Free Firefox Rank Checker - Check Your Google, Yahoo!, and Microsoft Search Engine Rankings

Mar 31st

Rank Checker.

Want to check your rankings on Google.com, international Google search results, Yahoo, and Microsoft? Try Rank Checker, our free Firefox extension which tracks your rankings, and allows you to automatically check ranking changes over time.

If you have any questions please watch this video.

The tool has issues with special international characters, but we are trying to get that fixed ASAP. Have any other feedback? Please leave it in the comments below.

If you like it/find it useful, please show some love via a blog mention and on del.icio.us if you can. :)

[Update: to verify your rankings on a search engine you can scroll over the rank number, hold down control, and then click on the ranking.]

Are You Using Twitter Yet?

Mar 30th

While I signed up nearly a year ago, I just recently started using Twitter. As a marketer I find it both interesting and fascinating...as it is more transparent than most social networks are. People often write back and forth using @username when they want to send another person a message, which sometimes draws you into other conversations. And since everyone you follow is someone you know or related to someone else you know it is really easy to get pulled in. And the social pressure of being associated with everything you do (no anonymous domain registration here folks) prevents Twitter from becoming a spam filled mess. Maybe there is some way such a system could be applied to search?

People can subscribe to get short blurbs from you (and whoever else they like), and the system is almost instantly self-correcting. It is the complete opposite of email spam hype marketing - if you want off the list you get off the list. If I were to spew nothing but hollow hyped up marketing messages nobody would subscribe (and many would unsubscribe). Conversely, if I help give people a laugh (and share the goodness of pearl drink worldwide) people subscribe. Next to peace and SEO, pearl drink is the best thing you can spread.

Ok...back on topic, so where was I.... I recently started using Twitter. From a social network and marketing standpoint Twitter is worth checking out and understanding. If you would like to check it out you can sign up here, and if you want to follow me, I am awall19.

Here are some of my favorite Twitter feeds: webgirl, Graywolf, Rae, Copyblogger, Mike McDonald, Chris Winfield, ChrisG tamar, Stuntdubl, Lee Odden, Barry, Debra Mastaler, Todd Mintz, Vanessa Fox and Danny Sullivan.

Henry Rollins is using Twitter too!

And by far, Neil Patel is out in front on the "people subscribed to" list, with over 8,000! I think (once he finds time to) he will finish up writing that final blog post about stopping everything else in favor of reading Twitter 23.9 hours a day. ;)

Need an SEO Consultant? Hire Jonah Stein

Mar 29th
posted in

Finding a good SEO consultant who has enough time to take on more work is a tough job. The large SEO companies rarely have a competent employee working on your account, and the best smaller SEO firms end up spending most of their time building their own website and/or are limited in the number of clients they can take on.

My friend Jonah Stein just shot me an email letting me know he quit working for his firm and is going it alone, which means you might be able to hire him since he has not built up a large list of clients yet, and his old clients are still with his former employer. If you are looking for a good SEO, here is Jonah's site.

How to Hone Your Persuading Skills by Reading Biased Splogs

Mar 29th

I was amused and a bit irked by this irrelevant and disturbing spam post from a fluff website promoting Wealthy Affiliate. I enjoy reading material plagued with disconnects and false information like this post. You can really learn a lot from both your mistakes and others'.

They attempted to compare The Rich Jerk, SEO Book and Wealthy Affiliate. Of course, since they are an affiliate of Wealthy Affiliate, guess who the BEST company was? The point here is that they did a poor job persuading me that the three subjects are relevant and from the same category.

Here are the disconnects:

1a. Rich Jerk Up-sells
1b. Seobook.com changed its business model and market one product. This was a good move because it eliminated folks who weren't serious about learning and keeping up with the ever changing world of SEO.
1c. Wealthy Affiliate??? I honestly don't see how this company is different from hundreds of sites like it.

2a. Rich Jerk offends people as a gimmick.
2b. Seobook.com is praised by Fortune 500 clients, best selling marketing authors, an Ivy League business professor, and countless webmasters. It's not our job to make everyone in the world happy but we try and work our ass to give supreme value to our members.
2c. I can't find the USP of Wealthy Affiliate

3a. Rich Jerk is a marketing gimmick that worked.
3b. Seobook.com is a very active member of the SEO/Webmaster community and writes for other Technorati Top 100 Blogs, including this one.
3c. The pop-up that attacked my screen disabled me to click further on Wealthy Affiliate

4a. The attack on the Rich Jerk was 3 long paragraphs.
4b. The dismissal on Seobook was a short paragraph including a positive statement about the quality of the product.
4c. Wealthy Affiliate is God's gift to mankind.

I don't know where they got the information that Seobook was free. They need to stop visiting sites that steal copyrighted content. ALSO - they admitted that they heard Seobook was good stuff.

Persuading the Reader to Take Action

When you hard-sell a reader, especially how terrible other products are, never mention anything positive about the subject you are lambasting and destroying. IN FACT.... When you want to persuade a person to TAKE ACTION, you need to speak in their own terms. How will this post convince a buyer? Will or can they be trusted? How will it help their buyer's needs? What are the benefits and potential gains?

As a newbie Internet marketer, they failed in so many levels:

  • made absolutely false statements
  • comparison of three different products further dimmed their sub-standard ability to determine relevancy, which is really what selling online is about.

SEO Porn Links

Mar 28th
posted in
  • Great interview of Ken McGaffin about keywords and market research.
  • Free open source link analysis tool from Patrick at Blogstorm, which shows how many links point at each page of your site. Using it does require setting up a MySQL database, but it is quite easy to set up and use.
  • Brian Clark wrote another great post about the trend toward membership sites. He mentioned our humble site, and tomorrow he is going a case study call with me...I hope that goes well. :)
  • John Andrews has a great comment on Sphinn about marketing strategy, and what you can learn from industrial strength black hat spam wrapped in a public relations cloth.
  • SEOMoz Survey - they surveyed a couple thousand of their members and readers and shared the results. Part of what is so interesting is not just all the data, but how good a job they do at presenting it visually.
  • YouTube launched their insights video analytics product, which allows you to see how many times a day people view your videos. Many of my videos get a hundred or a couple hundred views a day. Putting that in the context of how expensive it is to buy traffic makes me want to create about 100 more videos. $20 worth of trafic * 100 videos = $2,000 worth of daily traffic. Being on YouTube you don't have an optimal conversion process set up, but they could be branded with intro and outro ads...and should be able to create at least a conversion or two every day.

How to Sell Remnant Ad Inventory

ESPN recently decided to stop selling remnant ad inventory via automated ad networks / exchanges.

"We're heading down a path where it no longer suits our business needs to work with ad networks," said Eric Johnson, executive vp, multimedia sales, ESPN Customer Marketing and Sales. Sources say that ESPN would like to rally support from other publishers behind this move and ultimately tamp down ad networks' growth. Turner's digital ad sales wing is rumored to be considering a similar move, though officials said no decisions are imminent.

The two logical options from there are

  1. set a floor price on house content and show fewer ads to offer a better user experience
  2. look at currently hot stories, key markets in the weeks and months ahead, and market positions where you are close to leading but do not yet dominate and advertise your own products and services
  3. Advertise branded widgets that go on third party networks which help get your brand exposure on those as well. ESPN should have made an official NCAA bracket gadget rather than letting that traffic and branding and traffic go to Google
  4. add interactive features to your own site which increase brand loyalty and reduce content creation costs...which end up making the ad networks a more viable offering for back-fill content
  5. If the ad networks are too cheap buy out inventory on competing sites to further distance yourself from them as the market leader.

All of those strategies allow you to buy market-share in your vertical on the cheap. The more of your market you own the better you will be able to sell ads for. If ESPN was 60% of the sports market Nike would be required to buy ads with them, largely based on ESPN's terms. Part of being remarkable is about creating featured content, but an equally important piece is making sure you are branded as the leading source. There is no better place to market your content and ideas than your own site.

How Competitive Will the Web be in 3 Years? 5 Years?

Mar 28th

Introducing Answer Sniper

I just came across AnswerSniper, a $147 software product created to help you find open questions to answer on Yahoo! Answers by keeping you up to date with the latest open questions for keywords you select. Can you imagine paying for software for the privilege of finding questions that need answered, and then trying to be the first person to answer each of them?

If you are committed at that level, why not just create something like AskDaveTaylor.com or your own forum so you at least build content, brand equity, and a traffic stream you own in the process?

Worse yet, on Yahoo! Answers you are not answering questions in a small community where you can build a strong personal brand, but on a huge network where it would take a serious time investment to build a personal brand. Just doable perhaps, but probably beyond the opportunity cost for most folks.

