Blog Comment Spam to Search Spam to Email Spam

Mar 29th

A friend of mine found out about a product that was first seen by them from a spam comment someone left on my site. The product helped automate content generation and syndication, aiming to help new webmasters distribute slightly unique spam across the web. My friend gave that person his email address and they email spam him non-stop. Marketing offers are no better than the marketing method they use to find you.

Extending the Reach / Circulation of a Web Based Content Site & Ad Network

Mar 28th

Once you have a trusted market position advertisers will buy in even if you hurt their business model or call their products crap:

To my enormous surprise, the company that threatened to call the feds on me made another offer to advertise on CamcorderInfo.com. Because of our popularity - we have the No. 1 search listing on Google (Charts) under "camcorder reviews" - it couldn't afford to avoid us anymore. I okayed the deal, comfortable that the electronics firm was aware of our ethics policies. It has since become one of our largest clients. When I asked the executive if he ever actually called the FBI on me, he insists he did. He said the agency found me guilty of nothing except a passion to build a reliable company.

Every Ad Network is Flawed:

Once an ad network has buy in they look for ways to leverage that market position. And there is fraud involved nearly every time

  • newspapers puff up their circulation numbers

  • magazines run ads and give themselves away to boost circulation
  • a keyword that normally costs me $4 a month on Yahoo! cost me over $100 this month due to syndicated click fraud
  • look at how much of the web spam Google funds

How to Extend Your Reach Without Getting Too Dirty:

Once you establish a trusted market leading niche site you can extend your circulation by buying traffic from cheap sources. Some people will just send fake traffic generators over their own site for impression fraud, but there are many cheap sources of traffic that may provide ongoing value and look much more natural than blatantly committing circulation fraud.

  • Keep your feed rather clean so it is easy to subscribe to. The people subscribing to it will likely be the people who link to your site. Maybe put one exclusive sponsored by ad unit in your feed.

  • Create an email newsletter that recycles your best online content. Maybe run one or two ads in it, and use it to drive traffic back to your site.
  • Buy interstitial ads from AdBrite on related websites. If AdBrite is underpricing the inventory of a strong site try to buy out all their ad slots.
  • If AdSense is under-priced in your market consider buying AdSense ads on related sites to drive longtail traffic back to your site and further position yourself as the market leader. You see this sort of activity all the time with web directories, where a couple of them have ads on other web directories.
  • If you are really motivated you may want to resell ad inventory of other smaller players in your field.
  • Buy traffic from StumbleUpon.
  • If you write what is essentially a news site try to get syndicated in Google News and other related news sites.
  • If your site has a high authority score, write a few posts here and there that use analogies or other ways to pull in related traffic without looking like you are straying too far off topic. For example, one of the leading search queries for this site is Google Auctions.

  • Interview industry experts that have greater reach than you do.
  • If you have been ignoring SEO at least give the topic a cursory look, and consider buying a few trusted links by doing things like joining trade organizations.
  • Create linkbait and get it exposure on the popular social news websites. Also consider promoting your best content via Review Me buys on popular channels. (disclaimer: I have an equity stake in Review Me)
  • If you have enough time to manage it (or know someone else who can) consider adding a forum or other user generated content sections to your site. Active forums can have hundreds of thousands or millions of page views each day.
  • Have your pages refresh once every few minutes to rotate through advertisements. I believe MarketingVox does this.
  • Make sure your site design is clean, you publish quality original content, and your about us page looks trustworthy. These will make it easier for people to buy ads directly from you, and will make it easier for the media to use you as a source.

If you have a high value market position in a large competitive sector and are not making much from AdSense make your site brand ad friendly by pumping up your circulation numbers. Many of those ad buys are cheap on a CPM basis and will lead to additional recurring traffic and links. In many high value markets as your get more exposure your ad revenues increase logarithmically because you get more traffic and people are willing to pay a higher CPM rate.

Writing for Multiple Audiences

Mar 28th

Many sites tend to steer clear of controversy, but want the traffic controversy can bring. What are the solutions?

  • Accidentally put things in / leave things out of your story that make it easy to take it the wrong way. Leave an easy angle that you know people will take so that when they do you can crush them. Depending on your strategy, it may even help to leave comments off on some of these types of posts.

  • Write your own controversial comment as though it was from someone else and then let people debunk that person.
  • When you syndicate your story to a social site that is politically biased, place blame for whatever is wrong on someone. People will vote on hating or liking that person without even clicking through to the story to see if it relates to the headline.

Even the Search Engines are Bad at Optimization

Mar 27th

Yahoo! allows paid inclusion members to buy quick links in the search results and indexes sites more fully if they use Yahoo! for their site search. While neither of these may seem like a big deal they both are. Allowing businesses the chance to buy a greater share of the search results or giving them greater indexing priority for them using your search service are both things that would make search purists cringe.

While Google is busy turning the text link into a performance based ad network Yahoo! sells their search credibility and marketshare too cheaply. Buying Del.icio.us and MyBlogLog are not going to make up for the undermining effect on credibility paid inclusion offers.

Frank Schilling's Seven Mile: My Favorite Domainer Blog

Mar 27th
posted in

I could accurately be described as an amateur domainer wanting to know more of that market. My favorite blog on the domaining market is Frank Schilling's blog. There are so many good posts that it is hard to highlight any of them. He writes about a wide range of topics including the domains he didn't buy (and their prices), how relevant domain names affect PPC arbitrage, and his underlying philosophy on business.

The Naivety of Starting From Scratch

Mar 26th

When I was new to the web I was excited when I would get things to rank from scratch, thinking I did a great job of SEO, but if your results are effective and consider applicable risks does it matter what techniques you used to promote a website? None of us really start out from scratch. When I started on the web I was a recluse with low living costs, lots of time, the need to be successful, and lots of rage. Those were off the web assets that played in my favor, as well as my liking for reading and writing, and my experience selling baseball cards in high school. I also had a friend who was web savvy and made many friends on forums. Without them I would have failed online.

That is probably too much of talking about me, but consider yourself:

  • what unique experiences or biases do you have?

  • what resources do you lack?
  • what resources do you have a lot of?

After you think of your own assets and skill sets, ask yourself if it matters how you achieve your results.

  • Does it matter how you learned what you know?

