Search Twitter in Realtime, and Get Free(ish) Content

Apr 30th

Summize is a conversational search engine which allows you to search Twitter in realtime. Useful for finding customer feedback even when people do not provide it directly to you. For example, I just found out that for some people the Rank Checker Firefox extension stopped working after the last update. So I just reverted the extension and am awaiting another update from the developer. Summize offers RSS feeds so you can track conversations mentioning your brands and/or important topics.

Summize offers an API which can be used to generate free content for your sidebar if you publish Mahalo-like content, though that is a bit spammy. ;)

Will Your Website Pass a Google Review?

Apr 29th

Welcome to GoogleNet!

Hitwise recently mentioned that Google controls over 1/3 of UK web traffic.
Upstream uk internet traffic from google properties to other websites in the UK 2007 2008  chart.png
With that much usage data, if you were Google, would you use usage data in your relevancy algorithms?

An Army of Google Search Editors

They could easily use algorithms to detect

  • sites that they send a lot of traffic to relative to its total traffic (comparing ratios between toolbar data and search traffic)
  • sites which have seen a rapid spike in traffic from Google
  • sites which people quickly bounce away from (and do not later return to)
  • sites which get a lot of traffic from Google but get few navigational queries

and flag anything out of the ordinary for human review. Marissa Mayer stated they have 10,000 reviewers.

Does Your Site Look Good to Google's Relevancy Algorithm?

As the web keeps getting richer and deeper, and Google increasingly uses human review for demoting spam, all the aesthetic things matter:

  • domain name
  • site design
  • content formatting
  • branding and public relations

As search evolves so too will spam. Some spam sites will LOOK and FEEL better than most non-spam sites. And so the remote quality raters will be given more data to look at - perhaps eventually even a sample of backlinks or other related data.

False positives will occur - sites and careers built around Google without proper support stilts will crumble. Unless your site is of social significance (you are a big corporation, a non-profit organization, a government institution, an educational institution, a top blogger, an official Google partner, or Youtube/Google house content) then part of the optimization process revolves around not only creating sites that pass a hand review, but also trying to create sites that do not get flagged for review - especially if you are a thin affiliate site.

How do you not get flagged for review?

  • Build enough quality signals and direct traffic that your site looks like a real part of the web.
  • Build something people keep coming back to.
  • Do not make drastic changes to your site unless you are comfortable with it going under review.

How do you pass a review?

Short term I think the aesthetic things matter a lot. Longer term it is best if your site satisfies a few criteria

  • exclusive content that people value and keep coming back to (Google loses if they remove the best content from their index)
  • a brand that people care about and search for (Google looks dumb if they do not rank your site)
  • a meaningful and reliable traffic stream outside of Google (many quality signals may stem from this exposure, which will help keep your overall profile more organic)
  • you could cause public relations harm to Google and diminish their brand value in the eyes of thousands of people (removing your site has real opportunity cost)

Usage Data for Algorithmic Site Promotion

Creating Fake User Accounts is Harder Than it Sounds

If usage data was ever used to promote sites, they could look at regional data and help promote sites based on what is popular locally. Searchers reveal their location by IP address and the queries they search for.

The Trusted Few

Google could use a subset of their users when using usage data to affect relevancy (perhaps users with 6 months account history, credit card on file via Google Checkout, and a normal email profile).

Why Usage Data is Tricky

Much of the signal from usage data is likely mirrored by PageRank, so the lift might not be that great until they really refine the technology.

Some tricky parts with promoting sites based on usage data are:

  • usage data is quite noisy, and
  • it may not favor informational sites over commercial intent the way that PageRank does. That informational bias to the organic search results is a large part of why AdWords is so profitable.

Microsoft recently presented a paper on finding authority pages based on browsing habits.

SEO is a Social Activity :)

Apr 21st

Here is a 10 minute and 46 second flash video about how SEO is becoming less mechanical and more social. So far we have about a half dozen members only videos like this one...I am trying to make about one new one each week.

Download the powerpoint file here

Are You Following Google's Marketing Strategy?

Apr 18th

I just read Google and The Value of Web Supremacy, comparing Google to the history of Venice. It is a great blog post well worth a read.

