In October Google updated toolbar PageRank values at least 3 times to scare people away from buying links. Sites that had their PageRank values appear penalized did not lose any traffic. After complaints from webmasters, Google restored PageRank values of some sites that were penalized, which showed the alleged penalty had no teeth.
NONE of the announcements about Google penalizing sites are on official Google sites, such that they can control people through fear and have the media spread misinformation.
What Google Can't Obfuscate
Your rankings and traffic: If you rank you rank. You might get filtered sometime for some core keywords, but if your traffic is generally up your site probably is not penalized and/or in any danger. If you use web analytics tools and/or track general web trends (using Google Trends) and site specific trends (using Compete.com or Google Webmaster Central), you would know if Google has any issues with your site.
Your ad prices: increasingly ad relevancy and algorithmic relevancy scores will overlap. Google AdWords click costs, and thus quality scores, hints at site trust. If you can send the same ad to a competing site or to Amazon.com only to find they get the clicks cheaper then you have issue with site trust.
Indexing trends: You can see how quickly your content is getting indexed in Google and what parts of your site are getting indexed by using date based search filters.
Trusted traffic streams: they can't take away your RSS subscribers or other traffic sources. As many business become more reliant on Google a key strategy for growth will be relying less on Google.
Passing link trust: you can test if a page passes reputation by adding a unique related word to the link's anchor text on that page. After the link gets indexed search to see if the target page ranks for phrases containing that word.
What else do you think Google does a good job of obfuscating? What do you think they can't hide or obfuscate?
Keyword density as a measure of relevancy is at best limited. If pages have too high of a keyword density and are too focused they may have suppressed rankings or may get filtered out of the search results, plus dense copy does not read well, does not convert well, and nobody will link at it.
If your content is emotionally charged then it does not need to be as optimized to rank well. If people respond to your content by linking at your site then you gain authority and will rank better.
Conversion rates and value per customer are far more important than keyword density. If your content converts you can always afford to buy traffic and/or sign up affiliates.
Great usability is a key to converting. Read Steve Krug's Don't Make Me Think if you are new to the concept of usability. Make sure your pages are structured with headers, subheaders, and bulleted lists.
You should actively drive people toward conversion using text links in your content. Cleanly segment the page into small easy to read chunks using headings, subheadings, and bulleted lists to make the page easy to scan. Use textual formatting and other visual cues to call out the different audiences or the different reasons people would buy your product or service. Dan Thies does a great job of this on his SEO Research Labs website.
Work on improving on page optimization and conversion rates of your most important pages first.
Ensure you have some trusted quality inbound links. Start with a few trusted directories if you are starting from scratch. No matter how much on page SEO you do, you are not going to get much exposure or rank for competitive terms until AFTER you have some trusted inbound links.
Mixing Things Up
Search for your keywords on Google and look at the text from top ranking pages. They are defining the local language set. Make sure you include some of the words and phrases that are common in those pages.
Use tools like Quintura and Wordtracker to find modifiers to include in your page. After you are done optimizing the page, you can enter your URL in the Google AdWords keyword tool to see what they think your page is about. If they do not select the right topics that means they might not be certain what your page is about.
Mix up the order of words and phrases in your page. If your page title uses farm insurance in it, then include something like insurance for farmers in your h1 heading. Also mix up how you use phrases throughout your page where it makes sense, but stay clear of using language that doesn't make sense, like butter peanut.
Instead of paginating, it typically makes more sense to keep some pages longer in nature. Glossary pages and other text heavy pages rank for a wide array of keyword phrases. Using various word counts depending on sales needs, content requirements, and topic selection is a better strategy than writing every page to match a specific arbitrary length.
When the web was younger is was less spammy. When the web was less commercial a larger percentage of sites were created out of passion, and those who spammed generally were not link spammers. Most new websites are spam.
When search was less sophisticated people linked out of necessity. Now that Google AdSense has commercialized links and search is more relevant, more webmasters require payment (ie: cash, building their ego, sharing and spreading their bias, etc.) to link to your site.
Older sites are owned by webmasters who had enough time to forge social relationships, and build a natural link profile composed of quality organic links.
Many people who own websites value them as their babies, and want far more than their fair market value for them. Quality websites are nowhere near as liquid in nature as links or content are.
Newer websites can outrank old sites, but they have to be more remarkable or add more value to outrank older sites. This adding of value (through things like better formatting, more in depth coverage, more bias, more interactive content) adds value to Google, making their search service more useful.
As the standards for information quality increase, Google can arbitrarily decide that they don't like you or your business model. Thus the web is a game of constant evolution. Today's marketing leading content site may be a thin spam site by 2010 standards. Today's average content site might be thin spam by 2008.
Given that new content creation is largely dominated by blogs and social media, new links are largely a proxy for the strength of your public relations campaign. Thus, currently Google's search results are dominated by old sites and sites that are controversial and/or buzzworthy.
There is an information pollution side effect caused by the growing competition for links, but currently Google does not factor that into their view of the web. If you buy a link you are bad. If you lie for a link and get an organic citation you are good. I am not sure how/if they ever intend to address this side effect.
In the URL they place as_qdr=w as_qdr=d (day) as_qdr=w (week) as_qdr=m (month) as_qdr=y (year). You can also search for multiples of these units, like search for pages indexed in the last 2 weeks by placing as_qdr=w2 in the URL string.
If you change your content management system or add new sections to your site you can see how quickly they are getting indexed, and look for any duplicate content issues as the new pages are getting indexed by looking for pages indexed under multiple URLs.
If you have never checked your site for duplicate content issues, but recently published content, that might also show any content duplication issues or Google indexed pages that you do not want in Google's index.
Many marketing and advertising costs are recurring. Re-registering domain names is a minimal cost, but many domains (especially .com names) get type in traffic worth thousands of dollars a year. Some get type in traffic worth thousands per day. And this traffic stream is defensible from search engine algorithmic swings.
In addition to the defensibility issue, there is a large synergy between great domain names and SEO. Domain names containing your keywords as part of the name make it easier to get your keywords in the anchor text when people reference your company by its official name. This is true even if the domain has hyphens and/or additional words. But domains with hyphens in them are harder to market than domains without hyphens.
Exact match domains make people more likely to give you targeted anchor text when they mention your website. In some cases a strong domain name also makes a site appear more trustworthy and linkworthy.
Meta description tags may appear in the search results below your page title. Descriptions should be formatted in compete sentences so they read well to humans. Google displays about 150 to 160 characters from meta description tags in their search results. If your description runs past 160 characters they will cut it short and add ... at the end of their listing.
Each meta description should be unique on a per page basis. If you have a large website you can automatically generate descriptions using formulas to include things like item price, shipping details, or any sales offers. If your site is smaller it is best to edit each meta description by tag, especially on your key pages.
Meta descriptions should compliment your page titles by helping you differentiate from the competition and appeal to your target audience using similar touch-points.
Your descriptions should use slightly different word orders and keywords than what you use in the page title. Some examples:
If a page title uses the plural version of the word the description can use the singular version
If a page title uses an acronym the meta description can use the full version of the phrase
word order should be changed where it makes sense
If SEO Book was in my page title my meta description might include something like leading book on search engine optimization
If you do not have a meta description tag or your description is irrelevant to the search query search engines may grab a snippet of text from your page to describe your listing. If you do not like the snippet they grab you can either create a meta description tag or edit the part of your page that they are inserting into the search results. After their next crawl of your page they should update your snippet.
Some of the posts I write about the macroeconomic trends of online publishing and the search economy take 5 hours to write, get few or no comments, get few or no citations, and probably scare off potential customers. Those posts do not cater to people looking to buy SEO information. The short SEO videos I recently made are easier to create and easy to consume. Daily sales are near my all time high.