  • Is it better if your site is brand new? Or is it better if you bought an established site?
  • Is it better if you designed your site? Or is it better if you used a free template or paid a site designer to create it?
  • Is it better if your site is hand coded? Or is it better if you use an extensible content management system?
  • Is it better if your site validates? Or is it better if your site renders in browsers and you spent that extra time and money to create more content?
  • Is it better if you created all the content yourself? Or is it better if you paid writers to create it?
  • Is it better if you sell your own product? Or is it better if you sell ad space?
  • Is it better if your links are all organic? Or is it better if you bought a few topically related trusted links?
  • Is it better if you rank your own site? Or is it better to buy an ad on an authoritative site and rank that page?

You learn more by doing things yourself, but you can't learn and do everything if you are trying to make a scalable business. All those points of distinction are arbitrary. Every market is gamed, and so long as your methods work it doesn't matter how you got there as long as you didn't have to hurt others to do so.

After you are profitable and growing, for many projects it makes sense to outsource tasks, including:

  • website design

  • content creation
  • ad sales
  • maybe even initial marketing, by buying old websites

Thinking that you have to do everything from scratch means that you are going to run into scale issues much quicker than a competitor who believes in outsourcing will. Once you consider opportunity cost, doing everything yourself becomes far less appealing.

Eye Tracking from Search to Recall

Mar 26th

There have recently been a couple eye tracking studies in the news. Jakob Nielson did a study on the effects of clean content organization:

What if you could engage users in a story for about half the time, yet have them remember about 34 percent more of the content? That’s exactly what one test showed. Spending less than two hours rewriting and reformatting a story about New York City restaurants really paid off according to this study.

Gord Hotchkiss recently posted about how people scan search results.

We scan three to four listings at a time, which are temporarily loaded into our memory slots. From that first group of three to four listings we make a determination if any of them are relevant to the query we just launched. About 50% of the time, we make our selection from those first three or four listings and we click on one of them. If we don't find what were looking for in this first can, then we continue to scan down the page, slicing off our second consideration set of three to four listings, again loading them into our memory slots so we can compare them and make our choice.

As the business model for creating content erodes, and web entrepreneurs get better at recycling content, those who get the presentation and formatting from the search results right on through to site structure and article display will win marketshare as destination sites:

While many people want their website to be #1 (or even settle for first page) for their keywords, very few websites actually deserve it. The concept of Destination Marketing is about making your website better than the sum of its parts by combining strong SEO and strong on- and off-page marketing without compromising any of it. If your website is just another site doing the same thing that hundreds of others are and you provide no unique offerings, simply put, you don't deserve to be #1. Period.

Update: Poynter did research showing that when people pay attention online they pay more attention than they pay to similar offline pieces. Here is a video about their eye tracking study.

The Fog of War - Great DVD

Mar 26th

A couple friends recently mentioned The Fog of War - Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara. It is a great DVD from the perspective of a former Secretary of Defense, about the errors he made and the lessons he learned in his life.

It is mind boggling to hear about all the fire bombing in Japan, how serious the Cuban missile crisis was, and that the Vietnam war lasted so long due to a lack of empathy. So much has been smudged away from the school books. The DVD concludes a killer quote derived from T. S. Eliot:

We shall not cease from exploring, and at the end of our exploration we will return to where we started, and know the place for the first time.

What You Can Learn from Comment Spam

Mar 26th

I just deleted about 10,000 comment spams from a blog. What could one learn from going through all that spam?

High Value Keyword Net:

Comment spam ads (outside of porn) are typically the same topics advertised on the Yahoo! homepage and on About.com's brand sponsored content sections.

Spammers who spam others blogs are generally focused on profit and results oriented. Many of them do dumb stuff, but some of them will leave a competitive research trail worth looking at, complete with the TYPES of keywords that are profitabe (pornography, perscription brands, gambling, things associated with finance) and important keyword modifiers.

How to Leave Feedback:

Given the results orientated nature of spam, it is unsurprising that many comment spammers leave comments that are generic, non-personalized, and flattering. If you want people to respond to you the flattering angle is probably effective, but message personalization is also key.

The Cost of Free Content:

if you let others litter your site with spam it is easy for others to think you don't believe in your own product. As one person stated on the blog with spammy comments:

Take notice of the spam here on the blog, they don’t care about this site and they don’t care about paying their customers.

Why wouldnt search engines eventually do the same? Sure spam is free content, but if it puts you in a bad linguistic neighborhood what is the cost?

This Content is an Automated Personalized Ad Optimized to Rank for You & Exploit Your Personality Flaws - Enjoy!

Mar 24th

Are you lonely, broke, ugly, overweight, tired, depressed, stressed, or looking for the best incest bestiality porn online today?

Featured offer: Click here for an online blissful excursion leading to eternal consumer driven happiness.

Machines optimized for market efficiency and profit don't have ethics, and do not promote businesses that do. How much we will allow ourselves to trust personalization and quality scores?

"They knew they were being lied to, but if lies were consistent enough they defined themselves as a credible alternative to the truth. Emotion ruled almost everything, and lies were driven by emotions that were familiar and supportive, while the truth came with hard edges that cut and bruised. They preferred lies and mood music...." - J G Ballard, Kingdom Come

Using Co-branding to Overcome Barriers to Market Entry

Mar 23rd

If you are new to an oversaturated market or want to reach an audience that normally ignores you, the easiest way to do so is to co-brand something they DO care about. Want examples? How to optimize your WORDPRESS BLOG and seo for FIREFOX come to mind.

In many markets the top ranked site is determined by popular opinion OUTSIDE their niche market.

Turning a Hobby Into a Passive Income Stream

Mar 23rd

As ads and content continue to blend eventually there will be some type of blowback where websites that are driven by passion will keep taking marketshare from sites that lack passion. If you have a hobby the odd are you are passionate, spending a lot of time on it, and may also be spending a lot of money on it. Why not align work and play?

If you turn your hobbies into businesses at the very least you get a tax write off, but on the upside you might create a sustainable profitable business model.

Pop Ups as a Sign of Market Opportunity

Mar 22nd

If the top competing sites are monetized by feeds from third tier search engines and / or off topic pop ups you can probably buy targeted ads on their sites cheap. You don't need to rank if they already are, and if the ad buy helps you rank that is a bonus.

Many market leaders were just early to the market, and do not realize the potential they are wasting monetizing with antiquated marketing that is both cheap and poorly targeted.