What is even more absurd about buying such software is that Yahoo! Answers offers RSS feeds of new open questions (open SEO questions), so all you need to do is subscribe to the feed to get notifications of new questions. Want to track multiple keywords? Use Yahoo! Pipes and/or subscribe to multiple feeds.

Maybe there are more features I do not see or some things I am not fully appreciating. Do you think AnswerSniper is an unneeded product or a testament to how saturated the web is becoming? Or both?

The Yahoo! Answers Pollution Problem

About a year ago I answered a few questions just to get to a second level rating and learn what the site was like, but many of the top selected answers are people working inside the same companies who asked the exact same questions. And that pollution is only going to grow, especially as more internet marketers create internet marketing products focused on Yahoo! Answers. Plus the link equity keeps getting spread thinner as more questions are asked AND the average quality of the service drops due to pollution by marketers - those trends do not bode well for the long-term viability of Yahoo! Answers as a traffic source.

The issue in not just an issue of being someone else's user generated content versus becoming a destination, but also an issue of supply and demand. There is a lot of supply of low quality content. And there is a lot of demand for the much more select high quality content. And for Google to keep their market position they need to keep getting better at understanding which is which.

Right now a lot of weight has been put on domain trust, but as more sites add user generated garbage to their sites, site authority driven algorithms will require a lot of algorithmic refinement or manual intervention by the search engines.

As the web gets more competitive the answer to sustainability is not more content, but deeper content. In the time it takes to answer 100 Yahoo! Answer questions you could write 10 blog posts. In the time it takes to write 10 blog posts you could write 1 feature. And 5 years from now, content like the Blogger's Guide to SEO is going to be worth far more than 100 of my average blog posts. In a month you will not remember reading this post.*

It is hard to build a lasting brand that changes with the market if you are a username on a large heavily polluted site.

* If you do, leave a comment one month from today and prove me wrong. ;)

The Changing Face of Link Buying

Mar 27th

As Google clearly states (with their actions), bartering for links is fine as long as money is not part of the exchange (or if there is editorial discrimination and relevancy when it is). What is the guiding principal for bartering links? Massa said:

When do other people WANT to accept your link request, publish your article, run your press release or accept your submission?

When it does something for them.

Either it makes them money, saves them time, provides added value to their visitors or they believe it makes them look good or smart or benevolent to their visitors, their peers, their friends, their relatives, to the search engines, award sites or just about anyone that can make them a buck or stroke their ego.

So, the absolute best chance you have of getting that link is to cover as many of those bases as possible at the same time. When you can satisfy some need, want or desire of the webmaster, the visitor to the hosting site and it makes the search engine look smart, BINGO. You just hit the SERP buster hat trick!

If you are going to sell links, you can cloak them as being AdSense ads to lower your risk profile, because if it's Google its got to be Good! Or you can require the link purchase be wrapped in a guest article or some other format that does not look like a link purchase. :)

Update: Gab Goldenberg wrote this detailed post on real sneaky text link ad disguises.

The Economics of Credibility

Mar 27th

Everyone who is popular gains detractors along the way. And detractors tend to flock together and vote for other people who share their opinions. That trend virtually guarantees any valuable brand will have dirt ranking somewhere in the search results. The more valuable the brand gets the more people who will gun to unearth the dirt.

With so much competition for attention, many publishers believe they need to offer bold predictions quickly in order to be remarkable. And when those predictions go wrong people are creating documentaries about how wrong you are. Jim Cramer recently mentioned that Bear Stearns was fine right and talked about how unsophisticated the naysayers were (and how they never did their homework)

Days after Jim said Bear Stearns was fine, they were bought out for pennies on the dollar. Not only does Comedy Central offer their take, but other mini-documentaries and flames have appeared

The Daily Show

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
In Cramer We Trust
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show Full EpisodesPolitical Humor & Satire Blog</a>The Daily Show on Facebook

Fox Business Ad

If you are a publisher and your business model requires you to find new customers every day then you need to keep competing for attention. In many markets that will put you in a Jim Cramer-like position where you end up making some bad calls that cost you a lot of money in the long run.

How Much is 1 Website Visitors Worth to You?

Part of the reason so many people beg, borrow, and steal for search engine traffic is because so many people have the same thin business models offering the same stuff. Rather than thinking of ways to differentiate or look within for ways to increase value, we figure just getting a couple more links will be all we need to do well. And it may be in the short term, but that is not enough to stay competitive.

Most websites are not set up to convert...even many well known sites ran by marketers (who should know better) do a poor job of converting. And improving conversion rates means you can buy more traffic or brand exposure (affiliates, AdSense, direct ads, paid search, partnerships, and public relations). When I changed the business model of this site there was an initial rush of sign ups, but then that fell off quickly. By spending a couple hours of research, writing, and marketing on this site I have since doubled the daily number of sales, not once, but twice.

At a minimum there are still 3 big holes in my sales process which need improved. But within another month or two I can see the daily rate of new sales with a recurring model exceeding the sales rate from a one off product that was sold at a cheaper price point. It almost seems criminal when you think how hard it is that we have to work to gain mindshare and marketshare, and then just throw away the value by not optimizing our sales process and sales funnels.

My wife is at a conversion conference hosted by these guys. Hopefully I can bug her to make a post or two about all the stuff she learns. And hopefully she can help double our daily conversions again, at least until we sell out.

Link = Vote? Want Some Personalized Free Professional Help?

Mar 25th

Last week I got this via email

Hello,
How would you like getting a logo’s (or) icon’s (or) seo report (or)template (or) Banner (or) Article (or) Header designed free of cost for your website. We are giving away these services as a promotional measure for free of cost. In return we need a link at your site for each services at home or internal page(Except link,resources,directory pages).

So to get a new services all you got to do is mail us back with the confirmation of link and the page where the link added for our site. If not interested in any of these offer,and interested to do three-way link exchange,please feel free to mail me back.

Awaiting for your reply,
Jeena.

Notice they were willing to trade just about any web based service imaginable for a link. A shotgun approach, but good for a few links I suppose. ;)

And today I got this, which is a bit of a higher touch and more focused approach.

Hi,
I recently started writing work for ______ as a content writer. I would like to write a guest post related to education/college/online education etc. on your site if you're interested in accepting such a post. If you are interested, please let me know and I can send you an article for you to look over.

The Deal:
I will write a good, useful posts/articles on education/college/online education etc. specifically for your website/blog, free of cost. But I will need a by-line to build up my writing career. In addition, there will be a link to the ______ site in the by-line. So, it will help all parties concerned.

Sample posts written by me:

  • linkbait A
  • linkbait B

Both articles were widely read and received numerous links from other bloggers. Thanks for your time and I am looking forward to your reply.
Thanks,
Susan Jacobs

The nice thing about receiving such emails is that if they reference their site and you compete with them you can simply set up a couple link searches from blogs to track down everyone that accepted their offer and then get links from the same sources, replicating their strategies while hoarding your own unique link sources. As a Technorati top 100 blogger or an SEO service provider you also get requests like these from people who do not know you own competing sites. This is yet another advantage of being well embedded into the web: you see new marketing strategies within days or weeks of them emerging.

This is also scary for businesses succeeding based on a low price-point strategy. Eventually a similar product or service will be available free (or with a hidden cost that only reveals itself down the road). You are better off charging twice as much and having half as many customers, as mentioned here:

On the drive to lunch I’d ask Ralph why he wouldn’t fill the order when we were making 20 or 30 percent margins on that ton of glass.. “Because they can easily afford to pay more” he’d say.. “and once I sell that crate it’s gone, it will take 3 months before I get another crate.. somebody else will buy it because it’s a specialty size with low cut-loss”, and if I sell it at that price, next time he’ll ask for another nickel discount.. “

The fact that people are trying so many different strategies to get free links show how powerful Google's fearmongering campaign against paid links is, and just how detached from reality the idea of link = vote is in a marketplace where everyone either knows that link = vote OR is gamed by someone who knows that link = vote.

Nationwide Google Wireless ISP Plan, Try #2

Mar 24th

After they bid low and lost the C block of wireless spectrum Google has started talking to the media about using unlicensed whitespace. From the WSJ:

Google said that the white space, located between channels 2 and 51 on TV that aren't hooked up to satellite or cable, offer a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to provide ubiquitous wireless broadband access to all Americans." In addition, opening up the spectrum would "enable much-needed competition to the incumbent broadband service providers," Mr. Whitt wrote. Google has done its own white-space testing and submitted its results to the FCC in December. Philips also submitted a testing device to the agency last year, which returned satisfactory results.

