Interview of Neil Patel, Social Media Marketing Legend

May 27th

I have been going to SEO conferences for many years, and it seems Neil Patel was at every one of them...always laughing, joking, and having a good time. I went from obscurity to being somewhat well known on the web from 2003 to 2005 and Neil did the same, but started about a year later. In addition to learning so much about social media, Neil shares tips on Pronet Advertising, runs ACS SEO, and created a start up named Crazy Egg. I asked him about his rapid accent and where he sees the future of social media heading.

True (and perhaps humbling story here)...a person I know said that they thought you were "the annoying kid at conferences," and then about 6 months later the same person said that you were the unsung hero and up and coming star in the field of SEO...and they were following everything you did. What did you do that made such a big impact in such a short period of time?

Great story, but I am probably still the annoying kid at conferences. ;-)

The main thing that took place in that short period of time was that I started leveraging social sites like Digg. When I started I was the highest ranked SEO on social sites like Digg and at one point I had a 75% success ratio.

The only other thing that happened in that period of time was that I started blogging and speaking at conferences. Once I started sharing my knowledge people started, somewhat, listening to what I had to say.

There is a lot of controversy in the online marketing space...with various marketers comparing who has a bigger penis (or, perhaps, who can act like a bigger penis) virtually every day. How did you get well known while avoiding much of the hollow self-promotional hype and conflict that is associated with so many other well known internet marketers?

My philosophy is that someone is always going to have a bigger penis than you, so might as well not try to compete and do the best you can do. Instead of getting involved with the self-promotional hype, I just concentrate on sharing my knowledge (similar to you), which I think helped with my personal brand.

And the main key to my success was that I let everything out. Because sooner or later others are going to know what you know, so might as well be the one to tell them.

Many bloggers have grown to (at least claim to) hate SEO. I go to lots of the top tech blogs and I see ACS logos on many of them. How did you build all those relationships and get that exposure? If I was just starting out in the SEO field today would that still be possible?

Bloggers in general don’t like paying for things and many of them believe that SEO is bullshit. So what I did was approach all the Technorati Top 100 bloggers and tell them that I could increase their traffic for free. And if I increased it drastically in return I would appreciate if they could place my company’s logo on their blog.

By offering this, they did not have much to lose. In today’s market it is probably more difficult to do this because most bloggers have already been approached. But either way, there is no harm in trying.

Have you ever had any linkbaits bomb, or worse yet, backfire? What are the lessons you learned the hard way when it comes to social media marketing?

I can’t recall of any linkbaits that have bombed or backfire. Some did not succeed, but none have really hurt my clients or me. The only thing that backfired for me was that people found out my Digg user name and started publicly bashing me that I was getting paid submissions from a lot of the Technorati Top 100 blogs. The funny thing about it was that those bloggers never paid me a cent and all the companies that did pay me never got called out.

With many people talking about gaming Digg it seems like they do not like people who create content that is targeted to their user's interests. As a marketer, is it worth the effort to target Digg? Does my site's general theme need to be aligned with that community?

It is definitely worth targeting Digg because it is a good place to obtain links. The trick with Digg is not to try and game the system, but instead to provide valuable content to the community. If your content is good enough you can still do somewhat well even if the community doesn’t like your sites theme.

For example, if I recall correctly your site made Digg for your Firefox extension. Even though they hate SEOs, you still got on the front page.

How do you come up with strategies for what topics to go after with linkbait? Roughly what is your success rate with launching linkbaits? How many links do your average linbaits get?

We come up with linkbait topics through brainstorming sessions. By passing ideas off to each other, sooner or later we come up with content ideas that can work. As for our success rate, we usually sit around the 50% mark with short linkbait pieces and around 80% with the in-depth pieces.

As for the average link count, it is around the 200 mark. This is probably a lot lower than the industry average, but in our count we don’t include links from the social networks. Also some search engines may show a certain blog is linking to your site 20 times, but we only count that as 1 link.

Do you target mainly social media sites with linkbait, or do you also pitch them to bloggers? If you pitch, how do you prevent it from backfiring?

We target bloggers as well as social sites. The best way to prevent this from backfiring is to first research a blogger you want to solicit. Make sure you truly understand the type of things they blog on because the last thing a blogger wants is to be approached to write on something that isn’t of their interest. After you have a list of bloggers that you want to hit up, then you want to write a tailored email (maybe with a bit of humor) to them. When doing this be honest as possible because people hate fake emails with tons of fluff.

