Optimal Word Count & Web Page Copy Length

SEO Question: When writing content for our websites what is the optimal copy length? Is page length important for search engine optimization?

Answer: Every page and every site is unique. There is no universal correct or incorrect answer to how much content is right.

Overall Considerations:

Optimize For User Experience:

A page should not just be optimized for search. It should also be optimized for user experience. If you optimize just for search it could be to the detriment of your business.

One of my friends has most of their content on their home page. Because their homepage has most of the content and the most link equity it gets most of their traffic. They are afraid to move the content because they do not want to lose traffic, but if they moved the content they would probably maintain about the same amount of traffic, drastically improve their conversion rates, and do a better job of filtering the prospective clients.

Structure Your Ideas:

The content needs to be structured so that it is easy to consume. Use subheaders to make the content easy to consume. Also break pages into logical chunks that are easy to site or link at...don't write endless stream of mind random copy if you want people to read it.

Avoid creating low value near duplicate pages, as duplicate content filters are getting more aggressive.

Variation is Good:

Make sure there is variation amongst your pages so as not to set an unnatural pattern or give your writing arbitrary constraints. Some ideas take many words to express. Some take less. Real content sites do not have exactly 500 +/- 5 words on each page. Use as many words as necessary to express your ideas.

If you are trying to market a piece of content over-invest in ensuring it is of high quality. If you want your content to act as your marketing by being linkworthy make it appear comprehensive and well researched. If you are the first person with an idea make sure you do it well enough to spread your message far enough that you become synonymous with that idea.

Emphasize Your Style:

You also need to consider your personal style. Instapundit can write short snappy posts because Glenn Reynolds is a great writer who needs few words to convey his meaning, and tries to be first with the news. Some pages may have more credibility with less words on them. If a currency converter was given an obtuse name and had many keywords separated by commas in the footer it might make the tool look less credible and less trustworthy.

Omit Words:

I just started reading The Elements of Style, which states Omit needless words. In Don't Make Me Think Steve Krug shortened this down to Omit words.

Good writing does not add extra words for the sake of word count. Each word carries purpose and meaning. I can tell when I haven't read books in a while because I notice my writing gets looser.

General Search Indexing Trends:

Getting content indexed is becoming a major hurdle. If you have forums and other noisy parts to your site it would be a good idea to have them segregated on a subdomain away from your higher quality and more in depth editorial quality content.

There are three general trends going on that make me think longer copy is better than shorter

  • Since Google's relevancy algorithms are looking more for natural writing, the value of having small hyper-focused pages is not as good as it once was...good copy gets just as much traffic for long tail keywords you didn't intend on optimizing for.

  • Google is getting stingier with how they crawl and what they are willing to index. If they will only index 100 pages for x units of PageRank then having nearly 100% of a 100 page site indexed is far better than having 40 or 50% of a 200 page site indexed.
  • The line between pure PPC ad pages and content is blurring. With domainers increasing the uniqueness and content weight of their domains it is going to be harder for search engines to filter out their sites, and thus search engines are going to get even more stingy with what they will let in the index.

On a philosophical level it also makes sense that search engines want to index richer content. The web is a series of incomplete thoughts. The more search engines can make people write in depth high quality content that provides complete answers the more they improve the value of Google. Search engines will try to push people toward writing more well thought out essays rather than empty me too cut and paste posts.

Content Suggestions Based on Publishing Formats:

AdSense Site:

A page which has 500 words on it will overlap many more keyphrases than two different pages that have 300 words each. As long as you can put your AdSense ads in a prominent position that gets a decent clickthrough rate without sacrificing your linkability I would recommend going with 500 to 600 word articles.

If you write naturally and your site gains a decent amount of authority you will end up accidentally ranking for many great keyword phrases that never showed up on keyword tools.

Site Selling CPM Ads:

If you are selling CPM ads that may favor breaking longer articles into many shorter pages so each read article gets more page views. This is especially true if you have a strong brand, great mindshare, great link equity, and many direct readers, like Wired.com.

Lead Generation Sites:

Focus your content on conversion, perhaps even using brief pages with little content, but ensure your content is unique. Get what legitimate links you can and add linkbait to your site to build up the authority of your site.


Do whatever you need to in order to keep your social currency. Use your market influence to push other profitable business ventures (perhaps indirectly). Only mention a few commercial offers, or place ads in a non-intrusive manner if you are in a competitive vertical and do not enjoy a large self reinforcing market position.

Site Selling Products and Services:

If you sell a commodity add some value to the transaction (consumer feedback, free shipping, brand, etc.) to make your shopping experience a non commodity.

In your content actively guide the user to do the desired goal. Home pages and other high profile pages should be targeted toward navigating users to the desired actions. Even your interior pages which are well integrated into a commercial site should be focused on conversion, building credibility, and filtering bad leads.

Get what legitimate links you can and add linkbait to your site to build up the authority of your site. If possible add consumer feedback.

How to Be Different:

Benefits of Consumer Feedback:

As noted in this study [PDF] consumer feedback adds credibility and trust which help make the online shopping experience feel more like the offline experience. Consumers also add content which makes your content unique relative to similar content from other merchants selling the same products. We tend to use language in similar patterns. Many consumers also misspell words, which helps you target many longtail keyword phrases.

Be First or Be Different:

Sometimes the easiest way to be first is to put a different spin on an idea. If you are the first with an idea push spreading it until you have enough market leverage for your ideas to spread themselves. On your best ideas do not rely on the market spreading it, use email, instant message, advertising, and other other tool at your disposal. Push your ideas to spread quickly because it is much harder to get people to link at your news when it is a couple days old. Put few or no ads on the ideas you want to spread until AFTER they have spread.

Wordtracker Launches New Free Keyword Tool

Ken McGaffin just shot me an email alerting me to a free version of Wordtracker, which goes 100 terms deep, and shows daily search volume estimates based on the marketshare of Dogpile and Metacrawler.

Nice timing there Wordtracker!

Yahoo! Search Marketing More Broke Than Ever

When Yahoo! bought Overture they had the market default position as being THE KEYWORD TOOL. As a company that makes most of its profits from selling keywords, how dumb is is for them to let their keyword research tool die without warning? If they are upgrading their paid search platform, killing the current tools without warning is a dumb first step toward getting marketers to warm up to the exciting new system.

Stop double and triple mailing the direct mail pieces. Do a bit of market analysis on your market position and current resources. Fire the people who keep doing the dumb things. Your easiest points of improvement come from analyzing your market position and leveraging what you already have. When you start again from an established market position is is silly to kill off your old market position, especially if you are already behind.

I need to fix my keyword research tool, since the death of Overture killed my keyword tool. I am thinking about either switching it to being driven from Wordtracker or Keyword Discovery. More on that soon.

Easy Link Opportunities That Die

As time passes algorithms change and more is required to be remarkable, and easy link opportunities die off. In the past I was a big fan of donating for links, but eventually the typical page that you can donate and get a link from gets filled with junk co-citation that puts the page in a bad neighborhood. For example, Moodle has a donation page that says

Donators over US$50 can add their link to this page (it seems to bring good Google Juice!). Please remember to hit the "continue" button after paying to see the form where you can enter this linking information yourself.

It is no surprise that the page has a bunch of gambling links on it. When I donated in December of 2004 that link probably carried weight (as the page was yet to be spammed out and the link relevancy algorithms were not as advanced back then). No way a sophisticated search engine would still want to count that same link today though.

If you can get a PR6 or PR7 link for a one time $50 fee then eventually the market is going to drive its true value toward that price. And if all your authority rests on those links then your risk to reward ratio of owning a business with a foundation in sand is not good.

I also donated to Mozdev for a link back in 2004. Soon after I did it many people followed my path, spammed the page up with a ton of donations, and the price was increased to $1,000. Now if you donate there you can't even get a link.

I just saw on the 2007 Bloggies page that they no longer allow you to get links for donating prizes. Another link opportunity that was closed off.

Google's duplicate content filter improvements and changing crawling priorities were largely about keeping many undesirable link sources (like low quality directories that will sell anyone a link) out of their index.

Some link sources are closed off due to greedy people taking advantage of them (like people offering to donate prizes to Bloggies winners and never donating the prizes, or directory owners selling hollow PageRank without enforcing any editorial quality standards), some are closed off due to algorithmic improvements, and others are closed off because as time passes you have to do more to be remarkable.

Many of the best ranking SEO sites rank well because they have crappy submit your site to search engine buttons that were placed on many authoritative college pages long ago. You can't compete by hoping that naive webmasters or webmasters no longer maintaining their websites will change their pages.

