Some Things Only Spread Because Who is Behind Them
I recently created an Internet marketing mind map and published it on my tools subdomain with a link to it from tools.seobook.com, but nobody mentioned it. A few days later I blogged about it on SeoBook.com and dozens of webmasters linked to it. Same publisher, same content, drastically different results...because one channel has attention while the other does not.
The Flaw of Pull Marketing Advice
Much of the marketing advice offered on blogs assumes that you have a well read blog and can get away with great content spreading based on pull marketing, but when you publish a new site and write about ideas that others covered you don't get the credit you deserve until you build an attention asset. Which means you have to use push marketing until you get readers / subscribers / brand advocates.
Markets are not fair. People are more likely to link to familiar trusted channels then new channels. It can take years to build a significant readership. And if you wait for it to happen on its own it may never happen.
It is hard to be the regular news spot just by producing similar news to what is available on other channels. If you cover stories that are worth spreading, but are not dong much more than syndicating them, then even if your content is useful the reference links skip past you and on to the end story you wrote about. You might get a hat tip link here or there, but you are not going to get many if you have few readers. And those links are not going to be enough to pull readers away from market leading channels, to do so requires people talking about you. Your content has to amalgamate ideas from multiple sources or unique perspectives such that people are TALKING ABOUT YOU.
Owning an Idea
If you do not have enough leverage to own mainstream ideas then you need to own ideas on the edge or borrow the authority of someone or something else. The first person to crack an iPhone got lots of exposure. Announcing a new Google feature gets you exposure. Real in depth reviews of exciting new stuff gets you exposure. Every market has an Apple, a Google, or some relation to one of those companies.
The easiest way to get a community involved in your site is to ask them for involvement. Collect their feedback and aggregate it in a meaningful format. And interviewing a market leader is an easy way to leverage someone else's brand and gain attention. Getting community involvement is crucial because each trusted person who associates with you moves you that much further away from being irrelevant or potentially spammy. They make you worth paying attention to because they cared enough to participate.
If you get community participation it also protects your idea. It gets competitors called sleazy when they clone your idea and throw a few more marketing dollars at it.
What if you can't get anyone to participate? Desperate times require desperate measures! Wrap your message in a fictitious backdrop based on real world opinions. Want to reach out to financial bloggers? Notice they are talking about Alan Greenspan a bunch recently? Tell everyone why Alan Greenspan thinks Google is under-priced. Quote his principals and use them to justify Google at $2,400 per share.
Google tries to scare you away from renting links, but their paid link detection algorithms are at best laughable. Which is why Matt Cutts puts so much effort into trying to scare you about bought links.
_________.com has repetitive and near machine generated sounding content, like
Loan calculators are made of different calculation types. In fact, for calculating the same type of loans, a large number of different calculator programs exist that will help you think about your loan and analyze your loans from different angles.
and that QUALITY content ranks in Google for thousands of search phrases. It looks like someone rented hundreds of thousands of links, with sitewide links on _______ and many other high authority sites.
Having searched hundreds of times on google.ca and google.com.ph I see some subtle differences in how the top ranked global / US results are mixed into international results.
High authority sites do not tend to rank as well internationally as they do in the US. Domain trust counts less. As an example, Matt Cutts recently posted about his favorite omron pedometer. He is right near the top on Google.com, but it a bit lower internationally.
Low authority sites that were near the top of the global search results tend to rank a bit better internationally. My mom has a lower link authority weight loss blog and has also posted about her favorite omron pedometer, and ranks better internationally than she does in the US results.
Exact match domains ("mykeyword.com" matches [mykeyword] and [my keyword]) seem to get a bit more love in international search results than in the US results.
The domain love is even moreso if it is a local domain extension.
Trusted local sites are aggressively mixed into the search results, especially for queries that would hint a local preference. In one local market I saw a local thin affiliate site ranking in the top 3 for a core mortgage term, and the site was only PageRank 2.
As Google tries to shift the web to improve user experience AND extract as much profit as possible, certain classes of information and information formats are rendered useless and/or unprofitable.
There are a lot of web directories that recently got hit, and those hand penalties are not the only way directories are being penalized. Google has been fighting off parasitic (or low value) link sales web directories for years by crawling them less deeply and caching their pages infrequently. Cache date is the new Google PageRank.
You can analyze changes and beg for forgiveness from Google, but they don't care about you or your site. They are only interested in improving general web trends, search usage, and their ad driven profit. This is not to say that analysis is bad, but sometimes we chose to analyze the wrong things rather than shift our approach to marketing.
An Alternate Name, Classification, & Approach
Domain names are worth so much because people tend to refer to you using what you call yourself.
Google's recent hate toward directories does not indicate that all directories are junk, but if you were to start a new web directory today what benefit is there in calling yourself a web directory? What if rather than charging $20 or $50 for a link, you charged much more and listed a real formal review on the site? Why not be a web review guide or a social bookmarking service or something else that is more in tune with the general direction of the web? Mahalo is worthless, but due to the different classification "human powered search" and associated public relations hype, it is much stronger than most directories.
Leverage New Information Formats
Ebooks are another concept that has got abused. So are many of the other classes of sites Google is going on record as saying you should avoid. The same types of information that appears in ebooks can be displayed using something like Sketchast, and be called something different, that is yet to be abused.
If you are starting a new business it is best to tie your name and brand to a memorable, likable, and press-worthy topic. If you run a thin arbitrage type business the name and labels you use to describe yourself may be more important than the quality of your user experience. Spend upfront or pay later with limited exposure and/or a risky rebrand.
Any time a big media company writes about publishing ethics, just remember how much fraud is baked into their business models. Comcast was fined by the FCC for displaying fake news about a sleeping pills. Direct to consumer drug marketing wrapped as fake news. Can a company get any sleezier?
Many financial and social markets are destroyed by short term opportunism. Because the web is virtually limitless, it is easy to make sales pitches that sound like everyone gains. But that is rarely, if ever, true. Every clean traffic source gets gamed. So do the dirty ones.
A recently launched blog Ponzi Scheme has more holes in it than swiss cheese. What kind of desperate people get in on the 5th tier of a Ponzi Scheme? Does it benefit your credibility to recommend low quality sites or have ads for your site seen on their sites? What type of readers do the low quality sites have, beyond the robotic community? No reason to link out to those sorts of sites, and you can probably use AdSense to buy ad space on their site for about 3 cents a click, if it even has that much value.
The reason many reciprocal link networks stink is that some webmasters marketed low quality sites they intended to get burned. Anything that has you trading with anonymous unknown parties has you trading your time, attention, and exposure with a spambot of some sort. Your site is better than that, and your time is worth more than that.
Many more programs will come out telling you how to get something for free, but if it is market exposure be leery. When I started on the web I did arbitrage on some smaller pay per click search engines and never paid me. Digging deeply for the deals has you focused on bargain hunting when your time would be better spent building value. The deal diggers keep getting made obsolete by increasingly efficient markets. The people creating real value keep making more money as the market gets more efficient.
What I have come to appreciate is that it is easier, cheaper, and more sustainable to associate with the people you want to be grouped with. If you want to link out to a bunch of other sites do it in your content, and hand select the content you reference. I have showed some projects to friends who asked "how the hell did you get X to be involved with this?" I simply asked them. Aim high, not low.
With an ever increasing number of ways for people to share content and an ever increasing number of competing channels the easiest way to estimate the value of a blog post is to look at the people citing it. Citations lead to new readers and subscribers...and more citations. If your posts are well cited it does not take many posts to get thousands of subscribers.
With 12 days left to go in an auction the NorthxEast blog is up to $5,500. Their blog only has 33 posts, and is a blog about blogging, which is a topic that is notoriously hard to monetize. Typically freelance bloggers get paid anywhere from $5 to $50 a post. If this site goes for $10,000 then it will be a valuation of $300 a post. Where was that extra value created? It is in the number of inbound links and number of subscribers. Over 700 bloggers link at that site and it has a couple thousand subscribers.
If you paid a freelance writer $100 or $200 per page think of the type of quality content you could create. If you value your time at $20 an hour and take 8 hours to write a post and 2 hours marketing it think of the potential return from a link perspective. You can rent average quality links for $10 to $20 a month, increase your risk profile, and get links saying nothing about your company, or you could pour that same money into getting people talking about you. If you know your topic well writing is an easy and cheap form of marketing.