Google shows the first 60 to 70 characters in the search results. Make sure your important keywords occur early in the page title for scan-ability. If your title goes beyond 70 characters Google may cut off the title before 69 characters and display ... at the end of your page title.
Rather than making your page title just the keyword and/or starting your page title with the keyword, sometimes it helps to add in a descriptive modifier before your core keyword. This helps ensure your page is less likely to get filtered out of the search results (and thus makes your rankings more stable) while helping you rank for additional terms.
Page titles are used to draw in clicks from search results amongst many anonymous competing offers, thus they present an opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition and qualify prospects to your offer.
Good titles evoke an emotional response, ask a question, or promise something (that the landing page fulfills).
Since the page title is one of the few elements search engines can show searchers before sending them to your site, they place significant weight on the words in the page title. In addition, some people link to pages using their official page title as the link anchor text.
Overlapping modifiers in a reasonable and readable way allows you improve your relevancy scores for an array of keywords, but they still need to read well. Rather than loading up page titles with a keyword list it is better to write a clear compelling offer that contains your keywords and describes your services.
Qualifying the wrong prospective clients with a bad offer will lead to a low conversion rate, or wasting time servicing non-clients. For example, if you sell something that is high end you wouldn't necessarily want to rank for your keyword with modifiers like cheap and discount, as servicing those people will waste your time.
Page titles should be differentiated from page to page on your site. Unless limited by the size and scope of your site, it is best not to have all your page titles follow the exact same formula across your site. You also should not use the same keyword at or near the start of every page title.
The format, order, and word selection of the words in your page title should be (at least slightly) different than the words in your meta description and on page headers.
If you have a strong brand you may want to place it at the end of your page title. If you have one of the leading trusted Internet brands (Amazon, eBay, etc.) then it might make sense to place your brand at the start of the page title. In most cases the page title should still be more focused on the page copy and searcher's intent than on your brand.
Yesterday I created 9 SEO videos and posted them to YouTube, but so far I only have about 5 YouTube subscribers, including my wife, mom, dog, and self. Can you give a few videos a look, and subscribe if you like them to help me increase that number? If you think they could use some improvements please offer those tips too. :)
Should I make individual post pages for each video on SEO Book and offer texual background like I did on some of my past videos?
I think I am getting a bit better at doing the speaking part of creating videos, and am getting better at keeping them succinct, but could greatly improve at the visual formatting part. For some reason the end format looks ok on my monitor, but the stills are fuzzy. Many people made video suggestions here, but I still have to get to doing about 100 more of these real quick...hopefully after I figure out how to make the still look cleaner.
SERoundtable was on the list of sites which saw their toolbar PageRank scores reduced, but I just looked at some of the terms they were ranking for, and they are still right at or near the top of the results for everything they were ranking for, even the competitive terms.
Traffic Matters, PageRank Does Not
Watch the Compete.com traffic stats for the sites listed in that Search Engine Land post. Google even provides large sites like the NYT over 20% of their traffic, so if these sites were really penalized you will see a plunge in traffic. If you do not see a plunge in traffic across these sites then toolbar PageRank scores are proved irrelevant as a measure of quality and trust.
Since Google is demoting PageRank's viability as a site's global authority score perhaps this is a time for Yahoo to bring back WebRank, or Ask to launch something like CommunityRank. The Google-webmaster relationship is fraying. This presents an opportunity for whoever wants to take it.
Publishing is About Networks
If Google is penalizing blogs for being part of a network of sites, how long until they penalize IAC for owning 20 travel sites? Or Monster.com for owning 100 thin lead generation education sites? Or BankRate for owning white label sites with similar names? Networks have always been a part of publishing based business models.
Google recently increased their number of sitelinks to 8 and now list them in a 2 column format. To visualize the value of this, consider that I have a decent sized monitor and only 1 listing not controlled by me appears above the fold when searching for SEO Book.
And look at a search for credit cards
In time I have to expect that for high value keywords (as per AdWords advertiser stats) Google will manually review generic matching names with sitelinks to determine if they are brand oriented or not. If the sites with sitelinks for high value queries are not strong brand oriented sites, is Google going to keep giving this much exposure to whoever owns the exact match domain?
Using Organic Search Profits to Fund Ad Budgets that Lock Out Competing Sites
If the results stay like they are right now, Google is creating a dominate player that will likely overspend on the associated AdWords ads to further block out competition.
Who cares if you lose a few bucks on the ads if it further increases your volume to get you better payouts AND reinforces your default status as THE market leader? Plus, exact match domains consistently get a higher CTR than non-matching domains, so in that regard the domain name not only ensures the sitemap in the search results but also subsidizes the AdWords ad costs.
Domain Names Win Fatter Margins in the Game of Arbitrage
If, after seeing the above images, you still don't appreciate the value of domain names in search marketing, please give Frank Schilling's post on arbitrage titled The House Always Wins a read, then go on a domain buying binge.
Life isn't fair, but that doesn't mean that you should ignore the obvious deals! If you are a diverse publisher and domain names are not part of your SEO strategy, then hopefully you can correct that deficiency before the year is out.
After seeing Alan Greenspan's clip on the Daily Show I figured it was worth picking up his book titled The Age of Turbulence, and I just finished it on my flight back to the United States. His book is sold as about economics, but it really is about understanding the emotions and psychology that drive markets.
Personal Property Rights
Protecting personal property rights is crucial to creating a market worth investing in or participating in. Who wants to work only to see their work arbitrarily stolen?
People flock to America to invest, build their lives and homes because it is a land of opportunity (current credit market warts and all).. People go to namespaces for the same reason.
Some of the largest and most powerful Internet companies profit handsomely by having no respect for copyright. Double talk like Youtube's recent "we support this copyright agreement" while standing on the sidelines of the associated agreements won't work as a strategy in 5 years.
Centrally Planned Economies Falter
The book talked about the fall of communism and how unbelievable devastated East Germany was by the time the Berlin Wall was ripped down. As markets get more complex the central networks and central regulators are less able to control markets, and instead move to a role of providing guidance and direction. Reactionary caps and regulations often end up heavy handed, setting off cascading imbalances.
Even central military planning has its limits. Greenspan highlighted how capitalism has spread to parts of the world which were unwilling to change after US military campaigns, later stating that for economic growth: "The evidence of human history strongly suggests that positive incentives are far more effective than fear and force."
Cellphone service is widely available [in India] at low cost because it was regarded as a luxury and therefore left to the market, while electricity is hard to obtain because it has been regarded as a necessity and therefore managed by the government.
Google, which put search and ads at the center of their network, and bolts on lower margin stuff is using a model that is more effective and more forward looking than Yahoo's model, which is to attempt to be a leading publisher in virtually every high value and/or high traffic field.
From a business scalability standpoint it is also better to sell access to a community that works together rather than relying too heavily on a single individual. This is a huge weakness in my current business model. My model would be far more effective if this site were more of a gathering spot than me just spouting off about whatever I felt like writing about, and selling one hit product.
Increasingly we will rely on outsourcing, smaller start ups, and the outlook of being employed will drastically changed. Paul Graham recently wrote:
We now think of it as normal to have a job at a company, but this is the thinnest of historical veneers. Just two or three lifetimes ago, most people in what are now called industrialized countries lived by farming. So while it may seem surprising to propose that large numbers of people will change the way they make a living, it would be more surprising if they didn't.
Marketing Can Make Life Meaningless
And one can seek material well-being and yet view competitive markets as subject to excessive manipulation by advertisers and marketers who trivialize life by promoting superficial and ephemeral values.
That quote reminds me of the shock I had when I learned that in the Philippines they sell skin whitening cream, while in the US the standard sales pitch is for making your skin darker.
