Improve SEO Book - the ebook format and sending updates via email have a lot of friction associated with them. Perhaps so much so that I should have realized it and changed my business model years ago. A partial list of that friction includes
shipping questions (for an ebook)
a text that takes a while to read
a format that presumes you want to read the whole thing
a text too large for most people to want to re-read the whole thing when it is updated
requests for special addendums when updates are done, which would make the whole book structure quite pointless
a text so large that it is hard to update
refund requests within 3 minutes of purchases by people who bought it with intent to steal it
people trying to sell it on eBay or on their websites
There are many ways I can add value to SEO Book and enhance value transfer to customers if I turn the purchase process into establishing a relationship. There needs to be more backend support for learning. With internet marketing getting more complex I need to make learning easier, more granular, and more interactive.
Treat SEO Book more like a business - I sorta stumbled into SEO, and honestly have not treated this site like a business like I should have. Over the years some of my mentors have given me many great tips that I was too lazy or scared to listen to at the time. After seeing one of my favorite SEO sites go offline it makes me want to treat this site more like a business so I can still focus attention on it for years to come, even while some of my other projects have grown to be more profitable.
Make my other sites more like SEO Book - I have some other sites that do pretty well without adding much value to the web. At some level I feel there is a moral obligation to start adding value to markets as you extract profits. Plus, if relevancy algorithms moved away from links and domain trust many of those domains (as they sit today) would be screwed. I want to create more product and service oriented websites and be less reliant on advertising and affiliate based income streams.
Try to get at least 2 weeks away from the web - this will be mid year sometime with my wife, in a one month European honeymoon.
Read more away from the web - I always learn a lot from reading books, and I doubt I would miss much if I cut how much time I spent reading recycled online content.
Start working out more again - after losing a bunch of weight I gained it back due to stress from doing way too much stuff. I have eased up my work load and am chipping away at it.
Spend more time with my wife - given that we both work on the web we spend lots of time near each other, but far too much time working and not enough time playing.
Set a better examplewhat competitors do I want to put a lot more effort into creating things worth copying.
Some marketers aggressively email spam people to promote their best ideas, thinking no harm could come from it. If you do not take the time to personalize emails and actually visit the sites you are emailing then you probably going to send someone like me an email, and there is a 5% chance I will blog about it. If I blog about it, I am probably not going to be talking up the product. ;)
DietsInReview.com recently launched their celebrity weight loss calculator. I was sent a bulk unpersonalized email containing the following tip
The tool is specifically un-branded so it can blend with your experience. All we ask is that you post the entire code which contains a link back to our site.
Their site has a great growth chart. They come up with great marketing ideas. They are clever with SEO. And they are too lazy to connect the pieces without untargeted email spamming. Silly. Spend $10 an hour hiring someone to send out the emails if you are too lazy to do it yourself.
If you are reactive to blog feedback (like they were here kimkinscontroversy.com/2007/09/25/kimkins-affiliate-spotlight-dietsinreviewcom/) then why not be proactive in creating meaningful relationships in the community? No point putting great ideas on churn and burn sites, and no point burning relationships with leading editorial voices in your market if you are creating a longterm site.
As Frank Luntz says "it's not what you say, it's what people hear." Politics is a game of marketing. Raise money, invest in messaging, and spread the message.
Most of the leading presidential candidates are not running AdWords ads to place a donation message on search result. Given Howard Dean's experience in raising money online, where they tested and changed page layouts based on donation data, the Democrats ought to know better.
Few candidates are buying display ads. Given this data, I am buying more display ads for SEO Book than any of the presidential candidates are.
You do not need to be a conversational marketing guru to advertise. In a couple hours I could create a campaign for any of the candidates that gets in excess of 100,000,000 monthly impressions and brings in far more than it costs. They are doing interviews on TechCrunch about technology and the web. Why don't they put their money where their mouth is?
One of the big differences between things that are successful and things that fail is simply staying around and staying active in the community. By those measurements, the regional Search Marketing Associations were all failures.
SMA-UK.org - blog last updated a little over 2 years ago
SMA-NA.org - dissolved in September of this year
SMA-EU.org - now a PPC lander page
Cooperatives are exceptionally hard to run because you have to balance business interests, egos, recruiting new members, creating member benefits, and pull time out of your schedule for the organization. And if you don't see what the other members are doing, it seems unbalanced, so you go back to working on your own projects. Even a partnership with only a couple people can be a bit of work to balance when you add in individual business interests outside the partnership and balancing work with family life.
It is exceptionally hard to create organizations that are for everyone. Many of the top marketers in the SEO space get paid more precisely because the field has a dirty reputation. I put that theory to test a few years back when I created a non-self-promotional guide to buying SEO services, registered the domain via proxy, and, in spite of having core community members mention it, watched it fall flat on its face. It seems virtually everyone who wanted to make the industry better only wanted to see improvement if their name was attached to the improvements.
In most cases if you want to create a successful trade organization or group exclusivity is much more effective strategy than appealing to everyone.