If a site can go from nothing to being worth ~ $10,000 on 33 blog posts, imagine what that link equity and subscriber base would do to your brand and search rankings. If that same effort was used to market a #12 ranking site, suddenly that site might be in the top 2 or 3 and see a 10x increase in traffic.
If you are looking to build links one of the easiest ways to do so is to place yourself inside a conversation that is already wildly spreading. Sites like Techmeme and Del.icio.us show what stories were recently hot, and you can find some bloggers who cited those stories using Technorati and Google Blogsearch. Google has a date based filter on news and recently launched a date based search filter for their regular search results which allows you to find fresh content on any topic. If you follow up on a popular story and contact these people you might find a few easy to acquire high authority links.
I can polish that post and market it, or I can take the best bits of it and rewrite it as a new post that cites some of the popular people posting on Google vs Facebook, insert pictures and a chart comparing Google to Facebook, and then start emailing some of the websites I came across on Techmeme, Google blog search, Technorati, and recent results in Google's regular search index.
Polishing your story, aggregating data in a pretty format, citing sources, and stroking egos are crucial to helping your story spread.
Avoid Brand Damage
It might be harder for me to succeed with this on Seo Book since Google branded SEOs as being scumbags. If my site was not about SEO it would be far easier for me to get links from those other sites, but it is hard to push market an SEO site to high authority tech channels without expecting some brand damage as a result.
Even if your site covers a lovable topic you still can get burnt if your ads are too aggressive, your contact email looks automated or spammy, or you contact mean spirited people. Use your gut instincts for judgement calls on who you should contact and how you should contact them, and don't place ads on your linkbait.
If your site is brand new then you likely are not risking that much if one person responds with a hate post. I once had a person link to me from a PageRank 8 site with over 1,000 inbound .edu links as the punishment for contacting them. Sorry to offend and thanks for the high authority link worth about $500. :)
Use Blog Comments Too
Another option would be to leave blog comments or have a friend leave relevant blog comments, but these are typically much less effective than personalized emails at building links. If you leave insightful comments without looking like a link spammer you are more likely to get links from your comments.
Many Ways to Filter Blog Search Results
When you search on Technorati and Google Blogsearch you can search for people writing about a specific subject and then organize those results by freshness or authority. You can also search for blog posts that cite a specific post related to your post. Another option with using date and blog search filters is to go back to some of the people who cited one of your recently popular posts and ask them to look at the post you are trying to spread.
These Tips are Timeless
You can use all these search tips to aid your link research using seasonal stories that spread a month ago, last year, or three years ago.
As the leading portals collect more data they will be able to add value to more transactions and disintermediate middlemen by employing creative individuals to do jobs that were once done in offices. If people get paid for results then the quality of work goes up. Think of portals as television stations vying for a bite of your attention for as long as they possibly can, and looking to pay you for your attention with relevancy, and cash if you are really motivated.
What happens when publishers can see what is hot right now and can create commercially oriented content targeting it in near real time? What happens when they are encouraged to track and test their results and can see the results of other ideas simply by the frequency they see it? Many current arbitrage opportunities are going to die, but others will thrive on this new opportunity.
The more third party platforms optimize revenue streams the more profitable niche attention based publishing will become. Generalist sites will be less profitable than highly specialized niche publishing. Results based distribution across large networks will force advertisers to give publishers a larger cut of revenue.The key is to scour through the ads and format them in a user friendly way to where they are looking at relevant content. You can't beat relevancy algorithms without bias, brand, focus, and strong editorial.
Many people wonder why Google hand editing seems random or incomplete, and why some of the best channels get edited while worse stuff is left untouched. Here are some of the reasons Google does a poor job equitably policing the web:
The web it too large to police and engineer time is expensive.
If they edit in an incomplete or random fashion they evoke fear
It is easier to control people through fear than to create a perfect algorithm
They have no need to hand edit the worst offenders. If they are competent programmers the algorithms should take care of those sites. They sometimes edit a leading sites in a field to send a signal. They may throw in a group of other sites if they need to create cover, but their goal is to send a message and alter behavior.
Google will push selling ebooks that are published by a publisher they have a deal with, but if you are selling information outside of a large Google partner and Google is not hosting your content (and getting a cut of the action) they don't want you to be selling ebooks on their web. To be fair, for every satisfied ebook purchaser there are likely many people who paid to buy an ad formatted and sold as information, as marketers have abused the ebook format.
General Web Publishing Trends
each day the web collectively improves how page elements are used (example: using tabs better)
relevancy algorithms and ad networks make the most useful or most profitable business models easier to find while less sophisticated or lower value formats / models / businesses die
a near endless sea of information becomes freely available, as information gets commodified by open competitors
Given those trends I think the 4 big things we will see in selling information are
demise of one time sales based business models - they are nowhere near as profitable as subscription based models, and they expose the merchant to lower end customers that are less likely to invest enough to succeed or invest in recurring charge based models
the rise free and ad supported - if information is generic in nature and not time sensitive then it is going to get harder and harder to charge for it, especially if little value is shared before the sales pitch and Google is trying to clean these types of sites out of the advertisement slots as well
people paying to distribute valuable information for free - I recently saw an AdWords ad for OpenCourseWare from the Sloan Business School. They are not only giving their courses away, but now they are paying to give it away. This means that if you go to MIT you are paying for the interaction, format, certificate, and atmosphere. You are not paying for learning or information. In a couple years, in many industries, better free information will exist than what you currently pay to access.
subscription for interactive stuff with various formats - Google just launched their Gadget ads. As ads get richer and can show more I think the keys to selling will be to use a variety of formats to convey your messages, give people more than they want and let them consume the parts that are most interesting to them, and come up with formats that feel personalized and interactive. Publishing will become less about investing in a variety of projects until you find a hit and more about the art of investing in relationships.
I recently took the AdWords professional exam again and the section I failed was international search. It is easy to do that because if you are primarily focused on the US market there are parts of search you can't appreciate until you see them. When I was in Canada about a month ago I noticed PageRank 4 pages dominating search results where you would need at least 100x the link equity to compete on Google.com. Some of the most valuable US keywords only have a couple advertisers in Canada.
At Enquiro we actually did studies and asked people why they were reluctant to click on sponsored ads. The most common response was that they didn't trust the advertiser. They felt that by clicking on the link they would end up on an affiliate or spam site and may get caught in a never-ending cascade of pop-up windows. Searchers were very wary. In the US, this attitude began to change as known brands began to adopt search.
If Google can't attract the right advertisers that also means that the organic search results in that geographic market are likely easy to manipulate. In many underdeveloped markets around the world, PPC offers greater opportunity than SEO because their is virtually no competition, but as the markets mature and margins get squeezed, doing SEO and owning a brand becomes more profitable than PPC. Either way you approach it, if you can compete on Google.com you should be able to dominate foreign markets. The only issue is scale.
How Google Makes Lazy US Only Advertisers Buy Foreign Traffic
While in the Philippines I have noticed that some $20 keywords (in the US) have few advertisers here, and many of the ads are for garbitrage websites. For example, one page advertising on student loans went to a page with stolen content, and had a page title about mesothelioma. If an advertiser choses US only search distribution but opts into the content network they are probably paying for exposure on that page.
When I switched Google to only search local pages the number 1 ranked page for online degrees was an off topic forum thread. Limited competition means great opportunity for those who understand the local culture and are able to gain international recognition.
Approximately 35% of the top searches in the UK, USA and France are brand related, which gives you an idea just how brand focused our Live Search users are. If your brand is strong (and strong brands come in all shapes and sizes) include it in at least in one of your ad titles and try to get it in the descriptions too! We have often seen click through rates (CTRs) increase when brand names have been included effectively.
Brands are like attention...if your brand is healthy you have an endless number of streams of profit waiting to be unlocked. And brand keywords are easy to own because of the resonance.
if others outrank you for your own brand then your public relations stinks or you have major SEO issues
if others out monetize you for your own brand then your business model needs improved
Investing brand related profits into awareness related marketing helps reinforce your market position. Even if the ad return is at a break even point it still helps you by building additional attention that leads to additional citations.