He also referenced The Theory of the Leisure Class by Thorstein Veblen, about how people consume based on the consumption habits of others, which hints at the increasing forward value of being a top editorial channel and/or a social recommendation engine which is quick to hightlight the latest trends.
As virtually everything gets commoditized, selling in the future will require increasingly strong social proof of value. Those who have a history of recommending things of value will continue to gain relevance and distribution at the expense of those who are afraid to be biased in favor of being objective.
The Beauty of Creative Destruction
One of the things Mr. Greenspan emphasized more than just about anything else was the value of creative destruction, which is the killing of old business models and the shifting of capital toward better business ideas / models / formats. Having just got back from a month long stay in Manila, I could put the book into context by thinking of some of the business models that were relevant and prevalent in one location, but not relevant in another.
The trade-off for an efficient marketplace that keeps moving capital is that jobs are quite temporal in nature and stress levels are higher than in more socialistic societies. Online you can think of information and services as consistently moving toward free, but people will always be willing to pay for good formatting, clarity, reputation, empathy, and how well they trust you.
If you test evolving formats and technology you
learn how to apply them to older fields
learn what markets will change before most people do
are more likely to be considered remarkable
enjoy effective marketing techniques before mass pollution rendered them worthless
To put this in perspective, one of the marketing techniques that I was successful with last year has been cloned by virtually all of the big competitors in that same category. If I was not first with the idea they would have destroyed the associated profit margins by saturating the market with similar ideas and a larger stack of capital than I can afford to risk.
If you think about the success of this site, much of it is due to being one of the first bloggers covering SEO stuff. Start a blog about SEO today and it would be much harder to gain traction. I also was one of the first SEOs to make publicly available extensions for modifying search results and aggregating data via widgets. All of that stuff is free though, I likely need to change the format of what I am selling away from a singular large ebook into a format that is more friendly to consume, such that I can go even deeper with providing more high value information without overwhelming people.
Even if you are using creative destruction to push your business model, profit margins, and your field it still helps to do whatever you can to offset that destruction part to appeal to "the deep human need for stability and permanence." If people think you change too much then they might be less likely to want to invest in your business or even link at your website. When possible, small incremental changes tend to be more effective than large changes. Don't make frequent and drastic changes to your homepage.
Economic growth is becoming more ideas oriented - less tangible and more conceptual. This means that you will not need as much capital to compete going forward. You will only be required creativity and a willingness to be wrong from time to time.
Greenspan spoke about how his support for measured tax cuts IF the budget surplus remained were reported in the media as "Greenspan to Back Tax Cuts." He also highlighted how his quotes urging spending restraint fell on deaf ears and became about taxation.
The dumbing down and misquoting that is common in the media is yet another reason people will increasingly flock to independently published websites.
Wealth Disparity and Redistribution
When new technologies change markets rapidly there is an increase in income stratification. You and I do (or soon will) benefit from the inequality of wealth distribution based on new technologies associated with the WWW.
The low skilled US labor prices are dropping because of
deflationary pressures from unlocking high quality laborers that were unavailable in years past due to central economic planning
better and more sophisticated software (I have wasted many days doing junk that a software program should have been able to do far faster)
Other Economic Tidbits
Dutch Disease - Developing countries that discover an abundance of natural resources tend to stagnate. Currency appreciation kills the competitiveness of other export based business models and revenues from the resource make people lazy.
moral hazards - government insurance causes people to take risks they otherwise wouldn't (like the current mortgage mess)
Oil - prices are far more elastic than many appreciate, and Greenspan thinks there is plenty of oil, but we should be aggressive in promoting the use of alternatives like nuclear power and biofuels.
Alan also does not think the trade deficit or foreign governments holding US dollars pose big risks
I Was Wrong
I used to think that some of the central bankers were pretty dirty based on watching a documentary about it. In years past many of them likely were, but after reading Alan Greenspan's book I trust him, largely for the following 5 reasons:
In his book he said his mother was "not the least bit intellectual". Even if that statement were true about one of my parents and that parent was dead I can't imagine being blunt enough to write that line in what amounts to a widely read autobiography.
He was already making loads of money before working at the Fed. If it was money he was after he could have got much more of it for far less stress.
He admitted that the Fed did once attempt to raise interest rates to pop the tech stock bubble, but doing it small enough to not hurt economy does not kill the euphoria and only further validated the run up.
On page 463 Alan wrote "And whatever their publicized angst over Saddam Hussein's 'weapons of mass destruction,' American and British authorities were also concerned about violence in an area that harbors a resource indispensable for the functioning of the word economy. ... I am saddened that it is politically inconvenient to acknowledge what everyone knows: the Iraq war is largely about oil."
I just updated SEO for Firefox to include Compete.com website rank and Compete.com monthly uniques. If you leave Compete.com in on demand mode it tends to work quite well. I am also going to ping the guys at Compete.com to ensure the automatic mode gets to be pretty reliable too. Compete.com data is far better than Alexa because it has less of a webmaster bias.
SEL highlighted that Google is correcting domain spelling errors. Which works to block some typos, but in some instances is pushing traffic away from smaller domains toward more authoritative websites.
Good Job Google
Here is an example of the spell correction working right...
Now lets say that I misspell a filename. What if I typed www.seibook.com/bok (If you add a second o to the word book in the filename this URL exists). What does Google do? Even when I am not signed in, Google STILL recommends people go to SeoBook.com, to the URL www.seobook.com/blog instead of recommending they go to seibook.com/book/
In that last case correcting the URL and keeping the people on the same site only took changing 1 letter, but Google decided instead to change a letter in the domain name, and change 3 in the filename!
Why Not Fix This?
What about errors in the domain extension? If you type in ASP.nt (leaving out the e in net) Google does not correct that spelling error. If you type in ebay.cm (ebay.com leaving out the o) Google does not correct that error. Why launch a feature such as this without correcting the most common errors?
Some of my domain names were registered as a joke (haggisdiet.com was a bet against Andy Hagans), and it wouldn't be hard to register domains in the name of another person. Having said that, I doubt few people put my name on their domain names, and now you can look up a list of domains owned by a person by using Registrant Search. If you have thin affiliate sites that rank well in Google and are not using fake whois data then now might be a little late to start.
Via Domain Name News I recently discovered Sold Names, which aggregates publicly available price data for domain sales. You can also view last week's sales at DN Journal. If you find someone underselling a domain name browse through their inventory and see if they have any others worth buying.
Invest in Wikia search and share technology with them to attack Google from multiple fronts. Google engineers have openly admitted to frequently hand editing the search results. Now that search is back to being about people tell the USER that it is their web and THEY own it.
What if you assumed you already lost the search battle and decided to counter Google by being open about search, and being actively involved with the webmaster community? What is the worse that can happen? People start talking about you, trying your product, giving you feedback to improve your product, talk about you, and you gain marketshare. Oh no!
A friend of mine recently emailed me to ask if his site was penalized for selling links. The same email went on to say that he is ranking better than ever in Google, even for his core category single word query, but his toolbar PageRank score dropped by one.
Toolbar PageRank scores are only updated about once every three months. In between updates hundreds of millions or billions of web pages are added to Google's index. These new pages absorb PageRank and generally cause the PageRank of existing pages to be lowered. Pages that were a high PR 7 might become a low PR7, pages that were a low PR7 might become a high PR6, and so on. The one exception to this rule is that if your site's inbound link authority grows faster than the web does then your PageRank score goes up.
PageRank is recomputed in near real time and toolbar PageRank scores are perpetually outdated. If you are starting from a PR0 and get a few quality links then of course you should expect a PageRank greater than 0 on the next update, but even the fact that your pages are getting indexed means you have some share of PageRank even if the toolbar does not show anything. In some cases the toolbar not only shows outdated data, but sometimes it even sticks, showing you the PageRank score of another site or showing all pages as 0.
