Meta Spam: Search Results in the Search Results

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, limited to your target keyword and Google has had the regurgitating search result problem for at least 5 months now.
  • leveraging an authoritative redirect off a site like

DaveN also pointed out how many clean sites like funnel PageRank to sites that show spamming is indeed a web-wide standard. Still way too much weight on domain authority Google!

How to Turn Content Into a Valuable Keyword List

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

If you find some of the leading keywords for a competing site via tools like (or SpyFu, SeoDigger, etc.), or via site targeted AdSense ads you can see what keywords and pages are most worth emulating. If your keyword list is too long to make sense out of consider running it through Google's Traffic Estimator tool to find which keywords are the most valuable.

If you have more authority and target more valuable keywords and traffic streams you win. :)

The Problem With My (and Your) Feed Reader Is...

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 a blog...somewhere.

Real World Marketing: Even Colleges Spam for Top Rankings

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.
  • Everyone Spams God: Even if people say they do not support spamming, that is probably public relations spin to help push their brand. See the prior two points for how that works.
  • 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.

The New Reciprocal Links Program

Could you imagine wanting to get your blog indexed in a custom search engine of blogs that allow their comments links to pass PageRank? What would that do to your average comment quality, or your ability to trust commenters? Or am I just too pragmatic and cynical?'s ClickRiver Ads Out of Beta recently took ClickRiver, their contextual pay per click advertising service out of beta. I am sure there is a lot of gold to be had for information marketers.

Using Junk Mail to Find New Keywords

I recently was asked to write an article for Wordtracker about finding sources of keyword inspiration. I tried making it fun. Let me know what you think of it.

Using Organic Ranking Profits to Subsidize Paid Search Ads

Alan Rimm-Kaufman recently wrote an article about allowing your most profitable keywords to subsidize your less profitable ones. This strategy is obviously needed if you want to grow your business via search because you first have to create awareness before you create sales.

Paid search can also be used effectively as a branding and link building mechanism, and help reinforce your organic search rankings.

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.

How Easily do Authoritative Sites Rank for New Keywords?

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.

John Pozadzides wanted to test this theory, so here is a link to help test it Buy Cheap Viagra And SEO.

9 Reasons Why Your Google Search Rankings May Tank

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 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 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.

Operator Error

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.

Brute Force Marketing

You don't get to be a market maker without first being a market manipulator. Some of the largest and most successful Internet companies have profited heavily from what they define as spam by their own standards. People have been gaming systems for personal gain since the birth of humanity. St. Augustine said "The purpose of all wars, is peace". The current war in Iraq is failing so badly because of poor branding and marketing that made peace look like an afterthought.

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.

Compare that to Google's take on this issue

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.

How to Determine if a Link Passes Reputation / Authority / Equity / Juice / etc...

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 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.

Why Do My Google Rankings Stick After Losing Inbound Links?

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

They can also look at other things like searcher feedback, domain name, traffic trends, inbound and outbound links, etc. but as your site aged and got more exposure some of these other signals of quality might help make your rankings more stable, even if you lose some of the links that helped get your site noticed. I ranked in the top 10 for search engine history with a site that had no inbound links.

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.

Yahoo! Search Update

Yahoo! recently did another search index update with little fanfare. To me it looks like they put more weight on exact match domain names, inbound link anchor text, and domain authority.

What is Content? When is Publishing a Commodity?

People Tolerate (and Expect) Ads:

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.

Newspapers Practicing Arbitrage

Google killed some of the scraper AdSense garbage, but now arbitrage is going mainstream, with newspapers leveraging their brands to publish thin content from freelance writers. Think of newspapers buying ISP data or mining their server logs and suggesting writers create content about crap that got a lot of traffic when Google featured their story on the homepage in the past.

Newspapers Practicing Automated Garbitrage

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.

  • This just in...make money with the best forex platform!

  • This just rates are at all time lows!
  • This just education is more affordable than you thought!

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.

The only difference between a smart strategic ad buy and a text link sale that Google wants you to report is the publisher's rate card.

The $10,000 Robots.txt File...Ouch!

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
Disallow: /*page
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's webmaster guidelines and Yahoo!'s Search Blog both offer tips on how to format your robots.txt file.