Google is the Biggest Web Spammer

Mar 22nd

Andrew Goodman recently posted about SEO industry reputation woes, but the real reason for the problem is the self serving agenda of search engines. Don't underestimate the marketing of the search engines, which outside of their own link buying and selling, generally like to hint at this equation SEO = spam.

People spam everything though - media creating biased news, misquoting interviewees, blending ads in content, ads as content, free votes driving communities, deceptive article titles, spinning numbers from small sample sets, bogus posturing formated as research studies, etc.

Look at how much Google had to clean their PPC ads. Yet we don't associate PPC service providers as people pushing thin content arbitrage sites, fraudulent search engine submission services, and off target cookie stuffing offer spams. Should we?

If spam is hosted by Google, ranked by Google, and displays Google ads, then why the need for outsourcing that fault? Why can't we just call those people Google affiliates and leave it at what it is, Google = spam?

Some people claim that Google is out for the best interest of their users, but why the need for cost per action ads that are only labeled as ads on a scroll over? Ads cloaked as content are what is best for users? In a couple years we will see:

The game is now to manipulate consumers not only to click, but to take some further action. And I don't use the word 'manipulate' arbitrarily. This is about turning the web into one big pile of junk mail, aimed at getting you to sign up, buy, or commit to something that you hadn't necessarily wanted.

The Ups and Downs of Socializing Your Content

Mar 22nd

There are many ups and downs to adding a user generated content section to a site. It has been interesting watching the effects of SEOMoz's user generated content and points systems. The ups:

  • users feel they are part of the brand.

  • they are more likely to push the brand and link to the site
  • points are created free but give some perception of value
  • users create free content for the site even when you are not doing so.
  • some of their content will rank in search results. today I did a search for search engine marketing and saw Google listing a link for recent blog posts listing this post
  • contributors might give you good marketing ideas or help you catch important trends before competitors do

The downs:

  • people who spend lots of time contributing tend not to value their time too much AND are hard to profit from (especially in savvy marketplaces that ignore ads).

  • having many relationships allows you to be a connector that knows someone for just about any job, but focusing heavily on building community and maintaining the many relationships needed to do so may hold you down on the value chain. A few strong relationships will likely create more value than many weak ones, especially as we run into scale related issues.
  • if your site is not authorititative, user generated content may waste your link authority and lead to keyword canibalization
  • if your site is authoritative many people will look for ways to leverage your domain or authority
  • as you get more authoritative more people will try to exploit it. even friends get aggressive with it, and unless you call people out it gets out of control quickly.
  • as you extend your commitments, spending time to police a site, it is harder to change course. I get frustrated when I see spam on the homepage of ThreadWatch, but I guess I can't be surprised people do it, and due to database issues I am uncertain if I will be able to upgrade TW without just archiving the old information and switching to a new CMS.
  • some people looking to promote their work may spam or aggressively associate your brand with the articles they wrote. For example, is this comment spam? Or is it good?

If a relationship is affiliate based it is quite easy to police undesirable activity by banning accounts, but if people are adding content to your site and marketing it aggressively in ways that may not bode well with your brand it might be harder to police it, especially as you scale your community. And typically the people that are most likely to give you crap for it are hypocritical with their beliefs.

I think on the whole a community section is a pretty good idea if you tie it into a paid content model, but even when you do that you will still run into scale issues if you provide any type of support for the paid content. I have over 600 emails in my inbox, and recently stopped advertising free consulting with an ebook purchase because I stopped scaling as a person. As your profits scale the opportunity cost of any one revenue channel become more apparent. That is one of the things which has prevented me from putting a forum or community section on this site.

Help Me Help You

Mar 21st

It looks as though Scoreboard Media is pumping out better content than Tropical SEO. This post is no exception.

I’m constantly amazed at how many of these “SEO Firms” with the big followings generate little to no income from their own projects. If there is a stronger signal of quality for a lack of confidence in their own ability, I can’t think of it.

If anyone with more than 3 years of experience is allocating more than 50% of their time to consulting, I’m going on record as doubting their skills.

Why is it so important for a consultant to market their own sites?

  • During periods of uncertainty having limited obligations creates easy income opportunities - one reacts to the market quicker.

  • So we can do risky stuff without risking client sites. Not testing limits is intellectually dishonest and defeats the purpose of calling oneself an optimizer.
  • Better pay. Building growing passive income streams is far better than getting paid by the hour.
  • Growing passive revenue streams help the consultant get a baseline for their value and ensure they value their time.
  • A reasonable consulting rate filters out the worst potential clients while attracting high value clients.
  • Passive revenue streams allow us to be selective with clients, working with the rare client worth taking on, and extracting enough profit from them to deliver them significant value.
  • We learn how to spread ideas better if we are pushing things we are passionate about. It is hard to be passionate about a client site and see their full potential unless I pushed myself first. We learn when...
    • good ideas spread;

    • when good ideas do not spread;
    • when we see garbage spread; and,
    • when we see things backfire.
    • Seeing junk spread and figuring out why some good ideas do not teaches you much more than when the market acts as you would expect.

Elite Retreat Was Fun

Mar 21st

Elite Retreat just finished, and I think this one was even more fun than the last one. Wendy and Kris both blogged it. Thanks to everyone who attended and spoke.

Google Beta Launches Affiliate Network

Mar 20th

Via SEL, Google beta launched a distributed pay per action ad network, and are accepting publisher sign ups here. More background here and here, including a new ad format, text links:

Text links are hyperlinked brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher's page. Publishers can place them in line with other text to better blend the ad and promote your product.

For example, you might see the following text link embedded in a publisher's recommendatory text: "Widgets are fun! I encourage all my friends to Buy a high-quality widget today." (Mousing over the link will display "Ads by Google" to identify these as pay-per-action ads).

Though the maximum length of a text link is 90 characters, we've found that shorter links perform better because they allow the publisher use the link in more places on her/his site and in different context. The maximum length is 90 characters but less than 5 words is best. Even better, just use your brand name to offer maximum flexibility to the publisher.

If they push this as hard as they did AdSense or search it is going to teach advertisers and publishers to create efficient conversion oriented content and sales funnels. It will fundamentally change the structure of the web.

Too Much Email

Mar 19th

Drowning in a sea of email. Hundreds of them. Blah. Elite Retreat conference today and tomorrow. Deeper I will submerge into the depths of endless email. Hope I reply soon...