The Computers and Communications Industry Association published research on the value of fair use. The research is completely biased, to the point of being fraud:
Even by the woeful standards of the bespoke research industry, this study is a crock. It's not just bad; it's absurd. What the authors have done is to define the "fair-use economy" so broadly that it encompasses any business with even the most tangential relationship to the free use of copyrighted materials.
Even Smart People Buy This Junk
Google is a leading sponsor of the research. They know it is a lie, but one that fattens their profit margins, so why not help spread this one and spend a few dollars sponsoring the next one?
Cory Doctorow, who is brilliant, is helping spread this idea because it was the first such publication and he is emotionally attached to the idea. If you are the first person to create a value system that reinforces others values they are going to cite you day and night.
Marketing Continues to Blur into a Game of Psychological Warfare
As marketing and content merge, and as people become more aware of marketing, there are going to be a lot more non-profit organizations sharing research built around pushing lies that helps for profit companies. Some lies are damaging, others are not. Both smart and ignorant people will cast votes without understanding what they are doing. The machines that count votes promote information pollution and are amoral. Those selling sugar water to diabetics also sell safety water. Every dollar counts. As marketing advances, expect more people to play on your emotions using an ever-increasing complex and diverse array of techniques.
WebmasterWorld recently had another debate on which is more important: links or content. But the debate is flawed. Links or content alone are just one type of asset. You might be able to profit from either for a while, but ultimately the real measure of relevancy and staying power is attention.
When you have a new idea can you spread it? You can do the most amazing thing in the world that would alter the course of history, but if you have no attention it goes nowhere. Days / months / years later somebody comes by and steals / repackages / reformats / relaunches your idea and is hailed a brilliant futurist. You wait in line for their autograph, and can do nothing but laugh or cry because you know you already published that idea, but unfortunately you did it at the wrong place or wrong time or you used the wrong headline.
An old site that already ranks well can see self reinforcing links for years until someone launches a better idea and owns that idea. But if ignored eventually someone will take the idea from you. If you do not have enough attention you do not have the margins needed to be sustainable and fight off competition. If you run a network without adequate attention it turns to spam.
A profitable SEO running a sustainable longterm website is an attention whore. They learn how ideas spread, what types of ideas spread, and how to format them to help them spread. They tap into the human ego and dig deep into psychology to help others want to help them. Marketers spread lies if the payout is high enough. Other times people accidentally spread inaccuracies, but that works too because people talking about it grants you more authority and reading the feedback forces you to learn more.
Some marketers are conservative and like to quietly build links and attention over time. Others like to see their name on the front page of the newspaper or Digg. Both ways work, but links are just a proxy for conversation and attention. Search engines follow people.
Once you have attention you can do whatever you want. Who cares if 90% of your ideas fail? You learn from every failure, content can easily be reformatted, and other good ideas come out of remains of past failures. You only need 1 to be really successful to be set for life. And if you keep trying to launch innovative valuable ideas then people are going to keep talking about you until you launch a success. And when it launches people will talk about it because you already have their attention.
Darren Rowse also emailed me to let me know that he saw the Matt Cutts blog ranking at #4 in Google for blog. As Google gets better at understanding word relationships even more traffic will go to the large authoritative websites.
Yahoo / Overture had the default status as THE keyword tool for about a decade. They lost that last year when Google started opening up their data a bit more. Now Microsoft is getting into the game offering more useful tools and more data. How does Yahoo respond? They stop supporting their keyword tool. No results, no 301 redirect, no rebrand, no description of why it is broke, no anything. Since my keyword tool is powered by their keyword tool I am getting 10 to 20 emails a day. How many people are not emailing? How much more traffic is Yahoo getting than I am? Tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars of shareholder value are wasted each day with that move.
The best spot to market yourself is on your own site. As long as Yahoo continues to undermine their own assets without regard or thought their marketplace will remain inefficient, and each day they will continue to lose marketshare. They paid $350 million for Zimbra, but what are the odds of them not screwing that up? They have too many half done projects that do not gel together.
Quintura recently made a search page for Seo Book. Their search service is likely going to be more useful for large publishers with millions of pages than it is on a personal blog, but give it a try and see what you think.
Their cloudlike visual search service is a great tool for finding related keyword modifiers used in competing sites, but I don't think we will see such technology front and center at the mainstream search engines anytime soon due to future advertising regulation which will make it harder to integrate ads and make search results more profitable than the current Google format is. Though I would love to see their technology integrated against social bookmarking sites and personal search history data.
A few months back Threadwatch had a post about Yahoo selling subdomains. Yesterday I stumbled across an AdSense ad for a company selling subdomains that they forward to other sites. I don't believe it is smart to build a big site on someone else's domain, but if you wanted to fling up a bunch of spam or create a single targeted ad page that goes after a competitive phrase why not leech of their authority and let them assume the risks?
There are no search engine guidelines on hosting advertisements for third parties because it is not an idea Google wants people thinking about or talking publicly about, and they can't edit out WSJ.com if they will want the WSJ to spread their public relations messages and business interests.
A friend of mine just posted about trying to build a business by creating 5,000 sites. Everything I know about the trends of the web tells me that there are far easier ways to make money online, especially if you are willing to grow with the latest trends.
You Can't Bring Back the Past
Why would anyone who deeply understands the web start a traditional book publishing business when web formats are so much more profitable and books are becoming irrelevant? Static boring content sites created without passion are, like books, growing irrelevant.
The reason smaller sites could work in the past is because many of them are set and forget. Virtually no incremental cost of upkeep. But the big issue is that they all have some set amount of work required to set them up. And if you are doing something 5,000 times you are going to start automating. And when you start automating you leave footprints. Even if your content is of average quality today, in a year that same content might be considered useless noise and/or spam. At some point a few of the sites get nuked, an engineer does a bit of research, and then the whole network tanks. Then you just lost a year of work and most of your investment.
New Verticals Are Stealing Market-share From the Generalist Web
The problem with set and forget is that there are many new TYPES of content coming online, working to back-fill the organic search results. How uncomfortable is it creating average quality or garbage content when you see half of some search results dominated by books? If you want to do a set and forget approach to marketing I think traditional websites or blogs might be the wrong approach, especially if done in bulk. If I were to try to profit from bulk and was to create something new today I would look at some of the information formats that are just starting to get more aggressively integrated into the search results.
Average Content Has No Sustainable Advantage
The problem with average plain Jane content is that being average is not enough to build permission, gain subscribers, and create a real brand. If you are starting out today you are up against companies with a decade of experience, traction, capital, leverage and market feedback.
The long tail queries that went to garbage content are now sending visitors to large businesses that are becoming more aware of SEO and other vertical searches that are creeping into the traditional organic search results. It is getting easier for competitors to buy your keyword stats for next to nothing, and competitive research is only getting cheaper by the day. When you have virtually no authority, a business model search engineers hate, and are easy to clone then where is your sustainable competitive advantage? Why build anything that lacks a solid foundation?
Dominate Newer Verticals
If it were within my power, and I was scaling this type of bulk content operation, I would have at least one site in Google news. The value of being listed there just went up because they are filtering out many of the duplicate wire service stories that dominated the results in the past. You could also think of videos as easy pickings, at least for now.
Are there other verticals that will become popular? Sure, but you have to be creative and use the word vertical loosely. Remember that in the Google Florida update commercial intent pages were demoted in favor of informational content pages. With Universal search Google has many ways to define verticals and filter irrelevant or lower quality ones. Here is a quote from a recent brilliant post by Tedster
Search terms themselves can also be sorted into various taxonomies, especially the 1-word and 2-word queries. ... With the advent of Universal Search, Google now has the infrastructure to force integrate selections from any class of websites onto the first page. So the implications of Universal Search can go well past the obvious and publicised taxonomies of images, video, news, books, maps, blogs. Even more than a simple "commercial" and "informational" taxonomy, there could also be classes like brochureware sites, trademark holders, businesses with a physical world presence, manufacturers, B2B, multi-topic (encyclopedic) and on and on. One factor Google could then tweak would be which classes of sites to force integrate into the results for which kinds of search terms.