Search is so consolidated that it is uncomfortable being an SEO. If Google decides to profile you or kill your sites there is not much you can do, especially because Yahoo! and Microsoft are losing marketshare month after month. Why are Yahoo! and Microsoft losing marketshare? Their bad marketing coupled with Google's good marketing:
The toolbar has NEVER given anyone any real information. BUT, it has given the world a perception that whatever Google ranks that must be right. It has also helped to give Google millions of devout followers and millions more who are willing to give access to a lot of private data just to see a little green go a little farther to the right. BRILLIANT. So brilliant in fact I have never understood why MSN and Yahoo haven’t done their own white paper and give away a little blue bar to "prove" it works. BUT, that is why Yahoo and MSN seem to be losing market share. Not because their results aren’t as good. It is because they aren’t as good at marketing. I don’t begrudge Google for that. I admire them.
To appreciate how bad Yahoo's marketing is, consider the following:
Overture Keyword Selector - their public facing keyword tool is unreliable and does not even promote their own brand or their own network on it.
Want to sign in to Yahoo search marketing? Go to sem.smallbusiness.yahoo.com. Yup...2/3 of the companies revenues come through a subdomain of a subdomain.
Yahoo powers millions of domain landing pageviews every day, and are afraid to put their brand on it, all while Google puts their brand (and typically search box) on everything they touch.
Anyhow, this is Christmas and this is supposed to be a happy post. And I am happy, because Wikia Search just launched in Alpha, and plans to publicly launch on January 7th.
What happens when Wikipedia has a "search powered by you" box promoting an engine other than Google on every page of Wikipedia? Does Wikipedia keep ranking #1 for everything? Does this create another viable search channel for marketers? Does this competition make Google less arrogent and harsh in their webmaster relations department?
My buddy Patrick Münzinger just informed me that SearchGuild went offline - forever. SearchGuild is the forum that (along with NFFC, a few other mentors, and a few lucky breaks) took me from near bankruptcy to knowing enough about this market to be exceptionally profitable and be able to help many other people do well.
While many other forums were polluted with useless noise, syndicated spin and half truths from search engineers, self promotion (submit your site to MY directory AND buy MY services), bogus ethics claims (what is a white hat anyway?), and tactical misinformation ... SearchGuild was the one that taught me to test stuff and to gain enough confidence in myself to make my opinions matter and make my decisions profitable. Guys like Chris Ridings and Lots0 may have seemed cranky, but they were blunt and honest. They helped people just because they liked helping. The web could use more of that.
But when SearchGuild was profitable the profits were donated to charity, and even though the site's popularity has been maintained, ad revenues dropped, and so that great service no longer exists as a hobby in spite of the great value it offered. In the last 5 years my 2 favorite sites about search were Threadwatch and SearchGuild, and now they are both dead because they had bad business models. This is yet another sign to me that you really have to charge what you are worth if you create value for others, or eventually it dries up. Thanks for the 5 great years SearchGuild.
In the past many Google penalties were blatantly obvious. You either got traffic or you did not. But as time has passed penalties are getting blurrier, meaning your site can be penalized and still get traffic from Google. Some traffic reductions are due to competitive market forces, some are due to algorithm changes, some are due to automated filters, and some are due to penalties. If you are new to the market (and in some cases, even if you are experienced) it is hard to know which problems, if any, are holding back your ranking potential.
A friend just told me about how his Google traffic went way up after he spoke with a Google engineer, but he didn't want to talk about it publicly. I wonder how many other people are just like him, but don't speak about it or don't know they are penalized? And then I think back to the ban of the official AdSense blog, Brian Clark's PageRank hit, and Sugar Rae's ranking woes, and have come to the conclusion that spam fighting has become more of a shoot first and ask questions later game. They do not make a lot of mistakes, but when your site is just a number, it hurts pretty bad.
From a marketer perspective this shoot first shift is an important one which requires a few things of online publishers hoping to keep their businesses profitable:
Track your traffic using analytics tools, such that you know if/when something goes wrong, can prove it with hard stats, and can research it more specifically.
Publish at least 2 or 3 sites in different markets to give yourself additional data points on whether the issue is site specific or not.
Use public relations and viral link marketing where you once used link buys. If you are still renting links try to make them covert, and offset them with many natural links.
If possible package your offering as a service, so that you can justify charging recurring, and/or create an affiliate program. These make your income less reliant on search engines.
If you have not yet heard of Drupal, it is the open source CMS that powers this site (and many sites far more robust and popular than this one). I think I am pretty good at predicting web trends, and 2 or 3 years from now Drupal will be about as popular and well known as Wordpress and Wikipedia are today.
Drupal is more powerful than what the average blogger needs to run their site, but it has so many features and options that it can allow you to bolt many things onto your blog that you would not be able to do very easily with something like Wordpress or MovableType.
People who are well established can trade on reputation and attract strong enough clients to not need to perform tests to learn the algorithms intimately well.
Recently another well known marketer put out a video saying domain names were irrelevant to SEO. Then they got feedback from viewers who said they thought that statement was wrong. And then their reply sent to thousands of members on their list included
It's true that your domain name has no REAL effect on your SERPS.
That answer is intuitive, but it is also incorrect. The only way one would claim that as fact is if one has not done any testing recently.
It is one thing to be wrong, but it is another thing to be wrong, be called out on it, and stand by your incorrect claim. People are spending good money to read incorrect and/or outdated information. Unfortunate really, but if you are already doing well you don't need to track and test every little thing to keep doing well. Very few gurus openly sharing information have thin affiliate and newly launched test sites that back up their claims. But it is getting harder to succeed with thin affiliate sites as Google becomes creative director of content development.
