From large scale stat providers right down to the smallest detail it is easy to take a statistic out of context and draw false conclusions from it.
Examples of bogus statistics and the value of evaluating stats out of context.
MySpace has more traffic than Yahoo! - over-represents automated spam and does not account for the targeting and value of some of Yahoo!'s search traffic and vertical content. In addition the story about this conveniently separated the Yahoo! traffic into multiple smaller streams, and typically counts pageviews when many of Yahoo!'s products use AJAx.
Yahoo! has 25% of the search market - over-represents Yahoo! by counting searches on vertical properties and internal searches. Their actual volume is probably closer to 10%...it is amazing how quickly their marketshare has been eroding.
Alexa data for my site - because it is an internet marketing blog, it is heavily overrepresented.
Lower conversion rate for leads after redesign - I redesigned a friend's site and made it easier for people to contact them or get price estimates. Originally their site was unattractive and it was hard to contact them or get a quote. After making it easier to do those the end conversion rate of the people who did those action items was slightly lower due to it being so much easier to do them.
Higher AdSense earnings per click or clickthrough rate on a finance site on Christmas eve - the people searching may be more desperate, and thus more willing to click on anything, and they may also search a disproportionately higher rate for higher value terms.
Seasonal bias - I have a seasonal site which I fixed broken links right around when it was going out of season. It did not make more, but fell less hard than it would have. When the seasons changed again the earnings shot through the roof.
Why do Bogus Stats Matter?
As a marketer it is important to realize how statistics can lie for two main reasons.
so you are measuring the right stuff
so you can present market data in a way that biases your story such that it is remarkable and easy to spread
A better measure of the effectiveness of the new sales letter would be to look if the percent, conversion rate, or number of affiliate sales goes up. An even better measure would be a Google AdWords A/B split test.
2.) The MySpace has more traffic than Yahoo! story was a way to promote the Hitwise statistic service. But you do not even need to collect a bunch of expensive market research data to create a piece of market research data that would easily spread. Simply cross reference a few free or cheap publicly accessible tools like Quantcast, Compete.com, Alexa, Technorati mentions by day, Google Trends, Spyfu, Key Compete, buy AdWords to track search volume, and the number of Google search results over time.
Statistics & Humor
It is easy to find errors or weird biases when you look for ideas connected to weird human actions. And if they are funny, the emotional responses will help them spread quickly. For example, you can use Google trends to research which country or city the most perverted country in the world.
When you cite stats from any trusted brand you leverage the strength of their brand.
Many statistics are nothing but self promotional public relations drivel. If you do a great job with your public relations then you can make reasonably believable stats sound factual, even if the collection method is biased. Leverage the bias or errors in some of the publicly available tools and then try to spread that information to the media. Once you get a trusted third party to buy off on it, you then use that exposure as leverage to make the data even more concrete and believable, and to get additional exposure.
Selling Stats to an Audience:
How hard would it be to make the Digg homepage with a title like An Analytical View of Digg's Growth or Digg Traffic to Pass AOL by January 2008, especially if you cited third party research that backed up your claims?
How hard is it to spread stories on blogs about how important bloggers are? If it has a few images and stats in it a story feels far more concrete and is easy to spread, especially if spreading it makes the messenger feel important / valuable.
The blogs are not as significant as their self-endeared curators would like to think. Journalism requires journalists, who are at least fitfully confronting the digital age. The bloggers, for their part, produce minimal reportage. Instead, they ride along with the MSM like remora fish on the bellies of sharks, picking at the scraps.
But actions speak louder than words. That same WSJ reported on an unconfirmed TechCrunch rumor about the YouTube acquisition by Google.
They also mention the lack of overlap provided by self selection bias:
This cross-referential and interactive arrangement, in theory, should allow for some resolution to divisive issues, with the market sorting out the vagaries of individual analysis. Not in practice. The Internet is very good at connecting and isolating people who are in agreement, not so good at engaging those who aren't. The petty interpolitical feuding mainly points out that someone is a liar or an idiot or both.
But the web also makes it easy to reference past facts and changes in bias or perspective over time, which is something they are afraid of.
Any attempt by authority to make things seem universally right or wrong / white or black amounts to a self-serving attempt to stay relevant. If they believe their lie enough hopefully they can convince others to do the same.
Professionals do things for money. Amateurs do things because they are genuinely interested. Who would you rather trust?
A bit of a do-gooder tip here, but when a main story gets cited by bloggers many of us tend to link at the same mainstream media source, thus voting for that source as the best article on that topic, when it is often the first perspective we found, but not the best.
When considering who to link to, it is worth it to take a minute or three to do a few news searches and blog searches to find better articles from sources that are more trustworthy than the mainstream media.
Please be careful when reading feedback about SEO Elite. I shockingly discovered that many of the below comments praising SEO Elite are fake. Read more about it here.
If my experience with someone posting fake testimonials to this page says anything else for the marketing used to push SEO Elite, I am not sure how much I would trust any of it.
Why I Don't Recommend SEO Elite
I used to recommend Brad Callen's SEO Elite, but due to evolving search algorithms placing more emphasis on site age and usage data I believe that (unless you are penalized or are right on the edge of being penalized) looking through a link profile does not have much value beyond just getting a quick glance at it. And you can do that free using the link explorer inside Bing's webmaster tools.
And if you do get penalized by a search engine, you might be able to get a ticket (as well as link data for your site) inside their webmaster tools sections, plus the online link data sources are great at helping you spot trends and patterns.
SEO for Firefox offers everything you would want to know about links and site authority status outside of anchor text, and my friend Joost De Valk created a free SEO link analysis Firefox extension which shows anchor text and PageRank next to links.
Just spending 5 minutes installing those two extensions means you don't need to waste any time or money downloading and installing bulky software. Further, if you use the online link databases you can be certain you are pulling fresh data & they have loads of features in their interfaces (like seeing which links are brand new, many ways to look through anchor text profiles, tracking new links to competing sites, and so on).
Free Online Link Analysis Tools (No Download Required!)
Tattler and Backlink Analyzer both allow you to view backlink information for free. Tattler is quicker than any of the paid tools on the market. At the price of free it can save you anywhere from $150 to $225 when compared to software like Optilink or SEO Elite. If you want a bit more data than what is featured in Tattler you may want to give Backlink Analyzer a go. Here is a free video on how easy it is to use Backlink Analyzer:
The above mentioned tools were powered by Yahoo! Site Explorer, which has since went away. :( ... However Bing offers a replacement in the link explorer inside their webmaster tools.
Catching Up With Free Tools:
SEO Elite does have a few features that are not included in the free tools listed above, but about the only features I found useful are also available in free easy to use web based tools, like rank checker. SEO Elite later added at co-citation data, which is something many other tools like Link Tree or Hub Finder have been doing for years.
Stay Away from Bad Link Neighborhoods:
I also would recommend avoiding link exchange networks and the typically low quality links people get by using automated link software. Years after search engines started torching websites for getting links from crappy link exchange directories people were still selling access to them, in effect charging you money to get your site penalized. ;)
Google's Matt Cutts has confirmed that these types of links can hurt your website and prevent Google from even indexing it. Most the sites that participate in them are spammy. If you force your link building and get many low quality links it will be much harder to crack the top 10 rankings. If you want to do link building that will actually help you rank I recommend reading this post.
Why Affiliates Push SEO Elite so Hard:
Affiliates recommending SEO Elite with rave reviews make over $70 per sale to recommend it. If I would have just recommended it to you via an affiliate link and you would have bought it I would have another $70 in my pocket, but think of effective link building as the art of getting real editorial citations that send traffic your way.
Since quality links require real human editorial judgement, most software will not help you on that front. In fact, focusing on software that has you looking at the wrong things may make it harder for you to become a topical expert.
A couple years ago when the algorithms were less evolved this was useful software, but I wouldn't recommend buying it today.
SEO Question: A top ranked competitor of mine has a few good links, and many low quality links. I don't think they should be ranking, but they are. Should I duplicate what they are doing?
SEO Answer: As an SEO I think you can learn more from seeing top ranked results that should not be ranking where they are than from sites you expect to rank, but far too many people desire to emulate those rankings without building the necessary criteria to rank.
Sure it makes sense to look at high ranking sites which shouldn't be ranking, and try to get some of their best links, but it is probably not worth replicating everything they are doing (including all of their reciprocal links and low quality links). You can't replicate their age with a new site (and there may be other criteria that you do not see and thus can not replicate), if your link profiles are too well aligned their site will probably get filtered out of the search results, and if their rankings are not stable you have little to gain by replicating what they are doing.
A friend of mine tried to get me to do a $750 per month ad buy on a ghetto top ranked site. I said no to them. The next month the ghetto site dropped off in the search results and our ranking is already higher than theirs (on a similar spend) by going after higher quality links.
It is far more valuable to notice the trends as to where the algorithms are headed and push in that direction. Find the sites that are ranked which should be, and where possible, try to make your site profile align with those sites.