Create a New Vertical
If you rush to find new verticals, change how people use language, or define a page as fitting an alternate meaning of a word then perhaps all this vertical stuff presents an arbitrage opportunity for you. If you create the same type of crap that is already saturated then it is working against you.
SEO Book was not a popular search query until after I created this site. Search engines follow people. Google recommends my brand name and my name in their ad links. The easiest and most sustainable way to dominate a high value vertical is to create a new one, which is something I hope to do in a big way before the year is out.
Since linkbait is recommended by search engineers as a good strategy to market a site, it is probably pretty safe, right? Not always true.
The link bait advice is a bit disingenuous. Not only is linkbait expensive and unpredictable, and sometimes undermines the brand value of the site publishing it, but there are also times when sites get penalized for being too successful with it. Brian Turner mentioned that viral links could kill your Google presence, and I though it makes sense to share a couple specific examples of how linkbait can leave you looking (or at least feeling) like a sucker who took the bait. ;)
Successful Link Bait Marketing, But Too Successful
Months ago one of my friends created and marketed a piece of content that got thousands of mentions. It made the Digg homepage, was referenced on a site as big as Wired, and made Life Hacker. This sounds like a linkbait gone perfect, right? Nope.
It got too much exposure relative to the link growth rate and link profile of the 5 year old site. The blog portion of the site associated with said article is no longer indexed in Google. For a while Google allowed that one linkbait page to get indexed and show PageRank, but it never ranked for its own title and it doesn't pass PageRank through to the rest of the site.
It doesn't matter if this was done algorithmically or by hand. What matters is that if your viral link marketing is too good you are going to get screwed unless you have a way to keep attention and have enough leverage to make Google decide it would be best to relist your site.
Successful Link Bait Marketing, But Now You Are a Reciprocal Link Spammer
Many months ago another friend created and marketed a piece of linkbait. It was successful beyond her wildest dreams. Because of how it was structured, that linkbait linked at many of the sites linking back and the idea did not spread beyond the sites linked to on the page. Thousands of inbound links, but to a search relevancy algorithm it probably looks like a spammy reciprocal link farm. That linkbait was even offset by getting mainstream media exposure by targeting the media with AdWords ads, but it was not enough, as the site does not rank anywhere near as well as it should.
Successful Link Bait Marketing, But We Don't Like Seeing YOUR Site Ranking That Well
Another friend spend ~ $100,000 on linkbait creation and marketing. His site got exceptionally successful, aggressively grew for about a year, he hired a bunch of employees, then a leading Google engineer hand edited the site out of the search results.
In a recent post I stated that one of the biggest flaws from a conversion perspective with this site was that the homepage was a blog. I just made a new homepage that features more of the site's content. I think it is a bit text heavy still, but I wanted to get your feedback on what you think of the new homepage.
Google and Amazon are both pushing to sell ebooks directly aggressively. An article in the NYT mentions a new device Amazon will offer for reading ebooks, but I don't think the problem with books and ebooks is that they need a better reader.
The big problem is that the web is quickly becoming more interactive and diverse and useful, making books irrelevant for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.
The larger a book becomes, the less likely it is to be relevant to any individual, and the less value each word has. People who may disagree with some concepts in your book may agree with pieces that they would be willing to cite if they could only find it. But they will never cite your information unless they can find it.
No matter what people believe, in almost every case someone has already shared the same belief. Format it in small sharable chunks with good findability and people will cite it.
People may want to consume relevant bits. Cognitive dissidents. Summaries that let us dive deeper if we want to. Little chunks of information that change how we perceive the world around us.
Rarely is something that is fully polished, comprehensive, and dated what we need. More likely it is easier to learn by stepping into a process and learning one piece at a time, starting with your interests, then expanding as we run into additional problems. Even with blog posts, people justifiably complain about my writing blog posts in spurts, and using links that are not descriptive enough to merit a click-through.
Leveraging the Web
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Writers should use the web for what it is worth. Break books into pieces, read and write daily, cite sources, go back and polish the best pieces and package them, but try to keep each idea as sharp as possible.
Knowing how to create a useful information product is not enough to maximize profits. A big flaw with my ebook is that it has soooo much information in it, but it is hard to show the value of it because it is a single item. You can't tell how much stuff was waded through to write it, that it is mentally and emotionally draining to revise, and it doesn't help that most Internet marketing ebooks are lead generation devices or affiliate marketing tools. Someone could sell much less and look like they were selling more, just by using better packaging.
[TV] was a wonderful system. For you [TV Networks] anyway. Except that it had one huge flaw. Which is that for you guys, the middlemen, to get rich, you needed to fuck over the people at both ends of the value chain -- the consumers who had no choice in what they watched and spent years being fed mountains of dog shit, and the producers of content who were at your mercy and had to negotiate with this tiny number of networks who operated, let's be honest here, as a kind of cartel.
Artists Become Publishers
If I target an idea to a market and people tell me it is garbage then so much for that idea. If early feedback looks promising then it is time to dig deeper, do more research, read more, and write more. Invest where your interests align with the interest of others.
You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?
One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.
Contrary to popular belief, selling is not about tricking people into buying what they don't want. Yes, there are liars and thieves but that is not selling. That is lying and stealing.
Selling is about getting people to trust you enough to tell you their needs or desires and you satisfying those needs or desires. It is not always easy but it’s certainly not complicated.
The Key is to Not Look Like You are Selling
If markets keep getting more competitive and artists become publishers then I think publishers need to start becoming artists. Almost anything you want to consume has free samples available online. Some are copyright violations, others are free marketing, and some are both.
Here is Dane Cook on why it is so hard to win an argument against a woman:
the trust and goodwill you built up through sharing information, personal interaction, and the above points
Even when we are not buying we are still paying with attention. Familiarity and attention are early steps in sales. The WSJ wrote about how Disney kept a low-fi feel to Marié Digby's YouTube videos. She mixes in a few of her own original songs with old classics that have been viewed MILLIONS of times prior to dropping her first album. It is much easier to launch if you start off with a large fanbase.
Why it Helps to View Marketing as an Art
People are lazy and selfish. Especially anonymous people. If you try to replicate the links of an older competitor using the same techniques, many of the webmasters who linked at them will ignore you, even if your content is better than the stuff they are already linking at.
In all honesty, profit margins come more from perception than reality. If you are going to stay profitable you have to see the wave coming in and stay out in front of it, especially because as marketing techniques get abused they stop working. I am doing things today that I know I would not be profitable in a few years if I didn't go out of my way to lay the foundation to make them look and feel exceptionally legitimate today. The only differences between legitimacy and illegitimacy are trust, familiarity, and perception.
The Short Side of Web Publishing
This post is not to suggest that the web is a utopia that is better than all other sources of information, but more that it is cheaper, faster, easier, and provides something that is good enough to satisfy most demands for free.
The web has downsides to it, like promoting hyped up information pollution as a form of marketing. But the reality of it is that everyone is short on time. And few deeply understand the publishing dynamics of search, so when people get screwed by finding bad information on the web or make bad decisions because of ideas they discovered over the web they will likely blame themselves for it.
As a public facing SEO who has many thousands of customers at the beginning of the SEO learning cycle many of my most common questions I get asked come as a result of Google half truths. I thought it would be worthwhile to write a few of these down to save myself time answering the same emails each day.
It may be inappropriate to label Google as a liar for doing the following. A more appropriate and more fair label would be an intentionally deceitful organization.
Want Link Data? Go Elsewhere
Google offers a link: function which shows a sampling of inbound links to a website. A few years back they had a much smaller allotment of machines for handling link queries, so they used to show mostly a sample of the most authoritative inbound links to a site. Then they started showing mostly lower quality inbound links, while filtering out most of the better ones. But they explain that they doubled the size of the sample, and showed more links to smaller mom and pop websites that lacked high authority inbound links, so it was a good feature for users.
When you hear some people at Google talk about this they talk about it, they tend to talk about "from a historical perspective" and explain how they used to be limited, but they still use virtually ALL link data in calculating result relevancy. Given that last statement then the "from a historical perspective" is self serving positioning about not providing a useful feature because they want to make SEO harder.