Share REALLY Good Tips & Die
Most established people are too lazy or too busy to do in depth testing. And if they are doing it, they probably do not want to share it publicly. Share a hole and watch it get plugged. After a search engineer reads your blog and destroys one of your sites you mentioned, it makes it much harder to want to reveal tips and algorithmic holes with hard evidence behind them. Show your proof and watch Google burn it to the ground. Even if you know what you are doing you can't overcome a hand edit unless it was unjust AND they care enough about your site to let it rank again. You were right, but only until you opened your big mouth. :)
Much of the game of relevancy is a mind control exercise. The conversation revolves around debates including "should be" or "in an ideal world" rather than "how it is".
The Endless Sea of Tests & Noise
People newer to the field have less to risk by being aggressive, place a lower value on their time, are generally more excited about the pursuit, are more willing to try things that established people may not, and are more willing to share their results. But many of them have limited exposure, limited confidence, and/or are drowned out by an endless sea of incorrect information. With so many people saturating the SEO market it is getting harder to be the person first with the scoop. Today blogs are a lot like forums were a few years back. There is no way you could ever get any work done if you subscribed to all the SEO blogs, so it is impossible to read all the information.
Marketing, Marketing, Marketing
If you create a public facing SEO brand, so much of your time goes into brand management and marketing that it is hard to have time to launch many new sites unless you have scaled out a staff. If you have scaled out a staff, you must keep more of your secrets to yourself, because getting a site burned or losing a competitive advantage not only hurts you, but also hurts everyone who works for you. This really hit home after Google killed a site that I had a team working on.
I Was Just Looking At Your Site!
Some of the people who introduced themselves on SEO Book recently mentioned that they were in fields or owned sites that directly competed with some of my sites. If I share all my best ideas with them for free on the blog and they share almost none of their best ideas with me that gets a bit hard to compete with them on my secondary sites, especially if I am competing with them and search engineers decide to pillage my sites. ;)
More Work for Less $ = Bad Trend
The market is getting more competitive. So longer hours are required to achieve similar profits from thin sites. People who see and feel this trend are not only working extra to make up for it, but are also working extra to establish a firmer foothold for the future. 1 hour of work today may be more effective than 2 hours of work next year, or 3 hours of work the following year. But after you get that network effect behind a site the ball is rolling down hill. Gravity is on your side.
SEO as a Subset of Marketing
As it gets harder to fake it people make more legitimate sites offering more value. But as their sites become more embedded in the web doing SEO tests related to links become less and less relevant because it is harder to isolate variables. Dominating the search results becomes a game dominated by the people who are the best at spreading ideas. And so with each passing day SEO for most webmasters is more of a subset of marketing than an independent discipline.
Wikipedia ranks #1 in Google for SEO, public relations, and marketing. What would it take to displace Wikipedia from a #1 ranking if you were in a field that bloggers, designers, and web developers generally had a distaste for, hated, or misunderstood?
If only Google, Wikipedia, and a couple other sites outranked you for SEO, what would you do to push past them? Could anything short of an act of God or a hand edit move you past them?
The business models for news companies rely upon regional based monopolies that are quickly eroding.
Domain names and community activity largely supplement or replace the need for much of the generalist news or syndication based business model. I used to live in State College and talked to the guy who owned StateCollege.com. The local paper was doing worse and worse every year, and with a small aggressive staff, better technology, more interactive ads, and a great domain name beat them.
And the news that is worth money spreads fast OUTSIDE OF the pay wall. Does WSJ want the pageviews for breaking a news story, or do they want to see the TechCrunch post about the WSJ story get those pageviews?
As the web grows users are getting better at tuning out obvious ads. So ads will get more insidious, and more and more businesses will be built off a missing features and shadow brand built on the back of the goodwill from sharing and open source.
One guy got angry at me claiming that I was providing conflicting information, because he read the blogger's guide to seo and saw that I recommended using Wordpress but also recommended avoiding using Wordpress.com. I am not the one who created that shadow brand, but I do realize that is has the potential to be enormously profitable.
Pligg, an open source software program similar to Digg, recently went up for sale but did not sell. Now Pligg is has some plug ins available from the official Pligg pro store. One of them is a list of known spamming domains.
As an advertiser and a publisher I have ad CTR data spanning hundreds of millions of impressions and about a million ad clicks across a wide array of verticals. One of my early opinions on contextual ads and search ads was that people are far more likely to click ads if they are desperate, stupid, or ignorant. While I was flamed for my opinion, this opinion has only been confirmed from talking to friends who have much more data than I do, and Dave Morgan from AOL also confirmed it.
Based on what I've seen qualitatively, my hypothesis would be that heavy ad clickers are:
More representative of lower income households than the average user.
Less educated than the average user (or from less-educated environments in the case of minors).
More likely to live outside of the major metro regions.
More likely to be using [social networks] to meet new people than the average user (who is more likely to be using SNSs to maintain connections).
The problem with catering to the lowest common denominator is that the people who are clicking the ads
have less of an ability to buy premium products
are less likely to do follow on marketing for you to promote your products to other
are a small minority of your visitors
are driven away from your site when they click
each day many ignorant users learn more about the web and click less ads
the new users coming on the web replacing those who are learning about it are even poorer and less socially connected than those already on the network
In the next couple years there is going to be a major shift in online ad based business models where many publishers push themselves up the value chain. The trend for profitable publishing, is going to include the following aspects
ads with more information
ads that look more like information
ads tighter integrated into the content
having a semi-porous brand which allows your free content to do your marketing for your paid content
in many case selling ads that include personal endorsement, and ads for white label products or house products (often via subscription)
As more premium publishers shift from ad based models to selling white labeled and house products it is going to get harder to buy ads affordably on the clean parts of the web. And the trend has already started. If you look at some of the most popular investment sites you will see that many of them provide free offers for products that lead you into buying a subscription service.
