Domain Names and Defensible Traffic

Andy Hagans recently posted about his linkbait marathon strategy to rank his sites at the top of the search results. Brian Provost posted about his love for domaining. Domain names may play a big roll not only in anchor text, but also in overall domain credibility, linkability, and defensibility.

An Example of a Domain Waiting to Fall:

In spite of making over a thousand dollars a month, one of my unappealingly named domain names has cost itself significant credibility and links. Since it is an invisible cost it is hard to estimate how much it has cost, but I have a perfect example of showing how much it hurts.

One time I tried sponsoring an event and they said sure. They got my credit card details and then asked for the domain name. Once they saw the domain name they said sorry they couldn't accept my money. And this is a reputable content site in a field that is easy to like, but on a junky sounding domain name. Ouch.

Being Honest With Yourself:

If you have a quality legitimate content site, and people who typically sell reviews or links are unwilling to take your money you know it is time for a change.

Other Signs of Trust:

If people who need sponsorship are unwilling to take my money imagine how much a bad domain name suppresses my click-through rate in the search results, and how many other links it cost me. If and when relevancy moves toward an attention based metric I am screwed if my house is built on a cheesy domain name that looks spammy.

Domain Buyer's Pricing Tips:

You can sometimes capture emerging field names cheaply, but you are probably going to have to spend at least a few grand to get a good name if you are in an established field.

If you are new to domaining, and can't afford a great .com there are still a lot of great .org and .net names out there available for $1,000 to $10,000.

Is a 301 Redirect Risky?

I will eventually 301 redirect my high ranking ugly domain name to the undeveloped MyKeywords.org domain that I just spent $8,000 buying. Short term I will probably see some drop in traffic, but long-term it is going to be far less risky to create an leverage what looks like a real resource and a real brand.

If you do something like this, make sure you have enough other passive income streams to afford the risk, and keep developing links to the new domain name. Keep that old trusted domain registered and redirecting for many years into the future. If you lose it you will probably lose a large portion of your link authority.

There is No Value in Being Anonymous:

You can spend the money your site is making as a passive income source, but if you believe in what you are doing, and have money in the bank, there is no reason to use a bad domain name. It is like writing nameless.

You can get a decent design for few thousand dollars, or a design modification for a few hundred. You can get good content for $50 a page or less. You can move a CMS for a low price too. The cost of moving and re-branding a non-brand site are negligible compared to the potential upside.

If you ever decide to sell, you are not going to get much out of my-ugly-do-mainz.biz, but if you create a real brand on an undeveloped strong domain name you will be able to sell it for a premium far in excess of the domain name cost.

What Market Isn't Gamed?

Feb 28th

Today Shanghai's Composite Index lost nearly 9% of it's value. And the Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped nearly 200 points instantaneously right around 3:00 p.m. EST. When the stock (or commodity) prices go up or down value is neither created or destroyed, but shifted and/or consolidated. Wealth is nothing but a form of market leverage. The people running the stock markets do not even know what they are worth:

"The market's extraordinary trading volume caused a delay in the Dow Jones data systems," said Dow Jones spokeswoman Sybille Reitz. "We decided to switch over to the backup system, and the result was a rapid catch-up in the published value of the Dow Jones industrial average."

Spokesmen for the NYSE Group Inc. and Nasdaq Stock Market Inc. could not immediately confirm whether all closing share prices were valid. A spokesman for the Big Board said it experienced "intermittent delays and are currently assessing the situation." The Nasdaq said it was "confirming" the closing numbers.

I think market glitches like these also relate to SEO and marketing. The more reliant you are on any one source / technique / strategy the more often you run into glitches and the harder they hit you.

I think understanding the web and how search interfaces with other business models allows you to know many markets better than the market does. The hard part is investing without emotional attachment or greed. Read more about the drop.

A Proprietary Web Graph: Is Google Paying You to Edit Their Search Results?

Feb 27th

Google works so well because they are scalable, but they are not adverse to paying people to review content quality, because they love human computation, just see their Google Image Labeler game. What if Google came up with ways to determine which users were real and trustworthy, and could give those users incentive to edit the search results for Google? And what if Google could give a similar incentive to advertisers and legitimate publishers?

What if just by reading this you are helping Google trust this site more?

Attention Data:

Google already is the market leader in tracking attention data on the active portions of the web. What if Google integrated attention data into their algorithm and to offset that decide to lower the quantity of links they would count in any time period or the weight they would put on them? What would that do to the value of link baiting? How can Google move away from links?

WebmasterWorld and Threadwatch both recently had great posts about a recent Google patent application about removing documents based on the actions of trusted users.

Google's Own Web Graph:

Google is setting up an alternate proprietary web graph outside of linkage data. Sure any single point of attention data may be gamed, but they are likely far more reliable when you triangulate them. And if a few data points fall outside of expected ranges for the associated site profile pay to have the data reviewed. Based on that review demote spam or further refine the relevancy algorithms.

A Complete Feedback Cycle:

Google is the perfect shopping mall. Google...

  • verifies the legitimacy of user accounts by looking at their history, comparing them to other users, and challenging them with captchas.

  • tracks click-through rates and user activity, associated with user accounts and IP addresses.
  • hosts a bunch of web content, which is syndicated on many channels, and can further be used to understand the topical interests of the account holders and reach of publishers.
  • asks for searcher feedback on advertisements
  • allows people to note URLs using Google notebooks
  • tracks feedback after conversions
  • puts themselves in the middle of transactions with Google Checkout

Why wouldn't they be open to using those and other forms of feedback to help shape relevancy?

Opening up AdWords to display content partner URLs is probably a pretty good example of them adding an advertiser feature for improvement of organic relevancy scores. If advertisers think a site is garbage and Google knows that most of that site's traffic only comes from search engines it would pretty easy to demote that site. AdSense publishers also have created blacklists.

Popularity vs Personal Relevance:

Google can triangulate all these data points to see beyond just how much hype any idea creates. They can understand user satisfaction and brand loyalty, which are far more important than just how much short term hype an idea can generate.

If 100 searchers with somewhat similar profiles to mine are loyal to brands x, y, and z then I am going to see them more often, even if those sites are not well integrated into the web as a whole.

Digital Identities:

Bill Slawski recently posted about Google's Agent Rank patent, and there is a push to create a distributed login system called OpenID. Google may not need a single login to track everyone. All they have to do is get a large representative sample of legitimate web users to get a pretty good idea of what is important.

As Bob Massa said, search engines follow people.

Personalization is not going to be what makes SEO harder. It is going to be linguistic profiling, attention profiling, community interaction, and layered user feedback that make it harder to promote garbage and easier to promote quality sites. I still see spammy link building working today, but I don't see it staying that way 2 years out.

Google AdWords to Show Contextual Ad Location URLs

Jen noticed that Google's Kim Malone announced that in the next couple months AdWords will start displaying content targeted ad locations.

Google AdSense pays most publishers crumbs for their ad space. People who are running AdSense ads are willing to sell ads. And sites that have AdSense ads on them are probably actively managed.

Is there a better way to get a list of relevant pages to acquire links from than to run a content targeted AdSense ad campaign and ping those webmasters?

New Keyword List Cleaner Tool

Feb 26th

With many companies offering free keyword research tools I recently created a keyword list cleaner that can be used to help you format keyword data into a usable format. Use the SEO Book keyword list cleaner, grab the source code if you like it, or read here for background on the tool.

Valuing Digital Goods

Feb 26th

Social networks are brutally tough to monetize, especially when you consider hardware costs.

In response to Facebook's gift giving feature, Danah Boyd and James Hong both recently posted about gift giving and digital goods. Facebook's gift giving feature is time limited and donates the money to a charity, which allows them to collect market feedback without much risk, but there are ways they could improve it.

Danah posted

I think that Facebook is right-on for making a gifting-based offering, but i think that to make it work long-term, they need to understand gifting a bit better. It's about status. It's about scarcity. It's about reciprocity and upping the ante. These need to worked into the system and evolving this will make Facebook look good, not like they are backpeddling. This is not about gifting being a one-time rush; it's about understanding the social structure of gifting.

James, a founder of HotorNot.com, wrote

We found, last time we ran the numbers, that sending flowers increased the likelihood of a "double match" on our system by 4x.. meaning as a signal, they are well received and really work.

If we had priced them low, the flowers would have been worthless to everyone.

Self-Reinforcing, Self-Promotional Bias

A large part of making business successful is leveraging your authority and using nepotism to extend your sphere of influence. If things look a bit circular in nature that is because they are. Nearly everything you consume has a self promotional bias, but is that any reason to complain? Wouldn't be even scarier if the things you enjoyed and associated with were self destructing?

Examples of Self Promotional Bias in the Media:

If a politician pushes bogus laws (that they know will never be passed) for self promotion and news coverage then why wouldn't the media companies that grant that exposure also grant themselves some leeway? Do you think a news company owned by GE is going to publish a cover story about pollution by GE? Do you think Fox News will stand up against their big advertisers (even when their advertisers are responsible for causing cancer)? Of course not.

The bigger something gets the more hidden stakeholders it has to appeal to. Very rarely do owners get the opportunity to speak honestly about large companies. In many cases they are obligated not to in order to maximize shareholder value. I have had VCs offer to invest in me multiple times but have refused time and time again because I don't want hidden stakeholders controlling my actions.

People discouraging institutional analysis may say Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent is a conspiracy theory, but why would it be? What business isn't biased toward their own self interests? Self preservation is a core goal of any institution.

Broken Egos:

Many junk products exist with demand driven by hype, spam, and scammy multi-level marketing, but many
business models exists because we as consumers have holes in our egos and want to lie to ourselves to justify our own flaws and actions.

As technology replaces the roles of many workers while making communication cheaper and easier, people have to do more to earn a living and it is harder to create new ideas, so we have to do more cause driven things to feel purpose and meaning in life.

We want to believe that ethanol
is providing cleaner fuel
even if creating it takes more energy than it creates.

As for the environmental impact, well, where do we begin? As an oxygenate, ethanol increases the level of nitrous oxides in the atmosphere and thus causes smog. The scientific literature is also divided about whether the energy inputs required to produce ethanol actually exceed its energy output. It takes fertilizer to grow the corn, and fuel to ship and process it, and so forth. Even the most optimistic estimate says ethanol's net energy output is a marginal improvement of only 1.3 to one. For purposes of comparison, energy outputs from gasoline exceed inputs by an estimated 10 to one.

Bias in Consumption:

Why is Fox News so profitable? Because it isn't really news. It is biased entertainment sold as news:

A new study based on a series of seven US polls conducted from January through September of this year reveals that before and after the Iraq war, a majority of Americans have had significant misperceptions and these are highly related to support for the war in Iraq.

The polling, conducted by the Program on International Policy (PIPA) at the University of Maryland and Knowledge Networks, also reveals that the frequency of these misperceptions varies significantly according to individuals’ primary source of news. Those who primarily watch Fox News are significantly more likely to have misperceptions, while those who primarily listen to NPR or watch PBS are significantly less likely.

Just like how we want to believe certain lies to make ourselves feel good, we also consume things
that reinforce our identities and worldviews.

How many decidedly centrist political blogs are successful compared to the number of strong democrat and strong republican blogs? It is easier to trust things that are easy to relate to, and trust has more value than objectivity.

I probably read just about every blog post that links to my site because I want to know why people are
talking about me. Is that a self serving bias? Absolutely. But why wouldn't I have that bias?

Changing Someone Else's Worldview:

It is much easier to sell someone something they want than to try to change their worldview.

An SEO thought they were going to change the image of SEOs on Digg by writing a letter about SEO. After getting many votes it was promptly removed from the Digg.com homepage.

