Scott Smith, also known as Caveman, is one of my favorite personalities in the SEO business. I recently have done work with him on numerous projects (look for an official announcement of some sort soon), and Scott always seems to have a slightly different (and far more brilliant) angle than I on many SEO and marketing related issues.
I wanted to interview him for probably at least a year, and I finally got him to say yes :)
What is your background prior to getting into the SEM space?
Oh, you're start off by making me feel like a caveman huh? Lemme see, I spent 20 years in marketing at several large ad agencies in New York, working on a variety of very well known brands. As I got to thinking about my career, I was faced with the prospect of becoming a lifer in the ad world, because once you get into profit sharing you never leave. I couldn't see spending another 20 years doing the same work I'd already done for 20 years, so I off I went "in search of..."
In search of what?
Hehe, I didn't know really. Just something new and interesting. I was working on a book. I also like outdoor photography and won a big photo contest put on by Canon cameras [Aaron, can you insert my affiliate code there please?] ;), but photographers don't make much money so that dream didn't last long.
Anyway, I was researching a book project, and in the process, became completely mesmerized by the Web (that was back in 1998). Next thing you know, I was trying to figure out how to code a Web site. I'm still not very good at that. I don't think a single one of my sites actually validates. Shhh, don't tell anyone. Actually, a few of them do. You gotta watch out for footprints you know.
Now I run a bunch of Web sites and it's all great fun.
How do offline brand, marketing, and public relations experience relate to search marketing?
They are hugely related in my opinion. Classic marketing training and analysis teaches you to see things...connections and opportunities that are easily overlooked by others.
Web marketing is really no different from other kinds of marketing, conceptually - only the tactics and implementations are different. The engines are all about trying to show SERP's that best address the interests of the searcher. They use on-site and off-site data to sort out best pages to show, just like we do in the real world. For example, to choose a restaurant. I look for reviews (both professional and amateur, both of which are external to the restaurant), I consider how long the restaurant has been around and if it's busy most of the time. I ask personal friends. I look for signals of quality and reference, and context matters. It's very like how the algo's function.
So when I build a Web site, it's like building a good restaurant. You want a nice faÃ§ade and lighting. Good recipes. Good ingredients. Good presentation. And you do what you can to get good reviews - like PR, talking to people, inviting VIP's, getting mentions in local gossip columns, whatever.
Gee, are we talking about search marketing or restaurants?
Not sure, but I'm getting hungry.
In my old advertising and marketing days, I'd always start by collecting deep knowledge of the product or service, and of the category. That included always trying the product for myself, or getting some I know and trust to try it.
Then I'd work with the brand marketing people to ensure that the product or service was up to snuff and functioning properly according to its goals, and that brand or line extensions were in place to address various users' needs or tastes.
We'd learn as much as possible about what the users think, and what they want. Car manufacturers can put all the technology they want into a car, but if a consumer wants a RED car and the manufacturer doesn't offer RED in that model, the sale is lost. You gotta know stuff like that. Knowing the category is essential to maximizing potential revenues and profits.
When, for example, you've got a real estate Web site, here's the question: Are you selling homes? Or are you selling status, comfort, the quality of local schools, a finished basement, proximity to the train station, or what?
Or, if you're selling VoIP, are you selling phone service or are you selling better ways to connect to friends.
If you understand the importance of knowing all this stuff, and make it your business to know the answers in your categories, it makes selling and positioning a brand within a Web site whole lot easier. Just like it makes creating great advertising easier. It informs everything you work on, from the name of the sited to the color of the site to the way the site is organized. All of which contribute to achieving the ultimate goals of search marketing.
And what are those in your opinion?
Increasing revenue and improving ROI.
So for you it's all about the understanding the customer, and profit?
No actually, hehe. I haven't even started talking about competition. That's a huge area. When you really learn a category, and learn what the consumers really want, and what sorts of decision trees they employ, it's tremendously helpful. What if, knowing all of that, you then see that some sites are completely missing certain important areas of appeal? Bam! New site idea.
And the Web is so great because site ideas and page ideas can get so granular that you can go after targets within targets within targets, and you have the option of doing that with one site or many.
Here's an easier one: What if you see a bunch of competition, and all of 'em are doing some things right, but not a one is doing it all right? That happens ALL THE TIME.
Do I need to be technical to be a good SEO? Do I need to be a good marketer to be a good SEO?
I dunno. You got any bagels? I'm still hungry.
C'mon now, answer the question.
I think that there are lots of ways to skin a cat. There are successful engineer/programmer types out there who've made a fortune with little or no knowledge of marketing.
Up until recently it was tougher for non-techies. But now, I'd say it's becoming easier for those who are savvy about marketing or promotion, as long as they have someone who can build an SEO-friendly site ... or at least avoid building an SEO-unfriendly site. Lots of those out there.
It also depends on if you're talking about smaller affiliate sites or bigger company/branded sites.
If you want to be really successful with the bigger stuff, I don't see how you do that in the future without strength in both tech and marketing.
You've almost got to understand Web site code, and at least the basics of search engine algo's. That doesn't mean you have to be an engineer but it sure requires a head for tech, or math, and algorithmic concepts. At the same time, it is a HUGE advantage to understand consumer marketing. You know, stuff like user behavior and motivation, decision trees, analytics, purchase cycles, buying patterns, brand development, price/value relationships. Just one major insight in any of those areas can dramatically grow revenues, especially on the Web, where opportunities are so plentiful.
And as far as Web sites go, rapid-fire communication strategies (in the way TV and print and billboard ads must grab you in seconds or lose you), ease of use and navigation, hierarchies of importance within a category, abandonment issues, conversion issues, etc.
Obviously, you can put sites up and make money without knowing much about any of that stuff. But those who know both tech and marketing have what I perceive to be an obvious advantage.
And as the Web grows up and the big money rolls in, man, you better have some kind of edge.
Speaking of which: As more of the offline brands aggressively move online how will that change the SEM space? Will individuals still be able to compete against major corporations with affiliate sites, personal blogs, etc.? Or will launching such sites be nothing more than a blissful excursion?
One thing it's been doing for a while now is pushing up PPC prices. The natural result of that is that companies who were scared or uncertain of organic search are getting more into it all the time. I can't attend a business event any more without hearing people talk about SEO or SEM.
As for smaller players competing, certainly there will always be some clever individuals getting rich. But, it's going to keep getting harder if you're a one-man-band. Small businesses on the other hand will always have an advantage or large companies, in some respects: Speed and nimbleness, local knowledge, face-to-face contact, high levels of expertise in niche markets (most of the world is niche markets you know). These will always be advantages for the little guy.
In the offline world, small business has always accounted for far more of GNP than big business. I think the number is something like 70% or 80% in favor of small business.
And getting back to the tech and marketing theme, little guys on the Web who know tech AND marketing will have the edge over those who don't. Same at all levels of competition. It's like a matrix, with size or lack of it on one axis and knowledge on the other. You can be large or small, but you the more knowledge you have, the better off you are.
Do you use any personal sites as practice for the game, or are all of your sites earners?
If there are ways to gain advantages then I use them. That applies to sites too.
Why would a successful affiliate marketing SEO consider working for SEO clients?
I give up. Why?
Umm, I mean, you.
Oh. Hehe. Well I don't think of myself as an affiliate marketer. Just a marketer whose focus for now is the Web.
The funny thing is, now that I've had a break from my old marketing career, I miss working with clients. And I rarely see a site that doesn't need both marketing and SEO help. Since I'm in a position to offer both in a highly integrated way, it seems like a good idea for me to do that. Plus, I'm a big believer in diversity, as long as you stay within your area of expertise.
You have often mentioned trying to position your site and brand near at least one authority in your vertical. What are some litmus tests for how easily you can align your site with existing sites? Which authoritative sites should you consider trying to align your site with?
I think it's critical. And it's one advantage that the smaller players are losing, which is a major failing of Google these days. But in a way the social Web is offsetting this I think. Anyway, yes, the SE's and especially Google are a lot about proximity to core sites. Read the papers on TrustRank and seed sites. You've got to get in with other sites that matter in your niche. And this gets back to an earlier question. Getting integrated into your category is a WHOLE LOT EASIER if you pay attention to two things: Site quality, and marketing of all kinds...social, viral, niche, PR, and basic branding even.
Do search engines try to match site profiles with sites in a category? How would that work, and what might they look for?
I don't know. Do you know?
Well, I have my thoughts, but this is your time.
Tell me your thoughts.
Well, I think Google does what you're asking about, sorta. Actually let me say that we behave as though it's true, which is not at all the same thing. But sometimes it helps to draw conclusions, and then behave in accordance with an assumption, for simplicity's sake, if the assumptions lead a team to the place you want to go.
Let's take both technical and comparative approaches to it.
