Danny Sullivan has been covering search for over a decade and is known as the leading expert in the field of search. I recently asked Danny for an interview and he said sure. We talked about search, marketing, and doughnuts. What do you attribute your rapid increase in exposure and authority to?
That's a tough question, because I didn't feel I'd gained any massive new increase in authority, I suppose. I mean, I still get calls from reporters at about the same rate as always, and that's one measure of determining how much authority you might be seen as having, I suppose. I probably do have more exposure in the past few months about what I'm doing, and the answer for that is simple. I started a brand new web site, Search Engine Land, as well as an entire new company, Third Door Media. It disrupted a lot of things that I think people were used to, so there's some attention on what we're doing and how things will grow.
I didn't mean a massive new increase, but I didn't want to use the word old either. ;) Back when I was in high school, what did you do that made you the go to guy such that people like Page and Brin referenced your work over just about everyone else in the search engine space? If you were to start today do you think you could still acquire the kind of authority you currently have?
One advantage I had was being one of the first to recognize the importance of search engines and track them closely. Larry and Sergey cited me back then because practically no one was compiling this type of information about search engines. I thought they deserved much more love than they were getting. I always joke I'm glad I decided to write about search rather than "push," which was hot at the the time (though feeds did effectively take over from push, and they're pretty hot now).
Could I do that now? Sure, though I'd probably have to be much more focused. Look at Bill Slawski. He owns the search patents and research space, except when Gary Price grabs a moment and flexes his patent research muscles! Gord Hotchkiss said search behavior isn't getting love, so he dived in there. Those are just two examples where they've become such authorities that if I was asked about a topic in those particular areas, I would (and do) send people their way.
If I were doing this now from scratch, I'd like to think I'd look for that particular area that wasn't being covered -- or be able to spot an entirely new industry that's not getting the attention and tracking it should.
How have you been able to maintain at the top of the game for so long? Did you think you would still be at the top a search over a decade after you started tracking it?
I don't think I ever envisioned when I started that 10 years later, I'd still be doing it. I sort of figured when I announced I was leaving SEW last year that people might be saying, "Thanks, but probably time to see you go!" Maybe some were thinking it but didn't want to say! But instead, I got a lot of reaction from people who seemed to want me to continue doing what I'd been doing. That revitalized me. As for being at the top of the game, well, that's very kind of you to say. I guess it might be a combination of things. I tend to be cynical. I don't write about things just because they are new and shiny -- I write about stuff I think actually has legs. In terms of advice, I try to keep people focused on the long term strategies that will be successful. I really try to be fair in my writing -- that doesn't mean I'm not opinionated, but I'll try to show a variety of sides. I suppose more than anything, I really care about what I'm covering. It's not just a job. I don't start my day of thinking, "darn, have to write about search today." Instead, I still can't wait to see what's going on in an industry I love.
Does your background in journalism play a big role in how you report on search issues?
Sure, in the sense that I apply general interviewing skills, as well as trying to write in a style that explains stuff for both the fast reader and those who want to go more in depth.
You have been popular when much of the web was mostly newsletters, mostly forums, mostly blogs, and through the rise of social media. How do you see the web changing in the next 10 years?
Wow, 10 years is tough. Amazingly, email is still going -- as are email newsletters. I think they'll still be around. I'm sure there will be more audio and video content, and it might be that we have more applet-driving distribution. You content showing up within a smart TV box and so on. But who really knows!
As search companies swallow or influence more of the web, how do you decide if a story is search related or not?
Usually, a search related story is revolving around some type of expressed desire. Google's going to do banner ads? No one expresses a desire to see banners -- you just get them. Google's going to target banners using search history? That's search related! It's hard, because Google especially will do so many things -- and we're really try to focus just on search. But you have to touch on some other things. For example, if Google goes after wireless spectrum, that might not see like search. But when you understand they want to reach mobile searchers more directly, then having a little background can help make that later search story more relevant.
What are the most common things that hold new bloggers back from getting exposure on high authority websites? What separates the experts, and the citation worthy, from the other channels?
That's tough. For me, it's probably that they don't say much. They point at a news story and give me no value add beyond what I can get at the story. Another problem are too many short tips that don't drill down into actual examples. At this point, I want fewer top whatever lists and more closer looks at how single tips actually play out. Mainly, it's expressing a unique and valuable viewpoint. I do see new bloggers doing that, and I love when I find those gems.
You recently moved from Search Engine Watch to Search Engine Land. I don't think I have ever seen a person change sites and have the shift go so smoothly (even when they use 301 redirects). What did you do to make the site shift go so well?
Well, it helped to have my team come with me! Barry's fantastic on the day-to-day blogging, plus we had our correspondents and Chris Sherman and Greg Sterling especially diving into articles. We also had a fresh start. There was no legacy of content to redesign or reposition. We just dived in and went into coverage, always knowing that in the middle of the year, our archives would have built out enough for the new Lands navigation that we launched to make sense.
You are universally known as one of the nicest guys in search. As your exposure increased what have been some of your key tips and tricks to remaining so accessible, keeping ego in check, and balancing work and play with family life?
I have a very narrow door frame that won't allow me to walk into my office with a big head! Seriously, I don't know. I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated, and especially online, constantly try to think how I'd interact with them if we were face to face. Plus, you do have to keep in mind that outside our industry, no one knows who's "big" or not anyway. Even in our industry, you've got so many new people that they don't know that you think you're supposed to be super hot! And if you think that, you're setting yourself up for a big disappointment. As for the balancing, I've been terrible at it this year, a consequence of bringing the new company up. But generally, I've long at least tried not to work on weekends. Get into that habit, and suddenly you realize the world keeps revolving even if you aren't at your computer 24/7.
Many of the most popular channels became so due to their edginess and/or bias. How does one create a Switzerland, and yet be able to build such a large audience?
I'd like to think that when so many people are shouting out, people do like to find a place that's not going for the hype or the edge but rather calmly laying out the facts of what's going on. In the short term, that may mean you grow an audience more slowly than the hype approach. But in the long term, I think you may build an audience that finds you a consistent resource -- and thus tells others to come on over.
Which will have a larger impact on searchers and search marketers: personalization or universal search?
Universal search, if it continues as it has been going. Personalized search only alters a few listings. Universal search brings in new databases much more dramatically.
Why do doughnuts have holes in them? What is the best doughnut in the world?
The holes make it easier to eat certain kinds without having frosting get lost on your fingers. Ken Horton's Boston Cream is the best doughnut I've personally had, followed by Dunkin' Donuts Boston Creme, when they are fresh.
What story do you most regret publishing? What are the biggest stories you wish you had covered earlier that you didn't realize the importance of until much later?
I've written so many stories over the years, and nothing is leaping to mind as something I regret running. There are occasional stories where I regret taking a particular tone or not contacting someone first. David Berlind back in 2005 was pretty upset with a critique I did on his review of Google Alerts, and I later apologized for being too personalize in what I wrote. When the thing about Associated Content came out with Google's Tim Armstrong being connected, I regretted not having waited to ask him about it before writing. It might not have changed what I wrote, but it was fair to ask first. Especially with blogging, there can be a tendency to rush, and I have to resist that. As for the biggest story, probably not seeing the rise of YouTube early on. I heard about it, couldn't believe it was that popular when, of course, it was.
When I ran Threadwatch I deleted a story about a client's site, and saw another editor do the same. Do you get privy to search or search marketing information that you can't share? Have you ever not covered a story because someone asked you to not cover it?
I'm constantly briefed on a variety of things from various companies off-the-record that I can't share until a certain deadline or unless they give the nod. I can't think of someone asking me not to cover a story, but most of the PR people I deal with are far too savvy to ask directly like that. Instead, you might call them about something and they'll spin it as not that big of a deal. And honestly, sometimes it's not -- you think there's some major thing, and it turns out to have a logical explanation. I might then not do a story simply because it would make a small or non-issue into something bigger. But in plenty of cases, I'll still do a story, but at least I have an official explanation to go with it.
Have you ever cloaked a page? What is the shadiest thing you have ever marketed via search? Do you still do much search marketing on the sideline to test current search marketing theories?
Back in like 1998, I think I did a few "poor man's cloaking" pages, where I used a frame to list the same content that my client had in images. I simply couldn't get the site changed, and Excite in particular wanted text. It wasn't misleading in my view and might not have even been against the guidelines back then. Plus, I didn't inhale. As for shady stuff, I never took on any shady clients. And no, I don't do stuff on the side. Ages ago, I had to decide if I was going to run a search marketing service or a search marketing news service. The two are difficult to combine, because search engines and other search marketers don't trust you as much, if they think you are just trying to get inside information for your own purposes. I see search marketing activities through my own sites, of course -- but those can be skewed as can be the sites of anyone with only a small portfolio or "window" into the space. That's why I do a lot of listening and reading and try to ensure with conferences that I'm putting people who are in the trenches forward to share knowledge.
