Yahoo! has guys like Jeremy Zawodny marketing their fresh new search platform, and yet they remain behind the competition. Microsoft jumped into the search field way later than Yahoo! did, so why is it that Microsoft rankings for well promoted sites often roughly track Google rankings, while Yahoo! still has yet to give many of these sites an opportunity to rank?
Here are some examples of what I am talking about (with URLs expunged to protect the guilty)...
A couple year old site that was lingering about with a few inbound links and was promoted last November. Notice how quickly both Google and Microsoft took to the marketing, whereas Yahoo is still nowhere to be found
Here is a site that was promoted from brand new. Notice how Google and Microsoft are trending toward trusting it more and more, while Yahoo! Search occasionally picks it up and then spits it back out again
Here is yet another newish site that Microsoft loves and Google is starting to like more and more. Yahoo! is still nowhere to be found
If you had to pick the 1,000 most competitive keywords on the web I think all 3 of the above would fall in that group. I could list numerous other example sites as well. All the above sites have been in the Yahoo! Directory for at least 4 months. Even with new sites and a moderate amount of targeted promotion it is not that hard to work your way up into Google and Microsoft's rankings, but Yahoo usually ignores it.
When you are new to the field of SEO there is a certain excitement in starting a site from scratch and growing it out into a flourishing enterprise. You ask someone to link to you and when they do you get excited. When you get cited without asking for it you get excited. And when the rankings start to show up you get excited. At some point you may even develop an irrational emotional attachment to some of your websites. I know I have.
Fair is Fair
Search engines teach you that there are equitable rules to follow. The rules keep shifting in accordance with the search engine's business models, but somehow they are always fair. You see other people doing things that are "spammy," but refuse to. When you submit your site to 100 directories, donate money for links, attend every conference that will link at you, or when you syndicate your content to dozens of websites it is not spam. Your content is quality, you follow the rules, and one day you will be rewarded for it. One day...
Who Starts From Scratch?
But do you have to start from scratch to be doing SEO?
In Cosmos Carl Sagan said that "to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first create the universe." I tend to think the same way about SEO.
Some people who jumped on the web and were immediately successful started when the marketplace was much less competitive.
Some companies like Amazon.com lost millions or billions of dollars building their brands.
Others carried offline success and relationships online.
Some people have jobs or schools that offer them the opportunity to publish content on a trusted domain.
Some companies can do whatever they want because they have a big brand and/or a large ad budget.
Some people who are better salesmen than you may borrow your ideas, re-package them, and then talk trash about how ignorant you are.
And yet another group of people have a large following because they are highly biased and/or lie (ie: Fox News).
What is Fair?
Are any of the above categories unfair? Or is the concept of fair nothing more than bogus self-posturing by profit hungry corporations? Many companies who helped fund the large networks (affiliates, for example) later saw their sites classified as spam or priced out of the same markets they built by quality scores which said their sites are no good as the network got more competitive. Mind you many of these changes were not algorithm related, but were driven by direct human intervention.
The rules keep driving value (and profit) to the networks. They appear fair so long as your interests are aligned with those of the network. But behind the public rules, they fund theft of copyright work hoping it leads to the original publisher giving in and partnering with them to wrap their ads around the content. In other cases, if you get too successful human intervention within the network votes against you while leaving your competition unscathed. Why did Text Link Ads get penalized while Text Link Brokers still ranks?
Leverage Your Assets
Not every strategy works for every person, but if you are starting from scratch thinking that you are following the rules, you are missing out on some fundamental truths of the marketplace. If you are not leveraging and building upon your knowledge, passions, curiosity, and social relationships every day you are losing money (likely to an inferior and/or less honest competitor).
Take the Red Pill
Some of the most effective SEOs buy and sell links, buy and sell websites, buy and sell companies, rent personalities to promote their sites, openly engage is link schemes, use successful positions to promote other similar positions, expand out to other high profit market positions, and do whatever they see fit to profit. It is not our job to create the algorithms, we just satisfy the criteria to rank.
Take the Blue Pill
Others start every project from scratch, hoping that one day the market will be fair and shine a light on them. One day...
One of the biggest things holding back Yahoo! Search is their preference for Yahoo! content. As a shift in strategy, Yahoo! announced they are opening up their search results to third party data integration. Instead of a typical search result, some of the results with third party data may look like this
Yahoo! will turn on third party data for some leading sites by default
Google requires you to learn their proprietary confusing language AND promote Google, Google Search, Google Subscribed Links, AND get your users to subscribe for you to get any additional exposure (and yet they wonder why it hasn't taken off yet)
Through different strategies both of the top 2 engines are turning their search results into destinations. Worth watching as it progresses. More information available at Search Engine Land.
Once you look at content creation from that perspective, there are a lot of great content ideas that you will not find on many competing sites simply due to limitations tied to their business interests, or their lack of interest in providing real value to the market.
AdWords has become a black box beyond the means of many small advertisers. To help some advertisers automate their accounts tools like free conversion tracking and CPA based bidding have came about. But all the tools that help enhance the perceived value of search ads and the value of conversions does nothing for brand ads or the other ads people see before searching and buying.
Content ads, which were relatively expensive when AdSense first came out, have seen their price drop over the years as
advertisers adjusted content bids downward
smart pricing reduces prices (again, again, and again)
quality scores that drives out arbitrage ads
the clickable region has got smaller
The value of many publishing based business models has aggressively eroded as
publishing markets get saturated
AdSense has replaced direct ad sales for many sites
Google keeps discounting the price (and perceived value) of non-search ads
Google's search based ads get conversion credit for demand created by other ads
Google claims their success is just because they are simply better than the competition and they have been doing search longer (that second claim is untrue - Yahoo! owns Inktomi and AltaVista, which have both been doing search longer than Google). The truth is they have a huge advantage in network effects, have advertising believe that their inventory is worth more than it is, and that other online ads are worth less than they are. It is going to be hard to create a viable competitor unless the metrics for measuring value are changed.
Microsoft's answer to this is called Engagement Mapping, yet another black box, but one that aims to share part of the ad credit with display ads (clicked or not) instead of tying most of the ad value to the search based conversion. Publishers would clearly benefit from this, but if it is hard to get advertisers to buy AdSense ads on Google (where Google essentially giving away the ads) how hard will it be to get advertisers to buy in on this? Perhaps big brands will use it, but smaller companies will not be interested.
If Microsoft does not own a big piece of the search market, another big hurdle is how will they advertisers trust this model without giving Microsoft their analytics data?
How might this pricing model change online publishing (for better or worse)?
One of the things that a lot of thought leaders do is inspire people. It is easy to believe when they give you something to believe in.
I recently stumbled across this page. Although it is just text, to me it seems just as powerful as listening to Barack Obama speak. It is not even the words that matter...it is the underlying tone and enthusiasm.
Sometimes I am a bit too cynical for my own good. Far too often I place principal ahead of growth strategies. But most of that stuff does not matter. The future of sustainable marketing practices is more about creating inspiring stories than about knowing more or blending ads in content better. Which, I suppose, is a good reason to go to the gym every day. The better you maintain yourself the easier it is to be inspiring. Now that's a holistic marketing strategy. :)
It's about the interplay between technology and economics and how it influences the way people live and work. I look at how the electric grid transformed industry and society a hundred years ago, which is a cool story in itself, and then I use that story as a way to explain the similar shift that's going on today with computing, as software applications and data storage shift onto the Internet's computing grid. I argue that the rise of "cloud computing," as it's called, will also have far-reaching social, cultural, and business effects - some good, some bad.
What inspired you to write The Big Switch?
It's been clear to me for a number of years that the Internet was going to transform computing - to turn it into a kind of centrally supplied utility. I guess I just wanted to put that shift into a broader context for readers, a historical and economic context as well as a technological context.
The web empowers many individuals. Yet in spite of all this innovation, the middle class in the United States is hollowing out. Why is that? As individuals how can we protect ourselves from that trend?
People with computers and Internet connections have enormous new opportunities to express themselves, and a smaller set of people have also gained new economic opportunities thanks to the Net. But I don't see any sign that the economic opportunities are being widely spread, as they were with industrialization in the last century. I think what we're seeing, in fact, is that software can take the place of labor on a broad scale without creating large new pools of attractive jobs. That's one of the main reasons the middle class has been stagnant in recent years and the divide between the very rich and everyone else has been growing ever wider. As the cost of computing continues to fall, software-based automation will only expand and accelerate. There will still be lots of good opportunities for individuals - the ranks of the rich are bigger than ever - but for the middle class in general things will likely get tougher.
With the publishing economy becoming more attention based, will most writing come in chunks so small and so fast that they lack context and the bigger picture? If so, how could this trend be reversed?
I think it's quite clear that the Internet is training our minds to take in information in quick bursts and that in turn we're slowly losing our ability to maintain the concentration and patience necessary to read extended pieces of writing. This is a phenomenon that many people who use the web a lot have noticed. I think we're probably at the start of a major shift in cognition, and I doubt it's reversible.
Sometimes I read TechMeme and 100 claimed thought leaders are all agreeing on the same thing. Then the next day (or sometimes two days later) you write about how all of them are wrong, and then 2/3 of them agree with you. What makes your contrarian blogging so captivating and buzz-worthy?
The wisdom of crowds is, I think, greatly overrated. Crowds are usually full of crap. So if you see a blog mob happily racing off in one direction, you can be pretty sure that if you go the opposite way you'll find something interesting.
TechMeme, by the way, is a great site to visit if you want to get a quick read on what's going on at the moment in the Internet end of the technology world. But it's a very dangerous site to spend a lot of time on if you're a tech blogger. It narrows your view and promotes rapid-fire me-too-ism. It's better to try to seek out interesting new sources of information, to give yourself some space to think rather than just reacting.
Some bloggers have called you cynical, but many of them fail to see connections that you easily make. What makes it so easy for you to identify relationships that others miss?
I don't really know. Being open to a broad set of influences is important, I think. To me, what's fun about writing - and about thinking, for that matter - is making unexpected connections. When most people write, they get very earnest. They approach writing as if it were work. It's better to be playful, to let your mind and your sentences take chances.
Is user generated content an answer to anything, or does it only accelerate the diminishing content quality problem?
People write blogs and upload photos and videos and tag content because they enjoy it. It gives them satisfaction. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that. But user-generated content does not exist in a vacuum. It competes with other content, and because it's cheap to produce and usually given away free it has a big market advantage. You have to ask yourself what's going to be crowded out of the market - what good stuff are we going to lose. A lot of people seem to think that new digital media represents a break from mainstream mass media. I don't see it that way. I think new media represents a continuation of mass media and a further amplification of some of mass media's worst qualities.