Filters vs Penalties & Optimization vs Over-Optimization

Mar 16th

Jill Whalen recently posted to SEL about how duplicate content penalties are not penalties, but filters.

If you duplicate on a small scale duplicate content does not hurt you (other than perhaps wasting some of your link authority), but if you do it on a large scale (affiliate feed or similar) then it may suck a bunch of link equity out of your site, put your site in reduced crawling status, and / or place many of your pages in Google's supplemental results. Jilll's article mentioned the difference between penalties and filters:

Search engine penalties are reserved for pages and sites that are purposely attempting to trick the search engines in one form or another. Penalties can be meted out algorithmically when obvious deceptions exist on a page, or they can be personally handed out by a search engineer who discovers an infraction through spam reports and other means. To many people's surprise, penalties rarely happen to the average website. Most that receive a penalty know exactly what they did to deserve it.

From a search engineer's perspective, the line between optimization and deception is thin and curvy. Because that is the case it is much easier for Google to be aggressive with filters while being much more restrictive with penalties.

From my recent experiences most sites that lost rankings typically did so due to filters, and most site owners that got filtered have no idea why they were filtered. If you were aggressively auto-generating sites your experience set might be different (biased more toward penalized over filtered), but here are examples of some filters I have seen:

  • Duplicate Content: This filter doesn't matter for much of anything. Only one copy of a syndicated article should rank in the search results. If they don't rank all of them who cares? Even though duplicate pages are filtered out of the search results after the search query, they still pass link authority, so the idea of remixing articles to pass link authority is a marketing scam.

  • Reciprocal Linking: Natural quality nepotistic links are not bad (as they are part of a natural community) but exclusively relying on them, or letting them comprise most of your link authority is an unnatural pattern. A friend's site that was in a poor community had their rankings sharply increase after we removed their reciprocal link page.
  • Limited Authority & Noise: A site which has most of it's pages in the supplemental results can bring many of them out of the supplemental results by ensuring the page level content is unique, preventing low value pages from getting indexed, and building link authority.
  • Over-Optimization Filter: I had 2 pages on a site ranking for 2 commercially viable 2 word phrases. Both of them were linked to sitewide using a single word that was part of the two word phrases. Being aggressive, I switched both sitewide links to using the exact phrases in the internal anchor text. One of the pages now ranks #1 in Google, while the other page got filtered. I will leave the #1 ranking page as is, but for the other page I changed the internal anchor text to something that does not exactly match the keyword phrase. After Google re-caches the site, the filtered page will pop back to ranking near the top of the results.

The difference between a penalty and a filter is the ability to recover quickly if you understand what is wrong. The reason tracking changes is so important is it helps you understand why a page may be filtered.

How can you be certain that a page is filtered? Here are some common symptoms or clues which may be present:

  • many forum members are complaining about similar sites or page types getting filtered or penalized (although it is tricky to find signal amongst the noise)

  • reading blogs and talking to friends about algorithm updates (much better signal to noise ratio)
  • seeing pages or sites similar to yours that were ranking in the search results that also had their rankings drop
  • knowing that you just did something aggressive that may make the page too well aligned with a keyword
  • seeing an inferior page on your site ranking while the more authoritative page from the same site is nowhere

Make Thousands of Near Identical Articles for Content Syndication & Link Building!!!

Mar 16th

People have asked my thoughts on content remixing and syndication. It is an ineffective approach to marketing.

There is enough content on the web, which is why Google is getting selective with their index. The problem with ineffective content is not that it needs mixed up and syndicated. If a site syndicates watered down vanilla remixed content they have too much content for their link authority, and most of their pages are doomed to Google's supplemental results. Lots of content and little link authority means remixing and syndicating is NOT the answer. What is the solution?

Rather than syndicate garbage, create things people would want to talk about and link at.

Getting Out of a Bad Community

Mar 15th
posted in

SEO Question: When I did a related search on Google it said that my site was related to some gambling sites. How do I help my site no longer be related to these sites?

Answer: It sounds like you may have a spammy link profile that needs cleaned.

Site Content Cleanliness Check:

Do a site:mysite.com search in Google for your domain, while also searching for a few offensive words to ensure nobody has added spammy pages and / or spammy outbound links to your site.

Outbound Link Profile:

The first thing you want to do is look at who you are linking to. If you are linking to any off topic or spammy stuff get rid of those links. If you are not linking out to any industry authorities link out to a few authority sites in your industry to help search engines understand what sites your site is related to.

Clean Up Your Inbound Link Profile:

Stop renting any links that associate your site with bad sites (ie: have co-citation with spam).

The next thing you may want to do is consider looking through your backlinks in Yahoo! while searching for offensive words (ie: casino, poker, gambling) to see if you have any dated offensive links that you may need to request be removed.

Build Up Your Legitimate Inbound Link Profile:

While you are taking down the bad links also look to make sure you have plenty of good links that help put your site in the community it belongs in. Submit your site to a few of the major trusted directories, get other locally or topically relevant authoritative links (industry magazines / bloggers / trade associations), then use tools like hubfinder, touchgraph, MyBlogLog, Alexa related sites, the Google Directory, and other similar sites that help organize link profiles and/or visitor profiles to define communities.

When possible get links from those quality sources. If it seems like your site could not get many links from those quality sources then do what you have to in order to be considered comment worthy and link worthy. If you don't know how to do that, do the following:

Group Interview on Links - Without Group Think

Mar 15th

Rae recently posted a 5 person interview about link building that is well worth a read. 5 experts are interviewed. Each answers a set of questions without seeing the other answers until after the interview.

Selling SEO Services on a Performance Basis

Mar 14th

SEO Question: Some prospective customers have offered to pay me on a performance basis. Should I consider providing search engine marketing services for these types of clients?

Answer: There are many ways to structure these sorts of deals, but generally I would probably avoid most of the offers because a lack of willingness to pay until results are achieved is often an indication of a lack of trust.

Trust and Toxic Customers:

If a customer does not trust you enough to pay you until after you show results they may not trust you to access their site or implement your suggested changes. This lack of willingness to consider optimization elements away from search is the single common problem associated with most toxic customers.

It is easier to push your own good idea than to push a bad idea owned by a person who is rigid and hard to work with.