It is no coincidence that Google chose not to update toolbar PageRank scores in a great deal of time before spreading more propaganda against paid links, and then launched a partial data push (how often do they do that)? This way when they finally update PageRank and many pages have a slightly lower PageRank score many webmasters will wonder "was I penalized?"
If Google wins what’s going to happen is the market will go underground. You’re going to have to "know a guy" to get you links. For a lot of people that removes any options, leaving the only option being Google. Does anybody really believe that the PHD’s at the plex haven’t applied any "gaming theory" to this model and figured out this will make them even more profitable? (c’mon we’re googly we’d never do that) Once the advertisers are underground, market forces of scarcity will take effect, and prices will skyrocket. So even if you don’t believe in paid links, you should still get involved in the debate, if for no other reason than to keep the advertising market free and open instead of under the control of Google.
If making PageRank function requires hand editing isn't that an indication that PageRank is irrelevant? Why not change they relevancy algorithms rather than trying to scare people?
Why would Google make an official webmaster announcement, but provide no quotes for the story and not publish it on any of their own websites? Probably because they know what they are doing is illegal, and want to be detached from the story to not look like overzealous dictators.
What Google Can't Cloak
The two things Google can't cloak are the visitors they are sending you and how much they charge you for a click. Sure their ad auctions have a hidden "quality" factor to them, but that is just an indication of how much they trust your ad account and your site. If Google is sending you more traffic and ranking your site better then you have nothing to worry about.
My friend's lower PageRank score was an anomaly. It was irrelevant, because at the core, his site is ranking better and Google is sending him more traffic. At the end of the day Google can put smoke an mirrors wherever they like, but if your search traffic trend is up you are not penalized.
Why Search Traffic Can Go Down Without a Penalty
Competition: if the competition is out-marketing you then your site might slip.
Seasonal traffic patterns: if you go out of a high demand season it makes sense that your traffic may drop even if rankings improve.
Automated filters: In some cased individual pages might get automatically filtered for being too closely aligned with a particular term, but they can usually overcome that by loosening the focus of those pages and their inbound anchor text. That is why it is important for an SEO to track their statistics, to know where they are and how reliant they are on each phrase. In some cases I have seen sites which ranked for many additional new queries but got filtered for one of their highest traffic terms. The page focus and anchor text was loosened and the page came back ranking better than ever.
Question: I am new to the market and have a product I am going to launch soon at a similar price-point to SEO Book. I am wondering if I should launch with an affiliate program, and if it will provide a substantial return prior to
Answer: I would say off the start don't enable an affiliate program until you have a better feel for the amount of effort required per purchaser and have brand awareness. I like launching without an affiliate program because it makes citations appear more natural. If you are launching a MLM hype program then a multi tiered affiliate program is a must, but if not the best option is to wait until you better learn your market and are well integrated into your market.
Why it is Best to Launch Without an Affiliate Program
If you test your marketing first you are going to be able to achieve a higher customer value and attract better affiliates.
If you are uncertain as to how to best sell your product and you have a new brand then it is going to be pretty tough for affiliates to sell it for you.
The best marketing looks organic. With a new product it is best to get reviewed by top editorial channels and earn a few organic citations to help others see your product as more than just hype. If a product is primarily or only hyped by affiliates off the start that can undermine your brand.
Some of my customers who did not sign up as affiliates have read my book and misquoted me to make me sound dumber than I am, and have misquoted to make me sound much smarter than I am. If others have profit incentive behind describing who you are or what you offer many will take the low road and use empty hype. Repositioning a brand after others have positioned it incorrectly is tougher than positioning it correctly off the start.
Another advantage of waiting on establishing an affiliate program is that by the time you launch it you have built enough trust that people will be willing to sign up with you directly.
The Dangers of a Loose Affiliate Program
If you start off with an affiliate program I think your best best is to make the affiliate program invite only off the start to ensure your brand is not dragged through the mud before you were able to build brand equity. Some of my affiliates have done things like
stealing content from my friends and wrapping it in banners for my site
mass email spamming (while signing my name to it)
a list of other dirty things I will not mention ;)
Because affiliates are hard to control, it is best to have a direct affiliate program rather than going through a third party website. This takes more time to manage, but enables you to
immediately warn affiliates and/or remove the profit incentive if they are doing things that are illegal and/or undermine your brand value
altert affiliates in advance of price changes, special promotions, or other changes to your offerings
keep in contact with your affiliates, protecting you from drastic cost increases seen at third party affiliate management firms like MyAffiliateProgram
Some affiliate software also tracks referrals, which enables you to learn the difference between what sorts of traffic streams and marketing sell and which do not.
Corporations have sued other corporations based on ad targeting. Even if the lawsuits are bogus they still eat up time and valuable resources. Affiliate control is useful for mitigating some such conflicts.
A few years back a well known SEO said that I was deplorable for bidding on a broad basket of keywords including their name. One of their affiliates was bidding on my name, amongst others. Once questioned about the hypocrisy, this person eventually admitted that they were too lazy to police their own affiliates, which showed their complaint had no validity. If their complaint had validity they would have better been able to claim it by hosting their own affiliate program and holding their own affiliates to the same expectations they try to hold others to.
Affiliate Software Options
Some of the larger affiliate networks (like CJ) have a wide array of affiliates, but typically the best affiliates will hunt out the best affiliate programs wherever they are (instead of staying inside third party networks), so it might be just as easy to attract the best affiliates by ranking well for your keywords + affiliate program.
Some of the smaller affiliate networks (like shareasale.com, as an example) have pitched me as a merchant for rates far below their published rates, but after seeing what happened with MyAffiliateProgram it does not make sense for me to pay a third party to place a roadblock between me and my affiliates.
ClickBank does not cost much to set up, but I have found that I get an extraordinary return rate there when compared with Paypal. Paypal does not have affiliate features baked into it, but does work with many affiliate software programs.
As ShoeMoney recently highlighted, BOTW has a custom affiliate program which even tracks direct links to any page on their site. Creating such a program would probably only cost about $1,000 at most. And that link for BOTW may have been an affiliate link, and Google has no way of knowing.
Once you have a trusted brand you can create low value white label brands that are given a free pass by search engine editors based on the trust of your core brand. These can feed back profits to your main site in many ways, including allowing you to:
filter link juice to your mother brand site, which is especially useful for temporal news or in categories where link building is tough
Earlier this year the NYT dropped their subscription wall and Google started mixing many types of content (news, videos, etc.) directly into their search results.
10 Days ago Radiohead announced the name of their new album would be In Rainbows, and by the time the album was released today a person who uploaded a YouTube video of a live recording of the song Nude (from a concert I attended) already added the album name In Rainbows to the title of their popular recording.
Not only is more content coming online in more formats, and people getting better at writing for search and archiving information, but
personal search history and personalized search are making it easier to find things you found before
search suggestions are consolidating misspellings and other search errors into a streamlined set of searches
Everything is heading toward free, faster by the day, except attention and trust. All these types of changes pose new competition, shift business models, and kill off some forms of search arbitrage. But they also enable new forms of marketing, especially if you pay attention to the changing ways search engines attempt to guide searchers and surface information, create editorial partnerships with search engines, publish a well read channel, or have a strong enough brand and large enough reach to make others want to participate in your community.
I have been a longtime reader and fan of BlueHatSEO.com, and recently asked Eli for an interview. He said sure, and here it is.
What is your background? What got you into SEO?
