Because social media is new it is easy to hype, marketers do. While I too have hyped the interactive nature of blogs and the web, I find that connecting directly with the end targets and their interests is typically more predictable and more profitable than running strategies through sites like Digg. With that thought in mind, I asked if social media traffic is worth a cent.
Google slightly missed their Q4 whisper numbers, by a wider margin than some appreciate, due to gains associated with weak US dollar value. Paul Kedrosky stated that Google's quarter over quarter gain due to exchange rates was $93 million, and year over year was $200 million.
Why were Google revenues soft? Perhaps analysts were expecting too much. Perhaps the pending recession. Who knows, but the one thing that Google did state as a big weakness was social networking inventory. On the call George Reyes, CFO of Google, said
We have found that social network inventory is not monetizing as well as expected.
Social media has little to no value to advertisers. There is little to no implied intent. It is the exact opposite of focused marketing like search marketing, direct navigation domain names, and targeted affiliate sites. You simply can't put a value on a social media connection like you can on search.
Typically each day or each week some roughly average number of people search for a specific keyword phrase or group of phrases. Some seasonal terms may have well known seasonal spikes, but typically when spikes occur because of news the quality and value of the associated search goes down. Sure more people are searching, but the people who are searching because something is in vogue have less implied intent than those who searched out a specific product even when it is not in the news.
With the Federal Reserve announcing 2 large rate cuts in a week, that topic carried over into the mainstream news, which drove a lot of search volume for related queries
At the same time, the 4x spike in search traffic drives home how anomalous last week was, and how much pressure people are demonstrably feeling. And it also reinforces that rising rates in mortgage markets, despite the Fed cuts, aren't doing anything to relieve the mortgage pressure out there.
There are many ways to arbitrage these opportunities. Off the top of my head...
if your site sells ads at a high CPM and you have an excuse for inflating traffic stats, sending StumbleUpon traffic to your site can easily pay for itself
if ad budgets dry up you can become a more aggressive ad buyer
if you are in Google news or other trusted editorial positions you can get a lot of mindshare through covering the topic and being featured due to Google's promotion of universal search
There is also a hidden cost to testing or tweaking your monetization strategy during rapid changes in search volume. Unless you split test you don't know if the results are positive or negative because both lead volume and lead quality have changed drastically.
Duncan J Watts recently published a study debunking the role of influencers in synthetic virtual worlds, then debunking them again by showing how ads spread through the online world. I think the problems with the thesis are
machines do not have emotions
most of the people spreading the ideas in his studies did not have a large potential gain as a potential outcome of sharing the idea
we live in a time of such an abundance of information that information / knowledge workers need to trust filters
some filters have publicly available stats showing 10,000's of people trust and follow them
the easiest way to target influencers is not through ads, but through content which gets exposure in some of those trusted filters...if your idea starts in an ad box you already tuned out many influencers
The Fast Company article covering the research goes on to state the following
As Watts points out, viral thinkers analyze trends after they've broken out. "They start with an existing trend, like Hush Puppies, and they go backward until they've identified the people who did it first, and then they go, 'Okay, these are the Influentials!'" But who's to say those aren't just Watts's accidental Influentials, random smokers who walked, unwittingly, into a dry forest?
In some cases that might be true, but online you can learn communities and individuals well enough to create content targeted around their needs / wants / passions / biases / identities. You can predict the viability future ideas with some degree of accuracy. And there is so much data to study that virtually anyone can pick up the patterns and start spreading ideas within a few months.
I have changed a few words in a blog post to change the angle of it to target certain individuals. My success rate with getting a mention from the specific personality or person I was targeting is much too high to be an anomaly. Not only have I taken past ideas from other markets and applied it to my market, but I have taken some fundamental social and psychological principals and value related ideas, applied them to markets I know almost nothing about (and have no influence in), and still over half of those linkbait ideas go viral.
And once you give an idea exposure on a leading channel or two (not as an ad but as editorial) you display social proof of value and start the cumulative advantage process.
I am not trying to toot my own horn. Just trying to write from experience rather than theory. Some people, like Andy Hagans, are way better at launching linkbait than I am. The reason that linkbait is so powerful is that it can be so targeted, and it targets the foundation of the web's value system, which typically does not look like an ad - the link.
ensuring everyone creating or managing content has at least a base level knowledge of SEO and keyword strategy
setting up general templates that are useful and optimized
clearing away technological issues and limitations
smart structuring of information architecture and internal linking strategies (alternate paths for bots, and blocking lots of duplicate content issues, and sometimes even creating automated internal linking strategies)
charging a high enough rate that the clients will take you seriously
presenting your recommendations in a professional looking document and following up with any questions they have about implementation
Corporate SEO is largely about trimming away the fats and fully leveraging the assets you already have.
Ranking Affiliate Sites
Rather than focusing on cleaning out fats, independent affiliate webmastering is more focused on building value and getting the most value out of everything you can. An affiliate has to focus on...
finding under-served markets (and hiding them under a rock to everyone except prospects in the buying cycle, unless you aim to be the most authoritative webmaster in that space)
making sure your site looks as credible as you possibly can (get a good site design, a good domain name, and publicise your publicity)
setting up a site structure that is well aligned with your keyword pyramid
creating a wide array of keyword pages focused on brand related queries (that are thus late in the buying cycle)
creating comparison and contrast pages that answer common questions and authoritatively guide people to a high paying solution to their problem :)
getting on page SEO as good as you possibly can for each important page
changing your site structure based on analytics data and conversion data
creating a second page or a second site for some of your top performers that have limited competition
keeping your network hidden from Google engineers
adding some high value content to your site such that Google engineers hopefully will not want to kill your site
writing sales copy that often does not appear as sales copy, tweaking landing pages for conversion, while testing conversion rates over and over and over again
scheming for links to build site authority...often creating content built around linking opportunities
mercenary promotion (del.icio.us bookmark begging and link begging to friends, emails to related bloggers, getting to know everyone in your field, writing guest articles for authoritative websites, link buying, link renting, joining non-profits and trade groups, other promotional ideas, etc.)
making your affiliate site something that some people care about and follow
Which is Better?
I think of the two options, that the affiliate model pays better for most people who really get the web, but you have to be good at a lot of disciplines to make it pay (and it can pay quite poorly unless you are creative or a fast learner). Ranking a few spots higher or improving landing pages can triple your income as an affiliate. Doing both can increase your income 10 fold.
When markets are healthy and growing that growth can hide major issues, but when the markets swing toward a loss the winners are separated from the losers. As the markets consolidate and the thin arbitrage opportunities fall away the market leaders own a much bigger piece of the market.
The above chart could just as easily be a finance chart comparing Google's 5 year performance to Yahoo's, or any other industry undergoing heavy consolidation. Google's brand is search. Yahoo's brand is ???
Many people view you how you view yourself and label you with the labels you attach to yourself. Something to consider when creating a new business in a saturated field.
If you are not considered the #1 site in your class / vertical then you need to change your brand, find ways to add value (like editorial content, unique data formats, syndication, or open APIs), build an organic advantage (using a strong domain name, a great site design, and through public relations) or do something else to change the rules.
Some people are saying that Google #6 issue was just a glitch and not a penalty or a filter. And sure, according to Google's current classification, that change was a glitch.
But lots of glitches have commonalities amongst the sites that were hit. Like many of the sites that got hit by that #6 profile were in some ways stale. And perhaps stale was just a symptom of dated SEO strategy.
You can learn from glitches, because many times glitches show you where and how Google is trying to shape the web. Glitches are side effects of algorithms with a targeted intent, but with too many unintended consequences and/or casualties.
Look back a couple years, and at one point in time SEO Book was not ranking for SEO Book while Paypal was not ranking for Paypal. Add on a bit more market feedback from other sites that were hit and it seemed sites were getting filtered out for having their anchor text too well aligned. That glitch was fixed in a few days to a month (depending on how far over the line your site was and how important your brand was) but the underlying idea of whacking sites for having anchor text that was too focused was indeed a direction the algorithms moved.
Look back a few years more to the Florida update. Some people called pieces of it a glitch or thought that the whole thing needed to be undone. Sometimes lowering the keyword proximity of a page title that was not in the search results brought it back to ranking. And yes the update was too aggressive and they had to back off of it. But filtering out unnatural copy was indeed a direction the algorithm moved.
Glitches reveal engineer intent. And they do it early enough that you have time to change your strategy before your site is permanently filtered or banned. When you get to Google's size, market share, and have that much data, glitches usually mean something.
VideoEgg announced $1.5 million in ad revenues over 5 months, which is not much when you consider that they have over 150 top widgets. You can use targeted widgets and gadgets to push things that are already valuable, successful, unique, or interesting outside of the social networks, but traditional advertising is no good.
Rarely will you see the relevancy line up this well unless the gadget was created custom to match the item being advertised. But gadgets need to be extensions of brands, I don't think they can become destinations themselves. And if they do, the network can always change their policies or clone them.
It is harsh doing business on someone else's network. eBay, which has raised rates in the past, but never did much cleanup in over a decade, just announced their first quality score.
And if your offering is just basic data or something that is easy to replicate that is a zero sum game with those profits heading to Google, other market makers, or scammers arbitraging holes in the marketplace:
Data has this really weird quality. In economic terms data has an increasing marginal utility. Anyone who took Econ 101 knows that most physical objects have a decreasing marginal utility. When it is raining my first umbrella keeps me dry, a second may be handy if the first blows out, but a third is unlikely to be used. This is true of shirts, steaks, houses, of almost anything you can think of except data.
Data has the opposite characteristic. Each incremental point of data adds value to the ones you all ready have. It is easy to see this in the context of an advertising network. If the ad network knows that a user is female it can show more relevant ads. But, If the ad network knows that female’s age, it can do even better, and data about location, household income, and recent web sites visited all add value to the existing data points, making it possible to show more and more relevant ads.
Look at how Google expanded their local listings. How long until they own that category? By the time other aggregators want to opt out all of the data (and value) will have already been transferred to Google.
With all the value going to the aggregators who should sue who? Will that grow a broken business model?