You mentioned studies about political blogs in The Big Switch. From those studies, it seems links, attention, and readership seemed confined and self-reinforcing in some ways. How may search engines (and other gate-keepers) promote the creation of balanced content when people typically vote for content that is aligned with their biases and identities?
That's a good question, but I don't have a good answer. I think what we're going to see is greater personalization in search and other filtering and navigation tools, and in time that will tend to further reinforce biases and push people to have less sympathy for views that are different from their own. I think media personalization is good for search engines and advertisers. I don't think it's a great thing for society.
Some publishing companies already use profit potential to guide what types of content they create and what topics they cover. Could this create a thinning out in many important fields where the economic viability of the publishing in the field is limited?
In the long run, all for-profit publishers are influenced by profit potential. How could they not be? That's not meant as any kind of criticism of journalistic ethics. It's just a simple observation that production shapes itself to the market. So, looking again at the longer term, you can expect that the combination of unbundled content and precisely targeted advertising will mean that some types of content, including some times of very serious, very worthy content, will fall by the wayside or be shunted to a small elite. We may come to look back fondly on the days of bundled content and lots of cross-subsidies.
How far will the shift to publishing profitable topics go. Might we see a weekly (or daily) NYT story on Viagra?
I think it will be more subtle than that, at least for the top papers. What we'll see is a slow but meaningful change in what's published and how it's published as publications adapt to the new modes of information consumption among readers and the new expectations of advertisers.
I just added a subscription based service to access parts of my website. Do you see publishing shifting to charging less for content (using content for marketing) and charging more for interaction? In what areas may selling content without interaction be a viable business model 20 years from now?
I think there will always be niche markets where specialized content carries a high value, and printed books and magazines will probably continue to sell well for a good long time. But for most online publishing, including interactive publishing, a subscription fee is an awfully hard sell.
Increasingly we let machines make decisions for us, which on the surface simplifies things. But what are the hidden costs?
When you let machines take over parts of your thinking, you start to think like a machine. This is the greatest danger posed by the Net. Computers get a little smarter, we get a little dumber, and eventually we meet somewhere in the middle.
Do you feel you have a health records problem, or was Google's recent move into the space guided by profit potential? At some point will people refuse to use the data hoarding ad networks?
There's a huge health records problem - a fatal problem for some unfortunate folks. I think Google sees this as a problem to solve, a problem well suited to its own expertise. I applaud them for their ambition. But I think that using health records as a platform for advertising is dangerous and unethical, and so while I don't doubt Google's good intentions I am very suspicious of how its program will actually play out.
If I was new to the web and wanted to write for a living, where would you suggest I start? What was key to helping you becoming a great writer?
First of all, thank you for the compliment. I think the best way to learn to write well is to read a lot, particularly when you're young and impressionable. If you want to write for a living on the web, your best bet is to find a niche market that's attractive to advertisers, start a blog, and then work like hell. You'll still probably fail, but you never know.
Following last year's pillage of general web directories, Google reset the PageRank on many article syndication directories to PR3 or PR0. EzineArticles did not get edited, perhaps because they have more stringent editorial guidelines, they were a known market leader, or they were a Google case study. Just about every other article syndication directory did.
About 3 years ago I create a directory of directories so I could keep track of new directories. But very few of the directory owners considered editorial quality. Eventually they started polluting their directories with site-wide links to payday loan websites.
On the paid side some people who had success creating one low quality directory decided to create a dozen more pay for inclusion websites, often cross promoting them with discounts...after you buy one they thank you and offer you the ability to buy inclusion in the other dozen at half price.
And on the cheap end, it got to the point where lots of companies like Directory Maximizer do directory submissions for a dime to a quarter each, allowing you to space out the submissions, mix anchor text, and mix listing descriptions. And while many of these services claim to be "SEO friendly" and offer services in bulk, you can see that a search engineer might not hold the same opinion. :)
By the time a technique is cheaply and reliably outsourced the value has already been diminished or will soon become worthless.
lower cost and automation means more people will use the technique
the lower cost often appeals to those making lower quality websites
the more people who use a technique the more likely it is for search engineers to kill it
Andy Hagans used to charge $900 for doing a couple dozen article submissions, and back when he did it, it was probably worth it. He marketed it to highbrow clients who used it to promote quality website. Lower end webmasters probably could not justify paying $900 for that service.
And you could get a hand rolled product of similar quality to what Andy charged $900 for, but at a price $870 cheaper from We Submit Articles. About a month after I showed Andy that We Submit Articles website, where someone was selling services similar to his for $30, he changed his model to promote linkbait stuff, moving himself up the value chain, creating something that is much harder and more expensive to replicate.
Article submission software and article remixing software came out, only making the issue worse. Andy probably could have continued his old model for another year and been fine, but he knew that Google would eventually pull the rug out from under it. It took a while, but the article directories had their PageRank edited.
Search engineers can't stop everything, but by the time a technique is cheaply and reliably outsourced the value has already been diminished or will soon become worthless.
lower cost and automation means more people will use the technique
the lower cost often appeals to those making lower quality websites
the more people who use a technique the more likely it is for search engineers to kill it
When you think of the web from that perspective it is easy to see why my current business model is so much better than the old model. The community interaction allows for deeper understanding, and helps people move past using just the techniques that are quick, cheap, and easy.
Parasitic hosts and upload sites, social media sites full of spam, endless cross-referencing internal tagging, blog carnivals...all are quick, cheap, and easy. What do you think is the next quick, cheap, and easy marketing technique that Google will kill?
Aaron likes to give his spiel about passion and that you need to be gunuinely interested in the topics you are promoting. I took that advice for granted and its importance finally hit me. One of the sites I'm promoting is very clean and I have very high respect for its merit. However, I was given the challenge to promote a seasonal yet very important topic for a specific audience. In addition, I was the one to write the content. That was a bit unfair due to my lack of experience in that field. It's convenient to dodge work so I outsourced the content. Besides, promotion is the real challenge. Ok, I was wrong. The final version of the outsourced material needed heavy changes and it didn't satisfy the person who originated the idea.
It Ain't 2005 Anymore
You see, with more webmasters using no-follow and the overall "stinginess" of people linking out, you really need to avoid promoting mediocre content. The stuff REALLY needs to be useful. It helps to put yourself in the shoes of the target audience. Another advantage of producing real content is passing a search engineer's hand edit. To sum it up, everyone wins when you promote good content. Content isn't enough if you have very little traffic. The PROMOTION of good content is where it's at, ladies and gentlemen with newer sites.
Ok, Back to Passion
I've been working on this project for almost a week and after a few minutes of working, my mind goes blank and wanders off. I love the site and I love the future promotional ideas in store because I TRULY BELIEVE that they are genuinely useful and will give a tremendous benefit to the site's visitors. But this current topic is something I just don't give a damn about. Promotion will be fun but writing the actual content, especially if it's about something you care less for can be EXCRUCIATING.
My case is a bit special because I didn't think of this promotional idea and it was almost forced to me.
Tips You Can Use That Worked Well for Me:
You need to have an AUTHENTIC interest and be a genuine believer in what you are promoting. Ok, hypothetically you own a website about traveling to Spain and you are about to promote "The Top 10 Spanish Professors in the U.S." Be honest with yourself. Are you personally interested or care about who the best Spanish professors are? Also, think about the visitors. Will they care or apply the material in real life? In contrast, Aaron and I wrote the Bloggers Guide to SEO. Are we genuinely interested in blogging and SEO? He works 7 days a week and well, it's 3 am in Calfornia and guess what I'm doing? Yes I like blogging but I'll do anything to avoid working on that project that was assigned to me :)
It is important that you manage and go over every word of the content.
When promoting ideas, quality succeeds quantity. You get more success promoting 2-3 well written, high-touch material than 10 mediocre ones.
What do you guys think? Feel free to add your thoughts and ideas.
What does get me hot and bothered is when consultants and bloggers propose launching such an initiatives solely for influencing search. SEO, like word of mouth, should be a byproduct outcome, not a primary objective. Any brand that plays in this space should be aiming to create value. Do that and the other stuff will follow.
But the SEO shenanigans for the sake of SEO has to stop. If you're going to play in our sandbox, follow the community's (unwritten) rules.
Using Steve Rubel's broken logic, public relations should be a natural outcome of product quality, and nobody should need to hire his firm to create fake blogs. But that is another story for another post.
One day your writing a fake blog for Wal Mart and the next day you are writing the rulebook for blogging. As long as you are consistent that is all that matters. Just keep writing. ;)
You really need to police yourself before talking about how you are going to police others, and before you write off other fields in their entirety.
I recently bought a few AdWords ads for Microsoft adCenter's affiliate program. These links were direct affiliate links that headed directly to Microsoft - the searcher never touched my site.
Compare the following 3 AdWords ad campaigns
The first campaign is a strategic one, where I do not mind losing money if it increases usage, which may lead to more links (and better organic rankings) over time. But that second campaign, with a similar number of clicks, never even touches my site and still has a baseline conversion rate and conversion cost similar to the strategic ad group.
Truth be told those conversion sample sizes are so small that it is hard to draw concrete evidence from them, but if I was telling myself that some of the ad sales caused by that strategic ad campaign help subsidize at least some of the cost, then I might be operating under a false pretense. Some of those conversions may have happened anyway.
Why is this important? As Google controls an increasing large piece of the online advertiser pie, if you use their analytics, many of those conversions THEY track are falsely tied to their ads. They would have happened even if you were not buying AdWords ads. As far as brand related conversions go, conversions tied to brand phrases typically are not incremental, which means those would have happened even if you were not buying AdWords ads.
You can use direct conversions as a proxy for the value of advertisements, but if you have a large ad campaign and a well known brand, you are likely buying brand exposure more than direct conversions, even if you control your spend on using a CPA metric.
Sometimes I can drive a golf ball about 350 yards. Sometimes I can throw my back out on a swing and a miss. Sometimes I hit the ball straight up and it comes crashing down hard. I have never had a birdie. But at least I have never hit a bird yet, like Giovanna did once.
One day my wife and I took golfing lessons. The instructor could hit the ball consistently swinging with one arm. Much better accuracy than I had with two. My biggest problem was form. But on practice swings I would have no way of knowing if my form was good or bad because I would swing, think it felt good, then swing and a miss.