You have to find where the current conversations are today and find ways to get people to want to talk about you today. Instead of trying the search engine submission button maybe people would be willing to link to SEO for Firefox. Instead of creating a better Yahoo! Directory or a better DMOZ the popular new directories are social bookmarking sites like Del.icio.us. Find out where people are going rather than where they have been.

If you are first to market, it is worth doing something well such that you create the market standard, and are hard to beat. If someone else already owns a market position you may need to come up with another angle to beat them. The good thing is that now more than ever there are more people actively sharing their thoughts online. If you watch ideas spread all day long (Techmeme, Digg, Del.icio.us, Technorati, etc. etc. etc.) then it shouldn't be that hard to create a few ideas that will spread. And if you understand how to create ideas that spread, it will be much harder for competitors to duplicate than a profile that is powered exclusively by donation links and other links that will be algorithmically discounted or links that just about anyone can get.

When you are new there is nothing wrong with chipping away at the edges to try to get a bit of a boost from it. But it is still important to learn how to spread ideas. If you understand how to create ideas that will spread and how to spread them, then every day the web is feeding into your future profits. If you are only picking at the market edges then you are fighting algorithmic improvements and the general nature of the web, which will get tougher and tougher every day.

Search Personalization Will Not Kill SEO

Many people are syndicating the story that search personalization will kill SEO. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each time search engines add variables to their ranking algorithms they create opportunity. Plus as the field gets muddier those who understand how communities interact with search will have more relative influence over the marketplace. Quality SEO is not based on using a rank checker for arbitrary terms and cranking out meaningless ranking reports. It is based on measuring traffic streams and conversions. If the search engines are sending you more leads or better converting leads then your SEO is working.

Customers worth having don't care about ranking reports. They care about conversions. Other than to create a straw man scenario for self promotional stories, why have rank checkers suddenly become important?

Buying Bloggers Wholesale

Google's algorithm has placed more weight on core domain authority, and Weblogs Inc has decided to kill off many of their lower end niche brands.

Google trusts bloggers a lot, but AdSense generally sucks as a monetization method. It turns out some upstart websites are buying up bloggers. In this video, Babble stated they are hiring 10 of top 50 parenting bloggers. If you hire a half dozen well known work at home mom bloggers part time for $1,000 per month you can leverage their knowledge, reach, mindshare, and link equity. If you can mesh them into a community feel without running into ego problems you become the topical expert for just about any topic in the world ... for $6,000 a month.

In much the same way that people are buying older trusted domains, don't be surprised to see 2007 as a year which many monetization and business experts partner with many naive amatures to create scalable businesses that displace the market position of many of the larger conglomerates like About.com, one vertical at a time.

As faking authority and leveraging older signs of trust get less and less profitable business owners will need to become the topical experts they were pretending to be. As the market for ad dollars, audience, and talent get more and more competitive people skills are going to be increasingly important.

Technorati and Google Blogsearch will tell you who is trusted. Go out and buy them while they are still cheap!

Targeted Emails Drive High Quality Link Building Campaigns

The difference between getting 5 links and 50 links for a story is often just a couple good mentions. With 5 links the story may be marginally profitable, and the same story could be wildly profitable with 50 links. Every day key bloggers are hunting for stories worth talking about. As long as you send them personalized email many of them will talk about your story if you create something worth talking about. And because blogging is so temporal it is important to push a story to spread it quickly (in other words, nobody wants to blog about a story that is 3 days old unless they have something unique to add).

Link exchange requests go nowhere, but if you offer something that people feel is of value they will link.

I get many link requests, many Digg requests, many requests for feedback, and many other announcement type requests. Many people also let me know how much money they are making. One of the biggest differences between top earners and those just getting by is a lack of shame ... a willingness to ask for favor after favor. Some of the top name SEOs / marketers / bloggers are labeled as such due to nepotistic marketing. You wouldn't know it by asking them, but if you are sorta in on some of the ideas, create some of the ideas, market some of the ideas, and see good ideas go nowhere while bad ideas spread you start to notice some of the patterns.

If you do not have much of a brand you can't be risk adverse if you are hoping to build a brand or exposure. Shame is for sissies. Targeted personalized emails are for profit.

On top of targeted emails there are many other ways you can push your message out there:

  • buy AdSense ads targeted to specific bloggers

  • buy ReviewMe ads on channels you want to be seen on (I have equity in ReviewMe, but have bought many ReviewMe reviews myself)
  • buy Feedvertise ads in feeds targeted to bloggers
  • buy targeted interstitial ads on AdBrite
  • participate in forums, social news sites, and other community sites
  • ask for feedback from industry experts and let others feel they have ownership in the idea or exclusive on the news

Think of how many CDs AOL has sent you. Most any business of scale used some amount of push marketing to gain it.

Google Custom Search Engines as Another Trust / Link / Citation Source

Recently Bambi Fransisco asked Googler Peter Norvig about using wikis in search, in response to Wikia's search threat. Peter Norvig stated

Feedback from users is important, and we will continue to use the sources of user feedback we have been using, and will experiment with more in the future. I think that Google Co-op Custom Search Engine may be the largest current collection of user-generated information for search.

With everyone and their dog learning copy writing, how to pander to audiences, and doing some sort of linkbait to get a vote here and there, search engines are going to have to look for other signs of trust. If they can gain access to offline content that is one potential source of editorial signal for quality, but another which may be equally appealing is passionate guides created by trusted online experts. It takes a lot more to be included in a trusted topic specific search engine than it does to create a single linkbait. And imagine if they looked for co-citation data in those guides. Not sure if it will scale, but if it does, Google furthers the importance of search while gaining a signal of quality that nobody else has access to, which would make it appealing to find a signal of quality there, if there is one, especially since few marketers are talking about it.

Self Serving Marketing Advice

Many people dole out information with deceptive intent, or to push their own agenda. Recently I created a contest to rank for Dave Pasternack, and so far the results have been quite revealing. Where you rank for generic terms does not matter much if you are looking for good SEO clients, but to say SEO is of limited value across the entire spectrum is dishonest. As NFFC said:

I think the root of the problem is the fact that SEO is very difficult to scale. By that I mean that SEO is a craft best practiced by a small highly motivated team, it doesn't lend itself to a production line approach. That stands equally for those SEO's working inhouse as it does for those consultants plying there wares. Now David isn't a complete idiot, to his credit did-it have plenty of years experience of having their clients bitched slapped all over the SERP's by kids in basements. He knows better than anyone that SEO doesn't "scale".
So I think the general reason that people are pissed off with David is that instead of him holding did-it's hands up and saying "we don't have the management skills to be able to offer SEO services to our customers", he instead tries to make out that SEO is not a good choice for his clients and that they need PPC. That implies a readiness to be economical with the truth and a lack of ability to be critical of your own companies short comings that, imho, doesn't bode well for those looking to do business with his company.

I realize that a large part of pushing a profitable company is market differentiation, but if you have to lie about the viability of a competing field to push your current business model that is shifty at best. And if you are using the media to spread your misinformation that is blatantly wrong, and you should be called out for it.

Since the contest has started Did It has done the following:

  • spoke of protecting Google's purity

  • begged for links by offering to donate money to the American Cancer Association
  • put up a t-shirt page on Cafepress that links to David's biography page
  • linked to David's profile from Kevin's blog
  • linked to David's profile page sitewide on Did It
  • created duplicate content

Lets run through those one at a time.

Protecting Google's purity: What makes this claim so entertaining is that David Pasternack wasn't ranking #1 for his own name. How a person calls SEO garbage without even ranking for their own name is beyond me. I rank in the top 10 or 20 for words like Aaron or Wall, and am the 5 results for Aaron Wall.

On top of that, PPC people believe you can buy any term you see fit. How can they believe in protecting Google's purity, especially if the consultants also push paid inclusion?

American Cancer Association: You have to throw the cancer card to rank for your own name? That is pretty sick. What do you do if you are asked to compete in a competitive marketplace? Talk down SEO? Oh yeah, I forgot...

T shirt and blog links: If you have been doing decent SEO, and SEO is a one time event, then why the need to come up with these techniques to get a few more links?

Sitewide Link: You are going to change your entire site structure based on a silly $1,000 contest? Sounds a bit reactive for a forward thinking marketing company, isn't it? Hopefully you give your clients more holistic and forward looking advice.

Duplicate Content: Creating a near identical second profile page is lame. And maybe an effective strategy if it were a few years ago, but not for today.

The terms that are worth more than any others, as a branded person who frequently speaks to the media, are your company name and your name. But to already have mainstream media exposure and STILL need to use all of those gimmicks to (hopefully) rank for your own name is pathetic. Ranking should be a given.