The solution to market dilution is information pollution. Oops, wrong quote. What I meant to say was what Brian said here:
The replication process is quite intense and getting faster, which is why we need to focus on building trademark businesses (based on brand) instead of businesses dependent on copyright law.
John Donahoe will set out a plan to reward the company's best sellers with sales incentives and priority ranking in search results for auction items.
"Sellers that describe items accurately, ship on time, and ship at a fair price will enjoy preferential pricing and discounts on eBay," [John] Donahoe said in prepared remarks. "We're serious about making eBay easier and safer to shop."
On February 20 the changes will start taking place. Depending on how serious eBay is about this change, many eBay based businesses may die. But they also plan on lowering initial listing fees and trying to get more commission when items sell, which could lead to more junk listings as the opportunity cost is lower. If you are one of a few legit sellers in a market saturated with scams perhaps this helps increase margins, but eBay will have a hard time bring back buyers who got scammed in the past or sellers who were sick of years of rate increases.
It is remarkable that eBay has been around over a decade and are just finally getting around to making these kinds of changes. If they didn't have a near monopoly there is no way they could have waited this long.
I understand why some people sell on eBay, but for anyone who has been doing it for a long time I wonder why they don't create a site and sell direct. Being stuck in someone else's network where quality scores can make you irrelevant is a risky way to make a living.
I am going to go on record offering you this powerful life-changing advice that will be the most valuable information you ever consumed. Sound familiar?
If you pay attention to spam you can view the trends and see where it is going before it even goes there. One of the big trends that is rarely talked about is how hard spammers hunt hard to find credible sounding words. In spite of being on the do not call list, every day I get a call from the message center, the card center, the consumer center, or the national consumer protection foundation, etc.
If at the core the business model was created to annoy people and steal from them then the people behind these outfits are going to be results oriented, using whatever techniques they find profitable (auto-dialers, powerful words, fake partnerships with trusted bodies, etc), until they burn away the profit margins.
Some words (and even formats) get so polluted that the perception of value goes down. Free killer ebook to change your world forever...chuck full of affiliate links for products not worth buying. Ebooks take more effort to create than web pages do, and so they were once somewhat trusted, but over time have been associated with spam because the format has been abused. Online video is fairly new, but it is already being heavily abused.
Trusted names and charities partner with businesses to extend out the public relations campaigns of the businesses. As featured in loses its value when anyone can go write a column. Consumer generated content is bolted onto mainstream media sites, but how much of it is as good as leading independent channels? The people who really have something to say probably already run their own websites, and the primary intent of most people participating on media sites is going to be nefarious in nature. Speaking of that, I just got a good idea. :)
On the flip side, some words become valuable because other people significantly invest to create the value behind those words. The value is greatest if you are sitting on the exact .com name that becomes popular, but even if people are propping up words in unrelated markets they still can drive up the value of domains with that word in them. These community sites also drive up the value of short domain names that can support a community of their own.
Lots of people are solving common problems and giving publishers a wide array of choices that keep driving costs down. Just about everything is getting cheaper and easier - except marketing. Audiences fragment, people ignore advertising, and everyone is so busy that they have no time for you.
Public relations and search marketing are the new advertising because unlike most ads they are not ignored. They are seen as editorial content even if it is bought and sold on a per article basis or per ranking basis. And so you have smart business deals where you slap Lance Armstrong's name on a bunch of user generated content. Generate the PR buzz and watch the ad dollars roll in:
The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which spends about $40 million a year on health programs and cancer research, is teaming up with Web-site operator Demand Media Inc. to launch a health-and-wellness Web site funded by advertising. The site, called "livestrong.com," is expected to go live this year.
How does the Google view of spam and editing out non-editorial link buys stand up in a world where companies like Demand Media recycle the web and cross link it all, while companies like Pay Per Clip offer:
WEB MEDIA placements can range from $450 for a brief appearance in an online article, to $2,750 for a full feature, including a link to your web site, in a top tier web publication.
Google needs to realize that public relations, promotions, and advertising are a normal part of the business process. After all, ads only account for 99% of their revenue. But Google engineers can dictate arbitrary mandates based on a broken understanding of the business world because Google's founders thought big.
Value your time properly and think big. You can not invest too much in learning, clean organic looking marketing (like domain names, site design, and public relations), or brand building.
Would this be considered a paid link? Where is the line drawn?
Nice business model too. Are those arrows pointing at the ads legit? How about the request to support our sponsors?
Get a few hundred million in VC funding, buy some old domains. Fill the domain with user generated content. Place a thin layer of link schemes and please click ads on the top. Web 3.0...Wow. Exciting times.
The SearchGuild domain auction at Sedo just ended. $8,655 for a known brand, an old trusted site with references from sites like Wired.com, and 28,000+ inbound links. Even without getting the content that is still cheap. Some of my leading affiliates make that per year just from recommending my book, let alone all their other affiliate income from recommending other products and services.
If you had to try to build those same links Search Guild has in today's market they could cost $100,000 and/or a couple years to build. Even after the site changes ownership, most of the inbound links will stick too. In fact, if you move a domain to a new URL and ask people to redirect the links, over 90% of them will not.
Just like a strong domain name offers defensible traffic, so do those old links pointing at an old trusted site. If I had not already bought, ran, and closed Threadwatch, I might have considered buying SearchGuild, but I already have too many SEO sites to spend another $8,000 on a domain name that I would then have to develop. I hope they do something cool with it.
Mr. Murdoch made his latest comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answering a question. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of The Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, he said. "The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."
The Wall Street Journal has enough trust, connections, and signifigance to keep charging for their best stuff.
When the Google #6 filter rolled out I did not notice it until after I read about it from the WebmasterWorld thread about it. But after I saw the thread I thought of my site that recently lost a couple positions. Then I searched for related low traffic queries where the site typically ranked #1 for, and it was still ranked #6 for virtually everything. Here is a ranking chart for the site going back a few years
And here are the rank numbers for the core keyword. While a site dipping 1 or 2 ranks for a short period of time is not uncommon, for many of the longer tail keywords that the site traditionally ranked #1 or #2 for it also went to position 6 (not 5 or 7, but 6) while the site was experiencing the #6 filter.
I'm sure there could be blackmailers out there. We absolutely know that every single day, people try to game our system. Users are involved in illegal or inappropriate activities all the time. They try to set up fake accounts to promote a story. The thing is, we make changes to our algorithm on a regular basis. We plan for that.
Notice how he put illegal and inappropriate right next to each other, as to equate them. This comes from the same company that published this:
We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
Why is the Yahoo! Directory Considered a Legitimate Link Buy?
In addition to what Jim said, I also believe the following play a role:
They predate Google.
Google needs some sort of baseline.
The directory business model is horrifically inefficient and poses no risk to Google's market dominence. (Yahoo! demoted it in favor of Yahoo! Answers. Even the Google Directory, a DMOZ clone, has a higher PageRank than the Yahoo! Directory does.)
Few other sites are comparable to the Yahoo! Directory (especially after the Google directory purge of 2007), so it is not a technique that can't be easily and profitably be replicated like paying for reviews.
The entire Business.com directory of over 65,000 categories is managed by 6 editors (source). How could they possibly review stuff as well as you or I do? They can't. But if we all do our business in a direct to direct exchange fashion the central networks and search engines do not get a cut of the action.
Why Google is Different than Digg
Unlike Digg users looking to waste time, searchers have real targeted intent and real value. In response to Michael Gray's post Danny Sullivan said:
But if he wants to stand up to Google, take the lead and block him from crawling his site -- and encourage others to do the same. ... No one has a right to Google traffic. Follow the rules, as stupid as they are, if you want it. If don't like the rules, sure, complain about them -- but don't argue they're robbing you of anything that is supposedly "yours."
They change the guidelines on an as needed basis (use nofollow or else), apply them unevenly (why is TLA penalized when TextLinkBrokers still ranks?), and if they don't like you they can penalize other businesses associated with you.
Recently Google has been more than fair to me, but if they want to use the language they are using to try to control others, they need to clean up their ad network. Just because an ad has a high CPC and gets a high CTR does not mean that it is not immoral or illegal. Plenty of people commit crime.
A couple hours ago the sessions table for Drupal needed repaired or emptied because it was not allowing SEO Book users to login. I just emptied it, so you need to login again to comment, but it should work well again. Sorry about that.
This video is about more than just generating keywords for AdSense sites, it is about finding the most valuable keywords for any business. But most the people searching for top paying keyword lists are looking for AdSense keyword lists. I wanted to welcome those searchers to this site by making it easy for them to find this post when they search for related keywords on Google (hence the use of AdSense in the page title).
As mentioned on SearchEngineLand, the Google Local onebox may now include up to 10 links in it. The increase from 3 to 10 results was allegedly due to usability testing, but them using text smaller than the rest of the text on the search results doesn't really conform to good usability standards either.
Start your search on Google
Clickthrough to a Google map
Clickthrough to the top review site there - still get Google maps
While Google is playing catch up maps will remain open and free. Google Video lost to YouTube because of the viral nature of YouTube. And that cost Google $1.65 billion. Google will not make the same mistake with maps and local.
Most local plays are not viral, and those which have developer platforms limit usage. In a few years Yahoo! will be wishing they begged people to spread that data far and wide to build a leadership position in the market, which is what Google will do via syndication.
If Google can drive a lot of traffic to their local listings and start encouraging user reviews that gives them another way to keep users on the Google network and monetize the search results.
When you evaluate the actual opportunity cost of business opportunities, most client relationships, equity stake deals, and other partnership opportunities fall short of what you could do on your own. The only ways it works out is if their is a symbiotic relationship through different approaches that balance out each other's shortcomings, or if you can learn something from working with them.
Problems With Many Opportunities
Unwilling Clients: Many clients are unwilling to change their sites to add unique content or value to them.
At any time the partner with lots of domains can decide to screw up the project you are working on together, and has 0 time investment and limited capital risk by only putting one or a few domains into the partnership.
6 months or a year after working with you they can take all the knowledge you spent years learning and apply it to their more valuable names while giving you nothing for teaching them everything you know. They were not teaching you how to buy domains why they were accumulating them for years. Why give all that knowledge up for a slice of a slice of a slice?