Google's position on top of the web allows them to monitor any area of growth, and give themselves the first slot for any area they want to compete in. If they are uncertain of their competitive positioning they can list a couple other competitors alongside until their internal stats show their product is superior. Free exposure and free benchmarking are great advantages.

Their relevancy standards and universal search product allow them to vote for or against any type of information or company. From a business standpoint, anything they buy or launch can be tightly integrated in the search results like they did with YouTube and Google Checkout.

Their protective moat extends out from that position with the following assets

  • the default video hosting platform
  • the default display & contextual ad networks
  • the default blog feed management company
  • the leading feed reader services
  • the default web analytics service
  • the default mobile operating system
  • the default standard for map sharing
  • free payment processing for non-profits (good for public relations and a cheap way to buy market exposure)
  • (soon to be) the default web development platform - Google App Engine

Given the size of that moat and diversity of their offerings, holding Google stock is like holding a mutual fund with a long position on the web. As SEOs we monitor Google too closely to talk about why and what they are penalizing and how to get ahead, but I think you can learn more about marketing by watching what they do to build their brands and dominate their markets, and try to do the same in our markets.

When you have a well known brand, a good idea, and do an aggressive launch sometimes your idea sticks as the default answer for that question. You end up owning ideas - sometimes for years. In some cases idea ownership requires extensive maintenance costs, but in many cases there is little ongoing cost.

  • Even if a domain name costs $50,000 or $100,000 it is only $8 a year going forward.
  • A good site design might cost $5,000, but earn you that much each month.
  • Some software tools and downloads rarely need updated.
  • The difference between an average blog post and a piece of feature content might only be 8 hours of production and 4 hours of marketing.

Once you have default status in a category the web's network economy works for you and works against the competition.

  • if you already rank that exposure can become self-reinforcing (until someone creates a better idea)
  • if you are already well known it is easy to get listed in DMOZ and get other trusted 3rd party citations
  • if you have a well known brand you can charge more and be selective with who you sell to
  • if you have a lot of exposure people new to your field are likely to quickly run in to you and help promote you while they learn from you

The Value of Small Daily Incremental Improvements

Apr 17th

Building a well known brand and a sustainable business model in a competitive marketplace is challenging, but if you break things down into pieces and do something every day eventually you win marketshare. People who become successful have large goals like "become the leading source in our market" or "increase profits 150% year over year" but most people who actually achieve those types of goals set smaller goals and work toward achieving them every day.

One of my better habits is writing a to do list. When I scratch things off the list there is a sense of accomplishment which drives further activity. Sometimes the accomplishments are moral victories, learning how to create a little bit of code, or improving the graphical interface of something, while other projects are much more complex, like writing a book or hundreds of training modules. As long as growth is sustainable then all is well. If you stop growing in a growing marketplace then you need to evaluate what you are doing wrong.

  • Are you doing too many repetitive tasks that software or a cron job should be able to do?
  • Does your site lack viral marketing components?
  • Does your site do a poor job of prequalifying leads?
  • Are you selling to the wrong market?
  • Are you pricing too cheaply and attracting the wrong clients?
  • Are you doing a poor job building perceived value?
  • Is your conversion process broken?
  • Are you doing a poor job of transferring value?

In nearly every growing business at some point in time the answer to every single one of those questions is yes. Each is an area for improvement.

With employees I can come off as being under-appreciating and/or too demanding, largely because I expect people to work as hard as I do, and maybe 2% of people do. When you have the attitude of making incremental daily improvements it is hard for some people to grasp it until you beat it into their heads. I have found it hard to teach most people - especially if they work remotely.

You really need to find that 10% of people who want to add value...and then you need to find the 30% of those who's loyalty exceeds their greed. It is hard to find good workers. As software gets cheaper I suspect it will only get harder to find and retain quality employees as more of the quality people decide to work for themselves, which means that you need to create ways to get customers to do your marketing for you.

I think the key to smoothing out some of the friction with workers is to teach people to set their own score card. Daily contact off the start is needed to set expectations and keep things progressing. But over time have them ask themselves each day what they did to add value, make a difference, and remove market friction. If you are active in your marketplace, are receptive to feedback, are aggressive with push marketing, give away value, and keep trying to build value each day, eventually the profits roll in. It might take a couple years to work out well, but eventually it does.