Cheaper (or free) nationwide connectivity = more web users. More web users = more searches.

The other (big) piece of this, is that if Google works this deal, they will likely end up with a lot more usage data - and a strong starting point to triangulate other usage data against. With links becoming a commodity, how hard would it be for Google to find a better signal? In 5 years will they still rely on links and have 10,000 people rating content? What if they could somehow get everyone to start rating content (through usage data), and place more trust on natural looking Google user accounts with years of a natural usage profile. If they slowly mixed it into the relevancy algorithms over time who would even know they did it?

If Google does set up a free ISP think how much usage data they would have.

  • Google ISP (usage data, geo-specific relevancy)
  • Google Android (more geo-data)
  • Google accounts (which users can we really trust, what do they buy, etc.)
  • Google toolbar
  • Google search
  • social applications (Gmail, Google Talk, Orkut, Google Gadgets)
  • Google AdWords
  • Google Checkout (track sales volume, return requests, etc.)
  • Google AdSense
  • DoubleClick (thanks for the reminder Dan)
  • Google Analytics
  • Google Feedburner feed distribution
  • Google reader
  • iGoogle homepage (along with Google Gadgets)
  • Google YouTube (embeds, views, subscribers, etc.)

In that type of market, effective SEO morphs into marketing. Until that day comes keep link spamming building!

Idiocracy in Action :)

Mar 23rd

Idiocracy is a disturbing movie about marketing leading to a dumbing down of society. In many ways, marketing seems to be heading down that path.

Using Twitter today made me further appreciate something Nick Carr mentioned, that as we use computers more we begin to think and act like computers. Short bursts. Logical but detached. Devoid of context. Always engaged in something, never fully engaged. Doing whatever is in front of us, etc.

With marketing being so easy to implement and measure, and every creator (and their dog) learning public relations, every day the web is becoming a bit more like the Guinness Book of World Records. This corn flake sold for $1,350 and this lady was stuck on her toilet for two years. And both of those stories were featured on CNN!

Content producers are trying everything to be remarkable. Some articles are so long that nobody will ever read them (the top 37,549 way to making money online, guaranteed) are being complemented by marketing strategies that aim to simplify complex topics into emotion driven sound-bytes, likeso:

State officials would not let Pro-Life, formerly Marvin “Pro-Life” Richardson, use his middle name on the ballot when he ran for governor in 2006. Secretary of State officials said the state’s policy prohibits slogans from being on the ballot.

But this year Pro-Life, a 66-year-old organic strawberry farmer from Letha, is running for U.S. Sen. Larry Craig’s seat as an independent. And because his full and only name is Pro-Life, the Secretary of State has no choice but to put it on the ballot.

Brawndo, the fake energy drink from Idiocracy, has actually became a real product. Here is one version of the future of marketing

Official - Mahalo is Spam, According to Google's Internal Spam Documents

Mar 21st

Google's leaked documents defining spam state:

Final Notes on Spam
When trying to decide if a page is Spam, it is helpful to ask yourself this question: if I remove the scraped (copied) content, the ads, and the links to other pages, is there anything of value left? if the answer is no, the page is probably Spam.

Lets take a look at a typical Mahalo page
mahalo.com/Best_Computer_Speakers
That page has a #1 ranking in Google with 0 unique content and 0 value to the searcher (according to Google's above guidelines).

How can Jason Calacanis create a site that poor while slagging off everyone else as a spammer? *None* of my sites fit Google's internal webspam guidelines anwhere near as closely as Jason's site does here. Will Google engineers make the right call on this spam site? Only time will tell. And the results will be quite telling, especially when inline affiliate ads further pollute this page. The Jason Calacanis spam legacy continues.

May I Write a Post for Your Blog?

Mar 21st

I am nearly complete with a couple big projects I was working on for the last couple months (site re-launch and another secret project), and wanted to try a fun viral blogging experiment. If you ever wanted to interview me, or wanted me to guest post for your blog now is your chance. You can choose the topic(s) and I will try my best to answer your interview questions or write a post for your site.

I only have four conditions

  1. your blog must have a non-default theme
  2. your blog must not be hosted on Wordpress.com, Typepad.com, or Blogger.com
  3. your blog must be at least 6 months old
  4. you must love publishing, marketing, SEO, and/or the Internet (or else) ;)

Comment below with your URL and the word "interview" or "guest post" and I will reply to the email associated with your account. First come first serve, and I am not sure how many of these I will do as it may get a little overwhelming if many people say yes. But it is all in the name of fun. :)

I Just Spammed You (or, Why Media Transparency is a Bogus Marketing Strategy)

Mar 21st

The First Rule of Marketing

Some people hype transparency as the only effective solution for long-term sustainable marketing success. After they are already successful they can hype such false ideals and get praised for them, which only adds to their misguided notion of marketing. The truth is everyone wants to be influenced, but nobody wants to feel like they were influenced.

A Marketing Experiment

A few weeks back a friend of mine ran a linkbait announcing the best photography blogs on the web. And then he announced on his other blog that he was trying an experiment in using flattery to build links. I commented on that post

The first rule of linkbait is… ;)

Generally people do not like feeling like they are being examined or influenced by marketing. For that reason I tend not to talk about “lets see how it goes” until after the fact, and rarely then too.

What was the outcome of his linkbait? It was successful, at least for a bit.

But then award winners found out about that other post. In short order Dave was getting comments like

I just think you are completely underestimating how many difficult situations we are put in as high visibility professional photographers, particularly when it comes to internet ethics. Between finding our images on other photographers’ sites, finding our names in other website’s metatags without authorization, getting anonymous comments we have to moderate from envious competitors, and then being part of an SEO experiment … the amount of time I spend on unethical internet situations is discouraging to me.

and all the award winners were emailing back and forth about how the award was fake. So he alienated his target audience and someone even hacked his blog!

When to Mention Your Sites

If you ever wonder why I sometimes talk about marketing from a broad perspective without pointing out my sites and specific marketing strategies employed, this is yet another example why. The only reasons to mention your sites, stats, and marketing techniques are:

  1. to drive traffic and help spread viral ideas quickly (it helps if you own a top blogger in your industry)
  2. to linkdrop (a href is your friend)
  3. to improve your own image (especially good when joining trade organizations or donating to worthy causes)
  4. using the media exposure to help build your site's brand and credibility (as seen in goes a long way for building trust and making it easier to get cited again)

Everything is Gamed

Behind the scenes media gaming goes on everywhere everyday. But it is rarely talked about publicly because it benefits nobody for their customers to feel like they were duped, influenced, and/or manipulated. We would all like to believe we are smarter than that...but we are not. If we were, I doubt we would have hunted down and executed a man our country put in power, and maybe we wouldn't be angry at this joke. But sometimes the truth hurts. And sometimes lies kill.

The Blend - 2008 Online Publishing Business Strategy

Mar 20th

John Battelle riffs on how Yahoo!, Microsoft, and AOL are screwing up by following in Google's footsteps trying to create huge ad platforms, while ignoring their brand ad strength. And AdAge asks if we may one day see a web free of push display ads.

If traditional ads become less effective, we will still end up trusting ads that are links that look just like content. How to article linkbait, user generated content, and 100% blended affiliate links now make up the Mahalo business model. Which is really no different than the affiliate marketing Jason despises. That really puts a new perspective on somebody lashing out at SEOs and affiliate marketers before creating something that aspires to be more polluted.

[UPDATE: Yahoo! Search also is getting into the blend more aggressively, allowing brand advertisers to drive potential customers to branded Yahoo! Search results. More information on Search Engine Land, and an example Y! search for Honda here.]

Understanding "Organic" Link Building in 2008

Mar 20th
posted in

Michael Arrington, writing about how many blog networks are trying to raise capital, describes the natural state of linking on the web:

And now that the big guys in the Gang are being injected with capital, hiring tens of employees and expanding their businesses, they suddenly have a lot more to lose. Linking is never done just because. Rather, links are your political capital that must be expended appropriately. Don’t link at the right time and in two weeks when you’re pushing your own headline, you’ll wish you had. When you stop seeing other blogs as people you admire and want to discuss things with, and start to see them as your competitor, your brain shifts and you stop linking the way you had previously.

Luckily, the newbie bloggers are there to fill in the links when they’re needed. That’s why, if you are a mid-level blogger, you are likely courted by the bigger blogs looking to get your support. If you know what’s going on and are willing to play the game, you can see your blog rise very, very quickly. Choose the wrong blog, though, and you may find yourself alone and lonely in your forgotten blog.