Notice how reactive Did It was to a silly $1,000 contest. Clearly SEO isn't a one time thing, or they did a bad job of SEO on their site.

New(ish) SEO Blogs

I have cut back on my reading quite a bit due to moving, getting a cool girlfriend, taking time to actually live, working on too many projects, and getting more email than I can handle, but there are a bunch of great SEO blogs out there that deserve more exposure. Convert Up - Brian Thibault is one of Andy Hagans friends...which automatically means he has to be good at business. A couple of his posts

DigitalGhost - just found commentful, also keeps us up to date on the changing face of copyright law and orphaned works.

Blue Hat SEO - Eli's blog is actually a year old...his one year anniversary post is refreshing and highlights many cool posts made by him and others, including how to make $100 a day, how to make $200 a day, and these two domaining posts.

Joe Whyte recently blogged about Newsvinne ranking factors.

Stoney G deGeyter's E-Marketing Performance recently launched a free keyword research guide [PDF], which includes great information and links to tools like this Dependancy-based Word Similarity tool.

I also enjoy reading Chris Hooley's blog, Payday Loan Affiliate, and some Tropical SEO.

Any other new SEO or marketing blogs you fancy?

How to Get Good SEO Clients

SEO Question: I have been submitting my articles to article directories and submitting my site to directory after directory, but I am not getting anywhere in the search results. What should I do to promote my SEO site and services?

Answer: Rankings do not matter.

The first thing you have to understand about getting good SEO clients (as in clients actually worth having) is that ranking is not the key to getting good clients. Building trust is the key. In fields which have a bad reputation (especially ones where there is high value and a lot of competition) you need to do more than just rank to sell. Here are four examples to back up this point of view.

  • Ranking for SEO Book sends me far more traffic than ranking for SEO. Most generic searches in the SEO industry are automated traffic, competitive research, and low quality leads.

  • When SeoBook.com did not rank for SEO Book for a while during an aggressive algorithm update that filtered out sites with too much similar anchor text my ebook sales were 85% of their prior month volume. Imagine selling almost the exact same amount of an ebook about ranking in search results when you don't even rank for your own brand name. That shows that my sales come mostly from recommendations, not search results.
  • ClientsideSEM is a new site and we have not marketed it aggressively, and the site does not rank for many keywords, yet we already get more leads than we can possibly handle.
  • I ranked in the top 10 for search engine marketing a few years ago and got very few leads from it. I didn't start getting many leads until I wrote a popular article about the Google Florida Update. Oddly enough, my rankings were worse when I was getting those leads, but because people were reading my stuff and talking about me I got more leads than I knew what to do with.

As an SEO you don't build enough trust just by ranking. And you don't build trust (or rankings) by getting an unlimited supply of garbage links on the edges of the web. The key to picking up clients is to be seen where the potential clients are. Participate in the active parts of the web and be seen as an expert. Submit articles to sites like WebProNews.

Target YOUR Audience:

Pick your audience and appeal to their interests. And while not all traffic is created equal you do not have to target Digg if you are looking for clients, it is easy to bias your demand toward the target market.

If you can come up for reasons people would want to talk about you then you will get more exposure than you can handle. There is still a lot of opportunity out there. For example, you can commission a study of fortune 500 websites to see which of them are using cloaking or IP delivery, and then market the hell out of it. If you do a good job a few weeks later you are suddenly one of the experts of SEO for fortune 500 websites.

Making the Invisible Visible:

SEO is largely painted as a bad hated field and SEO services are often viewed as an invisible service. If you know how to get people to talk about your brand and SEO you should be good at getting people to talk about other topics (for your clients) as well.

If you know how to make the invisible visible you have an endless supply of affordable quality links at your disposal.

Go Offline:

And if you go to conferences and meet people in person it is far easier to build a solid trusting relationship. That is where the best potential SEO clients are, as they have capital, knowledge, and an interest in the topic. If they have enough resources to attend a conference they probably can afford to hire a good SEO too.

Collateral Damage in Killing GoogleBombs

New Google Penalty

Are you suffering from the Google Sandbox, the -30 penalty, the -950 penalty, too many reciprical link partners, an anchor text or link spam related penalty, duplicate content issues, or the latest algorithm, search index, or quality update? It may not be what you think. DigitalGhost recently described Google's most common SEO related penalty:

Let me tell you about the most common penalty Google uses.

It doesn't have a catchy name, and people generally refuse to talk about it because this particular penalty requires taking responsibility. It's much easier to blame the +-30 penalty, the Sandbox or the new 950 penalty than it is to accept that you've been nailed with the most common penalty of all. What is it you ask?

It's the My Site Sucks Ass And Google Just Figured It Out penalty.

I have a theory that for most people it is easier to create something worth marketing than it is to push something of no value. And that is probably one of the hardest things to get around as an SEO, because SEO can make it seem addictive that we can influence markets without creating real value, but the people who make growing income each and every month are generally those who have at least one real site of real value. Sure you can use SEO to boost it, but it works best if the SEO is done in conjunction with other marketing and real market integration.

It sorta ties in with that whole how easy is it to clone your business concept I recently mentioned. If what you are doing is easy to clone then why not think of a way to add value and make it harder to clone. Sometimes that added value can be just slapping on a few marketing hooks, other times it might be listening to the needs of the market, or commoditizing the business models of competitors.

Recently a friend of mine launched a site and I got them to the top 20 using the general SEO techniques I can apply to any site, but I had them read that clone post and they told me brilliant ideas they could do to add value to their market by commoditizing people who do not even realize they are in the same market. If your marketing strategy is just SEO eventually you lose out when an SEO aware competitor cares about their market and/or uses other marketing techniques.

Amazon Clickriver Beta

I got my invite to beta test Clickriver today. Yippie. I already set up my account, so lets see how long it takes Amazon to start showing my ads for things like my name and search engine optimization. Lots of people have asked me why my book is not on Amazon.com, but it is largely because I wrote my book more as a direct revenue stream than as an upsell for consulting services. I have seen nationwide top selling books given away by the thousands at conferences only to open them up and see that they were thinly disguised sales material. But if you hire a publicist, get a bit of buzz, and give enough way you are a great author. :)

As soon as you get an ISBN some of the major book retailers will start discounting its price even if they do not cary it. At least now I can start getting exposure on those sites without having to commoditize my book price, and the lack of printing costs and higher price point means that Amazon will always be able to make more by selling me ads than from selling physical books.

Many of the Clickriver ads are still quite a bit off target, which means there must be quite an arbitrage opportunity there. Where's Shoemoney when you need him? But irrelevant ads are ok on Amazon.com because their ad network is new, Amazon.com is such a trusted brand, and they are the model ecommerce website.

Part of the reason there will always be a need for SEOs (or equivalent) is because language shifts and new ad networks and new ways of advertising keep appearing. Did you know you can buy interstitial ads from AdBrite that are targeted to the keyword, category, AND demopgraphic level? And there are lots of other ways to target specific people cheaply (AdSense content targeting, social media manipulation, linking at their websites, etc. etc. etc. ).

Google's stock price is so high because they have virtually no physical products and thus have fat profit margins. Other traditional publishers and ecommerce sites like Amazon.com will eventually syndicate more ads and sell more ads directly in fairly automated formats. Major newspapers are doing partnerships with Google, Yahoo!, and are even talking about making their own nationwide ad network. Each changing publishing format or new ad network is an opportunity. If it is overpriced sell it. If it is underpriced buy it. And if you have a big stake in a few of the ad networks you can even use your market knowledge to trade stocks and options. It would be cool to have a big enough ad buy and content distribution network by the end of the year to get a pretty good picture of the direction of the market as a whole and specific stocks from my own advertiser and publisher accounts.

SEO Chat With Jonathan Leger Tomorrow

Jonathan Leger tomorrow will be hosting a chat with me on his site at 3pm Eastern and noon Pacific time. Feel free to stop by if you would like to say hi.

Can I Clone Your Business Model?

SEO Question: What is a reasonable price to pay for professional SEO services?

SEO Answer: There is never a cut and dry answer to the question, but typically the range should be somewhere along the amount of value it adds to your business. For example, if you are only paying a few hundred dollars and expect the person to add millions of dollars to your business, then you are also expecting them to be naive and ignorant to marketing and their market value.

If they are ignorant to marketing and their market value then the odds of them being a great marketer or providing great results are going to be pretty low. As SEO evolves it is becoming more about marketing and understanding markets. If an SEO can't sell themselves for a decent rate then how are they going to know your market well enough to integrate your business into your marketplace?