I started around '95-'96. I had a lot of interest in music and games and stuff so I created a couple sites related to stuff I normally really enjoy and download a lot. I got in good company with a few guys who ran hosting and colocation companies who made quite a bit of money so naturally my focus started shifting towards how I can make as much as they do. From there it kind of spurred into researching and developing traffic generation and search engine related stuff in an effort to keep up with these guys who had quite a bit more resources and money than my broke ass did. From there it kind of escalated and apart from a short break in college I've been doing it ever since.
You have many original posts on your blog highlighting many interesting techniques I have never heard shared publicly before. How do you come up with all your new ideas?
Thanks, even though they seem pretty generalized and polished many of the techniques I talk about are developed from either a problem I've had to solve in the past or stuff I've encountered while dabbling in specific industries. For instance bloggers as an industry have a multitude of resources and methods they use to promote their blogs. While a lot of their techniques may seem like common sense to them and are well formed over years of experience and others fine tuning it, their methods and resources may not be so obvious to people in other industries. It's fairly safe to say that I have ADD when it comes to jumping around in various niches and markets so I get a good variety of the unique ways each one markets their sites. While it may be standardized stuff to them, many of the techniques can be spun and with a little creative twist can be applied to any other form of generic sites. So while many of the techniques may create a Why didn't I think of that moment, most are well practiced and many marketers within the specific industries they came from know no other ways of doing it. I just kind of twist them and collaborate them into a methodology anyone can use based on my own experiences and how I've applied them to my sites. Eitherway none of the techniques I talk about ever negatively affects my actual business and I usually have the techniques spun an even better way before I give out the old way.
Isn't the value of many aggressive SEO ideas inversely proportional to the number of people using them? What makes you decide what ideas to share and when to share them?
In many cases that's absolutely correct. I've shared several techniques that have died within days of posting them. Just to list a few examples, my Abandoned Wordpress series, Wikipedia Series, and Amazon.com exploits. In all these cases I know before I ever post it that it'll die moments after I do. So most of the time I'll post it out of greed. They are usually techniques I've been using for several years and have since retired them out and quit using them. Naturally with any technique others are bound to figure it out. When I start seeing them popup underground and are being used against me in increasing numbers when I'm no longer using them myself I might as well wreck it. There's a saying; If you're going to wreck a room, you might as well WRECK IT. So in those rare cases when a retired technique starts becoming this annoying little buzz in my ear I might as well squash it and help out a few of my readers at the same time. Win-win if you ask me. Most of my other techniques on the other hand are scalable and free range. I develop them to last, so whether I'm the only one doing it or everyone else on the net is doing it they're not something that can get stopped only suppressed. Often times through saying stuff like Don't do that, its sneaky and we don't like it. Existing propaganda and inherent difficulties in the technique itself usually take care of the rest and help weed out the people who just read for entertainment. There are a few people however that have been reading since the very beginning and after every single post actually do every technique and report back to me through email. They'll be the first to testify that the techniques almost never die, and just because many people know about them doesn't mean everyone is actually using them.
What are QUIT and SQUIRT? Is your system fairly scalable? What types of risks are associated with using them? What types of site should I consider using them on?
QUIT stands for Quick Indexing Tool and SQUIRT stands for Super Quick Indexing & Ranking Tools. My office is filled with wacky and weird acronyms. QUIT is the free one that basically employs several hands off indexing techniques I've developed over the years. It helps get the submitted site crawled by the search engines very quickly, and often times indexed within a day or two. It works off a very simple principle. How many ways can you think of to attract a search engine bot to a specific url? Make a list...figure out a way to do each one with a hands off approach (can't modify the site). You got yourself a Quick Indexing Tool. :) SQUIRT is the paid version and works much the same way. It employs all the techniques QUIT does plus a few extras that aren't scalable, so the membership must be limited. It also goes one step further and develops a bit of link worth to the site to ease it into better deep indexing and rankings. Lastly, it uses analysis of the site to counter a few shortcomings through hands off methods. Just as an example, if a page of the site doesn't have the targeted keywords in its title, then give that page a few backlinks with the keywords as the anchor text. Stuff like that. Most of it is very simple, there's just a lot of it in play at once.
If search did not exist what do you think you would be doing right now?
Lol, I'd be super sizing your Value Meal.
Currently it appears as though Google is heavily focused on domain age and authority. Do you see them staying this way for a long time? Does improving automated content generation technology make it hard to move away from domain authority? Where do you see them going next with their relevancy algorithms?
I'm going to have to politely disagree with that. I think Google is moving in the opposite direction. More towards LSI technology and content relevancy as it pertains to the domain as whole much like Yahoo has been trying to pull off for many years. I think the direction switch started taking place when MSN came out with its own engine. While MSN focuses heavily on age as it pertains to their index rather than actual domain age back when it first opened it had a very young and growing index. So the rankings were more determined by keyword relevancy. So there was a brief period where MSN had all these really nice fresh sites and while rankings were much easier to come by they had fresh results with newly updated content and newer sites with better information. Meanwhile Google, who was relying heavily on DMOZ (as a basic prerequisite for rankings) was finding themselves with SERPS that had a bunch of old stagnant abandoned sites. This was very apparent if you were developing sites in aged industries such as Real Estate. Just three years ago if you had a real estate site, no matter how good it was, it was constantly outranked by old agent cookie cutter sites, and unless your site was at least a year old it would have a hard time even popping into the top 100 for its keywords. Now you can see things moved in quite a bit different direction. You can get a site competing in an aged niche just as easily as long as the content fits properly and in a much shorter time (3-8 months as apposed to a full year minimum in certain cases). I do agree and see authority as a big issue though. Fortunately authority can be replicated and pushed. I did a post awhile back called SERP Domination that talked about ways to push authority and get a brand new site to compete in highly competitive niches. I think improving your automated content plays a big part in that.
Google is starting to move away from being a search engine toward being a content host. How do you see this affecting the future of spamming Google?
Absolutely. There is a breaking point in Google becoming a content host, which I'm certain is their overall goal. As long as they can reward the contributors with increased traffic to their site (ie. -negative rankings..above the top listing like with google base products) people will be willing to donate content to them. I for one will testify that Google Base is very difficult to spam on a mass level as apposed to their search. This is due to the fact that they have a very good hands on antispam team and their content levels are low enough for human checks to be possible. The way I see it is, as their content hosting efforts increase, so will the possibilities for spamming them on a mass scale. It's just a matter of time. Until then, I limit my spamming of them at a level just below getting caught. At the moment, unlike Adsense, their multiaccount banning capabilities are very well done and to be frank it works out well for them. Their content is very good and in all objectiveness very well kept as far as spam goes.
I have never done much overtly black hat SEO. I was not good at programming when I got on the web and after I had been online for a few years I decided to try to build things that can grow logarthimically. Can black hat techniques grow logarthmically? Do you have any strong branded sites to stabelize your income if the black hat streams come and go? How many different website marketing techniques do you use at any given time?
With beautiful domains like blackhatseo.com and seobook.com theres no doubt in my mind you have a nack for predicting the next big things in the industry. If I were you I wouldn't bother with black hat either. You obviously got it made with the skills you already have. I do preach a lot about programming and building sites through autogeneration. In fact a lot of people consider my style Code SEO. I have quite a few very high profile sites, you've probably heard of them and they do bring in good money but I don't ever really talk about them. I like to diversify my investments because not every investment is solid. As far as my blackhat network goes it is actually as solid as it gets. It's very rare when a black hat site of mine gets banned and if you saw one unless you have a really well trained eye you'd probably have a very hard time knowing it was black hat. Thats just part of the investment though. The more legit you can make things appear while autogenerating it the more income you can squeeze out of it in a site's lifecycle.
What is the longest timeframe you have seen an overt black hat site rank for in the various engines? How much have the lifespans of these types of sites changed over the past 5 years?