Google Thinks YOU Are a Black Hat SEO. Should You Trust Them?

Apr 17th

Preemptive Spam Penalties

There is a great thread over on SEOmoz by Matthew Inman about how some Googlers consider any of his future attempted linkbaits and widgetbaits to be off topic spam, based on his aggressive misuse of widgets in the past.

With hundreds of comments many of them are noise, but some of them are spot on with Google's current trends, especially those from Jeremy Luebke and Jim Boykin. Jeremy wrote:

Google is determined to make any scalable link building process blackhat. It won't be long before all off topic linkbait, including articles, is considered linkspam.

And Jim wrote

And the blackhat club gets bigger.... and the waters get murkier and murkier.... if you're an SEO, you're a black hat. Only those who don't know what SEO is are the white hats.... Don't try to rank high on purpose....if you do then you've broken a google guideline

Corporate Marketing vs Individual SEOs

This event clearly demonstrates how differently Google treats major corporations vs individual SEOs (especially if they are publicly known as SEOs). An individual SEO who is great at his job can expect to be preemptively penalized to be made an example of, even while the competition are doing exactly what he wants to do (ie: the same activity is brand building when the corporation does it and is spam when Mr. Inman does it).

A corporation typically is out of the index for a few days to a week at most, even if they are operating at an industrial spam scale for years! When the corporations are relisted they may need to do a bit of rebuilding, but millions in profits from years of spamming allow them to invest adequate capital into growth.

This is why some of Google's editorial judgement seems so arbitrary and lame. The small player innovates, gets crushed by Google for being creative and innovative, then the monolithic corporations uses the same techniques to an industrial scale and are somehow better for borrowing/stealing the techniques. How does that process foster web innovation?

I lost a lot of links when a Google engineer decided to penalize one of my sites, and in the process all the links from my aggressive promotion costing 10s of thousands of dollars disappeared, while the fortune 500 companies in my field got a head start and competitive advantage against me by recycling my idea. I can't express how thrilled I was. That was the past and I am over it, but I think Google needs to take a close look at their own behavior when judging others.

Does Google Use Off Topic Linkbait & Widgets?

  • An off topic transcription is a legitimate source of links, according to Matt Cutts - at least when you are syndicating Google's opinions.
  • When you install AdSense for search on your site with the Google logo (aka paid link) it direct links back to Google (ie: not to their AdSense program).
  • Google barters PageRank to push their business objectives.
  • How is what they are doing any better than what the average SEO does? Should they hold themselves to the standards they judge everyone else by? How can they be seen as objective if they do not?

Be Careful Who You Trust

What is worse about this game of passing arbitrary judgement is that many of the best known SEOs praise each other in public only to snitch on one another in private (talk about being ethically challenged). One member who recently joined my training program read the training module about how affiliate programs can pass PageRank and asked Matt Cutts if they could use 301 redirects on their affiliate program "like Aaron does" so that he too could "rank for everything". Within a week my affiliate program no longer passed link juice.

Pick a Smart Professional Label

Google can not keep growing their revenues at an acceptable rate without beating the value out of others. If you are new to the SEO field and want to excel online, call yourself something other than an SEO. Using the label SEO invites arbitrary monitoring and punishment, and there are too many plastic personalities in this field willing to dime out a friend in exchange for a wooden nickel.

Effective & Scalable Automated Content Generation Strategies

Apr 16th

For years there have been a wide array of automated content creation solutions, from RSS recycling wordpress plugins, to open source content generators, to fake science paper generators, right on through to custom high end programming jobs used by financial firms like Thompson Financial.

The downfall of most automated content solutions is the perception that because it is automated it is spammy. But that perception may have changed recently, when the NYT published an article about Philip M. Parker. Mr. Parker created a sophisticated set of algorithms which has allowed him to automatically generate over 200,000 books.

He points out that once he has trained the computer to take data about past sales and make complex calculations to project future sales, each new book costs him about 12 cents in electricity. Since these books are print-on-demand or delivered electronically, he is ahead after the first sale, he said.