If your golf club hits the ground then you know where the ground is. If you consistently sweep the ground then you will consistently hit the ball well. But if you do not touch the ground you do not know how far you are off.
How does that story relate to SEO?
A friend of mine has a bunch of decent domains he wants to build out, but he is afraid to spend too much on links on any of them. Given the field that he is in and that he has some exact match domain names he could probably rank a number of them just by using simple link building solutions like submitting to directories.
He said he did not want to invest too much into any one of them because he had a lot of them to do. I said I recommend over-investing in one of them so you guarantee the thing ranks, such that you get the traffic and market feedback needed to track conversions, test out the effect of making changes, and optimize the conversion process before applying it to dozens of sites.
Setting up one site, ranking it, and tweaking it in for conversion is just like finding Earth with a golf club. If gives you a baseline to work from to ensure you are getting maximal return out of your investments.
It does not matter how bad some of your business ideas are. As long as you are receptive to market feedback and you know where Earth is you can keep growing. For some inspiration, read about how Patrick Gavin went from "marketing the past" to becoming the leading link broker in the world.
When I read must we piss in every public fountain by Dan Thies, I thought it was a great post. But at the same time, as an internet marketer you have to be pragmatic. Which is why I was unsurprised when 6 months later StomperNet sent out an email suggesting that readers could
visit propeller.com and open up 10 unique accounts using different usernames, email addresses, etc.
Use free email accounts from Yahoo, Gmail, etc. to open up the accounts.
Repeat the process for each of the 29 Social Bookmarking sites listed at SocialMarker.com
and then the next email claimed
Are they borderline? Yeah! We said they were. We pointed out in the email that you need to be careful when walking the line with social marketing. Do spammers use similar techniques to the ones Jeff outlined? I'm sure they do - Spammers are always on the lookout for new exploits... but they usually don't need to learn from legitimate marketing teachers to uncover them.
The difference between an ethical marketer and a spammer is a matter of intent. The ethical marketer seeks to profit by providing real value to real individuals. The spammer seeks only pure profit based on the laws of statistics - throw enough people at any offer, and someone will bite.
So you don't think you are telling people to be spammers when you tell them to set up 10 Propeller accounts? What exactly separates those "10 legitimate accounts" people from spammers? I would love to see an explanation about where that line in the sand is drawn.
primarily what I got was sales pitch after sales pitch, and “new program” after “new program”, and far too many different forums that offered practically no participation by the original faculty members that were the catalyst to my joining.
Almost every internet marketer explains how other people are spammy, but what they do is somehow legitimate. When I was new and naive I may have bought that crap, but how can people claiming thought leader status still be dishing out such blatant lies in 2008?
I see that as silly. Techniques are either effective or they are not. And they carry an associated risk level. I chose to be technique agnostic because it is the only way you keep learning and keep growing faster than the market. Sometimes you only learn to appreciate the opportunity cost of risk after you get a site burned. But then it factors into future decisions.
That story did not appear because somebody spammed, it appeared because the marketing was so aggressive and overt. Anytime you have thousands of people embedding something someone is going to notice it. If it was done on a smaller scale it could have lasted for years. A few years ago, for about a 2 year period, one of the top ranked mesothelioma sites was there based on links syndicated with web counters.
Forbes sometimes writes stories about how SEOs are spammers and stories about how Google is clamping down on spam. And then they publish a bunch of cheesy lead generation pages on their site that are linked to nearly sitewide via a dropdown box that hides the links.
Do publishers need to keep content and ads separate to be legitimate, as demanded by this random commenter on a story about Ron Jackson working in a domain start up? No they don't. That is just the lie the media needs to push to be viewed as credible. Almost every popular website does reciprocal promotion and has editorial guided by their business interests. But when people can't follow their own advice and create profit, or they need to lie to just to make a buck, they have headed down the wrong path.
I enjoy helping people. But how I was doing it via endless emails was not working. I was worried that I might get some blowback when I changed my business model, so I could offer higher customer value. But largely the reaction was positive. I got numerous emails like this:
I have admired you and your work for a very long time, and not just that, but also your honest no-hype, no-crap approach to doing business online.
it's been my observance that some aspects of SEO and also 'net marketing' are so sleazy that it's not to be believed. even some people who started out 'legit' and made a bit of a name for themselves now have seemed to let themselves get sucked into the hype and associated with some less than ethical behaviours all to make money.
you know what is kind of funny? i keep encountering all these so-called experts, some in person, but most online, and i always ask them: "hey, did you get that book from Aaron Wall? you know, the SEO Book. what do you think of it?" and you know what? almost none of them have bought it. some of them even ask me, 'Aaron who?'. for me, you set the standard, so i find it really odd.
One member instant messaged me telling me "the community is like heaven for SEOs." I have learned a good bit from the forums too. I am surprised how well it has been working out so far. Are some of the suggestions considered spammy? Of course. Use the right tool for the right job.
Back to that topic of identifying spam. If you replaced the word spam with the word profit you would better understand how and why it is policed. Matt Inman's spam simply consisted of using push marketing, viral marketing, aiming it at a large audience, and embedding promotional value for other company assets in it.
When Google partners with large political parties are they actually looking out for your best interests? Google is using push marketing, viral marketing, aiming it at a large audience, and embedding promotional value for other company assets in it. Hmm. Sounds familiar.
Do you have a health records problem? Or is Google solving a marketing problem, helping pharmaceutical corporations push drugs at you based on your genetic flaws? If they are doing push marketing for large established bodies how can they expect anyone else to compete with them without using push marketing?
Build it and they will come...to someone else's site. Be aggressive and use push marketing, or earn 25% of your real market value. Almost everyone who tells you not to spam does not listen to their own advice, or changed their outlook AFTER they got a market leading position. But they didn't get where they are by following their own advice.
Scribd's iPaper aims to make it the YouTube of documents. Syndicating content is really easy now, but for most webmasters, in the short term, the value of inbound links is far greater than the value of spreading documents onto other sites.
IBM's Many Eyes is a cool data visualization tool.
We had 103 community members sign up in the first 2 days. Which is way beyond what I was expecting! I still have 2 big problems though...
I still have about 25 emails left to catch up with.
The subscription button is only charging $50 still and the programmer is not around yet. I shot him an email, and when he gets to it the price is going to jump to $100.
I just wanted to say thank you for reading and thank you again if you joined our community. I hope to keep making this training program better and better as time passes. I am going to try to interview a few people when I go down to SMX to add that to the premium content part of the site.
I get hundreds of emails a day, and am always behind on email. Recently I sent out emails to affiliates letting them know that I was changing my model, and let high volume affiliates know that I wanted to give them a free limited trial so they could see what they are selling. It only makes sense to have your best affiliates know what changed.
In response to my email to 3,000+ affiliates, my email load sharply increased. The people who were top affiliates typically sent an unassuming email "not sure if I am a top affiliate but I would love to take a look." At the same time hundreds of affiliates who had 0 or 1 sale ever (some even with 0 clickthroughs and 0 ad impressions) considered themselves high volume sellers and demanded a free trial. Friction. Uggg.
So then I had to tell those people no, and that the launch was going better than expected, and I wanted to ensure I was able to keep up with current community members. One of them told me that they were going to use something that sounded to me like "creative spammy marketing" to sell my ebook and I said that I preferred they did not. They responded saying that I am an elitist. In a short email exchange that person went from "a long time fan" to a person who "would never listen to anything I said again."
The problem is that it is easy to be misunderstood via email. And as soon as people pay you anything or establish any type of relationship with you, some feel they own you. Email is great for sending personalized messages to a few people to help get feedback and spread important ideas. Email is also good for mass-emailing people via autoresponders that do not get responded to. But email is not good for establishing lasting relationships with many people.
To be fair, I owe a lot to email. The first version of my sales letter was reformatted by a customer who liked the ebook so much he wanted to help me sell more of them. And the ebook itself was formatted nicely by another customer who I did a bit of consulting for in a work trade. And I met my wife via email before our first phone call. So I owe a lot to email. But not too many deep and meaningful relationships can not stem from emails when you have hundreds of people emailing you every day.
Any time your business model contains recurring access to you for a one time price, if you are a decent marketer, you will create more demand than supply, and eventually you get burned out by people asking 15 or 30 questions at a time. When there is no opportunity cost to keep asking people do.
A guy who was profiled in an "internet marketing success stories with multi-millionaires" book asked me about 100 questions via before I told him enough was enough. The same guy sold information as the main piece of his business model. I asked him if he valued his own time at $1 an hour, because if he did I could use some of it. I got no response. A year later he wanted to buy "affordable and reasonable" SEO services from me and I told him no thanks. I would not ever refer him to anyone because he was so selfish in our prior relationship.
It eventually got to the point where people were asking me so many questions to where I was getting emails like "where is adwords" and I would just send them a link to the associated search result. And some people who bought the book would never subscribe to updates but email me 5 times a year asking for the latest version. 5 emails a year adds up when you have to verify each account and 1,000+ people are doing it.
As more and more information gets commoditized the value of weak, quick, and fast relationships loses value. And if you have 20,000 customers who have no opportunity cost in asking you lots of questions, many of them will treat you like a search box. But since the seller is not an algorithm that does not work out to well for sanity. And if you send out too many emails it starts to feel like you are a high volume email deployer
The good news is that as the web ages and the market suffers further information pollution, the value of reliable trustworthy advice and quality service goes up. But to provide lasting quality service you have to charge recurring.
Here are some email hacks I have come up with to lessen email load...
Automatically have your newsletter subscriptions archived and tagged...read them when you have time to.
Unsubscribe from anything you do not read in 3 months.
Do not provide email support for free stuff. Make them post feedback to your site.
If people are really nasty and are not yet your customers do not respond to those emails. At best they waste your time. At worst, they waste your time, do a reverse charge, AND may put you in a bad mood.
Do a quick pass through and wipe out anything that looks like spam.
If you have common answers then prewrite templates for them and use cut and paste, modifying each slightly.
Answer emails that are closely aligned at the same time.
The bulk of V7N's earnings come from directory submissions, which is a business model Google kicked in the teeth many times last year. I am not sure how well those revenues will hold up. If you run an Internet advertising based business models selling ads to internet marketers targeting other internet marketers it is a rough rough business model. Outside of the newbie who has not yet got burned, we are generally aware, skeptical, and wary of advertising.
How much information pollution do you find in some of the larger public SEO forums? Will OpenID eventually protect public sites? How can public publishers add enough friction to stop spam without driving away talent?