Buy an alternative average quality domain and keep all the equity. Build it up with sweat equity and learn your market. Buy great domain names when you can afford them.
Follow the Crowd: Many marketers try to saturate a field with affiliates marketing their products and teach affiliates how to market that same product as a piece of the product that is sold. The margins on those opportunities get compressed with each additional competitor you sell that product to.
What happened if you invested in Google a month ago? It seems those who just bought into that market hype just lost a couple dollars. Will Google go back up? Most likely. Will they increase in value at a rate as quickly as you can? Not likely.
My site was stuck ranking at #6 in Google for a lot of keywords. The site that I had that got hit was a site that I had not built links to in a year, and the on page optimization for it was done years ago. Realizing the issue might have been on-site as much as off-site I decided to tweak it a bit...
All page titles on the site have a brand name in them as this site is devoted to reselling a brand. For the deep product pages the brand was at the end of the page title and on the homepage the brand had one word in front of it. About a half dozen core pages in the site started with the core keywords of a brand the site was reselling. For those page titles the brand related terms were moved to the end of those page titles.
Some of the sitewide image navigational links had alt tags in them that contained a piece of the core keyword that the site was filtered out for. I removed that modifier and let the navigational links be slightly less descriptive.
I also got the site a few new links which did not focus on the site's core keywords, but I don't believe that these were the key to getting it ranking again, as the site already has thousands of inbound links, and their were only a couple new links of low to average quality.
I nofollowed links to some of the to administrative type pages, but I don't think that was a make or break issue either.
The site is ranking in the top 3 or 4 on many Google IPs for many search queries. My sample size is only 1 site though, so I would love to hear what you did to get your sites ranking again if you have any sites that recovered from this Google penalty / filter.
So it strikes me that the time is right to make some big bets. You can't make those within the system. My advice: start from scratch, take some chances in finding marketing channels outside the Google system. Be bold - make some bets while the upside is still very big and the downside is pretty small.
"We are sharing our information to help Google develop the right platforms and Google is sharing technology to help us develop the best services for our clients," said Publicis Chairman and CEO Maurice Levy in an interview. "Google is not going to be an advertising agency," said Google Chairman and CEO Eric Schmidt. "We've all sort of figured out where everybody goes now."
The three big areas for growth for those not big enough to partner with Google are domain names, social networks, and public relations.
Make the #1 measurable goal of your PR team the amount of coverage that successful (or just interesting) developers get. People will jump through all kinds of hoops to be in the papers. Double so if the article lists them next to a [your] big brand.
And it is only going to get worse with guys like John Reese recommending everyone become an internet marketer selling to internet marketers just so he can prime the pump to sell his latest product and build a downstream of affiliates. Stake your claim before the fake experts turn your market into snake-oil:
And by creating a lot of fake value (encouraging everyone to pose as experts) you actually ruin chances of all new commers as customers will grow more and more skeptic and will tend to go for proven marketers (avoiding the anonymous which might also have a lot to offer)
Does it make sense for MySpace profile pages to rank on the first page for one of the 10 most competitive terms on the web? Should English to English page translations inherit domain authority from another domain? I don't want to out anybody, but I see way too many tag pages ranking in Yahoo!'s search results. The easiest way they can improve their search results is to simply delist any page with tag in the URL.
If they continue down this path inside a few months they will link to nothing but internal site search / tag pages on other sites. Where is the value, innovation, or thought process in that? What percent of Yahoo! searchers want to see Wordpress.com tags pages and how many Yahoo! Pipes pages are tagged with a brand name? What does a searcher do when they land on a page like this?
If you are going to trust user generated content on authority sites, expect a lot of users to create content just for Yahoo!. :)
Here is a great speech by Chris Anderson about how reputation and attention are becoming the new economies upon which much of the internet (and potentially offline) world may be based upon.
Freemium consists of giving away value (and possibly wrapping it in ads), as a lead generator to sell premium products and services. The model minimizes consumer risk by allowing them to become familiar with and reliant on the service before paying for it.
David Beisel, principal at Masthead Venture Partners in Cambridge, Mass., says the freemium model is attractive to VCs for the same reason it’s attractive to entrepreneurs. “Giving away a free version of the service allows consumers to not just learn about it through collateral or a free trial,” he explains, “but it presents them the opportunity to fully adopt the service and incorporate it into their lives.
“Those types of customers are ones who begin to evangelize the product to others. Entrepreneurs then greatly benefit, as powerful and inexpensive word-of-mouth marketing kicks in.”
One of the things I believe is that just like services that move toward free, all forms of content (even specialized high value niche content) will follow the same path. Information that is sold as a product (not a service) will keep seeing its margins decline as self satisfying hollow chucking and local substitution (ie: wikipedia editors rewriting your content, or someone uploads it to a torrent site) drive the value of most information to nothing.
A total of 74 studies involving a dozen anti-depressants and 12,564 patients were registered with the FDA from 1987 through 2004. The FDA deemed 38 of the studies to be positive. All but one of those studies was published, the researchers said.
The other 36 were found to have negative or questionable results by the FDA. Most of those studies -- 22 out of 36 -- were not published. Of the 14 that were published, the researchers said at least 11 of those studies mischaracterized the results and presented a negative study as positive.
News reporters may focus on Pharma’s annual sales and its executives’ salaries while failing to share R&D costs. Or, as is often common, the media may use an isolated, heartbreaking, or sensationalist story to paint a picture of healthcare as a whole. With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.
Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?
We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.
Prozac vs Tryptophan - On June 15, 1993, the FDA Dietary Supplement Task Force published a report on the work it had been doing in the area of developing FDA policy around nutritional supplements. On page two, the report admits, “The Task Force considered various issues in its deliberations, including... what steps are necessary to ensure that the existence of dietary supplements on the market does not act as a disincentive for drug development.”
This is where the manual editing of search results gets tricky. The multi-billion dollar company rarely gets edited, but in many cases their information is much less honest than that provided by the independent PageRank 4 website
If you have ever wondered how the mainstream media works, watching Manufacturing Consent does a great job of displaying its sordid underbelly. The bias is not always this obvious, but it is always there:
We have learned that the industry in any given bubble must support hundreds or thousands of separate firms financed by not billions but trillions of dollars in new securities that Wall Street will create and sell. Like housing in the late 1990s, this sector of the economy must already be formed and growing even as the previous bubble deflates. For those investing in that sector, legislation guaranteeing favorable tax treatment, along with other protections and advantages for investors, should already be in place or under review. Finally, the industry must be popular, its name on the libs of government policymakers and journalists. It should be familiar to those who watch television news or read newspapers.
The media rides the story up and rides it back down. We always need something to talk about. It happens to the media offline just like it does to niche publishers online. But the memory and analysis are short and shallow, quickly pointing a finger at a false cause, fixing symptoms like antidepressant drugs do:
The U.S. mortgage crisis has been labeled a "subprime mortgage crisis," but subprime mortgages were only a sideshow that appeared late, as the housing-bubble credit machine ran out of creditworthy borrowers. The main event was the hyperinflation of home prices. Risks are embedded in the price and lurk as defaults. Even after the faith that supported a bubble recedes, false beliefs continue to obscure cause and effect as the crisis unfolds.
It puts the formation of the alternative energy market in a fascinating perspective, especially as I finished reading about the demise of ACA and hung up the phone from an automated call from a sleazy telemarketer company calling me at 8pm, stating their partnerships with non-profits to help consolidate the debt that I don't have due to the country's current credit crisis.
Yahoo! killed off their brand universe project, and recently fired 30 people. Rumor has it that about 2,000 more layoffs might be coming soon. Yahoo! shares are nearing $20, trading at $20.78, and giving them a market capitalization of $27.8 billion.
This WSJ article highlights that about half of Yahoo!'s value is in cash and equity stakes in Alibaba and Yahoo! Japan. Over the last year Yahoo! lost significant momentum and marketshare in search. They need to outsource search and search ads, fire a bunch of employees, gain search marketshare, or there is going to be a buyout or merger before the year is out.
Pageviews Still do Not Have Much Value
Sidebar: to anyone hyping the value of pageviews and social media, think of how many pageviews Yahoo! has. If you pull out the value of Yahoo!'s large equity stakes in other companies and cash on hand, Amazon and eBay are each worth about 2 to 3 times Yahoo!, and Google is worth about 13x.
10 Key Ideas Yahoo! Needs to Implement Tomorrow (or Sooner)
After seeing the underwhelming launch of Wikia Search, I think Yahoo! should push further in human aided search. Relevancy is based on perception and marketing. Yahoo! needs to do the following if they want to compete in search:
Increase the relevancy of their directory by actually featuring it (the directory looks like a sidebar to a blog that occupies most of dir.yahoo.com), and by becoming more selective with what sites they accept. You can appreciate their bad marketing of the Yahoo! Directory by the fact that the Google Directory (a DMOZ clone) has a higher PageRank.
Yahoo! is testing integrating Del.icio.us data in their search results. Brand Yahoo! search as human edited safe search and find a way to pay end users for their contribution. Payment does not need to be monetary. Take a look at the success of Yahoo! Answers and Del.icio.us and apply those toward search. Google gives Checkout advertisers free ads and a higher ad CTR (which leads to a lower ad cost). Win search marketshare from your users by giving them rebates on your other products as well.
Create a branding and awareness campaign around the new Yahoo! Search. Hire someone to do a fake study proving that Yahoo! Search is more relavant than any of the other players. Make sure Ask or Microsoft is ranked #2 ahead of Google.
Let users comment on search results AND on listings in search results. Controversy surrounding this will lead to more people talking about and evaluating Yahoo! Search for quality.
Launch a new toolbar with a meter like PageRank in it...call it YourRank (or something the emphasizes to the user) that it is their web and what they like. Heavily push that branding message to users locked into Yahoo! email, Yahoo! Stores, and other verticals they interact with.
Create a well branded specialty search for bloggers with innovative features that make it easy to follow the conversation both ways. Also launch creative ideas to buy mindshare with other high authority communities (universities, open source projects, etc.).