Selling All Traffic as PPC:

If they will not give you access to the site you can still give suggestions that you hope they will implement, and you can still build links. Selling traffic as PPC minimizes the upfront commitment on both sides, and allows the SEO to still get paid even if their site can't convert. These deals can be structured in many flexible ways:

  • set minimum and / or maximum spend caps

  • set contract term length and opt out clauses
  • set price as being flat rate per click, or allow both partners to adjust rates when it makes sense
  • do not charge for brand related searches
  • specify what traffic sources are valid (ie: pay for Google searches and traffic from other engines, but do not pay heavily for a Digg homepage story)

As an SEO, selling traffic on a PPC basis protects you from conversion errors on their site, and may make them more likely to listen to your conversion advice. A good SEO should be able to sell traffic for less than comparable PPC traffic.

If you set your price point high enough you can start off by selling them relevant PPC traffic and then easing off the PPC spend as your organic optimization gains traction. Some SEO companies may set up third party sites to drive traffic, which protect them if a client decides to cut their budget.

I believe Barry Lloyd was one of the first to sell SEO services on a per click basis, but I believe he has since moved on to selling PPC management software.

Pay Per Ranking:

Some clients think they need a few certain trophy phrases even if that is not the case. Some deals with a single trophy phrase or wide related keyword nets can also be sold on a pay per ranking deal, with so much being paid for ranking in different engines for different keyword phrases. Make sure both parties have the same idea as to what the goals are and how long a page must rank to receive payment, and when the payments are due.

Affiliate Websites:

If a merchant reveals an appealing vertical, but does not want to pay enough to make it worth your time, consider setting up an affiliate website marketing related offers. This allows you to chose whatever affiliate programs pay the most, while ensuring you get paid recurring revenues even while you are not actively promoting your site.

Sites Worth Partnering on a Pay for Performance Basis:

  • Related Sites: If you already have a related site that can drive significant traffic a partnership makes sense, but probably as an affiliate rather than an SEO. But if you help them on their site it should be easy to provide value if you already know their site well.

  • Large Brands: If you see structural errors that are holding back large brands AND they are willing to act on your advice they may see significant upside so will the SEO, but most large brands will be adverse to these type of deals.
  • Small niche players: (perhaps even local niche sites) that take limited time to work on are also nice to work with, but be careful not to do too many projects like these or they can weigh you down during shake ups. Algorithmic shake ups are periods of opportunity if you have free time to roam, but may be periods of hurt if you have too many clients.

Sites Not Worth Partnering On:

  • New Sites in Competitive Fields: If you have to go through all the work to build up a new site you are probably better off building up your own site than building up someone else's site from scratch. The one time these types of deals make sense is if you really believe in the upside potential of an idea and can get an early equity stake.

  • Thin Content Sites: If their site is already doing exceptionally well, but has serious issues and is just waiting to get nuked then they may blame you for the fault that was just waiting to happen. Stick clear of thin content sites and sites that are designed more for bots than for humans.

Keyword Research for Niche Terms

Mar 13th

SEO Question: I am trying to do keyword research for a client, and he is focused on a niche phrase that does not show up on any of the major keyword research tools. I was wondering if there was an accurate way to estimate search volume for these long tail keywords.

Answer: In this case, almost any sampling method you can think of is going to be wildly inaccurate.

If something does not get much search volume the easiest way to estimate search volume is to pull out your credit card and run a Google AdWords campaign targeting the keyword. Make sure your targeting is for search only and that your daily spend limit and bid prices are high enough that your keyword is showing for most (if not all) searches. If your ads are targeted to broad match (instead of phrase or exact) Google will also show your ads for many related keywords based on your keyword list. It also helps if you have an AdWords account that is aged and trusted so that they give you significant exposure right away.

I think a more practical solution than to look for exact keyword volume for niche terms is to use the keyword research tools to show their low search frequency, then use the same tools to show what words are important, and for parallel keywords to come up with rough estimates for search volumes for the relevant basket of related keywords. Then use a tool like my keyword list generator to come up with a relevant list of keywords to bid on.

After you get some market feedback from that PPC account, use your server logs and ad campaign stats to track short and long keywords your ads were relevant for, adjust your page copy, internal anchor text, and inbound link anchor text to help focus on the most important phrases, while also covering related phrases in a way that avoids keyword cannibalization.

A few other ways you can come up with relevant keyword phrases are:

  • track what you are ranking for in organic search results

  • look at the navigational structures, page titles, and page copy from competing sites
  • see what keywords Google recommends based on your URL
  • see what AdSense ads Google would target to your pages. Look at their ad copy, copy from their landing pages, and copy from other relevant parts of their website.
  • On rare occassions competitors may make their stats public for one reason or another.
  • You can also pose as an interested potential site buyer to acquire statistics.

There are also services such as HitTail that aim to help you extract other useful keywords based on the keywords you are already ranking for, and private tools such as HitWise and KeyCompete may show you a few keywords that public tools do not.

Free Elite Retreat Conference Pass

Mar 13th

We are giving away a free pass to the the fast approaching San Fransisco Elite Retreat conference that myself, Lee Dodd, Jeremy (Shoemoney) Schoemaker, Kris Jones, Darren Rowse, and Neil Patel are putting on. We have all decided to hold a fun contest where we are giving away 1 free ticket (value of $4,950) to the conference.

To enter for a chance to win free registration to the Elite Retreat, you need to send in an email to ( contest(at)eliteretreat(dot)info ) with your contact information (name, email address, phone number, and mailing address) AND your answer to the following question:

“Why should a legitimate business need to worry about branding?”

If you choose to participate and send in your email, you MUST be ready and willing to book your airfare and hotel reservations right away as the conference is less than 1 week away!

Again, send the email in to: contest(at)eliteretreat(dot)info

Contest Deadline: Wednesday, March 14th, 2007 @ 12:00pm CST

I look forward to reading your replies and you may be our lucky winner!

See Google PageRank and Anchor Text of Your Inbound Links

Mar 13th

Joost de Valk emailed me about a Firefox Greasemonkey extension webmasters can use with Google's Webmaster Tools to see the PageRank and anchor text of inbound links.

The tool is fast, and does a good job of showing you how well you have been mixing your inbound anchor text, but you need to be using Firefox with Greasemoney installed to see the information. Greasemonkey extensions are easy to make, especially if you read Dive inot Greasemonkey.