It is even easy for a well rounded guy like Scott Karp to view SEO in a negative light after seeing so much negative coverage of the topic. Scott was more receptive to feedback than Digg because he only needs to change his opinion, he doesn't have to go against the group think consensus on Digg to change his content.

It is easy to be popular as a politician in the US by hating terrorists, gays, and gay terrorists. It is easy to be popular on Digg by hating SEOs. Neither of those mean that the blind hate is correct or has any value (other than realizing it creates a market that is easy to exploit - because as a market they are targeted and already letting others exploit them).

Many business owners create business models that explicitly are designed to take advantage of the blind faith, bigotry, ignorance, and hypocrisy core to many popular religions, or other large self-serving authority structures.

Fighting Noise:

As markets mature, market leaders have less time to learn (because they are so overwhelmed with things to do). Given that publishing costs have dropped to zero and web business models are so scalable, is it any wonder that market leaders tend to read less and do more testing on their own (especially if they became a market leader as a side effect of learning)?

Aaron Pratt has recently whined about the circular linking patterns of SEO elites, even having a guest post by Michael Goldberg, but a comment on that post by Ahmed Bilal was spot on:

In any such environment the good will rise and then naturally protect themselves by strengthening their following (herd). If you want to get to the top (topple them, beat them, match them, whatever), you have to build your own following, your own herd.

What are we doing about this right now? Are you actively finding, reading and linking to one new SEO blog a day?

If you want to be read, then you have to be interesting and you have to attract attention. That’s the way it works best - asking for attention or saying that you deserve it won’t help.

And yet on my recent blog post about the recent Google (update algo tweak refresh whatever) Aaron Pratt said this:

I am not seeing any loss/gain of earnings in Adsense which leads me to believe their is nothing going on.

Being a good SEO is about noticing patterns beyond your own experiences and surrounding yourself with others who can do the same.

Notice that I didn't outright call the latest Google Update an update, because Google heavily controls that language and wants to obfuscate examination of their changes (wait for the official word from Google on the data push / update / refresh / etc). Just how Google controls their update language, their self promotional bias and control of search related language is largely responsible for the public perception of SEO.

My Experiences With Authority:

Less than 5 years ago I got kicked out of the military. Since then:

  • I have been flown to a college and asked if I want to become a professor, but I think I wanted far more money than they wanted to pay. Since then I have created numerous passive income streams that far exceed what they would have paid.

  • I have had multiple VCs want to by a stake in my businesses, but turned them down.
  • I have been offered to get published by a major publishing house, but turned it down because it would have screwed up my business model. There is no business model in getting published unless you are publishing a thinly disguised advertisement or need the publisher for credibility.
  • I have been mentioned in the mainstream media numerous times. Not typically for the stuff I know best, but more for getting sued and for being the person who spent $8 registering BlackHatSeo.com. I have had done some long interviews that have never seen the light of day because I was far too honest.

Those were all opportunities at traditional forms of authority, and generally I turned them down because they were not worth the cost. The point here is that generally I am not a fan of most authorities.

Becoming an Authority:

If you are new to the market you do have biases against you: capital, market knowledge, relationships and attention. But you also have the advantage of being able to take the time to create really cool stuff and do lots of tests because people are not expecting you to do lots of things every day, and you can learn from mistakes of those who entered the market before you.

To get market recognition in a saturated market you have to come up with new, interesting, or innovative things. And if you can't do those you have to at least cause human emotions...do things that appeal to people and make people feel love or hate. Look how new SEOMoz is and they are already on the 1st page of Google for SEO and got a ton of media coverage.

If bias toward known authorities is something that is a common flaw with humans and all social structures there is little value in complaining about it. Instead accept it for what it is and let it feed into your marketing. Sure the Good Old Boy's club sucks, but if you don't offer solutions, then complaints about flaws in human nature are void of meaning.

Via (RCJordan (WMW))

"Resource" is an encomium bestowed only by users; "authority" is bestowed only by previously recognized authorities. Anyone who calls himself either one, is just an ego with vocal chords.

Google Algorithm Update / Refresh

Feb 22nd

Not sure if it is correct to call it an algorithm update, but a number of keywords I watch I have seen large authority sites get demoted in favor of smaller niche players with spammy keyword rich backlink profiles. I am seeing things like spammy new(ish) lead generation sites outranking fortune 500s and long standing industry association sites.

This is probably about the first update in a year that I have seen Google do anything major that bucks the trend of placing more and more emphasis on legitimate authoritative domains, although things are still shifting around quite a bit and will probably head back the other direction soon.

What are you seeing?

Update: Thanks for all the great comments below. I think Cygnus summed up the change best so far:

I see a few things that can probably be summed up as one change...the sandbox/trustbox was modified to be less restrictive on age and theme. I'm betting it'll tighten up again, but hopefully just on the theme.

To me, this was their way of tackling the ever-growing .edu spam. A lot of that is gone from some of the SERPs I watch; of course, now I see even more blogspots a few pages into the listings, so who knows how much tweaking they'll do over the next couple of weeks.

Certified By...

Feb 22nd

One of the easiest ways to strengthen a leading market position is to give others in your market incentive to place your brand on their site. It is even sweeter if it comes with a link to your site.

  • Is your financial commentary SeekingAlpha certified?

  • Is your nursing site syndicated to NursingVoices?
  • Is your blog a member of the 9 Rules network?

Strong networks tend to take flow some of the market leverage and market exposure from the most powerful voices to newer sites.

Too many of these types of endorsements make a blog look cluttered, but it probably doesn't hurt to have one or two, especially if your site is new to a market with many established competitors.

These types of endorsement links can also be created in other ways, such as powered by Wordpress, free template by x, and syndicating wigets.

Large Networks Adding New Editorial Content Formats

Feb 22nd

Many top destination sites are adding blogs and other publishing formats to their site to build their authority and market-share. This editorial content creates value, builds trust and authority, and allows for a more profitable blend of content and advertisements.

Yahoo! & Yahoo! Tech:

  • Yahoo! Tech has a holiday shopping guide and a holiday gift guide as well as user voting. Notice the anchor text on those first two links...they are naming some of their services specifically for keywords.

  • Yahoo! Tech also offers fake celebrity wish lists where they tell you what they suspect certain celebrities would like. Which is quite absurd considering one of their celebrities is a Yahoo! worker. How hard would it be just to go get their real wish list directly?
  • Yahoo! wraps content in a small bite size video format called The 9. Notice how The 9 packages content, links off to other sites where necessary, but often features other Yahoo! content. This news is packaged as though it is not an advertisement for Yahoo!'s various content properties.
  • What is scary is that the editorial is fairly lenient, occasionally adding real value. Yahoo! is posting tips on how to save money on Amazon.com.

Amazon:

Some of the large platforms have significant market leverage, capital, the ability to quickly test and track the results of tests, improving user feedback integration, recommendation engines, and are adding features to make ordering easier in higher priced and more complex verticals. Add all those forms of value creation and optimization to a blend of ads and editorial content and it is going to be hard to compete with them in the search results.

If you are a niche player and do not have a compelling editorial element or industry standard reference documents it is going to be hard to compete in a few years.

Create Value, Then Profit

Feb 22nd

Shane, an attendee from the first Elite Retreat, posted about why it is not best to monetize a blog right out of the gate:

So, your focus at the beginning has to be on attracting and retaining readers. You do that by having a great site, and nothing turns visitors off more than a brand new blog with just a handful of posts and ads splashed everywhere. It says to them that you’re more interested in making money than you are in providing good content. Who wants a site that’s all sales and no substance?

Tim O'Reilly noted that the failure of satelight radio is largely because they failed to put the customer first

Just remember how Google got their edge. It wasn't just pagerank and better search results, it was refusing to go the portal route, with intrusive advertising, and instead trying to figure out how to create a better user experience with advertising. Making ads non-intrusive and useful to their real customers was one of Google's biggest breakthroughs. (They will forget that at their peril.)
...
Today, you need to ride the wave of commoditization in both hardware and software, and build your value in new ways. Understanding those new ways is the heart of Web 2.0. And a big part of that is putting the user first.

Joel Spolsky recently wrote a great article offering Seven steps to remarkable customer service.

And, here I was, on this planet for forty years, and I couldn’t believe how much the three words “it’s my fault” had completely changed my emotions in a matter of seconds.

Seth Godin followed that up with a post titled Starting over with customer service:

I think the single factor that is killing this process and that is under the company's control is this: the desire to perform all customer service in real time.

How Do I Submit My Site to Google and other Search Engines?

Feb 21st
posted in

SEO Question: Can you recommend a product/service that will enable me to get my site listed with all the search engines? I have the site hosted with GoDadddy, they have a service for $30 that supposedly gets you registered with multiple search engines. Does this sound like a good idea? Is there a better way to do this?

SEO Answer: Many web hosts operate at almost no profit margin, and provide some cheesy no value submission service to thicken up their margins. It might be a bit much to call these search engine submission services a complete fraud, but I would classify most hosting company automatic website submission offerings as having no real value to webmasters.

If you want to get indexed by the major search engines get links from quality sources, like trusted web directories, well known blogs (search Technorati or Google Blogsearch), and other sites that are relevant to your offering. Search engines follow people and trust what other people already trust. Links act as votes of trust, so building quality links not only helps get your site indexed fast, but will also allow you to achieve a top ranking quicker.

The Golden Age of Pull Marketing

Feb 21st

Since blogging has become popular there are far more people writing than their are good ideas to spread. This means that if you can create a good idea marketed at publishers looking for a scoop, and format the idea to spread you can probably get enough link authority to get a natural PageRank 6 in just about any market.

Obvious Story Seed Locations:

Each day the Digg homepage and Del.icio.us popular lists have new content posted. There are also a couple major channels in just about every field that people pay attention to. If you can get featured on any one of these you can capture the attention of a targeted market.

If you read and learn these channels, and then create, format, and target your content with the intent of capturing one of these markets or publishers it should be easy to get featured.

Following Up With Email:

Don't rely on any one channel to spread your story. If it gets blocked for any reason you want other back ups that will help spread your story.

While you have mind-share follow up with personalized emails. In some cases it might make sense to remind people that you were as seen on and in other cases (such as rivals like Gizmodo vs Engadget) that might offend them. Sometimes putting an as featured in link in your email signature is a more confident, more tactful, and less overt way of showing that credibility.

Is Sending an Email Spamming?

If you are carpet bombing cheesy off target link exchange requests for my-viagra-texas-holdem-mortgage--9.biz then that is spamming.

Many sites have a tips@blah.com email address. They are not being spammed when you solicit coverage of quality content...it is something they are asking for, and something they need to keep publishing cutting edge stories first.

Sure email is push, but the large gain from it is the pull of that channel. If it is targeted and personalized and they ask for it I don't see how they could consider it spam.

Realistic Expectations:

Email allows you to personally target your message to a targeted group of influential people. As long as it is well targeted and personalized it rarely backfires. You can't expect them all to work, but if you get exposure on a few channels that is all you need to seed the story.

People do not see or know of your emails that had little or no effect, they only see people talking about your site on the active channels.

News Half Life: Why Email is Crucial:

Once news is a week old it no longer is news. It is stale. Being featured on few premium channels all at once will cause a story to spread much further than if you try contacting them slowly over time.

Once something is years old it might be worth reformatting and turning it into news again, but if it is just a few weeks old it is much harder to get people to care than it is fresh off the presses.

Cascading Effects:

Being seen on a number of authoritative sites leads to more coverage. Recently I got a story featured on the Digg.com home page and sent out 2 emails to authoritative blogs. Both blogs covered the story, it made the Del.icio.us popular list, got linked to from Wired Magazine, and a couple hundred unique sites linked at it.

My only regret is that I didn't take the time to send out a dozen more emails. But if I didn't get covered in all 3 of those authoritative channels right away I might have only got a few links out of it. Each trusted independant citation makes it easier for people to trust the story as being valuable and important, and leads to a cascading set of inbound links.