Why You Know So Much
As internet marketers, we have a canary in the coalmine effect, where many of the trends we pick up on are later felt across the broader market. Why? Because competition is so fierce and there are so many people trying to push so many different scams each day that we get hit from every angle.
We use the web so much that we are more aware of new ad formats, new business models, etc. We profit from accidental clicks as soon as the model appears, and before the media knows we are aware of when and how it changes.
Our Competitive Advantage
The stuff that works in the internet marketing field, porn field, gaming field, or other high paying fields probably works well on the other parts of the web. But as we go, so do the rest of the web, but we typically have a 6 month to 3 year advantage over the rest of the web.
As software gets more sophisticated, spam bots get more sophisticated, membership site proliferate, people become more wary of advertising, and Google tries to keep more of the traffic on Google.com many public forums will die. Increasingly communities and web publishers will have two stores...a public one that keeps the brand represented on the web graph, and a private one which allows the owner to profit from the brand equity, trust, and user loyalty they built up.
I still need to work on making the sales letter better, but it is hard to have an optimal sales letter until you get a good bit of consumer feedback. Here is the sales letter for anyone wanting to join our private community and training program.
Our pricepoint is $100 per month, but the first 100 people to subscribe from this point on get in at $50 per month. We already have a few hundred members in the forum from people I invited to help get it started.
Everyone, at least on some levels, is lazy. I work my ass off, but am still lazy about doing things I do not enjoy doing. If my wife asks me to wash the dishes the hand of God strikes upon me a mean streak of laziness. It is outside my control, I swear ;)
Right now I am trying to write a sales letter, which has made me lazy, and instead made me want to write this post.
Laziness Leads to Productivity Gains
I don't like having to think some things through too much if they can be automated. And so tools like keyword list generators are made.
I recently found a sweet affiliate program in a field where no other affiliates existed. For the right keywords, click value was about $12 a click, and I was paying like 60 cents a click. With under an hour of work, I made hundreds of dollars in daily profit with virtually no effort.
Find Something You Love And Make it Your Own
I just logged in today and saw that my conversion stats dropped to virtually nothing over the past couple days. Odd. So then I searched, and like 10 affiliates (or, more likely, 1 competing affiliate 10 times) launched ads showing for many of the keywords I bid on, with many of them stealing my exact ad copy - word for word. They loved my ad copy and made it their own.
Slimming Profit Margins
Bidding Wars Reduce Profits
So what is the solution? Maybe I increase my bids again. But then they will increase their bids again. A bigger and bigger piece of the profits get shipped to Google, while these clowns and I eventually compete for crumbs. One of the reasons Google does not care if others steal your ad copy (or all the content on your website) is because at the end of the day they know it erodes the value of copyright and creates a bidding war that deposits more money in their bank account.
PPC affiliate marketing and arbitrage works that way, where you find a payday, hold it for a few weeks or a few months, then someone competes and the profit margins drop, unless you have a higher visitor value it keeps costing you more time to make less, until the opportunity cost exceeds your profit potential, and then you are off hunting for the next big idea. Competitive forces make it hard for this strategy to build long-term value unless you are operating in a small market or are using a technique that is pretty dirty.
Super Affiliate Secrets
One of my friend that was doing well with PPC affiliate stuff got up to about $1,000 a day of profit for an affiliate network. He ran it for about a year, then his affiliate network decided that they would find something they love and make it their own - they cloned his account and he is now making $0 for uncovering all the great keywords for them.
If you don't own the supply chain or have a distribution chain that is hard to replicate your competitors consist of
the search engines
quality scores and algorithmic changes
the companies you affiliate with
anyone else interested in the keyword you are buying
SEO Loves Your Profit Margins
This is why I like SEO so much more than PPC. Most people are too lazy to spend years researching their topic, years building a brand, years building links, and years building social and customer relationships. We are afraid of failure, afraid of success, and afraid that we are investing too much in one place. But, if someone sees me ranking in the organic results they can't just clone it unless they know SEO well, and are committed for the long haul. In many cases, knowing SEO well means having capital, time, passion, and a lot of marketing knowledge.
Emotionally Engaged Brand Evangelists
Off the top of your head, how many people or brands in the SEO space can you think of? How many give you some sort of emotional response? How many helped you change your life for the better? Even in some of the most competitive and most saturated marketplaces there is not much real competition.
Thanks for the Laziness, PPC Affiliate Dude!
SEO separates out real businesses from 95% of the people buying PPC ads. The guy stealing ad copy is too lazy to compete at that level. I'll enjoy the logarithmic growth in profits (which have been at least doubling every year) while he keeps stealing table-scraps from Google and other affiliates until his accounts get banned.
So I am beta testing setting up the SEO Book community and training program. A couple issues have come up so far, but generally stuff is looking pretty good. I am still working on fixing a couple details, but to get a preview of the training part you can go here. I am hoping to do an official launch in the coming week unless something major comes up.
As time passes I intend to make the training program richer and deeper and add lots of videos and other content to it. But you can kinda think of the online training program as being a high quality editorially controlled Wikipedia of SEO information, complete with an interactive community forum. :)
If you are new to blogs and feeds, I recommend watching this 4 minute video to understand how RSS feeds work, and then spend an hour trying out a feed reader or iGoogle to subscribe to a couple of your favorite blogs.
I had some RSS issues with iGoogle that I think are cleared up now. The upside is that rather than only offering full or partial feeds, we now offer both. You can subscribe to either feed using your favorite feed reader on our feeds page.
If you are a blogger, it only takes about 15 minutes to set up a feed page like mine, and if you get a few new subscribers each month, that creates a cumulative advantage over time. Don't forget to also link to your RSS feed page in the sidebar of your blog.
I got a bit of flack via email about saying that Google and Yahoo! were killing off arbitrage. I think, more accurately, I should have said something like they are trying to kill off most forms of garbitrage and click to click arbitrage...the type of stuff where there is no value add AND the affiliate has no brand.
CJ just announced that Yahoo! changed their policy and is allowing affiliates to direct link to merchant websites. From the most recent Commission Junction newsletter:
After more than six months in the making and much customer feedback and testing, we are pleased to announce that Yahoo! Search Marketing (YSM) has recently updated its editorial policies and will now allow U.S. publishers to direct link to their advertisers. In the past, YSM's editorial policy prevented publishers from linking directly to their advertiser partners and required that traffic be sent first to the publisher's Web site. The new policy eliminates this restriction and opens a much broader search marketing opportunity for publishers.
After you look at the fallout of recent changes, it appears many thin arbitrage sites still are fine advertising, but the ones that are still doing well are typically associated with larger brands. The following arbitrage sites are still bidding on a wide array of keywords
Business.com is still advertising for many keywords with Google ads aggressively integrated in the results.
The biggest distributed ad networks do not want to buy any traffic that is bought directly via similar networks. These companies are cutting their short term revenues in an attempt to make their ad ecosystem healthier. On multiple occasions I have logged into Yahoo! Search Marketing to see a random multi-hundred dollar spend on a keyword that typically costs under $1 a day. I, for one, am glad to see this crap die. But it died a few years too late.
Google and Yahoo want a direct relationship with publishers and merchants. They hate virtually any type of affiliate that is not a highbrow relationship. More power to the organic players, and please static text links instead!
I created a 7 day email series that new members can sign up to when they create a new account. In addition current members can sign up to it in the right sidebar. If you have been doing SEO for years you probably know most everything that is in the autoresponder sequence, but if you are new to SEO it is a great place to start learning.
Most Sustainable Businesses Charge Recurring Fees for a Recurring Service / Relationship
Lots of sites, even more mainstream traditional publishing businesses, are deciding that the effective model to publish is to give everything away free, and charge recurring for anything you sell. Take a look at this image. Notice how in the top left there is an ad for house content offering a free gift that signs you on to a recurring subscription.
Charging More Can Increase Quality
Sometimes by charging more and making things less accessible you can make them better. Take the comment quality on this site. Requiring registration to comment is a cost in time and effort. Now that we require a user account to comment, people who interact with the site have stated that the conversation quality has improved:
I remember all the trolls that were here before the new login system went into affect and it seems to have helped. I know what spam can be like on my blog and I know that's nowhere how much attention you get here.
In the coming months smaller publishers are going to have more competition from more and more larger publishers. Instead of the default one Wikipedia listing to contend with, you’ll now have one Wikipedia, one knol, and maybe a squidoo or Mahalo listing as well. Unless you start building good linkable content that builds your link equity it’s going to become more and more difficult to rank.
Not only is the competition increasing, but with Google aggressively hand editing their search results the answers to many questions about the best strategy to use depend on the site, its vertical, its design, its age, its brand, who owns it, how long it has been around, and how clean its link profile is. In other words, search (and thus SEO) keeps getting more subjective.
But Do People Want a More Complex Book?
The only way to counter this increasing complexity with a book is to write a book that grows to 1,000 pages thick. But who wants to read that much in one sitting? I had trouble getting through books half that size covering topics that were much less subjective and much less complex.
The web allows us to jump from idea to idea and consume as we like. Shouldn't information about web marketing be structured in a way similar to how the web is structured? One of the people who took my recent customer survey said:
I really like your book, great stuff. The only negative is that it's too long, kind of overwhelming.
I really think to stay successful in online markets you have to sell an experience more than information or an item. As an individual, it is hard to create an experience for 20,000 people unless there is a community or some form of interactivity to it. You have to let people learn a bit if they want to, or dig in where they really want to learn. Different people learn different ways. What might be easy for you and me might not be so easy for others to learn.
Interaction & Perceived Value
The Product Dialog
Creating a book is like a monologue. You are able to convey a lot of knowledge in a linearized format, but I don't think everyone prefers to learn that way.
In a single day I got
a refund request telling me that my book had no useful information in it,
a refund request telling me that my book was overwhelming, and
an email from a head of search quality at a major search engine telling me that "he bound my ebook, and it is required reading for everyone on his team."
If the problem existed only on one end (too complex or too shallow) that would be solvable, but it being claimed an issue on both ends is something much harder to solve, which hints at the growing irrelevancy of the format (relative to how we desire to learn and the vast array of potential customers).
The Perceived Value of Ebooks is Dropping
Ebooks, by and large, are perceived to be of low quality because most are of low quality. If that wasn't bad enough, Google made a blog post essentially voting against ebooks, grouping ebook sites amongst sites that may merit a low quality score. While the strength of my blog and brand means that Google is not likely to ban my business model, their indictment of the ebook field as a whole, and their power over the web, indicate that there is great risk is staying branded as an ebook author / publisher.