Do you believe in the whole white hat black hat debate? Is there such a thing as spam? Other search engines have done interesting things too, but is it reasonable for Yahoo! to buy links for their lead generation subdomains?
Sure, there are hats, but I did a chart once where I showed how on some issues, white hats and black hats might be a lot closer than the think. And sure, there's spam. Scrape a bunch of pages, get me to your web site when I search for some city name plus pizza, and you don't have what I want but rather a bunch of AdSense -- that's spam to me a searcher. And you've wasted my time. Spam because you cloaked a page that's virtually the same as the text you might render in a Flash file? Technically, yes -- but for me, it's always been about the intention rather than the exact technique. It certainly continues to get grayer, especially when courtesy of Google, anyone can cloak using Google Website Optimizer and not have to worry about it. If Yahoo's buying links, then turning around and penalizing others for doing so is pretty sucky. But it's really Google that's been leading the don't buy links campaign. I think that's a losing battle, but I understand why the keep wanting to fight it.
Search engines tell people to not buy links, and in some verticals individual companies own dozens or hundreds of sites. Do you see the search market consolidating traffic to popular offline businesses, or will there still be room for small players 10 years down the road?
I think small players will still find room, because they're often smarter and more nimble than the big people. Local, for example, still seems wide open for many smaller players.
Given your authority, many people likely pitch stuff to you every day. What do you find to be good proxies for determining intent?
Telling me you're the next Google of anything generally is a bad way to start the conversation. There's a variety of other clues I don't want to list so as to not spoil that filtering. But they aren't hard to guess -- emails that clearly don't indicate any knowledge of my site, my actual name and so on.
How have you avoided becoming jaded by some of the dirtier aspects of Internet marketing? In a world with paid blog comments, and social media manipulation sites like subvertandprofit.com, what made you bold enough to create http://sphinn.com, catering to marketers?
Part of it is the hopes that marketers aren't going to want to mess up their own nest, so to speak. But also, part of the approach is to say that people should feel free to submit their own stuff. After all, who knows what your best stuff is better than you. Why make you play some tricks or feel bad? In addition, it's kind of fun -- are you really going to want to spam a bunch of marketers, many of whom will spot it and call foul seconds after it appears? Forums have had to deal with this already. For me, Sphinn is in many ways simply an extension of forums with voting.
How long is your current work day? Do you have any tips for minimizing the potential downsides for spending too much time at the computer?
I tend to be up around 11am my time, and work sadly through 1 or 2am, though I'm trying to pull back. My best tip right now is to build a tree house!
You can check out Search Engine Land for the latest search engine news, and track Danny's tree house building adventures at Daggle. If you would like to meet Danny in person he holds many Search Marketing Expo conferences each year.
I was chatting with DaveN last night about Google's spam problem. So many spammy listings are dominating Google using the following techniques:
submitting spam to a social news site (I see a lot of 1 vote Netscape and Digg listings for long tail queries in the consumer fiance vertical)
linking to a site search on an authoritative site like weather.com, limited to your target keyword and site:mysite.com. Google has had the regurgitating search result problem for at least 5 months now.
leveraging an authoritative redirect off a site like Archive.org
DaveN also pointed out how many clean sites like WebStandards.org funnel PageRank to sites that show spamming is indeed a web-wide standard. Still way too much weight on domain authority Google!
One of the comments on the article I wrote for Wordtracker mentioned WordsFinder, which allows you to create a list of keywords from a piece of content. Their tool uses the Yahoo! Term Extraction Tool, and also provides a few additional keywords next to the results. Three other easy ways to get similar information are
Enter a URL into the Google AdWords keyword suggestion tool. Note this tool has two options, one for grabbing keywords for a page, and one for grabbing keywords for the page and other pages that the page links at.
We read the same stuff! Andrew Goodman published a deeply insightful post about the race toward the bottom effect and circle jerk phenomena that is inherent to every web community, and baked into Google's PageRank.
I have looked back at some of my post titles and saw that they were an exact copy of titles from articles I had read a month prior to writing mine. Not intentional theft, just a side effect of reading too few channels, in too narrow of a range, for far too long.
There is more value in learning how we think than in reading the news from 20 different angles, only to write it from the 21st. Virgin markets and virgin publishing formats await our keyboards, or so I read...in a blog...somewhere.
I have recently read up on the US News & World Report college rankings, and to what great lengths some colleges go to manipulate the results and improve their rankings. Rankings are very powerful because they are a signal of social acceptance and appear unbiased. Every important ranking system that displays results to those being ranked ends up influencing those it measures.
From a marketer's perspective the idea of the authority system influencing the network has 4 big marketing ideas contained inside it:
The Ranker is God: If you are one of the first to create a ranking system and spread it quickly then it will be hard for others to compete with you. Some of those who rank well will lend their brand credibility and reach to help push and validate your rankings.
God is Not Fair: If a ranking system is unjust and you are one of the most vocal opponents of it then you can quickly gain a lot of authority and exposure.
God Changes Her Mind: If you watch how the various parties play off of each other that should lend key insights into how the authority systems will change going forward, which keep you ahead of the competition. For example, how will Google's acquisition of Feedburner change how they measure blogs, or how does the Chicago Tribune's freelance blog network effect Google's heavy reliance on domain authority score (and trust of links from authoritative sites)?
What is considered good marketing offline is often referred to as spam online. If anyone finds the classification as being a spammer offensive or inaccurate, don't forget that Google recently recommended health care companies spam the public, by plastering ads all over the web:
Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.
It is only considered spam if Google isn't getting a cut of the profit.
As the web gets more efficient, companies doing well in organic search will plow more of their organic search profits into paid search even if it loses money, so that they may lock out competition, maintain momentum and exposure, build a strong relationship with Google, minimize business risks, and support the ecosystem which provides their profit.
In after hours trading today Amazon eclipsed Yahoo in market capitalization! Seeing Amazon add more editorial content, extend into new markets, and have expanding margins while Yahoo! has went nowhere in the last year shows Google is still gaining marketshare, and that the search ecosystem is going to become more self reinforcing as time passes.
All you have to do is look at all the spammy .edu pages that rank for stuff like ringtones and prescription drugs to know that if you have an authoritative site it does not take much to rank for competitive terms. It only took Matt Cutts one external citation with the associated anchor text to rank for buy cheap Viagra.
If you have a number of low quality sites on broad array of topics, or many online friends who are willing to help you with a link here or there, it is easy to make an authoritative site rank well enough to make deep into 5 or 6 figures a month from it.
This is why many of the best SEOs forgo early profits to build domain authority, and create high value editorial channels with few ads on the same sites as commercial offers to subsidize the rankings of the lower value offer pages.
Question: I have a client that frequently ranks at the top of the search results then sharply drops. His website's Google rankings keep bouncing back and forth. Why do they fluctuate so much?
Answer: Via using spammy links, leveraging the internal link structure of a high authority site, or cross site scripting exploits just about anyone can rank for a day, but it is harder to stay there day in and day out until you build massive domain authority.
Google and other major search engines have many filters, editors, algorithms, and barriers which are used to prevent spamming or minimize the profitability of overt spam. I believe that Google has moved away from banning sites as much and instead moved to using filters more, because that makes it harder to know when / why / where something went wrong. Was your host down, did you screw up your robots.txt file or is that a penalty? The more they can obfuscate their algorithms the harder it is to do SEO and the more people will opt into Google's webmaster tools authentication system.
Here are a few of the most common reasons pages stop ranking / get filtered out of Google for their target phrases (ie: go from ranking in the top 5 results to many pages deep or near the end of the results).
Too Much Similar Anchor Text
If a link profile is natural many of the inbound links will use alternate phrases in the anchor text. If almost all of your anchor text is focused on your core phrase that may preclude your site for being able to rank for that phrase. This actually hit SeoBook.com about 2 years ago. Mixing anchor text is important, especially for a new site in a competitive marketplace.
Page Too Well Aligned with a Term
If your internal anchor text, inbound anchor text, page title, meta description, page headings, and page copy all target the same phrase too closely then the page might get filtered out of the search results.
This problem can occur due to being too aggressive, or due to scrapper sites that keep linking to you over and over again with your page title as the link anchor text.