Are most of your linkbait ideas temporal, or do they tend to have an evergreen aspect where they keep building links?

Most of our linkbaits have an evergreen aspect. Some are time sensitive, which means they stop building links after a while. But we prefer to create timeless linkbaits because this allows them to continually build links over time.

Is YouTube important? Do you have anyone you recommend for creating video content?

YouTube is very important in my opinion. If you are trying to brand your company, yourself, or just create buzz, you should consider YouTube. Billions of people visit YouTube and if you can get them to watch your video, that is effective marketing. Just think about how much companies spend on TV advertising. If you can get a video to the homepage of YouTube the effect can be much greater then any TV advertising, and it will be a lot cheaper.

Widgets have become popular in the SEO space recently. As more sites add social function will widgets continue to grow in popularity, or will they fade out? How important is it to integrate your site with social networks?

Widgets will continue to grow as long as the functions they add are useful. People like cool things such as social functions, but as they stop providing value people will remove them. The ones that do provide value will continue to grow.

I think it is very important to integrate your site with social networks because it turns your website into a community. This way you will be able to better understand your visitors and you will be able to get to know them on a personal level.

OpenSocial and other APIs are trying to help small sites bolt social aspects on to their sites. For a small company do you think it is more effective for them to blog, or create a community of sorts using something like Google Friend Connect or Ning? When do you prefer blogs? When do you prefer forums or social networks? When do you prefer not adding any social stuff but rather tapping into other social networks? What types of sites should have social aspects to them?

I think it is important for companies to do both, but I would first start off with a blog. Blogs have become common and more businesses are starting to use them. It is a great way to communicate to your client base as well as potential clients. And most importantly blogs are a tool that allows you to share your knowledge with the masses.

As for communities, it is usually effective to use them when you have tons of traffic or a large user base. If your company is just starting off, or if you are just starting a new site, it is probably not wise to make your site too social. The reason for this is because there will be very little use of your social features without a strong user base. And if you still want social features even if you are just starting out, I would leverage other social networks so you can tap into their user base.

When it comes to forums or social networks, I prefer forums when it comes to sharing knowledge between users. If you are trying to create interaction between users social networks do a better job.

Lastly, almost any site could use social features. But before you add them you need to make sure these features will benefit your users instead of just creating noise. As Leonardo da Vinci said, “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”.

Do you ever see usage data and social voting taking the place of links as the backbone of Google's relevancy algorithms? Or do you feel much of that data is already reflected in linkage data?

I think much of that data is already reflected in linkage data. If you think about the sites that people most use or the sites that people vote for on the social web, they are the ones that usually have thousands of links. The sites that don’t do well on the social web or are not often used, usually don’t contain tons of links.

You were ahead of the curve on the social media and linkbaiting stuff a few years back. Where are you looking now? What should online marketers really be looking out for in the next couple years? Where should we focus our efforts?

Currently I am looking at the social networks and analyzing their growth rate. Social networks are growing at an extremely high viral rate, and why shouldn’t normal sites also experience that growth rate. I think marketers should look at the social web and see how we can bring those same principles to the rest of the web.

Digg, Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and Reddit and just the tip of the iceberg. If applications on Facebook can get a few hundred million pageviews, there is no reason why more websites can’t experience that traffic level. And more importantly as sites like Facebook grows they have a strong understanding of their user base, due to the data they are collecting. If we can collect Facebook type of data for all the sites on the web it will allow them to grow their traffic faster and more importantly increase their bottom line. I know this easier said than done, but hopefully it will happen sooner or later.

Thanks Neil!

Blogging - No Longer a Unique Business Strategy

May 25th

I was surfing around quite a bit today and came across many great blog posts that seem like they were meant to be more than blog posts. But there is too much content and not enough attention, so nobody cared. A marketer who has studied online marketing for nearly a decade got 0 comments and 0 inbound links for writing an 8 page blog post of quality content. Worse yet, the blog is about using content to build links, and the post shared link building tips.

If you are one off linkbaiting or publish nothing but hyped up linkbait garbage then blog posts are a good format for promotion because blogs make it easy to show social proof of value (via trackbacks and comments). But if your site is real and you aim to create a real brand your best content needs a permanent home, and should be set apart from your average blog post.