Good Marketing is an Investment:

An alternate angle to look at the price of SEO is to look at it from an investment standpoint. For many businesses it is a price outside of their reach because most SEOs do not offer much in the line of guarantees AND most sites are easy to clone. The easy to clone concept is one you don't hear discussed much because most businesses probably do not customers to think they would use potential customers for competitive research and niche discovery, but why wouldn't you?

Bad Marketing is a Cost:

I recently emailed back and forth with a new SEO who was trying to outsource the SEO on his own SEO service website. It is going to be hard to add value and understand how social networks work if you don't at least do it well on one of your own sites. But if a person does SEO for their own SEO site it makes it easier to visualize the hubs and authorities in other markets.

When you hire someone you are paying them both to work and to learn. If they are well versed in their trade they are learning how to apply what they know about their industry to your business. If they are not you are paying them to (at least try to) learn about their industry. I write that both as a person who has been paid a premium to apply trade knowledge, and as a person who provided lower value services as a low price point while getting paid to learn.

What Value Does Your Business Offer?

If I can have no interest in a topic, start from scratch, and clone the market position of a business in under a week then they have not done a good job of building value on their end, and if I have to add near endless value to their business for their business to have any value at all I am better off creating a similar site myself, such that

  • I can work on it whenever I want

  • I can market it as aggressively as I want
  • I can add value where the client was unwilling to because they thought it was too risky
  • if it looks like it is going to fail I can stop working on it at any time
  • I don't have client approvals slowing me down
  • I keep all the profits
  • it can create a passive recurring revenue stream
  • even if it does fail I can use the site for nepotistic reasons down the road

When you think about it over half the businesses around the world are probable just arbitrage plays (depending on how loosely you define arbitrage). The difference between SEO and most other arbitrage business models is that SEO is cheaper, more targeted, and more scalable. But it only stays scalable and fun if you realize the value of what you do and place yourself high on the value chain.

If a business does not add much real value and is easy to replicate then they should view everyone they talk to as a potential competitor, at least until their business has some tangible value that takes significant investment to replicate.

As an SEO or affiliate marketer one of the first questions you have to ask when evaluating a competitive market or potential customer is how hard would it be to clone what they are doing. If a business is easy to clone you are probably better off just creating your own business that would be harder to clone, outrank them, and then sell leads.

Where do You Place Yourself on the Value Chain?

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

Specialization is Needed for Growth:

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

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

Many Great Markets Grow Fast:

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

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

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

You Can't Do Everything:

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

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

Signs of a Bad Customer:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Waste Caused By Servicing Bad Customers:

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

All Value Systems Are Challenged as They Grow or Change:

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

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

What do I mean by that?

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

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

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

Every Publishing Format is Dated or Full of Noise:

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

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

Growth Forces Change:

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

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

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

Trying New Business Models:

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

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

which I take as a huge compliment coming from him.

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

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

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

What Are Some Ways I Filter?

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

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

Filtering Your Way to Profit:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Searches With Depth vs Shallow Branded Searches

Certain types of searches distribute the bulk of the leads to the top few listed sites, while other types of searches distribute traffic further down the search results.

Brand Searchers Don't Search Deeply:

Branded search queries, for example, will deliver the bulk of the leads to the associated brand, especially if that brand sells directly and/or if focused on SEO. Generic searches and highly commercial searches will also typically deliver the bulk of their traffic to the top few results. If the search is generic in nature people will likely click one of the top few listings if it is relevant or search again. If the search is highly commercial in nature the odds are pretty good that the ads will be more relevant and more appealing than the organic listings.

Even if the brand searcher does search a bit deeper, their intent is usually closely aligned with the core brand they were searching for. It is hard to switch their reptilian mindset to do something else.

Long Tail = Deep Searcher:

Longer search queries and research oriented searches will likely yield a more even traffic distribution to sites listed lower in the search results. In some fields affiliates are all fighting to rank the exact same set of data, but in those same fields if your site has original user generated or editorial content it is easy to match many long tail search queries.

Lower Ranking = More Traffic:

Why is it worth considering this? When you look at keyword tools, a keyword with 10% of the volume may deliver more traffic to a #7 ranked site than how much traffic a keyword 10x as popular would to a #4 listed site.

The Mindset of a Deep Searcher:

Certain classes of search and types of search promote deep searching, while others are very top heavy. For example, a better way to play branded terms is to focus on coupon related searches rather than the core brand. Searches for coupons promoted in checkouts will dig through the results if none of the top ones are relevant because those people are already somewhat committed to a checkout and are committed to doing more to save a little bit.

Look at what you are already ranking for and getting traffic for. It may make sense to go for more long tail variations before going after broader and more competitive terms that you may not be able to rank for and may send less traffic even when you do.

Google Further Blurring the Line Between Ads and Content

I guess the easiest way to leverage content owned by others is to have a partnership to syndicate their content with ads:

As a example, Warner Music has defined multiple video channels along themes like "rock music" or featuring the "Divas of Pop Music." A Web site owner can select a video channel and embed it on a section of the site dedicated to running Google AdSense ads. Visitors then can click to watch ad-supported videos within the video channel on sites running the ads.
The Google advertising system splits the resulting revenue three ways to the video content owner, the Web site publisher and Google. The exact revenue splits were not disclosed.

Google continues to profit from blurring the line between ads and content. The future of AdSense will look much more like a mesh of Google Related links, Google interesting items for you, and YouTube recently popular videos (with ads) than its current form today. And don't be surprised to see those ads offline, in video games, or on your cell phone (Eric Schmidt is on the Apple board).

Announcing Elite Retreat 2

Elite Retreat. We are holding the second Elite Retreat in San Fransisco on March 19th and 20th. Jeremy Shoemaker, Lee Dodd, and I will attend again. In addition Neil Patel, Darren Rowse, and Kris Jones will also be speaking.

Capacity is limited to 30 people, so register soon if you would like to attend.

What Communities Does Your Site Belong In?

Right now search relevancy algorithms are heavily tied to overall authority, but given enough time publishers and search marketers will undermine that measure of relevancy the same way that keyword density and raw PageRank died off. By owning toolbars that track everything and buying into other methods of data collection (from contextual advertising to email to user accounts to widget platforms) search engines will be able to move away from the random surfer model to a less random model of relevancy. If search relevancy becomes more community centric how will your site stand up?

  • What words are associated with your brand or site? What sites are associated with those words?What searcher intent is associated with those words? What else are they searching for?

  • What sites are buying similar keywords? What other words are they buying?
  • What ads appear on your page if you use Google AdSense? What does Google related links suggest?
  • What are similar people tagging (or perhaps tagging with similar words) - Del.icio.us and Google Search History
  • What are similar people reading? (Via My Yahoo! or Google Reader or MyBlogLog) - Graywolf recently highlighted how MyBlogLog can use your readers to show what community your site is in.
  • What sites does this site link to? What sites link to this site (don't forget Google also owns blogger)? What resources are co-cited (in blog posts, popular directories, and other sites)?

Right now algorithms are authority centric and weighted toward promoting old domains, but it won't take long for us marketers to find ways to rip that apart. At that point they are going either have to place more trust on signs of community integration.

What sites are related to your site? If the algorithms shift toward neighborhoods will you still rank well?

If you are well integrated into your community then search personalisation and the death of a few market research tools will not hurt you.

The Value of a Unique Data Source in SEO

The more closed off a data source is the greater potential value you can exploit from understanding it.

General Keyword Research Tools:

Many people use the Google AdWords tool and Overture Selector Tool, thus if you are in a competitive marketplace the odds of you finding high value under-priced keywords is going to be lower than if you track data from less used sources.

Paid Keyword Research Tools:

Tools such as Wordtracker and Keyword Discovery may help you find a few more valuable rare keyword phrases. Since accessing them costs money, less people will use them.

Follow Clever Competitors:

If you come across high ranking spammy sites you can let them do your keyword research for you. If you find one smart competitor that keeps showing up for keyword phrases that few other people are bidding on you can see what types of keywords they are buying by using tools like KeyCompete or SpyFu.

Both of those techniques were covered in Using Profitable Spam & Thin Content Sites for Keyword Research.

Your Own Website Research Data:

The highest value market research data you can collect is collecting how the market is already reacting to your site. If you listen to your site you are not only going to find unique keyword phrases that do not show up on other tools, but you also know that

  • real people are already searching for them

  • those phrases convert (if you track conversions)
  • you are already trusted in some search engines for those phrases

It is typically easier to bump a number 6 ranking up to number 3 than it is to go from nowhere to top 10.