Since their is so much attention concentrated on the top few channels and there are many more people writing than there are original thinkers or good ideas to spread these authoritative co-citations lead to many second tier site owners feeling that they need to publish the news too.

New Channel Discovery:

After spreading a few ideas you will find many other channels to target that you may not have thought of. Did you know that Recruiting.com was a Digg clone? Or that HGTV is adding a community feature? Or that MSN is using a Digg-like feature for news in some of their smaller markets?

Drifting on Someone Else's Story:

Some might consider it unethical to snag someone else's story, but many stories spread because they are formatted to be spin and lies. If you see spin spreading debunk it on your own site or directly on the site producing the spin.

Yesterday an analytics company posted a blog entry about what Google properties are growing and dying. I commented that I thought it was spin (clearly stating why). I knew lots of people would read that story and that some would read the comments on the page and link at me. At least one person did.

The earlier you debunk a story the more links you get as their story spreads.

The Golden Age of Pull Marketing:

Any indication of demand, any channel spreading stories, any story that is spreading...all of these are fair game to track and leverage for easy exposure. It is easy to see what ideas are spreading, who is spreading them, and what formats work. It is the golden age of pull marketing.

______________________________________

The Golden Age of Pull Marketing was a phrase Andy Hagans used in a phone conversation I had with him. I asked him if it was ok to make a post titled that. He said it was as long as I begged you to subscribe to the Tropical SEO feed. He also said he would love me long times if I asked for you to unsubscribe from Scoreboard Media while you were playing with your feed reader.

If Links Didn't Matter...

Feb 21st

David Berkowitz recently wrote an article asking what if links lost their value? Over the past year real editorial links have only increased in value, as Google has been more aggressively requiring some minimum PageRank threshold to even index a page.

Many types of links have lost value as Google has got better at filtering link quality, but will editorial links ever lose their value? To answer that you have to realize that the reason links have value is that they are typically a proxy for trust based on social relationships or human judgement.

But links are openly gamed today and there are an increasing number of affordable marketing techniques that allow virtually any site to garner hundreds or thousands of quality links.

One day Google might come up with better ways to determine what to trust, but if they do, it is going to be based on who humans trust more, and who amongst those trusted sources does the best job of providing editorial value and noise filtering on their site. And this internal site filtering will become even more important as many hub sites leverage their brand and allow communities to contribute content to their sites.

There is one part of David's article that I think is off though, and that is the part on the keyword density:

Keyword density, the imperfect science of including just enough of the most important keywords on any given page without spamming the search engines, becomes more important than ever.

I don't think keyword density will be the answer to anything. I think a more appropriate phrase might be linguistic and attention based profiling.

Attention Profiling:

If links (and link acquisition rate) are a sign of quality, then likely so are RSS subscribers and RSS readers, as well as brand related search queries, custom search engine entries, instant message mentions, email mentions, and repeat visitors. Those are a few examples of attention based profiling.

Linguistic Profiling:

If you are the person that people are talking about then you are also going to help shape your topic's language. You may make up many of the new words used in your industry and your name may even be a core keyword in your industry.

You are not going to match your language better than the competition by caring about keyword density. The way you beat them is to have more market attention and work your business and name into the industry language.

Hiring the Ideas Guy

Feb 21st

As more and more content is created there are more publishers than there are good ideas, which means publishers are hungry to spread the few good ideas that exist. What separates a profitable channel from a money loser is typically two things: ideas and execution. Because I have been posting about a more diverse set of topics sometimes outside of SEO I get asked lots of business strategy questions. Many of them revolve around "and then I will pay someone $10-20 an hour to help with the strategy", but the problem is that if your strategy comes from someone else you are going to need to pay a lot more than that for GOOD strategy, and if they are willing to work for meager rates for a while and notice that all your value is built off their ideas it won't take long for there to be an ego conflict that causes them to quit working for you and start working for themselves.

Site design can be outsourced. So can programming, writing, and project management, but if you are not giving up an equity stake, and expect your workers to be the ideas guy eventually they are going to quit...at least if they have ideas worth sharing.

The reason consultants can charge $500 to $1,000 an hour is because they can create and spread good ideas that create significant market leverage and value quickly.

As an entrepreneur you either need to have a lot of capital to invest and/or be the ideas guy. And you need to excute.

Who Uses MySpace?

Feb 21st

While I still have a MySpace account I never log in anymore. There was too much spam to deal with. And my girlfriend got so many creepy messages that she had to delete her account. Generally, to use MySpace much, you have to do one or more of the following:

  • not value your time much

  • have a lot of spare time
  • be desperate to connect, and have few outlets
  • be a creep sending creepy messages
  • be an anonymous creep viewing profiles
  • be an automated spam bot or something that phishes accounts

MySpace grew too big to keep any sort of community feel the way that Digg has. It tried appealing to too large of an audience, and now it has no value outside of tracking the latest spam offers.

If I had a viral widget idea of course I would still want to pitch that to MySpace, but generally, as an end user, I just don't see any value to MySpace, do you?

This lack of value can also be thought of in ways that search engines may value certain types of websites that are not well integrated into communities on the web. If you spend time and money wading too deeply into those categories (or creating those types of site) you not only waste your time and money, but you also are not focusing on how to build trust and perceived value.

If it is your first site, it is awful hard to understand how to create perceived value and do the marketing well enough to be profitable before getting burned out. I think any type of site can have an editorial element bolted on to add credibility. And editorial content should be easy to add to a site if you are in tune with your marketplace and your customers.

If one channel is easier or more compelling to subscribe to than another then it is going to get more links, more attention, more readers, and win due to network effects. But if the channel gets so broad that it doesn't stand for anything eventually it will melt down, especially as smaller niche sites that are more relevant and easier to identify with are created.

Placing Your Brand Above Others

Feb 20th

When submitting to directories, buying paid search ads, buying display ads, or ranking in organic search a small company with a smart marketer can seem like it is much more powerful and much more authoritative than it is. But some webmasters undermine their authority by not considering how displaying ads on their own site could affect the perception of quality.

Which Directory is the Best?

Many directories sell sitewide banner ads to other directories, which directly states the other directory is of higher quality and more worthy of submitting to, not only for how the ads flow link equity, but also for the general brand perception.

Sell Yourself First:

Some sites make the same error of undermining their perceived site quality by placing external ads above their house ads or internal products. An earlier version of my site design placed other ads in-line with the content and the ad for my book on the sidebar. The day I put my ebook ad inline with the site content my sales tripled. If you have an editorial site that people subscribe to the easiest thing to sell should be your own stuff since people reading your site already trust you. Now my site has less ads, a better brand perception, and more profit.

Promote Your Content to Sell the Ads:

Without distribution it is hard to make money from advertising. Without heavily promoting the value of your content it is hard to get much distribution, especially with the self reinforcing nature of networks and the web.

Some sites are so optimized for short term profits that they undermine their own authority by placing a large ad block above the content. There are many creative ways to slightly reduce ad CTR while still leaving the general perception of quality to most site visitors. Just about every link you get will be from someone who visits your site. If your site leaves a good perception of quality and trustworthiness it is much easier to be deemed as linkworthy than if your site looks like an ad farm. AdSense aligned top and to the left is the equivalent of a noisy FFA page.

The order you place things in tells readers of your site what you think is most important. If you are in a competitive marketplace it is hard to compete if you place other brands or ads above your content.

If People Hate Your Writing Google Hates Your Website

Feb 20th

I recently got asked to review a couple articles to see which one was better for Google. But the problem was that it was obvious that the writer did not know much about the subject they were writing about, based their content around a keyword list, and was not structuring the content for Google.

Gathering Background Information:

You can learn enough about a topic to sound intelligent about it if you just research the topic for about 10 minutes. Go to the associated Wikipedia page, search Del.icio.us for your topic, and find a few other articles that are research oriented (like the history of, industry background from trade organizations, trends, what people are blogging about in that topic, etc etc etc).

Automated Content:

If you are just trying to build traffic to get ad clicks until a site gets burned you may as well use automated content generation tools. Markov chains / RSS / Wikipedia / etc etc etc provide a large pool of easily recyclable information. Automated content generation is getting more sophisticated to where there is little purpose in manually writing an article unless you are creating something to be read by people.

The Trend Toward Real Content Becoming More Profitable:

If search engines get more aggressive at using user feedback as a quality signal the profitability of poorly formatted content will be drastically reduced. If people do not read your content then they aren't going to link at it either. Content without links only works if you operate in an undiscovered or uncompetitive niche - which eventually will get competitive when others find it.

More and more people are reading and writing online. As the amount of content increases the value of strong filters goes up. Thus if you have content that you can pitch to them it will spread virally. I recently created one good article for a client, pitched it to 3 websites, and it got well over 100 organic citations in the first week.

Writing for People:

Those same sources that make it easy to create automated garbage also make it easier to create real content. After you have strong baseline knowledge of the topic, general writing principals, and know how to package information then the packaging is the only difference between profitable and and unprofitable content.

General Information Packaging Tips:

If you are taking the effort to manually create content:

  • Write it for people

  • Using small chunks
  • That are easy to digest
  • Don't write a paragraph that is 400 words long
  • Format your content
  • Use headers and subheadings, as well as pictures, lists, and quotes to break up your content
  • Sound authoritative
  • Write with style and bias

ROI Matters:

If you are doing something as a hobby, then people should matter far more than search engines. In that case ROI and search engines shouldn't be much of a factor.

If you are doing something as a business, then either automate your content generation or write for people. The ROI of original hand crafted content that targets search spiders over people is not going to be something that promotes a long-term growing business.

Sure you can look at your traffic logs and use keyword lists to tweak the copy of important pages to include a few more modifiers and pick up more traffic, but don't do it so much that the page looks like it was only created for search engines.

If your content is focused on conversion and converts well then you can afford to buy advertising and acquire affiliates. And if you point a few more quality links at a real content page it will rank far better and be far more profitable than a hand crafted page that was created exclusively for bots.

Marketing Science

Feb 19th

Without marketing great ideas go nowhere. Google's Larry Page recently stated:

"Virtually all economic growth (in the world) was due to technological progress. I think as a society we're not really paying attention to that," Page said. "Science has a real marketing problem. If all the growth in world is due to science and technology and no one pays attention to you, then you have a serious marketing problem."

Tim Berners-Lee, who created the WWW, wrote this in Weaving the Web:

People have sometimes asked me whether I am upset that I have not made a lot of money from the Web. In fact, I made some quite conscious decisions about which way to take my life. These I would not change - though I am making no comment on what I might do in the future. What does distress me, though, is how important a question it seems to be to some. This happens mostly in America, not Europe. What is maddening is the terrible notion that a person’s value depends on how important and financially successful they are, and that that is measured in terms of money. That suggests disrespect for the researchers across the globe developing ideas for the next leaps in science and technology. Core in my upbringing was a value system that put monetary gain well in its place, behind things like doing what I really want to do. To use net worth as a criterion by which to judge people is to set our children’s’ sights on cash rather than on things that will actually make them happy.

I have always been fascinated at the idea of bridging science with marketing because (from limited conversations I have had with various scientists) it seems that most scientists are nearly purely academic, or are populists who know little about their topic. It seems like there is not enough time for someone to do marketing and cutting edge research, or is there? And if/when you start marketing aggressively does it undermine the credibility of the scientific research?

Don't Write Nameless

Feb 19th

I recently wanted to quote another writer who posted to a community site outside of my normal realm. On their profile page it had their nickname and their AdSense ID number, but no name. If it is hard to quote you then fewer people will quote you. Having a nickname for a brand is a good idea for some, but if you are a freelance writer or service seller it is a good idea to build an identity that is easy to attach to a real name. In an anonymous world people trust and gravitate toward things that seem human and real. If someone has to be a search guru or a person willing to sound like an idiot to quote you then less people are going to quote you. If nobody is quoting you then there is little point to being a writer.