So we finished up at Elite Retreat yesterday. It was a bunch of fun and I think it went amazingly well. Today I am flying out at 6 AM, and thus am sleeping on the plane flight (twice in 4 days). I am moving into my new place today, and will be trying to be as lazy as possible for the rest of the year, so this blog may go without any new posts. As a 16 year old kid it was not uncommon for me to make $150 to $200 a day selling baseball cards on the weekend. When I think of how small that marketplace was, how naive and ignorant to business and marketing I was back then, how much I have learned about search and marketing since then, and then compare my income to the size of opportunity the web offers, it seems silly that I don't put a bit more effort into blowing up a large bank account.
Next year I intend to heavily dip into the arbitrage and affiliate markets. I want to shy away from reading so much about search and put much more effort into manipulating many many many more search results.
I also intend to create a site or two which is the equivalent of this site, but in different marketplaces. I am getting somewhat burned out on this site because I get the same things over and over again, and part of that fault is that for many, the attraction of SEO is the idea of creating value out of nothing, but most of us who are making money from SEO do so because we couple it with other knowledge, and / or work hard. The other part of the problem is that if I am not learning fast I feel I am dying, and it is hard to answer hundreds of daily emails, track the markets, go to conferences, stay in decent shape, save time to read and learn, while still launching other sites and ideas.
Some of the more annoying things that make me cringe
random instant messages from people I don't know who immediately try to extract value from me or pitch me outsourcing services
the emails that start with something like bought your book and was too lazy to read it. teach me everything about SEO.
emails from people who got scammed by some packaged solution provider that starts there service calls by asking the all important question how much room do you have on your credit card
the emails that tell me that I must be a scammer and the only way I am not is if I give the emailer my ebook for free
the scumbags who buy my ebook and then do a chargeback (costing me their $10 more than their order price) when it is probably easier and quicker just to ask for a refund
the emails that start with something like bought your ebook. have not read it. want a consult RIGHT NOW. or can I schedule my 15 minute consult for 4 am Saturday 3 weeks out so I can ask you to wake weird hours, blow you off, and then ask you to schedule it again.
Emails from greedy business people who expect me to give them multi million dollar rankings for a couple thousand dollars. I love telling these people exactly what I think of them.
the automated blog comments that mention the Holocaust
politicians that try to undermine free markets and free speech under the guise of saving the children (while dropping bombs on thousands of them in other countries to try to gain control of their oil supplies)
a government that outsources the printing of its own currency and goes in debt just to issue it (allegedly to help maintain its value) which is compelled to try to legislate religious and moral values. If you can't be trusted to maintain the value of your own currency then what other values can you be trusted to maintain?
prentending that wealth is created independantly of poverty and inequality
politicians and media companies that lie about global warming and push us to live under blind faith or a love of material things at the expense of our future
being shallow and materialistic
realizing how far away I am from my potential and how the world deserves so much better from me
realizing that when I see deep faults in others, it is just a reflection of my own flaws that I am unhappy with
when I let little things or little people get to me and control my emotions and cause me to do stupid or self destructive things
If I can tell a person what I think of them in 3 words there is no reason to type 6 emails. I will do my best to be as happy as possible, and, where necessary, be more crass and curt to people who make me cringe.
People and things that make me smile
thinking of California and a snow free winter
Radiohead and other good music
partnering with many great business friends
thinking of all the cool things people have done to help me out
thinking of all the cool tips and tricks friends have taught me
reading feedback from and meeting people who say I have helped them
knowing that lots of cool people read this blog and leave comments that help teach me, in spite of me typing pure drivl from time to time
After seeing and hearing some positive feedback about ReviewMe I recently decided that it would be worth it for me to dabble in getting a few reviews for my ebook, seo tools, and seo glossary. Rae recently reviewed ReviewMe, stating:
The site brought me a couple hundred visitors initially, which was a little below my expectations. But, it has continued sending visitors daily since the review launched (and yes, it has long been off the main page now, this site blogs several entries per day). Those visitors have also made the site money.
The site I had reviewed was given two links to the homepage with the site name as the anchor. The review was close to 300 words and they also added our logo to the review (which was also linked for a third link to the homepage from the review page). The blogger clearly stated that he was paid to review the site, but that all of the opinions about the site were his own and that only his time to review the site, not his thoughts *about* the site had been paid for.
I have not tracked sales from most of my ReviewMe reviews (because I do not generally track that granular), but John Chow put up affiliate links in his review of my ebook, and I can tell you that his review paid for itself the first day.
Paul Stamatiou reviewed my glossary. In the review he both talked up SEO, and gave my glossary the thumbs up:
I had some SEO work done on this site in the summer and within a few weeks my traffic went from a daily average of 2,500 unique visitors to roughly 4,000 unique visitors per day. Those extra visitors are all from search engines. An optimized site can help your blog, portfolio or whatever your site hosts, rank higher on SERPs (Search Engine Result Pages), and beyond. ... The glossary is extremely useful and has already earned a bookmark in my browser, and I only bookmark things I use - the rest get sent to my del.icio.us. I would like to see an offline version of the glossary as well. Perhaps a nicely styled PDF that gets updated every month or so.
Imagine a trusted voice with thousands of subscribers highlighting your industry, highlighting your website, and offering useful constructive criticism that will help you further improve your offering. Is it possible for ads to have any greater value?
Because I have been involved with ReviewMe, many people have told me that they thought ReviewMe was just an SEO tool, but I realize that links / rankings / SEO in general / brand building / trust building / sales are all just a side effect of getting exposure and satisfying market needs. The benefit of reviews from a network like ReviewMe is that you get exposure in active channels that people trust and are paying attention to.
Feedback, direct sales, direct relevant link equity, secondary citations, new readers, branding and awareness... buying reviews from ReviewMe could pay for themselves many ways over, if you create things worthy of exposure.
DigitalGhost is an odd fellow, in a good way. Always a blast to chat with, and a smart guy who gives me lots of good advice. He recently started blogging again, and that prompted me to ask him from an SEO.
Why the name DigitalGhost?
Two reasons. I was making money ghostwriting when the "Digital Age" came into being. CompuServe, Prodigy, etc. Everyone chatting online seemed to be just phantoms on a screen. Digital ghosts if you will.
How did you get into SEO?
I was selling computers and a friend of mine created a website, which was back in the days when maybe one person in fifty had an email account, and he asked me to look at it. The site had been live for six months but it wasn't getting any traffic.
I noticed that the title for every page was new_page_1. I changed the titles to reflect what the page content was about, created a footer crammed with keywords for every page and boom. He started getting crazy amounts of traffic. Within a month I had 4 sites built and I was hooked. I quit selling computers three months later.
A woman that lived next door to me had a wine site and asked for help getting it to rank. She had a friend that had a site about 900 numbers, and he had a friend with a site about;
I was an SEO for almost two years before I knew what it was called.
Does SEO, as a field, have much life left in it?
Of course it does. Search technology is still in its infancy. As the technology improves SEOs will be needed to help business owners deal with the changes. I believe that the technology will reach the point where the demand for SEOs is greater than it is now; especially as fewer and fewer of the self-taught SEOs are able to keep up with the technology.
Keep it simple. Know your market and know the language your market uses. Banking on your ability to successfully market a new word isn't a strategy; it's a shot in the dark.
Why is linguistics important to SEOs and other internet marketers?
Linguistics offers insight into how people think, how they choose words and phrases, word dependencies, syntax, semantics, structure etc. The science is integral in search engine algorithms.
Are search engines matching keywords or concepts? What is the difference between the two? How might a shift in this change the SEO process?
They're matching keywords. The keyword "war" is quite simple, the concept of "war" isn't currently understood by the major engines. I could write an entire site about WWII without mentioning "WWII" and the engines would never rank it for "war" unless it acquired links with "war" in anchor text.
How might it change the SEO process? SEOs rely on keywords because the algos rely on keywords.
What are the most important books you have read about language, thinking, or communication?
There aren't any single books that I feel are that important. A single idea, or several, contained within a book may be important but I think it is dangerous to assign too much importance to any one book. I place quite a bit of importance on reading many books and weighing the ideas found within them. I tend to think it is bullshit when someone says, "that book changed my life".
What other books significantly helped shape you?
Now we're getting somewhere. I remember reading Black Beauty by Anna Sewell and hating the kid that pulled wings off flies and threw stones at horses. Old Yeller taught me quite a bit about strength of character. Tom Sawyer and the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn taught me about friendship. Little Women, Little Men, Jo's Boys, all of them had lessons. Call of the Wild, The Sea Wolf, Burning Daylight, more lessons.
I think we learn the lessons that shape us the most when we're young. But most importantly, the latent lesson that I learned was, "love words". All of those authors taught that lesson, though I never saw it written.
What drinks have helped shape you? What is your favorite Tequila?
Well, beer has added about twenty pounds of shape. As for tequila, just about any AÃ±ejo works.