Blog posts are great for getting quick ideas out to the marketplace, but when you create something in depth it is usually better if you place it on another part of your site rather than making it a blog post. And if you find yourself spending 10 hours creating a piece of featured content then why not...

  • focus the idea around a topic you feel you should be able to own
  • give it a title that shows ownership of an idea
  • spend a couple hours getting feedback
  • create a logo for it and put graphics in it to make it look different than text heavy blog posts
  • spend a couple hours marketing it by mentioning it to friends in the industry
  • feature it aggressively on your site

Average content with an aggressive launch and great marketing outperforms great content with no marketing.

Google Temporarily Purges .info Domain Names

May 25th

I do not own too many .info domain names, but a couple of them that I do own have quite solid link profiles. In spite of this, on May 23rd all of my .info websites (including search-marketing.info) disappeared from Google's search results. And then the next day it returned. It may have just been a ranking glitch, but many other webmasters had the same issue... their .info domain names simply disappeared from Google.

Why would such a thing happen?

  • 2008 prediction from Matt Cutts "A top-level domain (TLD registry) will offer domains for under $4. The result will be another TLD blighted by spammy domain registrations."
  • GoDaddy has a 99 cent sale on .info domain names.

Marcel Feenstra highlighted this issue on LockerGnome:

Filtering out all .info domains just because some of these domains are being abused is, of course, far too draconian a measure, and I don’t think it’s what Google intended. It would make much more sense if they filtered out, say, .info domains that had been registered less than a year ago and that didn’t have some minimum number of “trusted” backlinks.

Was the .info purge a glitch? Maybe, but Google never will accidentally filter out all .com domain names. This algorithmic tweak (especially when coupled with Matt Cutts' prediction for 2008) shows an internal Google bias against .info domain names. While many .info domain names rank where they did just a few days ago, this does not bode well for the perceived value of .info domain names, especially for brand new domain names or parked pages.

Just one more example of how domain names play a big roll in SEO strategy.

Google to Police 'The Truth'

May 24th

Recently a fake story was highlighted in the mainstream media, and the SEO behind it also mentioned it on their site. The SEO space as a whole began debating the legitimacy of such tactics, and Matt Cutts even commented on the issue:

My quick take is that Google’s webmaster guidelines allow for cases such as this:

“Google may respond negatively to other misleading practices not listed here (e.g. tricking users by registering misspellings of well-known websites). It’s not safe to assume that just because a specific deceptive technique isn’t included on this page, Google approves of it.”

There’s not much more deceptive or misleading than a fake story without any disclosure that the story is hoax.

The irony of this statement, as Nick Wilsdon pointed out, was that not only did Fox News syndicate the fake story, but they got in trouble in the past for attributing fake quotes to John Kerry. A person coming up with a clever story to get a few inbound links is nowhere near as sleazy as lying to try to sway the public vote for presidency...but it is much easier for Matt to police the small and weak webmasters while turning a blind eye to similar (but worse) offenses from larger players.

Morals of the story:

  • If you talk about exceptionally effective SEO strategies expect them to lose their effectiveness (search engineers are active in public discourse because it is easier to control people through fear than it is to write a better relevancy algorithm).
  • If your technique works so well that it is featured on many SEO blogs and/or draws a specific public comment from Matt Cutts you have went too far (sheep must be slaughtered to control the herd).
  • If you are going to lie do it in a way that builds a fan base. If you have such a large fan base that most of your traffic comes from channels other than Google it is virtually impossible for Google to block you (unless you use hate speech that extends beyond the lies and spin that are typical on networks like Fox News).

If you want to understand how the mainstream media works I highly recommend investing 5 hours and $50 into the following 3 DVDs. As more time passes Google's ad fueled business model will lead to them essentially replicating the flaws and biases of the mainstream media.

  • Manufacturing Consent - Noam Chomsky talks about how the media operates to shape public opinion and policy.
  • Outfoxed - how Fox News spins the news to fuel their desired political agendas.
  • The Fog of War - in this DVD Robert S. McNamara talks about how he used spin and media control to try to minimize blowback from the Vietnam War.

A New Kind of Duplicate Content - GoogleBot Random Form Crawl

May 23rd

Michael VanDeMar highlights how a website lost an important page to duplication across a new not so important page, which was added to the Google index by Google filling out forms.

If you have limited PageRank and a Google accessible form or search box you may want to block them from indexing output URLs via a robots noindex meta tag or your robots.txt file.