I think the lifespans of black hat sites increase as your skillsets increase. I have some black hat networks that are still around now and bringing in income and gosh I don't even remember when I made them. Thats also why I talk a lot of "hosted black hat sites" on orphan subdomains and such. Like in my recent SEO Empire post. They really help when making the obvious ones stick. I usually stick to the rule of thumb, if you can mimic the footprints of white hat sites and minimize the footprints of blackhat sites than theres no reason why they shouldn't last forever. Search engines can only ban a footprint that no legitimate sites use. So if you're interested in starting blackhat, as long as you stick by that principle you'll be just fine as far as investments go.
Are there some markets that are too competitive for automated marketing? How do you do successful black hat SEO in hypercompetitive markets like mortgage or insurance?
I don't personally compete in competitive black hat dominated markets, like you mentioned mortgages and pharmaceuticals and such. I feel a little more secure with my black hat sites roaming around the longtailed phrases and localities. It's just a matter of putting in the extra effort which in those cases I'm too set in my ways to sit down and accomplish. I know several people who do strictly that and make a very good living, but I personally have no strong opinions on the matter. So I leave those markets to the pros and if I want to get competitive I use my white hat sites to do it.
Do you do much client work? Have any AdSense sites? Do you mostly rely on affiliate commissions? Have any infoproducts or more tools coming out? What business model do you see as the best source of growth for established SEOs? What segment do you think looks best for new webmasters?
I've never done any client or paid SEO work. I couldn't imagine a worse form of hell to be honest :) I do answer a lot of questions privately though, or at least as many as I have time for. I have lots of adsense sites. I do mostly affiliate marketing and CPC, but I've spent a couple years of my career building actual ecommerce sites. Other than additions to SQUIRT I really don't have any new webmaster related products coming out. I had a few ideas I set into motion but it may be a looong time before they actually come around. I would like to do more though, but I'm afraid of spreading myself too thing. Internet Marketers as I'm sure you're well aware of can be very demanding of ones sanity. When it comes to business models though I wrote a post called SEO Empire. It is MY business model. I've always wanted to write a detailed article on web investments and that's probably as close as it comes to making me happy.
Given the offline macroeconomic trends and trends online what high growth markets do you think are currently less competitive than they should be?
Well of course I'd have to couple trademarked markets into that group, such as myspace, facebook, digg and such. As long as they are working hard to knock down the big boys in the coattailing markets theres always room for new growth. The biggest market I see right now that no one has yet to figure out a good way of capitalizing on is web episodes and webtv. Theres sites like tv-links and other show specific sites that give out streaming episodes of tv shows and movies that are in constant danger of copyright infringement and being shut down by their hosts. More often than not these types of sites get more traffic than they can handle very quickly just because they are in such high demand. Even just putting up a simple site for a small anime type show with all the current episodes available to stream can drive thousand of visitors a day within a month or two of being brand new. The only problem the industry has to figure out is how to keep from getting shut down and attacked constantly. This just goes in line with a theory I've started pushing my own company towards quite a few years ago that television and the Internet are increasingly having an effect on each other.
You seem to be quite outspoken about there being many scams and a lot of hype in the SEO market, complete with A lists and all that sort of stuff. Do you ever see these trends changing? Are these niche specific, or just a reflection of general social structures that cross all lands and industries?
Yeah thats definitely a topic I feel very passionately about. I think scams and hype only exist where theres opportunity. Our industry just happens to have a ton of opportunities for it to flourish. I just try to do my part, step up the plate and make a difference. I take it to a bit of an extreme though by attempting to cover the Advanced SEO topic which is kind of like the Antarctica of SEO, most know its there but how many have actually seen it talked about? The reality is, all I'm doing is making changes by example. I'm saying this is how I want SEO blogs to be like, the spirit can be applied to just about any aspect of our industry including newbie material. Persistently, instead of using the success of it to promote myself or advertisers I use it to promote other likeminded blogs. Many small blogs have made it big and exploded over night just by showing they have what it takes by writing a guest post on Blue Hat and getting it published. Thats where I'm seeing this trend go every day. I really don't think it'll be very much longer before the bloggers that work torwards being helpful start really showing that they are truly taking over. You can see the gurus that establish their expertise by bragging rather than showing are starting to slope and decline to make room for those that are mimicking the helpful spirit. It's just a matter of time and I think it'll come faster than people imagine :)
I am new to online marketing...what books, articles, blog posts, and blogs should I start reading?
Lol, ass kissing aside, i really do send nearly all new people to the industry that talk to me to SEOBook. SEO book gives it out clearly and explains the stuff they need to know. Everywhere else tends to be flooded with bait and switch tactics and misinformation that leads them to the exact opposite direction they should be going. Not only is it a good resource but it's miles ahead of the other blogs and books trying to attract "offer fillers." <- my affectionate term for John Chow readers (my words not Aarons). I also like several blogs where the writer is not only talented but is also in the thick of the industry just like his/her readers and trying to make his way. For instance JonWaraas.com does a great job candidly talking about his experiences and what he's learning at the moment. He's also cool enough to share his sites with you. A great step from there might be the late NetBusinessBlog.com where the new writer and past talk about nice little techniques that range anywhere from intermediate to advanced and are always a great read. Also can't go without mentioning EarnersBlog.com, busin3ss.name, and professionalmiddleman.com.
I am new to the web...when should I consider quiting my job to be a full time marketer/webmaster? What are the biggest attributes I need to succeed online in today's market.
By all means please eat. Three out of every four projects I develop fail overall. As a new person to the business expect to do much worse, so make sure to take care of yourself first and the business second. The added stress of having to pay bills while developing your business only escalates the toll off the inevitable failures that await you. Thats the beauty of the Internet business. hehe don't just dive into a pool without checking the water first. You can get started without a $100k+ startup cash and tons of risk. You'll still have to work just as hard as any other business startup, you just have the luxury of being capable of starting small. The only quicksand you'll run into is the myth that you can make money in your spare time. Many often figure out, who actually has SPARE time? You have to treat it just like a regular job. Make smart investments in both time and money. Build and escalate until your other job starts to phase out. When you can finally answer both of these questions with a yes you should be good to quit your day job. 1) Does your day job earnings supplement your online earnings? (or is it visa versa). 2) If you suddenly got sick and were taken away from your online work for three months, would you come back to a business that has grown?
What is the best keyword you have ever ranked for? What is the best keyword you ever ranked for using almost nothing but automated mareting free content?
Should have specified a time frame, but since you didn't we'll go old school :)
At one time or another in my career: Music, MP3, Downloads, Freeware, Real Estate, Games, WWW, Homes, Pamela Anderson, Internet, Bikini, Sites and College.
No, sad to say I don't have any sites that still rank for any of those terms. :( But I still do have some very competitive phrases amongst my sites today, they just can't compete with some of the million dollar ones from back in the day when SEO was relatively new.
Have you ever felt a search engineer was lying about something? If so, have you ever called them out on it?
I think we're being lied to about nofollow. Consider this the call out :)
It seems as though large branded sites are able to get away with far more than smaller newer websites can. What tools or features would you like to see search engines make available to help level the playing field? Do you think search engines are more focused on relevancy or profit?
I think they're focused on profit through relevancy, and currently they attempt to accomplish that with authority factors. The playing field isn't level because its designed not to be. I honestly wouldn't want it to become level and fair. I kind of see it as "I don't have to outrun the bear, I only have to outrun you."
Do you ever see search losing some of its importance? What might replace it?