You recently posted about sensationalistic headlines which have nothing to do with the content of the post. As more publishers come online, search engines and efficient ad networks commodify many of them, and more people are fighting for a finite amount of attention, will the web devolve into a series of half thoughts marketed by sensationalistic headlines? Or what publishing business models do you see as sustainable?
The web is too large for any single bad practice to ruin it. Most of the web is nothing but half-assed thoughts now and people still find it useful. As the need for better technology grows it will be met. The "cry wolf" headlines will meet the same fate as the little kid in the story.
As long as publishers focus on meeting their users' needs current models are sustainable. As soon as publishers shift the focus to their own needs they may as well quit. I can't count the times a site owner has said, "I need more traffic". How come they don't ask, "What do my users need"?
What are your thoughts on tagging and the like? Will it make search any more relevant, or is it an over hyped fad?
Tagging hasn't helped relevance a bit that I can see. Self-governing systems typically end up as nothing more than a fuster-cluck. People that insist that the more people that use a self-governing system, the better the system will work, need to have the Pareto Principle etched into those rose colored glasses they're wearing.
How can social media and other popularity based metrics promote the creation of quality content while maintaining a reasonable signal to noise ratio?
Editing. It would help if people didn't equate "more" to "better". Does Amazon need 600 book reviews for a single book? Does the world need 300 videos of people dropping Mentos into Diet Coke? You can increase the signal to noise ratio by limiting the number of people that can broadcast eh?
What is the difference between a horse and a donkey? Which animal is generally more entertaining?
A donkey is smaller than a horse and it has longer ears. Cross a mare, (female horse) with a Jack, (male donkey), and you get a Mule. Donkeys are more entertaining. They're like big dogs and they make excellent pets. Nothing in the world sounds like a donkey braying, except for the Jackass Penguin.
It seems Google in particular is placing a lot of weight on domain age and link authority related trust at the moment. Many people are leveraging this to spam Google via video hosting sites, social media sites, and attempts at mainstream media to get into consumer generated media. Where do you see Google going next with their algorithms?
Semantic search. Nofollow is a bust. They created this huge link mess with their damn green bar and an easily exploited algo, and then they tried to clean it up with something as pathetic as nofollow.
You post a lot about word and link relationships. How do people typically mess up internal linking?
By creating navigation that looks like a keyword list. By ignoring concepts and focusing on keywords. By thinking in terms of pages instead of thinking about an entire site. By neglecting in-context links.
As example, a client told me he had a site about "new and used trucks". According to his navigation text, his site was about truck accessories. Every truck model had 10-30 accessory links. Great text for accessories, poor text for trucks and he was wondering why he wasn't ranking for new/used/ trucks/ city/state.
Do you see search engines as moving beyond advertisement based business models? How might they change going forward?
No, it's easy, it's passive, and they have the whole world creating content they can slap ads on, why should they change?
Do you eventually see search engines as becoming more powerful than governments?
No, but I foresee governments using search engines to become more powerful.
How long might your current blog last?
No clue. Longevity isn't a good metric for quality though. Not that I'm saying I have a quality blog, but it's my blog. I can name some pretty pathetic directories that have been around for a long time. But I won't.
Danny just launched a new blog and it looks pretty damn good. So maybe the search engineers will learn that it's about relevancy, not domain age, link age, link authority or any of that other bullshit they throw out there to keep people distracted from the fact that it's all about what? Relevancy. Or is it the SEOs that keep throwing out dumb shit like "link age" for discussion? ; )
What are your favorite SEO Tools?
Whiteboards and a proprietary pattern analysis gizmo. SEO for Firefox is pretty damn good too.
What are your favorite non-SEO blogs?
Drivl is the only one I can think of at the moment. But I read a lot of online newspapers. Oh, and you can download the N.Y. Times reader now which makes reading the news a lot nicer.
Do you see a day when search moves past being primarily weighted on link authority?
Yes I do. Search engines like Hakia are already moving away from link-citation as the most important metric.
What might the next major metric be?
Wait for it, this is good, relevance. Yes. Relevance. Three thousand people linking to "white" using "black" as anchor text shouldn't make black rank for white. Relevancy isn't a popularity contest and I don't care what type of spin the Googlemeisters want to put on it.
What is the biggest piece of the concept relevancy that you think most SEOs overlook?
Not knowing when to quit. Carrying the concept relationship too far. For example, having a site about greeting cards, and creating a subdomain for birthday cake decorating and linking it from the 'birthday cards' section of the site. And then creating another sub for 'catering'. And since catering is 'related', may as well have a sub for 'entertainment'. Why not games? And toys? Toys can be... gifts... and damn near everything can be a gift so now the site has books, candles, ties, hats, pens, tools, Viagra, baldness cures and vacation packages.
SEOs have heard 'content is king' for so long that it's second nature to cover every possible phrase with a targeted page. Stop it already! Small, targeted sites do well too.
So there is a blog meme about learning things about bloggers. I was tagged by Dean, Jeremy, and Stuntdubl.
Here are 5 things you may not have known about me:
I once emailed Tim Berners-Lee and he emailed me back.
I met my first and only girlfriend through this blog. She bought my ebook. I love the interwebs :)
I play sports too hard, and while being uncoordinated, I recently served in a game a tennis to my girlfriend at about 85 miles an hour. I won, and was feeling cool, until I realized I threw my back out. :)
I am an air hockey lover, and last year I lost my ego and sense of self-worth when I lost at air hokey to my step father.
I was a nuclear reactor operator before doing SEO. Just like Homer Simpson, but on a submarine.
Spammers Are Great Keyword Sources - Here's How to Mine Them:
(Disclaimer: This post might seem a bit confusing if you just read it. You may have to click the links to see the process and fully get what I am talking about.)
The good thing about high ranking spam is that you know that the people who are doing it are probably both creative and focused on ROI, so you might be able to come up with a few good keyword ideas based on their research.
When you see a site in the search results that does not seem like it makes sense, it is probably there because either a spammer bought it, or the site has content management system errors which allow spammers to add content to the site. For example, SafeSurf.com is an authoritative site which was recently ranking for a competitive financial query, which seemed out of character with the nature of that site. So lets say you see one of those spam pages ranking in the search results. If you are doing keyword research and have ran out of topics you can look for footprints on these spam sites to find new ideas. As long as Google's algorithms place as much weight on authority domains as they do right now you are bound to find some people abusing that hole by placing hundreds or thousands of pages targeting expensive keywords on them.
For example, after I got the full URL of that SafeSurf page, I pulled off the file name, and looked for other things in that same folder inurl:spammydomain.com/spammyfolder/. In addition to domain related searches like inurl: many of the spam pages may have other footprints or signature text that you may want to look for.
If there are many results there you can further filter through the spammer's keywords by adding a keyword to your query. For example, search for keyword inurl:footprint.
As you can see, SafeSurf.com is a valuable highly rated website...or at least one which is offering many high value loan related keyword phrases!
Want to Mine PPC Accounts for Keywords Too? Here's How:
Another good idea for coming up with conversion / profit oriented keyword ideas is to go to the Clickbank marketplace, search for a topic related to your keywords (like weight loss, for example), see what top selling merchants match your topic, and then plug those URLs into KeyCompete.com or SpyFu to find related keywords.
You can then run that list of keywords through an Overture search suggestion scraper to get an estimate of search volume. Or put them in the Google Traffic Estimator with no bid prices to see the estimated bid prices AND projected AdWords ad click volume. Then sort those traffic estimator results by search volume or overall value to find the most important keywords and keyword phrases.
Extend Your Content:
If you write real content about the major keyword phrases covered by highly ranked mass spammers or profitable ads associated with top selling products, and then track your referral logs, you can come up with even more specific keyword topics to write about.
So I decided to test out ReviewMe for one of my sites, and I think it has been a pretty cool experience. I think most advertisers are going to eat it up after they give it a go.
I actually had to look around a bit though to find things worth reviewing on the site I wanted reviewed because most of it was not too remarkable. Which, sorta leads to the point...is anything on your site worth reviewing? Is any of it remarkable? Most websites and most pages are not, but a few good well cited ideas bolted on a conversion oriented site can carry it in the SERPs.
Most real estate sites, for example, are information free pages segmented by town and tied to an MLS search. But if you could add just a couple good ideas to the site (like a history of the town complete with pictures of how it has changed over time, especially if you integrate things like census data and charts, or can score interviews of past mayors or other famous people from your area), get a few organic links to those ideas, and use that link authority to prop up the rest of the site you can move a site from a me too site to a top ranked site.
If you wanted someone to look at your site, what are the pages you would want them to look at? Does your site have any pages that makes your site stick out from competing sites?
I am still a fan of AdSense as a way of determining a baseline income potential for a site, but I don't see it as a long-term viable business model for most small publishers. Why?
Smart Pricing (or Maybe Dumb Publishing?)
I friend told me how much he made from AdSense a year ago, and in spite of increasing his network pageviews 200% since then his earnings this month are 10% lower than they were a year ago.