You know you have achieved this filter when one of your former top ranking pages no longer appears in the top few hundred results, but a subpage of less importance and lower relevancy outranks it (perhaps even somewhere beyond #100).
The easiest way to fix this problem is to change the page title to target an alternate version. If that does not work you may also want to change your internal anchor text and try to get a few more inbound links that are not keyword rich.
Scrape You Very Much
If you have a new site with few trusted links a web proxy or scraper site may get credit for your content. The easiest ways around this are to ensure you have some absolute (not relative) links in your site's navigational structure, and to build some authoritative links to make it harder to knock your site down.
Site Too Aligned With a Term
Somewhat like the above filter, if it is obvious that your site is targeting a keyword it may not rank well for that phrase or derivatives of it. For example, it is probably not a good idea to start every page title on your site with your core keyword at the beginning of the page title. Google has a lot of patents in this phrase based IR area.
You know you have achieved this filter when you rank for alternate nearby phrases but few or none of the pages on your site rank well for shorter search phrases containing your core keyword.
Too Many Reciprocal Links
My wife's main website only ranked for one 5 word phrase until after we dumped the reciprocal link directory her SEO provider put on her site. After removing that page her rankings quickly improved. It is not that reciprocal links are bad (as some forms of reciprocation are a natural part of the web), but if an abnormally large percentage of your links are reciprocal then it is easy to get hit. You can also accidentally walk into this sort of penalty by launching an effective site rating / review awards program that gets a new site too many reciprocal links.
Getting Banned & Manual or Automated Penalties
Some sites that are penalized automated or manually are not completely banned from the search engines, but are stuck ranking somewhere beyond the top 30 results for everything. You know your site stands a good chance of having this penalty if your don't even rank for a unique string of text on your site wrapped in quotes.
Manual penalties and bans are not too common for quality sites, but they do happen. If you feel you are banned or penalized and your site is above board you can plead your case to Google inside their webmaster console.
Duplicate Content & Wasted PageRank
If you have an internal architectural problem and your PageRank is spread across thousands of pages of duplicate content then some of your good content will end up in Google's supplemental results, and won't rank for much. The remaining pages in Google's regular index may also rank worse because they will not have as much link equity as they once did.
You know you have messed this up if you keep track of your page count in Google and see it drastically balloon. This increased page count will also be accompanied by lower rankings, especially for long tail keywords that matched up with deep content.
Are You in Your Community?
Google may re-rank results based on local inter-connectivity. Large authority sites like Amazon.com and Wikipedia slip through based on their site's clout, but if you are a new and small player in a marketplace it helps to get some on topic / in community links. Re-ranking is more likely to occur for shorter queries where there is a significant community around the topic. Longer queries likely place more weight on on the page content.
If you have a problem with your .htaccess file or accidentally block a large portion of your site with robots.txt or robots noindex meta tags then your traffic will go down. Make sure that if you change your site architecture that you test to ensure your URL redirects and rewrites work properly. If you sign up for the Google Webmaster Central tools they will display any crawling errors or 404 messages they come across.
Minor Changes in Ranking
Sites with few links may also see their rankings bounce around quite a bit, and their crawl depth limited, until they acquire some high trust links or Google can figure out other ways to determine if the site deserves to be trusted.
If your rankings fluctuate a bit but are always near the top you may just need a few more links with target anchor text, or a few more authoritative links. Algorithms change all the time, and your strongest competitors are actively building their brands every day, so your site either grows with the web or fades in relevancy.
Microsoft likes fresh links a lot. Google may also place weight on fresh links, but they also look at link quality and rate of growth. If your link growth is too spiky or beyond what is normal they may filter or ban your site, like they did to their AdSense blog 2 years ago.
Don't be evil is one of Google's overused mottos. When you look online the battles being fought by Google are often marketed as though they are the good guys. It is easy to dislike AT&T after reading this comment
We would repeat that Google should put up or shut up; they can bid and enter the wireless market with any business model they prefer, then let consumers decide which model they like best.
For now, and for all of us, the issue is simple: this is one of the best opportunities we will have to bring the Internet to all Americans. Let's seize that opportunity.
If Google does not like your business model they will ban you without warning or saying why, but they are so good at packaging their marketing messages that people believe Google cares about them. Google uses brute force marketing while appearing otherwise while executives at competing companies are stupid enough to say what they are thinking.
If you use brute force marketing people will most likely hate you, and it will be hard to move your brand beyond that hate. If you rely on marketing that touches other's wants, dreams, hopes, egos, identities, etc. it is far easier to see your idea spread without being called a spammer or destroying your brand before you built it.
Question: I have been buying many links but it is hard to know which ones count and which ones do not. Is there any way to test if a link is clean and passes link authority?
Answer: If you are in a small market you can build links slowly and check your rankings as you build links, but there are two big problems with this:
testing is slow, search algorithms frequently change, and ranking changes may occur outside of the effect of any individual link
any market worth being in typically requires many links or at least a few high quality links that are hard to obtain
Here are a couple ways to test a link source to see if it passes trust.
Check the Pages it Links to
If all the pages that the page links to rank well for their target terms then that is a sign of trust, though it may help to analyze the link profile of those pages to see if those pages are also trusted from other links and anchor text.
If a page is a high authority page and has linked to other pages for over 6 months it should be passing PageRank. You can use the Wayback Machine to see what a page looked like in the past. If you see a PR8 page linking out to a dozen pages and one of the target pages has been linked to for 6 months, yet remains only a PR2, then odds are that page is not passing authority.
You can also look at advertiser turnover as a sign of not passing authority. You may also want to ask current advertisers if the page helped them at all. And, as a general rule of thumb, the more off topic the link ads are, the more that are sold on each page, and the more tightly they are grouped, the more likely it is that the page does not pass PageRank.
Bogus Anchor Text
You can add a word to your link anchor text and see if your target page ends up ranking for a phrase it already ranks for + that additional word.
For example, I could put info in a link pointing to www.SeoBook.com and see if this site starts ranking for things like seo book info or seo info. I could also point a bogus link at a mainstream media site using the same technique to see how the site's rankings react.
Link to an Orphan Page
Point your link at a page that is not indexed and see if search engines index that page. If that link passes trust you can 301 redirect the target page to the page you want to rank. If the link source hurts your rankings you can 301 redirect that link equity to a competitor's site (if you wanted to be dirty).
Speeding Up Your Tests
It helps to have a network of your own sites so you can point links at the link sources to help them get indexed quickly. Be aware though that if the link source's archived pages typically are not indexed in Google then it is not likely that the page will continue to pass link equity unless you help keep that page indexed by pointing a decent link or two at it.
Each search engine evaluates links differently. Some sites that are banned in Google do well in Yahoo while other pages that are banned in Yahoo do well in Google.
Some links that may help in moderation may hurt your site if you are too aggressive with them (i.e. building too many links too quickly from low trust sources). Also, links that help a high authority site may not help a smaller and newer site as much as they helped the older and more trusted site. As a site ages its link profile can get a bit dirtier without as much potential risk.
Question: About a year ago I bought a bunch of links to help build my link popularity and get my site more exposure. Many of these links expired a few months back and yet my Google rankings did not drop. Why?
Answer: I accidentally blocked a search engine from indexing some of my pages with many in-links and the entire site quickly suffered, so odds are the links that you lost were not your most authoritative inbound links, or your site has built other signs of trust and quality.
Search engines look for many signals of quality. As your site ages, it is trusted more. Just aging another year means that helps your site out in terms of trust related to site age. I have some old PageRank 2 sites that outrank far more authoritative sites (like About.com).
If the links you bought were obvious bought links they may not have counted toward building your link reputation when you bought them. Another option is that they once counted but were slowly phased out in their ability to boost your search engine rankings.
As Google's ad network gets more efficient and Google controls more bits, almost everything in any commercial market is going to sell something, subsidize another commercial interest, or have ads on it. To appreciate how much this trend will grow, just read the comments on my post about using custom search engines. Many of the comments are insightful, but almost nobody appreciated that not having ads in your internal site search result was a value add for a commercial site. If you look at blog search results for shower gel you will see Google's version of the web. Google and Microsoft already own in game advertisement firms. With Google bidding billions of dollars for part of the US wireless spectrum you can bet that there are going to be even more ads between content producers and consumers.
It doesn't matter what ads appear on the publisher site if they didn't sell the ads directly themselves. Somehow the publisher is off the hook because they didn't know, and it wasn't Google's fault because the system is partially automated.
The above trend is going to make the most competitive keywords even harder to rank for as there will always be at least one fresh news story about every high value topic.