This video explains a bit more of the process

And when it comes down to content quality, a person who reviewed one of the books on Amazon.com, stated

“The book is more of a template for ‘generic health researching’ than anything specific to rosacea. The information is of such a generic level that a sourcebook on the next medical topic is just a search and replace away.” ... Mr. Parker was willing to concede much of what Mr. Pascoe argued. “If you are good at the Internet, this book is useless,” he said, adding that Mr. Pascoe simply should not have bought it.

So this is a case of self-proclaimed substandard production, and because he is first to market it is fine. But the profit margins are probably bigger than Google's. The commercial web is just over a decade old and this sort of technology already exists. Where will automated content generation be in 5 years? In 10 years?

The best publishers are focusing on building large growing communities. Content is becoming a commodity, as content without subscribers is worthless. As failing mainstream publishers follow in Mr. Parker's footsteps, small publishers stand no chance to compete unless they have an army of brand fans.

SEO Video Subdomain Clean Up

Apr 16th

I recently glanced at our SEO videos subdomain and was disappointed with the layout and formatting, so I spent the last couple days adding videos, categorizing them, and adding introductory text. With that subdomain only having 1% of our overall traffic, it hints at how bad the old formatting was. Please let me know what you think of the new subdomain.

Things have been going quite well since we formally launched the SEO community and training program.

  • I have been blown away by the quality of discussion on the forums. On more than one occasion I have opened up a number of tabs for answering different questions, answered a question, and then looked at how great another answer was by different members who answered quicker than I did, where I erased my answer to write "____'s answer was better." It is inspiring to see the community work out that well so early on.
  • In less than 2 months since formally launching I have made over 2,000 forum posts, and it seems this business model scales better than the old model and offers much better interaction between clients and I. Rather than trying to rush to get through all the emails (as one does when they get 100's every day) there is enough time to really interact with customers. The back and forth and variety of participants really enhances learning, and helps me focus on what training modules to create. Smilies.
  • Yesterday I figured out how to embed YouTube videos in the forums, and today we got cool new smilies (white hat, black hat, Google, spam, money, and a cheers mug)
  • The first month after launch I was able to make 4 video PowerPoint training modules. I got nothing but great feedback on those and want to see if I can create at least a few of them a month. Ideally I would make one a week, but eventually I will end up running out of topics at that pace. I have not been creating much video content for the blog because I want to make most of that stuff subscriber only. I probably need to figure out some balance on this front.
  • In the last 3 weeks we had 2 conferences and finished up taxes, and yet were able to keep up fine with both the forum and email. That bodes well for future growth potential and scalability.
  • I use Google Docs to take notes on what to update and what to add to our monthly newsletters. Google recently over-wrote one of these, but luckily I had a saved offline copy and was able to restore it.
  • Recently I did way too many interviews. I think it is important to be aggressive with self promotion when you do new launches, but I bet my interviews would have been better received if I spaced some of them out. I got to feeling a bit unoriginal because when you do that many interviews the questions tend to overlap, and so do some of the answers.
  • The developer of our Rank Checker extension just had another baby (or his wife did). So updates to that will take a bit. I plan on creating a bunch more software, but much of it will likely be decentralized due to the added reliability and cost benefit of decentralization. The decentralization does not lock in users as well as the centralization model does, but at the end of the day if the product is better that is all that matters.
  • In the background of all that I did a joint venture partnership with another big player in our space. I just saw the first version of some of that work and it is looking quite exciting. More news on that front coming soon.

The percentage of site traffic that comes to our blog is now down to ~ 40%. I hope to keep growing traffic, but drive that down to about 30% by the time the year is out, through expanding our training program, community, and tools offerings. There is lots of growth opportunity in creating more tools and improving the integration between our training modules and our community forums.

I have a couple more blog posts I want to make in the next few days, but I am going to start focusing more efforts on cross integrating the community forums with the training modules, and looking for other ways to add value to the membership area of the site.

There are also a few lead content ideas kicking around in my head. I hope to have at least one or two of these done before the month is out. Thanks for reading even though my publishing has been a bit sporadic. Hopefully a few of those features will help make up for that.

Google is Quietly Consuming the Internet

Apr 16th

TechRepublic asks "Will the Google revolution engulf IT departments?" Each time I write a newsletter, about 80% of the items are about Google. They keep innovating faster than other companies their size. Here are some examples of things they have done over the last ~ 2 months.