And Google still does a sloppy job policing their partner network. What happens if their editorial review costs increase. What does that do to the percent of ad income Google needs to keep to keep growing?
A Glut of Publishing:
It is getting easier and easier to publish online. The number of people writing is probably growing at a faster rate than the number (and income of) of people reading, which means you will have to be more compelling and put more effort into your content and marketing if you want to keep your pageviews up.
And Google has been placing more weight on authoritative domains, which is squeezing many small players out of ranking in the search results.
Newspaper & Magazine Archives: More Glut:
As business deals are worked out, and trusted archived content comes online, many business models based on AdSense spam will lose a large portion of their traffic to mainstream media companies that are not currently fully leveraging their archives.
If Google bought YouTube how long before they buy Olive Software or create a similar technology?
Frothy Ad Market:
I just saw a big, ugly, and obtrusive AOL ad on Amazon.com's home page. If people are buying general untargeted graphic ads on the largest retail site they must be overpaying for it.
A Lack of Competition:
Some of the executives of Yahoo!'s Publisher program recently announced they were quiting, and with Google's lead in the contextual ad space with virtually no competition, I have to take that as a bad sign for Yahoo!, and for independent publishers in general.
Google's General Arrogance:
Today many publishers noticed bright Google logos in their ad boxes inviting readers to sign up for AdSense.
Potential Text Ad Blindness:
People have learned to ignore banners and common ad locations. How long until people learn to ignore common AdSense formats, especially as the ads appear so prevalently on so many sites? What if people become more receptive to identifying ads (even in the content area)?
Not Worth It:
Add all those up and it gets a bit bleak looking to AdSense as anything more than a baseline estimate for effortless income or a backfill for unsold inventory.
What if instead of monetizing every page, niche publishers used most of their pages to keep attention and link equity flowing their way, and then just monetized targeted high value sections of their sites using well integrated affiliate offers and/or selling direct products?
It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it. - Upton Sinclair
And then some people look at a portion of the market and want to believe that what is easy for them to replicate is the answer to their problems. Kirby made an excellent blog comment about why many people read the market wrong:
The debate on reciprocal links wont end for a few reasons.
First, the rules are not evenly applied. Older sites that have built up a degree of trust with aged links will get a way with more.
Secondly, it varies from industry to industry. With real estate, there exists a perception that since the space has lots of competitors, it is therefore competitive. Not true.
Do reciprocal links work in this space? Absolutely. The reason, however, is not because of the value of these links, but because its the primary tool of the majority of sites in this space. It tends to boil down to winning a race of mediocrity. Will they win in a truly competitive space? No.
Take a site and get a handful of good quality links with only a small percentage of reciprocal links and it will beat sites like domain drivers' clients hands down.
A Life of Finite Resources:
And the problem with reciprocation is not one associated with the web. The web is just a reflection of the real world, and the problems associated with reciprocation are that each of us have finite resources, finite attention, and a finite lifespan.
Your PageRank, your authority, your reach, ... they are all finite. Chop it up and trade it again, but eventually you are just going to create weird footprints.
Do Reciprocal Links Build Brands?
On that same thread a person who signed their name as being associated with Links Manager stated the following:
Reciprocal linking should be conducted as a BRANDING function.. never as an SEO function.
But you don't build a brand by trading links. You build a brand by promoting things you like and having people who like you promote you. It is much easier to do this if you allow others to fill in your holes where they are passionate.
I don't bother "networking" anymore, instead, I try to build relationships with people I find interesting, and who I think are doing interesting things. And I make it my mission to help them in any way I can to achieve their mission. I find this much more satisfying, much more honorable, and much more fun. And this is the cool thing about people....When you help them out in this way, they help you out. Not because it's a tit for tat deal, but because both parties are engaged in a mutually beneficial relationship that extends beyond the next favor.
Examples of Ways People Have Helped Me:
One person reformatted my ebook just because they liked it. Another friend recommended an editor that is currently editing it to make the grammar better. Another friend wrote my sales letter. Another friend helped me launch an ad network. Another friend offered to do multivariant testing. Another friend designed my site. Another friend gave me public speaking tips. Another friend became a business partner and sat next to me while I was giving a speech to department heads at a fortune 500 company. My most popular SEO tool (SEO for Firefox) was created by a friend who I knew before I got into the web.
Passion as a Proxy for Value:
If you are hanging around bottom hangers (reciprocal link trading hubs, for example) you are valuing your time at next to nothing and are surrounding yourself with bad ideas. Everything you see or do effects how you perceive the world and how you act. And how you act also determines what and who you attract into your life. If you are passionate then passionate people will enter your life.
You are only as good as the people you surround yourself with. You build a brand by creating friendships with honest people who are doing well, and try to help them do better. I talk to some friends like Andy Hagans, Caveman, and Werty all the time, and they always give me good ideas to help me improve my site and marketing.
When you are passionate about what you do you create value beyond your income. You accumulate friendships, assets, brand value, and market influence which are worth far more than most people realize.
I still trade links sometimes, or just link to friends knowing that they may link back, but most of my link swaps are only representative of friendships, and, to me, that seems the only way to make it worthwhile.
Each web page can be optimized for conversion or linkability, but few pages are well optimized for both. That is part of why search as a business model works so well. The signals of quality that search engines look for are typically associated with information, not pages that convert well, thus those who have overtly conversion oriented sites and pages have to buy advertising.
You can complain to top ranking sites and complain to Google about an informational site outranking you, but other than giving them a good laugh you stand little chance of getting much out of complaining about how the system is set up.
If you and a competitor both have the same optimized sales funnel, but have sites which do not have content that inspires linking then the odds are prett good a blog or newspaper article might outrank you.
Building Authority Without Hurting Your Conversion Potential:
A search engine is going to trust whoever has more signs of trust bolted on to their offering. If you have linkbait on your site it helps boost the overall authority of every page on your site.
When Linkbait Goes Astray:
Many SEOs fail at creating a site that converts well because we integrate our linkbait content (or other spurious information) directly into the sales funnel in a way that actually makes our sites less appealing and less conversion oriented.
You can still host linkbait on your site without actively driving the attention of your audience to it during the conversion process.
Use linkbait to get the links, but don't promote it heavily on your site unless it builds consumer trust and leads them toward conversion.
Each page should teach, convert, or be linkworthy. If you can do all that with one page that is awesome, but with most pages and most ideas you can't be optimally effective if you try to combine them all. For most businesses it helps to keep citation-worthy linkbait and the sales funnel separate.
SEO Question: Is a Yahoo! Directory registration worth it? How do I know what directories are worthwhile? What directories should I submit to? Do you have any good site submission tips?
SEO Answer: If you have a business, and are serious about SEO, I generally would recommend submitting your site to the Yahoo! Directory. There are a lot of criteria to consider.
Your Site Name:
If your site name is MyKeywords.com make sure that your site lists your company as My Keywords. Do not run the words together in your logo, in your page title or text, or in the title of your directory submission when submitting your site to important directories. By separating the words in your site name you get better anchor text because the search engine sees the separate words in your links. Descriptive links from trusted editorial sources can be seen as a sign of quality.
If your keywords do not look like they are part of your official branded site name do not get too aggressive with keyword stuffing unless you are willing to risk a Yahoo! Directory editor editing your business name and potentially giving you less than ideal anchor text.
When I buy quality links I am primarily buying them for either direct traffic or the effect they may have on my Google rankings. So the place to start analyzing category analysis is the search results.
Some sites will rank well based on being deceptive, creative, and spammy, but those rankings will quickly change over time, and those are not the ideal sites to pattern your link profile after. It is better to look at the top ranking related sites which you believe are credible sites that deserve the position.
For example, if you are a retailer of a product, but most of the higher quality top ranked sites in your category are manufacturers, it might make sense to dress up your site and write your directory listing description to make it look more like you are a manufacturer which also sells goods directly rather than just a retailer, that way you can submit your site to a category that lists you alongside.
The co-citation you are buying when you chose a category is a large part of the value of a directory listing.
Write your site description to help reinforce your category selection. Bias it toward making your site sound relevant for the category you want to be listed in. For example, if you want to be listed as a manufacturer and are submitting to a manufacturing category make sure your description says something like manufacturer of ...
Don't put too much hype in your site description. Look at other sites listed in your category to see how they are listed. The main goal of the description is to sell the category placement, and do differentiate your site from other sites listed in your category.
Directory Category Analysis:
There are a few main criteria when considering what directory category to submit your site to.
the odds of you being rejected
the co-citation value
the global link authority of that category (ie: PageRank)
the number of listings in your category
The odds of being rejected:
The odds of your site getting rejected from a paid directory for submitting to the wrong category are going to be quite low. For a free submissions or submissions to directories ran by editors, like DMOZ, getting the category selection correct is far more important than with a paid directory.
For a paid directory you probably want to submit to the best category which is reasonably relevant to your site. If they are too liberal with category placement the directory is probably of low quality and not trusted much, but even with high quality directories usually you can fudge it a bit. And, worst come to worst, they will typically list you in the category you belong listed in even if they do not give you the placement you desire most.