Using a name (real or fake) is a way to gain easy credibility points amongst those who do not know you or your industry.

Alexa Data Gets More Granular

Feb 17th

Alexa updated and now shows link data, top websites by language or geographic market, as well as your top geographic markets. They also provide a site report service where they crawl your site for broken links.

RC Jordan on Search

Feb 16th

Graywolf recently interviewed RC Jordan about SEO. Great interview of one of the true industry pioneers.

I worry less about the threat of mobile than I do about “specialty browsers” or “surfing channels” being built into the X-box, Wii, and other gaming and home entertainment servers. John Q. Public will accept channeled/gated browsing and, worse, full-blown Push technology because he’s lazy. Searching is work and, to make it worse, he isn’t very good at it.

But is it SPAM?

Feb 15th

Many marketers promote a naive worldview where things are black and white, but few profitable marketing methods are ever clearly black and white. The largest areas of profit are usually somewhere in the gray. You take the brand of something really white and good and you use that to gain enough leverage to monetize it using shadier or more aggressive margin rich ideas.

Using AIDS to Market Your Products:

Want an example? Werty was recently pissed off about product Red being a scam. Charge twice as much for a product and share HALF of the PROFITS with AIDS related causes.

While still on the topic of AIDS, did you know that last year Bristol-Myers Squibb got a bunch of media coverage for a site called Light to Unite, where they donate $1 to the National AIDS Fund each time someone lights a candle with the click of a mouse*. There have been nearly 1.8 million candles lit, but Bristol-Myers Squibb used the asterisks and small print to cap the payout at $100,000.

You take a corporate agenda, give a few crumbs to a non-profit, and have them market your story for you. Is that spam? Is that legitimate marketing? Not sure.

Is it biased ans self-serving? Absolutely, but then all marketing is.

Ads as Content:

I told my girlfriend that Obama will accidentally be called Osama because it was too easy to make that accident. Turns out it has already been happening for years.

Language is intentionally used and misused in specific frames, formats, and various levels of preciseness or vagueness to push the agenda of the author or originator of the story. Public relations is still going strong today.

Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren't about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.

Brand Duplication:

In most fields, most profitable businesses are arbitrage plays.

Why does InterActive Corp need Expedia, Hotels.com, TripAdvisor, Hotwire.com, and then even niche brands like ClassicVacations.com all in the travel vertical? What is the significant value add and mark of differentiation between each of those brands?

Yahoo! has search results, paid ads, local listings, their directory, Yahoo! Shopping, Yahoo! Answers, and Yahoo! News. Those cover virtually every vertical, but then they have content in other large verticals like auto, sports, tech and travel. Some of these leverage content from one another. They extend that content further with spam aggregator ideas like Yahoo! Brand Universe, plus they own automated content networks and niche brands like Del.icio.us, Flickr, and MyBlogLog. Do they really need that many brands competing with each other? They are already the most popular site on the web and they STILL are avid link buyers. If they already have that much traffic do they still need to buy links? And why are they selling these links on their homepage?

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So that is mortgage / credit, education, credit cards, and credit reports. In SEO those are generally considered spammy fields. Why? Because they are high profit / high margin fields where there are a ton of duplicate brands which do not add much value to the web.

Google is no better than any of the other companies. How much web spam is paid for by AdSense? Why does Google recommend publishers blend the ads with the content (unless they are selling links, in which case it is a sin of some sort)? Why does Google sell ads for software they recommend avoiding in their webmaster guidelines? Why do they syndicate ads on Warez websites? Why do they recommend bidding on keywords like bootleg movie download?

Having an automated ad network that pushes just about anything does not make it any more humane. It just increases the margins, so Google can push it further. But blindly profit seeking algorithms cause people to push the envelope to stay competitive. Is it any surprise that the UK is enacting laws to make fake reviews illegal?

If Google is so worried about noise that they have to quality price many ads off the page to keep it clean, why are the Google Checkout buttons so graphically large and aggressive on a virtually all text search result page? Does Google really need to push their checkout product this hard?

Doesn't that look a bit spammy, or tacky at the least?

What is Relevancy?

In The Search Engines Are Killing SEO Mark Simon predicts that in an attempt to have relevant results that search engine optimization will be rendered largely useless by improving technology:

Searchers want relevant results. They’ll reward or punish engines according to the relevance they provide. Advertisers, meanwhile, go where the searchers are. And so in order to keep the advertisers, who make the engines money, the engines need to make sure their search results are as relevant as possible.

I would argue that branding and marketing have more to do with search market share than relevancy. Google destroys the competition in marketing savvy.

In most highly profitable commercial markets there is not much difference between one company and the next. What can a bank offer but money? And if they operate on smaller margins they have less they can spend on marketing, and they lose market share.

Look how hard Google is fighting to try to marginalize Paypal, to collect marketing data and make their market knowledge more complete. Google is making their own SERPs look spammy to try to win another market, and failing hard. With Checkout, Google is telling a story nobody cares about.

Google Ranks Garbage:

What does Google consider as an authoritative quality website? Why are sites like Yahoo! Shopping, Bizrate, Nextag, MSN Shopping, Dealtime, Pricegrabber, and Shopping.com all ranked in Google as being more valuable than most smaller retail sites? Because they have some editorial guidelines and they spend a ton on marketing. But they all offer similar content, with little differentiation between them, and no value add from one to the next. If Google is so good at determining relevancy why are they ranking so many sites with similar content and similar user experience?

If Google dislikes double dipping on AdWords ads then why do they have so many similar low value sites ranking at the top of the search results for so many search queries?

Google Has to Trust Something:

Maybe search will close some of the easy loopholes, but the search engines have to trust something to create relevancy. Whatever they trust people will manipulate. So search engines will start trusting end users and popular opinion more. So SEO will be more holistic, focusing on users more than engines, but it won't go away. There are too many high margin markets with little brand differentiation, and that means that those who can differentiate or get people to talk about them will win marketshare.

It doesn't matter if you were early to a market and your market growth was slow and organic, or if you are new to the market and are better at marketing. Google has to rank something, and staying stale isn't how they are going to have the best relevancy. People expect to find the results that people are talking about. If your brand is well known Google will rank it highly. They have to in order to be relevant.

Every Market is Gamed:

You can differentiate by showing your message over and over again in hopes that someone cares (like Google Checkout), you can partner up with PR firms and non profits (like Gap and Bristol-Myers Squibb), or you can try to connect with people by sharing information about your topic or creating some other type of real value.

Anyone who thinks the search results will stop being manipulated is a person who fails to see how much the mainstream media is gamed everyday. And so is Digg. And so are most blogs. All authority systems are gamed by marketing.

People tell themselves certain lies to make the world make sense. Microsoft is bad. Apple is good. etc etc etc

The web is more targeted, more viral, and more reactive to marketing messages than other channels. Search will get gamed faster and harder as search commoditizes many thin arbitrage plays, the system teaches people to mesh ads and content, and the easy search algorithmic holes are closed.

SEO will never die. It will just continue to evolve with the market. Some self promotional gurus will associate SEO with dying low value spam, but as long as search companies are hiring SEOs I don't think we have much reason to worry about the future of SEO.

The John T Reed School of Hate Marketing

Feb 15th

When I reviewed one of John T Reed's books I stated that his view of SEO was a bit simplistic. He believed that you would just rank for anything you wrote about, but the reason why he ranked for everything under the sun is that he published many scam and scammers review articles.

Making it Easy to Love a Hated Topic:

If your website is in a sketchy field, one of the easiest ways to gain authority is to knock down things that are far sketchier than your own business model. If you review things that are easy to hate which rip off a lot of people it is easy for people to link at that. Then that authority and link equity spreads around your site to your other pages.

The core of your site should be based on servicing your customers as best you can, but if you need a bit of a bump in terms of link equity and you are in a sketchy field you might be able to get those links by reviewing things that people are generally biased against.

How far Should I Push it?

The thing you have to be careful with is to not be too hypocritical when you do those reviews, or else a large part of the market might not take to it too well.

If what you are doing costs you significant credibility and support from within your community you are not going to rank well if the algorithms become more community oriented, plus when people search for you they won't find others saying nice things about you, which makes it hard to charge a premium for your products and services.

Emotions = Links:

People link because of emotions. If you can tap curiosity, laughter, happiness, hate, or rage you can get more link equity than you know what to do with.

View All Your Google Supplemental Index Results

Feb 14th

[Update: use this supplemental ratio calculator. Google is selfish and greedy with their data, and broke ALL of the below listed methods because they wanted to make it hard for you to figur out what pages of your site they don't care for. ]

A person by the nickname DigitalAngle left the following tip in a recent comment

If you want to view ONLY your supplemental results you can use this command site:www.yoursite.com *** -sljktf

Why Are Supplemental Results Important?

Pages that are in the supplemental index are placed there because they are trusted less. Since they are crawled less frequently and have less resources diverted toward them, it makes sense that Google does not typically rank these pages as high as pages in the regular search index.

Just how cache date can be used to view the relative health of a page or site, the percent of the site stuck in supplemental results and the types of pages stuck in supplemental results can tell you a lot about information architecture related issues and link equity related issues.

Calculate Your Supplemental Index Ratio:

To get your percentage of supplemental results you would divide your number of supplemental results by your total results count

site:www.yoursite.com *** -sljktf
site:www.yoursite.com

What Does My Supplemental Ratio Mean?

The size of the supplemental index and the pages included in it change as the web grows and Google changes their crawling priorities. It is a moving target, but one that still gives you a clue to the current relative health of your site.

If none of your pages are supplemental then likely you have good information architecture, and can put up many more profitable pages for your given link equity. If some of your pages are supplemental that might be fine as long as those are pages that duplicate other content and/or are generally of lower importance. If many of your key pages are supplemental you may need to look at improving your internal site architecture and/or marketing your site to improve your link equity.

Comparing the size of your site and your supplemental ratio to similar sites in your industry may give you a good grasp on the upside potential of fixing common information architecture related issues on your site, what sites are wasting significant potential, and how much more competitive your marketplace may get if competitors fix their sites.

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Feb 12th

Through the end of this month ReviewMe is offering advertisers 50% off. For advertisers to use the 50% off coupon they simply have to enter: trial into the coupon code at checkout.

Get Your Blog Out of Google's Supplemental Result Hell

Feb 12th

Blog Indexing Question: My ranking for my core keyword went up, but most of my site was recently put in Google's Supplemental Index, and I saw my income and traffic drop sharply. I have not built any links recently or made any changes to my site. How can I fix this and get my site top rankings again?

Answer: Google has been tightening down on their duplicate content filters. They have also been using PageRank scores to determine whether to index a page, if they should stick it in their supplemental results, and perhaps how strongly they should apply various filters (such as duplicate content filters).

Between slightly lower internal PageRank scores (minor issue) and increasingly aggressive duplicate content filters (major issue) and significant duplication from page to page on your site (major issue) much of your site is in Google's supplemental index.

Get Real Links:

Google's Matt Cutts stated:

In general, the best way I know of to move sites from more supplemental to normal is to get high-quality links (don’t bother to get low-quality links just for links’ sake).

Since you said you have not built links in a great deal of time and few people are talking about your site in the active parts of the web the key is to write more about things that people are talking about or would comment on. Great content helps build links. You have to keep blogging if you want to keep your mindshare up.

Others pointing more link equity at your site from external sources should help improve your PageRank scores. PageRank is a large part of what is used to determine if a page is of high enough quality to stay indexed (or put in the supplemental index), and how aggressively duplicate content filters (and other filters) should be applied against it.