  • Changes organic search results based on prior search query.
  • Added a search box for site search inside the search results, giving Google a second taste at displaying ads even on navigational queries for a specific website.
  • Started crawling site search forms on trusted sites, which (along with sitelinks, universal search, Youtube, and branded video ads) distributes more traffic to large trusted sites and business partners, with less traffic going to smaller websites (search keeps getting more editorial).
  • Offered App Engine, which provides free hosting to developers (in exchange for being stuck on their network and letting them spy on your usage data and growth).
  • Created a marketplace for people building on the Google network.
  • Begun policing widgets not on their network, a topic that deserves its own post.

Not only are dumb companies buying into the everything Google strategy, but even some semi-intelligent ones are. After logging into Dreamhost recently I was shocked to see them integrating Google apps and email on all customer domains. What happens if/when Google buys GoDaddy? How does Dreamhost compete when Google gives away hosting as a loss leader?

There is big risk to Google consuming the web. The issue is not only information diversity and innovation, but what happens when your Google account gets hacked? I regret my reliance on Gmail, but am unsure how to fix it.

3 Tips to Kill Passive Verbs & Wasted Words

Apr 16th

One of my worst writing habits is writing filler text, the most common offense being passive verbs. Here are the 3 things that help me write clearer using fewer words:

  1. Read every day. We emulate what we consume. When I go months without reading books I can feel my writing getting looser. Many great authors, like Stephen King, also offer free writing tutorials.
  2. Stylewriter highlights writing errors. It costs $150, but is cheap if you want to write for a living.
  3. Twitter offers 140 characters. Many 160 character messages fit in 140 characters when optimized.

What are your favorite writing tips & tricks?

Elsewhere...

Apr 13th

Adam Audette has been posting some great stuff lately. Check out his posts on link building fundamentals and internet marketing and the limitations of language.

Dan Durick posted about how the economy can affect search behavior. Look at the numerous sources and graphics included in his post. It adds a lot of depth and credibility to the piece, because it relies on third party data and is more work than a typical spammer is willing to do (though many low level linkbaits do source 3rd party stats as a strategy). Anytime you add in 3rd party data you become a guy speaking truth and teaching rather than the salesman. Just by glancing at that blog post and knowing what you already know about search and market research data you have a big advantage over 99% of your market.

Lee Dodd announced the "Biggest Webmaster Forum Contest Ever!" offering over $25,000 in prizes, and 5 chances to win a free 3 month trial of our SEO training program.

How to Protect Your Business From Nefarious Subdomain Hijacking

Apr 11th

A couple days ago while I was at a conference news came about that Network Solutions was hijacking unused customer subdomains to post links to their other websites. It is getting really hard to trust *many* online service providers.

A big tip for new websites is to use the www subdomain and 301 the non www version to the www version, for 3 reasons

  1. If some nefarious group tries to add subdomains to your site you can easily spot them with a Google search for site:mysite.com -site:www.mysite.com (you could subtract other subdomains if you liked as well, likeso). You can even set up a Google Alert to track Google indexing any subdomains by entering that search in a Google Alert. Once any new subdomain is discovered you can delete any of their nefarious activity and/or add the subdomain and 301 it to your site to reclaim any link popularity (if the domain was expired or re-purchased and the subdomain had some remnant link equity).
  2. Already owning the www and non-www means that they have fewer opportunities to hijack one of your most important subdomains.
  3. Some automated penalties that occur on subdomains do not flow back to the root. If you are using WWW you can move it to another subdomain, but if your core site is at the root (without the www) then you may be out of luck.

Disclaimer: Microsoft Live Search is *really* bad at following 301 redirects. So if you are already using the non-www version and have built a lot of links, then it may not be worth the risk of 301ing it...especially if your site is really clean and you are not pushing any algorithmic limits with aggressive SEO techniques.

In addition to the above tips, ensuring that you software is up to date and using your own non-shared host also helps mitigate the risk of subdomain hijacking. SEO Book reader Rich Atkinson also stated

Another good tip is to create a wildcard dns 'A' record for your domain. Then config your web server to 301 all unrecognised hosts to your main site.

This is good for picking up the ww.example.com typos too.

Of course - you may or may not be able to do this on shared hosting.