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 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.

People Want to Be Inspired

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 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.

Hiring a Google Gadget Developer

I am looking to hire someone to create a few Google Gadgets for the the iGoogle homepage. If you are good at that sort of stuff please contact me. My email address is

Losing Self Respect, One Conversion at a Time

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 )

If you have a professional copywriter suggest revising your content, then state that using similar marketing to their past work is below you they may not appreciate that:

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.

Then if you hold a marketing contest, saying anything goes you are bound to raise a few eyebrows

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.

I had to wait on testing the results because I had too much temporal noise around my brand to provide accurate short term testing results. Inadequate data sampling provides inconclusive data. Even A/B split test results that are allegedly 95% certain are wrong 1 out of 20 times.

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. ;)

Ad Networks as Spyware Providers

I recently posted about the online security wars, a trend which will continue to grow as spam filtering improves. The WSJ recently ran an interesting article about ad networks distributing spyware:

In May, a virus in a banner ad on 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.

The Benefits of Using Google's Custom Search Engine

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.

When Niche Market is the Wrong Advice

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 retailers—online and off—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.

The market for something to believe in is infinite.

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.

I have long been a fan of parallel markets after attaining self reinforcing authority status in a core market.

Google Ringtone Search (Beta)... the Utility of Search & the Value of Relationships vs Data

Google recently announced they are offering an ad free search service to small businesses for as little as $100 a year. They are also rumored to be working on creating a mobile search offering to search for ringtones, cell phone games, and other high margin cell phone services:

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.

John Scott recently said

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 will increase in value.

Some newspapers are fighting off their own irrelevancy by publishing more ads, and becoming more irrelevant. The reason 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.

The next step for search is moving away from age and citation based trust toward user satisfaction based rating. In a recent interview Jakob Nielson said:

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. They’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 people’s problems, and they will tend to be more highly ranked.

Part of that will include collecting user feedback and personalizing results. For the commercial parts of the web, much of this will be done by search engines pushing more aggressive ad units (while using non-ads to test how far they can go), licensing content from premium publishers, and making more transactions direct to funnel traffic internally while minimizing the downside of bait and switch marketing. If Google controls the transaction they know the lead value AND the customer satisfaction stats. If something that was once good becomes spam Google controls distribution and monetization, and can kill it without a second thought.

If you are in a market that is likely to get commoditized what does your site do that makes it more than just data? Search Analytics is Amazing

I recently got a beta account to the upcoming Search Analytics tool. I am not sure of their pricing yet, but Jay Meattle, from, 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

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 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

Other Ways to Use

  • 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 and 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 Speech at Google

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.

Speaking at the Domain Roundtable

Jay Westerdal recently invited me to speak at the Domain Roundtable, a domaining conference held in Seattle from August 13th through 15th.

If you would like to attend here is a code for $100 off attending: domainseo. That is not an affiliate code, just a coupon code.

Would You Trust a Business Domain Registered via Proxy?

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.

Comparing the ROI of Online vs Offline Investments

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. ;)

How to: Move a Website...Should You Fear 301 Redirects Hurting Your Rankings?

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 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!!!!!

