Late on Friday afternoon is a brilliant time for Google to announce a major change with their news service if they do not want people to talk about much. With their AP, Agence France-Presse, The Press Association in the United Kingdom and The Canadian Press syndication deals, Google claims they are improving duplicate detection, increasing listing variety, and as a net result they are sending MORE traffic to the people they signed syndication deals with.
Google's going beyond just hosted news articles as part of this release. The company also says it will be doing a better job of duplicate detection overall, so that if there's the same article from wire agencies it doesn't have agreements with, such as Reuters, it should be more likely to point to the Reuters site than someone running Reuters material.
Google's market position allows them to address relevancy issues as needed, in order to suit their business agendas. They were lax on duplicate news content for nearly a decade because they wanted to spread their public relations spin through the media and get ad deals with many of the media outlets. After Google secured their CNN partnership, now it is time to solve the news syndication duplicate content problem and send traffic to the international news agencies.
A year or two down the road Google News will likely shift from temporarily archiving news to permanently doing so, and news will be yet another content vertical they own, along with search, ads, analytics, video, and books.
When you have scarcity you have price control. But the web makes most forms of scarcity a farce. That is why so many marketers place arbitrary limits on their offerings (like sales price ends today or we are only letting in x more customers), to make it seem as though their information is bound by some limits. Just about every idea worth selling is accessible for free if you spend enough time to sort through it all, and just about everything ends up bootlegged on eBay and Limewire.
If everything is available for free then how can we sell anything?
Is Anything Really Free?
The truth is nothing is free. The stuff that is pitched as free is usually an ad, or wrapped in ads. You don't know if someone is getting paid for their words, you don't know their qualifications or motives, and you don't know if they have philosophical interests setting their goals for how your opinions and worldviews should be shaped.
How Good Information Stays Hidden
Beyond that unknown ad / bias / other influence, the other problem with free information is that it is often hard to find the best parts.
Some sectors of the web are entirely invisible. A friend has published a great blog for months now, which has 0 traction because without marketing nobody can find her site or subscribe to it.
Sometimes garbage information is easily accessible because of high affiliate payout schemes, manipulative public relations budgets, authoritative websites cashing in publishing junk content, or because the self reinforcing nature of authority (especially on the web).
As forums grow in popularity they become a sea of noise. How do you rate the best threads? How do you keep them separate from the noise and make them easy to find?
Old blogs do the same as their information ages AND much of the information becomes inaccessible due to depth and breadth of information coupled with poor information architecture and comment systems that place great comments next to junk. It sometimes takes me a half hour to find stuff I posted, and I am a good searcher with a great memory.
The link graph solves part of this problem by making it easy to locate what is popular, but popularity and quality are not one and the same. Popularity is more aligned with brand strength, marketing budget, who came to market early, and who is controversial than it is with information quality.
Onsite vs Offsite Marketing Spend Mismatch
Given that many people are selling the same ideas and similar products, packaging and formatting are key to maintaining profit margins.
How much does Google make? We spend a near endless sum of money bring people to our sites, but how much do we spend on ensuring our sites are easy to use and convert well? Usually there is a big miss-match between onsite and offsite spending. If we optimize the on site experience we have a higher visitor value and can afford to pay more for advertising, thus gaining a larger marketshare or allowing us to raise our rates to filter out the low end of the market.
Optimizing On Site User Experience
Imagine if someone recommends my site to a friend. That friend comes to the homepage and immediately jumps into the latest post. Is that an optimal experience for people new to my brand? Most likely not. It was a good idea for building the authority and mindshare of this blog in 2003, but I have done that about as well as I can with this format, and most likely there is a better way to introduce people to this site.
For over a year my tools page was worthless from a usability perspective. It was imposing, unorganized, and cluttered. Pathetic on just about every level possible. Compare the old to the new. Which looks more appealing to you? Which is more intuitive to use? Which do you trust more?
The old version put everything on one page and used headers to separate topics, whereas the new version uses category pages to separate topics. The new version also offers a brief intro at the top of each category, and many of the tool category pages also have embedded videos that further explain why the topic is important and/or offer free tips about the topic.
I still need to place breadcrumb navigation on the individual tool pages, consolidate some of the tools, and clean up some of their formatting issues, but just fixing the top level is a start. It makes it easier to access everything else.
Why is is so Important to Make Your Site Easily Usable to New People?
I recently had a search engineer tell me that they bound my book up and made it required reading for their team (which felt cool to hear), but for every person like that (who has been in the industry for many years) there are 1,000+ people just entering the field who need much more guidance.
Navigation is a form of guidance. It can scare people away or help them convert. If my site's navigation assumes everyone else knows what I know or thinks about the web the ways I do, then what could I be justified selling them, and how can I justify selling them anything?
Profitability is at the Edges of the Customer Curve
Not only is there that 1,000 to 1 ratio mentioned in the above section, but new people are also more likely to spend money than people who already feel they know everything.
Who is more likely to buy my book? A person who has been doing SEO twice as long as I have, or a person using my keyword density analyzer? Many brand managers would like consumers to believe the former, but in most cases the latter is more likely. Most of the money for information products comes from people new to the field, with some amount coming on the backend if you sell high end services.
Content Selection vs Community Growth & User Participation
Not only are new people more likely to buy, but they are also far more likely to participate in a community. Many of my friends read this blog daily, but most of them rarely leave comments. Back when I was more naive about search my topic selection naturally drew many newer readers who felt more empathy with what I was writing about, and were more likely to comment, which made my site look much larger than it was. Now that I blog about many more abstract or higher level topics I get far fewer comments, in spite of increasing site traffic month over month and year over year.
Eventually the growing traffic trend will turn the other way unless I focus more on the beginner portion of the market, and help create more brand evangelists participating on and promoting this site.
Content Targeting & Conversion
It doesn't matter how much value you create or offer if the format is bad, or fails to display the value of the product. If the communication sucks so does the product. Then if you are unwilling to change you may get bitter as you watch inferior products outsell your product without realizing that you forgot to talk to your customers using their language.
A friend of mine showed me a listing service of his that focused the homepage on sellers with little to no communication for prospective consumers. What kind of seller is going to think that site is a legitimate listing service? Google has advertising programs in the footer of their homepage in a small text link. Both of those are extremes, but you have to figure out who your customers are and gather enough attention to be able to monetize it.
Information Format & Perceived Value
Others have resold the information in my ebook in other formats for over 5 times the price (some even asked for my latest copy before their launch, telling me about it). Good on them for formatting information in a way that allows them to deliver value. It does not matter who creates the most value. What matters is who is best at formatting it and sharing it in a way that makes people happy when they consume it. People are likely to gravitate toward channels that are positive because the market for something to believe in is infinite.
For most business owners how you structure your website and communicate with prospects day in and day out to gain their trust and attention is more important than your salesletter or product quality.
The one scarcity that will continue to grow scarcer as markets saturate is attention. If you have the attention of people at the beginning of the sales cycle likely you will have it at the other end as well, but you have to keep marketing to keep people talking about you and help your business grow.
Search for those sorts of phrases and you will run into lots of good stuff in the search results. And you know the story was seen by many people because for it to rank for that sort of stuff it typically either needed to get lots of links or get published on an authoritative site.
If you are in the legal field you can substitute the generic words like tips with laws or criminals. If you are in the tech field you can substitute generic words like tips with hacks or nerds. There are also a wide variety of other ways to find ideas that worked, like
search Digg or Del.icio.us
track what bloggers write about in an industry
look for what brands you see mentioned most commonly outside of the core related industry and research why people are talking about them
Marketing is 50% recycling and 50% packaging.
Oddly enough, near the top of 10 ways was the top 10 ways to destroy the Earth. Here is a screenshot:
Looks like AdSense may have jumped the shark. The packaging says it may destroy the Earth!
After adding those Google Gadgets to the tool section of the site I appreciated how unorganized it was, so I re-organized it, created categories, and linked out to many useful marketing tools hosted elsewhere. Hopefully you find it more useful and more helpful now.
I also am inserting them in this post so you can see what they look like in a web page
SEO Book Keyword Research & Competitive Analysis Google Gadget
This morning I got an email from a carnival barker inviting me to try out his new search service. This same classless individual that mass spammed his email list gained much of his notoriety by talking down SEO services to ignorant bloggers and others who want to fight against spam, but have no appreciation for how the label is used to manipulate people. Unfortunately the media were too ______ to see what was going on, and people on the other end of the spectrum are pushing garbage by trying to win awards. Google, which has largely been against the idea of paid editorial reviews, has filed patents for peer to peer ad systems which pays people for syndicating ads in their emails, instant message tools, etc. and pays them once again when people take action on the ads.
The day Google comes out with an SEO product, they won't call it SEO...it will be something like Google Search Enhancement...and it will improve CTR, rankings, and relevancy to the end users. And they will still be fighting against spam, until they find a way to get paid for it.
Much like Google created a onebox for music, Seth Godin noticed they are now aggressively pushing onebox results for book searches. With Universal search, these verticals not only hit the top of the results, but also backfill in the organic results.
I searched Google for college * grant and 15 of the top 30 results were from books.google.com! I couldn't reproduce a screenshot with 15 out of 30, but did get this one with 13 out of 30. Sure that is an obscure query, but how long until books show up more heavily for popular queries? It is almost worth setting up a quasi-publishing house to publish no name authors with Earth-moving tomes like:
Texas Holdem Poker, Blackjack, and Other Easy & Legal Ways to Make a Living Online
Forex Uncovered: Make Millions Trading Currency in Your Underwear
Online Pornography Review: The Complete Picture Guide to the Hottest Adult Fetish, Genres, Niches, & Sub-niches
Buy Viagra Online: Why is it so Cheap and Easy?
Call Viva, the Las Vegas Stripper: the Best Deals in Travel, Hotels, Shows, Girls, Escorts, Coupons & More from a Girl Who Knows the Town
The seedier the industry the more value there is in having a book published, but can books contain affiliate links? ;)
If Google is willing to give 20% of a search result to books (carrying Google ads), 20% to video (carrying Google ads), 10% to news results, 10% to Wikipedia, 10% to .gov, and 10% to .edu then suddenly we are all fighting for crumbs. In a market like that, perhaps the top 1 or 2 players get a near monopoly advantage, and thus becoming a leading blog (or other leading editorial voice) makes even more sense than it does in the current marketplace.
I recently got asked if I wanted to make a post flaming a bunch of people for buying links for SEO from sites that obviously do not pass any link juice. I decided not to because there would be no value add to doing so and I would just be making many people angry.
If you are trying to build a profitable and sustainable brand it is much easier to talk about how smart people are rather than how dumb we are. When you are negative it cuts directly into your sales. Not only does it lower your immediate sales (you can see it in the conversion rate numbers), but it also sacrifices a portion of your authority and credibility (future distribution and sales), while drawing a cynical following that is unlikely to buy much of anything (beyond a good conspiracy theory, at least). As an added bonus, if you get too many cynical people in your community they will also prevent others from wanting to join it. Perceived success or failure becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
When I posted about some of the hand editing Google does, even though that is good information for SEOs to be aware of, it caused my sales to drop because some people thought the goal was a personal vendetta:
I have been reading your blog for about 6 months now, and there has been a major step change in your post's tone. They have gone from useful idea driven content to rants about Google. Be careful the blog isn't twisted in to your personal vendetta as I'm sure you will see a big change in your audience as a result.
The reason there was a step change in what I posted about was because my experience had a step change. Knowing Google wiped away 10,000+ organic backlinks to one of your sites would probably change your perspective as well, especially if you literally had built 10,000+ clean links.
I kept pounding away at the important and non-consistent issues I felt about Google as I thought it through (manual editing coupled with a lack of respect for copyright, and how that game hurts many sites by holding back their true potential by helping them become addicted to Google). I believe in principals enough to kill my income in the process. Naive or smart? Depends on the goal I guess.