Launch something new? You better beg at least a dozen people to help spread it if you are in a saturated market. Hopefully you just them some favors too! This fending for your own self interests + backscratching is the new reciprocal link. Depending on how selfish we get, bloggers could make the mainstream media irrelevant or just make ourselves irrelevant.

Win a Free 3 Month Trial to Our SEO Training Program

Mar 19th
posted in

A couple friends have launched contests offering a chance to win a free 3 month trial of our SEO training program. Learn more about the contests from ChrisG and WinningTheWeb.

The Tools Between You and Your Audience

Mar 19th

Some tools exist because they are valuable and remove market friction. Others exist because they are perceived as being valuable, even if they are actually value destroying, or only valuable in rare circumstances.

Valuable Tools of the Trade

Outside of paying for a domain name, hosting, site design, and buying a few links you could create (an ad supported) business online virtually free.

Blogs are easy to post to, easy to subscribe to, and easy to comment and interact with. Keyword tools and analytics services are easy to view and infer ideas and trends from. Searchable email saves time. Google Alerts and feed readers save time and keep you connected with your industry. Many of these tools are free, in spite of offering great value.

Negative Value Software

But there is another class of software that exists long after it is useful or profitable to use, or long before you would need to consider such a solution. Are you still paying for monthly submissions to the search engines? Not all of the solutions are outright fraud though (like monthly search engine submission services are). Even some of the good intentioned tools can still hurt you.

Automated Email

A friend of mine is nervous about launching their first linkbait, and wanted to use this enhanced email software to help automate finding the right people to contact. But until you get some experience in the marketplace you might be paying for value destroying software that hurts your brand.

  • One software program my friend bought crashed his computer.
  • Another was bought through Plimus. It was purchased, and simply never came...pretty bad after about a half dozen emails and a few phone calls. How hard is it to send an unlock code?
  • One of my friends got his account banned by an ISP the first day, when he accidentally misused one such software program. One minute he was doing research, and then he clicked to the next step to refine it, and accidentally ended up sending out about 150 emails in under a minute. Ooooops.

And none of those situations even take into account brand value and risks of a reputation management issue arising.

Automated Bid Management Software

A customer of mine recently asked about what bid management software program made sense to use, as he was new to PPC and wanted to do it right from the start. But if you are new to the game I think you first need to do it by hand so you can understand how it works. If you use bid management software that is optimizing for the wrong things you may end up blowing through a lot of money. It is much harder to learn the ad network + the management tool at the same time rather than learning them one at a time, and in many cases human intuition works better than machines do.

There are a lot of ways to get caught up in the complexities of money saving tools and ideas to where you never do anything. You can't teach a software program, machine, or employee how to do marketing until after you have done it yourself.

Other Backwards Solutions

  • Have you seen people pay to be able to resell some sleazy MLM company's junk on a 100% duplicate content subdomain off of the corporate site?
  • Have you seen people pay for hosting and CMS services that are far worse than they can get for free from other providers or the open source community?
  • Have you seen people using expensive keyword density analysis software this year?

What causes people to buy into such stuff - laziness? lack of research? greed?

What (does/doesn't) Work Well for You?

What tools made your marketing easier? Which ones set you back?

What works well in 2008? What is a waste of time? Twitter? FriendFeed?

How Owning Multiple Sites Can Help or Hurt Your Marketing Strategy

Mar 19th

Because I own BlackHatSEO.com and spent literally 1 day building and marketing it, a year ago a reporter writing for The London Times decided to do a feature article about me. Hey I rank #1 and own the exact match URL so I must be the guy, right? Well maybe (just don't ask Matt!)...but bonus good deal for me on getting the feature, other than some of the regretful out-of-context quotes that were attributed to me.

More recently, I was interviewed by a reporter from The Register named Cade Metz in When Google Does Evil, an article about the opaque world of AdWords. In the article I was referenced as a search marketing consultant, and the link points to search-marketing.info.

Had that site not ranked for hundreds of AdWords related queries I would not have been asked to do the interview. But I just as easily could have moved the best content from that site over to this one. I appreciate the citation, but screwed it up on my end 2 ways

  • wrong site: anytime featured articles from the mainstream media reference you it really helps if they mention your primary brand
  • weak reference point: there are about 100,000 search marketing consultants in the world. As long as thousands of people claim the same thing you do then your claim does not mean as much as it should. Anytime you talk to the media you want to promote a memorable identity. I had an easy identity when I was the author of the SEO Book, but now that I have changed business models I need a new identity statement for the media, and quick!

When you talk to the media do you make sure they reference the correct site? When you talk to the media what title do you claim that seperates you from the rest of your field?

The Future of Selling Media Online - Free then Pay for Popular Content

Mar 18th

Select Distribution

I recently mentioned the Sigur Rós Hiema video, which was featured on the YouTube homepage for a day and probably got about a million pageviews. An SEO Book reader named Satish discovered that after the video built up a lot of viral media and link exposure the video was set to private mode.

Google video, as a DRM service, failed miserably. But providing custom hosting for member videos that can only be viewed from certain sites or for a certain number of views is an easy win for YouTube if/when they decide to do so. Google already owns Checkout, so it should be easy to do after they have the right relationships in place.

I predict that if that limited syndication model is available to the masses, a future media pricing system will allow publishers to offer free video for the first X views and then the videos are turned to private / members only / payment required after they get a certain number of views. All the free views build the perceived social value, while being easy to market since the content is originally free.

Sliding Price Scales Starting at Free

Seth talked about taxing latecomers by making events expensive at the end and cheaper for the first few people. And music is priced this way on Amie Street. It is basically the concept of Piracy is Progressive Taxation flipped on its head - make it free to build awareness until people really value it, then let the irrational herd follow along for the ride.

Word of Mouth is the Best Long-term Marketing Strategy

The free then paid model encourages the creation of remarkable content and ensures artists and authors are paid a fair market value for their best work. And it offers a profound business model strategy because as markets saturate marketing gets more expensive and attention gets more scarce - the easiest way to do marketing is just make it easy to use, consume, and share - and rely on word of mouth to do the marketing. And it is far better than monetizing via advertising because it is more organic, and stems from the web's strengths. As Jakob Nielsen said:

"The basic point about the web is that it is not an advertising medium. The web is not a selling medium; it is a buying medium. It is user-controlled, so the user controls, the user experiences."

When there is an unlimited amount of competition consumers are far more likely to buy what is already well trusted amongst the community.

This Type of Technology is Easy to do

The cool thing about my current content management system set-up is I can control permissions for any article on this site. It could even be automated for certain classes of information (ie: only pages, only blog posts, only book pages, only on newsletters, only on a subdomain, sitewide, etc.) ... it is entirely flexible.

Limitations

You wouldn't want to bait and switch everything you did or you would build up some serious negative karma and some people may not be willing to link at you, but most people will not care or notice. The attention comes and goes, but the links stick. If you turned 10% to 30% of your well loved featured content into premium content I doubt it would hurt your link building much, although your rear end might get sore from your wallet filling up with cash. :)

eBay Ditched CJ and ValueClick

Mar 17th
posted in

I received the announcement today that eBay will promote their affiliate program independently. This will start on April 1st and run with CJ for another month. With a company as big as eBay, I often wondered why they used a 3rd party platform in the first place. I played around with their developer's kit and this announcement will make their promotion more robust through new banners and API's.

All the great tools and benefits of working with the eBay program will remain the same – access to the Editor Kit and affiliate API, the flexible destination tool, the great payout structure. In addition, the eBay partner network will provide several new features:

  • Easy global registration to multiple countries simultaneously
  • New, targeted banners and rich media creatives
  • New landing page optimization and geo-targeting capabilities
  • More detailed reporting capabilities for eBay’s programs

Will CJ and other networks be relevant a few years down the road? Maybe for smaller players but what's preventing them from going direct to the publishers?

Introduction Thread #2

Mar 17th

It turns out the Drupal setup for comments per page leaves the maximum at 300, and our original introduction thread exceeded that...so it is time for a new one. :)

Who are you? What do you do?

Weekend Links

Mar 15th

Some weekend reading...

Business Strategy

Want a list of the 10,000 most popular subjects on the web? Here is Wikipedia's 10,000 most viewed pages. Courtesy Wiki stats, mentioned in this Search Engine Land article.

Hitwise shows plural keywords drive more traffic to shopping sites than singular terms. Perhaps singular versions tend to be more navigational and brand related, whereas plural terms are more informational and transactional in nature.

Fred Wilson on the self-destructive nature many driven people possess.