If you get strong editorial deep links from other bloggers that should also help search engines crawl that portion of your site better to make up for any information architecture related issues that may be causing certain portions of your blog to be inadequately crawled.

Make Longer Posts:

Since your posts tend to only be a sentence or two long, most of the pages are rather similar to each other. You may want to post more text in each post, and turn comments on to have more unique text on each page.

Reduce Sitewide Repetitive Features:

You need to make your page titles and meta descriptions unique on each page.

You may also want to resort your code order to put unique content higher in the page content and have duplicated and sitewide template related issues occur later on.

Don't Link at Garbage:

Since your site has a rather low PageRank you may want to only list your blogroll on your home page instead of every page of your blog. Take out other parts of your site that heavily duplicate each other from page to page. Also consider removing your sitewide links to some of the unimportant pages on your site to flow more of your link equity throughout your site.

I would also recommend removing the tagging pages on your site as your site is already navigable via your categories, and the tags create low value noise pages that reduce your link equity distributed on the quality pages. I also think it is foolish to link at all those auto-generated Technorati pages...that wastes a lot of your link authority. I would also recommend not linking to some of the pages you don't want Google to index, such as those printer friendly pages. You may also want to block those printer friendly URLs using the Robots.txt protocol.

You have canonical URL issues which can be fixed. If www.mysite.com and mysite.com are showing different PageRank scores 301 redirect the less popular version of your URL to the more popular version.

You also have a few broken links on your site that could be fixed.

All these changes should facilitate better indexing of your blog posts.

Issues for Commercial Sites:

Many commercial sites (especially thin product database sites) also fall into the Google Supplemental index. The above examples all apply to those types of sites, but in addition you could consider the following

  • add an editorial element to your site to improve your sitewide authority score

  • enable customer feedback and reviews to get more unique content on your pages

Keep in mind that if you do not do any offline marketing or much marketing outside of search, your site is more prone to large swings from search related fluctuations than some other sites which have more brand equity and/or do other forms of marketing.

Video as a Key to Market Growth for Small Players

Feb 12th

Brian Clark recently linked to a 51 page Michel Fortin PDF which was against writing long copy salesletters. It is a great read for any web marketer. A few highlights:

  • Human nature extends through all mediums.

  • The early web mimicked offline direct marketing. This is why long sales letters worked so well.
  • Due to increasing competition for attention (more websites, more web users, more email, more IMs,
    more spam, audio and video content, games and widgets, statistics programs, and software making the
    reach of one person greater) we have to package attention grabbing content in smaller easier to
    consume pieces if we want it to be consumed.

  • We look for proxies of trust and proxies of value. More people are looking for signs of trust
    away from sales letters, shifting sales from a sales letter to a sales process.

  • "Web 2.0 is about giving the user more control and selling them in the way they want to be sold."
  • "The more technology-driven we become (i.e., the more automated, static, robotic, and
    impersonal we become, as is the case with the web), the more we will crave and seek out human interaction."

  • Some people learn better with video and for many people video is far more stimulating that reading.
  • People are becoming more insatiable and want quicker answers and more free samples.
  • Many people are seeking more content upfront instead of getting it after they get on your newsletter.
  • Even after the purchase videos can be used to help orders stick.

How Salesletters Relate to Search:

You can take Michel's thesis on salesletters and extend it out to everything else on the web. Search is largely a proxy of how well people trust a website, a merchant, or person.

If a person searches for your brand name do they find any feedback about your company? Or is it just a bunch of ads for competitors and a few customer complaints? Or, worse yet, is nobody talking about your brand?

If a person searches for THEIR needs how THEY want to do you have any relevant trustworthy content to lead them into your sales process?

Cutting Edge Search Engine Marketers on Video:

Martinibuster recently posted a fabulous entry titled Creating Authority and Link
Development
. Like Michel Fortin's report, it is worth reading from end to end, but here is a sample:

Every selling point relative to the product is appropriate subject matter for demonstration.
It can be presented as one long presentation or it can be broken down into chunks. Yes, it’s an infomercial,
but it’s a way to demonstrate your product in a manner that site visitors are coming to expect and
appreciate. Giving them a way to preview the product is an excellent way of providing value with quality
content. It’s something to link to.

Roger also recently mentioned the move from text to video.

Matt Cutts, WebProNews, and a few search marketers like Lee Odden and Rand Fishken have been using video much more than in the past. Over the past few years Google has been the leading innovation platform at scale. And they recently bought YouTube for $1.65 billion. All of these should be seen as a signal of where things are headed.

Video was shunned in the past largely due to bandwidth costs, and because it had little to no text associated
with it (and was hard to find). But that is changing because:

  • bandwidth costs are dropping - essentially free

  • transcription costs are dropping
  • within a few years audio search will significantly improve (think of how approximate general search is, yet people use it because it is good enough, audio search does not have to be perfect)
  • aggregators, taggers, and bloggers are making it easier to find interesting and unique valuable video content, and are making it easier to find in general search indexes by writing about it
  • if people are talking about me and linking to my site it raises my authority and the authority of every document on my site...so even if one of my videos does not have a lot of text near it but still gets linked to it still adds value to my site

Killing Off Small Players

Currently there is a large blurring between ads and content. It is what Google teaches publishers to do, and targeted ads as content is one of the reasons smart affiliates have been able to make a killing over the past decade.

But due to improving duplicate content filters and an increasing amount of people producing editorial content and editorial links it is getting hard to rank a site which is targeted ads as content unless you attach some sort of editorial or other value add to your site. Plus easy to organize link lists are losing value to improving search technology, social bookmarking and news sites, vertical search engines like Google Custom Search Engine, and the editorial value added by bloggers and media discussing their topic and reviewing related websites.

Large players are wising up to search, with companies like eBay and AOL buying up vertical authorities like TradeDoubler and StubHub. Yahoo! has been pushing splog-like brand universes to leverage traffic streams associated with well known brands.

And it is getting harder to buy the search ads too. Minimum ad relevancy and quality score improvements make some terms out of reach for newer and less sophisticated players. And even traditional content sites like large newspapers are buying keywords to boost their exposure.

If you are logged into a Google Account Google just stopped giving you the ability to see
which results are personalized as they ramped up personalized search. AdWords manipulate the organic search results. And as noted in a comment by Hawaii SEO, the large brands will not only have more authority to rank for the more generic terms, but they also will be able to afford keyword ads early in the buying cycle, even if those keywords offer a negative ROI. If that early broad exposure leads to those sites being biased for long tail keywords as the buyer does deeper research that will also bias traffic streams to larger sites.

Major corporations, which typically are slow at reacting to new markets and opportunities, are already using keyword based search data to determine what products to make and how to name their products.

A while ago I wrote a post about how Google could commoditize nearly everything. I wasn't writing that to be a pessimistic wanker. My point was that as they get better at distinguishing the differences between real brands and non brands it is going to be much harder to keep making money from Google trust if you aren't also heavily trusted AWAY from Google.

Video & Interactivity Helps Keep Small Players Competitive:

Those who are getting into video now have a head start on people who still think of the web exclusively in terms of text. Think of the current video players as the equivalent of early domainers or people who were creating legitimate domains in your field a decade ago.

Chris Garret's Killer Flagship Content

Feb 12th

My buddy Chris Garret recently started offering a great downloadable ebook about creating Killer Flagship Content. He gives it away for free if you subscribe to his blog.

[Video] Submitting to Web Directories to Build Your Link Profile

Feb 12th


Video Summary:

This video is 15 minutes 17 seconds long. Directories are easy sources of links, but links from lower quality web directories may not get indexed by some major search engines, may not carry much weight in Google, and may put your site in a bad community. This video covers evaluating the quality of a directory as a link source.

Resources Mentioned in This Video:

Examples of Quality Directories:

  • DMOZ - also referred to as the Open Directory Project or ODP. Free submission, but it may take a long time to get listed as it is ran by volunteers.

  • Yahoo! Directory - $299 per year for commercial listings. Free for non-commercial listings.
  • Business.com - allows listings in multiple categories and you can point a few deep links at important pages on your site.
  • BOTW
  • JoeAnt
  • Gimpsy

Find More Directories:

  • Drill down on in DMOZ or the Yahoo! Directory for categories of directories. ex: DMOZ Software Directories

  • Search for your keywords, related keywords, or your keywords + directory. Sites that rank might be decent link sources (depending on other quality signals).
  • Look at inbound links pointing to competing websites.
  • Use lists of directories. Please note that many directory lists are nepotistic (recommending their own directory as being the next best thing) or heavily influenced by advertising, and small niche high quality directories that are not on lists of 1000 cheesy directories are probably better than lists of directories commonly used to spam search engines. Each list will have some good directories and many junk ones. PageRank is nowhere near as important as other quality signals. Here are a few lists: Strongest Links, SEO Company, ISEDB, and Search Engine Guide.

Things I Should Have Mentioned That I Forgot:

  • The Google Directory is a clone of DMOZ, organized by PageRank.

  • If a directory does not charge a submission fee take extra effort to make sure your description and title are clean and proper (ie: factual and not keyword stuffed). Emulate other listings.
  • It is important to mix your anchor text and descriptions to make your link profile look natural. Emulate other listings in your category, and try to use your keywords in some of your link anchors if the directory will allow it.
  • Directories count more in verticals where the competition is weak and not well integrated into the web. If your competition is frequently mentioned in the active portions of the web on news sites, blogs, and social sites then you will need to be mentioned on there as well if you want to compete.
  • An established site well integrated into the web which already has a clean link profile can be more risky with what sites they get links from, whereas a new site or a site with limited authority would likely do better building links from the higher quality sources first, then maybe getting lower quality links later, only after their site has proven trustworthy.

Google Using Search Engine Scrapers to Improve Search Engine Relevancy

Feb 12th

If something ranks and it shouldn't, why not come up with a natural and easy way to demote it? What if Google could come up with a way to allow scrapers to actually improve the quality of the search results? I think they can, and here is how. Non-authoritative content tends to get very few natural links. This means that if it ranks well for competitive queries where bots scrape the search results it will get many links with the exact same anchor text. Real resources that rank well will tend to get some number of self reinforcing unique links with DIFFERENT MIXED anchor text.

If the page was ranking for the query because it was closely aligned with a keyword phrase that was in the page title, internal link structure, and is heavily represented on the page itself that could cause the page to come closer and closer to the threshold of looking spammy as it picks up more and more scraper links, especially if it is not picking up any natural linkage.

How to Protect Yourself:

  • If you tend to get featured on many scraper sites make sure you change your page titles occasionally on your most important and highest paying pages.

  • Write naturally, for humans, and not exclusively for search bots. If you are creating backfill content that leverages a domain's authority score, try to write articles like a newspaper. If you are not sure what that means look at some newspapers. Rather than paying people to write articles optimized for a topic, pay someone else to do it who does not know much about SEO. Tell them to ensure they don't use the same templates for the page titles, meta descriptions, and page headings.
  • Use variation in your headings, page titles, and meta description tags.
  • Filters are applied at different levels depending on domain authority and page level PageRank scores. By gaining more domain authority it should help your site bypass some filters, but that may also cause your site to be looked at with more scrutiny by other types of filters.
  • Make elements of your site modular so you can quickly react to changes. For example, many of my sites use server side includes for the navigation, which allows me to make the navigation more or less aggressive depending on the current search algorithms. Get away with what you can, and if they clamp down on you ease off the position.
  • Get some editorial deep links with mixed anchor text to your most profitable or most important interior pages, especially if they rank well and do not get many natural editorial votes on their own.
  • Be actively involved in participating in your community. If the topical language changes without you then it is hard to stay relevant. If you have some input in how the market is changing that helps keep your mindshare and helps ensure you match your topical language as it shifts.