Want further proof? If you sign up for Google Webmaster Central and verify your site they will show you all your linkage data. I don't trust Google Webmaster Central because they profile SEOs and hand edit the search results. Signing up is probably an unwise decision.
Google does offer us a free tool to estimate link authority though: PageRank.
For as hyped as Google PageRank is, Google sure goes out of their way to ensure the values are inaccurate. They only update the Google Toolbar display about once every three months. Even then, when they update it that is not fresh for that day...those stats might be from a week, two weeks, or a month ago. Also sometimes the toolbar is buggy and shows the wrong PageRank values, where viewing the same page multiple times in a row will yield different PageRank values each time.
PageRank is just a silly idea in practice, but it is beautiful mathematically. You start off with a simple idea, such as the quality of a page is the sum of the quality of the pages that link to it, times a scalar. This sets you up with finding the eigen vectors of a huge sparse matrix. And because it is so much work, Google appears not to be updating its PageRank values that much.
Any webmaster with an old URL that ranks exceptionally well with almost no PageRank knows that PageRank didn't drive them to outrank people with 10 times their link equity.
PageRank is important for one aspect of information retrieval though: crawl depth. If you have a lot of PageRank then you will get crawled deeply and more frequently. If not, then they will crawl shallow, and perhaps place many of your pages in the supplemental results.
Are My Pages in Google's Supplemental Results?
Want to know what pages from your site are rarely crawled, cached, or updated? Want to know where your duplicate content issues exist? Want to know what pages from your site we don' t trust links from or trust enough to rank well for many search results? Look at the supplemental results. Oops, they took that label out of the results, but here is a more complicated search you can use to find your supplemental results, at least until it gets disabled. Jim Boykin and Danny Sullivan also offered tips on finding supplemental pages.
Right now a Google search for Google supplemental results provides low quality search results because most of the top results (including my #1 ranking at the moment) do not discuss how to find supplemental results. Unfortunately if you only heard of the supplemental results AFTER they took the label out you likely will have no way of telling if any of your pages are supplemental, which is good for seasoned marketers but bad for mom and pop. If I don't edit my post then people will think I am a liar or an idiot because Google is deceptive.
If they truly wanted to make the world's information universally accessible and useful why would they remove this label? At the very least, if webmasters paid attention to this label they would structure their sites better and help Google save bandwidth by not having Google crawl as many low quality pages.
The easiest way to get out of the supplemental results is to clean up site structure issues and build more high quality link authority. Cleaning up site structure issues is much harder now that it is harder to see what is in the supplemental results, and each day it gets harder to build honest links due to Google spreading FUD about links...
Organic Linking Patterns
With all the FUD Google spreads about paid links they make many webmasters afraid to link out to other sites, which reduces the quality of information available on those sites, and prevents some quality sites from ranking where they should. Nofollow is not about being organic. In fact, it was a tool created to directly manipulate the public's perception of linking. To appreciate how out of hand it is, consider the following situation.
A friend's business got covered by a mainstream media site. They wrote an entire article about his business but did not link to him because they felt linking would have made the article too promotional. Imagine being the topic of an article and the source of content for other sites without attribution for it. That is the side effect of Google's bought links FUD.
Since Google's link guidelines are self-serving and out of nature with the realities of the web, what happens if I get aggressive with link building and eventually get busted for doing the same things my competitors are getting away with doing?
Lose All Your Link Equity (and Your Content and Your Brand, Too!)
Your Site Goes to Jail, You DO NOT Collect $200
Many webmasters have suffer the fate of hand editing recently. The site of mine that they hand edited had about 95% of its links cleanly built by me, with the other 5% coming before I bought the site. Because it was my site they wiped away ALL of its link equity via a hand edit (simply because I bought a site that had some link equity). What makes hand edits worse is when they follow up a hand edit by paying an AdSense spammer to steal all of your content and then rank his site where you ranked prior to the hand edit.
Were you one of the early programmers to build a tool that use the SOAP version of Google's API? Sorry, but they no longer offer Google Search API keys. Their (formerly useful) API has came back as an academic only project which they can use to recruit college students studying information retrieval.
Anyone who built a tool based on Google's old API now has to explain to people why their tools broke. Google wanted the tools to break so they could replace the useful API with something worse. In fact, Google is pulling back more data in other spots, even when third parties create tools to add features that should have been core to Google's products. Let's take a look at AdSense.
If you think about this, Google is directly undermining the profitability of their partners by hoarding data. If I know what sections of my site perform well then it is easier for me to create high value content in those areas. The more profitable my site is the more money I have to reinvest into building more content and higher quality content.
If Google was honestly interested in creating a maximally efficient marketplace they wouldn't disable third party tools, hold back information, and keep changing their systems to confuse webmasters. They wouldn't hand edit real sites that thousands of webmasters vote for. And they would not be spreading FUD amongst the market. They would simply find a way to monetize the markets, push out inefficiencies, and grow additional revenue streams.
In some cases, if you register your site with Google they may give you a few more crumbs of info, but unless you have scale they want you to fail. What they really want, like any for profit power hungry authoritative system, is control of your attention and information, so they can ensure as many dollars as possible flow through them. Look no further than their position on the health care industry to see their true vision for making information universally accessible and useful. Ads are a type of information:
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message. We help you connect your company’s assets while helping users find the information they seek.
Eventually Google will launch Claim Your Content.com, which is yet another way for them to get you to register your work with them so they can more easily profile webmasters and hand edit SEO owned sites. Allegedly it will help prevent content theft, but once it comes out, expect duplicate content filters to stagnate or get worse unless you sign up for their service. Dirty? Yes, but so is deceiving people to increase corporate profits. The above 7 examples are just a small set of the whole.
Avi Wilensky, a friend of mine, recently got a cease and desist letter from Realogy Corporation because his Google broad match ads for Mark David NY ended up on a dirty Google syndication partner site. In spite of many attempts to contact Google, they have remained silent on the issue, and continue to serve ads on cit-ihabitats.com, and thousands of other sites just like it.
Google could choose to attempt to keep their network clean, but there is too much money there to ignore it. They are the spam police telling you how you should link. They are not to be questioned in their business practices. When they screw up, it is the fault of an algorithm or a reflection of the democratic nature of the web, and they didn't know any better.
While being much less self promotional than others in the same field, Debra Mastaler is nonetheless one of the most well known and creative link builders in the industry. I have wanted to interview her for a long time since she has a unique way of working but she’s hard to pin down and not very good about returning interview questions…
How long have you been doing link building? What did you do before link building?
First, thank you for the nice intro and sorry to have been such a deadbeat about responding. Alliance-Link has been in operation since late 2000, it came about while I owned and operated a directory featuring organic food and clothing. When I started to rank well for a large number of money terms, business owners advertising in my directory asked if I could I help them do “SEO” on their sites. Well, I had no clue what “SEO” was so I started looking around for information and found the now defunct Rank Write newsletter by Jill Whalen and Heather Lloyd Martin. Jill took the time to explain what I was doing and how it influenced a website’s visibility in the search engines and from there, Alliance-Link was born.
Before that I spent 15 years in the marketing department of Anheuser-Busch and four years before that in the Civil Service. Both jobs provided valuable experience in all three of the main marketing segments – sales, promotions and publicity. It was an invaluable experience and a large part of why I work the way I do today. It’s also the reason why I won’t drink anything but A-B products. Buy Bud! Support my 401K!
Do you tend to build links in spurts or at a steadier pace?
Depends on the industry I’m working in. I use a tiered approach where one part of the linking service dovetails into the next or two services work in tandem. That way I increase my chances of attracting more links from different sources and can use the resources from whatever promotion I’ve created multiple times.
For example, if we’re focused on distributing link embedded content I’d build out the host site with a detailed version of the content (complete with photos, video, downloads etc). Much shorter versions would be sent to topical bloggers with a redeemable incentive or freebie for their readers. At the same time we’ll contact key media and announce the new resource. Once both the bloggers and media have been notified we’ll launch a standard press release and email the client’s customer base with an announcement and link incentive. All four tactics run either simultaneously or within days of each other. I am less concerned with attracting large numbers of links in a short period than I am of attracting many of the SAME type links. I try to avoid that.
