don't put as much stock in it.

Think Local:

Some local directories are way under priced and of high quality. Quality local directories tend to drive significant hyper targeted traffic.

A few other things to consider when registering with directories:

  • I use Roboform to submit my sites, but mix up my link anchor text and descriptions (especially since some search engines have certainly looked at word relations outside of on-the-page content and anchor text).

  • If your market is competitive and your site is new you will also need to get other types of links if you want to rank in Google
  • mix your anchor text
  • if brand name is keyword rich make sure you also try to get a few variations in your listing titles outside of your brand name such that if you push the brand hard and cause significant natural linkage it won't cause your link profile to look wonky due to too much similar link text.
  • If your brand is not generic it may only take a couple links for you to rank at or near the top of the search results for it.
  • A Yahoo! listing or DMOZ listing may be worth 20 or more links from lower quality directories.
  • Each good link you get allows you to get many junky links without it really hurting you (say ~50 or so - depending on industry)

How Different Search Engines Count Directory Links:

Yahoo! and MSN still tend to count directory links (including low quality directory links) far more than Google does.

For a new one page flash site I got about 50 directory links in a couple days a while ago. It competes for a basket of low traffic $3 per click terms that can cost about $600 a month ranking at about #2 on the PPC ads.

In Google 2 weeks after I started link building the site ranked in the top 10 across a wide array of terms from this basket of keywords. After about 2 months without additional link building the site's rankings in Google dropped off. After that they have started to slowly improve.

Yahoo! took a bit longer than Google to react, but once it did and I went to #1 I stayed there almost every day for the last 5 months.

MSN reacted about as quickly as Google, perhaps even a few days quicker. Outside of a few fluctuations it has ranked fairly consistantly at #1.

The client ranks #1 for their brand name and related terms in all major engines. They probably would rank a bit better in Google if I got those links over time and showed consistant growth, but considering how cheap I sold those services for I am still certain they have an exceptionally strong ROI, and I am certain their ranking will rise over time if we put more effort and resources into SEO.

Why do People think Directories are Becoming Irrelevant?

  • As a business model directories do not work well unless you are hyper focused or have significant authority to leverage. (Unless you are selling PageRank to naive webmasters who have yet to learn much about SEO or get burned by shady directories.)

  • As more people write and compile information the quality of information needs to be better to be link worthy.
  • Most directories (especially most paid directories) do not add much context as to why a particular site is important, useful or worthwhile.
  • People do not give out links as freely as they once did. It is hard for a directory site to be viewed as link worthy as they were in the past, thus they do not get as much authority to pass on.
  • Active channels, such as topical weblogs, tend to drive far more traffic than most fairly static directory sites.
  • Google's algorithms are improving. They are getting better at scrubbing link quality and filtering out duplicate or near duplicate content.
  • Most general directories are useless spam.
  • Couple improving search algorithms with social bookmarking sites and they make the job of professional catalogs and archivists less relevant, except perhaps for ultra niche categories that are not well cited.

Why is the Business Case for Directories Falling Apart?

  • Many of the reasons listed above (market hypersaturation, lessening authority, other content types - like blogs and wikis - are fighting for the same audience, improving search quality, bottoms up social systems).

  • Directories create inefficiently priced marketplaces.
  • Most directories drive so little traffic and value that it is hard for them to make their marketplaces more efficient.

There is Still Some Value in Directory Links:

In conclusion, I still like a number of directories, but sometimes it helps to drill down to look at relevancy more than just buying any old link. I also think that even if some of the mid to low quality directories do not offer lots of value in Google they still help with the other engines. Another added bonus of building links from directories and other sources is that they can inflate your link count to help discourage competition and/or pollute your link profile to make it hard for competitors to see what all links are helping your rank where you do.

SEO as Data Distribution and Audience Aggregation

Peter D has another great post on the evolving face of SEO. Explaining how content distribution can be huge, with Google Idol created virtually no content and getting over 10,000 visitors a day.

Pomme & Kelly (two 15 year old girls from the Netherlands) put their stuff in the third party database (GoogleVideo), GoogleIdol gave it some context and - bingo - the LA Times is covering the competition blow-by-blow.

The content is great, of course. But look how easily it got from the creators to mass-media, and marvel at the efficiency with which that process happened.

Matt also recently posted a Q&A post on his blog, offering a few tips for traditional SEO concerns, like site crawling.

Please ignore the bit about paid links needing a nofollow tag. Google doesn't use those evert time they buy links, and even Yahoo! has been a known link buyer and link seller. And lest we forget, Google's business model is being a link broker.