Traffic Trends

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

Date Page impressions
Thursday, March 1, 2007 8,082
Friday, March 2, 2007 5,853
Saturday, March 3, 2007 4,321
Sunday, March 4, 2007 5,424
Monday, March 5, 2007 8,244
Tuesday, March 6, 2007 7,844
Wednesday, March 7, 2007 8,061
Thursday, March 8, 2007 7,594
Friday, March 9, 2007 6,387
Saturday, March 10, 2007 4,579
Sunday, March 11, 2007 4,936
Monday, March 12, 2007 7,877
Tuesday, March 13, 2007 7,898
Wednesday, March 14, 2007 7,739
Thursday, March 15, 2007 7,707
Friday, March 16, 2007 6,344
Saturday, March 17, 2007 5,090
Sunday, March 18, 2007 6,112
Monday, March 19, 2007 9,259
Tuesday, March 20, 2007 9,359
Wednesday, March 21, 2007 8,708
Thursday, March 22, 2007 8,924
Friday, March 23, 2007 7,102
Saturday, March 24, 2007 5,304
Sunday, March 25, 2007 5,169
Monday, March 26, 2007 9,061
Tuesday, March 27, 2007 8,955
Wednesday, March 28, 2007 9,068
Thursday, March 29, 2007 8,565
Friday, March 30, 2007 6,770
Saturday, March 31, 2007 4,760
Sunday, April 1, 2007 5,360
Monday, April 2, 2007 8,483
Tuesday, April 3, 2007 8,671
Wednesday, April 4, 2007 8,552
Thursday, April 5, 2007 7,882
Friday, April 6, 2007 6,390
Saturday, April 7, 2007 5,052
Sunday, April 8, 2007 5,100
Monday, April 9, 2007 9,579
Tuesday, April 10, 2007 9,863
Wednesday, April 11, 2007 9,768
Thursday, April 12, 2007 9,180
Friday, April 13, 2007 7,734
Saturday, April 14, 2007 5,874
Sunday, April 15, 2007 6,533
Monday, April 16, 2007 15,370
Tuesday, April 17, 2007 11,534
Wednesday, April 18, 2007 10,605
Thursday, April 19, 2007 9,895
Friday, April 20, 2007 7,375
Saturday, April 21, 2007 5,201
Sunday, April 22, 2007 5,597
Monday, April 23, 2007 9,955
Tuesday, April 24, 2007 10,064
Wednesday, April 25, 2007 10,461
Thursday, April 26, 2007 9,942
Friday, April 27, 2007 7,689
Saturday, April 28, 2007 5,129
Sunday, April 29, 2007 6,097
Monday, April 30, 2007 10,442
Tuesday, May 1, 2007 11,262
Wednesday, May 2, 2007 10,005
Thursday, May 3, 2007 9,262
Friday, May 4, 2007 7,486
Saturday, May 5, 2007 4,627
Sunday, May 6, 2007 5,744
Monday, May 7, 2007 9,642
Tuesday, May 8, 2007 9,968
Wednesday, May 9, 2007 9,686
Thursday, May 10, 2007 8,865
Friday, May 11, 2007 7,248
Saturday, May 12, 2007 4,858
Sunday, May 13, 2007 5,407
Monday, May 14, 2007 10,878
Tuesday, May 15, 2007 10,478
Wednesday, May 16, 2007 9,974
Thursday, May 17, 2007 9,568
Friday, May 18, 2007 7,724
Saturday, May 19, 2007 5,015
Sunday, May 20, 2007 5,579
Monday, May 21, 2007 10,053
Tuesday, May 22, 2007 10,725
Wednesday, May 23, 2007 10,085
Thursday, May 24, 2007 8,650
Friday, May 25, 2007 7,383
Saturday, May 26, 2007 4,997
Sunday, May 27, 2007 5,328
Monday, May 28, 2007 6,113
Tuesday, May 29, 2007 9,977
Wednesday, May 30, 2007 10,039
Thursday, May 31, 2007 9,650
Friday, June 1, 2007 7,424
Saturday, June 2, 2007 5,111
Sunday, June 3, 2007 6,016
Monday, June 4, 2007 8,876
Tuesday, June 5, 2007 7,378
Wednesday, June 6, 2007 6,599
Thursday, June 7, 2007 5,354
Friday, June 8, 2007 4,019
Saturday, June 9, 2007 2,809
Sunday, June 10, 2007 2,953
Monday, June 11, 2007 4,550
Tuesday, June 12, 2007 4,124
Wednesday, June 13, 2007 3,903
Thursday, June 14, 2007 3,824
Friday, June 15, 2007 3,231
Saturday, June 16, 2007 2,158
Sunday, June 17, 2007 2,459
Monday, June 18, 2007 4,441
Tuesday, June 19, 2007 5,154
Wednesday, June 20, 2007 4,978
Thursday, June 21, 2007 4,468
Friday, June 22, 2007 4,057
Saturday, June 23, 2007 3,086
Sunday, June 24, 2007 3,675
Monday, June 25, 2007 5,853
Tuesday, June 26, 2007 5,666
Wednesday, June 27, 2007 5,684
Thursday, June 28, 2007 5,214
Friday, June 29, 2007 4,032
Saturday, June 30, 2007 2,852
Sunday, July 1, 2007 3,501
Monday, July 2, 2007 5,461
Tuesday, July 3, 2007 4,925
Wednesday, July 4, 2007 3,402
Thursday, July 5, 2007 6,016
Friday, July 6, 2007 4,769
Saturday, July 7, 2007 3,351
Sunday, July 8, 2007 4,022
Monday, July 9, 2007 6,780
Tuesday, July 10, 2007 7,047
Wednesday, July 11, 2007 90
Totals 916,061
Averages 6,887

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 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?