Use some keyword phrases to help you think of related topics and use rankings in one engine to help you find content ideas for others. If you use your own logs and tools like HitTail you can uncover entire categories and keyword baskets where there is little to no competition. Write semantically sound legitimate content targeted at those keywords and those articles should be able to rank for keywords related to other phrases you are already ranking for.

Also giving your visitors a site level search box will give you another source of data for related terms that you should be covering but may not be.

If a market is saturated and you operate in nearby markets with limited competition you can keep growing your revenue base until you have enough brand and authority to take on the established competition.

Apply This to Anything:

And while it is easy to use keywords as an example, you can apply this to anything. The more unique data you can collect the broader you can make your sales funnel and more efficient you can make your sales copy. And if you write timely news dong things like being opinionated, tracking a few persistent searches, or using Google news alerts can be the difference between having a complete story and getting all the links or just being one of 1,000 people writing about the same thing, watching Techcrunch get all the links.

In the information age unique data sources = profit.

Review of Gord Hotchkiss's Enquiro Eye Tracking Report II: Google, MSN and Yahoo! Compared

I recently read Gord Hotchkiss's second eye tracking study, and it rocks. It is quite meaty in nature, and well worth a read for any serious search marketer. It costs $149, but is a great value if you are a lover of search or a professional search marketer.

On to a few interesting highlights ...

  • Google is perceived to have better relevancy than other search engines, and is able to help concentrate attention at the top of the search results due to being primarily branded as a search site (instead of a portal), starting from a clean page full of white space, better use of real estate (by doing things like showing fewer ads on non-commercial queries, or showing them less prominently), better SERP formatting (including whitespace and perhaps even formatting using the phi ratio), and better ad targeting.

  • On average for Google and Yahoo the ads are viewed as more relevant than the organic results.
  • Interaction with search results is quick (roughly 10 seconds). We scan for information scent rather than fully analyzing, with a bias toward a semantic map that matches our goals.
  • Many top ranked search results guide toward a specific bias (say shopping) even when that makes them somewhat irrelevant for the user intent based on the search query. For generic queries we are biased toward research. Brand specific queries are more commonly biased toward purchasing. This biased intent may be fully decided before we even enter a query, and make us prone to ignore or specifically look for certain sites, or types of sites. Using strong emotional words (such as scam) or words that indicate research purposes (such as compare or reviews) may evoke a better CTR.
  • There is a direct connection to the thalmus to the amygdala which allows the amygdala to emotionally react to a sensory impulse before the neocortex can evaluate the input, thus when the neocortex does logically evaluate something you may already have that emotional bias worked into the equation, and thus try to justify it as being right...I think this was also mentioned in Blink, but is an interesting point.
  • The psychological noise of portal pages and the sensationalism associated with traditional headline news may erode emotional confidence when searching from a portal page, as compared to Google, which may be viewed as a way to escape the real world and do what you want.
  • We like to scan things in groups of 3s.
  • When text is placed inside an image it is easy to ignore it due to the feeling of images as low value or low information spaces likely with noise.
  • Google AdWords discounting for click relevancy ends up creating a self reinforcing market where the top ads are the best in many markets, especially in competitive marketplaces with high search volumes. Low volume keywords easier for bids to organize position...higher volume keywords primarily driven by ad CTR.

Those were just a few points from an information dense report which was refreshingly well put together. And in a market where so many people talk about getting top rankings it is great to see someone writing about how people interact with search results, and how to leverage them for their full value.

Gord has his head wrapped around search. When Greg Boser recently called out Did It

I also didn’t really consider David’s comments newsworthy. After all, he certainly isn’t the first PPC zealot to write a shitty article telling the world that SEO consultants were a high-risk waste of precious marketing dollars, or that organic SEO is as simple as hiring a monkey and giving them the URL to Google’s webmaster guidelines.

Gord added further context to the debate by talking about search from the perspective of the searcher, which is a topic oddly lacking in nature in discussions in our industry, given how much we talk about rumors of everything else.

Hidden Costs - Do You Have Ads on Your Business Cards?

Where ads look like content, or people are willing to pay for ads as content you can make a lot of money, but if your website is about marketing, and you heavily place ads on it there is no way to know how much that is going to cost you.

Your Blog is Your Business Card:

I disagree with Jason Calacanis about many things on many levels, but I think this quote is spot on

I make money building profitable businesses, not selling ads on my business card (and that's what I consider my blog to be).

Selling Yourself Short:

Good select targeted advertising can be interesting and add value, but most back-fill advertising networks do not provide enough context to add as much value as they take away. AdSense now lets you place their ads alongside competing ones, but should you?

One of my recent AdSense campaigns matched some blog related keywords, and the ad was getting over 5,000,000 impressions a day for under $40.00. And Google is getting a cut on that too!
Adsense on Blogs.

Does Your Optimization Factor in Invisible Costs?

What is one quality link worth? What is one reader worth? Due to limited market attention and the self reinforcing nature of networks anything that costs a few credibility points will have an increasing cost as time passes, but because it is a cost you don't see you may not be aware of it. If a reporter does not call you will you see that costs? How many other reporters may have called you but did not because you did not get mentioned in that first article? Did you miss out on business or life changing relationships or feedback because your site was too focused on the short term?

Anyone Can Steal Attention:

The cost may not matter now, but when you want to spread ideas it is going to be much harder to do if people do not already know an trust you. The guy who copied my about page (who even came off as a liar in his apology) is blogging about how his Alexa went up (temporarily) and how smart he thinks he is, but it makes me wonder When you have to steal to get exposure do you think it makes you look smart or worth trusting?

It is easy to lie or cheat or steal once or twice or to do it anonymously, but it gets much harder to do repeatedly to people you know. And you surround people who think and act like you do, so if your foundation is based on stealing you are fighting an uphill battle.

Perception is Reality:

It is not an issue of who is better than who, or even who is right or wrong - but do people trust you? Many current market leaders are there not because of amazing intellect or great work, but more because of slowly building trust and being around for a while.

Trust & Intense Relationships:

As Seth says

LinkedIn tends to make networks that are sprawling and weak. Web4 is about smaller, far more intense connections with trusted colleagues and their activities.

Imagine violently emotional feelings that make it hard to walk or talk or do anything. People that make you cry or laugh so hard it hurts. To get in those types of relationships people have to trust you. Some people get there from a few lucky home runs, but most people build that trust slowly over time.

Using Affiliates to Lower Your Risk Profile

If you have a strong brand and do not want to risk your brand image or search rankings you can still employ aggressive marketing techniques by using them on white label sites or affiliate accounts. Most people who use white label sites leave footprints that make it easy to associate the site with the main company. The good thing about using affiliates instead of a white label site is that just about everyone has spammy affiliates. Think of how many spammy AdSense sites you have seen...those are Google's affiliates.

You can sign up to be your affiliate and track your performance just like the performance of other affiliates. You can also sign up with different affiliate ID numbers for different websites or marketing methods. As long as your program is well integrated into the web a couple spammy affiliates are not going to make Google want to nuke everyone who is using your affiliate program, plus it can give you more leeway when doing things like bidding on competing keywords, etc. If one of your affiliate sites gets blocked from buying a keyword or removed from the index you still can use the same (or similar) technique(s) on other affiliate sites.

Have You Created Linkbait Recently?

It seems everyone is writing an article about linkbait right now. Hi Todd, Rand, and Nick!

All the articles are great stuff, and today is a great day to get started with linkbait. It can seem a bit overwhelming off the start, but if you try a few times just about any creative person can make the Digg homepage in well under a month. A friend of mine started a Digg account less than 2 weeks ago and makes the homepage almost every day now. And even Forbes is getting into link baiting.

SEO for Firefox Updated

SEO for Firefox was recently updated. The new features are scraping Google cache dates, and allowing you to CSV export the data. What are some cool ways to use SEO for Firefox?

  • Check out how old competing businesses are.

  • Evaluate the competitive nature of a marketplace.
  • Research the backlinks to a competing business to see whch links are their most powerful.
  • Do a site level search on a site to see which pages are most frequently cached, and to check the general health of a site.

What are your favorite ways to use SEO for Firefox? What other features should be added to it?

James Timothy's NerdVille.net - When Someone is a Jerk...

What is the best way to let them know? Recently I read this charming review

all I can seem to think about is the distaste left in my mouth from my last ebook purchase. I bought this seo ebook and it pissed me off so bad I don’t even want to give you an aff backlink for it. ... it took me two minuts on blogs and in the forums to learn just as much as I did in that stupid 385 page book

Hope those forums will teach you a lot about rewriting the content of those you flame, and pawning the content off as your own. You really need a bit more work on that front.