Technically the search engines have a number of tools at their disposal. I hate always saying this, but the caveat here is that I have no way of knowing what the SE's are really doing. I'm just offering educated guesses.
So, I'm of the opinion that Google use semantic analysis of a kind related to their CIRCA technology.
Ever noticed how sometimes, especially for newer sites, you can't rank for a main keyword but you can for secondary terms? Using semantic analysis, a phrase that is used in all documents of a Web site could be filtered out from a sites pages for ranking purposes (or at least I assume so, having read the papers). So immediately that raises lots of possibilities. Let's say that you run a simple site about "hiking boots." If the site is rather "me too," and or doesn't have much link juice, Google may filter our "hiking boots" as a rankable phrase for that site, so you're only left with "small hiking boots" if you're lucky, or maybe only "small brown hiking boots."
But here is an second possibility. You have lots of link juice, and from other hiking boot sites, no less. Whoa. Now all the sudden, G starts ranking you on page three for "hiking boots." If you see that happen, you know you're in the game.
And just to stay on track, how does that relate to matching site profiles with a category?
Well, it doesn't exactly. But it does sorta. It relates to LocalRank. What if you don't have links from related sites, and as a result, maybe you don't get past the semantic filters.
But, that's not all. G knows that of the sites that rocket to the moon in terms of link pop right after launch, many are spam but some are not. So, how hard would it be to take a "cluster" of sites (read about LSI again if you don't know what that means) and associate that cluster with growth patterns, LocalRank patterns or any other number of patterns?
Answer? I have no idea. But it seems eminently logical to me.
Listen, part of search marketing is analyzing existing data and observations, and part of it is understanding the mindsets of the search engines and sussing out what they are likely thinking about. And this is also where my marketing side kicks in. Why wouldn't a site that really wants to rank just assume that everything just mentioned is true? What's the worst case? That you are wrong and kick the competitions' butts anyway? Hehe.
And here's a related question for you: What if the SE's are simply mimicking all that is there? What if it becomes a self-reinforcing circle, with the top sites holding all the power. Where does that lead you, in terms of finding an edge? Almost to the same place, that's where.
This line of thinking relates to Google's new customizable search product too, I think. They are very clever about getting people and sites to provide information on perceptions of quality. If you have top sites in a given vertical using Google's new customizable search engine on their own sites, and defining the search universe, now you've got trusted sites providing Google with mountains of new information about "best sites" out there. It scares me frankly.
What makes a page look overly optimized? What tools can you use to improve on page optimization without hurting the credibility or conversion potential of the site?
Hey man, I rely on you for what tools are best to use. But as far as sites or pages being overly optimized, I've been yelling about this issue in my role as a mod over at Webmaster World, pretty much since before Google's Florida update several years back. Actually I guess that means was yelling about it before being a mod. Whatever. If, for a given page, you line up your backlinks, title, description, H1, high level text and internal links against a single two word phrase, unless you've got major link juice, you're likely going to run into some trouble there.
The tricky thing is that, and the papers tend to confirm this, the way the algo's work is sorta like a point system. You can get positive points and negative points, and also yellow and red cards like in soccer. Very few things are absolute. So the SE's try to assign levels of probability to things they encounter and an easy way to do that is to assign positive and negative points and get a sort of overall score.
So, if your site or your page does some things that yield negative scores, your rankings can suffer to a large or small extent in the rankings, and you have no idea if you're just not ranking as well as you'd like, or if you're actually ranking less well than you should because of crossing one or more important lines ... infractions that creative negative points so to speak.
How important are unique page titles and Meta description tags? What type of sites should hand craft each? What types of sites can automate creating them via formulas? Where and when is duplication acceptable?
Ah, another pet peeve of mine. Everyone's running around these days saying that titles are still hugely important and that Meta descriptions don't matter much. Blech. Of course descriptions matter. Is it logical that author created titles are hugely important, and author created descriptions not at all? Not to me. Plus we see evidence that descriptions matter. Slight evidence, but evidence. And, we see a lot of evidence that getting them wrong can hurt you. The duplication and "over optimization" issues again.
But all that aside, people don't seem to get that these descriptions are used by the engines in the SERP's. Good descriptions affect click through's in positive ways. What else does a person need to know? It's so fundamental yet so many people dismiss them. It's beyond me.
No worries. Scott, you mentioned in a recent interview on WebmasterRadio.FM with GoodROI that you build links to achieve objectives. What are the important objects every Webmaster should consider when building links? What links should they wait to build? Which ones should they build right away?
Personally I think it depends on the site and the category. We build links to achieve a variety of objectives and it varies with the needs of the site. In most cases, getting more traffic is an important goal. So is developing a presence in key pockets of a category, sometimes. If you're building a brand, you lean one way, if you're really just going for traffic, you go another way. And if you simply want to build link juice for a site, that implies yet another approach. This is such a huge topic it's hard for me to know how to summarize it very well.
One thing I do think is worth noting is the process and chronology of building links with respect to Google's so called "sandbox." Getting back to that question about does your site have to "look like" other sites in category, think about this. Google knows that different kinds of sites have different kinds of patterns. This applies to both site structure (an e-commerce site looks different from a directory site structurally), and link patterns (blogs launched by well known personalities have very different link accumulation patterns than new hobby sites launched by amateur hobbyists). It's also not hard to imagine that Google can cross-reference this sort of data. So, if a site displays a certain kind of link development pattern, which encompasses both speed and rate of accumulation, and nature of the linking sites and pages, it tells them a lot about what kind of site it might be, and how important or "trusted" the site might be.
So rather than spewing out lots of tactics, I encourage people to consider all of that and let that thinking lead them to developing strategies that make sense for the kind of site they want to have.
Do you ever see engines moving away from using linkage data as a core relevancy criteria? What other signals might they promote, and how are you preparing for future shifts?
Well again, that new customizable search functionality that Google just made available to sites might be viewed as a step away from links, although it's still a site voting mechanism. Then there has been all of the talk about toolbar data. I'm just not even close to convinced that it's very usable. There are so many ways click data can be interpreted. As just one overly simplistic example, if a user lands on a site and stays only a 12 seconds, and then moves on to another site, is that a bad site? Well, not if it was a brilliantly designed directory that solved the users needs that fast. Or, what if a very good site somehow lands in a stream of users that are all on drugs. Does the fact that they stay on each page for a long time mean the pages are great, or that the users can't see straight. I know, these are wacky examples, but to make a point. Hopefully anyway. Errr, maybe not.
As a self-professed algo junkie, how do you prevent yourself from excessively worrying about the effects of making small changes? How do you prevent over thinking yourself?
That's a great question. In my mind anyway. It's a personality defect of mine to get too into all of this sometimes. Hmmm, I think you knew that already didn't you?
What I try to do is get clear on the value and context of a given SEO/SEM element by scanning the marketplace and then doing some testing. But my rule of thumb is, I try to be 80% confident or more, and open to new information. I don't need to be right all the time. Just more often than not. It's like my basic approach to the algo's. I love looking at it all. Partly I enjoy the challenge of figuring it out, but it's mainly about business results. So, we develop our working assumptions, and treat them like gospel until we see evidence that causes us to challenge our assumptions. And the truth is, I don't even care if I'm right. Only that my assumptions lead the sites to good places, and don't get me in trouble. That keeps me sane, more or less.
But it can get me in trouble. Before I was a mod at WebmasterWorld, I felt more free to throw out ideas and opinions without qualifying them as such. Partly I like to share my thinking and experience to help younger Webmasters, but also, tossing out points of view that are wrong is a great way to find out when you're way off base. Only now if I do that, I get a lot more snarky comments, so I'm a bit more careful about expressing opinions. But people would do well to remember that in search almost all of it is opinion, at best based on experience, observation and hopefully a little intelligence. The best thing for everyone is to get in there and get some experience of their own.
Google today announced that they bought JotSpot (a wiki company). They recently purchased YouTube (the largest online video site). They already own blogger. They run the default distributed automated ad platform (AdSense), are processing payments (Google Checkout), and provide one of the best free analytics products on the market. As Google worms their way onto more and more websites, and owns the platforms on which more and more media is consumed they are going to be able to create a much better web graph than competing companies.
Google will nearly immediately know what parts of the web are active, when they are active, how they are active, and why they are active. Tie that up with things like Gmail and Google Custom Search, and they have yet another way to see what people are referencing, looking for, and how quickly markets are growing. A big advantage over the competition for a company that is essentially an ad platform recommendation engine.
It's time to lead consumers by the nose. So goes the thinking at major package-goods marketers including Mars, PepsiCo, Kraft and Procter & Gamble, who hope scents will help them get attention among fragmented audiences.
Some marketers are also pushing the 5 second video ad.
As consumers get better at blocking out traditional ads, in just about every possible way everything is becoming an ad. Product packaging, product, ads...are all blurring to become one and the same. Ultimately the value being sold with ads will be trust and attention in any format available. Left unchecked, eventually branded thinking will be evoked by individual words, most good art, and just about any emotion or event we could ever experience.