It is pretty hard to improve Google's SEO policies from a single SEO blog, or think that posting a personal vendetta will do much other than hurt your sales, but if you think something is unjust and mention it then maybe people with more authority start talking about it, and eventually what you do not like has a chance to change.
Your pain is well understood and shared by many people. It's frustrating. We've waited many years for this but they're focused on video copyright theft right now. All those issues on YouTube now are applicable to webpages. Aaron Wall had a good rant where he poked at Google and said they don't care about copyright. The good news is that a lot more people are being vocal about duplicate content, so maybe we'll get better tools in the future to verify the original source of the information.
So that is a start, but perhaps my formatting could have been a bit better to have a stronger impact.
There are many ways to deliver a message. Take John Andrews's Understanding the Google... the post is great. It offers a significant amount of well structured great advice, but due to the negative tone of it, it probably isn't going to spread too far:
Is Google 'right' in it's approach to the web? Is Google 'just' in it's delivery of the carrot and the stick? Is Google 'fair' in the way it operates? None of that matters to the search marketer/SEO. If these attacks are funded as diversions to keep Google busy or otherwise threaten it's dominance, I understand. But if you're interested in ranking well in Google, this is all nonsense. You need to get to know Google, and listen to what Google says. You don't need to agree, and please, stop whining.
Who wants to spread the message Google owns the web, and if you don't like the way they do it you can go f*ck yourself? Not many, I am guessing. And even if that was not the intent of his post, some people will view it that way because of the structure.
Even companies like Apple can't keep secrets or prevent their latest gadgets from getting hacked. If your market is competitive (and if it is worth being in, it probably is) there is (or will soon be) someone who talks about every day as though the sun is a bit brighter than the last. It is hard to compete with that unless you can format messages in a similar packaging.
When everyone recycles each other's content it all comes down to who has the best analogies and biggest hopes. Who believes in an idea enough to get others to believe in them enough to spread their view of the world (or at least their view of their market)? Build people up and they will be proud to syndicate your message.
Look at Frank Schilling in the domain market, or Seth Godin on marketing. Compare those to the tone of Threadwatch. Threadwatch could build buzz, but could it ever sell anything?
If a message has positive hooks it is much more likely to spread quickly. In 3 years Tal Ben-Shahar's Harvard course on positive psychology went from 8 students to over 900 students, largely due to word of mouth marketing.
It is much easier to spread stories, build a brand, and sell stuff if you are talking up positive things. It is much harder to do so if you are too crass and/or too cynical. Ultimately you still have to be comfortable with what you are doing, but there is a noticeable tax on honesty unless it is well structured or generally positive in nature.
I hope this post didn't sound too stupid, and please send in love or hate using the form below. ;)
Blogs are not good for every site, and they are not good for every person, but writing one opens you up to a wide array of links and that would otherwise likely remain unavailable. Blogging also helps you visualize what ideas are spreading, why they are spreading, who is important to know to help spread ideas, and how they were marketed to spread. If you know what ideas are spreading, why they are spreading, and who is spreading them then it gets much easier to create ideas that spread and ensure they spread. I recently had another site designed and wanted to add a blog to the site. I went over to Themespress, spent $10 and 10 minutes and got a Wordpress theme design that matched my original site. If you are in a market with lots of conversation and find your site lacking in the authority needed to compete it might be worth trying out blogging. If you decide it doesn't work for you then you really are not out that much for giving it a try.
In an SES panel yesterday Matt Cutts claims paid links pollute the web ,while he advocates off topic link bait as a useful search marketing strategy. Michael Gray and Greg Boser are a bit more honest:
Link Baiting, what Googleâ€™s suggest as link building strategy, is as egregious if not worse for relevancy than paid links - viral content of such an off-topic nature should not help your rankings and is more â€œpollutingâ€ than relevant paid links.
Linkbaiting is Expensive, Time Consuming, and Unpredictable
The reasons search engineers advocate link baiting are:
it is expensive
it is time consuming
the results are hard to predict
it requires social connections
it provides off topic low value traffic
it typically creates content of limited commercial value (other than the ability to pull in links to rank other pages for stuff they did not have enough relevancy or authority to merit ranking for)
the valuable results can take a while to show
it often undermines the credibility of the source doing it (by allowing people to think of information from certain sources as link bait, which is a derogatory classification term)
many companies have restrictions that prevent them from doing it
Because of the above reasons, the technique of link baiting is outside the reach of most webmasters. Since few people can do it, it is highly unpredictable, time consuming, and expensive OF COURSE that is the only way search engineers recommend you build links. They might even like you to believe that almost all links are acquired that way. The more brutally tough it is to build your SEO strategy the more appealing AdWords ads look.
Shopping Search? Try AdWords!!!
If you can't buy links to rank, then some irrelevant old sites and marginably relevant articles on authoritative domains (that typically gained their link based authority before Google polluted the link graph with AdSense and NoFollow) gets to clog up the organic search results, and the only way people can find commercially relevant results is if they look at Google's AdWords ads.
A mainstream media magazine did a spread on one of my friend's websites, where my friend gave them virtually all the content for the article, and they refused to link to my friend's site in the article because they felt it would be too promotional. Sorry, you already sent out 100,000 magazines with the article in it. You already were too promotional. Sadly, that is just one more example of the death of organic links caused by Google's fearmongering.
If I have a blind bid that is too high would it tell me to lower that bid? Nope. A search marketing campaign is only properly optimized if it sends more money to Google, which is the problem with the field of SEO. Google doesn't get a cut of the action. The organic results have yet to be properly optimized.
Why Waste a Breathe Scaring People Unless the Intent is to Lie or Deceive?
Matt also says that it's very difficult to buy paid links effectively as a business or as a search marketer because Google does such a good job detecting and eliminating the value of those links.
How often do you hear Matt Cutts droning on about duplicate page titles or stuffing your meta keywords tag? You don't, because they are no longer effective.
Google would not be trying to brainwash webmasters about links so often if paid links didn't work. The problem with paid links is they work too well.
Who is Getting Paid?
To properly understand search marketing you have to understand that the fight over search spam has NOTHING to do with result relevancy. The label of spam is only applied if the wrong company gets paid.
Many of the large web players offer or will soon offer analytics products for free. If you use them they may eventually charge you for the service, or they may keep them free but look for other ways to charge you, and use your own statistics against your best interests, by doing one or more of the following
using your site to help categorize keywords that competitors should bid on (and do SEO for)
compare your direct traffic to search traffic and flag your site for review to potentially reduce your search traffic if it is outside the normal range for your given industry
compare your traffic from their engine to traffic streams from other known clean sources (such as competing engines) and flag your site for review if it falls outside of a certain range
compare your keyword cost and conversion rate relative to other words and reprice accordingly
The General Competitive Trend:
One day you are the top ranked lyrics site making good money pitching ringtones. A few months later the search results are cluttered with YouTube videos, show a Google music vertical result at the top, and sites like Yahoo Music start offering lyrics. Income is down 60% and the trend has just begun.
Are Your Stats a Commodity?
As more of the ad networks become automated and leverage CPA based targeting, advertisers are going to have a better idea of where there is value. Google and your large competitors have access to enough data to capture the large trends, but what happens on the micro-level is what is most relevant to you, and, if your site is not as strong as competing sites, keeping that data private (or, at least as best you can given new affordable competitive analysis services) is required if you want to maintain and grow your business.
Even free services like StatCounter and SiteMeter are not free due to one or more of the following reasons
they usually require a sitewide outbound link
sharing some of your stats with everyone
selling your stats to a third party
limiting your feature set or account size and then charging you to keep all the data they built up about your site over months or years
Think of how much you spent building your brand, your link equity, and your traffic stream. Is it worth giving someone all that data and a sitewide link for something you can get for a one time $30 fee?
Mint is Soooooooo Much Better...
Shawn Inman's Mint (available at HaveaMint.com for $30) is a server based web analytics tool that you can buy licenses to for $30 per site. It tracks traffic trends, referrals, and search trends. In addition it has many extensible peppers which allow you to track things such as
watching specific pages
hottest and coldest page trends
How to Leverage Your Stats
Look for the pages that rank for a wide array of keywords and use the format from those to model your other pages against
Point more link equity at your best performing pages.
If you have a deep section that has little link equity and little to no traffic try promoting it in the site's navigational scheme. If traffic picks up and conversions increase keep promoting that section.
What if I Want to Share My Stats?
If you have an authoritative site and make your money from selling ads you may want to make your stats public, which Mint allows you to do with one click. Doing so does not require you to hassle with logging into multiple Google accounts or having to worry about compromising your other features at sites like Google.
Outside of hand edits, most search engine relevancy and trust scores come from looking at third party votes. You don't even have to be a subject matter expert to get tons of traffic if you can just come up with ideas that get authoritative channels talking about you. If you are good at public relations that will be reflected in the search results, both directly and indirectly. Trusted sites that link to you flow trust your way. Even if Google decides to manually edit your site out of the search results, you still have a defensible stream of traffic if you obtained coverage on high authority websites.
Those visitors are going to be hard to monetize unless the other site was reviewing your products or services, but many of those visitors may still link to your site or help push your brand in front of other people. If you have a strong affiliate program or a large set of legitimate organic mentions you don't need search engines.
A site of mine that got hand edited was mentioned in LifeHacker about a year ago. So far today that mention sent 22 visitors. Those visitors are highly qualified since they likely searched on a search engine or via LifeHacker's internal search, found that page on LifeHacker, read that page, then clicked through to my site.
The key with building up a strong link profile on trusted sites is to think about your idea from the perspective of creating something that is useful, wrapped in a story that has a self spreading mechanism, and biasing it to the target audience which is going to spread your message.
Conversation is the #1 signal of quality to search engines. That may change at some point, but for it to do so search engines have to try to change human behavior that has been built, marketed, and reinforced for thousands of years.
As high authority sites attract brand advertisers many of their owners look for ways to create additional pageviews to further scale their businesses. I offered a few tips on how to do that here, but an annoying trend that has recently swept across the web is turning external links into internal links.
If you look at blog mentions on Technorati it is hard to get to the page actually linking to you. Technorati mixes in outbound links and Technorati profile pages without differentiating between the two. Some people are also creating thin sister sites, using bait and switch linking. The Wikipedia practice of link hoarding is just starting to spread. How long until the mainstream media companies create thin review sections and start publishing pages or stubs about everything?
Google Maps shows local rentals, homes for sale, and foreclosures. The real estate data is one of their featured content categories, searchable by location, and sortable by price. How long until Google starts charging for featured real estate listings or pushes this offer more aggressively to the end homeowner?
Wikipedia can cross link just about everything and look legitimate with it because they are non profit. Independent webmasters have to be more focused if they are trying to create profitable websites. Navigation can be nearly useless and spammy looking, or with a few minor tweaks it can look legitimate and well categorized. Compare the following two examples:
Seen On a Farm
The first navigational scheme is something you might see on the common AdSense website. Each page is not connected to any of the others by any trait other than carrying AdSense ads.
The second navigational structure looks less spammy and more useful. In addition to looking more credible and being easier to use, it also has headings focused on relevant keywords, which can link to related category pages. This allows the site to focus link weight on core topical phrases and pick up on mid tier keywords not covered by a more haphazard navigational scheme that uses generic words unrelated to the way searchers search.
If you think ahead when planning out your navigation it also makes site expansion a breeze. For example, if you later add turkeys to the farm animals category it can be grouped with chicken under a poultry category.
Good internal navigation should be logical, easy to follow, and reflect your keyword theme.
Helium announced the launch of their article marketplace. Arbitrage giant Geosign is on the client list, scooping up automotive articles. Some of the article descriptions show that the goal is to get just enough content to wrap ads around it, in true arbitrage style:
Collect the latest news about Honda (or another car manufacturer of your choosing). Summarize the news. How does this news affect the average Honda owner? Before you write, make sure that you do some research. Take a look at the latest articles on Google News, the latest automotive blogs on Technorati, and any other online sources you feel are relevant. Max 350 word count.