New Directory, URL, & Keyword Phrase Based Google Filters & Penalties

Feb 12th

WebmasterWorld has been running a series of threads about various penalties and filters aligned with specific URLs, keyword phrases, and in some cases maybe even entire directories.

Some Threads:

There is a lot of noise in those threads, but you can put some pieces together from them. One of the best comments is from Joe Sinkwitz:

1. Phrase-based penalties & URL-based penalties; I'm seeing both.
2. On phrase-based penalties, I can look at the allinanchor: for the that KW phrase, find several *.blogspot.com sites, run a copyscape on the site with the phrase-based penalty, and will see these same *.blogspot.com sites listed...scraping my and some of my competitors' content.
3. On URL-based penalties allinanchor: is useless because it seems to practically dump the entire site down to the dregs of the SERPs. Copyscape will still show a large amount of *.blogspot.com scraping though.

Joe has a similar post on his blog, and I covered a similar situation on September 1st of last year in Rotating Page Titles for Anchor Text Variation.

You see a lot more of the auto-gen spam in competitive verticals, and having a few sites that compete for those types of queries helps you see the new penalties, filters, and re-ranked results as they are rolled in.

Google Patents:

Google filed a patent application for Agent Rank, which is aimed at allowing them to associate portions of page content, site content, and cross-site content with individuals of varying degrees of trust. I doubt they have used this much yet, but the fact that they are even considering such a thing should indicate that many other types of penalties, filters, and re-ranking algorithms are already at play.

Some Google patents related to phrases, as pointed out by thegypsy here:

Bill Slawski has a great overview post touching on these patent applications.

Phrase Based Penalties:

Many types of automated and other low quality content creation cause the low quality pages to barely be semantically related to the local language, while other types of spam generation cause low quality pages to be too heavily aligned to the local language. Real content tends to fall within a range of semantic coverage.

Cheap or automated content typically tends to look unnatural, especially when you move beyond comparing words to looking at related phrases.

If a document is too far off in either direction (not enough OR too many related phrases) it could be deemed as not relevant enough to rank, or a potential spam page. Once a document is flagged for one term it could also be flagged for other related terms. If enough pages from a site are flagged a section of the site or a whole site can be flagged for manual review.

URL and Directory Based Penalties:

Would it make sense to prevent a spam page on a good domain for ranking for anything? Would it make sense for some penalties to be directory wide? Absolutely. Many types of cross site scripting errors and authority domain abuses (think rented advertisement folder or other ways to gain access to a trusted site) occur at a directory or subdomain level, and have a common URL footprint. And cheaply produced content also tends to have section wide footprints where only a few words are changed in the page titles across an entire section of a site.

I recently saw an exploit on the W3C. Many other types of automated templated spam leave directory wide footprints, and as Google places more weight on authoritative domains they need to get better at filtering out abuse of that authority. Google would love to be able to penalize things in a specific subdomain or folder without having to nuke that entire domain, so in some cases they probably do, and these filters or penalties probably effect both new domains and more established authoritative domains.

How do You Know When You are Hit?

If you had a page which typically ranked well for a competitive keyword phrase, and you saw that page drop like a rock you might have a problem. Other indications of problems are if you have inferior pages that are ranking where your more authoritative page ranked in the past. For example, lets say you have a single mother home loan page ranking for a query where your home loan page ranked, but no longer does.

Textual Community:

Just like link profiles create communities, so does the type and variety of text on a page.

Search results tend to sample from a variety of interests. With any search query there are assumed common ideas that may be answered by a Google OneBox, related phrase suggestions, or answered based on the mixture of the types of sites shown in the organic search results. For example:

  • how do I _____

  • where do I buy a ____
  • what is like a _____
  • what is the history of ______
  • consumer warnings about ____
  • ______ reviews
  • ______ news
  • can I build a ___
  • etc etc etc

TheWhippinpost had a brilliant comment in a WMW thread:

  • The proximity, ie... the "distance", between each of those technical words, are most likely to be far closer together on the merchants page too (think product specification lists etc...).

  • Tutorial pages will have a higher incidence of "how" and "why" types of words and phrases.
  • Reviews will have more qualitative and experiential types of words ('... I found this to be robust and durable and was pleasantly surprised...').
  • Sales pages similarly have their own (obvious) characteristics.
  • Mass-generated spammy pages that rely on scraping and mashing-up content to avoid dupe filters whilst seeding in the all-important link-text (with "buy" words) etc... should, in theory, stand-out amongst the above, since the spam will likely draw from a mixture of all the above, in the wrong proportions.

Don't forget that Google Base recently changed to require certain fields so they can help further standardize that commercial language the same way they standardized search ads to have 95 characters. Google is also scanning millions of books to learn more about how we use language in different fields.

Sending Bad Customers to Competitors

Feb 10th

One of my friends thought that a good keyword to rank for was cheap widgets. Now on the receiving end of those customers, my friend regrets ranking #1 for cheap widgets. Has anyone ever mentioned poisoning competing business models by sending them floods of low quality leads? If someone helped you rank for junk, and you figured it out, how would you counter? Alter the topic of the page? Remove the page from your site if it was of low value? Change the purpose of the page to harvest and distribute link equity? Point a few links at authoritative websites (like newspapers)? Edit the Wikipedia to put a few extra words in an article? Create parasitic pages on authoritative sites that outrank your site? Recommend a competitor's services to all your bad customers? .htaccess redirect to a page full of ads or a competitor based on referral string? Buy the associated ads for a competitor? Get a competitor links and help them outrank you?

The web is a fairly anonymous place in many ways, and as long as a technique is (remotely close to) legal people will do it. Not saying that I advocate it, but it is good to think about what you would do if any important variables in your business changed (like lead quality, competition in the marketplace, changing technology, etc.)

Targeted Marketing vs Spam Marketing

Feb 10th

Almost any marketing method can deliver good or bad messages, be tied to good or bad causes, or be of value or negative value. I think whether marketing is targeted and effective is much more important than the delivery method. SEO gets a bum rap for a variety of reasons, but one thing about good SEO is that it is targeted. Most marketing is not.

SEOs Are Scum:

A person who sold text links for scuba blackjack is considered credible when calling most SEOs scum? By who? And why?

Banks:

I pay my credit card bill and get ads for stamps, soccer, and health insurance. And the envelope contains coupons which, if redeemed, enroll me in worthless programs that cost 10x the value of the coupon. Banks the size of Chase have to do stuff like that to be profitable?

Ad Networks:

Now ad networks are writing things on people's foreheads to get buzz and attention. If the only way you can get people to talk about you is to create controversy or do stupid things that associate you with BumFights is there any satisfaction in that model? And then on the back of that you have your PR firm emailing an owner of a competing network, alerting them to the latest inside scoops and strategy? And then send that same person email spam pitching the SEO value of your wares without my name in it and the email titled "strategic partnership". Where is the relevancy?

Directories:

In spite of already writing the most popular Work.com guide I get emails inviting me to see what Work.com is all about. Why?

Search Engines:

Google is now pushing selling off topic branded advertising and continue to sell ads on sites they banned for spamming. Google sells AdWords ads for software that they specifically say not to use in their webmaster guidelines. Why?

Yahoo! is so desperate that they are reduced to marketing via phone spam. They call that innovation?

The Truth:

But everyone is fighting to say they have the best ad targeting, while the goal of many quality updates is to drive up ad costs, even if that precludes quality or relevant ads. But in some cases targeting is what will make the ad network more efficient. Let me run through an example...

Imagine that you use Google Checkout and one of your customers bought your product and uses Gmail. Now imagine I am a competitor who bids on your brand. Do you think Google may show my ad in your customer's email? Why wouldn't they?

But most people can't serve ads with the precision Google can. And at some point, even if you are targeted, you still have to do some amount of push marketing to get seen. Look how much push marketing and public relations work Google still does even after they are worth over $100 billion. You don't get to be a market maker without first being a market manipulator.

Be a Relevant & Profitable Marketer:

I think whether marketing is targeted and effective is much more important than the delivery method. If you are lacking on scale or budget you can always make up for it using creativity and targeting. Here are a few targeting methods I find exceptionally effective:

  • Frequently sharing my thoughts.

  • Asking for feedback.
  • Answering emails.
  • Participating in forums.
  • Bidding on new buzzwords before others.
  • Linking to a site I want to be seen on. (Bonus points if I write a bunch specifically about them).
  • Legitimate blog comments.
  • Interviews.
  • Reviewing other well known products in the vertical.
  • Going to conferences.
  • Syndicating articles to well read sites.
  • Buying site targeted AdSense ads.
  • I have tried buying ReviewMe ads on sites that decided they did not want to accept money to review my stuff, but decided to review it anyway. When they reviewed it I left a comment on their blog. Another well known blogger then linked to me based on that comment.
  • Personalized emails.

Marketing doesn't have to be expensive if it is targeted, especially if what you are marketing is of real value and you are good at conveying the value.

Talk Talk Talk

Feb 9th

Based in part on Calacanis's recent tirades, Scott Karp recently published a great post about SEO from an outsider's perspective. In his post he runs through how and why some people are biases against SEO. I think a couple big reasons that few people talk about are mis-direction and outsourcing faults onto others.

In other news, what is going on with Goog on Google Finance? People are talking about Cramer. Some are talking about how intelligent he is while others are saying his packaging is bad and he is an idiot. Both are probably increasing his brand value though.

I have to agree. I find Cramer a bit of an idiot. I mean, apparently he has done well in stocks, I am not disputing that, but for an investment adviser he is someone I find....well, comical. I've watched his show, and to me he's like the circus; something to see and laugh at when it comes to town, but not something to take too seriously. His biggest fault, and this is ironically the draw of his show, is how he preys on and encourages the emotions of his followers. Now, he may say that its best not to invest with emotion, but watching him run around on tv with his sleeves rolled up, yelling like some motivational speaker selling a new brand of energy drink, sure sends a different message. In fact, the high quality of his marketing skill, and the poor quality of his advice, kind of reminds me of the Motley Fool.....

In every market people who evoke emotional responses win. Even if they are wrong, you will see them refererenced often just because they are good at marketing and preying on human emotions.

Many popular people create far more controversy than value, but links and trust follow conversation. And so do ad dollars. If people are talking about you, you win, even if you are wrong.

Popular and correct are two different things, and the only way to know who you should trust is to test and then aim.

With the advancement of modern technology, people do not even vote on the content, just the headlines, which somewhat feeds into my belief that search personalization + using links as a proxy for value are going to create a polarized biased web full of recycled garbage. Everything is recycled.

Is it unfair to throw any of that blame toward search engines, or is it just default human nature to outsource our own faults and want to split things up to identify with things that are false but look good at a glance? Are our egos so broken that we have to be part of some minority or fighting for one to feel we have purpose? Must we have outspoken leaders to follow? Do the leaders believe their own words, or is it just self-serving marketing?

As more forms of vertical search come about, subscribing and publishing get easier, and more people vote without reading, you can bet that packaging will become more important than information quality...at least until people get sick of it.

I saw two popular pieces about saving money that explicitly gave money saving tips opposite of each other, both published by a friend, who recently talked up the value of his content. Some days sites like Motley Fool will tell you why a stock is a must buy and then have another article dissing the stock the same day. I think they even have a column based on biased polarized advice called Dueling Fools.

Big claims are remarkable, and worthy of a link. In a sea of rushed judgements and meaningless votes sounding convincing is more important than being correct. The perception of value and actually being of value are two different things. For the next couple years it will be far cheaper and more profitable to cater biased marketing to the ignorant rather than to create meaning with a bit of touch and originality. Or am I wrong?

Yahoo! Pipes Are Cool

Feb 8th

Yahoo! Pipes is a visual RSS slicing, dicing, and meshing tool. Basically you can take any feeds you like, add them together, and apply a bit of filtering. It is fairly intuitive and a lot a of fun for a wannabe programmer like me. And then when you create something, someone else can clone your pipes and add more stuff to it.