Most sites are easy to relate to popular or important link rich ideas if you are creative. For example, to some people this site relates (or at points in time related) to web browsers, open source software, religion, politics, science, education, human rights, free speech, marketing, market manipulation, entrepreneurship, blogging, search, and many other link rich topics.
Part of why I stray off topic is because I think everything is related. But it also doesn't help that I entered the market so late, and SEO is generally hated when compared with the general linkability and passion with which people talk about innovating search technologies. What can you do to make your site relate to something people care a lot about or are irrationally / emotionally drawn toward? Do you care about the environment? Are you religious? Are you disabled? Are you part of a minority? Do you care about human rights? Do you wish the world was safer? What flaws in Google's business model concern you? How did you overcome your biggest faults and fears? Could you help stop wars?
The things you are not supposed to talk about are the things which link rich people link at. You know your idea has legs when people at different ends of the political spectrum link to your idea and claim it as their own because they identify it as being associated with their ideology.
Typically it helps if most of your content is focused on your core topic, but some of the people who are easiest to talk about are easy to talk about because they can relate their topic to other hot topics. If you are a usability consultant why not talk about blogging and search, for example.
At some level, at a very major level in fact, the way we feel about a transaction is more important than the transaction itself. Some people like a sporting event more if they got the ticket from a scalper, other if they got the ticket for free from their boss. Some people need to feel like they've taken the system (whatever the system is) for everything it's worth. Others need to pay retail (especially on a wedding dress, cemetery plot or flu shot).
Marketers are working hard to corrupt the way we feel about our friends and the people we respect. I think, in the end, it's not going to work. We're hardwired to respect real authenticity, and at some level, that means trusting the motives of the person we're listening to.
I recently got my first venture capital investment request for this blog, which, of course, I turned down. Nothing wrong with VC, of course, other than it isn't a good fit for niche publishing. I generally hate meta blogging stuff, but these 3 quotes are generally all saying the same thing from slightly different angles, which is quite important when you consider the backgrounds of the different sources.
The Economy of Abundance allows business owners to defer choices to the end users. What better way to find out what consumers want than to give them everything and see what they actually buy. That is the paradigm of abundance. Why get your news programmed by CNN.com when you can have your news bubble up from the collective wisdom of end users at Newsvine or Reddit? Why get your television programmed by CBS when you can leverage the collective wisdom of the web to find great shows like Lonelygirl15 or Ask a Ninja? No longer will the success or failure of content be dictated solely by the Economy of Scarcity (e.g. Walmart). Rather, it will be dictated by the will of the consumers, as empowered by the Economy of Abundance.
I think that VCâ€™s will start to wake up and realize that Ajax is a feature and not a product, at the same time how are 100-1000 or so VC funded companies going to compete with a couple of hundred thousand webmasters who have created sites wanting a piece of the action? Many of these webmasters would be perfectly happy with $100/month. But if even if 1 in a 1000 of those adsense driven sites is very successful your entire industry could be screwed. Just look at online dating.
In my talks on Web 2.0, I always end with the point that "a platform beats an application every time." We're entering the platform phase of Web 2.0, in which first generation applications are going to turn into platforms, followed by a stage in which the leaders use that platform strength to outperform their application rivals, eventually closing them out of the market. And that platform is not enforced by control over proprietary APIs, as it was in the Windows era, but by the operational infrastructure, and perhaps even more importantly, by the massive databases (with network effects creating increasing returns for the database leaders) that are at the heart of Web 2.0 platforms.
the need for venture capital goes down daily for those who can create good passion based ideas. You are not going to build a Google without some funding, but as long as you consider your cost structure from the start you do not need to try to act like Google.
Each additional passion driven amature website makes search more relevant and cuts the publishing market into more pieces. Traditional media companies had to rely on their region based monopoly market position to have a large profit margin, but given the distributed nature of the web is the traditional business financing structure going to even remain relevant in many markets?
Some people are up in arms about the idea of Wikipedia adding ads to their site. The issue is not that ads are hated. The true issue with the Wikipedia and advertising is this:
The issue is not targeting or relevancy... the issue is that some will feel it is bait and switch. That something they thought was pure and easy to believe in now suddenly is part of the real world.
The truth is that the Wikipedia has always been chuck full of ads. I am not talking about the link spam that people sneak in, or when people promote their own brands, I am talking about the mindset with which Wikipedia articles are drafted. Lets look at the search engine optimization article.
First of all, lets start with the classification and associated fields:
Even Google's guidance on hiring an SEO, which is quite biased (and self serving) in nature, probably is not as biased as the Wikipedia's classification of SEO.
Now lets compare that frame of reference to the opinion of Google's lead engineer in charge of search quality. From my interview with Matt Cutts, where I asked Is all SEO spam? His response was:
Absolutely not--I need to do a post about this on my blog sometime. Lots and lots of search engine optimization is white-hat and not spam at all.
The way Wikipedia classifies SEO is an advertisement biased against the entire field of SEO, and thus acts as an ad for search engines and pay per click marketing.
Accepted Types of Information:
I knew that directly linking to my site or directly marketing myself on Wikipedia was not going to go to far with them generally hating the field of SEO so much. On the other hand, I knew their vile hatred of the field meant that me mentioning Traffic Power and linking to articles about Traffic Power that link to my site would stay in that article forever. And they have stuck thusfar.
The Wikipedia states:
When discovered, search engines may take action against those found to be using unethical SEO methods.
Why is ethics even tied to SEO techniques? Machines can't have ethics. When their results are inaccurate that must be the fault of some external third party with low ethical standards? What is that?
"Wikipedia hasn't been a real 'wiki' where anyone can write and edit for quite a while now." A few months ago, in the wake of controversies about the quality and reliability of the free encyclopedia's content, the Wikipedian powers-that-be - its "administrators" - abandoned the work's founding ideal of being the "ULTIMATE 'open' format" and tightened the restrictions on editing. In addition to banning some contributors from the site, the administrators adopted an "official policy" of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, "semi-protection" to prevent "vandals" (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia.
There is a bias toward those who want to talk down or shine a negative light on the field of SEO while true topical experts are driven off. Google founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page mentioned Danny Sullivan in some of their early research, and yet Wikipedians ran him out of the topic. Danny is probably the single most authoritative voice on search.
If I know my words are probably going to get edited out of the Wikipedia where is the incentive for me to put effort into editing there when my work is much more likely to be respected and profitable if I put it on my own site?
Not only does the classification and writing within Wikipedia reinforce the worldview pushed by the most powerful associated commercial entity (Google), but the types of things that are reference worthy are "famous" SEOs, which is going to be inherently biased toward people who established strong brands many years ago.
Which of the listed famous SEOs have entered the field this decade? None of them.
I have no doubt in my mind that many people newer to the SEO market than I know far more than I do.
Also as fields and language itself evolve will the large cross referenced content base that is the Wikipedia even be able to keep up with rapidly changing markets or linguistic changes?
General Factual Errors:
The SEO article on Wikipedia also states
Yahoo! and MSN Search do not automatically punish entire websites for small amounts of hidden text. Google's market share of daily searches has fallen rapidly from 75% to 56% over the past few years, as other search engines find many web pages that Google has banned and cannot display due to Google's severely limited index.
One would have to live under a rock, having no access website referral logs, the news, or financial markets to believe that Google has been drastically losing market share to competing search companies.
The ease with which people can edit the Wikipedia creates a bias toward quickly adding incorrect factoids, while discouraging true topical experts from participating, especially if their opinion is likely to get edited out if it does not conform to the flavor of the day group-think.
One simple fact that must be accepted as the basis for any intellectual work is that truth â€“ whatever definition of that word you may subscribe to â€“ is not democratically determined. And another is that talent, whether for soccer or for exposition, is not equally distributed across the population, while a robust confidence is one's own views apparently is. If there is a systemic bias in Wikipedia, it is to have ignored so far these inescapable facts.
I know one article is a small sample, and am not saying that I think the Wikipedia is a bad source for everything, just that in rapidly changing fields of commercial interests the Wikipedia is one of the last sources I would trust for an accurate view of the market. It is more representative of an advertisement that the most powerful sources in a market tell people that they should be thinking about.
After talking with Andy Hagans and a few other friends I have got to thinking a lot more about tactical vs strategic SEO and marketing.
Many SEO tactics work well at achieving a certain goal, but to be wildly profitable you usually needs more than tactics, you need love from the strategic front. Many people who are great tactical SEOs do not build much equity because tactics without strategy have little value. Here are some examples:
Buy AdWords and AdSense ads to drive revenue.
If you are new to a fairly saturated market use AdWords and AdSense to roughly break even, hoping to increase your site exposure, link equity, and mindshare in the process...knowing that the real profits from an ad campaign can show up indirectly over time via organic search and product recommendation on other sites.