The State of PPC Marketing, PPC Summit & Microsoft by Giovanna

May 22nd

I attended two days of PPC Summit in SF this week and extracted more knowledge than I can handle. The instructors really knew their stuff and it was only a $900 investment if you signed up early.

Learn as Much as You Can

I feel that Internet marketers should learn SEO and PPC best practices and then be exceptional at one. When I made my e-commerce site live in 2005, I tried PPC for a few weeks and decided to focus on SEO instead. The idea of getting free traffic was too irresistible. Now that I'm familiar with white hat SEO, it was time to rekindle my short lived affair with PPC. I don't like using these black/white hat labels but if you want a sustainable, organic business...you gotta go green :p

How to Battle Expensive Key Words

I noticed that bid prices are ridiculously high compared to 2005. If you want to compete, you MUST know your goals/objectives when launching a campaign. Will it be for increasing company revenue, profit, brand recognition and so forth. Then you need to recognize what the final conversion will be - a sale or lead (registration, white paper download, phone call).

Assuming you know how to get keywords and organize them into groups, the next step is to optimize your site for conversion. There isn't a cookie cutter way to do this because we all have different objectives and market products/services from different verticals. However, it's been proven that being relevant will give you an edge, independent of industry. Relevancy for PPC means putting keywords in tight ad groups, writing ads that are keyword specific and creating a landing page with a mixture of relevant keywords. Not only will this keep your target customer focused and lead them closer to a conversion, it will also increase your Google Quality Score. I am running a small test campaign and all my keywords are rated "Great". This means I am paying less for a better position because my keywords and content are well aligned.

Better Google Tools and the Content Network

Another significant change from 2005 is the improved Google content network. It's possible to make it work as long as you really know your customers, their behavior and your sales cycle. For my test campaign, I am paying $0.9-0.20 for quality keywords on search so I didn't rush to market on the content network. There are many tools and analytics software available to help you test and optimize. One of my favorites is the free Google Adwords Editor. Adwords also allows you to run custom reports down to the keyword performance level.

Consider Microsoft

What really knocked me off my chair is the over-the-top benefits Microsoft is offering Internet marketers. Their Excel 2007 Adcenter plug-in is by far the best free desktop application. Jorie Wateman, Lead Program Manager of Advertising announced that a plug-in will be available for Excel 2003 soon. Check out their free web based adCenter Labs program. There are many useful tools there including Detecting Online Commercial Intention, Product Classification, Keyword Group Detection and much more.

Did you know that their keyword research tool spiders LIVE DATA as opposed to cached data from Google and Yahoo? She also said that the tools they offer advertisers are the same tools they use in-house. This means total transparency for advertisers and no more "partial" data.

When a company has a lion's share of the market (search) and other players like Microsoft are going the extra mile to attract advertisers, then I strongly suggest that you give them a try. If competition is healthy, it will be for the best interests of advertisers while improving the overall Internet user experience.

Brief Caution

Google is a wonderful company because they know how to please their investors and stockholders. They also own Youtube which allows us to watch our favorite music videos from the 80's and 90's without paying for it. At first I thought Google was only bitter to spammers (sometimes deserved like the ones that promise top 10 results and the ones that promote useless garbage) but after reading blogs, forums and hearing out a few advertisers, I guess they can get disciplinary to paying customers too. So my advice is to closely monitor your campaigns and play by their rules. They change the rules constantly and it may be a major inconvenience but we have to be nimble and abide by the new ones.

Interview of Kevin Lee From Didit

May 19th

Kevin Lee is the CEO of the search engine marketing firm Didit and an engaging speaker at many search conferences. While he loves his PPC, he also sells SEO videos on his personal blog. We recently chatted back and forth via email, and decided it would be a good idea to do an interview. Here are the questions I asked Kevin and his answers.

A recent report from a SEM firm highlighted that 55% of their clicks from the search portion of Yahoo! Search Marketing do not come from Yahoo! Search, but from syndication partners. Does that number sound high to you?

Yes, based on the last time I looked. I don’t have the latest HTTP referrer analysis handy, but I recall that the last time I looked the percentages varied rather dramatically by industry and keyword due to the fact that many of the domain traffic sources end up being lumped in as search. However, I’m not sure if that SEM had content turned on to get YPN traffic.

Why hasn't Yahoo! made it easier to opt out of syndication like Google has?