TicketMaster: An Interesting Auction Model

Mar 13th

TicketMaster, a near monopoly which hated ticket auctions in the past, now auctions seats for a premium. You can bid on an auction for row 1, and if the minimum bid drops below the required amount to win they will automatically drop you into an auction for row 2, and so on. Imagine if 1 minute before the end of the auction you thought you were in row 1, and then in the last 5 seconds of the auction a network of scalpers bid and you got a notification that you were in row 4. Paying $500 for row 4 tickets could feel a bit salty, but I imagine that many flat priced commodities will eventually move to an auction model that finds a way to squeeze money out of people bidding on the most expensive item even when they lose. It makes them more efficient, but will also frustrate many consumers.

eBay the largest general auction site, bought StubHub, a leading ticket reseller site, earlier this year for over $300 million. SnapNames recycles domain names. Google makes billions hand over fist as an ad auction (and likely eventually a content auction and an attention auction). What other businesses do you see becoming more efficient or growing due to a web auction based model?

Do Pre-made Stores or Pre-made Online Merchant Websites Have Any Value?

Mar 12th
posted in

Question: I recently purchased a website at mydomain.somecompany.com as a store to sell somecompany.com's products and was wondering if the site had any value, and how I could do SEO on the site if I couldn't change the content?

Answer: Many companies sell the right to resell their products online, but most of them that require you to use their domain or subdomain for your stores are probably selling junk. Truth be told, I have got similar questions from other people who told me that customer support at some of these firms charged for site customization, and even started off many question sequences with how much room is left on your credit card.

The idea of paying for the ability to sell someone else's stuff online is a bit absurd. Amazon, eBay, Google, Yahoo! and thousands of other sites all have affiliate programs. Some of the better opportunities with product catalogs also have fairly open API programs that make it easy to integrate their data into your site.

There are many problems with trying to market a site that you can not touch

  • if you can't change a site then it is hard to create something remarkable that people would want to link at or share with friends

  • if someone's marketing is so closed off that they don't even allow you to change anything then their marketing is probably missing out on many other great feedback points as well
  • if you can't change a site then it is hard to get past duplicate content filters (good search engines will only want to rank 1 of these subdomains for any query which means that the rest of the affiliates are out of luck)
  • It is important to build up your own doman name if you are serious about building something of value. If you are stuck on someone else's subdomain, then if they ever dislike you or if their business fails so does yours.

Ideas and pieces of software are recycled all the time. This site uses Apache, MySQL, and MovableType on the back end, but the front end design is unique and these words are things I typed. There is nothing wrong with using pieces, but if someone wants you to use their entire system then they are probably going to hold you back from your full potential.

People buy packaged solutions for the same reason they buy diet pills and exercise programs that work while they sleep:

Why do you think there are so many diet pill, fitness equipment, workout 10 minutes a day, crap commercials selling billions of dollars worth of solutions that don't work? The reason is people want to believe they work, they are unwilling to do the things actually required to successfully loose weight and be in shape (diet AND excersize regularly at least 30mins a day)

So instead, they buy the marketing because they'd rather lie to themselves and believe a pill / fancy ab equipment and 10 minutes will work.

Instead of starting from some boxed in, closed off opportunity someone else offers you, I think you would be better off to start with something you are interested in and go from there. It costs under $200 a year to register a domain name, host it, install Wordpress and start writing. And if $200 is more than you have then Blogger.com allows you to custom map a Blogger blog to a URL of your choice for only $10.

Using Affiliate Software to Track Your Ads

Mar 12th

Many people think of affiliates as an added sales channel and affiliate ads as offering a branding bonus (how many text link ads affiliate banner ads have you seen?) but there are numerous benefits to running an affiliate program that many people never consider.

Exclusive Partnerships:

You do not have to let people know that you have an affiliate program unless it makes sense to. You can chose what partners to allow when special occasions come up, without risking watering down your brand equity and perceived value by chasing large distribution deals.

Learn Market Research Data:

  • What ad formats work best?

  • What types of affiliate conversion work best?
  • Are there holes in your marketing?

Some affiliate software allows you to track affiliate lead sources and conversions so you can not only improve your own copy, but also improve your sales funnel and recommendations to affiliates based on real world data from top performers. Many affiliates will also uncover markets you never thought of.

Cloak Your Own Actions as an Affiliate:

If you are doing high risk ad buys it might make sense to sign up as your own affiliate and make it look like it was one of your affiliates who bought that keyword or ad.

KeyCompete and SpyFU make it easy to get an overview of competitive keyword buys. You can use different affiliate accounts for different ad campaigns to make easy for you to see your results while making it harder for anyone to use services like KeyCompete or SpyFU to track your advertisements, especially if you combine unique domains or subdomains from popular sites with php jump scripts for your ads.

Granular Centralized Tracking of Advertisements:

Know exactly where various ad networks are displaying your ads. Trach which ones convert and buy directly from the best sources, while filtering out low value sites or networks.

Earning More from AdSense & Cutting PPC Ad Buying Costs

Martinibuster started a great thread titled Anatomy of an EPC Collapse. One of the points mentioned in it was too much inventory.

Social Sites as Budget Eaters:

AdSense ads have been appearing on many MySpace pages, even on pages when there is not much content to target against. Google also recently signed up Friendster as an AdSense publishing partner.

These social networks are hard to monetize. Valleywag recently highlighted Facebook as one of the worst sites to advertise on.

If you bid on anything remotely related to the various large social networks with a dime a click max CPC you are going to get a lot of exposure. Here are some of my logs from my affiliate software. Out of a 20 minute period I likely got at least 9 clicks from MySpace.

Save Your Ad Budget:

If being one of the default backfill advertisers costs you only $12 a day that is going to cost you about $4,000 a year in worthless advertising costs.

If you are an advertiser and bid on keywords that trigger ads on these sites, and that leads to many impressions and ad clicks without any conversions it is best to filter those sites at the campaign level using site exclusion. Use facebook.com and mspace.com to ensure you filter out all subdomains.

Publishers: Earn More:

If you are a publisher, and people filter out these low value networks by name (ie: facebook, myspace, etc.) rather than URL, then you are filtering out a lot of advertisers if you mention those sites sitewide. You need to make sure you do not place sitewide links to profile pages on these sites using their official names in the anchor text if you do not want -myspace to filter out your ads.