Avoid actively seeking low quality links until your site has a significant history which includes many trusted backlinks.
Get quality links.
Create content, tools, or other packaged value systems which allow you to gain high quality viral links for a low aggregate cost. Create things that will make competitors want to talk about you.
Do anything to get links. Link bait link bait link bait.
Talk about and become friends with the people you want links from.
Put everything on one exceptionally authoritative domain.
Own multiple brands that allow you to tap different market segments, or publish things that might not fuse too well with your main brand without hurting your brand. Design the brands so that they can extend in different directions.
Keep all your profits by doing almost everything yourself. Stick to what you know.
Admit your weaknesses and take on partners where neccessary. Find partners who add value where you are lacking.
Create high quality content.
Control content costs and make boatloads of average content. Build the authority of the site using exceptionally high quality content. Leverage that authority to profit from your boatloads of average content on that site. Segregate your high quality and high attention content from your lower value content, but after attention has passed ensure that the high quality content links trough to your lower quality content.
Use descriptive page titles to improve CTR and anchor text.
Title your pages such that the story spreads far. After the story has initially spread, consider changing the page title to something more descriptive.
Create a niche site in a low competition vertical.
If the vertical should be easy to dominate, make your core brand name broad enough that if you later want to expand you can.
Make as much money as you can right now.
Invest and reinvest. Make less upfront. Create passive income streams from properties that were designed around minimal customer service and growing into dominant self-reinforcing market positions.
Montize right away.
Limit initial monetization. Make the site look like a hobby or fan site made out of love for the topic so it is easy to link at. Program it such that it is easy to turn on monetization when the day to monetize comes.
Use consistant ad formats and layouts throughout your site.
On the home page and other high attention portions of your site use less ads to make your site more linkworthy.
Design for maximum ad clickthrough rate.
Consider linkability as a cost. Place ads in a slightly less aggressive position to make your content easier to link at.
Stay on topic to reinforce brand image.
Write some content for links, while writing other content for conversion. Occassionally drift off topic if there is a way to make a high link equity / high value / high authority idea relate to your site. If you are creative enough, everything in the universe belongs in a relational database that is tied to your content ;)
I am sure you probably have lots of other good examples about why strategy is important. What are your favorite SEO strategies?
About a year and a half ago I wrote an article called TrustRank and the Company You Keep which offered an image showing how many of the cheesy "buy PageRank here" type general directories were not well meshed into the web. That same image can be extended well beyond directories. Article submissions, reciprocal links, press releases, and other low effort low cost links put your site in a community of low trust sites. Even if the source originally had great trust, if they offer much greater value than cost, market forces such as:
other marketers using the same marketing techniques to promote low quality sites
improving relevancy algorithms
are going to neutralize the value. And then all you are left with is the risk.
Worse yet, a new site which is heavily co-cited alongside low quality sites may never be able to build enough quality votes to offset all of the votes of non-quality. So after you gain too many garbage votes, even when you decide to splash out to put the effort in or spend the money necessary to get quality votes it may not matter. The site status may be beyond repair.
And as long as you think of SEO as I need links I need links I need links then you are going to be more inclined to pick up a disproportionate volume of junky links, especially if you are not thinking of the web as a large social network. If you know your market well enough to read market demands then it is much easier to get editorial links that will hold value, and perhaps even increase in value as relevancy algorithms evolve.
Nothing is absolute of course, but it is all ratio driven. If the first thing you do with your site is put it in a community of low trusted sites then you are going to need to work much harder to develop a trusting relationship with Google. If you go for quality first then you have more room for error down the road.
Each engine has its own values which determine the quality of a link. Google is typically the best at scrubbing link quality, and Microsoft is generally no good at it. If the market seems so saturated that you think Google will be prettymuch out of reach no matter what you do, then it might make sense to concede Google rankings and be a bit more aggressive with getting bulk low quality links to dominate Yahoo! and MSN.
When I started with SEO I ranked for search engine marketing inside of 9 months on like $300 just by getting whatever spammy links I could that had PageRank, but Google's algorithms have long since evolved. The fact that many votes count as negative votes means that you can't just pick off the easiest links pointing at competing sites and catch up that way. You have to get some of their higher quality links right away to have a good enough of a trust-to-junk ratio for the bad stuff not to whack you.
Update: Barry says the AdWords coupons are $50 each, but unfortunately they are expired now. All is not lost though!
Microsoft is now offering $75 coupons on Microsoft adCenter! Sign up to acCenter today and get $75 in free clicks at Microsoft AdCenter. Try Microsoft adCenter for free* with a $75 credit for paid search clicks.
So yesterday I mentioned that my friend Daniel announced our scholarship for bloggers...and the story went nowhere. It is quite humbling. The story would have likely made the Digg home page yesterday, but I think they pulled the submission from the upcoming stories for spamming, likely because some combination of the following:
many of the votes came from a button on this site instead of the site being voted for from that site
the domain name of our scholarship site generally sucks
our scholarship domain could likely use a bit of work on improving its trustworthiness
some editor may not have liked the story
Since I did absolutely no marketing outside of the Digg submission and a mention here, my marketing sucked...too risky, too stupid, and clearly not comprehensive enough.
I think I have been quite lucky and successful recently, to the point of becoming a bit lazy and arrogent...which totally showed in the lack of spreading of The Blogging Scholarship. My lack of focus on, and general apathy toward, the launch was apparent by the results. I phoned it in, thinking that my blog had enough reach to carry the story, just phoned in the idea, and failed brutally. We only got a couple applications yesterday, which is absurd considering how viral the market is, and how good the general idea is.
You know you are screwing something up quite bad if
Some of my friends have websites which are more relevant to the idea.
Another thing I could have done to make the story more popular would have been asking a few bloggers what they thought of the idea, or if I should change it at all BEFORE I launched it. But I was arrogant and lazy and did not listen to my own advice, thus we failed, and needed to reformat the scholarship to make it more appealing.
The good thing about really good or really bad viral marketing is that you usually have great feedback almost immediately after launch, and if you listen to it, you can change to help spread your ideas further.
This is old news, but a while ago on TW I posted that UPI, a 100 year old company, was overtly selling PageRank, even mentioning PageRank on their advertisement pages. Search works so well because they measure relevancy using things that are hard to manipulate or things that people wouldn't generally think to manipulate. Thus, if a 100 year old slow moving company is doing something you know that the method of relevancy they aim to manipulate is generally likely already dead.
Google will likely filter out overt link buys like this
especially when they are marketed this aggressively on Google's own ad network
If a link buy is so overt that people would talk about it, then an engineer or algorithm has probably caught it already. But that sort of example can be seen as a proxy for the market as a whole, and Google have also significantly lowered the weighting on raw PageRank scores over the past few years, because too many people know about it and manipulate it. Just looking at PageRank is nearly as useless as a meta keywords tag.
Google recently launched their Google Customized Search Engine, which allows webmasters to easily integrate Google search results into their site while also giving webmasters editorial control to bias the results.
Surely some shifty outfits will use this as a way to show their ranking success, but this also makes me wonder what the net effect on Google's brand will be if people see powered by Google on sites which provide terrible relevancy, or results that are obviously biased toward racism or other horrific parts of humanity. Will searchers learn to trust search less when they start seeing different Google results all over the web? Or will anyone even notice?
Will most people be willing to subscribe to relevancy which reinforces their current worldview?
This release essentially will make Google the default site search on millions of websites, which is great for Google given the volume of site level search. I still think Google's stock is priced ahead of itself trading on momentum and short covering, but this release gives Google a bunch more inventory and further establishes them as the default search platform.
By allowing webmasters to easily integrate results biased toward internal content, backfilling the results with other content when the site does not meet all of a searchers needs, and then allowing the delivery of profitable relevant ads near the content, Google is paying webmasters in numerous highly automated ways that build great value by being layered on top of one another.
I also have to think this is going to further place a dent in the business model of running directories, or other sites with thin content that do not add much editorial value to the subject they talk about. This blend of editorial and algorithms is invariably going to kill off many editorial only listing companies.
As an SEO, I think this customized tool can also be used to help further test the depth and authority of a site relative to others in its group by allowing you to bias the results to multiple similar seed sites and see which pages on those sites that Google promotes most. This could even be used as a tool to help you determine which domain is more valuable in terms of ranking potential if you are comparing a couple domains that you are thinking of buying.
I created a creative commons licensed search engine marketing glossary. Do whatever with it that you may want to. Also if I missed any definitions or did a poor job defining any term feel free to let me know in the comments of this page and I will try to fix up the error of my ways.
There are still unbiased sources out there, you just have to look for them.
I responded to the thread with (roughly) the following (edited on my blog for better formatting and grammar, and I added more depth to my opinions here):
There is no such thing as an unbiased source. Unbiased = unreal.