Some people who buy my ebook tell me that they "accidentally" purchased it. Others send me berating emails calling me a thief within 2 to 3 minutes of purchase AFTER they downloaded the ebook AND subscribed to updates. Of course I take them off the update list before giving them a refund, but there is a big issue with my current price point and format. It encourages people to steal from me by allowing them to keep the value without payment.
As more of the old school Internet marketers have started hyping SEO some of the people who could not afford their programs decided to buy mine and then ask for immediate refunds when they found out I was not selling a get rich quick scheme. The Clickbank return rate was over 50% (while the Paypal return rate is much closer to 1%) so I simply stopped selling via Clickbank. But that still does not stop thieves from buying my product and immediately calling me a thief minutes later. And while I have thick skin it still makes my outlook on humanity a bit bleak to have to deal with that stuff.
Who wants to read questions like this
What do I do if I don't have $79 dollars?
I don't want to be negative, but I have frequently been disappointed with offerings like these. So is your 90 day guarantee real - no service charges etc?
i.e. I pay you only $79 and if I don't find the book useful you give me back $79
Could you lower the price? $70 is a lot of money! I'd buy it for $5, but $70
Those people are not prospective customers...they are not sold on me. My price point and format are encouraging some of the wrong types of people to enquire about my site, and making some people think the quality is lower than it actually is:
I have not purchased your book because I have had a lot of warnings it is a beginners approach. Would like to see a professional approach ebook from you.
The Tragedy of the Commons
When 12,000+ people buy and read your book it becomes common knowledge (at least amongst that group of customers). If you aim to layer higher value businesses on top of it (say consulting services) then having a broad base of customers helps you. But, some customers end up diminishing the value of your product.
How do I monitor eBay, Digital Point, the Google index, and torrent sites effectively? People in China sell outdated versions of my ebook for $10 and it is not easy to stop them as long as I am selling only information. All types of information, sold and packaged as information, are seeing much of their value transfer to aggregators that profit from encouraging the erosion of copyright. There is a tragedy of the commons effect to all information based businesses unless you have some sort of network advantage.
This blog is a Technorati top 100 blog which covers a topic that is generally hated amongst a large portion of the web. To achieve that with an SEO blog requires knowledge beyond the field of traditional SEO, branching into publishing, blogging, viral marketing, and traditional marketing. But it is hard to put all that transferable knowledge in one book. And I would rather have one great product than many watered down ones.
If I sold a service it would be much harder - impossible - to put that on a printing press or copy machine.
When I was new everyone who bought my book knew it was an ebook. But as my brand grew I started getting shipping questions on a no ship item. I could create a print version of SEO Book, but that would likely only lower the perceived value because most books sell for $20 to $30. Plus it is much harder to offer a money back guarantee when I am paying to create and ship product.
When I did updates some people requested individualized addendums. Updating a 350 page ebook is not only time consume, but also emotionally draining. If I got the latest news and analysis and strategies out in a more timely fashion, greater value would transfer than offering personalized addendums would. Email updates highlighted the major changes, but it is virtually impossible to offer individualized adendums without making the purpose and the structure of the book a bit arbitrary. Again, this suggests greater value in breaking the book into modular pieces.
My Sales Are At All Time Highs
The above statement would indicate that I should not be worried about my business model. But there is a side effect of ever-increasing growth. I am but one person. My wife helps me with some stuff, but I get hundreds of emails a day. Some of them are 5 or 10 pages long, and if I answer all the email I get that is all I would do...email - no blog posts, no testing SEO strategies, no reading, no learning, no exercise ... just email.
And, while I try to answer most all of my email, sometimes I miss some. Consider the two following pieces of feedback
I would like to say that not only is your information helpful, your attention to customer service is one of the best I have dealt with since 1995 when I first started. Thank you
You never answer customers questions or request.
I got both of those emails the same day but from different people. And clearly they both believe what they wrote and I made each of them feel that way. In part by providing great service, and in part by having more customers than any one person can possibly handle.
How I Can Easily Drive Sales Higher
When I first started publishing how to videos to this site my sales doubled. And I thought it was maybe an anomaly. So I tested it again and again. Almost every time I published video content to this site my sales doubled, which is my customers and prospective customers telling me they prefer that content format more than what I was traditionally publishing.
Honestly Analyzing Opportunity Cost
I Have Too Many Customers
I am not asking anyone to cry me a river and I realize that having too many customers, as it is a problem most people would love to have.
I could hire employees to handle customer relations, but I don't think I could hire someone to talk to my customers who has as much SEO knowledge as I do, and pay them a wage above opportunity cost for both them and I while using the current business model.
The Economics of My Situation
SEO Book was not even a search term until I created this brand, and now it goes for $3 a click. What happens when people with recurring business models start to create similar products and bid on similar terms? Would my current model be simply driven out of those ad markets?
I make about 1/3 to 1/2 of my income from this site. But this site takes over 90% of my work time. One of my income streams that took less than an hour to set up produces 30% of what this site produces. There are many other similar opportunities I could explore if I did not have 1,000+ emails in my inbox. My wife, who I have helped teach, has been on the web actively about a year, and she is starting to come close to my earnings on much less work or effort than it takes to run this site.
I sold consulting on this site for $500 an hour, but stopped promoting it because I was spending hours a day everyday doing consulting. I increased the price and sell it on another site to lower demand. But I do not know how to effectively deal with hundreds of emails a day, when some people buy my book after their site is banned, and/or write me a 5 to 10 page email with their purchase. Just reading a 10 page email can take 20 minutes...which was $166 I turned down by demoting my high selling consulting by the hour model.
In spite of increasing prices and virtually hiding the offer, I still have another paid consult to do bright and early tomorrow morning.
A 25 year old affiliate marketer here. First read your ebook about 2 years ago, had no idea how to do SEO, read it, and in my second year netted over $2 million.
I have to say yes. And many other people have offered similar feedback
Thank you once again for being so generous with your time.
I downloaded your book a few years ago and it was a turning point in my life, I was an average salesman selling very competitive products and to be honest it was really tough work, I kept missing my sales targets and getting fired.
After reading your book, I decided to give SEO a go and it just clicked for me, I fell in love with search.
A few years later I'm making $100,000 a month, reading your book changed my life for the better. - Christopher Angus
Solutions to Improving My Service
A customer who reads every updated version of SEO Book in full told me this
In my personal opinion - you've done everything really, really well - you've built up authority with the book and media coverage, credibility (probably most important) with your peers and customers, a massive customer list and subscriber base, and popularity amongst your readers (because your a likable, genuine, intelligent guy - this really comes across in your writing).
I think your only problem was entering the market with a perceived 'cheap' product (______ ______ & ________ charge way more for much less) which may be a result of not valuing yourself highly enough... and destroying any continuity income by updating your book for free (I would have happily paid for every update).
My feeling is that your customers value you very highly - and actually want to spend more money on your information and advice. Your main job is deciding 'who' you want to be your customer.
I could drastically increase the price but use the same format. That would create fewer customers and make the average customer perceive greater value, and give me more time to spend on each customer, but that alone may not necessarily deliver greater value. Part of value is down to how it is perceived., but another big piece of value is not just perceived value but actual value transference. The easiest way to increase value transference is to
raise prices and charge recurring such that I have fewer customers and can give more attention to each of them
build an exclusive interactive community forum
make the content more modularized, and more interactive, published using a wide variety of formats
Ensuring that value transference not only allows one to establish more meaningful relationships and charge higher rates, but it also fosters the creation of brand evangelists. I already have over 3,000 affiliates right now, but most of my sales come from unpaid word of mouth recommendations. How much better positioned might my brand be if I offered a more interactive service?
The Web is Getting More Polluted
Each day when we wake information pollution is at an all time high. There are an unlimited number of fake reviews, more malware stealing commissions, lower AdSense payouts, affiliate programs are getting saturated, and more people are lying to gain 15 seconds of fame.
But all the noise, lies, and garbage only increases the value of an exclusive moderated community which fosters the free flow of information without the noise that appears on most public forums.
Why Did it Take so Long to Change My Business Model?
Many businesses that charge recurring are sleazy...drug companies that get you hooked on addictive antidepressants, or internet marketers offering low quality propriety platforms with baked in multi level marketing scams that keep up-selling you more garbage AND steal all your information if you don't keep paying them and marketing them on your website.
But high touch businesses require recurring payment. When I got sued in a bogus lawsuit that cost me $40,000, and I have offered many of my customers far greater value than that lawyer offered me. I pay many hosting bills every month, and I subscribe to many $10 to $100 a month information services that offer far less information and value than I intend to deliver.
And I believe there was some truth to my customer's suggestion that I was underselling myself. Since getting married to the most wonderful woman in the world though my sense of self is much better, and I have no problem charging more if I feel I can deliver greater value.
My past jobs did not fit me well either. I have been doing internet stuff as long as any other job I have ever had, and know I want to stick with it long term. In many ways I feel I am just warming up to the web's potential.
Thinking Through the Future
Who Do I Want My Customers to Be?
That question offered by one of my customers puts it in great perspective. I like to think I can change the world, and I set out with the goal of dominating any market I enter. After working on some large corporate sites that were doing just that, and many entrepreneurs who were doing the same, I decided I want my customers to be market leaders, people with a deep found passion expressed through their websites and businesses, and people who aspire to dominate their market but are just a couple good marketing ideas short of getting there. I want to sell a service that helps them change their lives.
If You Can’t Seem to Make Enough to Quit Your Day Job
This is where I was in December of 2006 when I attended the first Elite Retreat, and by March the things I learned there had enabled me to put all the pieces together and finally take my business to the next level. Check out this revenue graph for just one of my sites:
On that one site, we jumped from $5,461.50 in revenue to $11,3501.51 in just one month — and that was pure profit.
Not only that, but it was right there under my nose the whole time. It just took Aaron Wall to put the pieces in place for me at Elite Retreat.
If I can cause that sort of a change with an ebook or a 2 day conference, what more if I offer a more personalized higher value service?
As a starting base for my offering I have already created an exclusive online training program with over 100 modules and a community forum. I am still working on setting up the account permissions and determining price points, but am hoping to launch before the month is out. Perhaps as soon as next week.
I still have about 200 customer surveys to read through and respond to get the feedback needed to decide how and when to launch. I am also thinking about limiting membership to something like 2,000 people to ensure I can spend time with everyone who needs or wants it.