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Google has already proved that they don't mind large publishers creating robotic content and building its authority with spammy links. Did you know that BizJournals offers Google searchers a credit card application service? If I posted similar content on this site Google would kill it.
Anyone Can do Public Relations
Beyond the recycled content, the movement will also be fueled by lazy underpaid writers who will heavily rely on social media and others work for story ideas. If you are good at spamming social media then the mainstream media will act as your megaphone without requiring you to hire a PR firm.
When is a Link Buy Legitimate?
Most profitable publishing enterprises are moving toward producing lower quality content. As a publisher, a brand is nothing more than something that allows you to practice arbitrage while appearing that you provide a valuable service. It allows you to get extra exposure and charge a higher rate for your ads.
I recently changed one of my robots.txt files pruning duplicate content pages to help more of the internal PageRank flow to the higher quality and better earning pages. In the process of doing that, I forgot that one of the most well linked to pages on the site had a similar URL as the noisy pages. About a week ago the site's search traffic halved (right after Google was unable to crawl and index the powerful URL). I fixed the error pretty quickly, but the site now has hundreds of pages stuck in Google's supplemental index, and I am out about $10,000 in profit for that one line of code! Both Google and Yahoo support wildcards, but you really have to be careful when changing a robots.txt file because a line like this
also blocks a file like this from being indexed in Google
Unless you are thinking of that in advance it is easy to make a mistake.
If you are trying to prune duplicate content for Google and are fine with it ranking in other search engines, you may want to make those directives specific for GoogleBot. If you make a directive for a specific robot, that bot will ignore your general robots directives in favor of following the more specific directives you created for it.
Google also offers a free robots.txt test tool, which allows you to see how robots will respond to your robots.txt file, notifying you of any files that are blocked.
You can use Xenu link sleuth to generate a list of URLs from your site. Upload that URL list to the Google robots.txt test tool (currently in 5,000 character chunks...an arbitrary limit I am sure they will eventually lift).
Inside the webmaster console Google will also show you what pages are currently blocked by your robots.txt file, and let you view when Google tried to crawl the page and noticed it was blocked. Google also shows you what pages are 404 errors, which might be a good way to see if you have any internal broken links or external links pointing at pages that no longer exist.
As I have watched brands grow and die I have come to the conclusion that the concept of value is an important ingredient in a successful site, but as an editorial content provider, value alone is not enough to grow much past sustainability.
People want to have something they can talk about and share, something they can relate to, and something that inspires them and brings them hope. Emotional appeal is typically far more important than logical appeal. In some cases the hope is for change of things they do not like, but that has three potential outcomes
the fight is one that will not be won (and the ideas you are fighting against may be gaining ground in other markets)
change is brought about and the people creating change eventually forget where they came from, walk on other people without care, and become the people they once despised (relevancy comes and goes like the seasons)
change is brought about and the cause no longer exists
After a battle is over you still have to have something worth talking about and create something inspiring if you are to keep attention and mindshare.
How much money is spent marketing fear to people? Do you need health insurance? Would you still need it if you ate healthy? People gravitate toward their interests for an escape from fear-mongering and other injustices that are baked into society.
Fear is easy to forget, and is a message that needs to be marketed over and over again to cause response. In most cases, spreading fear also has limited upside social potential...it is more commonly used to exploit people, so we learn to tune it out. We take off our shoes before going through the metal detectors, but how many people still sleep on the airplane? I know I do. And people live on the sides of mountains, in fire zones, and where earthquakes are common. I know I do.
Why do award programs work so well? They are easy to relate too and make people feel good. Nearly daily I get emails about how a person quit their job or sold their business because I inspired them and helped them want to go out on their own.
When I think of the most explosive growth periods in brands I have helped build they are typically associated with periods of time when the owner was passionate about what they were doing. That passion attracts people who share it and want to spread it. When I think of the periods that they lost marketshare they are more in-line with the times they lack creativity and passion.
In a saturated market packaging and formatting are often more important than the message. Sustainable value systems change with the times.
As an entrepreneur most of us have many failures before we have any successes. I recently made the Technorati top 100 blogs, but have already dropped to 102, and that position will likely fade unless I can be a bit more inspiring than I have been recently.
If you mimick leading marketing in your filed, then deflect the blowback from the effective marketing onto others who gave you the tips that helped you increase your conversion they may not appreciate that:
We also have inline ads, ala Aaron Wall's suggestion (so blame him if you're angry )
Aaron Wall told me his conversion rate after switching to a page format like this has sent his sales skyrocketing to unbelievable proportions. Yes, this saddens me, but it's also inspiring - if they can do it, so can we, right?
Well, maybe. But we've got to be willing to sacrifice a bit of self-respect and dignity to get it done.
Anything goes, dude. We're looking for the best-converting page, and if you think the best way to get conversions is with flying monkeys and marquee tags, then have at it!
In every market controlling conversations is associated with trust and authority. That is why framing issues, business models, and sales techniques is so important if you want to prove your model is better than competing models. Few people claim their own businesses are bad.
Few people think of the Google Toolbar as spyware if it is marginally useful. Stop Badware, the non profit reporting on spyware, is not likely to make a report criticising Google's Toolbar or search helper redirection so long as Google is their lead corporate sponsor. The attempt to portray honesty and openness is sometimes more important than being either of them.
Rand recently created a landing page contest, but the problem with this sort of contest is that the very act of making noise increases sales, but it also makes your traffic stream dirtier and less consistent. After Brian Clark rewrote my salesletter he quickly became one of my top affiliates. His reach and brand increased my reach and brand, but it also led to many others writing about me, and more people searching for my brand...some of those traffic sources were really clean while others were less so...perhaps less interested and more driven out of curiosity or following what was popular at that point in time. Plus those that were pre-sold on Brian's site probably didn't need any salesletter at all to convert. The fact that he wrote it made his readers convert exceptionally well though because his copy is in tune with his readers, and they already trust him.
As John Andrews stated landing pages are only one part of the marketing mix. It is hard to track conversion for high touch and high trust products or services using multivariate testing while allowing others to write your conversion copy. Unless they write your ad copy, a sales letter, conversion funnel, and bonus offers that are consistent with your brand they are throwing darts at a wall. It may create conversation, builds your reach, boosts your brand exposure, give the perception that you are open, and can give you a few good ideas on how to improve conversions, but likely the test will bear false results, especially since brand positions and sales techniques are so temporal and few people willing to write free copy understand all the nuances of effective sales techniques.
If your are going to "sacrifice a bit of self-respect and dignity" you might as well get meaningful results out of it Rand. ;)
In May, a virus in a banner ad on tomshardware.com automatically switched visitors to a Web site that downloaded "malware" -- malicious software designed to attack a computer -- onto the visitor's computer. ScanSafe Inc., one of the first security firms to discover the virus, estimates the banner ad was on the site for at least 24 hours and infected 50,000 to 100,000 computers before Tom's Hardware removed it.
As traffic streams consolidate and ad networks improve in efficiency many people who get marginalized are going to get more insidious in their attempts to make money. This fear will further consolidate web traffic toward trusted brands and place a premium on central ad networks.
I recently installed the new business edition of Google's custom search engine. It took about 5 minutes to set up and will likely pay for itself many times over. You can use it by using the search box in the right rail. Google's custom search engine is easy to customize, fast to implement, works across multiple domains and is cheap. It only costs $100 a year for up to 5K pages and $500 a year for 50K pages. It also allows the owner to see search frequency and your most popular queries.
Rather than doing Google site specific searches, now I can see Google flavored results customized to my site right from my own domain. If I am searching for something on my own site and can't find it, the odds are pretty good that I am not going to show up in Google's global search either.
Using Google's search will likely also help you figure out how well they trust different pages on a site or a subset of sites, as it likely factors in link popularity and other off site relevancy measurements (unlike most site search services). If your site is easier to search it is easier for you and others to cite your archived content.
Using search results with the same format as Google's will also show you how compelling your documents look to customers on Google, from a searcher's perspective. Some consumers may also view your business as being more Google friendly if you use a Google site search service. Their awareness of and affinity toward Google's brand may help increase your conversions.
Andrew Goodman wrote a delightfully good column over at SEL about how and when going niche is wrong. He noted that the advice to go niche typically comes from niche market thought leaders and people selling information products who tend to think everyone else is just like them.