Google opts to not show AdWords ads above the search results unless they deem them exceptionally relevant to the query, with the ads proving that relevancy with a high CTR. With Google's other verticals, they have a database of options which is
with fewer signs of relevancy and trust
Markets start out ugly then you try to make them more efficient as they develop. Google tries to make some of the verticals become relevant by pricing them at free and forcing exposure upon them, front and center at the top of the search results - hoping competitive market forces and market feedback will drive the new verticals toward relevancy, and a market leading position they can charge for. You rarely see Google charge for basic level usage of something if they are the #2 or #3 player in the market. First they want to buy the market leading position by giving it away, then start charging for it.
In some cases they are willing to hold these new verticals to a much lower standard than their paid ads in an attempt to win marketshare. Google tracks CTR on Google accounts and knows most of the people searching for SEO Book click on SeoBook.com, but they still show their product search ads for that query:
While some marketers paying Google for traffic can not pay enough to keep their ads live, here Google is giving away traffic. As a marketer I see this more as an opportunity than a reason to pout. How hard is it to get inside these other verticals? Probably a lot easier than you think, and many people who are just entering the PPC game will be too lazy to enter the other markets until they are proven. When you see Google rolling out other projects know the early bird gets the worm.
With about 4,000 members signed up so far I figured it would be good to have an SEO Book introductions thread. Please use this thread to introduce yourself, and give feedback on how we can make this site better for you.
I like all the traffic types coming in; in order to get that traffic on a couple of sources I have to jump through a few hoops. Big deal. So long as the requirements cost less than the expected revenue from ranking, I'll meet the requirements.
As long as something works and is within your personal ethical, financial, and risk boundaries then why not give it a try?
SHOULD I BUY LINKS? ... Most of the people who ask me that question are the people who least need to worry about the risk. The risk motivating the question being whether or not they may be penalized by google instead of the risk being about going broke.
Logic would dictate that anyone concerned about the risk of being penalized by Google, is actually worried about losing something they already have. In this case sales coming from targeted traffic generated from superior organic placements in the SERP’s. ...
But far more often than not, when I take a look at the site belonging to the askee, I see a site that looks like a third graders ransom note. ... Little traffic to speak of and certainly no sales to lose. There is VERY little visible investment in design, content or anything else. Yet they brag of the #3 spot they have for a keyword with over a million results like that is all they need for proof of their valuable contribution to the world of online commerce.
The biggest risk to most businesses is that they will never be found and never gain any traction. That is why I found the concept of debating the risk of buying links getting you in trouble 5 years from now a bit intellectually dishonest. If in 5 years you built no momentum and someone can just wipe you out that was not a very good business model.
Bob Massa's article is also a nice summary of why SEO client experiences are bad unless you have a strong brand and/or are selling to the right clients. If you are going to the effort to market thin affiliate sites you may as well keep the all revenue for yourself, and design to at least 4th grade standards!
The underlying question is, “Why are we seeking permission from Google to do webmaster things when it’s Google’s responsibility to make their search engine work according to our typical practices?”
Just because Google is the most popular SE doesn’t mean that they can now make the rules. They need to go back to coding their SE to be better than the others rather than spending so much time trying to make us code or setup sites to their specifications.
After Google bought YouTube they integrated YouTube directly into their site and their search results.
Many sites and marketers that are considered spammers by Google only use aggressive push marketing off the start to market their sites because the framework for ranking that Google set up require it. If the "spammers" were given the same head start that YouTube pages or Knol pages will get then they would not need to "spam" to rank. They would just produce the best content and watch it rise to the top of the results.
The Value of Exposure & Feedback
I recently spoke with a mentor who told me that starting about 20 years ago he lost 10 years because he was sitting around expecting everyone to figure out how brilliant he was. His tips and advice likely saved me from making that mistake on some fronts - and saved me a couple years of my life. And while he is considered a guru by many today, what more momentum would have have today if he didn't lose those 10 years? What if someone would have gave him the speech he just gave me? How much richer would he be? Would I have even been able to afford hiring him for a consult?
If I was not a push marketer a few years ago and I avoided link buying without debating the risks, would I have been able to afford that phone call that will likely save years of my life? Probably not.
Everyone starts off as a push marketer, and then moves toward pull marketing as they gain feedback and get more well known, and build a brand they do not want to risk damaging.
While claiming Google will not make any editorial judgements of quality, and Google will treat Knols like any other web pages, Google's Udi Manber had this to say:
A knol on a particular topic is meant to be the first thing someone who searches for this topic for the first time will want to read. The goal is for knols to cover all topics, from scientific concepts, to medical information, from geographical and historical, to entertainment, from product information, to how-to-fix-it instructions. Google will not serve as an editor in any way, and will not bless any content.
They desire it to be a starting point for searchers and yet they will not promote it?