Some of the other publishers are looking for a bit more meat, but all are likely sharing their marketing strategies with anyone willing to take a look.
How They Should Have Launched
If they were trying to make a big splash at launch time they sent the wrong message. They should have done some co-branded marketing allowing writers to publish for traditional media sites, and/or partnered with trusted charities on important issues.
Why You Should Try Helium
The pitch at Helium is:
Real advice from real people-more than 300,000 articles. Why should you waste your time wading through search results when what you really want is the knowledge that comes with first-hand experience?
Do a bunch of underpaid freelance writers on a generalist site about writing filter through the world's information better than Google or other sites that crawl and index the web? Not likely. For example, I just went to Technorati, and discovered this video is currently popular, with 44 people linking to it
How can a closed off network compete with the web as a whole? It is slower and of lower quality, and will always be that way. Plus it has a spamming incentive baked into the pay structure.
Will the marketplace be a vibrant one, or will the site be a noise filled AdSense honeypot that results in watered down content clogging up the search results? With about a half million pages already indexed in Google you would think Hellium should have more than 14 advertisers signed up. Once writers start tracking their AdSense profit-share results and the site starts ranking for more competitive phrases how many erectile dysfunction articles do you think will get published? The same thing will happen to it that happened to Squidoo.
Human Focused Near Markov Chain Content Websites
Content for everyone about everything by everyone websites are going to make search engines more aggressive in filtering how deep they are willing to crawl these types of sites. If they are not, it won't be long until AssociatedContent, Helium, eHow, WeHow, WikiHow, Yahoo! Answers, UK.Answers.Yahoo.com, Wordpress.com (I have seen PR6 automated splogs on Wordpress based on aggressive tagging) and a few other similar sites join Wikipedia, YouTube, eBay, subdomain.ebay.com, and Amazon as Google's top 10 results for everything. And then the newspapers will respond by getting more aggressive with pumping out garbage content. Some deep pocketed domainers may also look at the success or failure of sites like WeHow to help determine their longterm strategy.
What signal does Google want to send? Will Google ever try to regulate how you acquire content? Will any of the content sources eventually be deemed bad in a similar light to how Google tries to manipulate public perception about buying link based advertisements?
Hiring Great Writers
With more people trying to solve the content problem it is getting easier to scale and look large even if you are solo. If you have an arbitrage website or authoritative website and just need backfill content then sites like Helium might fit your needs, but if you are looking for higher quality writers search around for stories about how Gawker got built, search for thought topical leaders in the blogosphere and offer them similar salaries, and perhaps post an ad on Craigslist or the Problogger Job Boards.
If you value your time in the longrun it is cheaper to hire a great employee rather than filter through the noise hoping to find a star.
Discovering the Hellium Experience
I am off to go read about contacting aliens, the truth about Kennedy, debt consolidation mortgage loan, what you need to know to apply for a credit card, how to get an instant approval credit card, uses of Viagra, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, and best places to bet online. All the best bits of the web in one spot. They even have what is spam, but it's not comprehensive enough. There is no mention of Helium. ;)
Any independent webmaster who has been making good money on the web for a few years has realized that blending ads in content, or distributing ads as content, is much more profitable than a clean separation of church and state. Jakob Nielson recently wrote about usability research showing that people ignore ads unless they look like content and are in the content area of the page. Once a publisher has enough distribution they claim it is unethical to blend content and ads, but if you look close enough at the publisher and advertiser relationships there are overlaps in virtually every category and on every site. There are numerous well known sites in the search space that would never give me any exposure until AFTER I bought ads at their site, which mentioned me regularly after my ad buy.
Here are a few examples of how ads influence editorial:
Some advertisers get mentioned just because they advertise a lot, while many publishers create content around high profit niches, and others organize their editorial content based on votes and usage data that can be bought (indirectly) through their ad network (think StumbleUpon and Google AdWords).
If your solution to the issue of low profit margins in publishing is to aggressively blend low value ads then you are eventually going to fail. As a publisher then there are at least 7 major ways to compete against others who are practicing and profiting from the blend, without being labeled as unethical, or undermining your own growth potential:
branding & positioning: create a brand or service that sounds informational and content-like even though it is an ad (think Bankrate, which likely pays virtually nothing to syndicate their ads as content to many major newspapers)
segregate: keep your main content stream free of ads, build authority, and create an offers section on your site
be pure: don't publish any ads, wait until you have a strong brand, and then launch a better business model than competing channels
indirect revenues: use your site to build mindshare, brand awareness, status, and expertise. then cash in on that via indirect revenue streams
move yourself up the value chain: instead of selling AdSense or similar related ads, sell one of your own products and services. you can typically place these ads in-line without as much scrutiny or brand damage as blending someone else's ads in your content (see below)
free user content: if you can create a platform and rule-set that allows others to build value on your idea while drawing enough of an audience to sort signal from noise you can profit heavily from that (think forums, Technorati tags, Yahoo! Answers, Digg, or Google)
Do you have any additional ideas for profiting from integration without being labeled as unethical?
One memorable example of psychological targeting a friend at an SEO conference gave as a technique to exploit the guilt feeling was upselling a computer cleaner announcing that a computer is infected after a person views a porn website, warning how would your boss or wife feel if they knew you were viewing porn sites.
According to a new online survey of over 3,000 women, ages 18-49, by AMP Agency, how a woman approaches shopping does not change as she grows older, shifts from life stage to life stage, moves from region to region, has children, or moves income brackets. A woman's approach to shopping is very much part of who she is: "it is part of her DNA."
Google has a patent for targeting in game ads based on user psychology. How far those ads get optimized remains to be seen, but creating media which makes it easy to understand and target the psychological flaws of users will become far more profitable as media titans and marketers invest more capital in understanding psychology and behavioral targeting.
The online world largely reflects the offline world, with a bias toward the edges (as smaller markets can be served online, we are more inclined to follow things that reinforce our worldview, and most modern measures of relevancy are aligned with things that easily associated with signs of bias). Here are some examples of how wave theory applies to search, publishing, and monetization.
Google trusts links so people buy them. Google starts filtering some obvious bought links and tries to manipulate public perception when they find that they can't do it well enough to put a dent in the link buying market.
Most new sites are spammy. Google trusts old sites so people buy them. etc.
Auto-generated content is getting more sophisticated and trusted sites are pumping out garbage content to monetize their authority, so Google requires more link equity to keep your content indexed.
Measuring relevancy and manipulating it are both forward looking and reactive processes. As is creating a self-funding brand in a fast changing market dominated by misinformation and information pollution.
I recently went to a conference in Seattle and stayed at the Sheraton hotel. Within a couple days of leaving they sent me an email reminding me of their marketing messaging: Don't be a Stranger...Because you donâ€™t just stay here. You belong. Yet when I replied to the message with feedback about my stay, it bounced. I don't remember opting into the email list. Putting my name in an email then ignoring me doesn't make you special. If you don't care for feedback it is best not to ask for it. Just in case Sheraton has a great worker who roams the web, here is my feedback:
we stayed only 4 nights, yet got charged for 6 days Internet access
we rented a movie, got charged for 3
our snack tray was never refilled during our stay
my wife and I were unable to be online at the same because you guys do not offer wireless and refused to put a second line in the room
We ordered room service and it was delicious, but all the above stuff was brutal. :)
Contextual advertising makes it easy for people who are not good at selling but good at building an audience to profit from their traffic stream. But the traffic stream that contextual ads work best for are search referrals, especially since
the contextual ad networks are extensions of the search ad networks
regular visitors learn to ignore ads
the contextual ads typically have little to no editorial pre-sell
Google keeps changing and refining its own approach and policies to improve the quality of its results and in this effort, it appears that it may have become more restrictive and intolerant of issues and deviations from the official standards that it didn't bother about before.
The Difference Between Large & Small Publishers
If you monetize via Google's ads, much (perhaps most) of your revenue comes from Google searchers landing on your site, and thus you are stuck with Google's editorial search guidelines, which sometimes shift arbitrarily. In spite of Robin being a premium AdSense partner he was punished without warning. Google does it to their business partners large and small, though typically with more vengeance if the partner is small.
the fact of the matter IS that GOOGLE CAN and DOES arbitrarily penalize sites without being transparent about the reasons it does so.
Is it right that Google has so much power over my ability to "exist" as an entity over the internet? Isn't this the case, as Fabio Masetti says, of Google being able to play with the same net neutrality issues we fear from large telcos, for by having the mere possibility to switch off any content without official justifications, while asking me to plead guilty before I am even re-considered?
If you have read this blog for the last month you could probably tell Google recently killed one of my sites as well. While it may have seemed my posts were due to anger, they were more to show how my perspective changed as I discovered and experienced how sleazy Google's business practices are firsthand. I still speak truth, but as my experiences changed so did my understand of truth. I still like Gmail and some of Google's other services, but I am finding it incredibly hard to trust them as a company.
Imagine re-branding a site you built over 10,000 organic links to, only to have Google view it as a deceptive redirect and KILL ALL OF YOUR LINK EQUITY while paying spammers to steal your content.
A single Google engineer can decide to kill the viability of a site because of who owns it. Then they pay people to steal your work. It is a long, drawn out, perhaps endless process to protect work from theft, especially if Google decides they would rather pay a thief to steal your content than to pay you directly. How could they do that without expecting you to speak publicly about how unjust that is?
If I wasn't an SEO they might not have taken vengeance on me so heavily, but because I know SEO, and I shared too much honest information they decided the only appropriate thing to do was to punish me by nuking my site. I respect that perspective, but it doesn't mean that I have any respect left for them.
Google: the Ultimate Parasitic Business Model
The more you trust Google the harder you fall when the day comes that they have a technical error, or one of their engineers is having a bad day and decides they no longer need you.
For a few years maybe the yields are a bit bigger, but then the seed prices go up, and so does the cost of the fertilizer required to make the seeds grow. Your margins keep going down until you are financially insolvent, while the engineering team gets a raise every year.
Why You Don't Need Google
To maximize Google AdSense earnings you have to place the ads front and center, which scare visitors away from your site, and make people less likely to read your site, trust your site, revisit your site, link to your site, or subscribe to your site.
If you don't plaster Google ads all over your site then your site is likely going to be viewed as being far more credible, and easier to link at, subscribe to, trust, etc. As your industry grows you grow faster than competing sites that use AdSense do.
To appreciate the difference between mediated growth with Google and natural organic logarithmic growth you can compare the sites Google just killed versus the growth in earnings of SeoBook.com. A couple years ago Google created a poor relevancy algorithm that filtered out thousands of websites for their official business names. Even when they filtered out SeoBook.com the site still earned 85% of what it made the month prior, and that is with a business model that sold information on how to rank on a site while that site was not even ranking for its own name!
The point being here is that if you use Google you set yourself at a specific spot on the value chain. If you try to maximize those earnings you prevent yourself from growing as quickly as you could/should. If you move yourself up the value chain Google not only controls less of your traffic, but they also only touch the least valuable portions of it. Unless you use Feedburner Google does not control your brand evangelists.
Should you trust your business to Google? Do you trust them more than you trust yourself? If so, submit a job application.
The types of link buys that Google has a distaste for are the links that are exchanged directly for cash. Modify your way of thinking just a little and there are a wide array of easy to buy high value links awaiting your purchase. The key to having a low risk profile is to make the link appear indirect.
Most links occur because of a value exchange of some sort. People link because
they find a resource to be valuable
they get paid directly for linking
they get paid indirectly for linking
Here are 18 indirect ways to buy links without looking like you are on a link buying binge.