The reason people push the niche idea are:
it is easy advice to give
overestimating the value of our own experience
the web has many self-reinforcing effects that favor market leaders
it is hard to conquire a big field until you have proven success and gained confidence from conquering a smaller niche
it doesn't take much to get past self sustaining if you focus on something you are passionate about
it is harder to get burned out working on something you are passionate about
It is a mistake I have made many times, but it is easy to speak of your own experiences as truth, especially if you are expected to write nearly every day. Focusing too tightly on a niche for an extended period of time makes it easy to become inauthentic, inaccurate, boring, and/or pessimistic. Those are obvious to anyone who reads frequently, and they are counter to what allows companies to expand:
We can certainly see how small to midsized retailersâ€”online and offâ€”who undergo recognizable and surprising spurts of growth, seem to have something in common beyond the executional wisdom and recruiting skills of the larger enterprises that Collins tracks in Good to Great. That intangible seems to be: contagious excitement.
If you are making 50 websites it is likely that you will be more successful if you focus on one or two of them before building out all the others, such that you incorporate learning from your first few sites into your later sites. Why repeat all the mistakes? In the same sense, it helps to conquer one market position before going too broad. When I started on the web I wanted to know a lot more about search than I could have profitably done, especially since the market already had clear market leaders with momentum, social relationships, media relationships, strong brand, capital, and knowledge advantages over me.
After I niched down to SEO and built a brand I was able to create numerous revenue streams (consulting sales, ebook sales, direct ad sales, contextual ad sales, affiliate commissions, link sales, referral commissions, speaking engagements, etc). It is also easy to further leverage my knowledge gained building this site to provide more revenue streams away from this site. I have a network idea I want to launch soon, but it still needs some work.
With the new system, users would search for a piece of content -- such as ringtones -- and would get back a list of companies that provide it, with links letting them easily purchase the material. Eventually, Google would charge companies for high placement in the search results, much as it does with "sponsored links" on Web search, the people familiar with the company's plans said.
If this proves effective, why wouldn't Google create search services for real estate and student loans? Off the start they likely wouldn't be any dirtier than those markets already are.
The local sites (or other niche sites) that die are the ones that don't have a supportive community...the ones that can roughly be described as data. But as you move your site away from data toward community building and user experience you increase its marketability, profitability, and longevity.
when the Internet becomes a community more than a marketplace, the community oriented merchants have the advantage.
Most general music lyric sites will lose over 90% of their traffic and value in the next 2 years. Niche value add sites like SongMeanings.net will increase in value.
Some newspapers are fighting off their own irrelevancy by publishing more ads, and becoming more irrelevant. The reason WSJ.com is worth $5 billion is because it will be one of the last newspapers surviving after many competitors are marginalized. Its brand and business relationships make it unique.
Of course, the big thing that has happened in the last 10 years was a change from an information retrieval oriented relevance ranking to being more of a popularity relevance ranking. And I think we can see a change maybe being a more of a usefulness relevance ranking. I think there is a tendency now for a lot of not very useful results to be dredged up that happen to be very popular, like Wikipedia and various blogs. Theyâ€™re not going to be very useful or substantial to people who are trying to solve problems. So I think that with counting links and all of that, there may be a change and we may go into a more behavioral judgment as to which sites actually solve peopleâ€™s problems, and they will tend to be more highly ranked.
I recently got a beta account to the upcoming Compete.com Search Analytics tool. I am not sure of their pricing yet, but Jay Meattle, from Compete.com, told me "the price points will be extremely attractive to small business owners."
You can get leading category based keywords, top competitors for a given keyword (exact or broad match), compare competing sites head to head on keywords, and get the breakdown of traffic sent to any website.
How Accurate is Compete.com?
Their model of data collection is going to make their data more accurate for frequent search terms and larger sites, but I tested their keyword data against some of my smaller sites and it was surprisingly accurate.
How to Clone Smaller Competitors
This is yet another way authority sites will pick off smaller competing sites. It is a simple process. If your site is one of the most authoritative sites in your space you can clean up.
Use Google's site targeting ads stats to check what sites are running AdSense and getting a lot of traffic (you don't even need to buy ads on them to do this)
Go to Compete.com to get the top keyword phrases competing sites rank for and create content targeting the same keywords. You can also run the keywords through Google's Traffic Estimator to sort the keywords by Google's value estimates.
Beyond that, you can run Google's site targeted ads or general contextual AdSense placement reports to find out what pages are the most popular on competing sites, and then create content covering the same topics.
Lowbrow webmasters are fast becoming the outsourced market research department for bigger, more technologically advanced, and cash flush companies.
The Effect of Better Competitive Data
All of these analytic services are going to increase the value of domain authority (since it can be easily leveraged for greater profit) and force webmasters to move themselves up the value chain (since models like AdSense give away too much competitive data, especially when combined with Compete.com).
Other Ways to Use Compete.com
Compete can be used to see how strong a brand is in its field. The top keyword in the credit card category is Capital One. Both www.capitalone.com and capitalone.com are also in the top 5 keywords. They are obviously a leader in that space. You can also see what percent of a website's traffic originates from its brand related keywords.
You can search for a broad match phrase to see how established your site is inside a vertical, how consolidated a vertical is, and how much potential upside you have by increasing your share of search traffic.
Compete can also show you the if a competing site is heavily reliant on a few strong keywords or if their traffic distribution is wider. This can be used to see sites worth investing in (especially if you understand search relevancy algorithms) or sites which have a lot of risk and are worth avoiding.
Cory Doctorow spoke at Google a few months ago. His speech covers IP protection, copyright law, DRM, and international trade laws. It is well worth a listen for any web entrepreneur, especially those considering getting published.
Someone recently left a comment on my blog promoting a new keyword research tool that is registered via proxy. The competitive analysis keyword research tool has been marketed heavily via comment spam, and currently shows itself as bidding on 0 keywords, per its own competitive measures. The site gives no data about who owns it. Could it appear any less legitimate? How do marketers create market research tools espousing the value of something they are not doing themselves, then market it via blog comment spam? It isn't hard to send an email or buy a review. If their service is worth $90 a month (their current price) their marketing budget should include some money for paid search and public relations. They could at least have a blog comparing seasonal data and data from different companies the way Hitwise does.
The easiest way to show the value of your offering is to eat your own dog food. That is why ReviewMe bought a bunch of its own ads to help the site go viral at launch. There are so many ways to market ad networks or competitive research tools that there is no point creating one if the marketing strategy starts with the likes of blog comment spam and/or cold calling.
I am sure I have made similar posts before, but I live in an 8 unit townhome, and just down the street they are hauling away part of a mountain to make room for another one of these. Each of the 8 units has a rent of $2100 a month, which comes to a total of $16,800 a month.
Their costs include digging up the mountain, hauling away the dirt, permits and licensing fees, property taxes, cleaning, land, raw building materials, construction, interest on a loan, etc. By the time they are done I am sure they will have spent at least $5,000,000 to create a small revenue stream. A website I started a year ago took about $50,000 to develop, and already makes more than that building will. The virtual real estate investment required no loans, and the ROI is over 100x greater. If I build a strong enough brand my income stream will grow much faster than inflation and be nearly as stable as the real estate, while owning a more liquid asset with lower fixed costs. If you are aggressive enough, you can scale an affiliate site to a billion dollars.
The best investments you can make are in your own education and projects. As time passes the web will be more like the offline world and that 100x greater ROI will start heading closer and closer to 1. The only ways to prevent that from happening are to
keep testing and learning
heavily reinvesting in growth and brand building
be willing to fail and move on to better markets
use technology to automate
build a following and create social relationships with like-minded people
leverage your current assets to optimize and promote future business
I hope they have fun tearing down the mountain. I am off to get a few more links. ;)
SEO Question: I am considering moving my site to another domain name. Do I have anything to fear in moving it? What is the proper way to move a website to a new URL?
Answer: The best way to permanently move a site is to 301 redirect it. If you have a small site you will likely see few small changes with your rankings. The bigger your site is the longer it takes to move and the more drastically the shakeup will be.
301 Redirecting a Small Site Versus a Large Site
When I redirected my article about Search Engine History the pickup was almost immediate because it was only moving one page to another one page site. My friend Daniel recently 301 redirected the old scholarship site to College Scholarships.org. It was a good test to see how the various search engines would react to moving a 1,000+ page website. The site move started on May 30th. By June 3rd Google indexed 385 pages, and on June 6th Google indexed 509 pages. The old URLs ranked until the associated new ones took their place in the index.
When moving a large site make sure to use a find and replace feature to change internal links to point at the new site location. You can do so inside of HTML editing software like Dreamweaver or using freeware like ReplaceEm. Rebranding a site is also a good time to fix broken links. You can find broken links using Xenu.