Are you a fan of paid links?
I’m a fan of good solid links. If I need to pay to get them, then yes, I’m a fan.
But I’m definitely not a fan of the “paid links are evil” discussions going on all over. Google has its guidelines and either you choose to follow them or you don’t. I believe it’s that simple. If you don’t and feel paid links are worth the risk then buyer and seller beware. Search engines aren’t the only link police on the block anymore.
What are the most effective ways to buy links?
Anyway you can that keeps you under the radar!
LOL… It’s trite but true. I like to buy advertising links from large membership based organizations and associations and negotiate their email and mailing lists as part of the deal. This is especially effective for new product launches or rebranding since you can incorporate a special sales offer as part of the link request. Since you’re marketing to businesses belonging to a membership based association, you’ll end up with topically focused links from established companies. It’s the ultimate “link within your industry” tactic.
I also do a lot with paid and traded sponsorships. Find a publicity vehicle in your industry and buy a top sponsor position taking care to negotiate for options like mailing lists and viral email campaigns. A lot of people talk about this tactic in terms of finding a charity to sponsor – and that’s FINE but unless the charity has a national presence you’ll see little return in residual linking. Charities don’t give out donor lists and don’t include private business in mailings and auto responders. Basically, there is little opportunity for viral reach.
I wrote about finding sponsors recently, how to use them to build links and a couple of sources to mine for partnership leads. It might help if you’re interested in this type of link marketing.
Is anchor text still a big deal? Do you ever buy low quality links just for anchor text?
Yes I believe anchor text is still a big deal and yes occasionally I use low quality links for anchors. There are always handfuls on the lists I buy, I can’t help that. As long as they’re in Google’s and Yahoo’s index, its fine and I’ll use them.
I know there is a thought process out there that says – get links from a wide variety of sites since it emulates a natural linking pattern but I don’t purposely design a strategy to include a certain number of low quality links. I figure the scrapers will be by in due time and I’ll see some links from them so that’s enough junk for me.
That said I do keep an eye on the types of sites I’m extending my special promotions to and will eliminate a site from my list if it’s not indexed or hosts links to an objectionable site. For me, this is one of the most time consuming parts of link building – checking partner sites for compatibility.
How do you get focused anchor text while keeping the link profile looking fairly natural?
You make it sound conversational. It’s why using blogs to build links works so well. It’s much easier to embed links into a conversation than a static page.
Do you ever create content as a link building strategy? How do you know which webmasters to target and what ideas are likely to spread?
Well I personally don’t create the content but I do write the marketing plan that recommends what content should be written and the tactics used to promote it. I’m lucky to work with a couple of gifted women writers who NEVER let me get involved with that part of the linking program. I stick to research and linking and let them write.
When I start a job I never know which websites to target, that comes as a result of hours of research and review work before the first link is ever negotiated. I spend almost half my time researching the client’s industry looking for trendsetters as well as the sites getting the most attention and ranking well. The bigger the site the more keywords they have and the longer you have to look.
It’s probably easier to hit the Powerball than to figure out what ideas will spread and net links for a website. I’ve been wrong my fair share of times, sometimes it’s more about being first than being creative.
It’s not beyond me to look at what’s been done before and try to tweak it to fit my client’s products and services. I look for old press releases and articles printed in offline publications for leads as well as scour YouTube for old video. Ideas are only lacking if you give up looking for them.
How do free samples work to build links? If I don't have anything worth talking about how can I get people to want to link to my site
I am always amazed at what people will do for a free tee shirt. I had a client who offered a free company tee shirt to anyone linking to their site. We ran the promotion through their newsletter, email and snail mail list and converted over 22% of the membership. It was a substantial numbers of links.
The offer was simple. Link to us and we’ll send you a shirt. After a year, over half of the links were still in place using the targeted, anchor variations we provided. All for a beefy tee. Go figure!
Getting people to link to a site that has little linkable content means you need to know a good deal about the people who use your products. You might not have anything worthwhile on the site but if you know what motivates your customers you can create a “deal” and provide it as an incentive to link. Talk to your customers and ask what it would take to get them to link to you.
Do you ever recommend going to trade shows or doing anything else offline to build linkage data? What do you do if an industry exists mostly offline?
I’ve never recommended a client attend a trade show as a way to increase their inbound link counts but after thinking about it, it’s not a half bad idea. Anytime you have face-to-face opportunities with the people buying your products you have opportunities to capture links. It could be as simple as saying – “hey, link to us and we’ll give you $100 bucks off our widget” or some other incentive. It’s a passive approach but then you’re not expending any energy or money to get the link so why not?
Industries that exist mostly offline have online counterparts and that’s where I’d start looking for opportunities. Where’s the media covering their niche? Where are the how- to sites and the reference sites covering what they sell? Find those and you’ll find spots to secure links from.
If a client is unwilling to change their site how do you make their site more linkworthy?
If a client refuses to make recommended changes there isn’t much you can do overall except buy your link love. This happens more than you think, a lot of big companies have rules and CEO’s that make it hard if not impossible to change content. I try not to work with these types of accounts, linking is hard enough as it is. Sites like this can also add themselves to the directories and do a little utility linking for inbound links.
Do press releases still work? Are there better ways to garner media exposure?
Yes and yes. Press releases still work at attracting attention, and some are indexed in various media portals but overall they provide little link popularity weight.
I recommend clients buy a subscription from one of the media relations companies like Burrells Luce or Bacon’s. They provide media lists that are constantly updated and categorized by industry making it easy to find the right journalists. They also have a list of editorial calendars for many trade and consumer publications which allows you to submit content for consideration or reserve advertising space in a timely manner.
I also recommend you mine Topix on a continual basis for media contacts as well as basic sales and marketing opportunities. I get more from that site than many others!
Has link building changed at all since web2.0 came about, or are more people now aware of some of the techniques you have been using for many years?
Yes, I believe both linking and society as a whole has changed since Web2.0 has come about. The timing was right for the technology to morph and for the younger generation to be drawn in to push the growth forward. Google became a verb, MySpace the corner hangout and LinkedIn the company water cooler. Throw in the blogosphere as a pastime second only to baseball and yeah, I’d say linking has changed.
Funny thing is – the way I link hasn’t changed. I have more resources at my fingertips and more people to target but in the end, I still have to write the promotion, ask for the link and add it to the site in order for it to count. Even newer tactics like “link bait” need research and review before the first article can be written. So the principles haven’t changed but the vehicles have.
Are there directories media members look for when searching for a contact for a story?
Yes, there are resources out there the media uses when looking for experts in specific fields. Here’s an example:
SheSource.org - “an online braintrust of female experts on diverse topics designed to serve journalists, producers and bookers who need female guests and sources.”
If you’re a verifiable expert in something find resources like the one above and add yourself to them. And I stress “verifiable”; you need work experience, references and education to be considered so get your resume together before you run out beating your chest. No member of the media will use a resource (meaning you) unless they can verify their expertise.
What are 3 of the easiest things a webmaster can do to improve their site credibility and linkability?
There are hundreds but since you asked for 3 of the easiest, here’s what I do:
Survey your customers and ask what they’d like to see on the site and then give it to them. Once you’ve upgraded the site, ask the same customers to link to it.
Add an incentivized “link to us” request in all correspondence (auto responders, confirmation emails, reminders etc). Make the incentive a bounce back to stimulate further sales.
Develop a fully functional resource center. Include all the information about your company and your industry you’d expect to find in an encyclopedia and then add photos, videos and podcasts. Look up what’s been written about your company by others and include that as well. Alert those authors and the media once the resource center is up and running..
I’ve been doing the last one since I started in this business; I call it building a “link library” on your site. It’s a corny old term but it’s the most effective linking attraction tactic I use.
When do link exchange partnerships make sense?
They make sense when you want to deep link using a specific term or if you want to launch an awareness campaign. I’ve always said the power in reciprocal linking isn’t the link as much as it’s the control you have on what it says and where it points. If someone wants to swap links and you agree, look at the page the link will sit on to be sure it’s not one of a hundred. Give the partner site a well worded anchor text link surrounded by carefully crafted verbiage that points to an internal money making page. If the partner site balks at giving you the additional real estate then I say pass on the link. Even well crafted anchor text links can benefit from intro or explanation paragraph around it.