Guest Blogging: Have a lot to share but little budget for exposure? Consider saving some of your best content for other websites that have the attention of your target market & offer to guest post for them. If you are looking for more general exposure and can't get onto the A list websites start by submitting to some of the B & C list sites that accept guest posts and work your way up. Services like MyBlogGuest make it easy to find relevant opportunities.
Create other featured resource content & promote it to those who link at quality resources. Internet Marketing Ninjas is great at this type of content creation & promotion.
Testimonials: Best thing ever. Buy now! ;)
Testimonials help increase sales because they are a sign of social trust. Many content management systems, web designers, programmers, and web hosts offer links to featured clients. Some keep full directories of sites using their services, while other sites, such as Pligg, also allow people using their software to buy an ad on the official software site.
Association Memberships: Trade organizations tend to have significant global authority and topical authority. In order to push the agenda of the organization many of these list members to show proof of social value. These links are often priced far below their value, and contributing directly to associations is a way to also get significant exposure in front of the type of people who are likely to buy from you and/or link at your site.
Contests: People are competitive animals. Contests like the Mahalo Follow refer a friend program also move the spamming activity away from the source and onto other people, thus allowing the central sites to profit from spamming without being called spammers.
Awards: Even if winning an award has absolutely no value people still like recognition. Winners like to talk about what they have won. In some cases you can even give award winners your product to get them to talk about it.
Donations: Support causes you believe in. Money is the fuel upon which charities can fund themselves and spread their messages. It is hard to call you a spammer for donating money to a good cause. If you get a bit of link equity out of it as a bonus why not enjoy the benefits of good karma? Better yet, you might be able to donate software or services to charities at little to no expense to you. How much is an SEO services by link on a PR8 charity site worth in branding and distribution?
Free Samples: This acts similar to donations, except it is easier to spread to a wider audience without appearing spammy, and if people like what you offer they may review it on their sites.
Widgets: Many embeddable tools (like analytics products, what is my PageRank tools, etc) provide static links back to the original source site. Some companies also provide emblems that their site is hosted on a green host or that they support some other cause.
Sponsorships: Many email newsletters are archived online. If you target a compelling offer to the right audience this may lead to additional links. Services like ReviewMe also allow you to put targeted offers in front of audiences who may help spread the word.
Affiliate Programs: Even if affiliate links do not provide direct link juice, good affiliates still send a relevant stream of traffic to your site. Some affiliate programs also 301 redirect the affiliate links to the end merchant site. Affiliate programs allow clean companies to profit from the dirty parts of the web (think AdSense or Mahalo Follow).
Social Media: Partner with someone who enjoys writing junk for sites like Digg. If you are too lazy for that, StumbleUpon ads allow you to target ads to specific groups on StumbleUpon, and there are a number of Digg spamming services on the market. Here are some tips for link baiting.
Google AdWords or Other Ad Buys: You can buy ads and send targeted traffic streams to your linkworthy content. You can do it one keyword at a time, or target ads to specific websites. In some cases businesses get organic links just because people are talking about how often they see their ads, plus top of mind awareness leads to more usage and more links.
Link Out to Egomaniac Bloggers: This is a way of buying links by paying with your attention and distribution. People like getting mentioned, and are more likely to link to people who agree with them. Seth Godin linked to my blog again a few weeks ago and when I saw he mentioned my site (even if only in passing) for some reason that made me happy. Insightful blog comments are also likely to make a blogger want to talk about you.
Blog Carnivals: Blog carnivals are where a group of bloggers all talk about a topic and mention everyone else in the ring. These amount to a big circlejerk. If your site is legit and a market leader there is no need for this sort of stuff, but if your site is new in a saturated field doing this might be helpful. Plus others in the blog carnival may end up adding your site to their blogroll or talking about you again on their blog.
Press Releases: Do it too often and it looks cheesy, but some mainstream media outlets like CNN syndicate press releases, while others may choose to interview you based on your press release.
Hire Them / Buy Their Brand & Site: If someone already has a large following but is not monetizing it to the full potential consider hiring them and letting them help you build a more profitable business. You can also look for under-performing sites to buy. If someone is outside of your financial reach you may still be able to leverage their brand by interviewing them.
In a world dominated by .coms an ad agency decided to promote a financial services company as being different by highlighting the .org in their name to show their non commercial / non-profit nature. 99 times out of 100 a .com is better than a .org, but if you can get a name that costs a million for the .com and only pay a few grand for the .org version and then add $998,000 of marketing to it I think the .org comes out on top.
Using a .org can also make your business look more trustworthy if you are offering a free service and/or are a quasi non-profit. A large part of the current price differential between .com, .net, and .org names is that those who are the biggest domain buyers do not have much development talent or intent to develop them. As a PPC lander page it is hard to earn much as a .net or .org.
Of course, not all proxies are being run by innocent people for innocent reasons. Some of them are actually designed to hijack content - to deliver ads, etc. Some people want to steal your content, and they want the search engines to index it. In fact, I would not be surprised if a large part of the overall problem isn't caused by such people firing links at their own proxies.
I have seen numerous sites die to proxy hacking, and this is an issue Google has known about for over a year.
Your name can not be stripped and no one else can claim credit for it. That is credit, reputation is a non renewable resource. It can not be replicated. It can not be copied. To the degree that someone takes credit for your stuff, that's the degree to which you lose credit. It is always proportional.
When Google goes so far as trying to police link exchange and link buying why don't they do a better job policing AdSense? If they want to clean up their search index the easiest, most scalable, and most robust way to do so would be for them to worry about their own network, and stop paying content thieves via AdSense.
Many (perhaps most) domain buyers are like better SEOs...direct marketers who track results, and reinvest. Worth looking at to see how much money there is sloshing around the web, to justify increasing your rates. SeoHints.com is not up yet, already has a couple bids, and is at $1,161. How many SEO related domains do you have that would go for more than that?
The prices are all over the place. Some seem cheap to me, but some of these prices makes me want to dig through Sedo and BuyDomains.com for a few deals.
Either tonight or tomorrow I am going to try to write a more in depth post on domain stuff from the view of an SEO.
MYTH #2: Copyright was created for artists.
FACT: It was the exact opposite. When copyright was created in the Middle Ages of England, it was about censorship. The printing press had just been invented, and people were publishing of all kinds of writings and reprinting text from throughout history. Parliament feared it, so it set up a corporation with powers to enforce an exclusive printing monopoly.
MYTH #3: Copyright protects artists.
FACT: It protects the publishers, and few artists earn the majority of their income from it. In fact, many artists see no money from it at all--it all goes to their publishers.
MYTH #4: Copyright prevents plagiarism.
FACT: Thanks to technology like the Internet, attribution of original authorship is easily detectable, especially when works are published. In many cases, plagiarism (e.g. taking the successful work of one artist and re-selling it under your name) is even EASIER to detect by performing a Google search than via the United States Copyright Office.
Copyright laws made more sense in the age of printing presses, but in the age of the Internet it is irrelevant. Distribution does not require significant investment by publishers. In the video Karl also said the following quote about what he thought fair copyright law should resemble:
Your name can not be stripped and no one else can claim credit for it. That is credit, reputation is a non renewable resource. It can not be replicated. It can not be copied. To the degree that someone takes credit for your stuff, that's the degree to which you lose credit. It is always proportional.
I agree that current copyright law is messed up, but so is the way that Google handles what they deem to be search spam.
A work can be a collection of keywords and a navigational structure as much as it is a set piece of content. Trusted sites keep building more trust due to their visibility while untrusted sites have to send email spam or do other types of buzz related marketing to gain awareness.
Most large industries have regulatory bodies or rating systems which aim to keep power where it lies. I recently watched Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a film about the MPAA ratings board.
The MPAA ratings board is composed of what is deemed as typical moral parents, but they play up to support large movie studios. If a film is rated NC17 some studios won't release it, and even if they will it is hard to advertise the movie.
Matt stone, one of the creators of South Park, mentioned that when he tried to get an independent film reviewed they gave it a NC17 rating, and would not say why because they said if they gave specific reasons they would be practicing censorship. Later on he got Team America reviewed, and they gave him a laundry list of what specifically needed to be changed to avoid an NC17 rating.
Some of the absurdity of the movie ratings game include the likes of good ratings for violence in movies (especially without blood), but non missionary sexual intercourse is not proper. The support for violence in unsurprising given the absurd number of movies that run military ads prior to starting the film. The military is not only a leading advertisers, but if a producer needs military stuff to create a movie, the pentagon has to view the film before public does.
Virtually every large market has some form of censorship / reviews board. The stuff they censor is likely a large market waiting to be tapped. If they are unwilling to target those markets because of fear of blowback from advertisers that presents a large targeted audience and strong monetization strategy for independent creators.
A large part of the search marketing game that gets little discussion is perception. Are the search results relevant? Are the search results fresh? Is there adequate result diversity? Is that particular result worthy of that ranking? What techniques did they use to rank there?
User vs Engineer Perspective
Gord Hotchkiss does a great job covering the searcher's perspective, but rarely do you get to see how a search engineer thinks of the results. This NYT article offered a snapshot, but that has been filtered through the public relations team. The results show not what the engineers want, but the best they can do given their current mindset and computing resources.
Reading Changes in the Search Results
If you can learn to read changes in the results you can see what they are trying to fix right now, what issues will become a big problem, and what issues they do not care about. For example, right now, Google does not care for result diversity. They are so afraid of small spam sites that they:
When you look at how they try to manipulate people you can see the holes in their algorithms. They are nothing but an algorithm, an ad network, marketing, and how they manipulate people to cede power and authority to their fickle relevancy algorithms. If they are hypocritical in their view of the web then manipulation is a large and important piece required for them to keep what authority they have.
How to Spam Google Right Now
A few tips they don't want you to know the truth about:
Buying old sites works amazingly well.
Buying and redirecting sites works amazingly well.
Paid links work amazingly well, and you have a strong brand or can tolerate a bit of risk you would be an idiot not to exploit that hole.
Exact match domain names play a good role in helping a site rank for the associated keyword phrase.
The supplemental results suck, but they don't want the portion of the web they throw into it to realize just how bad it sucks.
The search results have a lot of hand editing in them. Hand editing is gratuitous for smaller websites, but they are afraid to edit out large corporations.
Why might Google refer to some of the above techniques as spam? Simply because they are effective. We don't write the algorithms. We give the search engines what they want.
Have You Ever Been Hand Edited?
Search relevancy algorithms change depending on what types of spamming are popular and effective at the time. After experiencing your first hand edit on something you worked hard to build it changes the way you perceive search engines, and how much you are able to respect them. If you are a professional you are not supposed to take it personally, but it is hard not to if you have to fire all of your employees.
Why is it that one person can review your site and kill your business model, but they wrap their ads around people stealing your content and it is a long drawn out process to get them to fix that problem? It is just an extension of how Google thinks of consumers. If you don't have lawyers they don't give a crap about you.
What is Spam?
Spam used to be irrelevant, but now that the web is a direct marketing channel spam is typically more seen as being focused on who was paid to achieve the results. Search relevancy algorithms are based on ad sales. Something that is spam is perfectly acceptable if Google gets a buck a click out of it. Ad networks dictated by automation and economic efficiency also push a lot of fraud. Consider the following:
Much of their profit margins come from supporting fraud, but most people do not realize the extent of it.
Why is Google's ad centric view of the web viewed as more honest than any other business model?
How to React to a Hand Edit
The way to look at search is that they want their techniques to be robust and scalable. Anytime a search engineer does something to you that is unjust and draconian it is because they have a huge hole in their algorithm. After you get hand edited the four strategies worth exploring are
how to obfuscate your identity
how to scale exploiting the holes which required a search engineer to try to destroy your business
how to make your "spam" fit their view of relevancy so they don't go out of their way to keep hand editing your businesses
let others know if you think something is dishonest so you can help them avoid trusting it too much
TechCrunch recently highlighted how most of Glam's growth has come from the combination of shallow pure SEO play to pump pageview stats and syndicating their ads on other related sites to further pump the success story, all while the network is projected to lose over $20 million this year. But VentureBeat also noted that the growth is significant enough that Google wants to do a custom ad deal with them.