From my about page

Balancing answering emails, blogging, reading blogs and forums, buying and developing sites, working for a couple customers, and running Threadwatch is pretty hard - especially with zero employees. In the past SEO Book was more about posting search news, but since the market has got so saturated on that front and I acquired the Threadwatch community I have decided to keep Threadwatch focused on the latest search news and speculation, and to use SEO Book to answer customer questions and to offer online marketing strategy tips.

From his about page

Balancing answering emails, blogging, reading blogs and forums, buying and developing sites, working for a couple customers, and running my affiliate business is pretty hard - especially with zero employees.

In the past Nerdville was more about posting Affiliate product reviews, but since the market has got so saturated on that front and I have moved on to different industries I have decided to keep posting focused on the latest search and affiliate marketing news and speculation, answer customer questions and to offer online marketing strategy tips.

I guess emulation is a form of flattery.

Normally I wouldn't care much about a few people being jerks, but as my blog has got more popular the human to jerk ratio has drastically changed (especially over the past couple months), and I think the best way to curb it is to remind the jerks what they are from time to time. Coupled with moving across the country and working on some amazing projects I really don't have much time for these jerks, so from time to time I will just mention them that way I don't carry their words with me.

I am sure this is unconventional and against best practices, but if people are going to steal my content then flame me for my content quality I should remind them how lowly they think of themselves. At least they could steal content from a site they like.

Suggest Sites for DMOZ Inclusion

You can now submit your site to the Open Directory Project again. Submissions were down for a while.

Google's Paid Inclusion Model

BusinessWeek published an article about small advertisers being priced out of AdWords. Given quality score adjustments that may boost ads for sites which have strong trust associated organic SEO, it is prohibitively expensive for many businesses to use AdWords unless they are already well trusted in organic search.

What Types of Sites Rank?

The sites which are already well represented in organic search typically fall into one or more of the following groups

  • old

  • has many signs of authority (new and old links, repeat visitors, brand related search queries)
  • associated with a rich powerful offline entity
  • unique & remarkable

News Sites as God

News sites tend to fit all 4 of those categories, plus get additional easy linkage data by writing about current events and being included in select indexes like Google News, and have many other advantages. The bias toward promoting large trusted sites which are already overrepresented in the organic results starts to look even uglier when news outfits are

From the WSJ:

Britain's famously competitive newspapers have a new battleground: Google. ... Newspapers are buying search words on Google Inc. so that links to their Web sites pop up first when people type in a search. ... Paying to put their stories in front of readers by buying Google ads -- a practice the papers say has intensified in recent months -- is different from past marketing efforts

In spite of Google claiming otherwise, there is a direct connection between buying AdWords and ranking in the organic search results. If a news article is read by a few more people and gets just a few more links off the start it will become the default article about that topic and acquire many self reinforcing links.

Why Would Google Trust News Sites so Much?

  • Most news sites have some type of editorial controls and are typical hard for the average webmaster to significantly influence.

  • Most people think what they are told to (and the media is who tells us what to think about). Thus if Google returns a rough reflection of what we should think they are seen as relevant and unbiased.
  • Most news sites are associated with economic macro-parasites - not micro-parasites. Google is far more afraid of death by 1,000s of small cuts than by trusting any given domain too much.
  • It is mainstream media which makes up a large foundation of Google's index and power. Google is killing off many of the inefficient monopoly based business models, and is thus trying to throw the media scraps to keep the media bought into Google's worldview.
  • It is easier for Google to organize information if they allow their algorithms to cause their search results to parallel offline authority structures.

Crawl Delay Has Cost:

Danny Sullivan recently commented about how Digg outranked him for his own headline because his website is newer and less trusted than Digg.

Google has become less willing to regularly crawl and rank sites unless they are aged or have a significantly developed editorial link campaign associated with them. If your site gets indexed slower then your content needs to be much more remarkable to be linkworthy, thus if have not built up significant trust this is a penalty / cost you need to overcome.

Sure Google may say they do not offer paid inclusion, but requiring a huge authoritative link profile or years of aging is associated with costs. They may not have paid Google directly, but Google's algorithms do require that most people pay, in one way or another.

And if you can't get past that crawl delay problem, you can always buy AdWords.

Copy Edited SEO Book

I recently had an editor go through SEO Book and clean up my grammar. If you are a grammar Nazi my book is probably as good as it will ever be today ;)

Search Engine Marketing and Lateral Thinking Skills

Joe Sinkwitz, also known as Cygnus, has a great post explaining how the polarized view of SEO is quite naive and inaccurate in nature. Rather than explaining SEO as black or white, a more accurate representation of the SEO market is those who can think laterally, and those who can not.

A lateral thinking SEO will do what makes sense within the explained rules, but will then say to him or herself "I'm in a competitive industry" and/or "This is not an established brand", and then follow up with a very important "What can I do that will set myself apart within a search engine's algorithm?" If you dumb down what a search engine is to the level of a single database with a single data table, and a couple hundred fields, then it is easier to see what is happening. At any given point of time in an algorithm's evolution (yes, they evolved, get over it…from bubblesort no less!) certain variables are going to be weighed more heavily than others, and some that fall into certain ranges are going to be treated as red-flags.

Go read Joe's post.

Where Did Lateral Thinking Come From?

Edward De Bono coined the term lateral thinking. There is a Wikipedia article and are numerous books on the subject as well.

How Does Lateral Thinking Apply to SEO?

Common SEO lateral thinking questions:

  • why the hell is that crappy site ranking (and how can I replicate the results with limited risk or effort)

  • how did they get that sweet link (and how can I get similar sweet links)
  • how can I make that person (or group) want to link to me (and would it be worth the associated costs)
  • how can I write a second page on this topic without looking like a spammer
  • is this person naive enough to link at me if I flame them? (and if I wanted to could I get that story and link equity to spread beyond that)
  • when, how, and who should I ask for feedback on this project
  • do I have enough brand equity to where I can be a bit more aggressive without adding much risk to my marketing
  • would this link lead to secondary citations
  • how can I leverage this news coverage to lead to more links
  • would this link buy pass a hand check
  • will more aggressive spammers find this and be able to replicate it? (if so, how long will it be before this site has its outbound link authority nuked?)
  • does this page have enough authority to keep ranking even if I alter its format or purpose?
  • how might people react if I buy this keyword
  • how can I ensure this powerful page linking to me stays in the search index without looking like a spammer
  • if I buy their stuff and leave a testimonial would they be willing to link at my site
  • if I factor in the value of the testimonial link, is the site design still expensive?
  • how can I spin a story so it spreads as far as possible
  • how can I put a unique spin on something that is already spreading
  • would posting this undermine my credibility more than it would boost my link authority
  • is it worth getting this site more exposure, or will doing so drastically alter the risk reward ratio in a negative way
  • is this site worth more as a link source, a credibility source, or a direct income stream? or how should I optimally mix those?
  • do I have enough authority to make this local site a statewide or nationwide one? if no, what would be the cost of building that authority
  • how can I relate my site to this more profitable subject without looking like a spammer

Linguistics vs Profits:

It doesn't really matter weather or not you are a spammer. What matters is public perception, cost (in terms of time, money, happiness, opportunity, and attention), and the risk reward ratio of any action.

There are spots out there where you can get free high value links. There are spots where you can do $2 a month link buys for trusted links that do not look like link buys. There are spots that you can publish content to that will rank nearly immediately.

Everything associated with SEO is margin based. What are the risks and what are the opportunity costs if I do x? If you employ lateral thinking skills your margins are typically going to be better than someone who does not.

Cache Date as the New Google PageRank

Given Google's reliance on core domain authority and displaying outdated PageRank scores, cache date is a much better measure of the authority of a particular page or site than PageRank is.

What Google frequently visits (and spends significant resources to keep updated) is what they consider important.

If a site can throw up a bunch of new pages and see them in the index right away that is a much better indication of trust than just the raw PageRank score. Plus the site can recoup its costs much faster than a site stuck in the crawling sandbox. This is especially important consideration if you are in a news related field, as sites that are quickly indexed rank for the new ideas while they are spreading, and enjoy many self reinforcing links due to automated content and the laziness of journalists, bloggers, and other webmasters.

Jim Boykin has a free tool to check the cache date of a page or site. It will also show how recently other pages linked to from that page have been cached.

How Many Stakeholders Does Your Site Have?

Each site has unique goals, audiences, and desired actions from each audience. By creating content and ideas that are formatted around filling the needs of the various stakeholders you lower your risk profile and increase your profit potential.