Why Our Search Traffic is Still Down
Traffic volumes are still noticeably down from their all time highs, but that is largely a function of 4 factors
The site had not been actively marketed for month and we were busy creating other sites so we didn't add much content to the site for months. We were busy building out other high growth potential properties.
Right around when we moved the site I believe the traffic volume for that keyword universe dropped (people out of school are not looking for scholarships or grants as much, and people use the Internet less in early summer).
Before the site moved we had ads on the blog portion of the site. We removed those ads because we want our blog to be a more organic part of the web than it would otherwise be if it were cluttered with ads. Our page-view traffic stats below are for pages that had ads on them. The blog currently represents a small minority of our traffic, but we hope to change that ASAP.
MSN search sucks at 301 redirects!!!!!
The site was moved on the 29th of May, and you can see how the traffic was at its all time high in May (the red is the old site and the blue is the new site). In addition to a nice third party trend graph, here are some traffic numbers by date
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How Google Reacted to the Redirects
Google picked up on the 301 redirects for the core pages almost immediately. For core terms, that were heavily emphasized on-site and off-site, the rankings dropped slightly then rose back to their typical positions within about a month. Some of them dropped for as little as a week, while others stayed at #1, but for athletic scholarships the rankings are still a bit lower than they were before, with 4 sites still outranking the site, but then again I doubt we should have beat the NCAA for that term. ;)
At the low point, search traffic was about 50% of its high point, and now it is back up to about 70%.
For some portions of the site, Google took quite a while to pick up the 301 redirect. The sections of the site about state scholarship and grants programs, state student loans, and study abroad scholarship programs were slow to move because they each contained many pages, and were numerous few links from the homepage, requiring a bot to go from the homepage, to a category page, to the subcategory page, to each of the 50 or so pages in each of those sections. To help speed along that movement links to some of the deeper sections were added to the homepage.
Helping Deeper Content Get Re-indexed Quickly
We got about a half dozen average quality links after the site moved and changed the URLs in a few of our directory listings like Business.com to help show the transition of the site. The exact match domain name helped improve rankings for the core matching term, and changing the site architecture to place more emphasis on the deeper pages not only got them crawled again quickly, but also helped those pages rank better as well.
In addition to placing more emphasis on lower nodes in the site structure we also blocked some of the duplicate blog content in the robots.txt file and lowered the number of site-wide outbound links from about a half dozen to a couple. These helped focus more of the PageRank on lower pages to get them indexed quicker.
How Did the Engines Do?
1 month later Yahoo traffic is about the same as what it was before the site moved, which likely represents a slight increase in traffic, given the seasonal trend.
Google traffic is down slightly, but I think that is partly due to seasonality factors, as the site ranks where it used to for most of its competitive search terms.
I filed a re-inclusion request with MSN about a week and a half ago, but have got no reply so far. If it is still hosed near the end of this month I will ping a few people I know who work there.
What Should I Do Before & While Moving My Site?
If you have a seasonal site you can mitigate risk by moving your site early in the off season.
Buy ads for any brand related queries or other keywords that you feel your site must rank for.
Look for low information pages, and eliminate their ability to waste PageRank by blocking them from being indexed.
Take inventory of your most profitable sections of your site (from a search standpoint) and ensure your current internal link structure places emphasis on them. If you have a large site and some of your most profitable sections of your site are many clicks from your homepage consider raising their prominence in the site's navigational scheme to help them get re-indexed quickly. Heavily cross link toward the valuable sections whenever and wherever it makes sense.
If you are afraid of risking your rankings, you can try 301 redirecting one piece of your site to see how well the engines receive that, then push the rest of your site a month later if the results are good.
If your new site launch is a big deal ensure you submit a press release, and come up with a few good marketing / promotional ideas you can do when you launch your new site to help you build link authority and make the transition as smooth as possible. Also changing some of your better directory listings, your internal links, and any other links under your direct control to point at the new location is ideal.
I like to buy a bit of StumbleUpon traffic and ads on topical traffic source sites when the site moves.
Backfence died because it was made obsolete by Google's relevancy algorithms and older local community sites. The commoditization of local data is only going to get worse. iBegin Source allows you to search or browse local business information for free, or buy an entire state for $1,000. Today Google announced they are allowing people to overlay mapplets, which will likely make Google the default source for local information inside of 2 years.
Question: We have a multi-week turnaround on our content which makes it hard for us to write about fresh news. Is there an easy way to get past compliance, legal, and information only formatting requirements?
Answer: This is in no way legal advice, but here are a few ideas that might work...
If you have this limitation so do most of your competitors, so in that regard it probably does not hurt you much when competing with other large players. If your business model is solid you should still have a similar or higher visitor value. Where it might hurt is competing with smaller players, but since they are smaller they are typically easier to influence.
You can still attract the traffic streams of the smaller players by using affiliate programs, hiring them as consultants, buying ads on their site, sponsoring special reports they create, creating things they would want to talk about (free tools, widgets, etc.).
I am not sure of the legalities of it, but you may also want to turn some of your star content producers into people you are buying ads off of, or spin the content portion of your business off into its own business then work to cross promote, or publish a few independent blogs with legal disclaimers. Look to see what competitors are doing, and if it is legal try to do it better than they do.
Create and sponsor an independent non-profit organization that speaks for your industry. At least one of the non-profit organizations in the search marketing space is a complete joke, but it still helps its leaders gain brand recognition because they are affiliated with it. I bet more than one car donation charity was created by an auction house.
Hamlet Batista commented on my last post that a problem with blogging is that many people look to the same sources for inspiration and information to blog about. Even in the most saturated markets there are a wide array of unique data sources. Here are some of my favorites:
your own experiences - how you save time, your favorite work tips, things that slow you down, interactions with others, how your perspective has changed over time, etc.
show how your topical language has shifted - compare news from the 1950s to today, there are many stories from the 1980s and earlier which are easily accessible via Google News, but have not been pushed heavily on the web graph
compare information from different formats - blogs, magazines, books, dvds, conferences, stuff in Google Scholar, etc.
content behind firewalls - bring these ideas into the active parts of the web
Brian Clark recently highlighted that while valuable blogs continue to gain traction, the bloggers who were only popular because they were early are seeing diminished traffic and are fading in relevancy.
It makes sense that many of the original bloggers would fade because blogging about oneself is narcissistic and highly irrelevant to most readers, while blogging about technology and the web is quite easy, and there are thousands of people doing it.
What Makes Content Valuable?
The difference between value and non-value content is how unique the content and thoughts are, and how actionable the content is. If everyone else reads the same channels you and I do then us posting about their information has little value. In an ironic twist, that is one likely reason this is a low value post.
The Importance of Formatting & Framing
Almost all content ideas are recycled. The key is to target your message to an audience and format your message in a way that gives you credit as being the thought leader who came up with it. Jakob Nielson continued his (well structured) rants against blogging with Write Articles, Not Blog Postings. He didn't have to call thin low value information blog posts, but he did to help target his message at bloggers and have them spread his message.
From Jakob's article
Even if you're the world's top expert, your worst posting will be below average, which will negatively impact on your brand equity. If you do start a blog despite my advice, at least screen your postings: wait an hour or two, then reread your comments and avoid uploading any that are average or poor. (Even average content undermines your brand. Don't contribute to information pollution by posting material that isn't above the average of other people's writings.)
The best channels, the ones worth paying attention to, filter. They are valuable as much for what they DON'T publish as they are for what they do publish. If you have an ad supported business model then information pollution is an effective means to increase profit margins, but if you sell consulting and/or content a different approach is required:
Elite, expertise-driven sites are the exception to the rule. For these sites, you don't care about 90% of users, because they want a lower level of quality than you provide and they'll never pay for your services. People looking for the quick hit and free advice are not your customers. Let them eat cake; let them read Wikipedia.
The reason TropicalSEO is so good is that Andy only publishes every once in a while. If you publish everyday eventually you run out of stuff to say. Blogging is just like writing songs or books. Each writer only has so much in them before they have to take a break to gather their thoughts and find more material to write about.
Jakob also mentioned that by writing longer articles that you create content which is not only of greater value, but hard to duplicate. It is why my book is read more frequently than my best blog posts, and part of what makes writing 20 page articles fun and worthwhile .
Are New Bloggers Experts?
I think we are all experts at things we have experienced, but any field worth being in takes a while to become an expert. To become a publicly recognized expert you have to
garner attention and keep it
develop many social and business relationships
build a personal brand
have thick skin
The hard part about writing in depth stuff when you are new to a market is that if you are still learning there is little upside to trying to write beyond your knowledge level. When I did that people took time out of their day to email me reminding me of what a horrible human being I am. I still get some of that.