Easily allow advertisers to do keyword research on Yahoo! outside of while they are setting up search campaigns. Create a reliable publicly accessible keyword tool which actually markets the Yahoo! Search product.
Give away a lot of useful search market data (like Microsoft recently did with their Ad Intelligence plug-in).
Put the Yahoo! brand on the millions of syndicated domain landing pages they power each day.
Increase the relevancy of their contextual ad product and increase payouts to 100% (buy marketshare) BEFORE Microsoft openly launches their network. Perform case studies with publishers who saw their Yahoo! monetization go up AFTER switching from AdSense (and other inferior networks) to the NEW Yahoo! Publisher Network contextual ads program. Perhaps pay key leading bloggers 150% just to get them using, talking about, and giving feedback on your ads. Buy marketshare...
How Could Yahoo! Become Relevant?
Do you still use Yahoo! Search? What could Yahoo! do to make you want to use them and talk about their search product?
Markus Friend also highlighted that Google controls about 40% of the (heavily consolidated) ad market:
90% of Advertising revenues are made by the top 50 sites and the top 10 sites take 70% of that, with google taking 40% of all Online US advertising.
This CPM compression is going to cause many late movers to crank out content with more ads on it, further lowering their CPM and direct readership until they are financially insolvent. But then again, the web could use another bust cycle to clean up the meaning of the word "content". Shoddy intrusive ad networks like NetAudioAds should not be featured as the next big thing in the WSJ.
It's the aggregators that are the big winners, at least in economic terms, not the legions of individual contributors.
Over the past 20 years, we've seen that the automation provided by computer systems has tended to concentrate wealth in the hands of a small slice of the population. I expect that trend will only accelerate in the years ahead. If you're one of the digital elite, you've got it made. If not, the prospects are less bright.
What is the solution for publishers? How do prevent yourself from being absorbed by the commons? Develop meaningful relationships, be remarkable, and sell direct. Hugh on owning an idea:
Social Markers are a prime form of social shorthand, that people use to STAKE OUT the ecosystem they're occupying. So why do I find this such a useful term for marketers? Because obviously, if your product is a Social Marker in your industry ecosystem [the way the iPhone is in the mobile world, or Starbucks is in the coffee world, or Amazon is the book world, or Google is in the search world, or Whole Foods is in the supermarket world, or Virgin is in the airline world, or English Cut in the bespoke world etc etc] you will have an AMAZING competitive advantage to call your own.
And if the product your company makes is not a Social Marker, I guess the first question would be, "Why the hell not?" Quit your job and start over.
One of the easiest ways to claim an idea is to turn its launch into an event, and differentiate it from everything else you are doing. Buy the matching domain name if you can. :)
Bonus cool link: Bill Slawski mentioned a Yahoo! patent about moving away from the random surfer model to a user sensitive PageRank. Now if they could only apply some good ideas in the SERPs. And no, this does not count. :)
I think conferences are great for coming up with business ideas and making meaningful friendships and business relationships, and I would not have as many opportunities as I have now unless I went to many conferences back in the day. But I think I have been going to about 8 or 10 conferences a year for the past couple years and have got burned out on them. I am going to be at Elite Retreat this year, but am hoping that I can take a break otherwise.
Appreciating Conference Saturation
This past week Elite Retreat was announced and I turned down speaking requests for 4 other conferences! It seems I could do nothing but speak at conferences, but I just have too much fun playing online and see too much opportunity to have to travel once or twice a month. And conference overload leads to burnout, a line I am near more often than I should be.
Appreciation of Online Assets
In the last few years I have seen
the lowering of the value of typical reciprocal links
the lowering of the value of most directories
drastic reduction in cost of market research
sharply increased domain prices (some people have offered enough to make me a seller, and I get offers about once a week from a rather small portfolio)
increased cost per click prices
buying PPC ads getting harder due to relevancy scores that try to prohibit non-brands from advertising
sales cycles getting more efficient
the creation of shaddow brands to allow businesses to be bolted on to free offerings that build good will and reduce their marketing cost to zero
increasingly complex information formats (both free and paid)
the saturation of markets that were largely created AFTER I got into SEO
quality links becoming tougher to get (you can see this with how the media is linking internally where they used to link out...you appreciate the trend even more when a few friends send you some private internal documents from said companies)
increased time commitment to create valuable brands due to increased market competiton (in some rare cases even pure spammers are creating good content)
people becoming more cynical about content quality due to linkbait attention whoring
hand edits wiping out once highly profitable websites that were cleaner than competing ones own by large corporations
the move from one-time sales to subscription based pricing
I still have a few tricks and ideas that offer an amazing ROI, but as more people use them the ideas will see their ROI approach zero, unless I look for ways to layer real value on top of them. And it is hard to layer real value without committing both time and capital to the project.
Comparing Online ROI vs Offline ROI
A few weeks ago my wife held a meetup for bloggers where she and I gave away tons of tips to people with no sales pitch. I also paid for dinner for about 30 people. Out of that mini-conference type event I think only 1 blogger even mentioned it online. Most expensive paid link ever. ;)
When I went to the Blogworld Expo I think there were about 30 or 40 people in the audience. And going to the conference cost me a couple days of work. In about the same amount of time I was able to create the Blogger's Guide to SEO and market it. It got a couple thousand inbound links, over 1,000 bookmarks, over 50,000 reads, and videos I embedded in it got about 300 hundred to 600 clickthroughs to YouTube from my article.
I have way too many ideas and way too little time to implement them. In some cases I have partnerships and my wife is doing lots of development stuff now too, so both of those help, but do you still get the same ROI out of conferences as you did when you first started going to them? If not, what do you do in place of them where you find better ROI?
One more reason I just remembered why dates in URLs are bad is that sometimes after you become popular re-releasing an old article that you published before you became popular is an easy way to come up with new content for your readers.
Since Google largely tends to favor ranking informational websites over commercial websites, some authoritative blogs tend to rank for valuable queries based on posts they make in passing.
Even if you had no intent to monetize a post, it just became easier to monetize accidental rankings. If you use analytics to track your stats and notice that you start ranking for some good keywords you can use Triggit to embed links to merchant products directly in the text of your blog post.
Shoemoney created this quick video to show how Triggit works
Unlike the automated ad solutions like intellitxt or AdSense, these Triggit ads
look like other regular links on the page (so they should get a high CTR)
can easily be applied on a page by page level (so you do not have to clutter up every page to monetize the few pages that can make a lot of money)
link to products recommended by the editor (to preserve editorial integrity)
can link to merchants that pay via affiliate payout or CPC (offering multiple monetization models)
allow you to keep your pages clean (and easy to link at) until they rank, then have you add monetization after you have a leading market position for related keywords
Triggit ads are easy to set up and should require little maintenance on the end user's side, but they are still a small start up, so if you start doing well with them make sure you remember which pages do well so you can keep monetizing the pages if the Triggit partnership stops working, and so you can track which pages you should try to monetize more aggressively and/or build links to.
As blended semi-editorial in content ad networks like these evolve, the distinction between optimization and spam blurs. And since Google has a similar product, it is going to be hard to view this in a negative light without looking hypocritical in the process. From Google's pay per action page:
Text links are hyperlinked brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher's page. Publishers can place them in line with other text to better blend the ad and promote your product.
For example, you might see the following text link embedded in a publisher's recommendatory text: "Widgets are fun! I encourage all my friends to Buy a high-quality widget today." (Mousing over the link will display "Ads by Google" to identify these as pay-per-action ads).
Though the maximum length of a text link is 90 characters, we've found that shorter links perform better because they allow the publisher use the link in more places on her/his site and in different context. The maximum length is 90 characters but less than 5 words is best. Even better, just use your brand name to offer maximum flexibility to the publisher.
Here’s the thing about SEO. Everybody thinks they’re an expert.
From the greenhorn working out of their (or their parents’) garage, to the recent college grad working in the marketing department of Fortune 500 corporation, to the seasoned and often burned-out veteran working at a name brand interactive agency, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of “search engine optimization experts” both in U.S. and the world at large.
And the reality is that very few of them really understand what SEO is all about. Sure, a lot of people know what keyword research is, or how to mine for link targets. But true optimization goes much deeper than that standard set of deliverables.
I currently work for one of those brand name interactive agencies, Zeta Interactive, and if there’s one thing I’ve come away with from my experience in this field it’s that finding and retaining good SEO help is not easy. Both from a site-side and link-building perspective, the workload is extremely heavy, often forcing SEO employees to choose between quality and timely delivery of recommendations. Furthermore, interactive agencies have a nasty habit of failing to take true ownership over the clients they manage and viewing SEO with a pair 2002 glasses, making the job of a truly scrupulous SEO purist extremely demoralizing at times. Add a high level of competitiveness among agencies and the result is a high level of turnover and relatively low number of truly qualified applicants. And did I mention the endless stream of meetings, calls, presentations, and contractual legwork?
When one of my colleagues ponders the cause of this most exasperating of working conditions, I always offer up a painfully simple response; all of the really great SEOs don’t need a day job.
What do I mean by that? Well I’ll tell you if you promise not to get offended. And before I do, please bear with me as I explain a little bit about my own SEO background.
In my former life, I was a salesman. I hated my job and was looking for a more fulfilling way to make a living. A client of mine turned me onto SEO back in 2002, explaining to me just how despite a six-figure advertising budget and a team of marketers and programmers he was simply unable to rank organically for the terms associated with his products. The client basically told me that if I could figure out how to do that for him, and others, that I could probably make a whole lot of money.
That sounded like a plan to me.
Fast-forward to 2004. After roughly two years of working for local search firms in Miami, taking on my fair share of small consulting clients, creating small personal web projects, and writing as much as I could in the various SEO discussion forums, I landed a gig in the marketing department of CBS Sportsline as an SEO coordinator (among other things). I felt like I had finally made the big time. No more foraging around for small business contracts with little monthly budget. No more collection calls to delinquent clients. I was now in charge of SEO for a Fortune 500 company. I should be on easy street from here on out, right?