Think back to the YouTube purchase. After Google bought the site, did they start blessing / featuring any YouTube content? Yes they did. Google's Uinversal Search integrated YouTube so tightly in their search results that now people add YouTube to the search query for many music searches . Don't believe me that they shifted user behavior? Try using Google Suggest for music searches and see where YouTube shows up.
Manber wrote not to worry about spam, as Google has that issue covered:
Our job in Search Quality will be to rank the knols appropriately when they appear in Google search results. We are quite experienced with ranking web pages, and we feel confident that we will be up to the challenge. We are very excited by the potential to substantially increase the dissemination of knowledge.
Sure they will filter out some of the garbage people submit, but the good stuff will rank better than it should. I am not a betting man, but if I were I would bet that Knols get ranked right at the top, next to Youtube. As John Andrews describes it:
As TrustRank (the Google version, not the Yahoo! version) takes hold as the #1 or #2 ranking factor for SEO, this Knol thing steps in and bingo… who could be more trusted than Google itself?
How can Google come late to the game, offer no pay, desire to throw their ads on it right out of the gate, and expect to win marketshare UNLESS they rank this content better than it deserves to rank on merit? Put another way, what person who gets paid to create content is going to prefer putting it on Google Knol for free UNLESS Google gives Knol preferential treatment? If you are producing content out of passion with no profit motive, why would you put it on Google instead of your own server? If you desire peer review with your name attached to it why not publish it on YourName.com?
Offline media has always been biased and aggressively consolidated, it looks like the web is going to suffer the same fate, but worse, unless you are a Google stakeholder. Or, if Google gets too aggressive with this cross integration maybe they will hurt their relevancy enough that people search elsewhere.
Wordtracker's API is much more reliable than scraping data from Overture
the Overture tool seems like it has been down more often than it has been up recently
I primarily focus on the US market and did not realize how popular the international aspects of the old keyword research tool were until I started getting a rash of email complaints after taking the tool down.
So I put the old keyword tool back up, renamed it the international keyword suggestion tool, and defaulted it to using UK values (while still allowing users to grab data from other regional markets). I also zipped it up here, so anyone can install it on their site, and set it to a different default language if they like.
Let me know if you have any questions about SEO or internet marketing stuff. I will try to reply to your comment right below it in less than a day, often within minutes, for as long as this thread is open.
Please ask do not ask for in depth site reviews or questions that would be applicable to just one website.
Update: thread closed... I have to start working on a big project. Thanks for the questions everyone.
I recently talked to the fine folks at Wordtracker about how unreliable the Yahoo! keyword suggestion was, and Wordtracker offered to work with me to power the SEO Book keyword tool using Wordtracker's robust and reliable API.
We now have a CSV export option at the top of the results. And it is pretty sweet! It lists keyword, WordTracker count, daily estimates for the big 3 engines, and broad and phrase match versions of each keyword :)
Because Wordtracker's business model relies on selling keyword data, they have a vested interest in keeping it as clean and reliable as possible, and are unlikely to pull a Yahoo
Wordtracker does not tokenize plural words into their singular versions, so you get to see volumes for both singular and plural to know which is more popular. In fact, if you search for the plural they will still return the singular
Wordtracker does not arbitrarily alter the word order like the Overture did
Wordtracker's API is much more reliable than grabbing the data from Overture was
Wordtracker's API allows you to filter out adult keywords.
Yahoo! Search Marketing offers a developer API, but given how rough their transition away from their old keyword tool was, I would much rather use a reliable market leading tool like Wordtracker. Please give it a spin and let me know what you think.
Some of my friends publish fake review sites which organize product recommendations by using the following quality measurement and rating system (affiliate payout per conversion * conversion rate). If people buy it, it must be good. ;)
I have other friends who do real in-depth reviews, but they use such poor formatting that their content looks less trustworthy and more advertisement-like than fake review websites.
Adding Signs of Trust
Smart affiliates know how to convey a sense of trust and look editorial to enhance conversion rates. Editorial rating systems, privacy policies, headings, subheadings, security symbols, pricing data, reviews, features, a clean site design, and consumer generated content increase conversion rates. Assume I am only skimming your page. Assume the little things matter.
A Well Done Affiliate Site
While I do not agree with all the reviews, I can appreciate how well done Mike's Marketing Tools is. Most of the reviews look impartial. And some of the reviews, like the Optilink review, even link out to a thin affiliate site owned by Mike that passes as the official site after Google banned the official site!
A Poorly Done Official Site
Take a look at how spammy and thin affiliate AnnualCreditReport.com looks. It is the official site (required by law) but it looks like crap because Experian does not get paid if you use it. In fact, it even kicks you over to the Experian site before seeing results, requires you fill out identity verification surveys, and tries to upsell you on a paid reporting service before showing you your free report.
Compare its drab look and nasty conversion process to the look of FreeCreditReport.com. Which one looks more trustworthy? Yup, its the one that is charging your credit card recurring for something that is "free".
Does Your Site Look Legit?
Thin slicing information credibility is often about evaluating appearance. Unfortunately many of the people creating real content don't put as much effort into formatting and marketing as the people creating fake content do.
I can plumb around Google blocking it, but there are a limited number of types of webmaster tools that interface with search engines that can be provided to the general public without either being cloned by the search engine or having the search engine serve you some type of retribution for creating them.
Editorial judgements are rarely equitable, and nobody wants to have sitelinks, but have them appear at the top of the 5th page of the search results for their own brand.