A better approach to getting traction for a new blog is to add an element of social interaction to it, leveraging the brand and reach of others. Awards, interviews, and contests work great. After you get a bit of attention make sure to follow that up with some higher value content to turn one time readers into subscribers. It is hard to imagine a blog market more saturated than SEO, and yet in 3 weeks Patrick Altoft built 10,000 links.
How to Lose Relevancy
One can talk about the current hot memes, like Squidoo spam is right now, but ultimately nobody cares to read 31,843 people blogging about Terry Semel stepping down. The only way to build a brand talking up memes is to be the person who started the meme, or have such influence that you can re-frame the meme and gain ownership of it.
As content quality improves short me too posts end up costing more than what they are worth. I have known of people who deleted a year and a half of archives because it wasn't worth the link equity the content was wasting, when it could be spread across higher value content.
The threshold for usefulness will continue to increase as more content is available online in richer and more interactive formats.
When Garbage Content is an Effective Monetization Strategy
Internet marketing advice is rarely universally useful. Here are 3 cases where low value information pollution is an effective strategy:
If you are in a market full of garbage it is not hard to beat it by being slightly different and then bolting a bit of linkbait onto it. In many consumer finance markets just rewriting the affiliate feed is all you need to start getting traction.
If you have an older authoritative site and are not effectively monetizing it you can add a related offer sections.
If you are a blog or a media website that regularly publishes news you can backdate commercially oriented posts or publish special advertisement sections without adding noise to your main channel (blog, newsletter, RSS feed, homepage, etc).
If you are an individual or a small company, serving some markets directly with a product may not be as scalable as selling ads. The best type of ads to sell are overpriced CPM brand ads, but if you are in a high value niche you can also do well with affiliate offers and AdSense ads.
Most informational websites are monetized via selling ads. The most profitable ad any site can sell is an ad for itself, because there is already user trust and perception of control built directly into a person buying from the same trusted brand. If you don't believe that theory, track affiliate conversion rates while having a lead form on your site vs a lead form on a third party site. The on-site lead form will typically outperform a third party lead form sometimes by a factor of 2 or more. A friend of mine published a blue site about ringtones. He sent traffic to a green ringtone offer landing page that offered 15 bonus ringtones. He later tested sending the traffic to a blue ringtone offer landing page that offered 10 bonus ringtones. While offering less, the conversion rate was significantly higher because the conversion process felt more congruent from beginning to end.
If you must send visitors to another site for conversion try to pattern your site design and sales copy to match the end destination site design and copy. The more consistent the experience is the more money you make.
A few more tips to help boost conversions:
Make the review look unbiased, even if it is highly biased. Use bulleted list and show stats. Make the sales information look more informational than salesy.
Limit user choice. Make it sound like you already did all the review process and your recommendation is the obvious choice for the user's needs.
If your site is mostly an AdSense site, and you are getting a strong CPM, you might be able to make more by showing fewer ad units. Use the advanced AdSense reports to see if people are site targeting your website. If advertisers are site targeting consider pulling back one ad unit to see how that affects the CPC and CPM of the remaining ad units. Advertisers competing for less ad inventory should drive up the prices. If the gain nearly offsets the loss you are still ahead because you can replace that other ad unit with an affiliate ad, an ad for a branded advertiser, or an ad marketing your best content.
If many of your advertisers are thin affiliate sites, consider moving yourself up the value chain by cloning their offers and business models and improving upon them. You should be able to make more money selling directly because you keep the visitor, the supply chain is thinner, you can refine your offers over time, you can sell at higher price points, you can resell the customer, and your conversion rates should be higher because you are selling your own site and business.
The most profitable ad any site can sell is an ad for itself, because there is already user trust and perception of control built directly into a person buying from the same trusted brand.
I have a partner who runs some older authority domains who is looking for a full time link builder. The job is a work from home position, available immediately, and pays $2500 a month. We are looking for someone who is self disciplined, creative, and aggressive.
Why is confidence so important when starting a business?
That is one of the ways we make our own luck, life is a self fulfilling prophecy. All leaders are believers, or there can be no followers/stakeholders, and therefore no competitive teams. All leaders who didn't believe turned out to be obsolete and the rest remained.
How do you balance confidence, ego, success, and drive while still having time for family life and charity work?
I don't balance it but people should.
Why is it so hard to create a business working part time?
Because your competitors work double time and they will have better information and ideas too, and take your customers, investors, and employees.
What made you appreciate the value of domain names so early on? How much more upside do you see in the domain market?
Someone offered me 25k for a domain that I had only paid $50 a year for, I was instantly sold. The domain market is really part of the overall Web 2.0/ecommerce market, which will boom indefinitely. Domains serve as company names and core ecommerce addresses, therefore any generic domain name that is high quality today will continue to rise in value. Names that are worthless today (the other 99%), will remain worthless.
For a new small business does it make more sense to focus on efficiency or scale?
Scale comes naturally to an efficient business following a plan and standard best practices. Attempting to scale without efficiency is a waste of resources.
What pieces are software are vital to helping you manage and grow your business?
SugarCRM, Salesforce.com, Yield Software, Apache, MS Office, Eudora (unsupported currently)
What books should every small business owner read?
Origin of Species, Darwin (is the essence of business fundamentals), Make Millions and Make Change, (an up and coming classic :), In Search of Excellence, Tom Peters, That Which You Are Seeking is Causing You to Seek, Cheri Huber (will help you manage success and charity work)
Does luck matter in business?
Not really, other than by birth. You make your own luck.
Why do you view obstacles as an asset?
Because all your competitors have the same ones. The more things to confuse them in dominating the market, the more things there are for you to understand and optimize. You are in the business of competing, you need items (obstacles) to compete on in order to express your superiority in the market.
Why should you start in a field that matches your experience and interests?
Because to win the long marathon you want to start better trained and miles ahead of the competitors if you have the chance.
When does it make sense to go high profile and when does it make sense to stay hidden?
When you have something to promote and when you have something confidential, respectively.
Your book said there is no reason to fear capitalism. You also support a lot of charities. Do you ever worry some business processes might have hidden costs? How do you stay so close to so many issues and stay upbeat?
Oy veh. Business process always have emerging unexpected costs, which is why you need a huge load of profit to pay for everything and need to be very efficient operationally. Close and upbeat?, I study, speak to lots of bright people, and take tea.
Market saturation tends to erode profit margins. What trends or signals make you avoid a market? What tells you when it is the right time to get in a market or to sell?
I only work in a few select complementary technology areas so I don't get diluted outside of my core competencies. Basically, have a plan and gut feeling when the stars are aligned.
Is the Internet making the typical model of business (employees in an office on certain set hours) irrelevant? What are the keys to keeping employees motivated and loyal, even if they are far away?
The market is international and therefore 24 hours, so hours are less important than doing a lot of them in an educated and motivated way. However, managing people is best done in person, not online for sure. People are motivated by working on a killer team, with a killer plan, and mostly bringing home the bacon. I like to hire only people who are so motivated and such high achievers and believers that they like equity or profit sharing to incentivize themselves even more than cash.
With the trends of cheaper technology, increasing communications, and globalization, do you think the Internet will end up causing a consolidation of wealth or will have the net effect of re-distributing it? Who stands to gain the most and who stands to lose the most?
The rich will get richer I'm sure unless and until they have programs to redistribute it like Grassroots.org and Make Change! Trust.
The Internet is making many things free, but many of them are free with hidden costs (such as destructively biased self serving advice). Do you think the move toward free will improve or decrease the quality of information being created?
Neither, its not really free, its ad supported, so ostensibly no different than pay content. To get better content pay more, like cash and not just 'ad' viewing.
How do you determine how well you can trust something you find in the search results?
I search for consensus. Unfortunately a lot of what passes as consensus is just one site regurgitating bad data from another. But I look for confirmation from experts and trusted online sources for everything I read.
With the web people may be more able to form groups and take action quicker, but many people may fight so much for certain causes that they don't see the downsides of what they create. Will media and ad personalization end up having a net positive or negative effect on society?
Just positive. Groups online learn to police themselves over time, or people flock to the sites that do. There are a lot of useless and otherwise lame sites, but they are a reflection of what people want, just like stores in the offline world.
How many charities does Grassroots.org help?
800 and ultimately growing to 10,000 that are each saving $10,000 per year, for a net benefit of $100M per year to the charity community serving the poor, sick, uneducated and otherwise needy. Grassroots.org is one piece of our charity work, whereas Make Change! Trust supports dozens of other 501c3 organizations like Grassroots.org
What percent of time and profits should go to charity?