Reciprocal linking also makes sense when it’s done “outside the box”. There are times I’ll offer link space on a client’s site in exchange for space in a mailing (online or off) to introduce a new section/product/service on a site. In this case I’ve swapped placement for exposure. Invariably I’ll see a link or two out of it but the purpose behind that promotion isn’t to build links but to build awareness.
When do business partnerships make sense for link building? How do you leverage someone else's brand to build links for your site?
I just blogged about how to leverage brand to build links on The Link Spiel, the partnership between the two sites mentioned is a classic case of targeted co-promotion. Partnerships can be as simple as donating time to a forum in exchange for signature/content links or can be more structured and formalized like the companies Wallstrip and optionsXpress mentioned in my blog post.
Consider creating an advisory board and invite people you know and respect to be part of a business partnership. Credit their work as you promote yours and you’ll find they’ll link to you.
Directories have fallen out of favor amongst many people on SEO forums. Do they still hold any weight? How do you tell if a directory is worth listing your site in?
Yeah, directory bashing by SEO’s seems to be the rage these days which is funny since so many of the newer ones have been developed by SEO’s.
The concept of “merit based inclusion” is what makes securing links in the better directories desirable. It’s reasoned that search engines bestow hub authority on these sites because human review is necessary before a site is included. And since human review is part of the co citation process search engines are programmed to reward, it stands to reason these types of sites would pass link popularity.
I use directories as a standard part of every link building service I offer and look at a number of things before I’ll submit:
Is the page my link will sit on in the Yahoo and Google index? If not, why? Is it something simple like it’s a new page or is something blocking that spider?
Does the home page of the directory show PageRank but not the internal pages?
Do the directory pages host an inordinate amount of adsense? If they do, I pass. Same applies for site wide links. If there is more than a handful of site wides, I walk.
If it’s a paid directory, is it a lifetime or annual submission fee? I go for lifetime with the exception of the Yahoo! Directory which I advocate using if you’re a new business.
Do you have to use the name of your business in the anchor text link or will they allow descriptive keywords? If they do, I mix up the keywords and the descriptions.
Does the directory allow deep linking?
How long has the directory been online? My threshold is two years.
Does the directory have an RSS embedded on its category pages? This is a bonus for me as I can keep tabs via keyword settings on new sites being added.
And lastly – does the directory allow you to edit submissions? It’s helpful to be able to change your descriptions/anchors to reflect the changes in your business.
I always submit to the “tried and true” directories such as JoeAnt, Ezilon, GoGuides, BOTW, UnCoverThe Net and RubberStamped as well as any niche directories I can find.
And yes, I still try to get into DMOZ provided I find a category editor on the page I want to submit to. Otherwise I don’t bother anymore.
One last tip about using directories…You’ll find a lot of the niche and local directories are hobby sites run by enthusiasts or business owners. Look around these sites for email signup boxes or an indication they publish a newsletter. If they do, write the owner and ask if he’ll resell his mailing list or allow you to place a text link ad in their newsletter. You’ll find it’s an inexpensive way to reach a targeted audience.
When should a company build links in-house? What amount of the link building should they do and when does it make sense to outsource?
A company should be building links the minute their site hits the Web! I recommend a new company use an experienced link building firm to develop a link marketing plan and a detailed analysis of the linking landscape. (Both crucial to move forward). The idea here is to research the linking structures of well ranked sites and determine what helped get them there. Whether you hire a consultant or use in-house staff shouldn’t matter at this point, both would have a first rate link marketing plan to work from.
That said I do believe it’s a good idea to bring in a link building consultant every nine to 12 months to refresh your in-house staff and bring them up to date on what’s working and what’s not. Or - at the very least, keep one on retainer and schedule monthly updates.
Thanks Debra. If you want to learn more about link building check out Debra's blog, The Link Spiel.
Werty just sent me this. Pretty ruthless, sad, and funny:
hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments,
I can help you with this problem. I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site. The link will be small and your visitors will hardly notice it , its just done for higher rankings in search engines. Contact me icq _________ or write me _______(at)yahoo.com, i will give you my site url and you will give me yours if you are interested. thank you
I mentioned offhandedly in a blog post earlier, but I recently got married and am going to have a big wedding on October 5th in Manila. A few days later there is an SEM conference right next door. Marc Hil Macalua, the founder of SEO Philippines, recently announced the 2007 SEM Conference on his blog, which he is giving away free passes to attend here.
The conference is in Makati City on October 9th and 10th, and I promised Marc that I would keynote. While I love Q and A sessions, this will be my first time as a keynote speaker. Luckily Brett Tabke recently posted these great presentation tips and I got to see Frank Schilling's Domain Roundtable keynote. Both of which should both help me do better. My wife will be giving a 40 minute speech on keyword research too, so on top of sharing the nervousness of a big wedding we also get to enjoy public speaking together. We'll start our real honeymoon after the conference. ;)
Many web companies significantly profit from the appearance that they are open, but anything of value eventually needs to have some limitations placed on it. In spite of no longer having MovableType installed on this server, the mt-comments file is one of my most requested files. Registration moves you away from The Tragedy of the Commons to something more sustainable.
Asking people to register suddenly makes them nicer because it makes the audience less robotic, and the most mean spirited people are not like to remain once anonymous disappears. It is harder to leave anonymous troll comments without being figured out if you have to create an account to post them. And who has time to set up 100 different accounts?
If you can sell a few people a day then you can also sell the idea of a free subscription with future bonuses to dozens or hundreds of people. It is easier to sell in small steps over time than it is to go from anonymous to sold. Pre-selling works so well because people not only learn to trust you, but they are already satisfied with your product BEFORE they purchase it. Some people ask me to do an in depth site review to try to sell them my ebook. I tell them that I do not do that because if they are not pre-sold on me then an exchange is likely going to be a mutual waste of time.
Exceptionally large communities are just as bad as anonymous communities because members have little in common, and relevancy rarely is aligned when everyone is the same. Without leaders a community is dominated by spam, poor communication, misunderstandings, and hate. I can't tell you how many porn messages I see browsing YouTube, and I just got this feedback on one of my videos:
No doubt this dude's got about 3/4 sugar in his tank. The "information" in the video is just more rehashed content available anywhere on the countless webmaster & marketing forums found all over the Web. Beyond the gay plagiarist guise, notice the example; seems we have a little Google/CNN toady here pushing THEIR brand not yours. Silly goy; he doesn't mention that all you need to be successful & dominate any industry is be a loyal satanic zionist. That's the true Google/CNN business model.
Posting the same information on my blog got much better feedback. And writing an article for Wordtracker got great feedback too. Why? Likely because I am relevant to their audience, and anyone who has subscribed to a free newsletter and clicked through to the web article likely wants to consume information.
Clay Shirky's A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy highlights many of the reasons that smaller communities are more meaningful and useful than large communities. If a site gets to the scale of a Google or a YouTube it must deal with endless spam. For most publishers it is best to be semi-porous, to get the benefits of being branded as being open, and allowing just about anyone to join or participate, but have some level of investment (time or money) required to do so in order to minimize noise.
Some of Google's algorithms give sites a +30 type penalty which prevent the site from ranking better than #31. When Google hand penalizes sites it also tends to look the exact same way, with one exception.
When a site is hand edited typically it won't even rank for its brand name related keywords. Assuming your site has at least a few links, I believe most of the automated penalties still allow mydomain.com to rank for mydomain. Although, over time, I suspect Google may change this, as editing out sites for their own brands hurts Google's relevancy.
I need to verify the new CMS is working ok. I figure the easiest way to do so is to do a bunch of stuff with the site. Plus this will help me know what other features should be added. If you have any SEO questions please ask them below. Also if you have any ideas for improving the site layout and feature set I am all ears on that too.
I recently saw a spam AdSense site covering just about every angle of the financial category, with
about a half million rented links (many are sitewide on PR8 and PR9 sites)
thousands of pages of near Markov generated quality content
ultra spammy internal site structure
a bad design
ranking for well over 10,000 unique Google search queries
likely making anywhere from $5,000 to $15,000 per day from AdSense
Some high ranking sites can last for years as long as they stay out of the limelight. But when those sites get public scrutiny they need to have enough community influence to make a search engineer fear hand editing them.