Webmasters set the pace the web, they always have. What's important to the webmasters becomes important to the users. It was the webmasters that made Google, MSN, and Yahoo important not the other way around. Just throughout history, the moment webmasters quit caring about something it becomes obsolete and forgotten by everyone within no time, the opposite is also true. It's entirely possible that search will lose its importance. I don't see it happening anytime soon, but if the average webmaster gets frustrated enough with them and a good alternative comes out I'm sure it won't take very long from that point before its gone. A good way for them to begin that process might be to hand pick a couple sites like wikipedia and have them conquer every single result...oh wait.
Do you ever see Google losing their dominance? What might replace them?
Going along with the above question, there was a short time in Google's history right before Matt Cutts and Webmaster Guidelines/Tools where they started becoming very secretive about their algorithm and lost nearly all contact with webmasters outside of a submit url button. During that time a whole multitude of search engines and creative forms of search started popping up like crazy. It was like there was a new one almost every day. Some were really fun to play around with. None really had both the form and function that would of inspired a permanent switch for me, but it goes to show how easy it is and I doubt Google will make that mistake again.
Do you feel domains names have large synergies with SEO? I am currently not using the domain names BlackHatSEO.com and WhiteHatSEO.com to their full potential. What do you think I should do with them? What would you do with them if you owned them?
I think domains are a very large factor in SEO and I don't think many will disagree. I was always curious about those domains of yours Aaron. They're awesome. I'm sure you get asked 10 times a day to sell them. Why not throw up forums on them or even mashups? I understand your underuse of them though, I'd be all excited to get them but then I'm certain a hard reality would hit and I'd come up blank for what to actually do with them. I personally would love to some day see an AskABlank SEO site. I'm sure you've seen the format before, its like Ask A Midget(hypothetical, don't go searching for it). Then people get to submit questions and the midget answers and it gets posted publically covering various topics, but with SEO. An idea?
Why BlueHatSEO? Why not another word/color?
Completely, 100% random. I'm not even fond of the color Blue, Green is my fav. If you've ever noticed, the site is extremely generic. Default Wordpress template, No SEO, no link building (never even done a link exchange), no link bait, no nofollow tags, no submissions to social sites, no promoting...absolutely nothing from the very beginning. Very very -by- all definition and to the core... pure white hat. I did it intentionally to make a point. Interesting Trivia For Ya: Can you name the ONE other popular SEO blogger that has also done it? Minus maybe the ridding of nofollow tags. :)
Alan Greenspan was recently interviewed on the Daily Show.
Explaining his old job, he stated:
I have been dealing with these big mathematical models forecasting the economy, and I am looking at what is going on in the past few weeks and say, you know if I could figure out a way to determine weather or not people are more fearful, or changing to more euphoric, and I have a third way of figuring out which of the two things were working, I don't need any of this other stuff.
I could forecast the economy better than any way I know. The trouble is that we can't figure that out. Forecasting today is as good or bad as it was 50 years ago. The reason is human nature hasn't changed. We can't improve ourselves.
Economic Trends Are Caused by Emotions
The prices of commodities often change without any underlying change in value, just a change in perceived value. After all, what is money backed by and why did the dollar lose 25%+ of its value over the last few years? If it is supply and demand related, why did we need to sharply increase the supply of currency? Once a trends start heading in one direction, just the creation of the trend (or perception of the trend) causes a following.
Investments are based on risk to reward ratios, and if people are afraid they are less likely to take risks. People like what is familiar, but by the time something has no perceived risk there is little upside potential, and then eventually the bottom falls out of the market, like what happened with real estate recently.
Google makes communication faster and cheaper, advertising more relevant and trackable, and audience aggregation more efficient. They also create a lot of cool tools that evolve the web which allow publishers to layer value over the top of them. Not only can you use Google to predict real estate trends, but you can use them to
With Google's mass storage of usage data, huge reach, analytics and conversion tracking code they can track the changes of sentiment and demand faster than anyone else can. They can buy out competitors before anyone else understands their full value.
Classifying Fear & Euphoria
Just like Google can classify queries as being informational or transactional in nature, how hard would it be for them to
track searches and classify them as pessimistic or optimistic?
track searches of people who visit Google Finance often (or any other finance site, given the Google Toolbar) and classify them as pessimistic or optimistic?
track changes in outlooks from people who are known thought leaders, have old trusted accounts, and/or have spent significantly through Google Checkout?
track search volume and link it to economic activity?
assign an economic value to each query based on ad value?
Right there Google is already a better economic predictor than anything the Fed could hope to be, but what happens if Google decides to also buy and sell securities?
How Google Can Influence Markets
A couple years ago Google switched their definitions link partnership from Dictionary.com to Answers.com. Earlier this year Answers.com announced they were buying the competing Dictionary.com, and a Google update caused Answers.com's traffic to plunge.
In the same way that an algorithm adjustment can kill the profitability of a site, so can a new Google business partnership with a competitor, as newspapers are figuring out right now. If syndication is a large part of your business model look for that stream of revenue to dry up soon.
Flawed Self Analysis
We are bad at self analysis, but we tend to like / trust / believe what is familiar. If we let machines know us well enough they will find the holes in our personalities and egos that are easy to exploit for profit.
Personalized search helps highlight what is familiar, and makes us trust Google more by reinforcing our worldviews. Not only can Google bring back things you liked in the past, but they can recommend new stuff, guide your thoughts, and share ads as content.
Predicting the Future With 99%+ Accuracy
Not only can Google update algorithms or add features to stun competitors, but they also could easily see real trends first hand (like cuts in marketing budgets, search related product demand, or organic mentions) and trade securities or derivatives in near real time. They also have a pretty good idea of the types of sites their next filters are going to take out.
What more for predicting market trends if Google buys DoubleClick (a leading online ad server) and become a free international Internet service provider? Cory Doctorow recently covered how Google can go wrong, but until more people think along those lines Google is going to grow to be the single largest economic engine in the world, and the best predictor of micro and macro economic trends.
In a recent post about paid links, Danny Sullivan wrote about how Google's army of engineers are going to start hand editing PageRank scores if they think you are selling links, which is a move that wreaks of desperation.
Google is only decreasing the PageRank for a subset of the sites they actually know about. ...
Google stressed, by the way, that the current set of PageRank decreases is not assigned completely automatically; the majority of these decreases happened after a human review. That should help prevent false matches from happening so easily.
In contrast, if you're a smaller site not deemed as important to relevancy, a harsher punishment of a ranking penalty may be dealt out.
Introducing the New, Corporate Web
If they actually follow through with any of this then Google, which touts the value of PageRank, clearly no longer believes in its value. They already show stale data in their toolbar, and might as well scrap the whole thing and start fresh. Their mind control exercise is getting a bit obnoxious.
With this news of more hand editing, Google also shows that they are biased against small webmasters are and actively trying to screw over small webmasters to increase their corporate profits.
Google is becoming much like the Wikipedia, where generalists wrongly assume topical knowledge greater than that of the real topical experts. In some cases Wikipedia is saved by talk pages and community participation that allow the experts to be heard. Google has no talk page though, which means that Google search results will become a dried out and dumbed down version of the web.
The Real Problem With Half Truths & Hand Editing
The response to every move is a counter move. So if they actually try to squash link buying then webmasters will look for indirect ways to purchase links. Google also offers tips on how to sculpt PageRank, but sculpt to much and suddenly the intent is changed, and you are banned.
Why leave such a thing up to a single Google engineer making a judgement call? If they want to increase the quality of the web they need to be more innovative in encouraging the creation of good content, not make people afraid to invest into creating content only to watch a Google engineer kill it.
If you are a webmaster assume that Google is lying to you and ignore them. If their view of the web and webmaster advice are reduced to half truths and lies then we can only hope something a bit more honest will come out of their downfall.
These are some of the interesting things that happened while I was getting married.