I think as user / consumer is transferred into a market participant beyond just what they consume that we will
see our own influence (and influences) better
take better care of our attention
be more likely to find things we are passionate in
get better at judging the intent of others
generally trust most things we see less.
While on the surface it is easy to paint that lack of trust as a negative thing, I think a lack of trust toward authority (ie: questioning what you see, why you were shown it, and who placed it there) is an important component in any functional society.
The only reason that learning to not trust what you see is a negative is because there is so much fraud in the world perpetrated by power source who only retain power through the ignorance of the average citizen. Why are most articles in the mainstream media about SEO usually focused on black hat techniques? Anything that challenges any established authority system is deemed to be wrong by default, especially when evaluated by existing sources of power.
Would I have joined the military if I knew more about the military industrial complex? Not a snowball's chance in hell. Should I be quiet about them doing illegal things like destroying some of my work records prior to processing me out of the military? Not a snowball's chance in hell.
I believe consumer generated media will transfer power away from macro-parasites toward creative and passionate individuals who are driven to change the world.
I also think that anyone who communicates, even if only for themselves, is selling something...even if that potential gain is just trying to understand our own faults and why we think the way we do.
On another front, which is more ethical and legitimate? Blindly trusting an ad system that promotes products you know nothing about and is pushed to no end by the goal of achieving an efficient market. Or, writing about things you know about, and occasionally getting paid for the value of your time, feedback, and influence?
Some of my other blogs have no commercial intent to them, but they still rank for a lot of things, and I still learn a bunch from other's feedback, and I also think I learn a lot about myself by reading how I was thinking when I was doing different things.
The biggest thing that is killing off traditional publishing is the lack of personality, lack of passion, and a lack of bias (or watered down pro corporate bias) which is contained in nearly every piece of content they create.
I would rather read a passionate author than one that abides by some arbitrarily crafted ethical standards. Would a newspaper ever publish a self analysis like this? No. And if I read a person long enough I can understand their biases much greater than I can by reading random published articles. And if earning the trust of readers is harder then it will be valued more.
The big reason that people are against open networks, paid placement, free markets, paying individuals what they are worth, or anything that redistributes power is that many of the most powerful sources in the world stand to lose power if we question authority. And so they must play down the roll of or try to undermine the credibility of competing business models (or anything that threatens the ideology they sell or their business model). Nothing new there, it has been going on forever (even if the sources of power do not hold themselves to the same standards they want to hold amateurs to).
Yahoo! announced they are launching their new Panama platform. In response, Google quietly announced they are launching a free multivariable testing program which ties in with AdWords. Each additional functionality Google can add to their ad system further solifies their market knowledge and their position as the default ad platform. If they are the default ad platform that advertisers turn to, it will mean that their ads will sell closer to their fair market prices and Google will be able to afford more distribution, both of which in turn will attract more advertisers and may price many types of ad noise out of the market. The efficiency and market position feeds into itself.
In addition to all of these forward and backward link tools many video content sites and social bookmarking programs allow you to use other's work to explore interesting items, which sorta brings the fun back to the web...finding all kinds of cool stuff.
As technology evolves, and more users become editors, the value of being a general editor will be commoditized to nothing unless you work long hours, have a community helping you, are heavily biased, passionate, or can add some other significant value to the information you consume and sort. But if you are an agressive marketer being able to sort through information so many different ways makes the job much more fun because it gives you so many options.
People pay a lot of money for the chance to change. Often they pay for a chance to place the blame on another party because they were unwilling to change (ie: that diet program didn't work). A large part of the reason why so many prescription drugs are popular is because drug sales pitches convince us that we can change without actually changing, though that is rarely the case. Typically the side effects are just suppressed or played down.
In much the same way that people think a drug will make things better, we are constantly pushed value systems which make us think things like:
I am too fat. If I weighed 20 pounds less I would be happier.
I am too poor. If I just had more money everything would work out.
I am too lonely. If I just had someone that loved me maybe life would make sense.
I am too shy. If I just had more confidence and talked to more people I could figure life out.
Part of the reason self help programs from people who suffered from the same problem work so well is that they are easy to identify with. The more people believe you felt their struggle or pain the more they will believe that you can help them get past it.
A large part of the reasons that many of these programs never lead to happiness is that they solve symptoms instead of problems. Many of them focus on what not to do, instead of what you should do. Inadequacy is just part of being human, but many companies create products or services which claim cure us of the flaws of being. When we buy into these systems, we are not just buying into the product / program / service, but we are buying into the pot of gold at the other end of the rainbow. The belief that things can be different and better, and the sense of relief that brings. Wherever there is a real or manufactured sense of inadequacy there is a large targeted market.
People trying to change social classes and win approval of established members of their community are also likely to pick up the domain specific language and symbols better because they will feel that learning it is an important sign of sophistication. If you can create things which people new to your industry would consider vital (rules, standards, regulations, ethical guidelines, etc.) naive people will push them until they realize the purpose of them. For example, at one point in time I was sucker enough to proudly display someone else's code of ethics on my site until I realized that all it showed was that I was a sucker ignorant to marketing and my market.
What do you do that makes people feel validated in their quest to change or be validated? How easy is it to identify with your position and spread your way of thinking? Do your customers outgrow that feeling? What do you do next?
If your business model solves problems but is financially inferior to business models that solve symptoms how do you get past that?
What are the most radically worldview changing or inspirational things you have ever done?
Google's internal AdSense optimization is based on earnings potential. If they give an ad excessive exposure, even on off topic sites, it probably means that the ads stand a good chance of being expensive.
If advertisers are buying expensive clicks from off topic sites then they got plenty of budget to blow through.
I am not saying that off topic ads are a great thing long-term, but they might make for an easy way to follow the money trail. If you have any interest in the ad topic then create a few pages about it and test the earnings potential. You might also consider joining a related affiliate program and buying cheap traffic through other ad networks, such as AdBrite.
In case you think this off targeted advertising is a short term condition, consider the following data points...
Recent market size:
The most startling fact about 2002 is that the combined profits for the ten drug companies in the Fortune 500 ($35.9 billion) were more than the profits for all the other 490 businesses put together ($33.7 billion). - Marcia Angell
Future growth prospects:
If medical spending rises to 25% of gross domestic product by 2030, as many economists expect, health care's share of jobs could grow to 15% or 16% of the labor market from today's 12%, based on historical patterns.
Such a shift in employment would require health care to be the single biggest creator of jobs in the economy for the foreseeable future. And while the U.S. could in theory afford to spend 25% of GDP on health care, it's hard to imagine a world in which our children have to choose between working for the local hospital or the local health insurer. - Business Week
Drug companies are off manufacturing diseases to make up for our poor rushed choices and hollow lifestyles:
75 million Americans may have something called metabolic syndrome. How Big Pharma turned obesity into a disease â€“ then invented the drugs to cure it. - Wired
Drug companies sponsor research
The Center for Science in the Public Interest found that 96 percent of the industry-funded efficacy studies of drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil in children were positive. That compares to just 63 percent of independently funded studies published in medical journals.
If one looks at just published clinical trials that contained a placebo-controlled arm, industry-funded clinicians reported the drugs were effective in 9 out of 10 cases. But among researchers not funded by industry, only 5 out of 9 reported positive results, which is surprisingly low given that other studies have shown that medical journals are biased toward publishing positive reports. By comparison, just 3 of 15 FDA reviews of pediatric antidepressant trials, many of which have not been published, were positive. - Center for Science in the Public Interest
And if all the above wasn't scary enough, consider the fraud baked right into the system:
The Justice Department has charged a former chief of the Food and Drug Administration with lying about his ownership of stock in companies regulated by the agency, according to media reports on Monday. The government accused Lester Crawford with falsely reporting that he had sold stock in companies while he continued holding shares in firms governed by FDA rules, the Associated Press reported. - MarketWatch
If you think about buying more marketing but have holes in the conversion process eventually you are going to get priced out of the market. Sure free samples may be a cost, but it is probably some of the cheapest marketing available, because free samples help you build trust and increase conversion rates by associating your brand with the product your customers want while they are actively looking for it - in a sense it is like an enhanced feature rich version of search. If giving away a sample costs $20 and samples lead to a 10% conversion rate, how does that compare to buying clicks at $2 each and ending up with a 1% conversion rate? If you do the math both of those will lead to a $200 cost per action, but one of them requires you to deal with far fewer people, and will be far more scalable, because any market is limited in size.
Popular bloggers that use their blogs to sell a book (maybe like me) sell many books or ebooks because their blogs keep the attention of potential clients and posts act as free samples. The beautiful thing about selling or giving away information is that there is an unlimited number of new things you can do or say, and an even larger number of ways to restate old thoughts or repackage old ideas. I still have at least a half dozen projects I really want to do soon, and rather than waiting on what to do there is always something I could be doing.