After reading many bad and cheesy salesletters and many salesletters that I know convert well you might think that I was good at writing sales copy. After all, even before Brian Clark worked his magic on my salesletter, other internet marketers frequently asked me who wrote my original sales letter because they wanted to hire that person to write their sales copy. That person was me, but to this day I still felt that the sales copy I wrote was a bit (or maybe a lot) cheesy.
I am trying to write more sales copy and keep finding myself falling into the typical traps:
Jargon filled verbose prose.
Poor formatting and organization.
Too much focus on me.
Features not benefited.
I have came up with an angle or idea to start from. Even though it may be true it still keeps sounding a bit weird. It is easier to talk about my book or some other random object that has been on the marketplace for years, but it is so much harder to personalize it and take ownership over something and talk about it as an extension of me. And then I wonder am I just talking about me for me.
Blog posts seem to write themselves for me. No so with sales copy. I find writing sales copy for myself hard. Especially if I am trying to write it for a new product that does not have any public feedback yet. The best I can do is use feedback on other public services and products I sold as a proxy for value, but it comes off a bit dis-jointed. Ultimately social proof and trust are what sells. But if you are just launching a new product it is tough to show social value on day 1, especially when you intend to iteratively improve your product based on customer feedback. Maybe I should ask a few friends look at version 1 and offer feedback to me.
Do you sometimes feel a bit weird or too self promotional when writing sales copy? What do you do to get past it? How do you make people want to salivate without feeling like you are spitting on something or someone?
Click costs keep rising as more advertisers enter search marketing and streamline their sales process. At the same time the value of traditional ads (not tied to search) keep dropping as more and more web users are becoming aware of advertising. One of the easiest ways to increase user satisfaction, visitor value, and make more money from your site is by featuring your best content.
Whenever a big news story in the search space happens Danny Sullivan covers it in depth. When Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo! Danny responded by covering the news, the conference call, and even doing a follow up interview with Microsoft. With Danny owning the search news field him publishing the latest news regularly (and in depth when important events happen) that is featured content.
It is hard to become well known in a market that is already saturated with people like Danny. How do you compete in a marketplace where guys like Danny have more knowledge, experience, social connections, and mindshare? You probably can't enter the market late and just decide that you want to own the search news topic. Instead you must compete by targeting one idea at a time, and do it more comprehensively and better than anyone else in the field by creating featured content. Evoke emotional responses that associate you and your company with ideas.
Most successful publishing businesses offer content of various levels of depth and quality. If you are new to your field and every page on your site is just like the next, and you are cranking out many pages a day, you probably are not creating featured content.
It is hard to take marketshare or mindshare from other people in your market unless you have something worth talking about, and something people associate you with. You need to own an idea. Everyone who is well known is remembered for something.
Seth Godin highlights his wide array of top selling marketing books in his sidebar.
Hugh MacLeod frequently posts cartoons to his blog, offers his How to Be Creative Series, and gave us the Hughtrain Manifesto.
This site offers SEO for Firefox, The Blogger's Guide to SEO, the SEO Book Keyword Tool, 101 Link Building Tips, a glossary, many other tools, and a comparison of search engine relevancy algorithms.
Selling ads to Yourself
In a rush to monetize many businesses plaster ads all over their site, only to get marginal returns, and have many people assume they are a fly by night operation not in it for the long run. If your site is new, one of the biggest things you can do to gain momentum is to avoid aggressive ad placements on your site and find ways to advertise yourself and your best content until you build market momentum and a great business model.
I tested placing an affiliate ad on my blog's sidebar recently, and made about 1 conversion a day for the featured offer. That might sound like a quick and easy passive revenue stream, but I get a lot of traffic to this site. What would happen if I featured some of my own best content in the same position?
I recently put that question to the test by pushing my keyword tool on the sidebar of my site. Many more people are using the keyword tool, and my affiliate link to Wordtracker on the keyword tool page is converting about twice as often, offsetting any loss I had from removing the other sidebar ad.
Rather than running a broadly matching ad I am advertising some of my own featured content and introducing many more people to my keyword tool. That usage will lead to greater user trust, more links, higher rankings, and more affiliate commissions. If I had to try to buy the links I am getting naturally how much would that cost? If I had to buy traffic to my keyword tool how much would that cost? Much more than it is costing me to advertise my own featured content.
Make sure you highlight featured content in your sidebar to drive link equity and mindshare toward it. Your featured content is what builds trust and keeps people coming back.
Blog Homepage vs Static Home Page
For years I featured my blog on my site's homepage. But that design probably scared off thousands of visitors new to the field of SEO who thought I was writing over their heads. Late last year I changed my homepage to a page which featured my best content and guided users through my site. Before I made that change, if I stopped blogging I saw sales drop. And when I started blogging sales would pick back up.
When I arrived in the Philippines for my wedding I went a week without blogging and did not notice a drop off in sales. Your brand lovers are willing to navigate to wherever your frequently updated content is. Your homepage should be optimized to capture the hearts and minds of people new to your field.
The song is a prime example of how the Web’s user-generated content sites are undeniably affecting voter engagement this election cycle. Purchasing four and a half minutes of national TV airtime would have been near impossible, but the Internet can reach that highly sought youth audience gratis.
As Seth recently stated, almost every effective marketer targets one of a few human emotions: fear, hope, or love.
Simplicity and clarity allow a message to resonate and spread far. Arianna Huffington, reflecting on seeing the L.A. Obama rally, wrote:
After the dark, uninspiring -- indeed deeply alienating -- years of the Bush presidency, the feeling that I took away from these conversations resonates even more profoundly today: that it is time we recognize that our search for a great president is also a search for our better selves. Finally, a political litmus test that matters: Which presidential candidate can lead us to do more good than we think we're capable of
I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch, which is required reading for every online publisher and marketer. Here is an interview of him by Greg Jarboe about the book
In the chapter The Great Unbundling Nick talked about the demise of newspapers, news organizations, and many traditional news containers. Some of those containers offered a packaging which allowed the creation of free premium content subsidized by profitable backfill content.
The same chapter also talks about what we use to replace these intermediaries - our clickstreams, RSS subscriptions, search, and personalization algorithms. Some offline studies in communications have proved that we are more likely to listen to information that reinforces our worldviews. In addition research has shown that we become more confident, biased, and extreme when we find others who reinforce our worldviews.
Consider the following about the future of online information quality
overtly biased information is more remarkable: and is thus likely to gain more comments, more links, more subscribers, and is easier to remember
shock testing: much like overtly biased information being remarkable, headlines can easily be tested for performance with little to no cost. I have created headlines that ranked #1 on social news sites when those headlines were only marginally related to the article I was promoting.
quality and bias are the same to algorithms: any sign of quality that search engines often ties directly into bias. Just because something has many links does not mean it is "of quality." Ranking a bunch of left wing nutball stuff and right wing nutball stuff is a way to claim you have result diversity, but it does not create or nurture business models for creating more rational and balanced information.
marketers track performance: Publishing largely consists of topic selection and publication format. But with so many ways to track performance, publishers are becoming marketers and affiliates who can track the performance of content based on links, pageviews, and earnings. And they can use all that feedback to further arbitrage profit centers while giving less coverage to important topics with limited commercial viability.
half truth: If a lie or half-truth is more profitable than the truth someone will sell that story. One of my affiliates went so far as declaring that I am a scammer to try to sell my ebook. What more might that person do to arbitrage my brand if they did not like me? How many affiliates typically emphasize the downsides of a product (unless they are using X is a scam as their sales strategy)?
your truth is confirmed: with millions of people publishing information online you will find someone who confirms your facts, even if they are not true. Any person who cites a falsehood makes it easier for others to discover (and believe in) the same lie.
everything can be discredited: just about anyone or anything which has risen to social significance has someone talking badly about it. We all make mistakes and the web has a memory longer than our lifespans.
similar language usage: people who have similar biases will tend to write information and seek out information using similar words
the fight for timing: with so many people competing for attention being first is often more important than being correct. Just yesterday it was claimed that a record label quit and uploaded their catalog to Pirate Bay, but that news was fabricated. Even if you are wrong those links and the page views do not disappear.
sound bytes: with so many people creating information more information is being consumed in smaller chunks lacking in context. If it long who has time to consume it?
personalization: through the channels we subscribe to, words we search for, and sites we visit search engines make it harder to get outside of our comfort zone by showing us what we already know and believe.
exploitation algorithms: Large online media companies know a lot about us, and where they lack information they can mathematically model us based on our interests and habits. Scientists are studying marketing on a neurological level. Google has a patent for targeting ads directly to our psychological flaws based on things like risk tolerance during game play and offers a nearly unmarked text link as an ad unit.
Couple the above with sharply increasing wealth disparity in the US and it makes the web look like a pretty bleak tool for fostering democracy and better understanding of ourselves and each other. How interactive should ads aimed at children get? Should relevancy algorithms give us what we like even if it is false? Is it ok if ads lie? Will marketing advances make us better, or will more people be given pharmaceutical drugs to cure them of their personality?
Might there be a business model in reminding people to slow down and look at things from another angle? When things really bother and frustrate me I try to consume information from someone from an alternate perspective to give myself greater balance. But many people are stuck in debt and do not have enough time to read a 200 to 500 page book unless it offers immediate profit potential.
What’s among the biggest contributor to blight on MySpace? The leagues of sock puppet profiles and automated friend requests that jamb your inbox. Google — the company that stands on a soap box attacking companies for SPAMMING their index to manipulate search results — is selling keyword advertising for software designed to create fake profiles and send SPAM friend request.
Starting Monday, readers who log on to www.harpercollins.com will be able to see the entire contents of “The Witch of Portobello” by Mr. Coelho; “Mission: Cook! My Life, My Recipes and Making the Impossible Easy” by Mr. Irvine; “I Dream in Blue: Life, Death and the New York Giants” by Roger Director; “The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President: Who the Candidates Are, Where They Come from and How You Can Choose” by Mark Halperin; and “Warriors: Into the Wild” the first volume in a children’s series by Erin Hunter.
Random House is going to start selling books by the chapter. Leading off with Made to Stick at $2.99 a chapter.
I am a bit skeptical of the "by the chapter" business model, but books have tens or hundreds of thousands of words in them, backed by a trusted brand with editorial control, which can rank in organic search results AND be promoted through a vertical book search. Once they get a taste of the ad revenues, book publishers are going to publish most traditional nonfiction books online in their entirety, which will create a lot of competition for traditional web publishing based businesses.