Marchex recently had a brutal quarter which drove their stock price down to $9 a share. Their site development process was far too broad and far too shallow. They need to start developing their top domains or sell them off to someone who will leverage them for their full value. In response to Marchex's down quarter Sahar Sarid asked what they should do and got this brilliant comment:
What is the business model hereâ€¦ we got out sites indexed by Google but the users had a shit experience and BTW our indexed sites make nothing compared to if we just parked them. Come on - it not really very hard to figure it out- take the top 30 golden domains and build them into authority sites NOT openlist scrape sites but bankrate.comâ€™s
As markets consolidate, 2 of the biggest determiners of who will win a market are going to be
brand perception and AdWords ad budget.
Brand perception: Google gives brands a discount on AdWords ad prices while price gouging smaller competitors, which subsidizes the value of building a brand. If BMW spams, Google is afraid to remove BMW from their index for very long. If a smaller site does something that is borderline gray and comes under scrutiny Google may penalize the domain and pay an AdSense spammer for stealing that content and keeping it in the Google index. It all feels a bit like the mafia, but this is Google's way to extort you and kill smaller market players without being branded as a corporate criminal.
AdWords ad budget: if you are blowing millions a month on Google AdWords then Google will be more likely to white list your sites and less likely to penalize you for white-label clone sites, robotic content, subdomain spam, or bought links.
Even if you lose money on the main brand, it still allows you to backfill with high margin garbage with limited risk from Google. What are the odds of Google doing anything about this BizJournals spam? If you want to monetize garbage you have to put one star brand at the center of it to mitigate you risk profile.
If you or I ever ranked this well and were that over the top with white-label domains we would expect a swift hand edit from the Google engineering department. Should Bankrate? Or is it ok for them to monopolize the search results if they already are a near monopoly? What is questionable here is not just the number of results or similarity of offering between different brands, but that a couple of the domains are the exact same names with the exception of one of them sporting a hyphen and the other going without. It is not like the competition is weak, with them outranking Fannie Mae, Yahoo! Finance, and Bloomberg.
In a few months all those Bankrate sites will still rank because they have the AdWords budget and brand to support it.
I put my favorite keyword research tools and competitive research tools in a Google Gadget. Thanks to Jay at Widget Waker for making the original version with a sweet design, which I hacked up a bit to add a few more tools at the last minute.
If you use the iGoogle homepage you can add the tool to your homepage by selecting add by URL and then submitting this URL: http://tools.seobook.com/google-gadgets/keywords.xml Creating tools for Google's platform allows Google to suck down even more of my time and attention. Many others are also hooked on iGoogle and the Google feed reader, to the point where they scream and/or unsubscribe if a channel only uses partial feeds. If Google doesn't lose the farm on copyright, the only way someone is going to beat them is if they come up with a way to make it faster and easier for us to consume information and feed our egos. It is going to be hard to create something sustainable and scaled that does that, largely because scale undermines most communities, and no company will be able to collect as much data as Google does right now without running into legal issues.
I am off to fly in a few hours and haven't packed yet. If you are going to the Domain Roundtable I hope to see you there soon.
In some markets $5 a click is cheap. Conversion rates are going up. Well run internet businesses have low overhead and are getting bigger cuts from merchants as their businesses scale. Domain Name Wire posted that throughout the first half of this year CreditCards.com earned $4.64 per visitor:
Internet Real Estate Group sold the domain to Click Success in 2004 for 'only' $2.75M. Daniel H. Smith pocketed $97.7M from the sale to an Austin Ventures-backed group in 2006. The purchase by the group in 2006 from Click Success was financed partially with debt from American Capital Strategies (NASDAQ: ACAS).
CreditCards.com's S-1 filing is a treasure trove of information about the company's traffic (they actually have more than one domain driving traffic) and earnings per visitor. In the first half of this year, the company received 5.899M visitors and earned $4.64 per visitor. The traffic was up only slightly from the same period last year, but revenue per visitor increased 46%:
Google has long hated publicly on people buying or selling links. Some of the better SEOs have moved beyond just getting a link here or there and have moved into acquiring trusted properties, improved them, scaling them, and marketing them. Google hates the practice though because they would prefer to have crusty dated content or incomplete blog posts ranking, such that anyone searching with a commercial interest is more drawn toward their Google AdWords program.
It is only a matter of time until Google tries to call buying websites and web based businesses a form of spam. They may not do it publicly yet, but it is well known in the SEO underground that they do it privately. It is just something they don't talk about.
Should Google be allowed to profile webmasters and ban them specifically because they are SEOs, even if their content quality is higher than that of the top ranking site? If so, then how can they justify rewriting their relevancy algorithms to feature YouTube more frequently in their search results after they bought the site?
CollegeScholarships.org recently launched a web design scholarship, offering students interested in web design a chance to win $5,000 for designing a Wordpress template for a scholarship site.
I wasn't going to mention it here (figuring I have mentioned that site too many times recently with covering the 301 redirect from the old site, eh?), but I know many designers read this site, and so far there are only 2 entrants. The scholarship was going to close on the 13th of August, but I asked Daniel to extend the submission deadline to the 18th, and he was up for that, so there is about a week left before the submission deadline. The winner will still be announced on August 20th.
If you are a student into web design please apply! If you know people who may be interested in it please pass the word on.
The Google Checkout blog, currently a PageRank 8 site, recently posted about the success of GolfBalls.com on their blog. Not only does that post provide direct links, one one of the links is a deep link with targeted anchor text.
The blog post about GolfBalls.com contains the following passage:
In addition, Google Checkout helps make it even easier for consumers to find us when they search for items like Titleist Pro V1 Golf Balls by displaying the Google Checkout badge next to our search results.
They talk about searching for an item, and instead point that link at a product page on GolfBalls.com. That is like me telling you to search Google for something then dropping an eBay affiliate link in the post.
If Google does something like that it is a co-brand cross promotion, and all is well. If I do something like that it is an attempt to manipulate Google and/or a spammy link buy.
Don't get me wrong, I am not saying I would do it differently than Google is doing it. I would just like to remind Google engineers that they would call me as a spammer if I did the same things they do to make their business model work.
This is a mistake Google has made manytimes in the past.
"The New York Times is a strong and respected brand however the type of content they are writing about [in columns] is available everywhere," Borrell explains. "Their niche is strong writing and this is not a strong enough niche to charge readers for."
What types of publishing business models will stay profitable?
Niche Industry Leaders Publishers in fields with few competitors, or content which is so good (good as in one or more of the following: evokes emotional response, overtly biased to match user bias, focused, consistent) that people chose to subscribe to that channel as a proxy for that entire industry. If you have your own distribution and a large following you don't need search engines to sell stuff or influence markets.
Conversion Experts If you can pay more for traffic than anyone else you can't lose. There will always be an arbitrage option available for you. Get enough leverage and get a fatter margin, which allows you to recruit and teach a pool of affiliates to make you money. If you can write content that converts you will get paid more per word. Google pushes CPA ads and today Yahoo! today just announced their traffic quality center.
Question: I am reading your book. On page 53 you mention using different search engine optimization strategies for small websites and big websites. How do you classify a site as small or large?
Answer: There are two big things that sort the classification of a site as large or small
whether your optimization is manual or algorithmically driven
whether search engines consider your site as spam when it ranks
Within those two ideas I think there are 4 big things that separate a small and large website
brand awareness, and search engineer's perception of your brand
ad budget, and how a search engineer will perceive your ad buys
inbound link profile
number of pages
The more well known your brand is the less likely a search engineer will be to penalize your site for doing shady things. When BMW was caught cloaking they were removed from Google's index for only 1 day. Google also has a whitelist of sites that should not be penalized based on human review:
Here is a non-exhaustive "white list" of the sites whose pages are not to be rated as Offensive (nor as Erroneous):
Kelkoo, Shopping.com, dealtime.com, bizrate.com, bizrate.lycos.com, dooyoo.com;
Notice that not only is Bizrate whitelisted, but so is a Bizrate subdomain on another site. Simply put, big brands should spam.
If I buy a link, Google is likely to view it as spam. If I buy a website, Google is likely to view it as spam. If a large established site sponsors a conference or buys other ads that tend to have links in them then they are more likely to get away with it. If a large corporation buys a site and slaps a network-wide footer link to it then Google is fine with that.
A large AdWords ad budget allows you to buy links indirectly. Beyond that, if you have a large Google advertising budget, Google may also offer you the following perks: free SEO advice (this is rarely talked about outside the corporate world), take your feedback on search quality (this is rarely talked about outside the corporate world), and they are more lenient with what you can do to rank (robotic content, anyone?). They are afraid to lose large AdWords ad accounts. Google backed down from eBay after eBay stopped buying AdWords ads.
If you are a large Google AdWords advertiser it is expected for you to buy sites and links at will with no risk. People like me, who do not spend heavily on AdWords, are branded as spammers if we follow those techniques. Going forward, a large AdWords ad budget might be the #1 SEO tool.
Inbound Link Profile:
The cleaner your link profile is the more dirty stuff you can do. The more link equity you have the more pages you can get indexed and the better they will rank. It is all about ratios.
Keep in mind that if you are branded as an SEO, a Google engineer may decide to wipe out your site on principal, even if your content quality is greater than the top ranking website, and you built almost all of your links using non-spammy marketing.
Google's official stance is that they do not want to index search results, but if a site scores decently on the brand front or it gives Google reason to fear forms of blowback they can also be more aggressive with creating automated low value content.
In some cases a small content website that builds a strong brand and amazing link authority can bolt on an offers section, and have that portion of the site treated more like a large site while the day to day brand building content is still treated as though it is a smaller website.
Brendon Sinclair, one of my leading affiliates, mentioned Ugg Boots in his review of SEO Book. Today I got a blog comment spam for Ugg Boots. Last week a guy stole a friend's site. This week another person stole the same site, then was stupid enough to comment spam the sister blog supporting the site. One of the reasons it is hard to give specific examples of successful SEO is that the landscape is ever-changing, but another equally important reason is that some ideas only remains successful because few people know about them. There are far more entrepreneurs than there are successful entrepreneurs. As a well known SEO (or insert your field here), if you mention your sites publicly you run the following risks
asshats cloning your sites, then spamming you to promote their copy of your site
larger players with older domains, more authority, and more money hiring staff or paying consultants to clone the best portions of your site and outrank you
I have probably been a bit naive with my worldview, but business is exceptionally dirty, so it is best to keep your sites out of the limelight unless they are nearly impossible to knock down. Competitive research tools are making it faster and easier for competitors to find you, but there is no reason to go out of your way to let Google AdSense pay people to steal your content.
Question: I have recently launched a new site and got it a few authoritative links. For my search queries related to my brand Google is ranking an internal page instead of the home page. Why?
Answer: When a site is new and has few inbound links the PageRank computations tend to be rough estimations. It is common for a page linked to sitewide, like an about us page, to outrank the homepage until they better understand the internal site structure and PageRank flow.
What if My Site is Older?
Some pages get filtered out of the search results for being too focused on a keyword or keyword phrase. Make sure you mix up your inbound anchor text, page title, meta description, page headings, and page content. If you see a women's volleyball page outranking your core volleyball page and your core volleyball page used to rank really well but is now nowhere to be found then likely it got filtered out.
Poor Internal Site Link Structure
If the wrong page style ranks and gets linked to then that advantage sorta builds on itself and the wrong pages continue to rank. If you have printer friendly pages or other duplicate content pages ranking you may want to look into demoting their role in your internal link structure.
Information & Sales Pages
Informational pages tend to outrank most sales / conversion oriented pages because typically they have more relevant on page content and deliver greater value to common web users, which makes people more likely to link to them. If you have an informational page ranking where you would like your sales page to rank you have numerous options.