New Media is a Key to Growth (ish)
I have never created a Facebook application and have no intent in doing so, because if I am successful they would likely steal my idea and find a way to ban or silence me and/or halt and clone my project. Which is sorta what Kevin Rose did to a Digg member who created an unofficial Digg group on Facebook.
The Transition From Open to Close
Sure that Google maps API is open today, and so are many other data sources, but after they buy enough marketshare look for that to change. The big networks are only open in markets they are losing. What did they do to their SOAP search API after they had enough market leverage? They killed it.
Relying on APIs or scraping data from someone else's platform only has value if you can aggregate it from many sources, do it in a way that is hard to block, add substantial value, have alternative data sources, and you are creating something that you know the data sources you are relying on will not clone for a strategic reason.
Wanted: Writer, Editor, & Marketer...Pay: $0
All these networks pretend that they care about you, but they are vultures. Their data is their data. Their ideas are their ideas....and so are your ideas, unfortunately. If you find yourself becoming someone else's user generated content, or your business can be described as a feature on someone else's product, you are wasting your time.
DN Journal wrote a cover story about Frank Schilling, which is quite motivating to me, especially after meeting Frank in person and getting rum cakes from him today. About 5 years ago Frank got into domaining as a common man, and now his portfolio is worth deep into 9 figures. In the interview Frank said:
Everything on the Internet begins with a name and there are very few people who understand how domain names work or their importance to commerce, branding etc. Even folks who think they understand branding, don’t get the power or importance and versatility of names - they too miss the boat. This is the ultimate niche during the ultimate window in time and it will be for decades.
Most domainers thought Frank was late to the market and now he is the #1 domain investor in the world. And in spite of all the stories of domain success, there are still many steals on the market today. A few months ago I bought a name for $2,500, and since then the same name in a worse extension sold at auction for well over 10x the price I paid.
A few weeks AFTER Scores.com sold for $1,180,000 I bought Scores.org from the BuyDomains marketplace for $2,300. I don't have a site there yet, but I have a logo and an idea for a site I eventually want to build, if time permits.
I have been on a bit of a domain name binge this year. As I learn more about content and branding and managing people, today's $1,000 or $10,000 domain name is going to look cheap looking back at it 5 years down the road. My story won't be as good as Frank's story, but given how motivated my wife and I are, I think we will do well. A few years ago SeoBook.com was an $8 domain, with a default Movable Type template. Once I could afford spending $99 I bought a logo and color matched the CSS to it. The site has since got enough exposure that I met and married the most wonderful woman in the world through it. And it all started with a domain name. :)
If you are an SEO and you grasp a bit of what made Frank do well AND know how to make a site part of the organic web, you don't need to pay .com prices to compete. A .org or .net can work just fine if you have the content quality needed to be remarkable and citation worthy. And you can get a big big name in those extensions for $5,000 or $10,000. Sometimes you can get it for $8!
At Pubcon Las Vegas keynote speaker Richard Rosenblath said that content does your marketing, and content is essentially the next building block on the web as search continues to dominate the web. From the Bruce Clay blog:
The old model is owning a generic domain name (pets.com). The new is that the search engines don't care where you are. Get a one or two word domain on a nontraditional domain. Target the wide body and the long tail.
Market's are not fair, but they do not need to be if you have great timing. When you look at some of the content sites that are out there in many verticals the competition bar is still quite low. Wikipedia does not dominate because it is great, it dominates because most content is junk. HowStuffWorks is not a great site, but it sold for $250 million dollars. And if you look at the top ranking sites that talk about the deal, most of those pages are not exceptionally compelling either.
I feel lucky to be able to write this post in anticipation of the years to come. You and I are lucky enough to be at a place in time where we can write our own luck! Cheers to the future, and thank you for reading. :)
ShoeMoney highlights how marketing for some mobile packages are even scammier than ringtones. Imagine how dirty the web is going to be in a couple years. Matt talks up Google, but will a central body like Google even be able to to draw the line between optimization and spamming? Especially when much of the "spam" is the source of much of their revenue?
Joost created an SEO link analysis extension for Firefox that shows link anchor text and PageRank on Yahoo! Site Explorer, Google Webmaster Central, and Microsoft's webmaster portal. I also updated SEO for Firefox to fix a Yahoo! Search error, but to get it to update you have to uninstall and reinstall it because I did not update the versioning data and my programmer is a bit backed up at the moment.
Enquiro performed research sponsored by Google which aimed to determine if search marketing could cause a brand lift.
The research stated that buying the top ad position provides better brand recall, better brand association, and improved purchase intent for both branded and unbranded queries. This is true even if you already own the top organic ranking site. They also recommend writing ads for people who are new to your brand and have yet to establish an affinity for it.
When I first started in the "success education business," one of the few people in the country who was consistently effective at selling self-improvement audiocassette programs direct, face-to-face to executives and salespeople, gave me what turned out to be very, very good advice - he said: "Don't waste your time trying to sell these materials to the people who need it the most. They won't buy it. You should focus on selling to successful people who want to get even better."
Over the years, I've demonstrated the validity of this to myself a number of different ways. And I've developed an explanation for it. There is what I now call "the self-esteem Catch-22 loop" at work here: in order for a person to invest directly in himself, which is what buying self-improvement materials is, he has to place value on himself, i.e. have high self-esteem, but if he has such high self-esteem, he is probably already doing well and does not have a critical need for this type of information; he will get marginal improvement out of it; but the person who needs it most does not place much value on himself, i.e. has relatively low self-esteem, which prohibits him from buying, believing in or using self-improvement materials.