Mark Cuban offers a killer quote on the failed branding of newspaper blogs

Never, ever, ever consider something that any literate human being with Internet access can create in under 5 minutes to be a product or service that can in any way differentiate your business. ... If I worked for the NY Times, or any other media company with any level of brand equity, I would have done everything possible to define the section of our website that offers ongoing as anything other than a blog. I would make up a name. Call it say.....RealTime Reporting.

Indeed it is hard to demonize blogs as being inferior while integrating them into the company under the same name. :)

The Google

Eric Schmidt spoke on video about Google Health about 2 weeks ago. Interesting to think about how Google can provide cloud computing services to any complex or high value vertical (like employment, education, health, financial services) to gain major mindshare and a new revenue stream. And after getting all the publicity Google for some reason took their video down...hmm. Why did they do that?

2007 ad spend shift from old media to Google - hard to imagine this trend will continue at such a rapid clip, but hard to predict what will stop it

Shaking out the bad sites in Google - John Andrews on the delicate balance Google must strike between searcher, advertiser, and publisher:

When a former Google customer (someone who has quit AdWords out of disgust) asks an SEO to help “get free search traffic from Google” it represents a person who is no longer willing or able to play by the established rules. It’s not a sign of criminal intent, mind you, so don’t go hyperbolic on me with the BlackHat WhiteHat stuff. But from a demeanor perspective, that former customer is willing to try things outside of the “let’s do business together” avenue, without telling Google, and recognizing that he is now in competition with Google, his former business partner.

Firefox Extensions

Firefox Ultimate Optimizer - an extension to reduce Firefox memory usage.

Domain look-up extension for Firefox

(Non)Quality Publishing

Harper Collins’ working on coming up with an effective strategy to exploit your children.

Quality Corporate Linkbait

No More Abandoned Carts - even VeriSign is getting into creating quality linkbait. This is what corporate linkbait will look like in a year or two. And like it or not we are probably going to need to be at that level if we want to keep competing.

A year from now heavily advertised linkbait followed by a 301 redirect will be one of the most potent SEO weapons on the market.

Free Publicity From Consumer Funded Media Projects - Profitable Online Panhandling Strategies

Mar 15th

Have Your Say!

Insert your message in the next Brave New Films video for $199 - not that I am saying you should, but 5 or 10 years ago it would have been hard to imagine this level of fan integration into the funding, creation, and promotion of documentaries. Where are we going to be in another 10 years? Will this video get 500,000 views on YouTube? Might this $199 be a cheap ad buy for people looking to appeal to this demographic? At that price point it is almost an impulse purchase for O'ReillyGoesNuts.com or BoneUsFoxRingtones.com. :)

Fund Anything

Sites like Kiva allow you to loan to business people in the 3rd world, and offers open ratings on past loan payments. If you are looking to make money in the process, outfits like Prosper and MicroPlace might work too. And Fundable allows you to raise funds for any cool projects or ideas.

Why Your Funding Source Matters

Is it cheaper to get funding and buy ads or grow organically from direct support? Getting capital from a VC may get you some coverage, but it is probably nowhere near as valuable as donations from hundreds or thousands of fans. 4 reasons direct support funding from fans is so powerful are

  1. they minimize risk and create deeper direct connections
  2. participants feel ownership, which creates meaningful relationships and project evangelists who provide emotional support and spread buzz well ahead of your launch
  3. people care much more than they do offering free support (to appreciate how non-committed free support is, hundreds of bloggers talked about the launch of Citizendium, and I donated to the project like a day or two later - and was the first donor to the project)
  4. successful projects show social proof of value as they pick up momentum

Full Text of Google's General Guidelines for Remote Quality Raters from April 2007

Mar 14th

I was not going to leak the document publicly until others did and it was cited by other popular sources, but given that SEL blogged about the remote quality rater document, now is a fine time to mention the best weekend reading any SEO could wish for...here is the 43 page confidential Google document in PDF format.

Make sure you download a local archive in case either or both go offline. And if you don't know why the document is so important for SEOs, read my post on spying on Google.

Help Spread SEO Goodness Around the Globe

Mar 14th

A couple days ago I posted asking readers to translate The Blogger's Guide to SEO.

So far we already have 5 translations done:
Bulgarian SEO Guide. Dutch SEO Guide. French SEO Guide. Italian SEO Guide. Slovakian SEO Guide.

In addition to Bulgarian, Dutch, French, Italian, and Slovakian, readers have already volunteered for these languages: Portuguese (Portugal and Brazilian), Spanish, Russian, Czech, Swedish, Tagalog, Croatian, Japanese, Romanian, Danish, German, simplified & tradisional Chinese, Croatian, Indonesian, Hungarian, and Polish. Are there any other languages where you can help translate it?

My goal is to make this the most widely available document on SEO across every language possible. For each language it gets translated into, I will donate $50 to Amnesty International. The first translation in each language will also be referenced from the original guide, which has a lot of traffic and link equity.

Official: General Web Directories Are Dead - JoeAnt is PageRank 3, More Aggressive Hand Editing by Google

Mar 14th

[Update: After I made this post, Google engineers fixed JoeAnt's PageRank. Thanks Google!]

I just noticed that JoeAnt is now a PageRank 3. I have submitted hundreds of sites to hundreds of directories. For sites at the lower end of the quality spectrum (lets just call some of my experience academic) I simply would not submit them to JoeAnt, because I knew they would not list them. Many of those same lower quality sites were accepted in other directories like Business.com and the Yahoo! Directory.

While JoeAnt's editorial guidelines generally enforced higher quality than most directories, here are some of the things that may have hurt them when they were compared to the few general directories which have not had their PageRank scores edited:

  • smaller size
  • limited partnerships with other businesses
  • a lower price-point, which may have lowered the perceived value by the right customers and attracted some of the wrong customers
  • a name that sounded playful, rather than being business oriented
  • a smaller advertising budget
  • limited brand strength

I used to track 100s of general directories, and now I believe about 5 of them are showing their natural PageRank scores. The rest have been hand edited. Many of them were quite abusive and deserved to have their PageRank scores edited, but not JoeAnt, IMHO.

With so many of the clean link sources getting edited by Google, it is getting much harder for small businesses to compete with larger businesses for keywords on the commercial web unless they are ran by publicity whores. I am not sure if Google thinks that enhances information quality or helps mom and pop webmaster provide better services, but I guess we will see in a few years. The ironic part of it all is that if they force everyone to become marketing experts and PR agents to compete, then they undermine the long-term value of (and the need for) their paid search ads.

Why did a Google engineer chose to hand edit JoeAnt's PageRank score when similar directories with lower editorial standards like the Yahoo! Directory and Business.com did not get edited?

By 2009 Google Will be More Dominant in Online Display Ads Than Search!!!

Big news by Google. After announcing the DoubleClick acquisition (~ 60% of the display ad market), Google announced the launch of Ad Manager, a free ad management tool with built in yield optimization. Ad Manager allows you to sell direct ads, and then backfill with AdSense and/or any other ad networks you choose. Huge for Google for 5 reasons:

  • minimizes the value and risk of competition from larger ad exchanges like Right Media, smaller start ups like the Rubicon project, and open source ad networks like OpenAds
  • gives them yet another way to follow web users across the web to create a proprietary web graph based on usage data (along with Google Analytics, Feedburner, RSS Reader, iGoogle, AdSense, search accounts, Gmail, Google Talk, Youtube embeds, and Google Toolbars)
  • allows them to spy on other ad networks such that they can quickly buy out the competition and/or clone any features from newer ad networks more profitable than their own
  • this allows Google to establish more meaningful relationships with publishers, and help recruit publishers to the DoubleClick level once they get big enough
  • Google has yet another way to spy on any competing web service (outside of ad networks) and be alerted to change before any competing networks

YouTube probably gets about as many pageviews as Google does. By aggressively running display ads on YouTube, Google could likely take that 60% marketshare to 75% in a matter of months. Add in the self-serve expanded network for smaller publishers, and they are well over 80% of the ad display market inside a year.

Left or Right Rail Navigation?

Mar 13th

I recently switched the navigation on the SEO Training subdomain to be on the left side rather than the right side. The reason for doing this was that it has folding tree navigation based on where you are in the training part of the site, and having the navigation change over on the right side of the page was probably a bit confusing for some users.

But now the navigation on the training part is on the left side and I still have the navigation for the blog part of this site on the right side. Should I move the blog navigation to the left side or no?