The co-citation you are buying is a large part of the value you are buying when you buy a directory listing. Consider the types of sites you want to be grouped with from the above SERP analysis section.
Yahoo! paginates the directory category listings pages by popularity, so if there are over 20 listings in your category and your site is new, you may want to spend the $50 to $300 a month it costs to sponsor your category, at least until your site's popularity increases and you are one of the top 20 results in your category.
Category link authority:
Some areas of a directory are over-represented within the overall directory structure, or may be well referenced by external resources. For example, Yahoo! lists the blogs category rather high in their overall category structure. Want another example of a directory category getting a bit of overexposure?
Number of Links in Your Category:
If your category has less than 20 links then it is clear you will be listed next to the other listings. If your site is new and your category has more than 20 links then you may need to buy a category sponsorship to be featured at the top of the category to get the desirable co-citation.
Two other things to look at with the number of links in your category:
If you have a top sponsorship position in your category, or if you are bootstrapping it, and your brand is not that strong yet it may be cheaper to rank your category page than to rank your site off the start.
If your category has few links, or the other listings are not too relevant to your business, do not expect the Yahoo! Directory editors to want to list your site there.
Submitting to Other Directories?
I still think this post from April about web directories and SEO is a good primer for considering the quality of various directories, and how search engines may evaluate them.
A couple things I would add to that post:
Aged sites and/or sites with clean link profiles which are well trusted in Google are given a bit more leniency on what links may count and how many bad links they can get away with. If you have an aged trusted site you may want to dig a bit deeper for links, but for newer or untrusted sites you are best off just getting links from some of the higher quality directories.
If you are applying to become an editor at DMOZ, or other volunteer ran directories, make sure you start with a small category and sell topical passion more than you sell your commercial interests in the topic.
If you submit to a directory which allows multiple deep links with your listing, like Business.com, make sure you consider what pages will earn the most. For example, I have a 600+ page site where about 20% of the earnings come from one page. Getting your top earning pages a few more links can significantly increase their earning potential, but also note that if your deep idea is an uncompetitive niche there might be other links that you can get that will not leave such an obvious roadmap for competitors.
If your brand or core keywords could commonly be misspelled, like Client Side SEM vs Clientside SEM, you may want to submit your site to a couple average to lower quality directories with misspelled anchor text.
We are holding a contest offering a free ticket to attend Elite Retreat. To enter for a chance to win free registration to the Elite Retreat, those eligible can reply via email to email@example.com with their contact information (name, email address, phone number, and mailing address), and their answer to the following question:
"Why should a legitimate business need to worry about SEO?"
Please note that if you win you still have to pay for your airfare and hotel.
Editorial links are...well, editorial links. Rand recently posted about how all the major search engines were in agreement that they would count links as votes from blog reviews bought through sites like ReviewMe:
Tim [Converse] answered first and said that Yahoo! wouldn't try to pick one post out of twenty or fifty on every blog that might be running advertorials or paid reviews just to stop link value from that particular post. If the engine looked at the site and saw that in general, the outgoing links were of high quality, there would be no discount of link value for paid blog material. Adam from Google agreed, but said little in particular. Vivek from Ask was quick to note that if the link were off-topic, Ask would be likely not to give that link much weight, but I pointed out that most advertisers would buy links from highly relevant blogs, not just for the search engine value, but because they wanted the qualified, relevant traffic from click-throughs as well as branding. Eytan from MSN agreed but didn't expand and when Tim Converse from Yahoo! jumped back in to say that it really wasn't worth an engine's time to going picking out paid links with that granularity, all the other panelists were vigorously head-nodding and verbally agreeing.
And when you think about it, some of the major search engines run automated ad networks and teach publishers to blend ads into the content. Is a blended ad more valuable to readers than an honest editorial review? Doubtful. And even Google tells you to submit your site to the Yahoo! Directory. Is a Yahoo! Directory editor going to do as much of an in depth review of a site as a blogger writing a whole page about it? Doubtful.
A blog which offers honest reviews isn't selling its authority / linkability / credibility any more than a blog which blends ads does. And if the editorial reviews are honest, I think they can be viewed as interactive ads...a type of advertising which adds value to the ads in more ways than you can count (conversation, buzz, branding, and feedback off the top of my head). And, to me, having one ad every few dozen posts looks much nicer than having ads front and center above the content on every page does.
And the review system is self correcting as well. If bloggers make bogus reviews they sell their credibility wholesale, and will lose readers and get flamed in their comments. If they make honest reviews then that is just another source of unique content.
SEO Question: I rank #3 in Google for one of my core keywords and yet I am nowhere in it for Yahoo!. Why?
SEO Answer: Just because Google is viewed as the hardest search engine to manipulate, that does not mean that if you rank there you will also rank elsewhere. Each search engine has their own relevancy algorithm which determines how results are ordered. Over time those relevancy algorithms for each engine change, and they are never going to be the exact same at different engines.
I looked at the query and site in question, and in this instance, there was lots of link spam ranking competing sites high on Yahoo!. Those sites had 3 to 10 times as many links, and apparently Yahoo! likes garbage links a bit more than Google does, at least in this instance, at least right now.
Since many of those spammy sites were dominating Yahoo!, that meant that their rankings suppressed many garbage sites. Abhilash recently made a great post on this topic. Outside of having a ton of link equity or a killer brand, ranking across all the major search engines for certain keywords (especially in competitive areas) might be mutually exclusive.
Google's main point of profit at the moment is ad sales, which is both highly inefficient and a fraction of what they could do.
Google leveraged search as a wedge against which they can sell targeted ads. Right now they are leveraging those ads to try to become a big online payment processor, by including Google Checkout buttons and $10 off coupons in the ads.
They think they can make payment processing faster and more efficient. Ads which have less slippage have greater value. But I seriously doubt that Google would want to stop at just making their ad network more efficient. Why would they?
Google has already launched a coupon program to tie together online and offline marketing, but what if they also attacked the online and offline divide via payment processing? The reason they started online is because that is where they already have leverage. Google talked about not competing with Paypal, but they offered a free month of service to try out Google Checkout for the holidays, and have already extended that holiday promotion another year.
After they get enough lock-in, don't be surprised if they create a way to track offline transactions.
Most people in the US (and probably around the world) are in debt. Imagine if Google offered a coupon card or credit card. How many people would be willing to use a Google credit card if they offered the lowest interest rates or had other ways they could add value?
How Could Google Add Value?
After a period of charging an initial low interest rate (say 0%) Google could add value by providing health related precautions, related product recommendations, price comparisons, and reviews.
When Google created their Co-op they got many health authorities to participate. What if at the consumer level I could also input data, or I could sign into it when I signed my medical paperwork?
Related Product Recommendations:
Some of Amazon.com's recommendations are spot on. Imagine if Amazon had all their current customer purchase information, recent customer transactions, and were able to add your search history and add media consumption history to that.
Your purchase history, media consumption history, and search history paint a vivid personality profile which must be easy to target ads and product recommendations to.
pulls reviews from other sites for vertical search sites like Google local and Google movies, and
could probably just gather reviews directly if they wanted to.
If Google gets enough vendors to lock in they will also have the most complete database of where to find things, which will only grow with time due to network effects.
RFID & Inventory Management:
In the video Epic 2014 they sell the case of a Google Amazon tie up, but I think Google will prevent themselves from carrying physical goods (as noted in August 2009: How Google beat Amazon and Ebay to the Semantic Web.), because they do not need to have them to influence the markets, and actually having physical goods may limit their ability to collect market data.
Before locking in consumers with all those features they will try to get many merchants to commit as well. Imagine if Google offered virtually free RFID tracking and inventory management software which helped automate restocking. And, imagine how well they could recommend competing suppliers and offer ads which looked like discounts.
A True Market Maker:
Google could influence what information we are able to find, what ads we see, what publishers are paid for creating content, and grab a cut from any and every point in the supply chain, charging whatever rates they felt comfortable charging. If they could gain that much information they could even use it to trade commodities and derivatives. Who better to trade commodities than the business which is able to turn so many things into commodities?
SEO Question: I recently set up a local search site, and was wondering if it made sense to use SEO to market it?
Answer: There are many types of ideas where using SEO to market them will not make much sense. I think you probably have one of them. If you have a platform website which aggregates information and displays it in a way that adds enough value that other search engines would want to index your results then you should look into duplicate content and other related issues, to ensure you are unique enough on a per page level, but generally if you are marketing a platform which has limited content I think you are better off looking into viral marketing instead of SEO.
Ideas spread through communities. Make it easy for a certain group of people or community to share your idea / product / service / offering / etc. If you can connect with their sense of identity that is great. For example, for a local product try to hit up the local media or other sources of power.
Read and track sites and communities you want exposure from. Become part of the conversation there. See what types of ideas make the Digg home page. See what type of search sites librarians are talking about right now.