I quickly found out that corporate bureaucracy and office politics prevented me from implementing many of the most cutting edge techniques that would have given sportsline.com the competitive advantage it needed to set itself apart in the organic space. Mind you, this lack of implementation wasn’t due to incompetence on my part, because I did so well at my position that I was quickly put in charge of cbsnews.com and various other related properties, and was retained by CBS Interactive as a consultant after resigning from my position in the summer of 2005. It was just that certain individuals within the organization were either too lazy or too shortsighted to understand the significance of SEO in terms of both traffic and brand awareness.
Ironically enough, many of Sportsline’s stiffest competitors, specifically in the uber-competitive “fantasy” sports genre, were non-corporate entities that were able outmaneuver corporate behemoths like CBS due to their SEO agility and vision.
So I got to thinking, “man, these independent site owners are working for themselves and whipping the pants off the big boys. Now that’s what SEO is all about!”
Mind you, all this time, I had been developing my own small sites and working feverishly to establish a presence in the major SEO communities such as WebmasterWorld, SEOchat, and several others. I wrote features for SEOchat, served as a consultant to various prominent entities (mostly in the paid link arena) and began to make connections with other bright SEO minds like Rand Fishkin and Aaron Wall.
Little did I know, that soon thereafter, guys like Rand and Aaron would make a permanent mark on the SEO community and establish themselves as true SEO rock stars.
I, on the other hand, chose to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity of my own, accepting a position and a majority stake at a startup by the name of Real Football 365, Inc. Based on my experience at Sportsline, I figured that it would be easier to reach the Promised Land in the sports genre than the SEO genre. Plus I happen to absolutely love football!
It was while working on www.realfootball365.com that I learned what true SEO is all about. Not so much because of my efforts or results with that site (hell, that site still has plenty of SEO shortcomings) but because I gained access to dozens of successful site owners that make a comfortable living doing something that they love. And the best part is that they’re able to dominate competitors with much deeper pockets and diverse resources because of their know-how in the organic search space.
For my own part, I learned just how important a role content plays in SEO (hint: Google is telling the truth. Content is king). I also experienced the joy of working on something that was at least partially my own and the freedom of experimenting with the most radical of SEO-related initiatives.
Most importantly, from a business perspective, I learned the value of developing professional relationships with industry peers and how catering to your base of users, whether they be customers or readers, is a crucial SEO skill. In fact, there are many skills that seem vaguely related, or completely unrelated, to the SEO discipline but are in fact the centerpieces of a truly successful SEO campaign.
Aaron often discusses some these facets on this very blog, but I feel that many enterprising optimizers soon forget the lessons being offered up, giving into the ever-present allure of keywords, meta tags, and paid link considerations. I’m not saying that traditional SEO skills aren’t important, but rest assured that the difference between the average “SEO expert” and guys like Aaron does not lie in the ability to properly construct a title tag.
So what did I mean when I said that the great SEOs don’t need a day job? It’s simple. Great SEO requires an entrepreneurial spirit and an understanding of the underlying business and marketing considerations that will help a particular company be successful. Failing to understand this, whether you’re a garage marketer, in-house optimizer, or agency SEO, will ensure your continued failure to ascend from good to great.
I think about this every day as I juggle multiple clients at my agency gig up here in NYC and continue to consult for realfootball365.com from a distance, hoping that small site eventually pays the way to my early retirement and to that ultimate personal jump from good to great. In the meantime, I’ll remember my humble beginnings and remind my coworkers to avoid the explicit ineptitude that made me laugh at agency SEO proposals back when I was an in-house evaluator.
If you’re also in the business of “selling” SEO (whether to small businesses or large corporations) or have otherwise fallen short of my definition of great SEO, don’t be offended. Just continue to pay close attention to guys like Aaron and always remember that some of the greatest SEO minds of all time don’t even hang out in SEO hubs like Sphinn.com or WebmasterWorld. They’re busy implementing new business initiatives and raking in the spoils of their non-SEO related web empires.
To be honest, I have used the "scam or not" angle before when trying to pull in traffic for something and have called stuff a "scam" when I did not like it, but I have never called something a scam right before trying to sell it.
Is this a common affiliate technique? Would you allow it? Does it bring in skeptics that never would have bought? Or does it taint the brand too much?
Each bulleted list below is a slide from their presentation. I grouped some of them together to discuss how/where I think they relate.
Broken information asymmetry: Information is easy to charge for as long as only a few have access to it. Today's information symmetry makes it increasingly difficult to charge for regular news/information.
Losing loyalty: Consumers are increasingly grazing media. If they don't like it, they immediately move on to greener pastures.
Increased individualism: As we see a strong trend of individualism in the society, mass media has the downside of offering the same message to everybody.
Design Hype: 50-70 percent of buying decisions are made in the store means more focus on design.
They realize they are no longer able to sell what they once sold and they are losing loyalty each day. Eventually they won't even be able to pay people to take what they once charged for.
They see that consumers want an individualized focused product. They realize that buying is largely a game of taste and packaging. And yet they do not realize that they are selling news, even if it is free. If packaging matters for products it also matters for information. Niche brands are a good thing. Niche bloggers get this. NTY got this when they bought About.com's blog network. Why doesn't the rest of the media get it? Probably because actually changing to give the market what it wants feels risky, and the only niche they appeal to is local.
The search for authenticy: In a world of fake stories the authentic and real becomes important.
PR and marketing merging: Editorial content has higher impact than ads, which turns PR into a sales activity.
Online transactions a new revenue source: As media goes online, transaction revenues for services become an increasingly important revenue stream.
New revenue models: Newspapers need new revenue models to keep being profitable. New technology offers endless options to reach the future customers (e.g. rich-media ads, virtual worlds, viral marketing, product placement, parasite distribution, maglogs)
They realize that the perception of authenticity is becoming more important, but their journalistic rules will keep their content too vanila to create it, and they are fine with promoting public relations and looking for new business models including affiliate marketing, product placement, and parasite distribution. Eek.
Complexity & Depth of Coverage
Simplified news: "News snacks" are becoming the norm as customer needs are oversaturated. Simplification means a newspaper can only afford to be good enough.
Analytic journalism: Newspapers will offer deeper analysis, opinions and explanations of the news in a larger context to help people navigate in an increasingly complex world.
I can't see news organizations being as efficient as blogs on the news snacks angle. And the in depth reporters are not going to be able to beat out subject matter experts unless they focus on a niche. If they focus on a niche and get a following then they don't need the news organization behind them. Google or Federated Media or some other ad network can do the selling for them.
Blog publishers get a 25% cut of the ad revenue. About 25,000 publishers have signed up so far, says Michael Knox, V2P's co-founder, and several large companies and 2008 presidential campaigns have expressed interest in becoming advertisers through the service. A site that gets 2,000 unique visitors per day with an advertiser paying $14 per 1,000 plays might earn $28 a day, or $196 a week.
What self respecting publisher takes only 25% of ad revenue to annoy all of their visitors with audio ads? And how do you keep up your momentum and pageviews if you annoy everyone who comes across your site? If the idea wasn't bad enough, the company behind this ad network is talking to the media to pump their product while
a blogspot hate site ranks #1 for their official name
their official site that does rank for their official name does not even use NetAudioAds in the page title
they bid on AdWords their core brand name but they are not even bidding on alternate version of their name like Net Audio Ads
How do networks that offer advertising and marketing solutions for others do such a bad job marketing their own products?
Microsoft is testing placing ads and an interactive media environment on shopping carts:
Cardholders will be able to visit a website and plan their shopping list that will then appear on a cart-attached screen when they get to the store and swipe their card.
The screen will display the price of items that shoppers place in the carts and a running tally of the total; moreover, ads, coupons and incentives will also be displayed as shoppers walk around the store.
The instant-feedback nature of such incentives will give advertisers real-time results on which prompts worked and which didn't.
Green Giant Green Beans are the nutritious choice of 3/4 moms. They are in isle #3 and they will make you happy and healthy.
Not interested in your health?
Try some delicious peanut butter flavor Snickers. On sale today only. Buy 9 get 1 free. :)
I was just voting on the PPC section of the SEMMYS and I saw some new posts I liked a lot.
It is not the comprehensive list of all the best posts of the year, but most of them are of great quality and well worth a read. It is nice to read the best stuff someone else spent a whole year digging up. Great job Matt.
Microsoft heavily invested to create useful tools for advertisers. On their tools page contextual ads are listed on the right for subjects related to "all the data mining", no doubt from a thin arbitrage site.
If Microsoft would just let me know what that ad placement cost is, I bet I would pay more for the ad placement than the thin arbitrage site. Although the value of keeping their tool pages free of ads, so that they can increase market penetration would be worth even more.
One of the ads on Microsoft's ad tools page offers to repair Microsoft products (which hints that Microsoft's stuff is broken), while another ad is marginally relevant and leads to a no value arbitrage domain (IndustrialProducts.com) which redirects to another site syndicating Yahoo ads.
Then when the user appears on the thin arbitrage site Microsoft is buying the click back to market their own products.
Let us appreciate this brilliance:
paying advertisers to cheapen their brand and pollute their core product pages in important verticals with irrelevant spammy low (or no) value offers
sending away more traffic than they get back
losing money on the transaction
I have ranted about Yahoo! killing their keyword tool and doing nothing to rebrand or repair it, simply wasting thousands or millions of dollars worth of leads and marketshare each day. Disclaimer: my keyword tool just broke too, but I am trying to get it fixed ASAP. Yahoo! has other areas where they can offer you useful recommendations, but chose not to.
If you ever submit a site to the global Yahoo! Directory on the thank you page they recommend submitting your site to regional directories if your site is in multiple languages.
That upsell offer is irrelevant for most people submitting their websites, and
Yahoo! killed express inclusion for many of their regional directories years ago. The landing pages for the regional Yahoo! Directory submissions arebroke. They do not even allow me to spend money if I want to.
Google's prediction markets are reasonably efficient, but did exhibit four specific biases: an overpricing of favorites, short aversion, optimism, and an underpricing of extreme outcomes. New employees and inexperienced traders appear to suffer more from these biases, and as market participants gained experience over the course of our sample period, the biases become less pronounced.