Common Stakeholders in Every Site:

  • content creators

  • customers
  • suppliers
  • site members
  • bloggers
  • mainstream media
  • topical experts
  • other high authority link sources or publicity sources
  • search engines

Content creators: Those who format your content and ideas can make or break your site. Small changes in formatting or packaging can be the difference between being one of billions of web pages and being an industry standard resource. Publish a few well received link baits on a site that is generally geared toward conversion and suddenly you have an authoritative top ranked site that converts like crazy.

Customers: Every site aims to sell something... products, services, market position, a way of thinking, etc. Customers can also do your marketing for you if they firmly believe in your product or service, but that doesn't typically happen until AFTER you have customers. A site that does not convert customers is without purpose, but you also have to address many other audiences to be able to afford market exposure to potential customers.

Suppliers: As you gain exposure you have leverage over suppliers. The more they need you the better your prices will be. This is the reason you can get a gallon jar of pickles at Wal Mart for $3. Given that many types of online marketing are highly measurable and profits may be driven off of thin margins, having a thicker margin than newer competitors creates a strong barrier to entry.

Site Members: People who believe in your value proposition or enjoying your website may help recruit others to participate on your site, may provide feedback on how to make your site or business more streamlined or better, and may help create content that you can leverage for profit. Site members may also advocate your way of thinking or your community in other communities they participate in.

Bloggers: To many of us it is our source of power, a sense of empathy, or perhaps a large chunk of our personal identity. Bloggers like to hear the sound of their keyboard clicking, and the first guy with the story gets the links. Many more people write blogs than there are stories to spread or critical thinkers. Get covered by a market leading blogger and get dozens of links.

Mainstream Media: As more and more people create information there is more information than there is time to consume it, thus many of us use trusted guides / brands / companies to act as news gatherers or proxies for the value of something. Sites which are mentioned in the media tend to be trusted more by many other authoritative sources.

Topical Experts: Each industry also has topical experts who speak for their industry. Many of them will have big egos. You can reach them a variety of ways, but interviewing them or letting them participate early in your idea is an easier way to reach them than to try to sell them on how great your are.

Other High Authority Link Sources or Publicity Sources: People in related fields, fields deeply tied to the web, people tied to traditional power sources or human rights, and other offline authorities can also shape how people act online.

Search Engines: Search engines are distributed ad networks which need to scrape content to show ads against. They prefer to feel that they are in control, and like to use bloggers, media, and other authorities as proxies for the value and trustworthiness of content from a particular source.

Google's Parallel Stories

Google is exceptional at telling different stories to and about different groups of people, and leveraging each group for profit.

For example, Google sells its technology to the media as being uniquely democratic, largely because we are trained that democracy is a word which is an estimation for things that are good. Yet when Google goes to court over their index they will state that their index is a subset of the web and is not designed to be a reflection of the web. Two unique stories for two different audiences.

Search marketing is the most effective type of advertising in the world. SEOs are scum who are at fault when our search technology does not work. Two unique stories for two different audiences.

Content and ads should be clearly separated. If you merge them you are being deceptive. Unless of course you are using AdSense to monetize your site. Two unique stories for two different audiences.

Google also is great at making their marketing look like content. For example, if they want to get young kids indoctrinated on using their software, system, and services what better way could they do it than to package it as being for education?

Topical Experts:

Topical experts become known as experts not only because they know their stuff well, but also because they are good at addressing the needs of many stakeholders. Look how well Danny Sullivan addresses so many audiences.

What Audiences do You Reach?

You do not get to be a market maker without being a market manipulator. It is hard to manipulate markets unless you come up with creative ways to meet the needs of and leverage profit from many stakeholders. What key audiences does your site and competing sites have? Do you address all of them? If not, what could you do to address them?

Unequivocal Proof of Effective SEO & Marketing Techniques

I saw an email today with the subject line of PROVEN Adsense Templates, but given Google's recent change of TOS how can they be proven? And what are they proven to do? Are they optimized for earnings so much that they cut into the site's authority or linkworthiness? This template is probably proven
but also is useless to people visiting the site.

If your site design looks similar to designs of sites that were optimized for earnings first will people think lowly of your site because of the information quality of similar sites?

Yesterday one of my AdSense sites made about $500. The same site made $600 a month just over 6 months ago, and it is still growing quickly, does not look like an obvious AdSense site, and is still gets many organic citations. Is that proven? Well to me it is, but there would be no reason to put that URL out there as an example site unless I was trying to use that for self promotion. I probably could bump that same site to $700 a day if I maximized its current earning potential, but that would be at the expense of future earnings.

The idea of proof in marketing techniques is silly because invariably consumer habits and markets shift. Read some old articles about making money from banners and I bet the author will sound short-sighted.

SEO can change even quicker than content formatting strategies, and there is a sea of outdated facts to swim through on the path to learning SEO. In something like SEO a technique may only be effective because it is rarely used, and by the time everyone knows to do it the relative value of manipulating that variable is reduced to where the ROI is nowhere near as good as it once was, and if excessive manipulation of one variable becomes so important to your strategy

  • Might search engines discount sites with similar footprints if that footprint is generally associated with low information quality?

  • Might a former signal of quality be turned into a signal of low quality used for demotion?
  • Might pushing too far on some fronts cost you the ability to pick up other signs of quality?
  • Might you be missing easy opportunities to create legitimate value in your marketplace by filling market needs that have gone unserved if you spend too much time thinking about market manipulation from an algorithmic perspective?

Some people using outdated techniques will ask to know everything you do and call your stuff rubbish if you don't share it (some guy going by the name of DomainDrivers recently did this on my blog here and then pitched similar self-promotional stuff on LED Digest), but why be specific beyond the point of being useful? One of the biggest problems with Internet marketing in general is that we read one article at a time, and until you have some experience and a solid framework set up you think one idea is the key. And then you read the next article and suddenly that is the most important thing.

People like the idea of neutrality and the idea of proof, but ultimately beyond self promotional purposes those words rarely have much value. If you are too systematic in your marketing you miss understanding some of the synergistic opportunities created by your brand and market position. If you optimize for any one aspect too much then you increase short term earnings at the expense of your long-term profit potential. Effective optimization is realizing that there are many stakeholders in your site, and creating cost effective ways to as many of them as you can.

Unless someone is a great friend helping another friend you won't get told exactly where to do exactly what works at a set price. The reasons are many fold:

  • every market is unique

  • every site is unique
  • we all know markets shift
  • if there is an exact known cheap formula and it is exactly shared we reduce our work to the value of commodity workers in 3rd world countries, who we soon will be competing with... as an example, I have had offers for some of my high ranking domains from people who I was almost certain were low waged and in third world countries
  • how can we justify charging our clients some rate for our work then sharing everything we did together with all their competitors?
  • the whole reason many techniques work is that few people use or abuse them relative to how often they occur as natural parts of the web. share all your tricks and secrets and all you do is push yourself toward becoming a commodity.
  • the whole reason reciprocal links diminished in value and effectiveness because the technique has been abused and is generally associated with low information quality
  • any real website with a real brand should have some intrinsic value associated with it that is not easy for competitors to duplicate
  • you can push frameworks of thinking and observed general algorithmic trends, but there is never a point in giving exact details of everything you do on one specific site unless your goal is to get media coverage for your own brand and/or that site and use THAT as a competitive advantage.

The value of any web page or idea is next to nothing until you add marketing experience and context to it. The web is a series of incomplete thoughts. All information is biased. And almost all of it is self promotional in nature, especially if it is packaged as proven or formatted as facts.

Listen to Your Site

If you have a site which equally covers 4 parallel areas and you put the same amount of content up for each area odds are that one area will drastically outperform all the others. I have a 1,000 page AdSense site which gets about 100 ad clicks a day on the most profitable page of the site, while the site as a whole averages about 1 click a page. The reason one section will drastically outperform the others is not just due to how well that section is integrated into the web, but also due to what types of sites you are competing against. For example, many large corporations still do not get SEO, and in certain high margin verticals (especially with certain high paying keyword modifiers) the top ranked results are dominated by cheesy spam pages. It is going to be easier to outrank the cheesy spam than to carve out marketshare in results dominated by legitimate authoritative sites.

After you get the base of your site up listen to the feedback the search engines provide. They will tell you what they think your site is about and what sections they think have enough authority to merit a top ranked position.

And while this advice can sound like it is geared exclusively toward spammy AdSense sites, the same type of market feedback, if tracked, can be applied to improving lead quality for smaller ecommerce sites. Every market has gaps in it. If you create a base of real content and listen to your site you will find enough easy opportunity to create a revenue stream which builds up a profit stream that allows you to invest in building up the authority of your domain for more competitive queries.