If you can talk about search in a way that is interesting to novice SEOs and yet still provide relevant search results at the same time many people will want to read what you have to say. Quintura recently got mentioned by many SEOs because they offer a search service that acts as an interesting SEO tool.
All those links from the last paragraph were announcements in the last week! If you are doing things that make people identify with you and feature you as content you don't have to buy too many ads. Google is the perfect case study for how to market a search engine.
Why SEO could potentially be useful to you:
Search is a link rich topic. Many librarians and other trusted sources freely link to search sites. If you can add enough value to make other engines want to index your pages, and can get enough high quality links, then your site should be able to get a bunch of exposure quickly. Just look at how many Technorati tag pages rank well in Google and other search engines.
You need people to care and share to build a platform:
But generally, people participate on platforms because there is some value they can get from there that they can't find elsewhere. That, and giving people a reason to talk about it, are the best ways to optimize your rankings in other engines.
Not sure if this is something new or not, but I just saw a CNN Money article which linked at a Wikipedia article about Joe Kraus as background on him. Given how much the search engines already trust the Wikipedia imagine how much exposure it will be getting if the mainstream media regularly cite it and deep link at their biographies!
Just the fact that the mainstream media would link at articles that anyone can edit shows a big shift in power over the last couple years.
I got a call about a week ago from a person representing talent, who was just about to have their record released, and had just lost a major sponsor due to the limited number of matching pages when someone searched Google for that person's name. With how easy it is to manipulate the number of results shown for a query, it is surprising that huge corporations would put any weight on it. That is like a VC going through Alexa and asking to invest in my site based on my Alexa ranking. Sorta absurd, isn't it?
The only marketing idea I found crazier was that the marketer wanted me to give them that information for free. I love berating marketers and people dealing with economics who try to squeeze a free consultation out of me without paying. I find their shortsightedness / greed amusing. What kind of value do they add to their clients? How much do they value their own time at? It will be funny if they get their website banned because they use blog comment spamming or some other dubious technique when there are so many cheap, fast, easy, and brand friendly ways to manipulate that data point.
Do you think search cues will eventually become a strong market value indicator? Could SEOs get in trouble for manipulating financial markets based on manipulating search engines?
SEO Question: We are considering shifting our site from offering free content to a paid only model which just offers a brief introduction into each area. How long will it take for Google and other engines to rank our site worse for changing our business model?
SEO Answer: Many sites flip from legitimate quality content sites to lead generation forms and continue to rank well for years. How long your site will survive on its current authority largely depends on
how authoritative your site and brand are,
how competitive your marketplace is, and
what business strategies competitors will use.
Just by having free content accessible early in the development of a market that can be enough to establish an insurmountable lead in a market. Look at sites like SeoToday ranking in Google in spite of not being updated in a year. But the only way that site will still outrank me a year for now is if I get banned for spamming, destroy my brand, or neglect this site. Over time markets shift, and the search results will have to shift with them if they want to be seen as credible.
If your free content gets many links then you are cutting off significant forward authority by making your site much harder to link at. Put another way, compare how often you see the Wikipedia referenced in a blog post or in the search results compared to encyclopedia Britannica or other encyclopedias that only want to give away a snippet here or there. Wikipedia beat out Britannica by allowing users to become editors and evangelists, while selling the concept of free and open.
Any long tail searches that match your current page content will no longer send traffic to your site when that page content no longer exists. You should notice that drop in traffic probably within about a month of converting your site to paid only model, but your rankings for short tail keywords may stick much longer because those are more reliant on link equity. Link equity typically dies off slowly and it will still take competitors some finite amount of time to replicate your link reputation.
Instead of moving to an entirely paid model I bet you could do better by slicing and dicing up your current content, which could help your business the following ways:
allow you to have pages and content relevant for many targeted search queries
make it less convenient to work through all of your online content (and thus make your packaged for sale information offerings seem more useful, appealing, and valuable)
the different format and slight differentiation than the content you are selling will prevent customers from feeling angry for seeing the same stuff free and paid
I don't just advocate those ideas, that is sorta what I do with this site. Who wants to read thousands of blog posts if many of them are going to be outdated? Why not just buy an up to date guide instead? Of course this model works best if you are selling an information product that covers a broad range of ideas or a field that is rapidly changing.
People are not paying for the value of your product. They are paying for their perception of value. A large amount of that perception is based on removing uncertainty by building trust with free content. Put another way, I think the value of knowing someone found and is reading an article of mine based on a recommendation is probably worth at least twenty times as much as them clicking one of my ads. If my ads cost 25 cents each then each recommended article read might be worth something like $5.00.
Another option might be to leave last year's content available online, and use it to sell current information. When search seems to be picking up more and more momentum and even MIT is giving away free course material I would be hesitant to go to a paid only model. Especially if you consider that sites with lots of content are going to be easy to identify with for many people (and thus be well read and well cited and well ranked in the search results) and what Clay Shirky wrote in Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content:
The act of buying anything, even if the price is very small, creates what Nick Szabo calls mental transaction costs, the energy required to decide whether something is worth buying or not, regardless of price. ... The fact that digital content can be distributed for no additional cost does not explain the huge number of creative people who make their work available for free. After all, they are still investing their time without being paid back. Why?
The answer is simple: creators are not publishers, and putting the power to publish directly into their hands does not make them publishers. It makes them artists with printing presses. This matters because creative people crave attention in a way publishers do not.
Each additional user of the web is a potential link source and a potential competitor. As more artists and other passionate people enter your market some of them will compete with you, and few of them will be talking about you if you make it hard to interact with you (ie: require payment prior to them receiving any value).
By sharing content it makes it easier to learn how people may perceive your ideas prior to packaging and marketing them. In a sense, it can give you a target trusted market willing to help you improve your ideas and then help you market them.
All those links from the last paragraph were announcements in the last week! If you are doing things that make people identify with you and feature you as content you don't have to buy too many ads.
Many people who relied on one page salesletters were only successful with them because there was so little content competing for attention. In a world where more people and content are coming online each day, a paid only content business model is a quick track to irrelevancy.
One of the biggest reasons my first site failed was because I wrote too much content on it, making it more of an AdSense / spamsense model than a consulting website. But as far as conversions go, a site like Clientside SEM will blow my old Search Marketing website out of the water every time. When selling certain services or products filtering and qualifying leads are just as important as generating leads. What good are a million leads if you can only work on one or two a month? But you usually have to build up quite a bit of brand equity to be lucky enough to be able to be so selective with clients.
Many businesses still end up running far less efficiently than they can because they have websites that do not answer common questions. How is your product different than the competition? How much is shipping? How long will it take for me to get my product? Why should I trust you with my credit card details? Each of these pieces of uncertainty act as holes which tax your business:
by causing people to trust and value your products and services less
by causing fewer people to respond to your offers
by requiring more one on one customer interaction when smart site architecture and clear messaging would have worked
Based on this site you probably wouldn't expect me to be a fan of auto-responders and email marketing, but anything that can be fairly automated and helps you drive the sales funnel is a plus. I haven't done much with those on this site yet (other than sending ebook updates), but for many sites having a quick and easy automated way to interact and build trust more than pays for itself by saving time and allowing you to charge a greater premium for your products and services.
One of the advantages to being small and having few customers is that you can pay so much attention to each one, be so close to each one, and use that interaction to streamline your sales stream. The lack of leads can be viewed as a reason to be nervous, but that isn't going to help you as much as if you are receptive to leads and keep using the feedback to convert better each time.
I used to read a ton of books, but the rate which I read has went way down because I am constantly drowning in a sea of emails, customer inquiries, and other opportunities. If you are uncertain what to do there are always more things that we can be learning, and if you are close to customers use that to make your business as efficient as possible so you can be efficient and scale it out once you start getting more exposure.
Also, so long as you are profitable and know you are making changes to streamline your business you probably shouldn't worry if editing a page is going to hurt your SEO (unless you are doing things like changing your content management system or going to introduce big problems like duplicate content issues). Even if you take a short term hit in traffic the traffic will eventually come back if you are delivering more value to site visitors. When you get more efficient that gives you more time and/or capital to put into improving customer relationships / delivering greater value / marketing and brand building.
I just did a pretty big update to SEO Book, and am having a guy who goes by the nickname the grammar hammer edit my ebook at the moment. What parts of it could use some improvement? The feedback I have been getting covers a wide range, but usually it is biased toward being positive. In fact, so much so, that I was recently criticised for not having enough easily accessible negative feedback.
I was stoked when I was recently carbon copied on this email from one of my friends who recently purchased my ebook for a friend of his:
Merry Christmas ____,
SEO Book download link
My advice: don't read it on the clock while working for me :-)
Here are the steps:
1) Read the book, straight through
2) Make a web site, rank it, and make $100
3) Read the book again
Then talk to me, and we make a site together. That's when you get rich. Do 1, 2 and 3 first though.