Advertise your product or service aggressively on the information page. This allows you to maintain rankings, maintain forward link momentum, and increase conversion rates. This is a low risk approach. If the idea of advertising too overtly scares you then you may want to consider using smaller ads and working the advertisement into the content with a text link.
Switch the contents of the two URLs. This carries some risks, as some people who linked to the information page may remove their link if they see the advertisement page, though most old links stick. The other big risk is that competitors may eventually catch up because your ranking page may not gain links as quickly as their informational pages do, so the day you switch to an ad page you help them catch up.
Change internal link weights. If you are placing a lot of link weight on the informational page but little on the sales page you can try to increase your internal link weight to the sales page while lowering the link weight to the informational page.
Market both pages aggressively. It is typically better to have two listings in the search result than one. If one of your documents is a self reinforcing authority and your other document is within striking range of the top results you can market both of them. Ensure you make the descriptions and titles for each of them appealing to the right searchers. For example, the listing for the sales page can use commercial words like buy and best, whereas the informational page can use words like free, tips, reviews, etc.
Many of the most useful publishing formats and many of the most widely used sites are hard to effectively monetize. The solution is to use targeting technology and blend ads and content so closely that they appear to be one and the same. Many people have pushed this from many different angles.
This is somewhat of a rambling post about the merging of content and advertising.
Offline Ad Integration
I recently went to a hospital with a friend. While I was there I flipped open some magazine published by WebMD and read what was perhaps the most basic article on bipolar disorder ever written. The page long article had pictures added to make it two pages long, so the content wrapped around an advertisement for a bipolar drug, and there was even a quiz in there, which was not quite as overt as this Effexor one, but still pretty bad.
How Bad Does Google AdSense Suck at Monetizing Contextual Ads?
Many months ago as an experiment I created a backfill AdSense ad group where I bid a dime a click. Many of those ads appeared on Digg and MySpace and lots of blogs. The overall group had a 2 cent CPM. 19,083,546 ad views cost me $338.01.
Individual publishers can focus their content on expensive topics, but they still can't push the ads too aggressively in their content to their regular audience without losing some of their credibility and exposure.
Bloggers & Smaller Independent Publishers
There are many different takes on how individuals publishers can profit:
Sell products or services, like I do here. The easiest thing to sell is something associated with your brand. Nobody is going to get mad at Discovery.com for promoting a Discovery toy store.
sell ads: contextual, brand ads, keep your main channel clean while creating an associated offers section on your site, or some combination
In many verticals advertising is overtaking the other monetization models. You only need to think back to the Wordpress Mesothelioma fiasco to remember how much people are willing to trade in their brand for a few dollars, and as long as Google puts a $0 value on your content then advertising is going to beat out paid content in most fields.
In Content Ads
With the flood of content in an endless number of formats advertisers are asking for more value than they did in the past. They want to be able to track the results, and they want ads delivered right in the content.
Get enough exposure, traffic, and leverage and you can sell what you once gave away. This philosophy was core to Google's success, and also helped make Facebook wildly profitable. Facebook has done a good job of selling custom sponsorships. Valleywag found their rate card, and noticed that they are likely making up to $90 million on Facebook community sponsorships. There are many clever elements that make FaceBook's sponsorship program work so well
there is only one sponsored ad on the page at a time
the ad is put in content and formatted like content
their ad unit format is so new that people have not yet learned to ignore it
when someone clicks on an ad they still stay on the Facebook site
after enough people join a Facebook group that brand gets free follow up advertising by having their brand located on other spots throughout the site, which leads to more sign-ups, which is similar to StumbleUpon ads, social media marketing, or buying organic SEO exposure with PPC ads. You buy enough exposure, mindshare, and traffic that people believe your brand to be credible and they vote for it too.
Facebook is getting some blowback from advertisers about having their ads appear next to some sketchy groups. Of course even if they don't advertise next to those groups they still support their existence by advertising on Facebook. But Facebook, like Google, has so much exposure that many brands feel they need to be seen there.
Yahoo! and Microsoft promote behaviorally targeted ads. Google claims they are against the idea of behavioral targeting, but already use it, displaying ads based on past searches. Both Microsoft and Google have bought in game advertising targeting companies as well.
Having a large audience makes it easier to enter new markets. Last year Google spent $58 million buying marketshare giving away Google Checkout. Not only are they promoting themselves by carpet-bombing their SERPs with checkout ads, but they also rewrote their relevancy algorithms to boost the relevancy and exposure of any content on Google owned video websites. Many of these videos will eventually carry ads.
Anywhere there is a believable story and an arbitrage opportunity someone is putting the pieces together to create profitable content. Colleges are hiring student bloggers, many sites grant a brief moment of exposure for contributing your content, Google is paying college students for gathering local business information, and there are a near unlimited number of business review sites.
How Does All This Relate to Me?
You can look at how these various networks are blending and targeting ads to think of types of sites you could buy or types of content that you can make today that will be more profitable as the ad networks evolve.
Some of these sites do an excellent job of ad integration to make the ads look like content. Emulate that on the profitable portions of your site.
As the market gets saturated with free content sorting through it becomes more than most would desire to do. Central editors will be paid nicely, and the value of a strong brand goes up.
If a market has few real competitors in it you can leverage wealth stratification, the desire to be important, and improving social software to take advantage of consumer generated content to create a backfill of information, knowing you can display ads differently to site members and non-members.
Question: You recently mentioned 301 redirecting one of your sites. How do you tell if 301 redirects count?
Answer: This is very similar to testing if a link pointing at your website is passing link juice. Before 301 redirecting your site, find at least one navigational type search query that can be created out of the inbound anchor text of the site you are redirecting, which you would still expect to rank for even if you had no page content.
When the new site ranks well for that query you know the search engine is following your 301 redirect, though it might take a bit longer for the trust to propagate through the new website and get your contents fully indexed. As time passes you will see the new site replace the old site for more and more search queries. If it ever stops ranking you know there is a technical error with the redirect (such as accidentally writing over your .htaccess file) or they are no longer trusting or following the redirect.
If you are a large corporation or large Google advertiser then Google will go out of their way to work with you to ensure the redirect counts and the transfer is smooth. Here is an example post Matt Cutts made about helping migrate Microsoft Live Spaces:
By the way, it looks like the primary issue with the Windows Live Writer blog was the large-scale migration from spaces.msn.com to spaces.live.com about a month ago. We saw so many urls suddenly showing up on spaces.live.com that it triggered a flag in our system which requires more trust in individual urls in order for them to rank (this is despite the crawl guys trying to increase our hostload thresholds and taking similar measures to make the migration go smoothly for Spaces). We cleared that flag, and things look much better now.
If you are an SEO working on a smaller mom and pop type website and rank better than search engines feel you deserve to they may manually penalize your site. Some search engineers might decide to kill the redirect because they generally think of SEOs as being manipulative scum (even if they are unwilling to admit that publicly).
Having seen friends move many sites, the only 301 redirect penalties I have come across have been manual ones. From my experimentation Google is not very good at algorithmically detecting search relevancy manipulation based on 301 redirects, but they may flag and review some of the higher authority cross site 301 redirects.
If the site you are redirecting has anything shady going on with it, or if you are a well known SEO, make sure you do not discuss the redirect publicly or register your sites with Google Webmaster Central, otherwise Google might kill the redirect out of their distaste and hatred for the field of SEO. A better way to use the old trusted site might be just to try to make it look legitimate and use it as a link source for your more profitable websites.
If you are a smaller webmaster and still want to risk redirecting your site you want to have press pages, an about us page, and give lots of other signals that you are larger than you are, in order to help minimize the chances that a Google engineer will try to destroy your rankings.
One of the easiest ways to get your message across is to be different and denounce a currently popular meme. Dan Thies recently referenced a person who is launching their marketing brand by calling the long tail crap. Even if they know what they are talking about with some forms of marketing it undermines their credibility to talk about search marketing with no appreciation for the tail.
This is a growing trend with information in general online. Marketers with a for profit agenda, a reason to create spin, or no knowledge of a field create ratings, reviews, or half compiled resource list at a market and get people to talk about them
for being useful (to those naive and new to the market, or those featured in the compilation) and
for being inaccurate (for those who know the market and realize that the lists are marketing garbage)
As marketers like you and I fill industries with information pollution it gets harder and harder for the novice web user to know truth from fiction.
The net effect is that we all buy more lies and garbage, become less trusting and more cynical, and small businesses end up having more similar externalities to large businesses, where the profiting company does not take into account any of the downsides to the pollution they created to generate profit.
Some publishers feel absolved of any wrongdoing when they rely on a third party ad network for ad targeting, but profit driven ad network are amoral. Why would someone pay $3 a click for free ringtones if there wasn't some sort of reverse billing fraud on the backend?
A private company based in White Plains is suing Bankrate Inc., saying it has unlawfully suppressed its competition in order to build a monopoly. ...
BanxCorp aggregates, publishes and distributes bank-rate data from financial institutions nationwide through its BanxQuote.com Web site. Bankrate, a much larger, public company based in Florida, owns and operates Bankrate.com.
Bankrate's informational name adds credibility and trust to their offering, as does their slogan Comprehensive. Objective. Free. The distribution deals also help build their brand and aid that image. All of these likely increase trust and conversion rate, and may make some consumers go so far as to think they are a non profit industry body or an extension of the government.
Bankrate may be a near monopoly, but having a misspelled domain name and letting the media describe your field of service using the competitor's business name isn't going to help you dethrone the champ. Not only is BanxQuote.com a bad domain name, but it is only a PageRank 4. How serious can these guys be about suing the competition when they haven't even tried marketing their business?
I just grabbed Quantcast's free rankings of the top 1,000,000 sites. Currently Seobook.com comes in at 112,095, which is 5 spots below PornHater.com, which is apparently a PageRank 3 porn blog stuck in an industry with an endless supply of traffic. Based on some of the SEO sites that were missing from the Quantcast top sites database I don't think you can fully trust their data as being exceptionally accurate, but if you search through it you should be able to come up with at least a few cool ideas, especially if you combine it with other free and cheap data sources.
The last couple days I have been planning a fun project and feel like a kid in a candy store with competitive research and Internet marketing tools. Now hopefully some of the ideas I came up with will work. :)
To attract better students colleges are paying current students to blog about their experiences on campus. When old institutions like those are already embracing the web (and using refer a friend type marketing techniques) that has to hint at the raw untapped marketing power and strong growth potential of the web. It also makes me appreciate how cluttered the web will be with information.
Most everything related to information outside of marketing is moving toward free. Marketing is often the only thing that separates what is perceived as valuable and what is not. Perception is reality.
If you have sites you have not looked at in years you might be missing out on a lot of profit. After drafting a post about things that will hurt your Google rankings I talked to my mom. Her site does not make as much as I think it should given it's age, so I looked for common SEO errors.
Getting a Baseline for Trust
In Google her site ranks about #70 for weight loss and #1 for weight loss blog. Those two data points tell me the site is well trusted, and their might be some old gold waiting to be leveraged. I also saw she was getting about 10% of the traffic I would have expected her to given her quantity of content, site age, and link profile.
Building Easy Links
Some of her pages were stuck in the supplemental results, so I got her a few more links. Now that Google killed the supplemental results tag it is much harder to check for supplemental results, though Jim Boykin offered some free tips.
Her site is aged, is fairly well trusted (based on the above rankings), and had acquired some high quality editorial links as it aged, so I didn't feel it was much a risk to go to some second tier directories to get a few more links. I also submitted her site to a couple of the better directories that I didn't submit to when I built the site a few links back in 2004. I mixed up the anchor text where I could (weightloss vs weight loss, use diet sometimes, weblog vs blog, etc).
Improving Page Titles
The page titles were not relevant. They all placed the site name at the start of the page title, which reduces rankings and CTR. This was a two fold fault: back in early 2004 I was less of a search marketer and I think Blogger was a weaker platform. I didn't realize one could customize the page titles in Blogger to make it modularized.