As further evidence of short aversion, in order book snapshots collected each time an order was placed, we found 1,747 instances where the bid prices of the securities in a particular market added to more than 1, implying an arbitrage opportunity (from buying a bundle of securities for $1 and then selling the components). In contrast, we found only 495 instances where the ask prices added to less than 1 (implying an arbitrage opportunity of buying the components of a bundle for less than $1 and then exchanging the bundle). The median duration of these arbitrage opportunities was about 2 minutes.
The effect of proximity
An important caveat to our results is that they tell us about information flows about prediction market subjects, many of which are ancillary to employees' main job. this may explain why physical proximity matters so much more than work relationships - if prediction market topics are lower-priority matters so much more than work relationships - if prediction market topics are lower-priority subjects on which to exchange information, then information exchange may require the opportunity for low-opportunity-cost communication created by physical proximity. Of course, introspection suggests that genuinely creative ideas often arise from such low-opportunity-cost communication. Google's frequent office moves and emphasis on product innovation may provide an ideal testing ground in which to better understand the creative process.
Google's new mailing lists wipes out the need for many boutique email services. They know what features they are going to roll out before anyone else does. And they have market moving data before others do. Google's AdSense is the fuel that drives web innovation. And they can decide at any time if a competing service is no longer viable to push it toward its demise.
Virgin real-time data + arbitrage identification algorithms + understanding investor flaws + algorithms to target mental flaws + direct and indirect market influence = $
A friend of mine was a leading affiliate for an information product, selling over $300,000 worth of someone else's service. How did they reward him? They cloned his sales channel and killed his business model. Everything that is not a memory, brand, or experience is becoming a commodity. What prevents you or I from becoming a commodity?
You become what you surround yourself with, and when you push out you attract the right people or the wrong people. Threadwatch, for example, attracted the wrong people, or perhaps the wrong mood and tone from the right people. But you could also engineer the silicon valley in your industry if you work hard enough.
In the information age, where marketers
have granular controls
can remain anonymous
can market brands in minutes
leverage reverse billing fraud and computer destroying viruses
can distance themselves from the fraud via affiliate programs or pushing blame on algorithms
there are a lot of scams to be wary of. Especially when there is so much information being produced to where content is published in biased sound-byte format to whore for attention. The stakes for calling someone out are big, because you need attention to profit, and unfortunately, the structure of the web has changed:
Google and it's copy-tition were designed 10 years ago. But the web has changed significantly in the past decade. Google was built to index a web that no longer exists... a web where people still engaged in social linking behavior, for one thing.
Each day we chose who we want to listen to, who we want to be like, who we want to like us, and why we want them to like us. Those relationships are the only thing that prevents us from becoming commodities.
"You're lucky in life if you have the right heroes. I advise all of you, to the extent that you can, pick out a few heroes. There's nothing like the right ones." - Warren Buffet
My web heroes thusfar are Tim Berners-Lee and Seth Godin. Who are yours?
Step 2: Download Excel Trial & Ad Intelligence Plug-in
Ad Intelligence is a new cutting edge keyword tool from Microsoft which will probably force Google to make better keyword tools. All of this data is free as long as you have a Microsoft AdCenter account (you can set one up for $5, and get free ad money using the above coupon) and a copy of Microsoft Excel (the Ad Intelligence link below allows you to download a free trial of Excel).
Some samples of the kinds of data you can get from Microsoft Ad Intelligence:
keyword ad data
related keywords to advertise on
spiky keywords (recently hot search volume)
URL related keywords (site related key words)
Background Data Information Reviewed
Here are some of the sweet features of Microsoft Ad Intelligence:
Keyword wizard: Allows you to extract keywords based on a list of keyword in excel, a given vertical, or a given URL. Then it allows you to generate an expanded keyword list based on category similarity, keyword bidding association, or keywords containing the core keyword. Then it allows you to export an output of estimated search volume, clicks, ad position, ad CTR, and click cost for a given date range and match type.
keyword extraction: Extract keywords based on an input URL. Can set maximum keywords from 1 to 100, and can set a minimum confidence level of relevancy.
keyword suggestion: suggest keywords based on aggregate advertiser behavior, keywords containing the core keyword, or keywords that are deemed to be similar based on category similarity
search buzz: Top category keywords based on 22 core categories and about a couple hundred subcategories. The spiky tool uses the same categories but is focused on spiky keywords, and includes spiky index, spike start date, and spike end date. You can also set it to "all verticals" to discover leading overall spiky keywords or leading common search queries.
monthly traffic: Monthly search volumes for keywords, and forecasts for the next 3 months. Also offers a daily search volume option.
keyword categorization: Identifies categories that a keyword belongs to.
geographic: Shows the geographic breakdown of a search query.
demographic: Shows date range and male vs female breakdown stats of keywords.
monetization: Allows you to view ad impressions, ad clicks, CTR, and CPC by category.
advanced algorithms: Allows you to change date ranges and other variables for the above tools.
Try it Today
Step 1: Create Your Microsoft Ad Center Advertiser Account
In most markets worth being in and with most sustainable business models, sales is not a one time event, but a process. You first have to create awareness, then build trust, then finally make the sale. Do all 3 happen at once for some people? Sure, but probably not for the majority of customers.
My big issue with hyping social media is that most things that are popular on social media sites do not actually build credibility, and that you are going to have marginal success building your brand if you start by focusing on these broad third party communities rather than YOUR TOPICAL COMMUNITY.
When I first started getting well known there was no Digg. There was a Slashdot, but exposure on Slashdot did not make or break me. What really sent my personal brand on a sharp upward trajectory was when Danny Sullivan mentioned me. Because he felt I was comment-worthy many other people suddenly thought I knew what I was talking about and that I was trustworthy.
That perception of trust, audience, and personal-brand that Danny had spent years building was in some part transferred to me. Am I as well known as he is? Of course not, but while sites like Digg have audience they tend to lack that perception of trust and personal-brand that transfers BUYING CUSTOMERS to your site.
If a person who has trust and a broad base of readership recommends you that creates immediate sales. I see that in my daily sales data and my affiliate statistics. If you get featured on social media sites it does not lead to many sales. Perhaps that exposure leads to awareness, which can further be enhanced by writing about that community, buying banner ads from sites like Lead Back, or by writing other create subscription-worthy content, but generally in content editorial link from a trusted expert creates more sales than exposure on a nearly automated hollow social news site.
If your site is new to the market and you want some exposure you have two options
eat Taco bell for a month, take the world's biggest crap, then write a leading 10 step how-to guide on how-to polish it, or
create things that people INSIDE YOUR COMMUNITY will find useful
One of those strategies will get you in the Guinness book of world records. The other will make sales.
DaveN, well known for SEO, published stats about how PPC ads aided organic conversions. Andrew Goodman's firm, well known to focus on paid search, now does SEO too. It seems the PPC vs SEO debate has been quiet for a year or more. Hopefully this puts a fork in it.
American Capital CEO Malon Wilkus told TheStreet.com that as a result of the split-up, his firm recovered a "substantial" amount of its original investment in the form of cash proceeds. He declined to give the amount.
Domain Names Oversee.net bought Moniker. They purchased SnapNames earlier this year. They must be pretty good at business to be able to afford over $100 million in acquisitions in one year.
Never trust Network Solutions again. They are now registering any whois lookups that occur on their network, and are challenging RegisterFly for the dirtiest register ever award.
Marchex has dropped below the sharp fall off back when they lowered Q3 2007 guidance. They currently trade at an 82 P/E ratio, and could unlock a lot of value if they had a real development strategy or started selling off some of their names. A Domain Tools blog post highlights how generic domains could appreciate if capital was more accessible for premium domains. I think before that happens companies like Marchex are going to need to issue a new strategic memo that is valid in the current marketplace. The Domain Tools blog post also had a comment from a search marketer:
Besides, the real downside to generic domains from my point of view is that every day, the “type-in traffic” generation becomes smarter, or dies off. More people use a medium such as Google or other search engines. With search engines, sites such as “Travelocity.com” and “travel.yahoo.com” become the apparent winners for the term “Travel”. Not Travel.com
As a search marketer who keeps spending more and more on Google ads, I firmly believe the above comment, and this is why I have been buying decent names and developing them. A balanced investment strategy where pieces build off each other and I put my marketing skills to work will outperform a strategy where I enter a saturated market late without a unique strategy. A strong domain is a great advantage, but you can still succeed with only a decent one and a bit ofsweat equity.
Yahoo! Buzz Index
Perhaps this is an old arbitrage strategy I somehow missed, but the Yahoo Buzz Index links to a list of popular searches. What better way is there to rank for them and drive traffic than to reference them on an high authority page, likeso:
That might be a nice strategy for other leading publishers to follow, though it makes Yahoo look a bit desperate in their marketing approach.
General Publishing Trends
Seth Godin highlights trends in the music industry, which is a set of trend applicable to just about every industry.
In 2005 Fast again appeared on the web search scene when they started powering organic search results for Miva, but they do not have their own search destination. Earlier this year Fast made noise about creating an independent ad network that allowed publishers to keep the bulk of the profits, but OpenAds already exists, and I have not heard much of Fast's proposed AdMomentum after the initial hype.
Fast recently missed quarterly numbers and changed their accounting practices. They do not have a great business model compared to Google (enterprise search is nowhere near as profitable as web search). If general web search relevancy moves beyond measuring links and more toward user feedback perhaps owning Fast would help Microsoft increase their core relevancy algorithms, and enterprise relationships can probably help them cross sell web ads too.
Update: Fast is to lead the Pharos search project, which will be funded in part by European governments. If Google gets regulated out of market domination in Europe then Microsoft may have bought a key competitive piece.
Potential search plays later this year:
IAC is only worth about $7.2 billion. Earlier this year they announced that they are planning on spinning off into 5 major companies. Perhaps when that is done Microsoft, eBay, or Amazon.com should try to buy Ask.
If you watch the Bill Gates CES speech (online here), at about 35 minutes in he talks about how Microsoft will power NBC's online video distribution for the Olympics. At about 41 minutes in they mentioned that there are 10 million members on Xbox live.