Other terms that kill your ad targeting are worth avoiding. If a word has a glut of low value advertisers and is associated with low value content may also make sense to filter it out, like blog.

Think of words associated with large untargeted traffic streams as being the new poison words, especially if you use contextual advertising.

Common Internal Site Structure Issues

Mar 12th

I recently spoke to a friend about some of his internal site structure errors and figured it would be worth it to share some of the better tips I gave him with readers here.

Canonical URL Issues:

Make sure search engines are seeing mysite.com and www.mysite.com as the same site. If they are not 301 redirect the less popular version to the more popular version.

Flat Site Structure:

In an ideal case your internal site structure would not be the same for every page on your site, especially if you have different sections to your site.

  • Create section related navigation that promotes other offers inside that section of your site, without heavily crossing over to other sections.

  • Actively guide users from within the content area of your site. These links will drive conversions and help funnel PageRank through your site.
  • Highlight featured content.

Many content management systems highlight recent content without placing much emphasis on your featured content. If you have important content make sure it is easy to access. Also use your site statistics to place more link weight on your most popular or most profitable content.

Content Duplication / Limited PageRank / Google's Supplemental Results

Not too long ago I wrote a post about how to check your number of supplemental pages and another about getting a site out of the supplemental index.

There are a near endless number of ways a site can waste link authority:

  • printer friendly pages

  • individual post pages in forums
  • archive vs active content forum threads
  • endless cross referencing heavy internal tagging and user generated tags
  • other cross referencing content sections that create thousands of thin content pages

If you have thin content portions of a site or duplicate pages get rid of them or use robots.txt to prevent them from getting indexed.

If you have more pages than link equity you need to build links, but another thing you can do short term is publish more content per page and structure your internal links to place more link weight on your most important pages.

Two more things worth considering here are to limit template related duplication, and temporarily publish fewer pages until you build your link authority and clean up the supplemental index issues.

Sitewide Outbound Links:

If you minimize your number of sitewide outbound links that will keep more of your link equity flowing internally. For many sites it does make sense to link out to resources sitewide or sell links. If you are selling links try to price at a higher price point and sell fewer links. That will improve your internal to external link ratio, hold your PageRank up higher, and allow you to continue to charge higher rates.

Internal to External Link Ratio:

Make sure you have many internal links on each page. If you do not have many perhaps you can duplicate your header navigation in your site footer.

Isolate Noisy Pieces of Your Site:

One last consideration is to isolate the noisy pieces of your site. Use subdomains to divide your content by content types. For example, if you have a great blog and add a forum to it you are probably best off placing the forum on a subdomain.

Preparing a Site for Sale

Mar 12th

If you are growing a site organically it might be worth it to sacrifice the short term earnings for long-term growth, but what happens when it comes time to sell a site? If you site has a strong brand or other intangible brand type assets worth far more than current earnings consider those before making any changes, and do not tarnish the site's image. If you site does not have those, and will likely sell at an auction it will probably sell for some multiple of current earnings, based on a number of factors including

  • how much work it is to keep the site earning what it is (fixed costs, in time and money)

  • general category growth (upside potential)
  • site position in the category (upside potential)
  • how aggressively it is monetized (upside potential)

Almost everything that has the word potential in it is going to be heavily discounted. Some people will not see the potential, while others will feel that they don't want to bid based on potential (because they feel that is their value add after they buy the site). Before you sell a site, make sure you spend a few months tweaking the monetization to max out your current revenue numbers. That is the base which most buy offers will be built from.

Religious Linkbait

Mar 12th

Marketing Religion: The Pope Was Wrong:

From The Antichrist will be a pascifist:

Cardinal Biffi said that Christianity stood for "absolute values, such as goodness, truth, beauty". If "relative values" such as "solidarity, love of peace and respect for nature" became absolute, they would encourage "idolatry" and "put obstacles in the way of salvation".

Pope John Paul II said

Peace is not just the absence of war. Like a cathedral, peace must be constructed patiently and with unshakable faith.

And now peace is suddenly rubbish? A relative value? The only thing that is absolute is ignorance.

Does Cardinal Biffi believe his own words, did he let his political beliefs slide into his religious teachings, or was he marketing (for himself or some other agenda)? The only thing we can be certain of is that his thoughts are absolute.

Brand Disconnects in Marketing Content & Product Packaging

Mar 12th

I just ordered a cup of tea from Starbucks, which is running a series called "The Way I See It", which is a bunch of idealistic quotes from various sources.
The Way I See It #193 was from a musician named Dan Zanes. The quote was

Let's imagine a 21st century America where families, friends and neighbors gather together at the end of each day in parks and town squares and on street corners and porches, to tell stories and jokes, to sing and dance with wild abandon! I can see and hear it now...

Then the cup has
- Dan Zanes
written under that.

At the bottom of the cup it has printed in small text

This is the author's opinion, not necessarily that of Starbucks. To read more or respond, go to www.starbucks.com/wayiseeit.

If they don't believe in a message, why waste my time showing it to me? Using words without meaning or disclaiming the value of your marketing undervalues consumer trust.

Similarly, when you lack an about page and don't have a human feel to your website it is far easier to appear as a slimy corporation that cares about nothing more than short term profit. Not mentioning much about us makes a site nameless and faceless. Some companies can pull it off because their marketing is so strong on other fronts, but if you are small then acting small may be one of your biggest advantages.

Location: Comparing Online & Offline Business Costs

Mar 11th

I have went shopping with my girlfriend in San Fransisco a few times, and got to thinking about how most of the businesses in the city pay $4,000 to $20,000 per month for rent. In many cases, with a 5 year term.

You can buy a great domain name for that. You can compete in the search results in most markets for that. Monthly rent to buy exposure in one city is recurring. Many online marketing costs and domain costs are not.

In time, online will be much more competitive than it is today, but many markets are still wide open, and likely will remain so for at least a few more years. As mobile communications and web access move to free, and Google becomes the default homepage for the web, a strong market position on the web will be worth as much or more than any offline real estate.

A Marketer's Love of Gadgets, Widgets, & Mashups

Mar 10th

I just used Parallels to install Windows Vista on my MacBook Pro, and I noticed that by default the Windows software had gadgets on the desktop. Apple, Microsoft, Google, and Yahoo! are all pushing gadgets.