Here are some cool ways to use Yahoo! Pipes:

  • track the latest news in your industry (filtering by sources, keywords, or both)

  • track domain and marketplace offers like Shoemoney does here
  • track inbound links or mentions by syncing up blog search tools
  • see how fast ideas are spreading by tracking all the major social sites and blog search engines at the same time
  • watch eBay price trends (and just about any other trend which you can subscribe to)
  • see which Yahoo! Pipes are spreading, think of how you can improve those ideas or apply them to other markets
  • if you are dirty or aggressive about monetization ;) create a Pipe that is a core to many other pipes that pulls data from major websites like eBay while using your affiliate links in your Pipes

Tim O'Reilly has a great post about how the concept of Pipes could be highly valuable.

Historical Search Spam Patterns and Link Reciprocation

Feb 8th

Some people are wildly speculating that Google and other engines may create historical databases of SEOs and site relationships to identify spam. I have no doubt that some sites that go way too far stay penalized for a long time, and that some penalties may flag related sites for review, but I think search engines have enough data and most people leave enough footprints that search engines do not have to dig too deep into history to connect the dots. And there is little upside in them connecting the dots.

If they did connect the dots manually that would take a long time to do it broadly, and if they did it automatically they would run into problems with false relationships. Some sites I once owned were sold to people who do not use them to spam. If ownership relationships took sites out by proxy I could just create spam sites using a competitors details in the Whois data , or heavily link to their sites from the spam sites.

Where people run into problems with spamming is scalability. If you scale out owning many similar domains you are probably going to leave some sort of footprint: cross linking, affiliate ID codes, AdSense account numbers, analytics tracking scripts, a weird page code, similar site size, similar inlink or outlink ratios, similar page size, or maybe some other footprint that you forgot to think of.

Many of those things can be spoofed too, (what is to prevent me from using your AdSense ID on spam?), so in many cases there has to be a hybrid of automated filtering and flagging and manual review.

And even if you are pretty good at keeping your sites unique on your end, if you outsource anything they are going to have a limited network size, likely a routine procedure with footprints, and if their prices are low they are probably going to be forced to create many obvious footprints to stay profitable. And if you use reciprocal or triangular links associated with those large distributed link farms that puts you in those communities far more than some potential historical relationship of some sort. By linking to it you confirm the relationship.

Search engines do not want to ban false positive, so many spammy link related penalties just suppress rankings until the signs of spam go away. Remove the outbound reciprocal link page that associates you with a bad community, get a few quality links, and watch the rankings shoot up. The thing is, once a site gets to be fairly aggressively spammy it rarely becomes less spammy. If it was created without passion it likely dies then turns into a PPC domainer page with footprints. Hiding low value pages deep in the index until the problem goes away is a fairly safe idea for search engineers, because after a domain has been burned it rarely shifts toward quality unless someone else buys it.

Adjusting Your Marketing

Feb 8th

Some marketing fails because it does not use market feedback to help improve the ROI on the next generation of marketing. For example, if I make a couple sites and then take what I learned from making those and apply that to making more sites I will probably be more efficient than if I try to make many sites in parallel without collecting feedback. Many of the best marketers do absolutely stupid stuff that destroys the value of their work, other than what they have learned from testing the boundaries. But after you test them you learn and then you can incorporate that into your next round of marketing. It doesn't matter if you screw up as long as you keep learning from it, and adjusting to the market.

Before making a large commitment see if there are ways you can test the market and gain quicker and cheaper feedback. Build some content and links and see if it ranks. If it ranks build more content and links.

It is smart to emotionally invest into some of your most important projects, but it is a bad call to be so invested into the idea that if that idea doesn't work you keep pushing it against the will of the market until you go bankrupt, especially since there are so many market opportunities out there if you are willing to use market feedback to tweak your ideas to make them more profitable.

Ready. Fire. Aim.
Ready. Fire. Aim.
etc etc etc

Everyone is a Hypocrite and a Spammer

Feb 8th

One hates to give Jason Calacanis any additional exposure, but how can a person be so against SEO while selling text links for scuba blackjack online? Is he ahead of the market on global warming?

Grow up.. the only thing you're ever going to prove by trying to game my SeRP is that you're low-class idiots.

True, or maybe we are looking for scuba blackjack customers, and knew that you publish high quality original content and ads for that market.

[Video] What is a Self Reinforcing Authority (and a Self Reinforcing Market Position)?

Feb 7th


Video Summary:

Some documents and websites build self reinforcing authority that make them hard to beat for their targeted search terms. This video explains how that works and gives examples of some self reinforcing market authorities, as well as tips on how to make these types of sites and pages.

Resources Mentioned in the Video:

Examples of Self Reinforcing Authorities From This Video:

  • us debt clock

  • xe currency converter
  • search engine history
  • search engine ranking factors
  • black hat seo
  • seo code of ethics
  • seo today / search engine watch

Things I Should Have Mentioned That I Forgot:

  • Your title is important because most people will reference your document by its title.

  • Statistics, standards, and scientific sounding things are easy to become self reinforcing powerhouses, especially if they feed into the ego of the target audience.
  • If you get large media coverage of your idea leverage it to get more coverage. Show it off to seem exceptionally legitimate and trustworthy.
  • US News and world report ranks colleges, and is a great example of a self reinforcing authority.
  • Common ways to undermine authority that may prevent a site or article from becoming authoritative.
  • If someone has an authoritative idea in another market, but nobody has applied it to your market that may present an eay oppurtunity.

Signs of a Low Quality Website

Feb 6th

Webmasterworld recently had a good thread about signs of low quality websites. The less a person knows about your topic the more likely they are to rely on general signs of quality (or lack of) when consider if they should link at your site or not.

Common Quality Questions:

Is the design clean? Is the content well organized? Do they have major misspellings on their homepage? Who is behind the site? Is it easy to contact them? Are they referenced by any other credible sources? How unique and useful is the content? How aggressively are ads blended into the content? etc. etc. etc.

Why Proxies for Quality Are Important:

Recently someone spread a God hates fags song website. Friends were instant messaging me about whether it was real or not. Some journalists guessed it wrong. People are getting better at creating fakes. The easier we make it for people to trust us in a snap judgement the more people will trust us (and link to our sites).

These proxies for trust are important, especially when you are new to an established industry, are in a new industry with a small community of support, are in a rapidly growing industry that the media is having a feeding frenzy over, or are the seedy arm of a larger industry.

Example of the Importance of Outside Perception:

If an industry is new, the early leaders of that industry might be determined by mainstream media perception (or other perception outside of that industry). Using blogs as an example, if the media did not constantly pump up the Weblogs Inc. story that company still might be unprofitable today. That media exposure lead to more media exposure, gave the sites the link juice to help them rank, and gave them brand exposure that brought in advertisements.

Relating This to the SEO Industry:

With SEO it is easier to be seen as a SEO expert if you are first seen as an expert on search. It is easier to be trusted as an expert on any topic if your site does not flag common signals of crap.

I just got a link from the WSJ to my keyword research tool, but if I would have scored lower on the proxies for value maybe they never would have linked. And when you get that type of link you can leverage it as an additional signal of trust that makes it easier for others to link at you.

With BlackHatSEO.com, I mentioned as seen in Clickz and Search Engine Watch, but what I didn't mention was that both mentions were brief and in the same syndicated article. When the London Times interviewed me about that site I quickly put up another as seen in at the top of the home page, which will make it easier to get more exposure. You want your press coverage to lead to more press coverage, because those are some of the most trusted links and links that money alone usually can't buy.

But I am Already Doing Well:

Many people who buy consultations are already doing far better than I would expect them to do giving some of the obvious flaws I see with their site structure and marketing methods. Some state that they are already doing well. The point of these sorts of signs of crap is not that you need to fill all the holes to do well, or that you can't do well if you do not fill them, but imagine how much better a site can do after it fixes obvious errors if it was already doing well when it had many errors that undermined its credibility and linkability.

Straight Out of the Andy Hagans Playbook

Feb 6th

Andy Hagans reveals virtually everything there is to know about link baiting and social marketing.

Hidden Content Costs & Understanding Your Profit Potential Per Page

Feb 6th

Ever since Google has got more selective with what they will index, the model for profitable SEO changed from chucking up pages and hoping some of them are profitable, to where it makes sense to put more strategy into what you are willing to publish.

The Supplemental Index Hates Parasitic SEO:

Each site will only get so many pages indexed given a certain link authority. And each of those pages will rank based on the domain's authority score, and the authority of the individual page, but each page needs a minimum authority score to get indexed and stay out of the supplemental results - this is how Google is trying to fight off parasitic SEO.

Given that many people are leveraging trusted domains, it makes sense that if you have one that you leverage it in a way that makes sense. CNN will rank for a lot of queries, but it does not make sense for Google to return nothing but CNN. It is good for the health of Google to have some variety in their search results. This is why smaller sites can still compete with the bigger ones, Google needs to use the smaller sites to have variety and to have leverage over the larger sites...to keep the larger sites honest if they are too aggressive in leveraging their authority, or have holes that others are exploiting.

Extending a Profitable Website:

If you have a 100 page niche website you may be able to expand it out to 500 pages without seeing too much of a drop in revenue on those first 100 pages, but eventually you will see some drop off where the cost of additional content (via link authority that it pulls from other pages on your site) nearly matches the revenue potential of the new pages. And then at some point, especially if you are not doing good keyword research, have bad information architecture, create pages that compete with other pages on your site, are not actively participating in your market (gaining links and mindshare), or if you are expanding from a higher margin keyword set to a lower margin one, you may see revenues drop as you add more pages.

The solution to fix this problem is build editorial linkage data and stop adding pages unless they have a net positive profit potential.

What are the costs of content?

  • the time and money that went into creating it

  • link equity (and the potential to be indexed) that the page takes from other pages
  • the mindshare and effort that could have been used doing something potentially more productive
  • the time it takes to maintain the content
  • if it is bad or off topic content, anything that causes people to unsubscribe, hurts conversion rates, or lowers your perceived value is a cost

How can a Page Create Profit?

  • anything that leads people toward telling others about you (links or other word of mouth marketing) is a form of profit

  • anything that makes more people pay attention to you or boosts the credibility of your site is a form of profit
  • anything that thickens your margins, increases conversion rates, or increases lifetime value of a customer creates profit
  • anything that reduces the amount of bad customers you have to deal with is a form of profit

Mixing Up Quality for Profit Potential:

I am still a firm believer in creating content of various quality levels and cost levels, using the authoritative content to get the lower quality content indexed, and using the lower quality content earnings to finance the higher quality ideas, but rather than thinking of each page as another chance to profit it helps to weigh the risks and rewards when mapping out a site and site structure.

Increasing Profit:

Rather than covering many fields broadly consider going deeper into the most profitable areas by

  • creating more pages in the expensive niches

  • making articles about the most profitable topics semantically correct with lots of variation and rich unique content
  • highly representing the most valuable content in your navigational scheme and internal link structure
  • creating self reinforcing authority pages in the most profitable verticals
  • requesting visitors add content to the most valuable sections or give you feedback on what content ideas they would like to see covered in your most valuable sections
  • If your site has more authority than you know what to do with consider adding a user generated content area to your site

Take Out the Trash:

If Google is only indexing a portion of your site make sure you make it easy for them to index your most important content. If you have an under-performing section on your site consider:

  • deweighting it's integration in the site's navigational scheme and link structure

  • placing more internal and external link weight on the higher performing sections
  • if it does not have much profit potential and nobody is linking at it you may want to temporarily block Googlebot from indexing that section using robots.txt, or remove the weak content until you have more link authority and/or a better way to monetize it

Google Offers More Link Data

Feb 6th

Google's Link: command has been broken forever, but now Google is letting you see a far more representative sample of external links to your site and your internal link structure if you verify that you are the owner of your site by signing up at Google Webmaster Central. They also allow you to export your linkage data in an excel file. Some ways to use this data:

  • look at internal link structure of important pages and make sure they are well represented

  • look at internal external structure of important pages and make sure they are well represented
  • look at which pages on your site are well represented and make sure they link to other key pages
  • download your external linkage data and sort by date to look for new link sources (and why they are linking at your site)
  • run the excel sheet through a duplicate site remover or c class IP range checker to see how diverse your linking profile is

If you have shifty sites obviously there would be little to no upside in verifying those sites with Google, but if your sites are generally above board you might find this tool useful.