Customizing Blogger Blog Page Titles
The following code works for creating different page titles for the homepage, archives, and individual entries
A good practice to ensure page titles are unique make sure to search your site and the web in general for your title before you use it. This prevents excessive duplication of topics and titles. One can also look at free keyword research tools to add some of those words to the page title or post content.
Ideally I should also help my mom set up blog categories, and use those to structure the site instead of having the archives organized by date. If we had enough time to go through and categorize all the old posts, integrated those categories into our template, and saw those category pages got indexed in the major search engines, it would be best to block Googlebot from indexing the date based archives using robots.txt.
If you create categories it is best not to go crazy with them. Depending on your blog size, link authority, and content breadth, anywhere from a half dozen to a few dozen main categories can be aligned with core key phrases and help structure your site. It may also make sense to highlight key categories site-wide, and promote less popular categories on fewer pages. Notice that Copyblogger link I just referenced above pointed at a category page. Category based archives are much easier to reference than date based archives.
Blogger was already syndicating her feed as a full feed. As long as she has decent link equity that is fine. If her site was new it might make sense to use partial feeds until some link equity is built up.
The internal linking structure all uses www in the URLs. The non www version of the site automatically redirects to the www version of the site. If it did not I would have changed the .htaccess file to 301 redirect one version to the other more popular version.
People want to be inspired and to see that you are proud of your site. But after a blog is online long enough it resembles a forum, where everything is too hard to find. Who knew my mom had a good post about using a grocery cart as a work out tool? The lack of categorization is one of the big things that hurt my mom's blog, but another is that we have not yet singled out featured posts that should be promoted site-wide. Some bloggers do this manually, while others rely on plug-ins to place extra weight on popular articles.
Promoting your best posts sends a disproportionate number of readers toward them, which should lead to more subscribers. It also pushes a disproportionate amount of link equity toward them, which should help them rank better. I added free weight loss calculators to her site as one type of featured content, but we should highlight some of her other featured posts. Another thing that would help make the site more search friendly would be more in content referencing of older high quality posts when they relate to newer posts, as that would help those posts get seen by more people and help search engines understand which blog posts are the most important.
I think the idea of breaking SEO down to the white hat and black hat camps really misses where the real divisions are. I believe that the biggest differences between SEOs are in their levels of experience, their honesty, their creativity, and how aggressive we are.
After search engines stop ranking brands that you worked hard to build it is easy to lose a bit of respect for them, especially if they promote what they would otherwise call spam if it wasn't in their network, and they rank a few of your sites that are so bad that you are a bit embarrassed to admit you own them. With that, I present the the SEO Learning Life-cycle, and things we might say as we progress along it :)
The Newbie SEO
Here is a person new to the market.
follow search engine guidelines
you don't want to get banned for spamming
spammers get banned forever, and will never rank!!!
I have been creating 10 high quality articles a day
the best site ranks at the top
everything is overpriced, you can learn everything you need from forums
the search engine representative said ____ so it must be true
I make $3 to $30 a day off AdSense!
A Search Optimizer With a Few Rankings
The excitement of a few top rankings is just setting in! Google has yet to burn down any of your websites.
list your site in directories and submit articles and trade links
make sure you submit to my high PageRank directory!!!! submissions are now 50% off
you can learn most everything you need from forums
AdSense is a great business model...I love AdSense
keep creating content and building links it is only a matter of time until it ranks
BTW...here is another high PageRank directory you can submit to
A Person With Many Top Search Engine Rankings
At this level you can afford to go to many conferences. After attending a few of them, you no longer care about rankings, you want results. You start patterning your actions after those who are making money, not those who are giving the same speech they gave 6 years ago, and not those who are popular but can't figure how to make money from their popularity.
wow most of these rankings amount to nothing
search is not as good as people claim it to be
I better start tracking results a bit better
wow these few pages make a lot...maybe i should make a few more pages targeting these terms, and rewrite these other pages to make them more conversion oriented
The Arrogant (Semi)Professional SEO
Here you start getting full of yourself a bit prematurely, but are profitable enough to get away with it, and ignorant enough that you don't know any better. Google has not burned down any of your sites yet, and if they did you figure those sites deserved what they got because they are low quality.
The sites you care about are of high quality though, and they will grow almost every month until one of them gets toasted.
I am a professional SEO. I know this stuff. These are the rules
We are better than everyone. We have the best content
We don't buy links because we are white hat SEOs
People link to us because we have the best content, as do our clients
We don't make much from our rankings, but that is because we chose not to, because we are ethical
The Seasoned Pragmatic SEO
At this stage you are making more in a month than most people make in a year, spend most of your time working on your own sites, rarely do client work, are rather selective with the client work you are willing to take on. If you do much client work you created a business model that sells a product or a bulk low value services.
Google has helped you build at least one 6 figure a year income stream, and has also probably burned down at least one of them. Even if you think it was unfair, unjust, or unreasonable they taught you the value of paranoia, anonymity, and make you become much more aggressive and much more quiet about the projects you are working on.
You likely have partners, and the questions you ask at this level are no longer black and white, but are colored in shades of gray, and often framed from the perspective of how others will react to what you are doing.
Quality content once again becomes a myth, after you see some of your best information go nowhere, and some of your worst referenced all over the web. The realization that creating garbage that strokes someone's ego is more important than the quality of your content smacks you in the face. You become results oriented. Your marketing is better targeted than ad agencies or public relations firms could dream of creating. Some of your marketing is so effective that your sites get penalized because you got too many links too quick.
It doesn't look like spam if everyone is talking about me.
If something didn't work before, it probably isn't going to work again, but here is a quick test site I don't mind losing. If it does work how do I scale this idea commercially?
What can I bolt onto this thin affiliate site to get it links? Here is our first feature article: 43 ways to get and use a credit card without actually having it registered to your real name
How do I add enough value (without harming the conversion rate) to get this to pass a hand check?
Some of those links from _____ pack more of a punch than you would think, but if everyone has too much information to act on any of it I am best off if I don't say anything. :)
Does this bought link look like a bought link?
Wow I can't believe how many links yahoo are buying, is my brand strong enough to get away with that?
If my brand is not strong enough to buy links, then I will buy a few high ranking websites, just like all the big players are doing.
Wow I can't believe my friend just cloned my site. And so did Google! Attacked from every angle!
Why is that spammy site ranking? How can I leverage that exploit on someone else's authoritative domain, or if I use it on my own site, how can I do it without looking as spammiy as that did?
Question: How do you determine how much value there is in the head of a keyword space compared to the tail of the same marketplace?
Answer: The best way to know is to have an authoritative site that ranks across a wide swath of related keywords in your marketplace and track conversions. Of course, it is expensive to create a lot of high quality content, so there are are shortcuts you can take to understanding the depth and breadth of a keyword market.
Search Auto-Completion &: Related Searches
Many of the major search engines show related searches and try to auto-complete your search queries. This should give you a list of additional popular search phrases that are a bit deeper than the core head keywords.
Competitive Research Tools
Some keyword tools, like KeyCompete, allow you to buy a list of keywords that competitors are bidding on.
If a site is focused on your vertical you can grab all the words from their KeyCompete bid campaign.
If the site is broad you can search KeyCompete for TheirDomain.com?keyword
You can also use competitive research tools like Compete.com Search Analytics to see what terms a competitor ranks for in the organic search results, and what percent of their site traffic comes from each keyword. Some keyword research tools like WordZe also allow you to download up to 10,000 keywords at a time.
Use Google to Filter Keywords by Value
After grabbing a list of competitive keywords you can upload them to the Google Traffic Estimator tool to see which terms are the most valuable. Also, you can submit the words to the traffic estimator tool using broad, phrase, and exact match. Comparing the ratios of the values of the different match types should give you a good idea as to the depth of each keyword.
Use Google to Organize Your Keywords
Some keyword tools end up generating more keywords than you can easily organize. You can use the Google AdWords Editor's Keyword Grouper to help organize keywords into more manageable and targeted groups.
Track Your Google AdWords Results & Refine Your Keyword Strategy
If you create content for your most valuable phrases and use the profits to create more content for related ideas your content will rank for keywords you never even thought to target.
When you create a new page of content in a valuable space make sure you optimize it for a basket of related keywords, by posting your URL to Google's keyword suggestion tool to see what they think the page is about. If they suggest terms that are not on your page, either insert those keywords in your content or create addition pages targeting those keyword phrases.
Track Your Organic Search Results
Use your server logs to discover high value phrases that are not too competitive and do not show up in the paid keyword research tools. If you find yourself ranking #7 for a page that does not target a specific term, perhaps you can rank #1 or #2 for it and for related phrases if you make pages that are focused on a tighter niche and are more tailored to those specific queries.
If you monetize via AdSense set custom channels for different parts of your site, and if you are monetizing via other techniques make sure you track your conversions.
Sometimes people borrow and rewrite content, but it is just plain out sick when they steal your site design and content without the decency to even bother changing it. Tonight in the SERPs I saw a weird site that looked awfully similar to a friend's site.
You judge the similarities between the content at CollegeScholarships.org (original site) and at ScholarshipsInTheUS.com (thief). Their site design looked similar to the original, until the site went offline. A few of his internal links even point at the real site! Earlier tonight I called the number that was on the WhoIs data of the site stealing content. He was mad someone called and bothered him, but claimed he did not have anything to do with the content theft or domain. Within hours of the phone call the site was offline.
I bet they hope my GoDaddy representative doesn't look at the link to Google's cache I just sent them, and that they hope their Google AdSense account doesn't get banned. If either of those happened that would be a real shame.
The Anonymous Web of Theft
I am not listing a name or the AdSense account number here because someone may have spiked the guy by putting false data in the WhoIs or publishing someone else's AdSense code to try to get them burned. What is to prevent me from doing that to someone who I don't like?
Part of the great strength of the web is that it is anonymous...so that people like you or I can do what we like and find a way to spread our ideas and profit from them (I use the term profit loosely there...I am not just talking about money). But I think some of the central network operators need to take on a bit more responsibility in who they are willing to partner with.
Google's Lack of Respect for Copyright
The real issue I have here is not just with the content theft, but also with the central networks on the web. Google is currently lobbying to soften up copyright warnings, largely because they have no respect for copyright.
Google's Youtube Copyright & Piracy Claims
Google claims they can fingerprint video content to prevent piracy and copyright violation (although the world is still waiting for that technology). If Google can fingerprint duplicates to remove them from the search results, and claims they can even find copyright video content, then why do they allow 100+ page websites that nearly 100% match current sites in their index to run AdSense ads without doing either of the following
flagging the site for automated or human review to compare it to related content sites before approving ad distribution
notifying the other publishers of the potential content theft being sponsored by AdSense
Maybe they are slow to getting around to that because doing the right thing would cost them a couple dollars. But delaying on that issue is actually going to cost the web as a whole, because if people think that by publishing anything online that they are granting someone permission to steal it and Google permission to run ads on it then Google isn't encouraging the production of the high quality content needed to make their search service more relevant and more useful.
eBay Also Supports Theft
Google isn't the only large network which openly and proudly profits from theft. eBay, which has made $10,000's from my Paypal payments, is allowing this dirtbag to sell my ebook on eBay over and over again. I have sent complaints using eBay's internal system, and talked to my Paypal representative, but so far they have not yet banned the thief and I am stuck monitoring eBay for theft that eBay's policies clearly and openly encourage.
Making Anonymity Work
Yesterday a leading search engineer at another search company informed me that he thought my book was good, but it was being distributed by another thief on another site. Here I am with a Technorati top 100 ranked blog, thousands of subscribers, millions of inbound links, giving these large companies tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and still eating crow.