But it is much harder to get negative feedback outside of grammar criticisms (which hopefully the grammar hammer will fix and help prevent me from making going forward). Rarely do people who ask for refunds want to give any feedback. And while I have been trying to keep up with email, I still have to mix it up now and then to prevent getting burned out, and most of my email feedback has been positive.
If you have read the newest version of SEO Book what parts of it do you think could use some improvement? What parts could use some contraction or expansion?
Also many customers have asked me about shifting to a business model where I offered something like a monthly newsletter for a recurring subscription fee. Does that sound like a good or bad call?
Brian Clark helped me rewrite my salesletter. The new salesletter will be published on Thursday, and the old sales letter will be placed on a different URL so people can see a before and after of the sales letter. In the near future I will also interview him about copywriting, and he will use my salesletter as a before and after test case on his blog. His readers have been critiquing my current sales letter.
Other social media sites are not behind the curve in getting spammed to bits. I recently noticed spam software for mass submission of videos to video hosting sites, and I see del.icio.us and Technorati pages ranking everywhere, and when I look at Del.icio.us I run into tags like this
When you look in Google's search results for long tail queries in consumer finance or other profitable verticals you see many sites rank which are various flavors of forums, user accounts, xss exploits, and other social spam. In spite of Yahoo! being the most visited website compare Google's recent stock performance to Yahoo!'s. Given that content as a business model does not scale well, traditional monopoly based content providers are going to have to work hard to get users to create / add value to / organize their content. As they do, many of these types of sites will make it easier and easier to leverage them directly (easy to rank content host) and indirectly (indirect traffic and direct link authority) to spam Google.
The brief history of SEO (well as best I know it) sorta goes something like
matching file names
page titles and meta tags
full page analysis
manual and algorithmic link filtering
duplicate content detection and semantic analysis
and now we are up to site related trust...which is getting spammed to bits and will only get worse
Anything that has been greatly trusted has been abused. The difference between the current abuse and past abuse is that in the past it was typically smaller individuals screwing with Google. Now Google has become a large enough force that they are actually undermining many of the business models of the providers of the content they are relying on.
Going forward, especially as Google, small content providers, unlimited choice, and easier access to the web marginalize the business models of many of the sites Google currently trust those sites are going to rely on users to help foot the bill. Google will give some content providers a backdoor deal, but most will have to look to user interaction to add value. That user interaction will be spamville. Thus I think rather than just trusting core domain levels I think Google is going to have to reduce their weighting on domain trust and place more on how well the individual page is integrated into the site and integrated into the web as a whole.
If everything Google trusts gets abused (it eventually does) and they are currently trusting raw domain related trust too much (they are) it shouldn't be surprising if their next move is to start getting even more selective with what they are willing to index or rank, and what links they will place weight on.
If youâ€™re getting a link from a page that no other site links to (beyond that site), what is the true trust of that page?
However, if you get a link from a subpage, that has lots of links to it, and your link is on that page, thereâ€™s outside trust flowing to that page.
If youâ€™re getting links from pages that only has internal links to it, I doubt thereâ€™s much value in it.
Jim's tool has been pretty popular, so if you have trouble accessing it don't forget that you can do similar with SEO for Firefox. Jut search Yahoo! for site:seobook.com -adsfasdtfgs, where adsfasdtfgs is some random gibberish text. That will show you how well a page is integrated into the web on many levels...page level .edu links, external inbound links to that page, etc. etc. etc. You can also go the the Yahoo! Search settings page and return 100 results per search.
SEO Question: I have traded hundreds (maybe thousands) of links. I am ranking great on MSN, but am nowhere on Google. What gives?
SEO Answer: Your site is associated with sites of similar link profiles. If most of your inbound links and/or outbound links are of low quality that may preclude your ability to rank. As your reinforce the identity of your site as being associated with low quality sites you are digging a bigger and bigger hole.
Your site may stay in the search index but just have it's rankings suppressed for your targeted keywords. The reasons search engines may want to leave sites in the index that are using ineffective search spamming methods are:
maybe they will keep focusing on the outdated methods
anything that blurs the line to what is effective outside of what Google really wants you to do is a plus for their relevancy
Sometimes you will see an older site that heavily relied upon reciprocal linking ranking well and think that you can just duplicate their link profiles, but typically it is not that easy. Largely because:
when search was less sophisticated and there was less content on the web it was much easier to get quality links
they probably have a few decent quality links you will not be able to get
they likely built their link profiles over time, during a time when search was less sophisticated
their domain might be trusted more (and thus given higher authority and more leniency for algorithmic infractions) because of its age
Recently I pulled the reciprocal links page off a friend's domain and got them about a half dozen average to decent quality links. Their site went from nowhere in Google's search results to the top 30 for their core term in a month. And I still haven't even built any linkage from sites I would consider core trusted seed sites or sites that are extreme topical authorities (in other words, in a few months they are probably going to be doing far better).
Algorithms will continue to advance, and what happened at one point in time, in one engine, with one site, is probably not enough to call it a representative sample. But if you think of search from the eyes of a search engineer, how hard could it be to detect mass reciprocal linking? What website content quality is typically associated with sites sharing that footprint?
Consider the math as well. Time is worth money. And my friend was paying $500 a month for a large scale reciprocal linking campaign. All they needed to do was stop doing that and get about a dozen reasonable links and they were suddenly a market player.
I often get asked about optimizing reciprocal linking methods, but unless they are associated with real social relationships that pull you into your topical clique I generally think they are not worth the effort and have a poor risk to reward ratio, at least if you are intent on building a long-term brand, and want to rank well in Google.
SEO Question: I was thinking about buying Google AdWords and AdSense ads or placing AdSense on my site. Will doing any of these increase my link count, Google rankings, or rankings in other search engines?
Answer: PPC ads go through redirects, so they do not count toward your link popularity, but there are other ways to tie together PPC ads and organic search placement. Search engines claim there is no direct linkage between buying ads and ranking, but they only talk in ideals because it helps reinforce their worldview and help them make more money.
Buying AdWords Ads
What They Won't Tell You:
Highly commercial keywords may have the associated editorial results go through more relevancy filters and/or be editorially reviewed for relevancy more frequently. Also, because they want people to click on the AdWords ads there is a heavy informational bias on the oranic search results.
I know some people who have large ad spends that get notifications of new ad system changes ahead of time, and others who get to give direct feedback to allow them to participate in cleaning up search results and minimizing unfair competing actions in the ad systems. So that is one type of cross-over / feedback that exists, but I think that tends to be more rare, and the more important cross over / feedback that exists is an indirect one.
Just by Being Real
You can't really explain why and how everyone does what they do. Some people who find your product and enjoy it enough to leave glowing testimonials will even tell you that they don't know how they found it.
In the same way that targeted ads can lead to purchases, they can also lead to an increase in mindshare, brand, reach, usage data, and linkage data. Just by being real and being seen you are going to pick up quality signals. If you try to factor all of those into your ad buys most markets are still under-priced.
Cross Over Due to Buying AdWords:
A well thought out pay per click campaign can feed into your SEO campaign more ways than I can count. Here are a few examples.
Integrating Offline & Online:
In a TV commercial Pontiac told people to search Google, and got a ton of press.
Many companies also have strong ties between the legal and marketing departments. If buying or selling an ad gets you sued and gets you in the news the value of the news coverage can far exceed the cost of the ads and legal fees.
Small Controversial Ads:
When I was newer to the field one friend called me the original link spammer. He meant it as a compliment, and I still take it as one. In much the same way I was an aggressive link builder, I was also quite aggressive at ad buying.
I caused controversy by buying names of other people in the industry as AdWords ads. I was prettymuch a total unknown when I did that, but some of the top names in the industry elevated my status by placing my name in heated discussion about what was fair and reasonable or not.
You can always consider placing controversial / risky ideas or ads against your brand or competing brands as a way to generate discussion (but of course consider legal ahead of time).
Drafting Off New Words & Industry News:
When the nigritude ultramarine SEO contest started I bid on AdWords. Some people discussing the contest mentioned that I bid on that word. If an event bubbles up to gain mainstream coverage and you make it easy to identify your name as being associated with it then you might pick up some press coverage.
Industry buzz words that are discussed often have significant mindshare, get searched for frequently, and larger / bureaucratic competitors are going to struggle to be as plugged into the market as you are or react as quickly to the changing language.
Snagging a Market Position Early:
When a friend recommended I read the TrustRank research paper in February of last year I knew it was going to become an important idea (especially because that same friend is brilliant, helped me more ways and times than I can count, and was the guy who came up with the idea of naming the Google Dances).
I read it and posted a TrustRank synopsis. In addition to trying to build a bit of linkage for that idea I also ensured that I bought that keyword on AdWords. Today I rank #1 in Google for TrustRank, and I still think I am the only person buying that keyword, which I find fascinating given how many people use that word and how saturated this market is.
Buying AdSense Ads
Buying Ads Creates Content:
If your ads are seen on forums people may ask about your product or brands. I know I have seen a number of threads on SEO forums that were started with something like I saw this SEO Book ad and I was wondering what everyone thought of it. Some people who start talking about you might not even click your ads.