To some SEO forum members who spend 10 hours a day on free forums polluted with spam offers, EVERYTHING is overpriced (outside of a listing in THEIR directory). But is their opinion relevant?
Anyone selling "how to" advice, consulting services, or productivity tools is selling self help information. Price yourself too low and enter a market for lemons, enjoying fraud daily, selling to people who fear investing in themselves, while scaring away worthwhile prospects with a negative attitude and/or prices that eat away at your credibility.
Meanwhile, people who know less and sell a lower quality product may price themselves higher on the value chain and attract the right kinds of customers. Is it fair? Nothing is, and so you must increase your prices as your knowledge improves and your market grows. Anytime you can have half as many customers and still make the same income you are heading in the right direction.
If you are going to sell cheap then just give that idea / product / information away free and then look for a way to bolt on a higher value product or service. Price yourself at a fair value to get the right customers, build the profit margins to reinvest into building a higher value product or service, and help the people who are already successful become more successful.
In the past any large company could use subdomains as an effective reputation management strategy. As eBay and others have aggressively used subdomains to dominate branded AND unbranded search results, and Google has improved their sitelinks technology, any relevancy gain by treating subdomains as a separate site has gone away. Google is going to start treating subdomains like subfolders, and limit the number of results from any site to two.
There is still an upside to using subdomains because they allow you to feature standout content, but that upside relates to how marketable the content on that subdomain is, whereas in the past using lots of subdomains allowed eBay to get 20 of the top 30 listings for some queries, even if the subdomain was recycled garbage.
This move adds value to regionalizing sites and creating niche brands (like MobileCrunch), since currently I believe ebay.ca and ebay.com will be seen as two separate sites. If sites are too aggressive with regionalization or creating niche brands and start double dipping that way then Google might eventually look to devalue that move as well, although that will be more of a challenge because it would create a lot of collateral damage.
While on the link buying panel at WebmasterWorld's Pubcon a few people were pushing that you might need to consider how Google will view your current link buys 5 years down the road, and that they may hurt you then for what you do now. Upon hearing that I said something like "less than 5 years ago I bought spammy links and if I did not I probably wouldn't be speaking here right now". That got a cheer from the crowd. Who wants to be worried about what Google thinks or does 5 years from now? That is no way to innovate or take marketshare from current market leaders.
Reviewing Result Quality
When engineers view your site they don't just look at "if you have a few spammy links" but they try to consider the quality of user experience and the ratio of clean links to dirty links. If your site is good and ranks for years then you are going to get many natural links that dwarf any spammy links that were part of your site launch.
Building a Real Business
If your business model is entirely reliant on Google 5 years from now, your user experience is sub-par, and you haven't built up any brand equity after ranking for 5 years then there was not much effort put into building a legitimate business, and it deserves to fail. But the sites that rank get self reinforcing exposure. If SEO is part of your brand building and site building strategy you simply can not sit around waiting for the rankings to come in.
Inferior Sites Ranking #1
It is easy to lack objectivity when talking of the quality of your site, but in some fields I compete in, many of the top ranked competing sites are ran by people buying a slew of spammy links and pointing them at their (quite obviously) English second language sites. Because they rank, those sites get some number of self reinforcing links. If I did nothing but create great content they would still outrank my site. You have to buy marketshare in one way or another (public relations, AdWords, link buying) if you are trying to gain marketshare and your market is competitive.
Who Buys Links & Uses Push Marketing to Buy Marketshare?
That does not mean that I am an advocate of bad user experience or poor quality content, but if you care about SEO and have a new site in an old market, user experience and content quality are not enough unless you do some push marketing at launch.
AOL sent out millions of spammy CDs to market their service.
IAC buys a ton of links and aggressively cross links their sites.
Microsoft has got in trouble for launching new products by bundling them with their old products and steals traffic by sending seobook.om traffic to their live search product.
Monster.com owns a ton of thin lead generation sites.
eBay pays affiliates to spam Google.
One of Google's large ad distribution partners tried setting up a deal with me to rank their ads in Google's search results using aggressive black hat spammy techniques, in which I declined to participate in.
We Don't Write the Algorithms (or Hand Edit Search Results)
As an SEO you simply give the engines what they want. Looking at what they rank and how they market their sites gives you better insights for how to rank than blindly trusting the tips they give you to prevent you from ranking and suggesting you buy their ads. All of the web portals you know and love use push marketing to build their businesses. Why shouldn't you?
I was just going to comment on this issue on Matt's blog, since he went on a rant about paid posts being bad for personal brain surgery research. Really.
The irony is that most/all of the articles that he would prefer to see on the Google SERPS are researched, assembled and ghost written by pharma companies. Having worked with a number of clients in the medical field it's become more and more apparent that the "studies" published by well-known academics are most often based on research by the drug companies, scripted by a hired copywriter and given to the academic to sign off and publish under their byline.
This begs the question: what's more harmful, the illiterate drivel of a $10 Pay Per Poster or a biased supposed medical study published by a respected researcher? Obviously Google can't control what papers are published, but they shouldn't be pretending that restricting competing paid advertising practises is about returning better content.