Potential rewards:

  • makes site look more uniform, which could aid usability and be considered important now that we have 3 major subdomains on the site (community, tools, and training)
  • this could also make it easier to run seasonal specials and marketing promotions in the navigation area of the blog

Potential draw backs:

  • Having the design look different really helps people see when they are in a different part of the site. Blending it all together may undercut that a bit.
  • I am quite used to right rail navigation on this blog...ever since 2003! but maybe sentimental reasons have little value here

What do you think?

The Online Marketer's Home Page

Mar 12th

Using iGoogle or Google Apps you can easily create a page like this, which tracks brand mentions on blogs and other active parts of the web. If you know why people are talking about you then you can create more things they may talk about. If nobody is talking about you then you need to stir up conversation. :)

When Do I Stop Building Links?

Mar 12th

How long should I build links for? and when should I stop building them? Both frequent SEO questions, with the answer "it depends."

Automation as a Non-strategy

Many people are interested in automating as much as possible and doing it as easily and quickly as they can. The problem with replication and doing what is easy are that if it is easy for you to replicate

  • it may leave an unnatural footprint
  • it is typically easy to replicate
  • it leaves you heavily reliant on a single technique that may get cleaned up (like directories did last year)
  • if you are working on 30 sites at once you do not get to take best practices learned from sites 1 through 29 and apply them to the 30th site

When Being Lazy is OK

I have sites that I have left virtually untouched for years because they fall into one (or more) of the following categories

  • they enjoy a self reinforcing ranking effect
  • they got as far as they are going to without significant capital expenditure and opportunity cost that exceeds the potential rewards
  • I was just too lazy to keep working on them

Beyond those types of sites I look at link building as a proxy for relationship building.

The Coming Wave of Competition & Creativity

I think when you look at the more creative parts of the web, those foreshadow what the battle for hearts, minds, and eyeballs will look like throughout the rest of the web in the years to come.

Well Marketed/Open Software

With programming you see lots of the high risk heavy capital expenditure business models giving way to lighter, simpler, and more open frameworks. Many of the lighter, simpler, and open frameworks allow users to create plug ins and evangelize the systems. Some even have programmers work on the core. Many also offer free trial versions which reduce marketing costs to ~ $0 and build goodwill. The software companies which are not seen as free and open need to lash out against the competition in an attempt to gain marketshare.

Great Music

Music is another industry undergoing gigantic business model shifts. Sigur Rós is a well known Icelandic group, which created a 97 minute documentary about their homeland named Heima. Then they uploaded it to YouTube and were featured on the homepage of YouTube for a day, along with some of their fan favorite short films. Their documentary got over 600,000 views on YouTube in the last 4 days, and you can watch it on this page for free:

Update: They set the Youtube video to private. I believe someone also uploaded it to Google Video, but that might be a copyright violation. You can view the trailer below & here is their official website. I liked the Youtube version well enough to buy the DVD from Amazon.com

In spite of their success, they are still building links. And if you want to watch the video somewhere other than YouTube it only costs $15 on Amazon.com. On their next tour they could probably double or triple their ticket price and still sell out stadiums, largely because they kept building links.

Looking For Translators for the Blogger's Guide to SEO

Mar 11th

Some readers who came across The Blogger's Guide to SEO asked me if it was ok to translate it. It is Creative Commons licensed, so please feel free to. Please comment on this post referencing the language you are going to translate to. I will link to translations from the official guide, which has many thousands of inbound links and hundreds of daily pageviews, so it should send some traffic to your site.

Pricepoints, Cold Leads, & Customer Quality

Mar 11th

It is much easier to get people to impulse purchase a one time $79 product than it is to get people to join a higher value but higher price-point recurring program. When I changed my business model the sales rates changed significantly. Just before changing the model the sales rate for the ebook peaked at an all time high. And just after launch the sales rate for the membership site was even greater than my best sales rate for the ebook, but then sales slowed down a bit. As I refined the some of the marketing strategies, order volume has picked back up again.

The area where sales really dropped off was the areas you would expect to fall most - cold search leads and affiliate traffic. It makes sense too, because when you are selling a membership site you are largely selling trust in your brand, and building trust is a process. It requires more of a presell. Those who are unfamiliar with you will take a lot more to convert than those who have grown to know, like, and trust you over time. Those who have read this site for a long time are much more likely to become members than less qualified prospects who just discovered this site today.

I still have a bunch of ideas for warming up cold leads which I will get to try over the coming months, but some of them requiring sourcing from other providers, and that is a process. The cool thing about changing your business model is that you learn a lot about different sales strategies...it also shows you the different strategies needed to sell different ideas. And it is a bit of a thrill to one day just pull the plug and switch everything. You can try to predict what will happen, but your predictions will usually be wrong. In the shift there will be hidden good deals and hidden bad deals. Just to highlight a couple, out of dozens of them...

  • Hidden good deal: when setting up the ability for SEO Book buyers to get a free trial my programmer turned that free offer process into something that required setting up a Paypal subscription. That prevented many non-committed people from joining. Which works out nicely for me as I don't spend more time servicing people who were not really interested in the first place.
  • Hidden bad deal: when I emailed affiliates about changing my business model, many affiliates that had no sales or traffic were demanding and rude. A single sentence in that email probably wasted over 10 hours of my life.

I theorized before changing my business model that as a result the customer quality and value of customer interaction would sharply increase while my frustrations with the worst customers from yesteryear would diminish. That turned out better than expected as well.

Some of the people who bought my ebook in the past would buy it but then be lazy, see no results because they did not read the book or do any marketing, and then basically try to get $20,000 worth of consulting out of me for their $79, not listen to my advice when I give it, and then do a reverse charge after sending me a few 15 page emails and wasting hours of my time.

The problem was that there was no recurring opportunity cost to customers, so many of them felt it was their job to abuse me and treat me like a machine. And so then I started thin slicing to guess "is this a person who I can help or a person who will just waste my time?" but that thin slicing turned off some customers. My wife thought I was slow to respond and I sounded a bit like a jerk when we first spoke. :(

The nice thing about my current price point and member registration is that it is just beyond the impulse purchase range, so I am selling to the right customers. And since it is an ongoing training program, it attracts the type of customers who want to do work vs those who want a free ride or a person to outsource the blame upon. The community has been both fun and rewarding. I have been surprised at how well it has worked out. I just wish I would have been a better listener when NFFC gave me so much great advice back in 2005!

One huge disconnect I still have is that many people who reference this site today are still referencing how great the book is (but it no longer exists as an individual entity, only as part of the training program). The domain name, years of content creation and market participation, and all the money spent on advertising all work to make that well remembered, and I need to work on shifting that...which is probably a lot harder that it sounds.

We spend so much time worrying about public relations, link building, and all kinds of external stuff...that we do not set our businesses up to establish and build relationships, and get the most out of what we are already doing. If you do well with the traffic you already have then you can always invest more in public relations, ppc, advertising, and link building.

NFFC Interview 3 Years Later

Mar 11th

I just came across an interview of NFFC from 3 years ago. It is just as good today as it was back then...maybe even better.

Does Google Spy on its Customers?

Mar 11th

Sometimes people think I am a cynic when I mention things like "avoid Google Analytics," but you never really understand how Google perceives the web until they chose to try to wipe you out. Jay Weintraub recently posted about how he was permanently banned from AdWords because one of his employees accessed his company account AND their personal account from the same IP address.

A person who has access to the company's AdWords accounts has their own AdWords account. They are a good employee and don't work on their personal project at the office, but as a good employee they do work on your business while at home. By accessing both AdWords accounts on the same machine, Google decides both accounts are the same person despite their being different. Worst case, the employee breaks the rules with their personal account. The employer finds their campaigns stopped and can't get them back online.

There was a point in time when some people who practiced PPC claimed that it was safer than SEO, but in the face of

it is certainly a bit harder to claim that PPC is a safe and effective long-term marketing strategy.

Worse yet though, if Google is willing to ban people paying them millions of dollars, what happens to those who publish AdSense ads and are dependant on Google for revenue as well? What happens to those who are dominating the organic rankings without paying their Google tax?

If Google connects up all that data to use against their advertisers, surely they are using the same data to hand out punishment to other parties as well. Just by using AdSense you make your business more reliant on Google (and eventually more likely to be penalized by Google). Just by using Google Analytics you are leveling the competition field for everyone except yourself. And the problem there is that you can't get away with many of the things that your competitors do.

How many emails like this could I send out before my site would get banned?

My threshold and the threshold for Sallie Mae are two different numbers. I wonder if I offer PageRank 6 (and above) bloggers a free membership to my site if they linked to me (like Demand Media does) if I would be deemed a spammer?