There is no ceiling. If you ask me you can go ahead and be Mother Theresa and give it all away. Or as much of each as you can handle.
How do you decide if a charity is deserving of help?
For MCT, usually we know them personally or by reputation. For Grassroots.org they have 501c3 certificates and fit in to certain broad categories that we support. About half of all 501c3s meet our criteria.
What market today is as good to invest in as the domain market was when you started building BuyDomains.com?
The domain market. The web site market. The SEO market. The hosted or downloaded software market. Most of the best new Internet stuff. And Apple. Google. Wal-Mart. Dell.
Jim Boykin recently offered tips to help webmasters understand how to audit a site to see what pages are the most link rich, how internal link equity flows around websites, and how to optimize your internal link architecture. In addition to Jim's tips, you can also improve your internal link structure by using some of the following tips.
Create Promotional Content Sections
The following ideas display social acceptance (which helps improve conversion) while also funneling PageRank at important pages without looking spammy.
heavily promote seasonal stuff in advance (internally and externally)
use sales data or other metrics to create a what's hot in this category and what's hot on our site section to flow more link equity to best sellers (these can be called anything like what's hot, top rated, etc)
create pages high in the site structure to support high value keywords that were only tangentially covered on lower level nodes
over-represent new content in your link structure to help it get indexed quickly, see how well it will rank, and learn how profitable it is
Internal to External Link Ratio
Doing theses sorts of things will still give you all the good karma and benefit that linking out does, while minimizing any downside caused by funneling a significant portion of your PageRank out of your site.
if you have a blog cross reference old posts where and when it makes sense
if you link out heavily on a page ensure you also place numerous internal links on the page
use breadcrumb navigation or other navigational schemes to help structure the site and improve the internal to external link ratio
if you have a ton of outbound site-wide links change some of them to only list them on a single page or section of your site
Keep the Noise Out of the Index
demoting an entire section of the site in the link structure if it has a lower ROI than other sections
use robots.txt and meta robots exclusion tags to prevent duplicate content and other low information or noisy pages from getting indexed
instead of using pagination try to display more content on each page
check your server logs for 404 errors. fix any broken links and redirect old linked to pages to their new locations
This idea may sound a bit complex until you visualize it as a keyword chart with an x and y axis.
Imagine that a, b, c, ... z are all good keywords.
Imagine that 1, 2, 3, ... 10 are all good keywords.
If you have a page on each subject consider placing the navigation for a through z in the sidebar while using links and brief descriptions for 1 through 10 as the content of the page. If people search for a 7 or b 9 that cross referencing page will be relevant for it, and if it is done well it does not look to spammy.
Since these types of pages can spread link equity across so many pages of different categories make sure they are linked to well high up in the site's structure. These pages works especially well for categorized content cross referenced by locations.
I just got done reading Michael Mann's ebook. It contains a bunch of great advice for Internet entrepreneurs. It is quite wide ranging, but offers both practical and useful advice, explaining many business concepts in a way that just about anyone should be able to understand.
In some dirty industries there are parallel markets/messages/ideas that have similar business models, but are loved and marketed as though they are pure and do nothing but improve the world. As long as your industry is viewed as being dirty it is hard to get much traction outside of it until your industry grows up, you get good at relating your industry to other industries, and/or wrap your brand around a market that is easier to like.
It is far easier to get links as a person talking about search than it is a person talking about SEO. Google is always in the press and largely controls the public perception of SEO. Ride their publicity.
It is far easier to get links as a person talking about personal finance than a person talking about payday loans. Be an expert in the broader field and then publish the offers that are profitable enough to subsidize the other content.
It is far easier to get links as a person talking about blogging than a person talking about the news. There is a sense of empathy toward other bloggers, there are tons of people doing it, and social activity is baked into the software.
If your field is hated consider riding other trends to help gain authority and spread your ideas. It is far easier to sell people what they want than to try to change their view of an entire industry.
John Wiley & Sons, the publisher based in Hoboken, N.J., is offering an array of free travel tidbits and articles on the site of its Frommer's travel-book series. Not only can visitors to the site read blogs or listen to podcasts, they can plan and book trips -- generating commission revenue for frommers.com.
When you think of the authority of the Frommer's domain name (over 10 years old, PR7, 364,000 links), they must be able to get millions of pages of content indexed.
The first publishers to put their whole books online will see amazing returns because few people are doing it. The WSJ article stated that Wiley was already enjoying 10 to 15 million a year from 3 flagship sittes (Frommer's, For Dummies, and Cliff Notes). After hearing the early results, others will follow, putting all or nearly all of their content online. The lagging publishers will make crumbs, but their books will flood the search results with content that undermines the value of lower quality content.
Books Publishing is Fast Becoming a Vanity Industry
I was offered to get SEO Book published by one of the leading book publishing houses. I have made more in a day than what they were offering me as down payment for writing the book. And they wanted me to do all the book marketing as well, for no further compensation unless I sold enough books to make the hot books lists. It didn't help that my profit margins from a book sale would have been less than what I pay for a click.
I was unwilling to get published because I thought there was upside in the current model, in a growing market, and realized that the model of being published did not work unless I was interested in feeding my ego, in need of credibility, or was writing a book just to up sell more expensive services.
I recently went on a book buying binge to get content ideas for one of my sites. I spent over $500 buying 30+ books, searching through them for their ideas, their structure, and their format. It was easy to do that because they are so under-priced relative to their value. I have an AdSense site that was far easier to create than many of those books were, but it makes about $1,000 a day.
If those publishers just put the content online they would make far more than I am from my AdSense site. My AdSense model only works so long as they don't put their content online, or I create a better known brand than they do.
Defending an AdSense Site's Viability
If your strategy is entirely long tail keyword oriented and you don't have a real brand your income will fall sharply in the next couple years. Site targeted AdWords will cause premium publishers to get paid more for similar content, and position placement reports will trim back the ad buys on sites with limited exposure and few conversions.
Not only will many of these books go online, but many of them with serious distribution and authority will act as gateways or clearinghouses for related books. What is to stop a publisher from pushing 10 other economics books on the Freakonomics site? Why not turn Frommer's into an endless sea of travel information?
Whoever introduces an idea gets credit for it, but, as hinted by my book buying binge tip, most of the content on the web is just copied and repackaged. Packaging and formatting can make an idea or kill it before it has a chance to spread. Everywhere I look there are free tips on formatting and monetizing, numerous competitors testing and tweaking, and market feedback is near real-time if I change my format or offer.
The only way to avoid losing to big publishers is to create real brands, position them as self reinforcing authorities, aggressively monetized and reinvest in marketing, and get hundreds or thousands of subscribers to spread your message and do your marketing for you.
Currently, the predominant business model for commercial search engines is advertising. The goals of the advertising business model do not always correspond to providing quality search to users. For example, in our prototype search engine one of the top results for cellular phone is "The Effect of Cellular Phone Use Upon Driver Attention", a study which explains in great detail the distractions and risk associated with conversing on a cell phone while driving. This search result came up first because of its high importance as judged by the PageRank algorithm, an approximation of citation importance on the web [Page, 98]. It is clear that a search engine which was taking money for showing cellular phone ads would have difficulty justifying the page that our system returned to its paying advertisers. For this type of reason and historical experience with other media [Bagdikian 83], we expect that advertising funded search engines will be inherently biased towards the advertisers and away from the needs of the consumers.
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.
Another approach would be to reform the practices that Moore criticises in the film -- for example, refusing to pay for an insured individual's surgery because she didn't mention a 15-year-old yeast infection on her application; denying MRIs to patients with brain tumors; and paying medical directors bonuses for denying claims.
Yes, healthcare consumers are moving online. But there's more to the story than that. For instance, the Internet is the leading media source of health, medical, and prescription-drug information. In addition, the majority of consumers use a search engine prior to requesting a prescription drug from a doctor. The bottom line: The Internet plays a central role in the way consumers' access healthcare information.
I can see how one might want to play up the fact that Google is admitting it can â€œuseâ€ the web sites in its content network to sway the public perceptionâ€¦which is really telling all those web masters running Google ads that they are Google pawns, that Google is not neutral morally or politically, and that Google seeks out opportunities to exploit that (for profit).
SEOs get a black eye for market manipulation, but is what Google suggests any better? Nope. It is only wrong to manipulate public perception or relevancy if you don't have enough money to pay Google directly. If you have a wallet open it up and let Google syndicate your spin.