Getting people to pay attention is a cost. People not only convert better when given free samples, but free samples give people something to talk about and link at. If you are trying to build a brand from scratch and sell information then making piracy easy might be the difference between a successful business model and a failed brand that never got much exposure.
Branding and search relevancy are both largely about building mindshare. If you have no free samples, and expect people to take the plunge buying from an unknown source, you are going to need a rather compelling offer or a lot of hype to make many sales. Or you can take the desperate act of trying to win out on pricing, but in most cases that does not make for a sustainable long-term business model. Plus if you build significant trust you not only lower your marketing costs, but you can also increase your prices and expand your margins.
I recently posted that I thought almost any successful marketer could be defined as a spammer at some point in time. The main point was that to be successful, you have to be willing to live outside of other's boundaries, and be willing to accept arbitrary labels people will throw at you for doing so. But that is not to say that everyone will succeed ONLY by spamming. I got an email today from a guy who was down and out. I got a call yesterday from another guy who seemed to be in a similar market position. The biggest commonality I notice amongst people who seem like they want to do well but are not is that they either lack focus or passion. If you are passionate about a topic it is much easier to stay focused and avoid burnout.
So for most people, an authority site is built as a labor of love on the subject.
It's that "This is the site I wanted to find on the subject when I was looking for info, but couldn't" mindset.
MikeNoLastName, being a contrarian with the thread theme, stated:
So NO I do not agree that the internet is anymore (if it ever truly was) the great playing field leveler that many still believe it is. Perhaps, for a while you'll out-fox your bigger competitors by knowing more about SEO, at least until they wise up to the potential and hire a whole staff of SEOs, but in the end it will still be who is a better business organizer and who can afford to throw more marketing money in the ad buying pot, which is greatly encouraged by the likes of G & Y.
In some cases Mike is right, but Google just bought YouTube for $1.65 billion, which shows that the underdog can beat the giant. In most cases they probably do, as long as they are truly passionate about the topic. If a person lacks passion then they are typically far easier to steamroll over though. Why?
There are people spending $5K to $100K+ a day on arbitrage or spamming. If you try to compete just on numbers and are starting with a smaller chip stack you are fighting an uphill battle.
Of course, folks never know when we're going to adjust our scoring. It's pretty easy to spot domains that are hoarding PageRank; that can be just another factor in scoring. If you work really hard to boost your authority-like score while trying to minimize your hub-like score, that sets your site apart from most domains. Just something to bear in mind.
Let me clarify that last post a smidge. You can try all sorts of stuff to "conserve PageRank," but that's no guarantee that something will work, or that it will work in the future.
If you lack passion then you may feel you have to get something before you give anything out. If you are passionate about a topic it is much easier to become a platform.
Not only is it easier for passionate people to become topical platforms, but if you are passionate
you are more likely to want to understand what ideas are important (and why)
you are more likely to see what ideas are spreading
you are more likely to see why ideas are spreading
And as a net result of those you are more likely to be able to create ideas that will spread. When you start seeing things like unrequested quality links, mentions on high quality sites, or other people saying I wish I would have thought of that it means you are on the right path.
Once you learn how ideas spread in one market it is easy to apply that line of thinking to quickly analyze another market.
So how does the passion bit relate to the spamming stuff I mentioned at the top of the post?
The more passionate you are the easier it is to create signs of quality and the more people will trust you.
People trusting you means you will do well even if you temporarily fall out of graces with the search engines.
The less effort you have to put in to build your backlink profile the more likely your site is to look like a natural part of the web.
I have sorta let the Directory Archives site go to crap (ie: be poorly maintained) for a number of reasons. I still like many of the better directories (like Yahoo!, DMOZ, Business.com, MSN Small Business Directory, BOTW, Gimpsy, JoeAnt), but outside of the top few general directories and a few high quality niche specific directories most directories probably do not pack much of a punch at manipulating Google's search results or delivering direct traffic. Given the flood of low quality directories, and their lesser value in manipulating search, I have not put as much emphasis on my directory of directories. All the following reasons play part in its reduced priority status:
Most directories are of limited quality. Building a high quality one is an expensive and time consuming process, and most of the people who have been creating directories over the last few years have not been concerned with quality. Most of them have been selling hollow PageRank to naive webmasters.
Search engines (especially Google) have limited the effectiveness of many low quality links, in some cases not only deweighting the value of low quality links, but if you have too high of a junk to quality link ration they may throw ranking penalties on your site or reduce your crawl depth or crawl priority. The reduced crawl depth and crawl priority (based on low quality inlinks and outlinks and duplicate content issues) also hit many of the directories themselves, causing many of their pages to be deindexed.
Social sites and consumer generated media add much more context to links than most directories do.
Social bookmarking sites have limited editorial costs and a huge number of editors, thus they are more comprehensive than most directories are, while having much higher profit margins.
So many people are blogging that if you can create something legitimately useful and get it a bit of exposure via your own blog or via the social sites then it is bound to pick up many high quality links.
Improving search relevancy coupled with this additional content makes directories less necessary. Various niche blogs, the Wikipedia, and other authoritative social sites have largely replaced most directories in the search results, thus reducing the direct traffic most directories send to listed websites.
Using the social sites is often a cheaper and more effective way of building a natural and diverse high quality backlink profile than by trying to build links from some of the lower quality directories. The social sites often lead to many secondary citations.
Dave Taylor recently spoke about blogging at Affiliate Summit. Dave posted the video online here. It is a nice introduction to blogging for those who want to understand the benefits of blogging and how it can help improve their businesses.
Yahoo! tends to be a bit more cautious than Google when it comes to allowing trademark related ads. That significantly suppresses their earnings because brand related search queries are often some of the most targeted, most commercial, highest converting, and most expensive keywords. Here is a snapshot of the current search results for SEO Book. Notice that the top 8 organic results link to SEO Book.com. By loosening up on subdomains (displaying them more frequently) and providing a mini site map (called Sitelinks) in the SERPs it makes it much harder for affiliates or merchants reselling a brand to get exposure through the organic search results for the core brand name.
There are two pieces to that, as well.
If the top 5 or 6 search results point at the official site searchers have to scroll down quite a bit to find commercial search results outside of the core brand. Rather than scrolling they may be more likely to click an ad.
If the search results look highly informational in nature (by being harder to manipulate via commercial bias, and Google over-representing the official site) then merchants are more likely to buy ads.
The brutal part with buying the ads is that sometimes Google shows 0, 1, 2, or 3 AdWords ads above the organic search results. If the organic search results are somewhat irrelevant to the commercial intent of a searcher, those few ads at the top of the search results are going to get a high clickthrough rate. If you are a merchant who is not featured at the top of the results the right rail ads will bring you relatively little exposure. Thus a bidding war occurs for those top couple ad spots, and Google can control how many ads to show above the results to maximize earnings.
If you sell an ebook like I do, it is no big deal if one day your sales are high and the next day they are garbage, but if you run a business with fixed costs, a fixed marketing budget, and many employees then you may be stuck paying whatever it takes to be at the top of the results for brands you carry. The more dependant your business is on search the more they can bleed you dry!
While I used my brand as an example in this post, this brand factor recently played a big roll for a client, who even outranks his manufacturer for their official name in some major search engines, but is forced to pay much higher AdWords rates to get any exposure on Google. If he falls out of the top couple ad slots the right rail sends us like 10% the traffic that the top ad positions do. And I am probably going to have to bid bleed about $5 a click for a while to work that client back into the rotation of the ads at the top of the search results. And then if we knock a competing site out of position that may spur on a budget bleeding bidding war. Companies with a fixed marketing budget (my client has a variable budget based on market conditions) will suffer even worse by having to overpay for traffic until they kill their budget, and then not show up the rest of the time.
If the core brand term is priced out of reach it is important to
Build enough link equity that your deeper pages rank at or near the top of the search results for long tail brand related queries. This may require investing into placing cheesy linkbait on your site to better integrate your site into the web and boost your overall authority.
My client dominates the long tail, but for that particular brand he carries, most of the queries are for the official brand name. As a Google share owner and owner of a strong brand, I think they are brilliant. As a marketer who has a client getting screwed by their setup, I think a bit less of them. ;)
Also worth noting that Yahoo!'s search results are moving toward a more authority based algorithm, and they are starting to double list many brand sites, so this issue will likely rise again soon enough.
SEO Question: Where would you begin with a client that markets exceptionally niche products? Or would you simply pass on the opportunity and just work with clients with more mainstream products/services?
SEO Answer: Certain markets, like insurance, are brutal to jump into, no matter how much you are willing to spend. Other markets are easy to dominate with little effort. Traditionally niche markets are less competitive than established competitive markets, and thus it is easier for a small amount of SEO to go a long way.