My server was down hard on the day before my wedding, and DNS was propagating to the new server the day of my wedding. I have not tested all the tools and whatnot, please let me know if you see any errors or issues. I am so lucky to have such a loving wife.
Americans flunk self-assessment. Overarching optimism and being defensive cause us to make bad decisions. Independent third parties are much better at evaluating us honestly than we are at evaluating ourselves.
Frank Schilling and Shoemoney recently had two great posts about Google. When combined I think they paint a picture of Google that skips past the rhetoric and double talk. Frank said:
As a publisher, I've always viewed Google as a bit of a predator in this context.. taking publishers in, convincing them to serve Google ads, and then allowing those publishers to toil for Google, working sites into their algo to serve the beast, all for increasing revenues, finally to have Google's algorithm scrub you from the index if you become too successful at punching ad converting pages to the top.. Good publishers take on the role of sacrificial lamb to show the algo guys where the holes are and they get to ride the express elevator to the street as a reward.
Shoemoney's video about avoiding getting hit by Google stated that the key is just don't do things that make Google look stupid or undermine the perceived magic that occurs at Google.
My site that Matt Cutts hand removed from Google's search results got too much exposure and Matt killed it not because the site was spammy, but because it was mine and it was getting too much mainstream traction and exposure. My marketing was too appealing, aggressive, and effective. In another year that site would have been untouchable, and that thought made Matt Cutts feel uncomfortable.
The Changing Desires of the Magical Fictitious Average User
One day Google sells the story of how "PageRank reflects the unique democratic reflection of the web" and a day later they talk about "hand editing to protect our users".
With Google, the whole concept of relevancy is a shifting mind control game. As long as you do not get the wrong types of exposure you can make a lot of money without them doing anything about it. Go too mainstream with something a little sketchy or something with the scent of smart SEO to it and they will try to kill you out of resentment, jealousy, and to try to protect the lies that their business model are based on.
MSN announced they are upgrading relevancy and coverage. The increased coverage likely means that more inbound link sources are getting indexed. From looking at rankings of a few of my sites it looks like:
anchor text got A LOT more weighting
many lower authority links that were not passing weight (due to not being in their index) are passing weight. For some competitive core industry related phrases (not SEO, another industry) I see a site that went from #150 to top 5 based on the anchor text of lots of low authority links.
fresh links are still heavily trusted, but sites with older links but few fresh links now rank a bit better than they used to in the older MSN, likely due to the more comprehensive index coverage. for as much as Google has beat down some directory links, MSN just gave them a lot of love.
Internal anchor text still counts, but it might seem slightly demoted, as a side effect of more competing pages and more links getting indexed.
MSN mentioned that they were also looking to get more into universal search.
Yahoo! Search Update
Yahoo! recently updated their infrastructure, then rolled out universal search and are getting more aggressive with search suggestions. You can see they are serious about universal search because they are not only promoting their internal content, but they are also promoting YouTube videos. I believe this also indicates that YouTube will remain the #1 video destination in years to come.
Rand also noticed that Yahoo! is using their homepage to drive search queries for recent news. As Yahoo integrates their own content in their SERPs even more aggressively look for them to get more aggressive on this front to help further their search brand.
As shortcusts and search suggestions get more advanced and more common they are going to be cheap traffic sources for those who understand the engines well enough to benefit from them. As search engines roll out these features you can always keep searching and keep testing until you figure out what causes them to select certain pages.
Thom Yorke told TIME, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."
And the record executives realize what is going on
"This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."
follow the crowd and look for signs of trust from others (recommendations, on site comments, etc.)
care about enthusiasm and topic selection (why read a site that is not unique and/or too negative?)
Some of My Errors
One of my biggest problems from a conversion standpoint is that I often write copy that does not sell...content that speaks well to some, but not to the buying market. Many posts exhibit the following traits:
are focused on big picture ideas and broader market relationships
People want to feel the comfort and accessibility of reading a for dummies guide one page at a time while being told they are becoming gurus / experts in the process. Which creates an interesting problem for anyone trying to sell how to information. Do you aim to make it as accessible as possible? Or do you aim further along the learning cycle and write at a higher level?
Where to Aim if You Are Looking for Profit
There are more people at the bottom of the pyramid, and if you capture their attention that will likely make you considered an expert to most outsiders looking to your field. As the online experience improves hobbiests use the web much more frequently. Yahoo! and MediaVest have done research about hobbyists, calling them Passionistas:
Passionistas heavily engage with communities of like-minded consumers who use email, text messaging, and instant messaging significantly more than typical users, and are more likely to create and share user-generated content online such as photos, blog posts or videos about their passions.
Because of their intense engagement around sharing information, Passionistas are 52% more likely than typical users to recommend or influence others about brands aligning with them.
In the SEO market (and probably most business related markets) it seems passionate hobbyists new to a field are much more likely to exuberantly promote brands than those who have been in the field for a great deal of time. I am not sure how well that translates to other fields though.
My designer place the recent comments and this week top 5 sections on this site before I ever saw it. And I love it because it gives the sense that the site is dynamic, alive, and active. If you receive awards or have many feed subscribers publishing those signs of validation help improve your credibility and bring in new visitors.
Virtual Demand is Becoming Real Demand
Amazon tapped some of their top reviewers to review transcripts for a book publishing contest. How long until publishers are no longer required? You can look at the success of shows like American Idol to see how much people want to be engaged with what they consume. Also look to the stats about how often passionate hobbyists turn to the web to fulfill their wants. Deep profit margins exist in deep pools of passion.
Eventually consumers will go from hell to create the markets THEY want. The businesses with passionate communities will grow while the remaining businesses go to hell. Look for new ways to track demand and get feedback to create what people want. You don't even need a product off the start...just an audience willing to give you honest feedback.
Ad Age's A Sign of Things to Come? mentioned that the city of São Paulo banned outdoor advertising, and the movement is picking up steam elsewhere.
São Paulo made history by banning ads on billboards, neon signs and electronic panels, and now Rio de Janeiro is considering a similar measure.
Advertising on the web is not yet heavily regulated, but what happens to the value of domain names or other web assets if certain forms of internet advertising become illegal? I would expect it would increase the value of names, clean traffic streams, and things that operate similarly to public relations while squeezing the margins on less organic forms of marketing and advertising.
Webmasters currently face link rot as a major website maintenance problem. As we rely more on Google and other third parties for features such as hosting, ads, and content syndication what happens when some of the business relationships that are opening up content fall away or search engines reorganize and rebrand their offerings?
A few weeks back I made a post about the book being a dying format, and in that post I have a Google book snippet. Within a week that snippet was broken. I had a Google CPA ad integrated into one of my major websites and the ad went away, breaking 10% of a large site and making it look like spam.
Even some of the services that are not broke will likely be drastically different in a few years. Google maps is really open because they need marketshare, but after they become the clear market leader will they stay fairly open? How long until we have ads in everything?
A good webmaster service that would be exceptionally useful is something that scours websites and looks for broken stuff. Think a Xenu Link Sleuth for multimedia. Another would be how to guides on how we can enable interactivity without becoming too reliant on any third parties that break our sites.
Justin Laing recently emailed me to let me know about his SEO sitefinder tool, which uses the ODP and the Internet Archive to find DMOZ listed websites that have not been updated in a while.
Domain Tools also allows you to find expiring domains that will be up at auction soon. You can view their top picks or use the right rail filters on that page to search for DMOZ and Yahoo! Directory listed domains.
Free tools such as DropScout allow you to find expiring high PageRank domains.
You can also look at TDNam for expiring domains, and either use software to filter through those OR sort the results by bids and prices. Some of the domains with many bidders are pure play domainers, but others are old trustworthy sites in need of a good loving owner.