The Stock Market Loves Every Dog for a Day

Recently Miva announced that they were dumping a partnership with Yahoo! in favor of distributing Google ads.

MIVA said in its papers that it will adopt Google advertisements on applications and sites managed by its subsidiary, MIVA Direct, which produces white-label toolbar and Web search. The deal, which will run for two years and has "broad termination rights," will begin within 30 days.

The market responded by bidding Miva's stock from $3.40 up to $4 a share. What does that mean to marketers?
If a small ad network makes more profit redistributing the ads of a large player than selling ads directly they probably don't have much value in their advertising product. This is why increasing the efficiency of your AdWords account by 10% is worth far more than trying to find under-priced clicks from 50 pay per click search engines you never heard of.

The second interesting thing worth noting from the market reaction to the Miva / Google partnership is that if changing from Yahoo! to Google increases the value of the company by 15% that shows how efficient Google's ad platform is compared to Yahoo!'s or that the stock market just loves Google...either way, it is going to keep smaller public companies favoring partnerships with Google over Yahoo!. It also shows the strong consolidating trend amongst ad networks. If Google is worth 15% more than Yahoo! then they are probably 40% or 50% more than Microsoft, and as monetization rate drops off there is no reason for anyone syndicating search and contextual ads to look far beyond the top few players.

The search market is also going to parallel the ad market. Google's ad network is so strong because they own so much of the search market. If you can get a few more high quality editorial links that will boost your authority in Google that is worth far more long-term than picking at the edges gathering hundreds of low quality links which may hurt the stability of your rankings.

Lots of money is being spent on new ad network start ups which largely duplicate one another. Networks that are able to deliver real tangible value and get enough media exposure to become synonymous with their ad or media type will thrive while most will fall to the fate of a Miva or a Looksmart...a legacy network with random bits and pieces which makes more redistributing someone else's ads rather than by innovating and selling their own ads.

Google is already getting a foothold in print, audio, and video ads. I just saw a Fat Joe Cadillac Escalade AdSense video ad on this page, pointing to a site called MyCadillacStory.com. That is pretty slick and streamlined for how new Google's video product is.
Fat Joe on Google AdSense video.

The race to create an ad network and buy distribution has changed to a race to create toolbars, applications, software, communities, and plugins that allow people to redistribute ads. Even some password applications (such as Roboform) have search built into them, and Google Custom Search Engine makes it easy for anyone to get paid syndicating Google results (or a biased subset of them).

Improper Use of the Link Rel Nofollow Attribute

SEO Question: Our site has an about us section which links to press coverage of our site. We are worried about bleeding PageRank, and are wondering if we should use nofollow on our links.

Answer: The worry about bleeding PageRank is probably a bit dated in nature. It is based upon thinking that you have a finite amount of PageRank, and that if you link out to other sites you are wasting your PageRank, but truth be told most good sites have both inbound links and outbound links. And you shouldn't be afraid of a few reciprocal links with large trusted media sites either...as reciprocation is part of the natural link structure of the web, and linking out to trusted sites helps associate your site with other high quality sites.

The goal of public relations is to get people to view your company the way you want it to be viewed, and to get people to talk about your topic and your company from your perspective using your language and metrics.

If you make the mainstream media, it generally has the following effects:

  • Improved credibility with the media, which makes it easier for the media to review your products / cite you / interview you again (if you show you were trusted in the past it is easier to trust you again).

  • increased trust with other link sources on the web - for example, the Wikipedia notability guidelines include "The company or corporation has been the subject of multiple non-trivial published works whose source is independent of the company or corporation itself."
  • When people who do not know your subject write about your subject they will likely trust many of the same sources that the media has (see Wikipedia mention above).
  • If few people in your market make the news when someone makes the news it may be considered linkworthy.
  • If the subject that causes you to make the news is a big deal many links will flow. When I made the Wall Street Journal that also got coverage on sites like Slashdot. I also mentioned it on my blog and even more people mentioned it.
  • Increased trust in the minds of consumers and many members of your market.
  • Increased mindshare and share of voice in your marketplace.

In addition to the above obvious side effects of media exposure you can also further leverage that exposure. Many media sites have strong domain related trust, and thus rank easily in the search results if they have even modest link equity pointed at them.

When people search for your company name which is a better set of search results:

another conspiracy theory about your company
random (could be good or bad or competition)
random (could be good or bad or competition)


news article you helped promote
another news article you helped promote
random (could be good or bad or competition)

In any case, you will likely have some results that are bad or out of your control, but if you link at pages that talk about you in a positive light you are helping those pages be fairly represented or overrepresented in the search results.

Consumers, consumer advocates, raged consumers, and journalists researching your company will research you and your company on Google. When people say nice things about you it helps to make it easy for others to find, and that also helps bury some of the negative stuff.

When you link to a news site you are mentioning it on your site because you trust it. When you use a nofollow to link to a news site you are saying you do not trust it. If you don't trust the people who are talking positively about you then it is going to be an uphill battle.

Defensible Traffic & Reliable Income Streams

A paradox to SEO and Internet marketing is that the less your sites need to rely on search engines the more search engines need to rely on your site, and the more reliable your rankings will be. Andy Hagans posted a quiz about defensible traffic sources, which is a way of testing how stable your income is. After you have a few years experience on the web, forward income stability becomes far more important than how much you are making from a project right now, especially as you transition from an SEO mentality to a CEO mentality.

Canary in the Coal Mine vs Boy Who Cried Wolf

Back in September I posted that I thought it was somewhat sketchy for Google to recommend there photo search when a person searched for Istockphoto and got flamed for it. Recently Blake Ross, the creator of Firefox, said similar. Because of Blake's market position, the exact same story was credible, important, spread, and is something Matt Cutts needed to make multiple blog posts about.

Based on the credibility and market position of an author certain stories may be important, or may be worthless. Even completely true stories may still cut at your credibility if you don't later reference them again to remind the dismissive parties of how their thought process changed over time.

The media is largely owned by conglomerates tied to banks, geared toward selling ads and their business agendas, manipulated every day, but most authorities would like people to blindly trust the media as a representation of truth, even as that same media wraps self serving messages in a self-aggrandizing article that dismisses their competition.

Search is also a topic that is easy to love, but SEO has been painted as a scourge on the web. Any authority or authority based system has to pretend that they hate market manipulators to justify their own legitimacy, market position, and how they got where they are.

SEO is largely based on speculation and predicting market trends that most people do not see, so it is easy to be seen as having little credibility, so long as your brand is focused on SEO, even if you are 100% correct. At least one board member of a major search engine has called me for investing advice, though I guess it would be a bad idea to blog any specifics on that.

It is quite ironic that the main reason this site was worthy of press attention is because I was sued by an unethical business, and I can even get interviews published in the London Times as an expert on Black Hat SEO largely because I own the matching domain. But even after about an hour of talking, showing highlights of how search engines pay for much of the spam, and how they don't stop paying for it even after they catch it, all I could get was a few sweet soundbytes like:

"Who is and who isn't a black hat is dependent on what Google says is black hat," said Wall. "They would certainly class me as a black hat."


And then you remember that stories need to sell ads. To do that they exposure. To do that they have to be controversial. They have to be pitched, sold, and then the matching facts have to be collected. Rarely is there ever enough column space to risk challenging conventional wisdom if you can be controversial and conventional at the same time.

Knowing that the whole polarized black hat vs white hat garbage was going to get more and more self serving press was probably smart marketing, but is it SEO? And, if a site that cost me a half a day and under $100 gets me featured as content in the London Times (with an HTML link) is that efficient marketing?

A year and a half ago I predicted that Google would eventually create an automated commodities trading platform where they could leverage their pure data. Since then Google has leveraged their market position and used predatory pricing to become a large payment processor. Just about anything without a brand will eventually be commoditized by cheaper communications, search, more efficient markets, and other forms of automation that are good enough. Google has already won the web. Don't be surprised if you see Google Checkout offline in 2008.

Leveraging Statistics to Dupe the Mainstream Media for Public Relations

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.

Some examples:

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.
  • Looking at search marketshare by referral data to large websites - does not take into account algorithmic bias of some engines toward large or small websites.
  • 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.

  1. so you are measuring the right stuff

  2. so you can present market data in a way that biases your story such that it is remarkable and easy to spread

1.) After Brian Clark rewrote my sales letter my number of ebook sales per day jumped up in the short term, but that was largely because

  • a trusted voice recommended it

  • other trusted voices echoed that trusted voice
  • a new audience got exposure to my site

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.

Serious Statistics

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.