Yahoo! Search

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.

Microsoft's Live Search

The big shocker is that MSN is so bad at following 301 redirects that they now send the site 0 traffic. The old site is listed URL only, while the new site is not listed.

MSN's failure to follow redirects can also be appreciated by seeing how they indexed 10,000 more pages on the SEO Book site than Yahoo! or Google do. Most of those additional pages are affiliate redirects. As of writing this, MSN also failed to index

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.

Local Data is Worthless (Unless You Have a Community)

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.

How Do I Write About & Market Important News When Legal Has to Review All Our Content?

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.

11 Unique Content Sources in Saturated Markets

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.

  • encourage readers to ask you questions - use a button like this one, and run open threads where you answer questions
  • find common questions in forums that are typically poorly answered - why doesn't Google show all my backlinks and why hasn't my PageRank changed? etc.
  • common misconceptions in your marketplace which are spread as fact - new websites can't rank, etc
  • interview other experts, create interactive contests, offer awards, etc. - these touches the ego of others and uses their reach to help market your site
  • bring back old classics that are not talked about too much in the current marketplace and compare them to the current market. You can't go wrong bringing up Orwell's Politics and the English Language, Bush's As We May Think, Hardin's The Tragedy of the Commons
  • 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
  • find ideas that were popular and spread on other networks, seamlessly aggregate the best parts in a new way which allows the structure to add significant value
  • parallel markets - read information from other markets and relate it to your current market

Less Writing, Higher Quality

Value Blogging is In

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.

Information Pollution

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.

Deleting Garbage

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).

Make More by Publishing Fewer Pages & Showing Less Ads

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 Am Looking for a Link Builder

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.

If you are interested please email

Interview of Michael Mann

Michael Mann founded BuyDomains, and numerous other companies through his WashingtonVC incubator. He also launched and the Make Change! trust, and authored the popular ebook Make Millions and Make Change! for entrepreneurs and non-profits. After reading his book I asked him for an interview and he said sure.

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,, 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 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 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. is one piece of our charity work, whereas Make Change! Trust supports dozens of other 501c3 organizations like

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 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

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.

Internal Link Architecture Made Easy

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

Bonus Idea: Create Cross Referencing Navigational Structures

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.

Make Millions and Make Change

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.

How Likable is Your Niche? How Lovable is Your Brand?

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.

Content Without Subscribers Will Become Worthless

Traditional Publishers Are Wising Up to the Web

The WSJ posted an article about travel publishers wising up to the web, placing large chunks of their books online:

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

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.

Ad Revenues Are Richer Than Book Profits

If I couldn't afford to buy ads for a physical book, that hints that the format and price-point lock in value in a way that is far from the potential returns if that value was unlocked.

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.

Momentum is a force. Use the force. ;)

Does Search Disrupt the Business World?

When Brin and Page wrote The Anatomy of a Large-Scale Hypertextual Web Search Engine they noted that advertising biases search engines toward the needs and wants of advertisers, and against the best interest of consumers.

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.

Not surprising then, when Google becomes a leading advertising engine, they go so far to cater to advertisers that Google's blog bashes documentaries while using that opportunity and platform to remind advertisers they can manipulate public perception by buying Google AdWords ads and Google delivered AdSense ads on content websites.

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.

Cory Doctorow offers an alternative solution

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.

Google also has a health advertising page, which goes so far as to say

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.

This is the sort of stuff I was fearing when I wrote about Google's shift from direct marketing to selling brand ads. There is no care for relevancy if spreading misinformation pays more:

I can see how one might want to play up the fact that Google is admitting it can “use” the web sites in its content network to sway the public perception…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.