There are a few major considerations when deciding if it is worth it to do SEO on a niche site:
Is there market demand? Is their trending demand? It is hard to get people to change the way they use language or create demand where none exists unless the marketing goes beyond SEO. If the customer ranks #1 for their core keywords, but there is no traffic then SEO is a moot point. Do keyword research before considering SEO. You may also want to search to see if people are talking about similar ideas. Don't forget to use something like Google Trends if the market is seasonal. If possible set up an AdWords campaign. If they are in a deep niche there probably is not going to be much competition for their core target keywords, and they may even do well by spending $100 a month on AdWords.
Is there an overshadowing important market? Another thing to consider is how established and authoritative are the sites currently ranking for your target keywords. In some cases they may be prohibitively authoritative and not worth the expenses required to outrank.
How relevant are the organic search results? If the organic search results are irrelevant and AdWords has no competition then it might be hard to justify an expensive SEO campaign if AdWords, Overture, and AdCenter are working well enough.
Does the site have any trust? If the site has no trust at all it may be easier to rank pages on other sites. For example, you could put up a Squidoo lense (or similar), point a link or two at that, and try to rank it.
Are people talking about the site? If the site has been mentioned in the past by people without much of a push marketing campaign then odds are it is remarkable enough to really citation worthy, especially if you are working with a Purple Cow. If the site is interesting or you can relate it to something of great interest then viral marketing as SEO is great stuff.
Budget & Fun: The other things to consider are how fun would the client be to work with, how bad do you need work, and are they willing to give you enough budget to adequately value your time and provide long-term value. In some niches there might be huge upside potential. If they are starting from scratch (or nearly from scratch) it might make sense to gain an equity position in the website. You also have to evaluate how scalible your model is. Ongoing quality SEO services require a low client to service provider ratio since each client has exceptionally unique needs and SEO service business models are hard to scale.
Not sure if this idea exists already, but it would be a cool project idea for anyone ambitious enough to do it. What about creating a social network site that leverages famous poems, speeches, and quotations, and integrated them into the web by allowing submitters to add links to famous text that existed before the web. The links could show
how the meanings of words changed over time
how static human nature is
how politicians lie and lied
how religious material changes over time
how bogus and misguided most forms of patriotism are
Part of Google's move toward trying to be the default hard drive for different types of information is such that they can add context to whatever you are doing. Some of that context will be relevant ads, but the other piece of it will be useful related ideas based on other's usage data.
I think the best way to make the wisdom of the past appealing to a wide audience would be by making it interactive and showing how it is relevant to today. Some amount of that can be automated, but given how many people are trying to interpret the meaning of lyrics and how layeredgreat writing is you would think there is a market for adding personalized or opinionated context to historical text.
But since 2003, Johns Hopkins researchers estimate 655,000 Iraqis have died. Bush thinks it is closer to 30,000, but even that is a large number considering how our reason for invasion was fraudulently associating Saddam Hussein with September 11th events.
"One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror." – President Bush's interview with CBS News' Katie Couric, Sept. 6, 2006
Even math is dependant upon marketing [PDF]. I am always perplexed when people say you shouldn't talk about politics on a marketing site. Politics is nothing but marketing. It is an ideological system of fraud and measures to bilk the world of its wealth and beauty for the profit of select power sources - at any expense necessary, and often without any connection to reality, or concern for the future.
I pledge my allegiance,
say the munitions makers and the international bankers,
I pledge my allegiance to this flag, that flag,
any flag at all, of any country anywhere
paying its bills and meeting interest on loans,
one and indivisible,
coming through with cash in payment as stipulated
with liberty and justice for all,
say the munitions makers and the international bankers
"War is a racket always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives.
The normal profits of a business concern in the United States are six, eight, ten, and sometimes even twelve per cent. But wartime profits-ah! that is another matter-twenty, sixty, one hundred, three hundred, and even eighteen hundred per cent-the sky is the limit. All that the traffic will bear. Uncle Sam has the money. Let's get it."
If Death Tax is such a big deal, then why don't politicians care about death itself?
I had a good idea, but hate the idea of having employees and running a company. I want to be able to travel and explore the world, so the idea required a partner. ;) I brought my idea to Andy Hagans, and he was up for running the show. The idea is to create a blog advertising platform that allows advertisers to contact related bloggers to ask if they would review their products or services. Our network is called ReviewMe, and will be launching soon!
While I got into the web as an SEO, I tend to think of myself more as a blogger and viral marketer than an SEO. Viral marketing was the idea behind ReviewMe. It took us a while to get the model and infrastructure down. Since we started working on the projects other blog ad networks launched and one even got VC funding, but I believe our model is going to be somewhat unique and offer a high value when compared to other businesses in the same space.
I think writing a lot and reading a lot about marketing put me in a unique position. After acquiring Threadwatch, while still building this site and others, I started getting pitched more and more frequently. It made me think that there could be a formal marketplace which made it more efficient to ask bloggers for reviews, and also removed some of the potential risks associated with pitching to bloggers. The last thing you want is a popular blogger calling you a spammer, because that stuff tends to rank well.
Four elements which will work nice in our network to filter out bad products and bad offers are
bloggers will disclose their relationship with the advertiser
bloggers only review things that are interested in
we encourage brutal honesty
the comment sections on popular blogs will help keep advertisers and bloggers honest
Fraudsters and advertisers with junk offers will not want to risk paying people to write reviews that may expose their business flaws. But, if you have a good product honest feedback and conversation about your business should only help you. Getting great feedback early on in a product's life-cycle can save millions of dollars in the long haul.
I also think this is a more efficient way of selling cost per influence than some of the other networks. Buy a sitewide ad in the right rail of a popular blog. Compare how much traffic that sends to the amount of traffic sent to links in the content area of the blog, and you will see that the influence is in the content area of the site, not near it.
In addition, I think the real value of blogs is the unique feedback you can get from the blogger. Do they like your idea or hate it? And why? What advice can they offer you on how to improve your business?
We are not going to try to create the largest and most efficient ad network in the world. That's Google's job. Rather than trying to squeeze a few more cents out of an ad space, our idea is to extend the value of advertising by coupling it with reviews and conversation on popular sites. Brand building is much more about conversation and community involvement than it is about targeting keywords and displaying ads.
Sometimes I give quite bad advice. And the reason is that not everything applies to everyone. One of the bigger flaws in the advice that I give is that I am quite ambitious. And thus when I enter a market I try to come up with ideas that will eventually allow me to get a dominate long-term self reinforcing position. Endless Ambition:
I try to rank sites for queries like SEO, Forex, and other exceptionally competitive markets. And then I have worked with some of the largest sites on the web, which further reinforces that line of dominate big markets thinking. And as my income has increased it is also quite easy for me to have a value system which is quite inaccurate when compared with people new to the web trying to dig into a market (just like I was a couple years ago).
For example of my overly broad ambitions, a person might have a site about car engines, and on occasion I may respond with something overtly ambitious like these are the keys to dominating the automotive vertical.
The reason it is so hard to give SEO advice are:
the rules are ever-shifting, people read and believe old content, and many sources intentionally publish misinformation
many established authorities trade on inflated income levels based on past reputation, and some likely are not even competent in the current market
in an industry where most lack credibility one of the quickest and easiest ways to try to build authority is to call out an established authority as being wrong
controversy breeds links and authorities, even if it is created under a false pretense
business risk profiles, brand strength, financial and technical resources, and competition levels are vastly different from company to company and market to market
Doing Well is an Iterative Process:
Sometimes I give that dominate a broad market type of advice to other people, but many people who are new are just trying to carve out a niche, so they can quite their job and then reinvest into the web. And when you are doing many things at once you are rarely going to be able to start off with a near perfect market position. I still have my earliest websites, but relative to this one they were all failures, but eventually they led me to create this one (and other profitable sites).
Most Markets Are Easier:
I recently gave a friend some advice, and then after I did a bit of in depth market analysis, I realized that my advice was garbage, and that they did not need to do ALL (or even most) of the things I suggested. Their market is low hanging fruit. In many markets doing this or this is really all you need to do, as long as you establish a bit of trust right out of the gate. Part of the reason that seemingly expensive SEO services may be worthwhile is that you don't just get answers, but answers that are tailored to your business, website, market, brand, and resources.
Most businesses (and most markets) are not well integrated into the web. That is part of the reason someone who is actively involved in discussions about the web can easily dominate their vertical in search. If a bath tub website gets link love from popular blogs because the owner speaks at webmaster conferences then he has a distinct advantage over competing sites, especially because those links will be hard to replicate.
Instant Success, Just Add Blog!
After a person writes a blog for years it is easy to assume that blog juice is the answer to everything, but it really depends on what you are good at. Many leading blogs are only leading blogs due to market timing, and only keep their position by selling white lies.
It also didn't hurt me that blogs work well as a marketing tool for those in controversial topics which rapidly change (like SEO).