When I was on my multi-month critical review of Google a few months back, I frequently highlighted how the perception of spam or quality was often associated with the brand (or lack of brand) behind the content. Stuntdubl wrote a post about brand size reviewing engineer double talk and how brand perception may control the sustainability of your site.
Many people and many sites disappear. For how long just depends on who was behind the infraction and how real their site looks and feels.
About a month ago I asked a friend of mine if he knew that one of his sites got banned from Google. He said no. Then he went and looked at it and asked "why the f*ck did they do that?" His site that was penalized was exceptionally similar to his sites that still rank, with one big exception. It used a default Wordpress theme. Thus it looked like it was probably spam to a search engineer or under-waged remote worker judging a bunch of sites in a rush.
As soon as human editing becomes a big piece of search, humans start thin slicing and start making errors. Once you are gone will anyone notice? Can you escalate the issue to a high enough priority to get your "glitch" fixed?
If you have any top ranking income earning site that exhibits the following traits, look for your income to drop sharply sometime in 2008.
has a default Wordpress design
has multiple hyphens in the domain name
exclusively monetizes via Google AdSense, placed top and to the left in the content area of the page
does not have a clear way to contact you
lacks an about us section
is registered with fake whois
Some cops enjoy handing out speeding tickets. Thin slice your site as though you are a search engineer who enjoys killing spam, but has a quota to kill 1,000 sites a day. Does your site pass the sniff test? Are there areas that could use some improvement?
The democratic nature of the web is a unique concept, but Google no longer uses that line in their marketing brochures. Sometimes the web needs defused.
If you have something that makes money, you need to make it look like it is worthy of its position and earnings. Or else Google will exert as much editorial influence and quality scores as they can to take $$$$$ from you, all in the name of what's good for the customer and helping out "mom and pop webmaster".
After all, when Google Local, YouTube, Google Knol, Google Shopping, and Google Checkout are fully integrated next to AdWords, mom and pop webmaster won't even need to own a website. They can do everything they need on Google.com. How benevolent.
Yahoo! shares were trading in the $19 range before Microsoft offered to buy the company for $31 a share. People inside of Yahoo! talked to the NYT and WSJ stating that Monday they will reject the offer and request at least $40 a share. Unless Yahoo! accepts this deal their shares will likely fall, which will lead to lawsuits from shareholders. The one thing that could help Yahoo! unlock greater short term value would be partnering with Google on search. But if they did that, it would suck for SEOs and web publishers...90% of the search market would be controlled by Google, which would give Google even more leverage over content providers.
For Yahoo! to give Google control of search they would need to curb their ad network, which not only has syndicated search and ad partners, but also powers a lot of arbitrage and direct navigation domain traffic. Yahoo!, being far more desperate for traffic and revenues, likely pays partners a bigger cut than Google does. Yahoo! being in play cuts the value of many thin arbitrage models (like Marchex) because
Yahoo! going to Microsoft would make Microsoft /Yahoo a more efficient marketplace and make it hard to arbitrage one through the other
Yahoo! Search being outsourced to Google would allow Google to pay publishing partners a smaller piece of the pie and have a tighter control of the ad market. Google recently killed Ask's sub-syndication deal.
Marchex posts Q4 results on the 14th. If they underperform they may have to start layoffs, cut their dividend, or start selling off some of their domain portfolio. Assuming names were sold one at a time, in a BuyDomains.com like format, more clean domains on the market would present a great opportunity for SEOs and smaller independent publishers, but they may sell off names in large blocks.
A side shoot of this Yahoo! in play even is a great blog post by Henry Blodget on how Microsoft's forward vision on ad supported software is failing to realize the full potential of subscription based software:
Corporations are shifting to cloud-computing platforms--Software as a Service vendors like Salesforce.com and NetSuite, Google Apps, etc--but, for the most part, they are not shifting to "free software supported by advertising." On the contrary, they continue to pay fat, per-employee license fees. Even some corporations running Google Apps pay license fees. The fees are lower than the per-seat costs charged by Microsoft, but they're in the same same ballpark (according to the NYT, big companies pay about $75 per Office seat per year vs. $50 for Google Apps).
In the current web 2.0 market, far too many start ups are focused on being ad supported rather than adding enough value to be able to sell a service. The easiest way to protect yourself from Google is to create something worth paying for.
Question: How do I determine how I am best utilizing my PageRank? How do I know if my navigation is successful?
Google Webmaster Tools shows your internal link counts to different pages. You can use that to show which pages are being emphasized on a crude level.
Optispider ($129) shows on site link structure and compares link text to page titles
SEO4Fun has a free PageRankBot tool which shows internal link flow. I think it is a bit complex to set up, but is cool when you get it set up.
Track a few pages of your site with a tool like CrazyEgg to see what links users are clicking on and if you are drawing enough attention to the most important assets on your site.
Use data from your web analytics tools to focus more link equity on your most important (highest traffic and best converting) pages
A few more advanced ideas
If your site is large and you keep producing new content, use Google's date based filters to look for new pages that are of low quality / noisy (like a page dedicated to a photo but with no text on it, or other common duplicate content issues)
Use analytics to track how many pages (and which pages) are pulling in traffic. Compare those pages with all the pages on your site to see if you can free up some dead weight, or if you have a valuable section of your site that is not well linked to. You can use Xenu Link Sleuth, a sitemap generator, or data from Google Webmaster Tools to see what pages are linked to (and perhaps getting indexed).
If a particular page works well for you consider adding more content to that page to pick up a broader basket of related keywords. If a particular query works well for you consider creating a second page to target that query.
If you have a high authority page that links out to many other websites consider adding more internal links to that page to keep more of the link flow internal.
I run a good number of websites in a variety of verticals. One of my sites that does exceptionally well in the search engines monetizes poorly with contextual ads and does not yet have the scale to sell direct ads, so I tried integrating affiliate ads on it.
When I initially applied for CJ with this site, the advertiser I wanted to partner with rejected my site (I am guessing because there was a new account associated with that site). The traffic quality and relevancy are as high as you can get though. About 3 months later that same advertiser contacted me asking me to join their affiliate program with my search-marketing.info website, which is wildly off topic. I joined the affiliate program and also added my relevant site to the account about two weeks ago. I integrated the offer and waited for the money to roll in. But did it?
This particular affiliate program was a lead generation program, which I figured had a delay in reporting while the leads were classified and approved. This site is a high traffic site in a big money vertical. The advertiser's ad was integrated similarly to how it is integrated on other sites still in their program today, and their ad was seen by about 100,000 people.
I logged in today and still no conversion. Odd. Weeks for an approval? Hmmmm.
I looked at my invalid clicks report and it said my offer from this advertiser was disapproved. I was not told why, and was not even informed of this disapproval (from the advertiser who approached me) until after I searched out the information.
Meanwhile that same company is paying search engines thousands of dollars to buy similar traffic to the stream they rejected from me. I know someone in upper management in the marketing department at that advertiser, so I will ping them to see what is up with their affiliate manager, but how many publishers get scammed like this every day? Sleazy workflow their CJ.
The value add for publishers going through an affiliate network (vs going direct) are
having fewer accounts
independent reporting (for if you don't trust the advertiser)
the offer data on top performing offers
But on the down side,
many other marketers are looking over the same offers you are
some networks (like CJ) require tracking images or other footprints that identify your site as an affiliate site to search engines (and search engines do have algorithms to detect and demote certain types of affiliate sites)
communications channels are generally worthless when you add a bulky affiliate network to the mix
I have had a number of affiliate networks come to me asking me to join them, often offering reduced rates, but I still don't see their value add, especially after this experience.
The semi-legal and illegal spread of copyright information keeps driving value toward the aggregators. Google, which already has a music search service and owns YouTube, is looking to give away licensend music to win marketshare in China.
Vivendi SA's Universal Music and about 100 other foreign and domestic record labels have been working with Top100.cn, a Beijing-based Web site that currently sells licensed music downloads for 1 yuan (about 14 cents) each, and Google. Together, Top100.cn and Google would provide free MP3 downloads with value added services, people familiar with the plans say. The new search options, for example, promise to give users free access to a database of information about their favorite artists -- from concert listings to links to special ring tones.
If Google licenses lyrics and allows user feedback on songs, they prettymuch aggregated the entire value stream in that marketplace, at least outside of experiencing live music. Fierce competition for attention will drive virtually all publishing models in that direction. What do you offer that is live or that aggregators can't take from you?
One of the reasons I was so motivated to change the tagline of this site recently was because the new site design contained the site's logo as a background image. The logo link was a regular static link, but it had no anchor text, only a link title to describe the link. If you do not look at the source code, the link title attribute can seem like an image alt tag when you scroll over it, but to a search engine they do not look that same. A link title is not weighted anywhere near as aggressively as an image alt tag is.
The old link title on the header link for this site was search engine optimization book. While this site ranks #6 and #8 for that query in Google, neither of the ranking pages are the homepage (the tools page and sales letter rank). That shows that Google currently places negligible, if any, weight on link titles.
I have ranked other sites for more competitive queries based exclusively on internal links (without thousands of links from other sites, like those pointing at the SEO Book home page).
Does the image alt text carry more weight? In a word, yes. Here is now I proved that to myself through yet another site error. :)
One of my hobby sites has a fairly flat file structure, and some of the internal pages are somewhat linkworthy. The site was not marketed aggressively and the only sitewide link to the homepage was the logo, which I forgot to put an image alt tag on. Google ranked 2 pages on the site well for the core keyword, but neither of those pages were the homepage. I noticed the lacking image alt tag, fixed it, and within a week my homepage was outranking the other pages.
If the only link to your homepage is a logo check the source code to verify you are using descriptive image alt text.
Question: How long does it take to rank a website? How many hour of work do I have to do each day to compete and rank my website at the top of the search results?
Answer: I get this question almost every day, and it is one of my least favorite questions to answer. So I figured I would answer it as best I can once here, then point people to this page when I get asked again. To compete in competitive marketplaces you have to out-think the competition or invest more than they do. When you start from how little or how quickly you have the wrong mindset. Ask not what your search results can do for you, but what you can do for your search results. :)
Keep launching quality original content, keep working at brand building, keep making social connections, and watch the traction build. When you are new, can you predict what one idea is going to make the difference? For most people I don't think so. Some types of success are deliberate, but for most independent webmasters, I think they accidentally step into success by working hard, being ignored, and then watching something blossom that they did not realize the importance of when they first launched it.
After you have some success then you can engineer further success, but for many it starts out as an accident or a byproduct of constant motion.