Claiming that the above ROI is 1,427% higher is at best dishonest. You can teach the value of something without syndicating lies as truth.
Social Media Traffic Does Not Buy
Want to know the truth about most social media traffic? Its garbage. Some of my AdSense ad campaigns use an affiliate account to track ROI. Until I filtered them out for poor performance, MySpace and Digg were providing about 90% of my overall affiliate ad volume with 0 conversions, whereas some of my better affiliates make a sale a day or a sale every few days on far less traffic.
I know that was an isolated example and it would be unfair to judge the entire market on that, but consider this...those ads had a horrifically low clickthrough rate and still only cost a dime a click. If I was getting a lot of volume on a network that size while bidding next to nothing then that ad inventory is not worth that much. Simple as that.
Some Top Publishers Are Afraid Social Media Marketing
Why do you think domainers make so much money without even needing to develop websites? For a person to end up on a parked page they have a lot of implied intent in their location. The same is true for a search result. If you just searched for something you have implied intent. Google is worth 200 billion and I am not. :)
Google actually knows all of that, and at least 10X more data about users than Facebook, but hasn't seen the need to really mine the data yet, since search intent has proven to be worth about 100X more than that kind of data so far.
If social marketing gets you clean links it is great. If people recommend your product to their customers that is great. I get mentioned on Seth Godin's blog and sales double. I make the front page of a social news site and nothing happens. Most of the social media hype is hollow and without value.
Put Social Media to the Test Today
Still don't believe me that most social marketing traffic is worthless? Ask yourself why StumbleUpon only charges 5 cents a visitor for any category - including big money categories like daytrading, gambling, and financial planning.
After much hype Wikia Search just launched with a dummy index. No surprise the launch was received badly. Worse yet, none of the alleged human relevancy tools are available. Wasted opportunity. Google has at least another year of having no real competition.
I think these two comments do a nice job of showing the difference between how people perceive something they paid for and something they got for free. If people do not have a tangible opportunity cost they often tend not to respect or value the product or service.
the person who bought it thought it was one of the best ebooks they ever purchased.
the person who won a free copy thought it was dry, above their head, and has 0 respect for copyright, offering to trade it
To build up publicity and mindshare you have to give away value, but the same product often has a vastly different perceived value based on price point and how they got it. It is so hard to win marketshare by lowering price, but easy to win marketshare by increasing (real and perceived) value.
When someone hits you up with a commercial email you never asked for that is spam. But there are other types of automated communication which have the opportunity to suck, or the opportunity to be helpful. Call customer support for a Fortune 500 monopoly and you will see the wrong end of selfish automation. Numerous third party solutions are dedicated to balancing these selfish relationships.
It is easy to write off fields you don't understand. seo=spam, email marketing=spam, affiliates=spam, public relations=spam. But just because you have never used a technique does not mean that it is spam. In much the same way that communication can be selfish, communication can also be meaningless, or offer the bare essentials needed to be utilitarian. Every channel and every interaction is an opportunity, and every interaction has costs. In the past the welcome email for joining SEO Book said something like this:
Thank you for registering at !site. You may now log in to !login_uri using the following username and password:
You may also log in by clicking on this link or copying and pasting it in your browser:
This is a one-time login, so it can be used only once.
After logging in, you will be redirected to !edit_uri so you can change your password.
-- !site team
I recently changed it to
Thank you for registering at !site. You may now
log in to
using the following username and password:
After logging in, you will be redirected to
so you can change your password.
We have many more features in development, and will
release some of them soon!
Have a great day!
-- Aaron Wall, and the !site team
I am sure I can greatly improve it from there, perhaps even offering a 7 day autoresponder series for new members, and a different autoresponder series for people who buy SEO Book.
I recently joined one service that sends daily quick tip emails for the first month. Every third email is an advertisement, and yet somehow as I marketer I have not taken offense to the ads and actually find the emails useful. 2 out of 3 emails offer tips to master topic x, while the 3rd email tells you to buy a product or service in a related market. Each email, based on who sent it, reminds me to use the service I am paying for, which lowers the odds of me unsubscribing.
Some successful marketers can take a basic concept that you would write a sentence about and turn it into a 10 page article 20 minute video. When you are trying to give people direction you rarely get in trouble for making an idea too accessible and too easy to understand. Building trust is a process. After people give you permission you can use automation to help build trust and encourage participation. Or you can ignore a free marketing channel that is easy to set up, while your competitors increase visitor value and take marketshare from you.
The relationship between sales and email is not a 1 to 1 ratio, but the days I spend 6 hours answering email I sell many ebooks. Assuming your offers are compelling and clearly stated, communication and inquiry have a rough correlation for purchase demand. Each of these emails gets a personalized response, but the more you can make your automated marketing feel personalized the less personalized selling you have to do to make sales.
Automation ideas that apply to most online communities and software businesses:
package information in multiple formats to give people many different paths to reach conversion
answer common questions on your site so you can point new customers at it and so searchers can find it
personalize welcome or sign up emails to thank users for joining and highlight featured content (I used to do this for SEO Book orders too, but need to modify the affiliate software again after I upgraded to the latest version)
use autoresponders that offer free helpful tips and build trust (I need to take my own advice here too, and am hoping to soon)
create a community where consumers can solve each other's questions
offer tutorial videos and/or FAQs with any piece of complex software
create software which allows people to restore default settings
cross reference complementary tools - as is done by my keyword tool
Product launches that fail often fail because the marketer assumes everyone wants what they are producing rather than giving people what they want in a format they like. Many successful marketers have been throwing away a lot of money for a long time by assuming everyone wants to read the blog.
Question: We were thinking of mirroring our website by giving affiliates subdomains with our content like xyz.oursite.com. Is this a good idea or a duplicate content nightmare?
Answer: Giving affiliates the same set of data is indeed a duplicate content nightmare, and it makes it hard for the affiliates to push their sites into the core organic parts of the web. If they have a product database and the same reviews and content that exist as the core branded site there is nothing remarkable about what they are doing. You can look back to this post on leaked human review documents to see how Google views affiliate sites.
Instead of cloning all your content and giving affiliates access to that, I recommend encouraging affiliates write personal journals on their own subdomain. I would encourage them to promote your products and blog about topics other than your products. This will allow some of them to work their sites into the organic parts of the web while encouraging them to write content interesting enough for people to want to subscribe to it. Sure some of the affiliates will not get much traction, but enough of them try it a few will, and they will boost your brand whenever people visit their sites.
You can include a bunch of Wordpress themes and extensions with their blogs, create a free guide to blogging, create an affiliate directory, and other offers that make it easy to get affiliates into sharing information. Maybe even install a Vbulletin forum and write a blog just for your affiliates. Bonuses to further entice a sense of community might be highlighting daily or monthly top posts, offering free design services to top affiliates, giving away prizes like link building, and interviewing some of your better affiliates in a monthly community newsletter.
Creating a platform for sharing passion is a much better affiliate strategy than duplicating content is.
Guest post by Ryan Durk
For 24 hours on 1/1/08, Google's logo kindly began linking to my site.
Starting New Years Eve, Google redirected all clicks on its homepage logo to a search for the term January 1 TCP/IP. Recognizing the opportunity to receive immense amounts of traffic (and Google's endorsement), I devised a strategy to rank for this term. My site grabbed rankings at 1, 2, 3 and 4 within 2 hours and maintained spots 1, 3 and 4 until sometime Wednesday. As of right now, it has received over 2000 Diggs and 300,000 page impressions of traffic that converts terribly. More on this later.
The project began like any other: analyzing the search engine result page. Wikipedia ranked some mildly relevant content at 3rd and a Squidoo clone had 2 auto-generated pages in the top 5. Beating Wikipedia would be simple considering "January 1, TCP/IP" was nowhere to be found there. Beating the auto-generated content would be more difficult. Adding to my woes, Yahoo! lags behind Google in indexing, so my link: queries on the sites in question returned blanks.
Note: I should have scrutinized the Google phrase-match SERP. Considering that the auto-generated sites had incoming links with "January 1, TCP/IP" in the anchor text a little digging would have turned the inlinks up.
Not knowing where those links came from wasn't a major issue, particularly because they couldn't have been more than a few hours old. Additionally, I could leverage an authoritative domain and ping for backlinks. I chose Blogspot.com because it met this requirement, because it can handle the traffic, and because it allows AdSense.
But blogging and pinging aggregator services wouldn't be enough. The site had to hold on to the SERP. Topical blogs with authority and blog farms posed substantial threats, and I had no immediate way to gain indexed authoritative links. And I was working against the clock.
Step 3: Circular SEO/SEM a la Digg-Google-Digg: Why the site ranked #1-4 for the term Google linked to from its homepage
The idea was to rank Digg itself. Making the bookmark popular would increase Digg's inlinks to it and hopefully grab Digg members off of the SERP. If Digg ranked high, Digg members would Digg it out of vanity/curiosity (or at least a small percentage would). Digg's trustrank, freshness, relevance and authority would keep the bookmark at #1. I just had to get the bookmark in the top 5 and the Digg users would take care of the rest. After social bookmarking the bookmark itself, it grabbed rank 3 for the term and made the Digg front page 3 hours later. Google's immediate indexing of Digg's internal links was all that mattered, which increased as users Dugg the site.
In short, Digg members found the bookmark by clicking the Google logo, which was ranked so highly because Digg members found the bookmark by cl… And in the middle of all of this was the real target: the average Google searcher wanting to know why Google was endorsing "January 1 TCP/IP" SERP.
As a side-benefit of using Digg and Blogspot, I had some domain-level authority to play around with. I wrote another article and added a link with the keyword phrase in its anchor text. Pinged it and voila, ranks 1, 2 and 3. After Digging the new article I held the top four links for the target keyphrase.
If you spent some time on the SERP yesterday, you saw sites like "january-1-tcpip.blogspot.com", "january-1-tcp-ip-123.blogspot.com" and "january-1-tcp--ip.blogspot.com," none of which were created by me. The pages are hosted on Blogspot since my work with Digg established blogspot.com as a relevant domain for the keyphrase, which helped them rank in the top 10. Additionally, an SEO was occasionally able slide into rank 2 by persistently adding new Digg bookmarks optimized for the keyphrase.