The Bias of Self Preservation:
Unless you are a whack job nobody wants to feel like they are a bad force. Any source of advice, business, or topical authority is typically going to biased toward the goal of self preservation. With that in mind, many bloggers will keep blogging long after they no longer have anything original to say, and will error on the side of making the importance of their trade (or blogging in general) far more important and complex than they are. Especially if their goal is to sell a how to information product that is sold as a way to make sense of the space.
A Lack of Traditional Business Costs:
Another error or bias in advice that I give is that I still have almost no traditional offline business experience. Being in the military does not count because it is so dysfunctional, and other than that I only had one middle level management job for about 8 months before jumping on the web. I create partnerships, but have no employees or product costs, so it does not hurt me much if I take far bigger risks than other people do because my lifestyle and business are fairly immune to huge cycles in my level of exposure or income. I have roughly the same amount of work to do with this site each day weather I sell 0 or 25 ebooks.
In some ways some of my biggest weaknesses may also be strengths, depending on your perspective. But, what other common biases / flaws / errors do you see in the advice I give or logic I use to dispense it? What do I do that you really like? What do I do that you really hate?
I recently added a brief overview of SEO to Work.com. Work.com is sort of like a Squidoo.com for business. An easy link from an authoritative site, and a chance to build co-citation. :)
As more and more companies push for consumer generated content there are going to be more and more bottom feeder link opportunities. In niche markets, if you use these types of resources, get a few directory links, and get a few links from relevant websites you are in the game cheap. If you think of search engines as ad networks trying to learn topic specific language sets you can help work yourself into the vocabulary by doing things like:
making sure your brand is mentioned on these types of sites
creating a bit of news
getting references on a few industry related sites
submitting to the correct category in a couple trusted directories
participating in a few forums
posting a good amount of content to your own site that references important industry related brands, organizations, and terms
If you are part of the language that defines an industry you have a distinct advantage over anyone who is not.
A brand can still push their main brand name (say Paypal, for example) while promoting their name as being Paypal Payment Solutions. Place more emphasis on your core brand name, but also make relevant keywords look like they are part of the legitimate official name to get a bit more friendly anchor text.
George Orwell was a great writer. I recently came across a cool paper he wrote in 1946 titled Politics and the English Language. In it he stated that most bad writing typically has the following two signatures:
staleness of imagery
lack of precision
He believed that it is the job of every writer to try to maintain (and improve upon) the clarity of language
Modern English, especially written English, is full of bad habits which spread by imitation and which can be avoided if one is willing to take the necessary trouble. If one gets rid of these habits one can think more clearly, and to think clearly is a necessary first step toward political regeneration: so that the fight against bad English is not frivolous and is not the exclusive concern of professional writers.
He believed that politics is directly responsible for the demise of language
Political language -- and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists -- is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.
Which is only made worse by the all encompasing nature of politics
In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics." All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.
The core issue is the lack of clarity necessary to make political statements sound reasonable
In our time, political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible. Things like the continuance of British rule in India, the Russian purges and deportations, the dropping of the atom bombs on Japan, can indeed be defended, but only by arguments which are too brutal for most people to face, and which do not square with the professed aims of the political parties. Thus political language has to consist largely of euphemism., question-begging and sheer cloudy vagueness.
Defenseless villages are bombarded from the air, the inhabitants driven out into the countryside, the cattle machine-gunned, the huts set on fire with incendiary bullets: this is called pacification.
And the creation and usage of loose words and phrases that are allowed multiple meanings
How do you correct the problem of writing watered down language like politicians?
When yo think of a concrete object, you think wordlessly, and then, if you want to describe the thing you have been visualizing you probably hunt about until you find the exact words that seem to fit it. When you think of something abstract you are more inclined to use words from the start, and unless you make a conscious effort to prevent it, the existing dialect will come rushing in and do the job for you, at the expense of blurring or even changing your meaning. Probably it is better to put off using words as long as possible and get one's meaning as clear as one can through pictures and sensations.
While thinking visually ask yourself these questions:
A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1. What am I trying to say? 2. What words will express it? 3. What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4. Is this image fresh enough to have an effect? And he will probably ask himself two more: 1. Could I put it more shortly? 2. Have I said anything that is avoidably ugly?
He also came up with these 6 rules:
Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
Never us a long word where a short one will do.
If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
Never use the passive where you can use the active.
Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
If you ever look at some of the Delicious Popular or Dugg stories and think they are basic, that is probably part of the reason they are popular, because they are easy to understand.
One of the things that makes Jon Stewart so enjoyable is his clarity. Check out Jon 2 minutes in here where he quotes Bush saying "One of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
If you game Digg, you get none of these benefits. The visitors might click, they might even start reading, but if you don't have truly exceptional content, you're spinning your wheels - no one is going to remember you or your site as being anything other than a waste of their time; that's not a positive brand association.
If the content wasn't good enough to make the top of the link sites naturally, there's little hope that anyone who manages their own content will link to it.
Rule #1: If people enjoy it and vote for it then it is not spam.
I have seen average (or slightly below average) content become remarkable and Diggworthy through appropriate formatting and heavy use of Instant Messenger to seed the idea. If you can get the idea half way to the homepage (about 15 - 20 votes) before the general Diggers start voting you stand a good chance of making the home page.
Rule #2: Exposure leads to more exposure.
And in spite of the fact that you will not get many links to cheesy content, I have seen somewhat cheesy content garner high trust links from old school media sources. You really only need one of those types of links for the Digg spam to pay for itself. And those links are going to be hard for competitors to replicate (unless they know how you did it).
Is it wrong to pay people for exposure? If so then why do search engines teach content publishers to blend their ads into the content?
Rule #3: Most members of the media are overworked or lazy.
Another thing to think about, is that many of the people at mainstream media sources are lazy, underpaid, or overworked cogs. In the same way that some journalists have swiped ideas from bloggers before, many of these journalists may rely on these social news sites to find new things to mention or link at. And I have seen anchors at one social news site submit one of my stories to their site only because they found it on another one.
Rule #5: Older systems are typically more expensive or harder to spam.
A year or two ago it was far easier to spam Google using mini domains and keyword rich anchor text, but since then the algorithms have been placing more and more weight on citation based authority. Newspaper sites are reporting a large increase in online exposure. The publish the same old bland content and are competing with more and more sites. I don't think I would be in error to assume that a large portion of that increase is due to bias shifts in Google's (and other engines) algorithms.
Rule #6: To be successful, you have to be a bastard to somebody.
In an interview with Rolling Stone (available free via iTunes), John Lennon stated that you don't get to make it big without being a bastard. And The Beatles didn't get to become The Beatles without being serious bastards.
Rule #7: Almost everybody spams.
Any for profit system has rules set up that help it make money at the expense of others. If you are starting from nowhere you really don't have much to lose by being a bit aggressive. After you establish a strong brand then overt spamming may not look as appealing on your risk to reward ratio scale, but off the start it shouldn't hurt to be a bit aggressive, and if people are going to hold that against you forever, then screw em.
You have to spam somebody to get people to grant you enough authority to influence other markets. After you gain enough influence you keep pushing after other markets:
Google's Eric Schmidt predicted that "truth predictor" software would, within five years, "hold politicians to account." People would be able to use programmes to check seemingly factual statements against historical data to see to see if they were correct.
A statement like that makes you wonder if a Google ad campaign might help determine what truth is perceived to be.
TRUSTeâ€™s Fact Sheet (2006) reports only two certifications revoked in TRUSTeâ€™s ten-year history... According to TRUSTeâ€™s posted data, users continue to submit hundreds of complaints each month. But of the 3,416 complaints received since January 2003, TRUSTe concluded that not a single one required any change to any memberâ€™s operations, privacy statement, or privacy practices, nor did any complaint require any revocation or on-site audit.
TRUSTe has only a small staff, with little obvious ability to detect violations of its rules. Rule violations at TRUSTe member sites have repeatedly been uncovered by independent third parties, not by TRUSTe itself.
Is there a single profitable well known online business that doesn't spam or at least pay others to spam for them? And, at some point, did they spam to get where they are?
If they can get the most relevant, most descriptive, and most comprehensive results then eventually users will use it more. After they get enough users what was once free can be charged for, or they can find other ways to make money from it. If many merchants upload similar data it probably makes it even easier to identify and filter commercial data from the organic search results. It won't be long before the organic results are out of reach for most stores, and most merchants are forced into using AdWords if they want to buy exposure. Google has outsourced AdWords training, turned determining relevancy into a game, and wants to be the default product information database.
Google will probably also allow merchants to store inventory data in Google Base, which will only help Google make their results that much more relevant, and help merchants tie their ad spend directly to their current inventory. If Google roughly knows historical search trends, related searches, click value, ad spend, conversion rates, inventory levels, and pricing details they would have to screw it up pretty bad to not be able to make money from transactions that originate through a Google search box.