How long does it take to rank?
If the search results are uncompetitive (use SEO for Firefox to survey the competitive landscape) you might be able to rank in a month even if your site is brand new.
Is your site brand new? If so, how old are the top ranked competing sites. If they are a number of years old then it is probably going to take at least a year to catch up unless they are bad at marketing and link building or you have a great marketing idea that will help you build many organic links. If the companies that are ranking are multi-billion dollar corporations then you can't outrank them with a one man website unless your site is integrated into the conversation of that marketplace and/or your site offers valuable tools and/or original linkworthy content.
If your site is brand new, you probably want to develop links over time in a fairly consistent manner. If you grow x links this month then you want to create x or more the next month. And that number sets the baseline for the following month. Months where you have no viral marketing ideas try to list your site in a few quality directories, join trade organizations, and get other clean links.
If you are sitting on an older site you may be able to grow links a bit more aggressively, and you may be able to get away with being a bit more aggressive with the anchor text you use in the inbound links.
In many regional search markets outside of the US the competition is much less fierce than it is in the US, and it is easy to rank for some fairly competitive keywords.
An exact match domain name may also provide ranking benefits in some search relevancy algorithms, which allows you to rank quicker without needing to build up as much link authority.
How many hours of work will it take?
I have ranked sites on 5 hours of work, and I have put hundreds of hours of work into sites that do not rank as well as I want them to.
How hard are your competitors working? If you are unsure track their current link count and their link growth. Also look for signs of public relation and the quality level of their inbound links.
How big is their head start?
How much are they investing?
Are there ideas they forgot to focus on?
Is your brand more focused than their brand?
How much risk are you willing to take?
Are competitors weighed down by bureaucracy?
Are you more passionate about your topic than the leading websites? Eventually people will discover that, especially if you are not afraid to market yourself.
Ask not what your search results can do for you, but what you can do for your search results. :)
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When the economy is good and advertisers have robust ad budgets, an ad network might be willing to sell them whatever they are willing to buy. If the advertiser wants to overpay for some ads and associate that spend with branding then so be it. But when the economy slows down, the ad marketplace needs to separate the best ad inventory from the weakest ad inventory to protect the rates of their best ads.
From Google's perspective, search is the golden goose tied directly with conversions. Syndicated ads, which can lead to conversions, may often carry a premium price based on branding value. Here are some of the forces that might be lowering AdSense earnings
Some brand advertisers cutting their ad budgets, trimming brand related ads before they cut direct response ads.
Those brand ads being replaced by less trustworthy ads from smaller advertisers who bid less and are less likely to get clicked on.
Google changing the clickable region of AdSense ad units.
Google lowering the estimated value of content clicks to help protect the value of search clicks and shift more of their network spend toward search.
Given Google's market dominance over the contextual ad market there is virtually no floor to how low they can price AdSense ads on non-premium publishing partner websites.
I have one site where the ads are AGGRESSIVELY integrated into the content, where that site gets thousands of search driven visitors per day in a big money vertical. That site has a CPM rate which is roughly equal to what one to two clicks would cost if I had to buy that traffic from Google directly (rather than me arbitraging their organic search results then selling that traffic). Clearly there has to be a better way to monetize that site. The ad prices are so cheap that I would be the buyer if I had a higher value model in that space.
If you have been using AdSense as a business model now is a great time to create new revenue streams and test shifting from an AdSense ad seller to an AdSense ad buyer.
As large media sites open up to user generated content they are going to keep losing brand and value to niche channels owned and operated by people who are so passionate about their subject that their brands have purpose and lasting value.
As a person who has studied search for many years I thought I would analyze how I thought a Microsoft acquisition of Yahoo could change online publishing and internet marketing strategy and business models. This post assumes that the purchase goes through with Yahoo's board and regulators, and that the underlying search architecture and ad platform of Microsoft is used rather than Yahoo's current mess.
Yahoo! Search is stale. They place way too much on user generated content and worthless tag pages located on sites with a high authority score. Microsoft Search makes it much easier to rank pages on lower authority sites so long as they have fresh inbound links.
Microsoft closed their small business directory. Many of Yahoo's regional directories no longer accept paid submissions. It is uncertain what parts of Yahoo might get killed off in staff cuts before and after the acquisition. Submit to the Yahoo Directory while you can.
Yahoo Shopping and Microsoft Shopping are two of the bigger shopping sites clogging up Google's search results for many queries. A potential merger of these could help the top one rank better while freeing up space for other competitors.
Yahoo places 4 ads above the fold for commercial searches, driving down organic search results. If Microsoft buys them and runs fewer ads to win marketshare that allows more of the organic search results to receive a solid stream of traffic.
Yahoo offers a paid inclusion program to sell rankings in their organic search results. If Microsoft buys Yahoo I believe that program will be phased out as it is hard to image that it makes as much profit as it costs in public relations damage, especially if Microsoft intends to catch Google in search.
Yahoo! News is the leading news site on the web. If Microsoft combines that asset with default installed desktop widgets on Vista they can further enhance that market position.
Microsoft is bad at following 301 redirects, but they have had that problem for a while, and one would hope they would get that fixed prior to powering Yahoo! Search.
Spend some time tracking rankings in Microsoft to better learn their relevancy algorithms if you have not yet studied them.
Ensure your website has a fresh content strategy or reason to keep picking up new links.
If possible, when starting new projects, try to build them on domain names that match your primary keywords.
Submit to the Yahoo Directory while you can. If the Yahoo Directory dies off it may create a hole in the market leaving a profitable business model for another directory or even a site like Mahalo to take its place as a leading generalist editorial catalog of websites.
If domain authority (i.e.: running few large sites) was a big piece of your search strategy creating numerous smaller niche sites once again became a profitable strategy.
If you were reliant on paid inclusion for traffic that traffic stream may dry up, so your best off learning about Microsoft's ranking algorithms ASAP.
Check to see if your site meets the requirements to be included in Yahoo News.
PPC Ads / Paid Search Advertising
Yahoo! Search's ad platform is still exceptionally clunky. In spite of being recently upgraded they still do not have a public facing keyword tool and only let most advertisers use their keyword tool while they are in the middle of creating a search campaign. Microsoft, is much more open and innovative with their ad platform and advertiser tool set.
Google has been hoarding data for years without giving much of it back to prospective advertisers. When Yahoo upgraded to Panama they followed Google's path. Microsoft recently launched an Excel ad plugin that shares a ton of useful data with advertisers. If Microsoft buys Yahoo! their data will become more accurate and likely force Google to show more aggregate advertiser data.
Ad campaign management gets easier because advertisers only need to maintain two ad accounts, which might make self-management of search campaigns more practical for small businesses.
Microsoft purchased aQuantive earlier this year to own large scale display ad serving capabilities.
Yahoo has more pageviews than any other website. If behavioral data has hidden latent value they should be able to leverage it across their network and partner websites.
This merger will likely take YPN out of perpetual beta, creating a credible alternative to AdSense, which will increase the share paid to smaller publishing partners.
Display & Contextual Ad Sales Recommendations
Display ads likely to fall in value due to recession, and a glut of inventory from social media and other websites, so I still like higher value businesses that remove greater friction from commercial transactions when possible. The one exception to this belief is in game ads, which I see as having a lot of upside if you can publish games good enough to attract a large audience.
The combining of the Yahoo and Microsoft ad networks should create many arbitrage opportunities.
If you have a site that profits from AdSense it is in your best interest to try Microsoft's network after it launches. Odds are that Microsoft will be willing to give publishers a large share to win marketshare, and giving Microsoft a try will help them create a more robust network which forces Google to increase AdSense payouts.
Short term I believe this acquisition is about gaining momentum in the US market. But Yahoo is strong in Japan. They also have significant market coverage in Spain, South Korea, and China. Microsoft has notable search share in some European countries. Both have about 4% marketshare in the UK. You can learn more about international search by downloading this 2007 Global Search Report [PDF].
I think a solid strategy going forward for Microsoft to gain search share in foreign markets is for them to offer their operating system free or at a reduced price for bundling search in the desktop. They already give away operating systems in exchange for feedback or exposure.
If the Microsoft purchase of Yahoo clears, expect Google to start distributing a Google flavored version of Ubuntu to the general public before the year is out. Inside of 5 years Microsoft's operating system will be free or irrelevant.
If you want to read the documents that started Microsoft's major push toward web search they are here and here.
Danny Sullivan offers some great coverage of the deal here
Here is the press release announcing a half cash / half stock offer.
Microsoft Corp. today announced that it has made a proposal to the Yahoo! Inc. Board of Directors to acquire all the outstanding shares of Yahoo! common stock for per share consideration of $31 representing a total equity value of approximately $44.6 billion.
Juicy bits from the press release, which contained a letter to the board of Yahoo!
In February 2007, I received a letter from your Chairman indicating the view of the Yahoo! Board that "now is not the right time from the perspective of our shareholders to enter into discussions regarding an acquisition transaction." According to that letter, the principal reason for this view was the Yahoo! Board's confidence in the "potential upside" if management successfully executed on a reformulated strategy based on certain operational initiatives, such as Project Panama, and a significant organizational realignment. A year has gone by, and the competitive situation has not improved.
and why Microsoft feels the deal makes sense
While online advertising growth continues, there are significant benefits of scale in advertising platform economics, in capital costs for search index build-out, and in research and development, making this a time of industry consolidation and convergence. Today, the market is increasingly dominated by one player who is consolidating its dominance through acquisition. Together, Microsoft and Yahoo! can offer a credible alternative for consumers, advertisers, and publishers. Synergies of this combination fall into four areas:
Scale economics: This combination enables synergies related to scale economics of the advertising platform where today there is only one competitor at scale. This includes synergies across both search and non-search related advertising that will strengthen the value proposition to both advertisers and publishers. Additionally, the combination allows us to consolidate capital spending.
Expanded R&D capacity: The combined talent of our engineering resources can be focused on R&D priorities such as a single search index and single advertising platform. Together we can unleash new levels of innovation, delivering enhanced user experiences, breakthroughs in search, and new advertising platform capabilities. Many of these breakthroughs are a function of an engineering scale that today neither of our companies has on its own.
Operational efficiencies: Eliminating redundant infrastructure and duplicative operating costs will improve the financial performance of the combined entity.
Emerging user experiences: Our combined ability to focus engineering resources that drive innovation in emerging scenarios such as video, mobile services, online commerce, social media, and social platforms is greatly enhanced.
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.