The Copy & Paste Culture
As a joke, years ago I created a rather offensive seedy website (with low quality information on porn, drugs, and gambling), and a professor diametrically opposed to my worldviews sourced that site as a credible source. If he was that intellectually lazy with his own professor profile page, how much intellectual laziness goes into the average web page?
More and more, initiatives to maintain journalistic quality standards complain that also journalistic stories are increasingly the result of a mere "googlisation of reality". One drastic example is described by the German journalist Jochen Wegner [Wegner 2005]: A colleague of him did a longer report on a small village in the north of Germany. He reported about a good restaurant with traditional cooking, a region-typical choir doing a rehearsal in the village church and about a friendly farmer selling fresh agricultural products. If you type the name of the small village into Google, the first three hits are the web sites of the restaurant, the farmer and the choir. And if you compare the complete story of the journalist with the texts on the web sites found by Google, you will see: As a journalist of the 21st century, you don't have to be at a place to write a "personal" story about it. Google can do this for you.
The types of publishing that will dominate the web are
those selling content as service: the value add of service will allow them to develop relationships with readers which help them market their content while still being able to provide honest value and compete in competitive marketplaces
those giving away content to push commercial services: if you can gain enough attention, respect, and credibility you can charge well for your work. You can even sell what others give away, see the above category.
those creating content from passion: they don't need to be profitable if they are doing it for fun or because they are passionate
those with extreme bias: a biased article is remarkable and more citation-worthy than a vanilla article
public relations spin: essentially Pay Per Post, also without disclosure
those creating thin content: consumer generated content, repackaged ideas as link list linkbaits, and/or copy and paste of one of the above groups
profitable advertisements: with automated integration or editorial selection causing these to have exposure in the above content types even if they are not well ranked in the organic parts of the web. The ease of tracking these ad results will effectively warp many of the above categories of information.
Biased content is easier to reference, syndicate, and subscribe to than more balanced content because we are more aligned to communications messages that match our worldview. And much of the passion driven content is tied to a strong bias (like hate sites). Which means that search engines can try to display a diverse set of search results, but as time passes they will reflect more biased groups of opinions and far fewer balanced articles.
Your Feedback Needed
Maybe it has always been this way though? Do any reporters read this blog? I would love your comments on concepts similar to result diversity in offline publishing, especially contrasting it before and after the web.
I wonder if my roll as an SEO makes me interested in such issues? Do other SEOs (perhaps you) find macroeconomic and publishing trends interesting? What other topics do you find yourself losing hours to every week?
Many of my projects have went far slower than they should have, largely because I have been far too busy, but also because I have let fear, laziness, and routine guide me toward accepting the needed excuses to wait until tomorrow. Once you get beyond self sustaining it is easy to sit comfortable and make up fake work just to keep yourself busy.
One of my favorite parts about being somewhat well known online is that I get to talk to others that are well known and far more successful than I am, and hear what they think in a way that is unfiltered by the need for professionalism or public relations. Tips, strategies, ideas, motivations, and human flaws unmasked - stuff you just wouldn't read on a blog - because if you did they would lose money for sharing. Unfiltered conversations where people are human and real to a level that inspires me to do better things and curb the fears that hold me back. In the end it makes you more confident because you know you can help others out, they can help you out, and everyone has some amount of fear guiding them toward action or inaction.
At the end of the day, Google and other market participants are not our biggest competitors, we are. Having said that, I might take a break from blogging for a week or two and slow down blogging for the rest of the year so I can start digging in on doing some of those big projects that have been lingering about.
[Update: A friend of mine recommended I read Dan Kennedy's The Ultimate Success Secret, which states that control = responsibility and responsibility = control. If this post resonates with you this book is well worth a read.]
All mankind is of one author, and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. . . .
If a person was to only read Brian's blog then read my post it might appear that I copied his story. Or that maybe a couple stories were published because of the other. We both read each other's blogs regularly, and in some cases ideas feed off each other, but in the above example I think the delay on the posting to ProBlogger and the timing shows that beyond the ability to recycle ideas sometimes people are just thinking about the same things at the same time. And it makes sense that people in similar markets would do that.
Some of the best writers focus on their own problems, struggles, and issues associated with their learning, background, or history. Many of the best ideas stem from personal experience, customer questions, and/or other market feedback. Thus some great ideas are obvious to any marketer who is creative and has a few months of experience.
There are only so many topics that are interesting enough to write about. Well maybe the sea of stories is endless, but within the confines of any market some ideas are recycled once a year while others enjoy a fresh view every few months. When I wrote linkbait is the new reciprocal links page I was quickly reminded that someone else used that exact same title in the past. The sad thing is that I know I have accidentally done the same thing before without knowing it until after the fact.
In every market worth being in there are so many people competing for attention that you are bound to accidentally recycle stuff. And if you have any reach people will recycle your stuff or create additional ideas inspired by your stuff. The sooner you share your best ideas the more likely you are to be attributed as source and the less likely you are to be viewed as a copycat.
The Blogger's Guide to SEO was an idea kicking in my head for six months before we finally did it. And the motivation to do it stemmed from a panel at the Blog World Expo with Andy Beal, Vanessa Fox, and Stephan Spencer. After I published it, Andy linked to it and said it was something he was thinking about doing. If he had done it first he would have got thousands of links and I would have been busy eating crow, or meowing - as a copy cat does. :)
Many people are thinking similarly to you right now. The longer you wait to release your idea to the wild the more likely it is that someone else already did something similar.