How are new entrepreneurs to compete on the web if many of the central networks place a $0 value on content? How is that good for the long-term health of the web? Unless you sell ads, are syndicating misinformation or public relations spin, or have a large back-end up-sell you are screwed.
If the web is to remain anonymous the large networks need to make it easier to inform you if they are partnering with thieves to share in the profits from stealing your content. Or perhaps they could put a little effort into avoiding the issue by limiting their partnerships.
Danny Sullivan has been covering search for over a decade and is known as the leading expert in the field of search. I recently asked Danny for an interview and he said sure. We talked about search, marketing, and doughnuts. What do you attribute your rapid increase in exposure and authority to?
That's a tough question, because I didn't feel I'd gained any massive new increase in authority, I suppose. I mean, I still get calls from reporters at about the same rate as always, and that's one measure of determining how much authority you might be seen as having, I suppose. I probably do have more exposure in the past few months about what I'm doing, and the answer for that is simple. I started a brand new web site, Search Engine Land, as well as an entire new company, Third Door Media. It disrupted a lot of things that I think people were used to, so there's some attention on what we're doing and how things will grow.
I didn't mean a massive new increase, but I didn't want to use the word old either. ;) Back when I was in high school, what did you do that made you the go to guy such that people like Page and Brin referenced your work over just about everyone else in the search engine space? If you were to start today do you think you could still acquire the kind of authority you currently have?
One advantage I had was being one of the first to recognize the importance of search engines and track them closely. Larry and Sergey cited me back then because practically no one was compiling this type of information about search engines. I thought they deserved much more love than they were getting. I always joke I'm glad I decided to write about search rather than "push," which was hot at the the time (though feeds did effectively take over from push, and they're pretty hot now).
Could I do that now? Sure, though I'd probably have to be much more focused. Look at Bill Slawski. He owns the search patents and research space, except when Gary Price grabs a moment and flexes his patent research muscles! Gord Hotchkiss said search behavior isn't getting love, so he dived in there. Those are just two examples where they've become such authorities that if I was asked about a topic in those particular areas, I would (and do) send people their way.
If I were doing this now from scratch, I'd like to think I'd look for that particular area that wasn't being covered -- or be able to spot an entirely new industry that's not getting the attention and tracking it should.
How have you been able to maintain at the top of the game for so long? Did you think you would still be at the top a search over a decade after you started tracking it?
I don't think I ever envisioned when I started that 10 years later, I'd still be doing it. I sort of figured when I announced I was leaving SEW last year that people might be saying, "Thanks, but probably time to see you go!" Maybe some were thinking it but didn't want to say! But instead, I got a lot of reaction from people who seemed to want me to continue doing what I'd been doing. That revitalized me. As for being at the top of the game, well, that's very kind of you to say. I guess it might be a combination of things. I tend to be cynical. I don't write about things just because they are new and shiny -- I write about stuff I think actually has legs. In terms of advice, I try to keep people focused on the long term strategies that will be successful. I really try to be fair in my writing -- that doesn't mean I'm not opinionated, but I'll try to show a variety of sides. I suppose more than anything, I really care about what I'm covering. It's not just a job. I don't start my day of thinking, "darn, have to write about search today." Instead, I still can't wait to see what's going on in an industry I love.
Does your background in journalism play a big role in how you report on search issues?
Sure, in the sense that I apply general interviewing skills, as well as trying to write in a style that explains stuff for both the fast reader and those who want to go more in depth.
You have been popular when much of the web was mostly newsletters, mostly forums, mostly blogs, and through the rise of social media. How do you see the web changing in the next 10 years?
Wow, 10 years is tough. Amazingly, email is still going -- as are email newsletters. I think they'll still be around. I'm sure there will be more audio and video content, and it might be that we have more applet-driving distribution. You content showing up within a smart TV box and so on. But who really knows!
As search companies swallow or influence more of the web, how do you decide if a story is search related or not?
Usually, a search related story is revolving around some type of expressed desire. Google's going to do banner ads? No one expresses a desire to see banners -- you just get them. Google's going to target banners using search history? That's search related! It's hard, because Google especially will do so many things -- and we're really try to focus just on search. But you have to touch on some other things. For example, if Google goes after wireless spectrum, that might not see like search. But when you understand they want to reach mobile searchers more directly, then having a little background can help make that later search story more relevant.
What are the most common things that hold new bloggers back from getting exposure on high authority websites? What separates the experts, and the citation worthy, from the other channels?
That's tough. For me, it's probably that they don't say much. They point at a news story and give me no value add beyond what I can get at the story. Another problem are too many short tips that don't drill down into actual examples. At this point, I want fewer top whatever lists and more closer looks at how single tips actually play out. Mainly, it's expressing a unique and valuable viewpoint. I do see new bloggers doing that, and I love when I find those gems.
You recently moved from Search Engine Watch to Search Engine Land. I don't think I have ever seen a person change sites and have the shift go so smoothly (even when they use 301 redirects). What did you do to make the site shift go so well?
Well, it helped to have my team come with me! Barry's fantastic on the day-to-day blogging, plus we had our correspondents and Chris Sherman and Greg Sterling especially diving into articles. We also had a fresh start. There was no legacy of content to redesign or reposition. We just dived in and went into coverage, always knowing that in the middle of the year, our archives would have built out enough for the new Lands navigation that we launched to make sense.
You are universally known as one of the nicest guys in search. As your exposure increased what have been some of your key tips and tricks to remaining so accessible, keeping ego in check, and balancing work and play with family life?
I have a very narrow door frame that won't allow me to walk into my office with a big head! Seriously, I don't know. I try to treat people the way I would like to be treated, and especially online, constantly try to think how I'd interact with them if we were face to face. Plus, you do have to keep in mind that outside our industry, no one knows who's "big" or not anyway. Even in our industry, you've got so many new people that they don't know that you think you're supposed to be super hot! And if you think that, you're setting yourself up for a big disappointment. As for the balancing, I've been terrible at it this year, a consequence of bringing the new company up. But generally, I've long at least tried not to work on weekends. Get into that habit, and suddenly you realize the world keeps revolving even if you aren't at your computer 24/7.
Many of the most popular channels became so due to their edginess and/or bias. How does one create a Switzerland, and yet be able to build such a large audience?
I'd like to think that when so many people are shouting out, people do like to find a place that's not going for the hype or the edge but rather calmly laying out the facts of what's going on. In the short term, that may mean you grow an audience more slowly than the hype approach. But in the long term, I think you may build an audience that finds you a consistent resource -- and thus tells others to come on over.
Which will have a larger impact on searchers and search marketers: personalization or universal search?
Universal search, if it continues as it has been going. Personalized search only alters a few listings. Universal search brings in new databases much more dramatically.
Why do doughnuts have holes in them? What is the best doughnut in the world?
The holes make it easier to eat certain kinds without having frosting get lost on your fingers. Ken Horton's Boston Cream is the best doughnut I've personally had, followed by Dunkin' Donuts Boston Creme, when they are fresh.
What story do you most regret publishing? What are the biggest stories you wish you had covered earlier that you didn't realize the importance of until much later?
I've written so many stories over the years, and nothing is leaping to mind as something I regret running. There are occasional stories where I regret taking a particular tone or not contacting someone first. David Berlind back in 2005 was pretty upset with a critique I did on his review of Google Alerts, and I later apologized for being too personalize in what I wrote. When the thing about Associated Content came out with Google's Tim Armstrong being connected, I regretted not having waited to ask him about it before writing. It might not have changed what I wrote, but it was fair to ask first. Especially with blogging, there can be a tendency to rush, and I have to resist that. As for the biggest story, probably not seeing the rise of YouTube early on. I heard about it, couldn't believe it was that popular when, of course, it was.
When I ran Threadwatch I deleted a story about a client's site, and saw another editor do the same. Do you get privy to search or search marketing information that you can't share? Have you ever not covered a story because someone asked you to not cover it?
I'm constantly briefed on a variety of things from various companies off-the-record that I can't share until a certain deadline or unless they give the nod. I can't think of someone asking me not to cover a story, but most of the PR people I deal with are far too savvy to ask directly like that. Instead, you might call them about something and they'll spin it as not that big of a deal. And honestly, sometimes it's not -- you think there's some major thing, and it turns out to have a logical explanation. I might then not do a story simply because it would make a small or non-issue into something bigger. But in plenty of cases, I'll still do a story, but at least I have an official explanation to go with it.
Have you ever cloaked a page? What is the shadiest thing you have ever marketed via search? Do you still do much search marketing on the sideline to test current search marketing theories?
Back in like 1998, I think I did a few "poor man's cloaking" pages, where I used a frame to list the same content that my client had in images. I simply couldn't get the site changed, and Excite in particular wanted text. It wasn't misleading in my view and might not have even been against the guidelines back then. Plus, I didn't inhale. As for shady stuff, I never took on any shady clients. And no, I don't do stuff on the side. Ages ago, I had to decide if I was going to run a search marketing service or a search marketing news service. The two are difficult to combine, because search engines and other search marketers don't trust you as much, if they think you are just trying to get inside information for your own purposes. I see search marketing activities through my own sites, of course -- but those can be skewed as can be the sites of anyone with only a small portfolio or "window" into the space. That's why I do a lot of listening and reading and try to ensure with conferences that I'm putting people who are in the trenches forward to share knowledge.
Do you believe in the whole white hat black hat debate? Is there such a thing as spam? Other search engines have done interesting things too, but is it reasonable for Yahoo! to buy links for their lead generation subdomains?
Sure, there are hats, but I did a chart once where I showed how on some issues, white hats and black hats might be a lot closer than the think. And sure, there's spam. Scrape a bunch of pages, get me to your web site when I search for some city name plus pizza, and you don't have what I want but rather a bunch of AdSense -- that's spam to me a searcher. And you've wasted my time. Spam because you cloaked a page that's virtually the same as the text you might render in a Flash file? Technically, yes -- but for me, it's always been about the intention rather than the exact technique. It certainly continues to get grayer, especially when courtesy of Google, anyone can cloak using Google Website Optimizer and not have to worry about it. If Yahoo's buying links, then turning around and penalizing others for doing so is pretty sucky. But it's really Google that's been leading the don't buy links campaign. I think that's a losing battle, but I understand why the keep wanting to fight it.
Search engines tell people to not buy links, and in some verticals individual companies own dozens or hundreds of sites. Do you see the search market consolidating traffic to popular offline businesses, or will there still be room for small players 10 years down the road?
I think small players will still find room, because they're often smarter and more nimble than the big people. Local, for example, still seems wide open for many smaller players.
Given your authority, many people likely pitch stuff to you every day. What do you find to be good proxies for determining intent?
Telling me you're the next Google of anything generally is a bad way to start the conversation. There's a variety of other clues I don't want to list so as to not spoil that filtering. But they aren't hard to guess -- emails that clearly don't indicate any knowledge of my site, my actual name and so on.
How have you avoided becoming jaded by some of the dirtier aspects of Internet marketing? In a world with paid blog comments, and social media manipulation sites like subvertandprofit.com, what made you bold enough to create http://sphinn.com, catering to marketers?
Part of it is the hopes that marketers aren't going to want to mess up their own nest, so to speak. But also, part of the approach is to say that people should feel free to submit their own stuff. After all, who knows what your best stuff is better than you. Why make you play some tricks or feel bad? In addition, it's kind of fun -- are you really going to want to spam a bunch of marketers, many of whom will spot it and call foul seconds after it appears? Forums have had to deal with this already. For me, Sphinn is in many ways simply an extension of forums with voting.
How long is your current work day? Do you have any tips for minimizing the potential downsides for spending too much time at the computer?
I tend to be up around 11am my time, and work sadly through 1 or 2am, though I'm trying to pull back. My best tip right now is to build a tree house!
You can check out Search Engine Land for the latest search engine news, and track Danny's tree house building adventures at Daggle. If you would like to meet Danny in person he holds many Search Marketing Expo conferences each year.