Thanks to Adam.

Triple Your Google AdWords CTR Overnight by Doing Nothing, Guaranteed!

Feb 6th

I have seen many ad studies that empirically proved that the person doing the study did not collect enough data to publish their findings as irrefutable facts. While recently split testing my new and old landing pages I came across an example that collected far more data than many of these studies do: Google AdWords ad Clickthrough Rates.

Same ad title. Same ad copy. Same display URL. Same keyword. And yet one has 3x the CTR as the other.

If you collect enough small data samples you can prove whatever point you want to. And you may even believe you are being honest when you do so. Numbers don't lie, but they don't always tell the truth, either.

Want to know when your data is accurate? Create another ad in the split group that is an exact copy of one of the ads being tested. Once its variances go away with the other clone then the other split test data might be a bit more believable.

Anonymous Voting is Garbage

Feb 5th

What is the problem with free anonymous votes? Just like an infinite supply of money, it has no real value. Get one account banned and start working on the next. I might be able to believe this drivel if I didn't know so many cases that proved this wrong:

We strongly believe attempts to game Digg are ineffective. While it would be foolish to say that Digg has never been artificially manipulated in the 2+ years (50,000,000+ diggs) we’ve been live, we’re confident that such attempts do not impact the content that reaches the home page.

Beyond self interested manipulation, allowing people (or bots) to vote on content takes the focus away from the content and makes people interested on arbitrary voting or how voters may respond. It makes the content watered down, average, bland, and generally worthless. It takes the focus away from your value and accepts anonymous input as having some real value, but outside of gaming them for links, they don't...just look at how fast they leave sites.

Your creativity, and value are in your addictions.

Making a Couple SEO Videos

Feb 4th

A long time ago I made a keyword research video which was WAY too long and came out a bit grany. I recently bought the latest copy of Camtasia Studio and am thinking about making a few short SEO videos. Here are some possible topic ideas:

  • what are quality links

  • what web directories are worthwhile
  • link baiting and how do I appeal to web 2.0
  • how to use SEO for Firefox
  • how to do competitive research
  • how to find the most profitable keywords
  • how to write page titles and meta description tags
  • how to do on the page optimization
  • how to structure a website to be search engine friendly AND convert well
  • how do I pick a niche
  • how to evaluate the health of a website

So the question is... what topics would you like to see me make short tutorial videos about? I can't guarantee I will make them all, but I will try to make at least a few, and then listen to feedback to make a few more that are hopefully a bit better.

User Generated Tags Are Useless Noise

Feb 3rd

A current dumb, but popular, trend is to get user to tag pages.

How valuable is a Technorati tag page to a Google user? Probably just about worthless, IMHO. The only reason they exist is that it gives bloggers crumbs of exposure in exchange for their link equity, and it gives Technorati a way to build authority and get an automated scraper to pass as real content. Other large sites have started following this tag example, and allow users to use non-descriptive labels like 2000, hip, and cool to tag their content. As if this tag noise was not bad enough for people trying to look past the clutter and actually find something, some of these sites use the tags to create additional content pages.

What are these page? They are a perfect example of low information quality pages. Some dumb content management systems and blog plug-ins take the noise one step further by cross referencing the tags, having a virtually infinite set of tags that will keep generating more cross referenced tag pages until search engines get sick of wasting their bandwidth and your link equity indexing the low value garbage.

A set of loosely defined tag pages is no better than a low quality search result page. Search engines have long ago decided they generally didn't want to index the search results from other search engines. When too many of their own results are these noisy tag pages eventually they are going to turn against tags...maybe not via any official statements, but some sites will just not rank as well.

Search engines react to the noise in the marketplace then the marketplace creates new types of noise to pollute the SERPs. Then the search engines react to the noise in the marketplace. Then the marketplace creates new types of noise to pollute the SERPs. Tags are noise and they will have their day.

Why would you want to let users outside of your business interests control your information architecture and internal link structure when Google is getting picky about what they are willing to index? Why waste your link equity and bandwidth?

Google Increases Search Result Personalization - Removes Notification

Feb 3rd

Google recently announced they are increasing user personalization. In the past they typically placed a turn off personalized results whenever your results were personalized, but now they do not disclose when they are personalizing the results, so you don't know when they changed, which sucks. To see non-personalized results you have to log out of your Google account.

Now instead of marking the results as personalized when they change them the results always say they are personalized.

Wasting Link Authority on Ineffective Internal Link Structure

Feb 2nd

If you put one form of internal navigation in parallel with another you are essentially telling search engines that both paths and both subset pages are of the same significance. Many websites likely lose 20% or more of their potential traffic due to sloppy information architecture that does not consider search engines.

Many people believe that having more pages is always better, but ever since Google got more aggressive with duplicate content filters and started using minimum PageRank thresholds to set index inclusion priorities that couldn't be further from the truth. Shoemoney increased his Google search traffic 1400% this past month by PREVENTING some of his pages from being indexed. Some types of filtering are good for humans while being wasteful for search engines. For example, some people may like to sort through products by price levels or look at different sizes and colors, but pages that are almost duplicate with the exception of price point, size, model number, or item color may create near duplicate content that search engines do not want to index.

If you are wasting link equity getting low value noisy pages indexed then your high value pages will not rank as well as they could because you wasted link equity getting low value pages indexed. In some cases getting many noisy navigational pages indexed could put your site on a reduced crawling status (shallow crawl or less frequent crawl) that may preclude some of your higher value long tail brand specific pages from getting indexed.

More commonly searches that have some sort of filter associated with them will be associated specific brands rather than how we sort through those brands via price-points. Plus the ads for those terms tend to be more expensive as well.

The reasons brands exist is that they are points of differentiation that allow us to charge non commodity prices for commodities. That associated profit margin and marketing driven demand is why there is typically so much more money in branded terms than other non-brand related filters.

When designing your site's internal link structure make sure that you are not placing noisy low value pages and paths in parallel or above higher value paths and pages.

On Being an Egotistical Hypocritical Wanker Every Day

It is kinda weird when you build a decent amount of authority from scratch because eventually people start treating your errors much differently. There are ups and downs to exposure. The biggest ups are

  • You get far more credit than you deserve, so it is easy to maintain your market position. Some non-news is news because you mention it.

  • If you do something good it is probably going to spread.
  • You will get a lot of feedback.
  • You get opportunities that you would never expect, and get to learn a lot by partnering with great people to work on amazing projects.
  • You can help friends and family quit working for others and work for themselves to do things they are passionate about.

The biggest downs are

  • You get far more credit than you deserve - this causes many people to stagnate, trading off of past reputation.

  • You get used to doing well, so you have to learn something really cool or something amazing has to happen for you to get excited about work.
  • If you get addicted to reach or authority you can let yourself change to where you identity becomes more representative of what others want you to be - even if it is not who you are.
  • If you get bored and want to change what you do it is hard to change if you let your living costs scale with your income.
  • Your average client shifts from people who are passionate to include many people who are not.
  • It is impossible to write something that is interesting enough to be worth reading and accessible to everyone.
  • People look to pull you out of context any way possible, especially if doing so can improve their market position or sense of self worth.
  • You can get bogged down with menial tasks to where you stop learning unless you are aggressive at filtering out noise.

As far as my errors go, I can write a post about how important it is to write well, but at my core I am still a bad speller. About a year or so ago spelling errors started to matter much more than they did in the past. Many other errors have become more and more important as well.

More recently friends advise me to steer clear of controversy, stating things like things that got you where you are are not necessarily things you should continue to do. Largely they are probably correct, but it is a big shift in perspective to go from looking for cracks in statements and policies to being a person who just casually analyzes markets and is rewarded for their observations and ideas...especially if you like to view yourself as the underdog. :)

And now when I do anything risky I am guaranteed at least one sharp response. And everything you do is one more opportunity to look hypocritical. My sales letter claims that SEO is easy, and I think if you are passionate about your topic it is not hard to compete in just about any field. If you are passionate it is not hard to spread ideas because pure passion brings out creativity and it is easy to detect...people want to be associated with that. People want to feel important and want to associate with people who make them feel their ideas are important.

The issue with Dave Pasternack (which got me that response telling me that I need to grow up) is not that SEO is easy or hard, it is that it is hard to scale selling SEO services because most businesses need more than just SEO... they need overall business optimization. Most people are too arrogant or afraid or shortsighted or distrusting to consider that. What is worse is that many people intentionally commit fraud, and we have to be sheltered to protect our egos and livelihoods.

I just helped get a great friend's new site to the front page of Google's search results. Now their phone is ringing off the hook, but because they need to streamline their sales process and work on making more compelling offers that filter out bad prospects they are probably getting a bit more exposure than they want. Was it easy for them to rank? Absolutely. But now they need more. And they are learning quickly, but it is much easier to help them for free as a friend than to build their business as a client.

And then you know pieces of stories that you can't share. Some days multiple mainstream media outlets will contact you asking questions about how they can better optimize their sites. The same companies publish articles about how sketchy the entire field of SEO is, while cloaking links or content on their own sites, and few people see the absurdity of the claims. And if you say anything about it then people may see it as an unjust rant. And if you divulge too much you might end up costing someone their job. Everyone wants results, and accountability for risk and errors usually falls on someone who can't afford to bear the brunt of the outcome.

If you are profitable and show your results you are accused of showing off, all while closing market inefficiencies you found. If you do not show results then you are arrogant and talking out of your...

As a person who shares market inefficiencies you are going to offend some people. Right now I think many bloggers are getting paid crumbs compared to what they are worth, but if I post about that suddenly I am a chauvinistic pig that thinks mom bloggers are naive and stupid and blah blah blah.

I don't think it is bad to be naive. I still am about many things, and if you feel that saying some people may be naive is a bad thing then you need to grow up and stop viewing the world in a black and white picture that makes yourself feel important. Everyone is not equal. And if we were the world would be a terrible place to live.

My girlfriend actually likes how crass and kurt I am, but I am nowhere near as much so on this blog. Yet after reading what others say about me I often feel like I just pulled this move.

Everyone is a minority with a broken ego and wants to feel important. No matter what you do people will hate you. Some idiot recently started leaving racist comments under Jim Boykin's name.

Everyone has cracks in their identities and egos. And if a person stands up for the rights of others sometimes they end up trampling others to maintain their own authority. It is an underlying theme in Animal Farm. From my Cliff notes style poem about that book:

what you fought against
is what you became
still, you kept fighting
to protect your name

People link at definitive statements. If your content is vanilla nobody cares. People link at definitive statements. People pull your words out of context and make them more definitive such that they create a self promotional controversy. But then sometimes I do the same thing. Everyone does. There are far more words typed each day than attention to consume them. Somebody has to lose.

As you get more authority you are expected to be less and less risky. I recently got one of my sites mentioned in authoritative political blogs and noticed that SEO Book typically sends link sites nearly as much traffic as many of the top political blogs. Should I take less risk? How do you balance self confidence and perceived arrogance? Should you worry about offending a few people so much that it changes your identity and how much you enjoy doing what you do?






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