Elite Retreat 2008 and Final Thoughts

Apr 11th

There's always "take home" value that you can immediately apply after attending Elite Retreat. I, Giovanna have signed an NDA so I can't go into deep details. Last year, I learned the various monetization models from Jeremy Shoemaker's presentation and Lee Dodd introduced the idea of buying and selling website "real estate." This year, Andy Liu's presentation was very interesting because it had a different approach and it focused on team building, applying business formulas, metrics and attracting investors. A memorable quote by Andy about his way of investing was "Buy Based on Current Revenue and Sell for Strategic Value." Although I have no intention to sell any of my sites, I now know what investors look for and the path to take for increased profitability. Had a short yet highly productive chat with Brian Clark about copywriting and conversion. There will be more posts on conversion because it's my new homework and there really is no secret forumula ---> Just hard work.

I was bummed out for missing Shoemoney's presentation this year because you always learn something new and cool from that guy...especially in exclusive and highly private groups like Elite Retreat. It was my loss. Aaron sat next to Matt Mullenweg of Wordpress during the lunch and I guess they had fun exchanging SEO stories. I actually use his platform on at least three of my sites. Aaron is so addicted to the web that his knowledge goes beyond SEO. He's now tying SEO and marketing to the social networking theory. That's not white hat, it's more like clear hat.

The Elite Retreat attendees are all pretty darn razor SHARP. Just being around incredibly smart people was worth the investment but being able to "pick" the brains of the industry's top thought leaders is priceless. Ugh, that last sentence sounded too Mastercard-ish but it's true. People who have attended in the past come for the 2nd or 3rd time.

BOTTOM LINE: Knowledge is can be expensive but truly life changing once it's IMPLEMENTED. If you really want to make it, you need to go out there and take immediate action. If the results are not what you expected, LEARN. If they are positive, RE-APPLY! :)

Yahoo! to Test Monetizing Their Search Results With Google AdWords Ads

Apr 9th

From their press release:

Yahoo! Inc. a leading global Internet company, announced today that it will begin a limited test of Google Inc.'s AdSense for Search service, which will deliver relevant Google ads alongside Yahoo!'s own search results. The test will apply only to traffic from yahoo.com in the U.S. and will not include Yahoo!'s extended network of affiliate or premium publisher partners. The test is expected to last up to two weeks and will be limited to no more than 3% of Yahoo! search queries.

Anyone who syndicates Yahoo! ads or operates a business that relies on selling clicks has to be concerned with this news.

Our New Search Engine Rank Checking Tool Has Been Updated

Apr 6th

The Rank Checker developer told me he just completed our first major update on the extension. From his email...

  • added international character support
  • fixed query time saving error in options window
  • added status icon (right click on the icon to see the whole menu)
  • fixed linux issues
  • changed doubleclick behavior (if you want to go to SE results on windows, hold CTRL key and click on the url; on mac hold META key and click on the url), because double click causes some errors on mac os.
  • fixed export to CSV
  • fixed result scraping when domain has sitelinks
  • added dragable columns
  • fixed domain.net vs domain.net.au issue

What else do we still need to fix/do?

Using Site Search Keyword Data to Create Related Content

Apr 6th

If you have a site with a large traffic stream you can use your site search data to come up with ideas on what content to create, what products to add to your store, and what keywords to bid on. Acting early on keyword data is important no matter what site you publish.

  • PPC margins In many affiliate markets the large profits happen early when the market is still inefficient, and margins are drastically lowered as more affiliates compete. Automatically adding your internal search keywords to your PPC ad accounts allows you to arbitrage the keywords while they have a fat profit margin.
  • Organic rankings if you rank early and pick up a couple self-reinforcing links it gets much harder for people entering the field later to compete with you.

If you have a strong brand you may be able to use internal search data to automatically create related searches, which creates relevant content on those pages.

Ken Robinson spoke at TED about creativity and mentioned Epiphany, the name of a new book name that he was working on.

That book has yet to come out, but enough people searched for it at Amazon.com that they added the keywords to related searches.

And since they are first to market they are already ranking in Google. When the book comes out they will already control that traffic stream.

This related searches tip can be used in a way that looks spammy or a way that looks legitimate. It is up to the user to decide how far they want to go with it. ;)






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