As Google's stranglehold on the web grows (Google just closed the DoubleClick deal - giving them access to a lot more affiliate data) the solution to remove yourself from risks associated with Google's influence is to create a business that is not reliant on Google...a brand and a destination. But to do that you really need to ignore Google's advice.

And if you are an end consumer and searcher, you are hosed already. Ads already track you and know who you are, and Google has patents to target ads to leverage and exploit your mental weaknesses:

Examples of information that could be useful, particularly in massive multiplayer online RPG’s, may be the specific dialogue entered by the users while chatting or interacting with other players/characters within the game. For example, the dialogue could indicate that the player is aggressive, profane, polite, literate, illiterate, influenced by current culture or subculture, etc. Also decisions made by the players may provide more information such as whether the player is a risk taker, risk averse, aggressive, passive, intelligent, follower, leader, etc. This information may be used and analyzed in order to help select and deliver more relevant ads to users.

Hat tip to Andy for the link to Jay's post.

Spying on Google: What is Spam? What is Relevant? Read This to Find Out

Mar 11th

You can read a lot about what search engineers want by looking at how the search results change. You can learn a bit more by listening to how they try to guide / influence / manipulate the market while engaging in discourse. And you can learn a lot more by reading their guidelines for how they expect people to rate search quality.

The reasons that the internal communication documents are so powerful are

  • they do not discuss search from "in an ideal world" approach, but cover the current marketplace from a pragmatic standpoint solving real issues
  • the documents may display algorithmic holes that require manual intervention
  • the documents may show clues as to the hints search engineers give raters to quickly infer quality and relevancy
  • the documents show issues or relevancy infractions that merit a lower relevancy rating
  • the documents show how ratings change based on the quality and availability of information on the topic
  • how something that is considered spam in some instances is considered fine if it is associated with a large well known brand
  • how things that are relevant in some verticals are irrelevant in others if Google runs a competing offering
  • the current documents are the result of years of back and forth communication between quality raters and search engineers

For organic search junkies the Google Gods have tossed us another gift. An SEO Black Hat member discovered an April 2007 Google Evaluation Guidelines document, referenced here.

In April 2007 Yahoo! Music did offer lyrics, but the official Google query evaluation guidelines from that time-frame stated

Exceptions (Scraped Content that is not Spam) Lyrics, poems, ringtones (that the user programs rather than downloads), quotes, and proverbs have no central authority. When you see pages with this content, you cannot judge it to have been copied, and the pages should not be assigned a Spam label. Unfortunately, some content is written specifically for Spam pages and you will not find it on another source.

Although you may be convinced that the intent is to deceive, if the content makes sense and appears original, you will not be able to label such pages Spam.

In a sense, if a spammer or copyright violator is the only person providing the information online for free it is not considered spam, even if it would have been deemed spam by the traditional guidelines. The same is likely true if Google is trying to work on business negotiations to own that content directly (how could they state there are no central authority sites for music lyrics when sites like Yahoo! Music offer them?).

Because Google has not partnered up with the record labels to create a Google database of lyrics somehow those copyright violations are deemed acceptible even if they would have been judged as spam under Google's typical guidelines. And, of course, after Google creates a relationship to get those lyrics hosted on Google.com, many of those lyrics sites will indeed be deemed as spammers.

In other words, spam is only spam if it does not help Google achieve its business objectives. Who cares about the laws. Good to know.

You can compare the current query evaluation and rater document to the 2003 versions I referenced here and here. And the 2007 document has been leaked online.

Social Media Free For All Frenzy

Mar 9th
  • Reciprocal links really started getting punished after there were tools to automate link exchanges and link exchange hubs developed.
  • Nofollow was a direct response to automated blog comment spam software.
  • Directories really started getting punished after there were tools to automate submissions and there were lists of sites to submit to.
  • Article directories started getting punished after there were tools to automate submissions and there were lists of sites to submit to.
  • A blog called Promote My Site offers a list of thousands of social media sites. And there are plenty of automated submission tools too.

Links of Interest

Mar 7th

Striving to be (Below) Average...

Google Analytics came out with a novel benchmarking feature which compares your site's performance to other websites in your field. You can see this benchmark data ONLY IF you are willing to aggregate your data into the pool of anonymized data.

The best sites in your industry probably are not using Google Analytics, and those who do are probably not benchmarking against average, so you are essentially benchmarking your site against a random sample of the bottom half of your industry. I guess such a measurement has purpose, unfortunately I fail to see it.

I hope that while so many people are out smelling the flowers, someone is taking the time to plant some. - Herbert Rappaport

Can You Build 1,000 True Fans?

Mar 5th

As free and infinite competition erodes the value of weak connections, a key to sustainably selling art is to reach out to 1,000 true fans:

The key challenge is that you have to maintain direct contact with your 1,000 True Fans. They are giving you their support directly. Maybe they come to your house concerts, or they are buying your DVDs from your website, or they order your prints from Pictopia. As much as possible you retain the full amount of their support. You also benefit from the direct feedback and love.

Seth mentioned how Bruce Springsteen built true fans over the years.

Even if you currently do not view yourself as an artist, to still be selling information online in 5 years, you will need to become one. Last September I posted Publishers Will Become Interactive Media Artists, which explains the shift that is taking place.

Excessive Creativity

Mar 4th

The line between being clever and giving out too much information, can be seen here.

The Less You Know, the Happier You Are :)

Mar 4th

Recent University of Iowa research concluded that blissfully ignorant shoppers are happier with their choices:

"We found that once people commit to buying or consuming something, there's a kind of wishful thinking that happens and they want to like what they've bought," said assistant professor of marketing Dhananjay Nayakankuppam. "The less you know about a product, the easier it is to engage in wishful thinking. But the more information you have, the harder it is to kid yourself. This can be contrasted with what happens before taking any action when people are trying to be accurate and would prefer getting more information to less."

Which is worth thinking about when you aim to sell something. Sometimes the mystery is part of the appeal. Sure you want to answer many common questions to aid the perception of value, but sometimes a vague answer that allows wishful thinking to wonder is better than concrete answers that kill the imagination.

One of the things that holds back many semi-successful people who do not fully appreciate their own value is trying to answer everything possibly before the sale, which focuses too much time and effort on non-customers, while killing the imagination of legitimate prospects.

Update: In the comments NickB mentioned this TED talks video by Dan Gilbert.

  • He highlights that unlimited choice, excessive fear, and unrestrained ambition kill happiness.
  • We often vote against happiness because we think that given more choices and more time to debate our options we will like the outcome more. For most trivial matters the opposite is typically true.
  • Another interesting tidbit is that amnesiacs who did not remember what specific gift they were given liked it more after they were given it (even if they did not remember that they owned it).

Watch this video...it's great stuff.

You Must Build a Destination if You Want to Create a Fully Valued Sustainable Business Worth Buying

Mar 3rd

Recently Google's Kevin Marks was interviewed by cNet, where he said:

OK, stop and think about your application. Do you really need to be a standalone site? Do you really want to write user registration code, or would you be better off taking your application and bringing these other sites where there are lots of users already and where they have already expressed both their personal information and their connections to other people?

The answer to that is of course you want to be your own destination. Writing registration code once means you can re-use it over and over again on various projects. If you can program a successful widget or application then you are not the type who thinks registration code is a roadblock.

Some of the most successful viral applications (like Paypal and YouTube) leveraged other platforms for growth, but a large part of their success was that they also chose to be destinations.

If you create a destination vs exclusively being a platform on another site, you...

  • have more direct contact with your customers (which often creates new revenue streams)
  • have greater organic growth opportunities due to a wider variety of organic distribution channels (rather than being someone else's user generated content)
  • make it easier for reporters to contact you. Public relations is huge for spreading viral stories and growing viral networks (look at how many times Plentyoffish was in the press)
  • create something that is easy to link at, where you control the link equity and attention and use it to profit as you wish (ads, market new related ideas, change your business model, etc.)
  • can extend your offering out into related fields and/or create a premium service
  • are more likely to receive funding if needed and can sell your business for a higher price point (since your business has more of what Warren Buffet considers a moat around it)

Consider some of the add ins that sold for millions or billions of dollars because they chose to become destinations

  • If Paypal was not a destination, eBay could have killed them and/or bought them for a small fraction of their potential value.
  • If Del.icio.us or MyBlogLog was just a Firefox extension would Yahoo! have bought them?
  • If Feedburner was a browser plug-in of some sort would Google have paid an estimated $100 million for them?
  • If YouTube was not a destination could they have competed with Google Video and got bought for $1.65 billion?