In order to to make it easy to navigate the sea of gadgets, and with the hope of becoming the default provider, many of these companies are showing popularity or distribution statistics of gadgets and videos, while also making it easy to syndicate them and easy to consume them (via personalized home pages, desktop widgets, site inclusion, and sidebar widgets).

This means 2 things for publishers: a cheap way to get huge distribution and brand loyalty, and easy access to human filtered interesting content.

Today Freebase launched, which is attempting to create a useful semantic web of human knowledge, similar to Google Base. As upstarts and established companies fight for distribution and trust more information will be publicly available from third party sites. Marketers can use toolbars, statistics, APIs, custom topical search engines, Yahoo! Pipes, widgets, and other mashups to create and package useful niche content and tools by aggregating data from these sources.

Some people are using the APIs to provide a more useful version of the original, like Alexaholic, while others are focused on creating profitable ad networks such as Auction Ads. One of my affiliates recently created this mashup. You can keep up with mashups and widgets at Mashable and Sexy Widget.

ebay
amazon

Google Checkout Logos on AdSense Ads

Mar 8th

When Google introduced their AdSense network they not only created an ad syndication network, but also a way to syndicate the Google brand. At first it was the cute Ads by Gooooooooooooogle stuff. Then they started marketing Google Checkout heavily by offering $10 off coupons. Then they started syndicating flash and video ads for Gmail, then Google Pack, and now they are placing Google Checkout icons in the AdSense advertiser ads.

It's a nice deal for Google that they smart price some of the inventory down to virtually nothing, then buy it off themselves. Given that they have no real competition could you fault them for doing so? Even classier of them to put ads for their own products inside ads that advertisers are paying for. But their marketing is good enough that nobody cares. Who else could do that?

I Only Want What I Can't Have

Mar 7th

I recently got feedback from an SEO Book buyer who stated that their site was not accepted by some directories I recommend. If someone does not accept your site realize that due to their editorial stringency a link from that location is probably worth more than a link from the sites that did accept your site.

  • Buy Relevant Ads: If they didn't accept you because you were way off topic then move on.

  • Look Relevant: If they did not accept you because you were not 100% on target with their niche rewrite your description to make it fit their business better. Perception is reality.
  • Be Credible: If they did not accept you because your site was lacking then invest in change and limit the amount of advertising you show on your content that you are activley marketing (at least while you are actively marketing it).

If you can't buy exposure it is going to be hard to compete with competitors who are already established, leveraging viral marketing, and/or getting free exposure.

What people you don't know think of your site is a quick and cheap source of feedback on how to make it better. If something is important to you do not accept no. If you do accept no, learn why they said no and make something that is easier to say yes to. The same goes for requesting being featured on a site, buying reviews, sending out link requests, asking to be published, etc etc etc.

The Hidden Costs of Distribution

Mar 7th

I recently went to a soap shop in downtown San Fransisco called Lush. It is the most expensive soap I have ever seen, and a perfect product for the web. My girlfiriend asked the clerk if they sold online and they said yes, but don't buy Lush soap from Amazon.com.
If you opt into distribution of your product the way to win is to give extras when people buy direct. As a marketing strategy, it is silly to recommend people avoid your distribution partners. Once you give up distribution you move toward being a commodity unless you add extras or are selling a buying experience.

Even companies like Adobe are canibalizing portions of their business to maintain their market position. When considering opting into other networks or doing things that extend your reach and give you more direct control over the conumer experience it is probably best to stay as close to the consumer as possible.

If you are a product on the shelf you have to pay for shelf space. If you own the shelf space you can sell your own product or sell overpriced ads to others.

The Tipping Point for SEO

Mar 7th

I think SEO has to be considered mainstream at this point. The media writes about it, many media companies have bought my ebook, government regulated monopolies have bought my ebook, and now there is even a college course on SEO at Rice University.

Why Most Bloggers Don't Get Paid Properly

Mar 7th

Many of the people at the top push this bullshit naive altruistic garbage, painting money as evil. And they keep pushing it, because that discussion keeps them at the top by giving them something to talk about and making them the authority. And it gives them ditto heads to prop them up, making it harder for new people to see through the smoke and catch up.

SEO for Firefox Updated

Mar 7th

SEO for Firefox has been updated again. It now shows the number of pages from a site that are stuck in the supplemental results.

Here is an old primer on supplemental results, and here is how to find what pages from a site are in the supplemental results.

Spamming StumbleUpon

Mar 7th

What was once good content is now considered thin affiliate, lead generation, or low quality information spam. One of the risks of owning a large network of related sites is that as the rules of the game change you must change many sites to stay relevant, especially if your sites are old and were of marginal quality when they launched.

Someone could easily and anonymously spam sites to further make your network look shady. Did Edvisors tag most their network, or did someone else do it for them?

And the interesting thing about potentially perceived spamming is that someone else could have tried to make their network look bad, or they could have just bought ads at StumbleUpon and got bookmarked by some of the independent Stumblers. If it isn't spamming to buy ads and get bookmarked then how could it be spamming if/when you bookmark your own stuff? Ads and content are blending more and more.

New SEO Book Salesletter a Success

I took a while to post this because the AdWords data was too small of a sample set to trust as meaningful data, but from affiliate sales I now can say that the new SEO Book salesletter is a big success. Affilate conversion rates are up, last month I paid out twice as many affiliates as any prior month, and this month looks like it will be beating last month.

Here is the new sales letter and the old sales letter. You can read about the changes Brian Clark made here. I will soon do multivariant testing to further improve the salesletter and sales process.

More Niche SEO Conferences

Mar 3rd

Recently, in addition to the expansion of Elite Retreat, a couple more smaller niche SEO conferences have been announced. These conferences offer a great value because they allow you to be close to the facilitator. They are like buying under-priced consulting in the form of a conference.

If you are on the other side of the pond you won't want to miss DaveN's SEO Days. In London on the 20th & 21st of March the SEO Days team is holding a hands on two day conference costing £1750 (incl. VAT) per person.

If you are in the New York area check out SEO Class. Stuntdubl, GoodROI, Rae, and Shoemoney are offering a free class for nonprofits on March 23, 2007. On May 27th & 28th they are holding a two day course for businesses. The cost to attend is $2999.

As noted by Lee Odden, with SEO conferences small is the new big. These conferences have already been added to the calendar.






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