As soon as non-corporate sites get mentioned on a popular SEO blog (as a success story or a spammy site) they stand a good chance of getting killed. My site that got hand edited by a Google engineer was nuked after I signed up for Google Webmaster Central and an SEO blogger mentioned the site.
The moral of the story is it is best to not seek exposure as or get categorized as an SEO play unless your brand is strong enough to hurt Google if they try to hurt you.
In the middle of a site upgrade. Stuff might be a bit messy in the next day or two. Comments are back, but you have to create an account to comment. I was getting too many comments from Mr. Penis Pump and Mrs. Dog Collars.
Imagine you are looking for fresh information, and are one of the hundreds of students searching for new scholarships each year. The top result Google shows you is a CNN news article for a $250 white's only scholarship from 2004. It was a stunt to shock people and send a message, and as a side effect anyone searching for new scholarships on Google gets to see that message. Does a speeding ticket make a driver a good driver? No, it just means that he was citation worthy. Some people do despicable things for links and make lots of money from it. It is a flaw of the current relevancy algorithms to assume that a citation makes a business trustworthy. On the commercial parts of the web, most links are an indication of is an ad budget, a public relations budget, nepotism, or controversy.
Where a business runs into issues with bad press is if it ranks for their core brand related terms, but typically that stuff can be drowned out by subdomains, alternate corporate sites, buying out competitors, and using a press page to pump up the good coverage a business gets. Current search algorithms encourage unethical business practices because they can't separate good from bad. They only care about who gets citations, which makes some people do just about anything for a link.
News agencies and other central authoritative systems have always highlighted things that were out of the ordinary, but search makes them stick around, and ranks them for broader topics just because they have a related tangent and were able to garner the most votes.
Perhaps Procter & Gamble doesn't care of their making us into a nation of fat slobs, but there's no reason why programmers and the rest of the startup world need to be so amoral. And no doubt, as pictures of cats with poor spelling on them become all the rage, people are beginning to wonder about where all this idiocy is leaving us. Which is where apologists like Doctorow and Steven Johnson step in, assuring us that Everything Bad is Good For You.
It isn't. YouTube isn't going to save us from an Idiocracy-style future in which everyone sits at home and watches shows like "Ow! My Balls!" (in which a man is repeatedly hit in the balls) -- YouTube's damn-near creating that future. As I write this, YouTube's #1 featured video is titled "Farting in Public".
I just shaved my head, placed a tattoo front and center on my forehead, and ran naked through town with a flag wrapped around my penis. I can't imagine how many organic links will come rolling in, and will love it when the local newspaper page talking about that incident ranks #1 for US Flag. That ought to put me on the map:
Imagine if virtually everything you chose to trust eventually betrayed you. You try to create shifting rules and push your worldview to try to make it manageable, but even in your attempts to do so people call out the self serving nature of your suggestions. Every day thousands of people share free information about how to take advantage of you, and in return you wade through garbage and do everything you can to suppress it, but work for a company with policies that encourage information pollution. Even when you try to stop something, your company will still spread that message to anyone willing to look for it for a dollar or two a click, and affiliates quickly race to fill in the hole your hand edit created. You can't suppress them. You hand edited one company, but is it fair to leave their largest competitor? Will someone call you out on that today? Will it matter when they do?
As it gets less manageable your rule sets are disengaged with reality, and if you look close enough at just about anything you find what you would (or at least could) call spam. Everyone is a cheat. Or is that only in my mind?
Should you hand edit this result? Will anyone care if you do or do not? What does the legal team look like at the company behind this website? How large is their ad budget? How bad is this exploit? Should you write an algorithm that will close off this hole? If you do, what other holes does that open up?
How much longer can we trust links until we move on to usage data? Can we ever really trust usage data? Do our policies actually promote creating and sharing good content? How can we improve them without hurting our revenue numbers? Now the web is filling up with stupid garbage reminiscent of Idiocracy. How much of that am I responsible for? Would the web be cleaner if I just quit my job and let free market forces do as they may?
Running Threadwatch for a little over a year took me from being a fairly positive person to being cynical about everything. Could you imagine how bad it would be if your job was to fight spam day in and day out, especially if your employer sponsored the creation of most of it? Some days at SEO conferences Matt Cutts appears as a star, but could you imagine how demoralizing that job would be to do, looking at the worst parts of the web every day? No matter what you do tomorrow there is more spam waiting just for you.
When a page or section is new and you are competing against older sites that have built authority for nearly a decade one of the easiest ways to gain traction is to pick a specific keyword phrase that is not that competitive and go after trying to rank for it.
Often I find myself making a page title relevant for a wide basket of related keywords, then when I check the rankings the page comes in at #12 or #16. My mom's blog currently ranks at #13 in Google for weight loss calculators and #4 for free weight loss calculators using the page title Free Diet, Calorie, & Weight Loss Calculators. The page also ranks #30 for diet calculators and is deep for calorie calculators.
The best thing to do here is to focus the title on the phrase closest to ranking at the top, and try to get it a few more links. If the page starts picking up organic traction after ranking and eventually grows into a self reinforcing authority status then I could help it get more traffic by including those related phrases that don't make much sense to highlight in the page title right now.
If a site has 100 units of link equity and offers 10 sitewide categories then each category gets 10% of the link equity. If that same site limits its number of sitewide categories to 5 then each category gets 20%. By being a webmaster who tracks results one of your biggest advantages you have over webmaster who do not track results is you can limit your navigational selection to suit your financial goals. Is something hot this season? Rotate in the featured category or featured products. Is a category unprofitable or far beyond the authority needed to rank for it? Place less emphasis on it.
The nice thing about template sites with includes and dynamic websites are that it is easy to quickly change your weightings to place more focus where the revenue is. A few #6 or #10 ranking pages in the good section suddenly going to #1 might mean 3x to 5x the earnings.
I have been noticing with Google recently that if you search for something like seobook video that Google pulls in results for SEO Book video as well. They may have been doing this for a while, but if so it seems like it recently got more aggressive. If you are banking on targeting an unpopular version of a keyword you may actually end up having to compete with some of the most authoritative pages ranking for the alternate more authoritative version.
This feature, spell correction, and toolbar search suggestions eat away at some of the easiest portions of the organic SEO arbitrage market by helping search engines consolidate language usage patterns as best they can.
Sometimes when a Google engineer decides he is pissed off at a site he or she may penalize the site in a way that the company does not rank in the top 30 results for any search query, including branded navigational queries. Imagine if you search for SeoBook and couldn't find this site? How is that a good user experience for searchers using Google? It is their index, so I think it is fair if Google nukes sites that they dislike for non-brand queries, but when they do it for brand related queries too, they make their search results irrelevant and provide a bad user experience. What makes the situation worse than it needs to be?
the definition of relevancy changes depending on Google's business interests
the definition of spam changes depending on Google's business interests
Google is unpredictable in their hand editing
if Google does not like a particular market they may hand edit the leading company while leaving competitors ranking at the top of the search results for the competitor's brand. in some cases they penalize the cleanest services while leaving dirtier market players easily accessible
even if a site is deemed as spam and penalized they can still buy ads on Google, which makes it seem as though it is only spam if Google isn't getting paid
If Google wants to become the default way we access all information can they continue to penalize brands for their official brand names?
Many authoritative tool pages have gobs of link equity, but rank for few keywords beyond their official name because they offer little background information. Providing no background information not only wastes ranking opportunities, but also makes it hard for some people to use the tool. In some cases it makes sense to keep documentation separated from the conversion process, especially if the tool is a for sale item, and especially if you are selling to people looking for an instant autopilot wealth generation system. But if your offering is of value and free, there is no need for the mystery card. You can make the download and/or usage instructions clear at the top of the landing page, and then get deeper into features and benefits as you go further down the page.
Since placing mint code on my tools page about a week ago hundreds of unique search queries landed about a thousand searchers on my keyword suggestion tool. About 10% of that traffic was from core terms, while the rest was long tail.
I could have paid Google $500 for that traffic, but I am fine with getting it for free. :)