Overture, which pioneered the paid search field, once had a dominant market-share, but was afraid of becoming a search destination because they thought that it could cost them syndication partnerships. The day AOL signed on to syndicate Google's ads, Overture became irrelevant as a business force. They bought a couple search engines in an attempt to become a destination, but it was too little too late. And Overture was bought by Yahoo! for about 1% of what Google is worth today. The pioneer in the paid search model that drives the current web economy sold for about the same price as a marginally profitable free video hosting site, largely because Overture failed to become a destination. Oops.

Why Google Guidelines Sometimes Depart From Reality

Mar 2nd

The Federal Reserve is somewhat like a market maker, or at the very least a market influence, on the value of currency. Google acts in a similar value, placing value on and evaluating the value of information and collections of information.

Reading this blog post about Ben Bernanke and replace words like credit and inflation with paid links and search spam and you can see (and perhaps even respect) how Google manipulates the press, why Google's guidelines are often forced to be removed from reality, and search engineer editorial action is often harsh beyond reason.

Here is an excerpt from the blog post about Ben Bernanke:

The last time a slowing economy failed to moderate prices was the 1970s. Even as the economy slid into recession, we had major spikes in the prices of energy, food, clothing.

What is particularly worrisome to me is that as we have slashed interest rates 225 basis points, consumer loans -- mortgages and revolving credit -- have actually moved higher.

Gentleman, this is a major problem. And our internal, non-public projections forecast it is only going to get worse for the next 4 quarters . . .

Paying a PR firm is not much different than buying PageRank, other than it perceived by Google as being cleaner.

And if you are big into economic stuff here is some more good stuff...

First, Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway Annual Report [PDF] offers a lot of great business strategies and insights. If you have never read any of his letters, make sure to read from the heading on page 5 or 6 about Business - The Great, the Good and the Gruesome right on through to the end of that section a couple pages later. You can also read Warren's older reports here.

Nouriel Roubini on The Current U.S. Recession & the Risk of Systemic Financial Crisis [PDF] offers a bearish outlook on housing:

This is the worst housing recession in US history, and there is no sign it will bottom out any time soon. At this point it is clear that US home prices will fall between 20% and 30% from their bubbly peak, that would wipe out between $4 trillion and $6 trillion of household wealth. While the subprime meltdown is likely to cause about 2.2 million foreclosures, a 30% fall in home values would imply that over 10 million households would have negative equity in their homes and would have a big incentive to use "jingle mail" (i.e. default, put the home keys in an envelope and send it to their mortgage bank).

Some of the early lending institution losses are being socialized by inflation and other sources

Countrywide - an institution that was more likely insolvent than illiquid - has been bailed out with public money via a $55 billion loan from the FHLB system, a semi-public system of funding of mortgage lenders.

And this is altering the online economy heavily.

A few years ago credit card companies rewrote the bankruptcy laws, but mortgages have not yet been re-written to favor corporate interests. Nouriel Roubini highlights further risks associated with house price depreciation:

What is happening is just the consequences of rational economic behavior. In most US states mortgages are non-recourse loans; thus, if a home owner defaults on its mortgage then banks take over the collateral - the home - via foreclosure but once that happens it cannot go after the borrower for any difference between the value of the original mortgage and the current value of the property.

Weekend Reading

Mar 2nd
posted in

Here are some interesting articles I recently came across.

  • Tapping into unconventional link attributes - tips to evaluate the value of a link, including the fresh boost and the actual lasting value of the link.
  • Beet.tv NYT report - Google traffic to NYT has doubled since unlocking their archives
  • Microsoft Tracking Search and Browsing Behavior to Find Authoritative Pages - even without PageRank you can easily discover authoritative pages largely through tracking usage data.
  • Yahoo! Buzz - a proof of concept of the Microsoft research...they look at search queries, emails, and votes to find what is really popular.
  • Portfolio.com interview of Michael Arrington - rather in depth interview explaining how Mike got into TechCrunch and how it took off to become a high paying full time job. With blogs being such an important part of the current structure of the web, reading the strategy of the leading technology blogger is a no brainer good idea.
  • 19.20.21. - project to research how population growth and urban living may alter the world and our ecological footprint.

The Future of Business Process Outsourcing

Mar 2nd

The Disadvantages of Low End Outsourcing

My History of Outsourcing

Last year I lost thousands of dollars multiple times outsourcing projects to people who could "do them no problem" until time for showing the results came in, and that capital was simply wasted. At the lower end, where people will take your money and do nothing for you or offer services not worth paying for, there will always be a market where people are glad to take your money.

That piece of the market creates a market for lemons effect, be it SEO, web design, programming, eBay listings, whatever.

The Cost Advantage of Outsourcing is Quickly Eroding

Not only is there a market for lemons effect, but the cost savings advantage is quickly eroding:

The reality is that wages are rising in India. The cost advantage for offshoring to India used to be at least 1:6. Today, it is at best 1:3. Attrition is scary.

Jobs that are low value-added and easily automatable should and will disappear over the next decade.

That means that if you provide a high value service, there is a greater presumed risk to hiring you, unless you have great brand strength and/or enjoy valuable personal recommendations. Worse yet, if the job is easy to automate eventually a computer will do it.

The Problem With Most Outsourcing Projects

Many people who look to outsource have a marginal business model and are outsourcing rather than improving their business model, in a last ditch attempt to try to keep it surviving after the business model is already in decay, without changing their business model to fit the current marketplace.

High End Business Process Outsourcing

You Can't Outsource Loyalty

At the other end of the market, some of the most talented people are also so ambitious that loyalty or output is limited. When I decided to change the SEO Book business model about 6 months ago I started working with one of the best programmers I have ever met. He did great work and started off faster than lightning, but he wanted to grow his revenues so fast and was so overwhelmed with work that he had a hard time making time for my project. In spite of me sometimes paying him 250% of his original rate, he and I both decided that it would be best if I finished the project with someone else. So then I ended up spending thousands more to have some re-learn some of the stuff he did, and then create custom coding to

  • verify the affiliate program would work and give the proper affiliate credit while changing the tracking method
  • cross reference account status and permissions across 3 databases
  • integrate it all with Paypal subscription data

There are still a couple things with the site that I really need to improve (Drupal FlashVideo conversion and some stuff with the Autoresponder module), and that does not even include additional features I want to add. The second programmer is helping with some of it, I am doing some of it, and a third programmer is helping with some of it.

Freelancing to Pro: Training Your Workforce for Better Jobs

I outsourced the writing of one of my sites to a person who was passionate about the field. I let them be associated with the brand and put their name on it so they would be more passionate about building it up.

I have marketed the site quite aggressively and gave them my ideas for how to create featured content and what topics to write about. That has lead to them getting so much exposure that other people are offering them higher paying jobs.

There is an aspect of outsourcing where if you teach them enough and give them enough exposure they end up being worth more than you can pay them unless you already have a market leading channel.

When Outsourcing Works Great

Pre-made & Self Serve Software Packages & Services

All the above models work so well because they

  • allow a single piece of work to be sold many times
  • use the feedback of many customers to improve the product

Word of Mouth Recommendations

  • All my hosting providers that I recommend were recommended to me by other online friends.
  • I have a guy who makes banners for me who is fast and does great work. He was recommended by a fellow SEO.
  • My designer for this site and other sites came as a recommendation from other friends.
  • Most of my other custom service providers are people who read this site, learned to trust me, and built a relationship from there.

My wife and I have only bought outsourced services via word of mouth recommendation that I ended up regretting on 2 occasions. In both cases, the person giving the word of mouth marketing was recommending themselves. Other than that, I have rarely had a bad experience with word of mouth marketing. And I think this is true for two reasons

  • you first learn to trust the source, and they earn that trust over months and years
  • then you trust what they recommend

Spreading that risk out over stages lowers the chances of making a bad choice.

How to Continue to Profit as an Outsourced Service Provider

Seth mentioned this Gavin Potter quote a couple days ago

The 20th century was about sorting out supply, the 21st is going to be about sorting out demand.

As the cost advantage of outsourcing disappears, the web gets polluted with scams, the web gets saturated with competitors, and more offline conversations influence online transactions, it seems the best ways to make money outsourcing are:

  • work to build some of your own projects so you are not reliant on clients
  • specialize on a niche and own the idea
  • build a brand that demands market leading rates
  • give away a lot of value free to do your marketing for you and qualify your prospects
  • inspire customers and ensure you offer a remarkable valuable service worthy of word of mouth marketing
  • turn your service into a product that is sold as a service, and include customer interaction touch-points where it makes sense to add value





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