The site received over 300,000 unique hits of traffic converting at below half of a percent.
Not using the traffic to promote other sites.
Writing for Google and not the users. This bookmark had the potential to become the number 1 most Digged of all time.
AdSense: non-optimized layout, using AdSense at all.
SERP defense. I mentioned the site had rankings 1-4 but now only has 1-3 (or 1,3,4 depending on the data center).
Search Engine Watch lost its magic glow the day it got scummed by SEMPO. A friend pointed me to a 3 part series on Search Engine Watch about how you can't learn SEO from a book. The author of these articles used the same articles to recommend you get certified from the SEMPO Institute. Coincidentally, the author's profile mentions that he is an author for the SEMPO Institute.
But, to be honest, SEMPO saved my life. If they hadn't sent my wife an SEO who got her site penalized she probably never would have found me, bought my book, started chatting with me, and saved my life.
Jim Boykin announced the launch of his Internet Marketing Ninjas training & SEO tools. His price point is not cheap, but he opened up his internal tools and flew all over the country to interview many experts to create a quality product.
The web levels the playing field, allowing individuals to compete with larger corporations, largely through the smaller players making dirt public and launching viral marketing campaigns around issues. Because there is a publisher publishing every opinion and angle, it is easy to discount just about everything, especially attempts for new market participants to become remarkable.
Where there was a shortage of attitude and commentary, there's now a surfeit. And what's in heavy demand, and short supply, is linkworthy material, by which I mean a secret memo, a spy photo, a chart, a well-argued rant, a list, an exclusive piece of news, a well-packaged find.
With them determining quality based on the ability to garner links and pageviews, do you think that is going to improve content quality, or just cause more mud slinging and noise? The easy way to get more page views is controversy, as pointed out by Scott Karp and Scoble.
2008 will probably be a nasty year for online content quality, as the true flaws of PageRank and the selfish nature of bloggers with new found power shine brighter than ever, feeding off one another. Blogs that once acted as hubs spotting good ideas and sending visitors to them will now take your best ideas, reformat them, add a bit of original content, drop the attribution, and get the pageviews they need to get paid. Where they once linked at your new content look for them to link back to their recent greatest hits from 2 days ago. Every post builds off the last. Every blogger for themself. :)
Google has Knol. Wikipedia has Wikia search. Yahoo has answers. Mahalo has how tos. Topical channels that highlighted content will get greedier with links. Virtually every clean traffic source is trying to become the end destination too.
People will eventually get sick of controversy and traffic hoarding the same way we became banner blind. Anyone just getting started out might be able to make some moves into the market with controversial content, but for those who are already established the key to future growth will be going back over your old ideas, refining them, making them more accessible, and producing them in better formats. 10 pieces of anchor content will pull a site further along than 1,000 me too posts. And linking out will still help too, assuming you pay your content writers based on something other than pageviews.
In early December some astute webmasters noticed that some of their longterm (in some cases many years) #1 or #2 ranking pages in Google now rank at #6. Just like with the Google -30 and the Google -950 penalties, some people will maintain this is fiction, but too many smart people experienced the same thing at the same time for it to be such.
Long time good rankings for a big search term - usually #1
Other searches that returned the same url at #1 may also be sent to #6, but not all of them
Some reports of a #2 result going to #6.
My Site That Got Hit
My site which saw a ranking dive on December 18th had the homepage hit, and interior pages hit for some (but not all) related phrases. Here are some noteworthy conditions with my site that was hit:
The site was entirely ranked on SEO. There is no ad budget outside of PPC ads or link buying, and no brand recognition outside of the search results. Outside of one linkbait there is nothing remarkable about the site.
The homepage did not get any new quality links in over a year.
Much of the link building was done years ago when I was far spammier and far more aggressive with anchor text than I would be today, though I did use some semantic variation to pick up rankings for many different keyword permutations.
The internal pages still rank #1 for some semi-related longer queries, while they are also filtered and ranking #6 for some more obviously connected shorter search queries.
The site continues to buy PPC ads and gets decent conversion rates for the keywords that were hit, and gets great conversion rates for more focused related terms, some of which the site was hit for and some of which the site still ranks great for. This conversion data is being sent to Google via the AdWords conversion tracker.
This affected alternate permutations of acronyms (letters strung together or pulled apart).
This affects words if mixed into a different order.
This affects many longer search query containing the core words or closely related words.
This did not affect obvious domain name or brand related queries, even if the brand contained one of the words overlapping with the penalized set. If a filtered word outside of the domain name / brand name is appended to the query then the rankings are killed, and the site is stuck at #6.
Usage Data or Improved Phrase Relationship Detection of Anchor Text?
Why I do Not Think it is Usage Data
Based on feedback in the WMW thread it is hard to isolate this to any one variable with certainty. Two possibilities that have been thrown out are rolling more usage data into the search results or a better understanding of word and phrase relationships. It is easy to think of usage data as a possibility given my site's lack of marketing and lack of integration into the organic web, but that would not explain why some pages and queries were hit while some similar pages and queries still rank, with Google getting strong conversion data via AdWords on some of these pages. Also, for that homepage I wrote an aggressive page title and meta description that draws in many clicks, and the landing page is exceptionally relevant for the query.
Why I Think it is Phrase Relationships
I think this issue is likely tied to a stagnant link profile with a too tightly aligned anchor text profile, with the anchor text being overly-optimized when compared against competing sites.
The fact that some related queries were hit, but not all, makes me think that rather than being about usage data this is about word and phrase relationship improvements. I think if Google got better at understanding word relationships, many of the pages that once fit the criteria to rank may now have anchor text that is too focused and too well aligned with the target keywords, especially if they compare your anchor text to the anchor text of other sites competing for the same phrases. Once possible manipulation is identified via artificial anchor text your rankings across the site can be suppressed for a basket of semantically related terms, as noted in some of Google's phrase based indexing patents.
Matt Cutts Does Not Know What Happened
This filter was also called the minus 5 penalty, but many of the sites that were hit still rank at #6 even if they were ranking #2 or #3 before they were hit. When Barry posted about this Matt Cutts said "Hmm. I'm not aware of anything that would exhibit that sort of behavior," but some past SEO issues, like the famed Google sandbox have been accidentally introduced as a side effect of Google upgrades:
What's a sandbox, Matt?
"Some people have asked, "does this apply to newer sites?" Essentially, the way to think about it is, around 2003 Google switched to a new method of updating its index. Before that we had monthly Google dances. So as a result, new data is always being folded into the index. It's not like there was one pivotal moment when anyone can say, "Hah! This is the change!" In fact, even at different data centers we have different binaries, different algorithms, different types of data always being tested.
"I think a lot of what's perceived as the sandbox is artifacts where, in our indexing, some data may take longer to be computed than other data."
With my sample set of one site my current hypothesis might be out to lunch. If you have any sites that you feel were hit and want to share them for helping everyone figure out what is going on please do so in the comments below. If you have any ideas or feedback on what happened please leave a comment with that too.
I recently got a copy of AdAge's year in review. Since the 2001 web bust almost every job field in advertising is flat or down, with the exception of a sharp growth in the number of people working as marketing consultants. AdAge also listed the top 20 search marketing firms. I think the 2006 numbers for the 20th firm had like 5 million in revenues with something like 260 employees. Some companies may not want to be on such a list for competitive reasons, but the companies on the list are likely rounding up on the numbers and counting whatever they can as revenue. That comes out to revenues of less than $20,000 per employee, which stinks when you consider that if you deliver any real value to the clients and are growing your business some of that spend needs to go into
doing market research
buying PPC ads
marketing your own consulting business
office related overhead
creating custom software
Some of these companies have been around for 10 years and have CEOs who go to 20 or 30 conferences a year. I have been on the web less than 5 years and am already getting burned out on conferences. I could not imagine going to that many conferences when we have kids. And none of these companies made as much per employee as I do. Even my wife, who is still quite new to the web, is doing far better than these firms are at producing return. I am afraid that she might be beating me come this time next year. Gulp :)
The same day I read AdAge, another magazine about SEO came in that I do not remember subscribing to. Out of the whole magazine, I only saw 2 names I even recognized. I think many of the people who wrote articles also bought ads from the same site. Along with the magazine was an offer for an SEO contest where you pay a $5,000 entry fee, with the promise that the winner will be shopped to CIOs of fortune 500 companies.
First off, what firm is going to pay $5,000 to enter a contest?
Second, what client worth having is going to want to pay consultant rates only to have have third parties looking over their marketing? I have consulted some fortune 500s, and I can tell you that some of the ideas proposed by them and some of the ideas I proposed might not look pretty to third parties. If something works only because it is exclusive then where is the value in sharing it?
Third, what fortune 500 company that has not got into search yet is going to be impressed by some arbitrary paid award? And which of them got to the size of a fortune 500 company while moving that slowly on a large market (like search) without being the type of company that would research the background of such an award?
My partners and I are quite selective with what clients we are willing to take on, and we price toward the high end based on our brand strength and experience, but in most cases we only get a fraction of a fraction of the value created. I do not think that the SEO market is bleak though, I just think that companies who believe in it ultimately bring it in house, and after they have an in house team there is only so much they can pay external consultants before the competency of the in house team is questioned.
To appreciate how many people have an in house SEO team, even a search engine tried hiring me a while back, but that would have been a big pay cut. And I can not tell you how many times I have seen a mainstream media company write an article trashing SEO only to have someone from their in house SEO team send me an SEO question via email a week later.
As marketers we have to keep moving ourselves up the value chain. There is only so much value you can provide as a third party consultant. Adding 100 extra employees means that you are adding bulk workers for automation, but the best marketing can not be automated. And if you want scale it pays much better just to own your own site and network. Give me 200 SEOs (or maybe just 5 of them), a designer, a programmer, a few writers, and 5 years, and I should be able to create a BankRate, Monster.com, or a WebMD in whatever markets I aggressively pursue. And, according to the market, that pays much better than consulting work does.