Each month my brand gets millions and millions of ad impressions at an exceptionally reasonable price, especially when you factor in the indirect values.
Appealing to an Important Individual:
I have seen many people advertise on AdSense targeting one site at a time, placing the webmaster's name in the ad copy. It may seem a bit curt for some, but it is probably more likely to get the attention of and a response from a person than if you request a link from them.
Ads are another type / means of communication.
Appealing to a Group of People:
I get a ton of email relating to blogs and blogging. And in Gmail I keep seeing Pew Internet ads over and over and over again. Their ads range from Portrait of a Blogger to Who are Bloggers?
Going forward they will have added mindshare, link equity, and a report branded with that group of people. When people report on blogging or do research about blogging in the future the Pew report is likely to be referenced many times.
Selling AdSense Ads
Don't Sell Yourself Short:
Given the self reinforcing nature of links (see Filthy Linking Rich) anything that undermines your authority will cause you to get less free exposure going forward. So you really have to be careful with monetization. If you do it for maximal clickthough rate that will end up costing you a lot of trust and link equity.
Don't Monetize Too Early:
Given the lack of monetization ability of a new site with few visitors and the importance of repeat visits in building trust and mindshare you don't want to monetize a new site too aggressively unless it is an ecommerce type site. It is hard to build authority if people view your site as just enough content to wrap around the AdSense.
Spam, Footprints, & Smart Pricing:
In the past search engines may have discounted pages that had poison words on them. Search is all about math / communication / patterns.
Graywolf recently noted that landing page slippage may be an input into landing page and site quality scores for AdWords ad buyers. Google could also use AdSense account earnings or AdSense CTR data to flag sites for editorial reviews, organic search demotion, ad payout reduction, or smart pricing.
I recently made another post about the importance of brand building and niche markets, and Solomon Rothman commented that one way to go niche is to go stylized / have a unique delivery approach, which is totally valid. Another way to dominate niches is market timing. If you bet early on markets you are passionate about the odds are pretty good that your investment will pay off big. If you were not the first to market in a vertical you can still leverage the brand strength of other companies and get in early when they create new channels. Many authorities are adding community features to their sites each day. The guide I wrote for Work.com is currently their most popular guide, which is probably going to provide some solid exposure for me for the $0 and hour or two it took to write. And them emailing their top guide writers is also smart on them, because it means that marketers who were able to get significant exposure once may end up mentioning them again to try to fuel their own ego or protect their position on the leader board, and marketing the Work.com site again. If you have a site with consumer generated content offering prizes, logos, and arbitrary status levels provides a way for the most active members to identify with / feel important about / provide free marketing to your community.
Rand mentioned that there are multiple types of linkbait, those that are known as controversial and those which are informational or comprehensive. I view them both as being in the same category though...evoking emotions and thus links. :)
I just updated my ebook again. I added quite a bit of information about designing / creating / formatting / packaging / launching / and marketing link bait. While it will surely change in future versions, here is some tips from the current version, similar to my recent WMW Pubcon talk on viral marketing.
The idea of link baiting is to create a piece of content which is centered on a set demand from a specific audience. Who do you want to relate to? Why would they care? What would make them likely to spread your idea?
For example, Salary.com sponsored research stating that work at home moms did $134,121 worth of work each year. Because it was packaged as research and a story people would want to spread it spread far and wide.
Some common link baiting techniques
Talk about a specific community.
Give people a way to feel important about themselves, someone they care about, or something they feel should be important.
Take recent events and scale them out to others in your community.
Be provocative or controversial.
Be a contrarian.
Controlling Your Message
Launch your story on a main channel such that you can change your messaging or update your offering based on feedback. If they wrong group runs with your story you may not want to stop them. ï
If you do not have a main channel which you can launch your idea on try to launch your idea by giving a popular channel such as TechCrunch the exclusive on your story.
If possible, build trust and attention in the marketplace well ahead of when you need to leverage it.
Consider potential blowback ahead of time. Depending on the importance of your message and brand strategy you may want to make your message easy to misinterpret OR you may want to make your message clear.
Create common link points. Do not throw away your link equity. For example, here are a couple ways people throw away link equity they earned:
Some book authors do not create an official page about their book on their site, and thus just give away the link equity and top ranking to an online bookstore.
Many people use Surveymonkey or some other 3rd party voting service when they create contests and polls. If you can include the voting script on your site you keep that link authority associated with your site even after the poll closes and people no longer talk about it.
Be specific with your headlines. Salary.com stating that work at home moms are worth $134,121 a year is probably going to spread further than if they said $200,000.
Write your headlines with the intent of spreading them. Focus more on writing something that evokes emotional responses and spread rather than writing for keywords and SEO.
Given that many social news sites have a voting mechanism that does not even require people to read the article to vote, the title may be far more important than the actual content of your link bait.
Copy Blogger offers great free headline writing tips.
Me Me Me: the Selfish Web
People like to view themselves as being important.
Many bloggers search for links to their blogs on Technorati or Google Blog Search multiple times each day (I typically do).
Calling out specific people, especially with humor, is an easy way to build linkage data.
Digg frequently has homepage stories about Digg or Digg users.
People are more likely to believe and spread messages which reinforce their world view.
Community involvement is important to help others identify with and feel ownership in your link bait.
When Rand Fishken launched his Search Engine Ranking Factors he collected feedback from about a dozen prominent members in the SEO community. Many of those people are active community members who helped spread the news at launch time.
Asking people for feedback can help others feel ownership in your idea, and is a way to pitch them on your idea without looking sleazy pitching it.
Seeding Your Idea
Ask for feedback from people who may be interested in helping you improve your idea or helping you market it.
Leverage friends and contacts via instant message and email.
Pitch relevant bloggers and media sources. It is preferable to build rapport prior to pitching.
Build accounts on social news sites.
Some social news sites allow you to place voting buttons on your site. Do so on your most important ideas.
Consider the best times and locations to launch your idea.
Have a friend or yourself submit your best ideas to the most authoritative and relevant social news sites.
Ensures your story has a title that is easy to vote for.
Ensures your story is submitted at an appropriate time.
If you do not do it soon after mentioning a story on your own site someone else may submit for you, using a dumb title or dumb post content.
Launching a Static Site
Even if your site is fairly static in nature you can still create a buzz when you launch it.
Call in favors from people you helped in the past.
ncorporate community ideas into your idea.
Spread out your ideas. For example, if you are forming a new partnership you can triple dip on publicity:
Interview partners on another channel.
Announce the launch.
Add linkbait to the site at a later point in time.
Formatting Link Bait
Make it easy to identify and connect with. Think about human emotions and tap the sense of empathy.
You may want to make your idea look polarized such that it especially appeals to one group and/or especially offends another. If other people are fighting over guessing your intentions you will get quality links.
Make your link bait look comprehensive.
Perception is more important than reality.
Most writing is quite wasteful in nature, because you have to trim off much of what you create.
By creating ordered lists of factoids an incomplete story can look well researched, even if it is not. For example, if you make a list of 101 ways to do x people may give a few ideas and some feedback, but nobody is going to sit and list 383 ways to do x.
Cite research, further reading, and link out to related resources from within your content. It makes your story look well researched and associates your work with other trusted names or brands in your field. You may even want to cite a few people that you want links from.
Dress up your link bait using quality design and / or relevant images from sites like Istockphoto.
Monetizing Link Bait
Make your link bait EASY to link at.
Don't over-monetize it right out of the gate. Make it look like research which is easy to cite rather than a piece of commercial information.
In Fame vs Fortune: Micropayments and Free Content Clay Shirky stressed the importance of gaining authority to gain scale and distribution if you want to make money online.
Link bait rarely makes much money or directly pays for itself from the direct traffic. However, it has amazing indirect value.
People who pay attention to the active portions of the web are far more likely to be web publishers than those who do not.
Even if people do not link to your link bait idea right away you still gain mindshare and brand recognition amongst a group of people who have significant authority.
Many search engines, such as Google, use authority centric relevancy algorithms. Editorial links are seen as votes or signs of trust.
In Google, getting a link to any part of your site will help make all pages on your site more authoritative.
Two weeks after launching a linkbait my Google traffic and site earnings more than doubled on a site that was getting thousands of visitors and making over $100 a day from AdSense before the viral marketing campaign.
Social news sites and social bookmarking sites have recently popular lists that many people read.
Meme trackers track what stories are quickly spreading through the blogosphere.
Exposure on either of these can cause additional exposure and more linkage data. Many bloggers and some mainstream media outlets (like the MSNBC Clicked Blog) use these social news sites to find stories or sources.
Don't Compete With Yourself
Be careful what you name your link bait ideas. If your link bait is well executed and targets keywords important to other pages on your site the link bait will likely outrank your other pages in the search results.
Our SEO for Firefox page nearly outranks our homepage in Google for SEO.