Yahoo has made some small progress in this direction but for the main search function it may have resisted the opt-out functionality for some combination of the following:

  1. Once you leave Yahoo, their network becomes highly distributed. Unlike Google which could at least hypothetically provide specific opt-in/out control or even bid boost-depression control on AOL and ASK, Yahoo doesn’t have any mega-search partners.
  2. The technological work in facilitating an opt-out system is significant and Yahoo has had its hands full with a bunch of other things
  3. They may be concerned about a mass-opt-out which would result in revenue drops at both Yahoo and their syndication partners resulting in a likely loss of those syndication partners upon deal-renewal.
  4. They may believe rightly or wrongly that not enough marketers would be interested in taking advantage of that functionality or care to exercise that level of control

It’s my opinion that Yahoo should certainly dedicate additional technology resources to the search-side of the business.

Yahoo! has the syndication that can't be opted out from, and by default Google opts advertisers into everything. And then there is broad match which might be a bit broad for some advertisers. It seems the networks almost have an "ignorance tax" which hurt many small advertisers who do not know any better. Each cool new feature they add works as a bonus for firms like Didit, while working against people new to the field. At what budget scale does it make sense to start looking for outsourced help?

I agree that the current ecosystem has an ignorance tax. However, one could make the same argument about nearly every form of marketing. Paid search can of course get particularly complex when one looks at all the targeting, segmenting and bidding levers available. As to the outsourcing issue. I think many marketers and agencies consider the idea of outsourced search a binary decision. It’s actually a continuum, more like the areas of legal work. A mid-to-large firm may have in-house legal counsel yet often still outsources certain work based on a variety of factors including how critical the issue is as well as whether they think their in-house team can handle it from either a production or skill level basis. Search is the same way. Some of our clients outsource everything to us, others use our managed technology option which we offer only to specific marketers where we believe that their in-house team can handle production and most of the strategy.

So, I’d urge any marketers that feels like they are missing either opportunities or perhaps running a wasteful campaign due to strategic issues, inferior campaign management technology, poor analytics or simply the fact that they can’t get the vast amounts of production work done to investigate partnerships that will help them achieve maximum overall profitability.

Also, when thinking about outsourcing, consider that technology can help ease a big chunk of the production burden, but someone still has to do the blocking and tackling within a campaign. In nearly every case, you get what you pay for (or less than you paid for), but rarely does one get more than one is paying for when it comes to production work.

In a number of past interviews you have highlighted that advertising has the ability to drive search volume. Does advertising that drives search volume typically drive it mainly for brand related queries? Does the value of the average search end up increasing or decreasing when search volume is build via advertising?

Advertising, PR and marketing of all sorts generally spikes brand keyword traffic to the largest degree. However, depending on the message of the advertising and the industry category, it may drive a significant lift in generic volume. As you might expect, that results in some really interesting opportunities to take advantage of volatility in keyword-search volume across a broad spectrum. It also make media mix modeling of search particularly tricky since you may have to add in external variables other than your own marketing/advertising.

Generally there aren’t major changes in the conversion rates when search was stimulated by advertising vs other factors. The reality is that most search was stimulated by some external factor. People don’t sit bolt upright at 3AM saying to themselves that they need to search for an “Alaskan cruise vacation.”

Speaking of brand, when is it beneficial to bid on brand related queries? What bid strategies make sense on brand related queries if the brand already dominates the organic search results?

Thus far in all the experiments and test we’ve conducted brand bidding is still worth doing even when the organic result is #1. Often to get the highest combined ROI the offer/landing page needs to be different. With universal search and the continued evolution of personalized search results within Google there’s an increasing likelihood that brand bidding will be a net-positive even after cannibalization if factored in. The increase in ROI and profit is more dramatic if others are bidding on the brand, but surprisingly even in instances where the brand is the only paid advertiser, it still generally is worth bidding. However, it’s something I’d always recommend structuring testing and experimentation around.

John Battelle believes that "brands are conversations," and is pushing something he calls conversational marketing. Do you think this movement will make a big impact on the web? Have you used the strategy for any of your clients?

I’m not sure I’d call it a “movement” more than any other scheme or analysis of marketing is a movement. Consumers have conversations about brands. Conversations about brands, problems and solutions stimulate search behavior. One can of course try to be present within conversations directly (which is a non-trivial problem), try to insert one’s brand into existing conversations (dangerous if it is done wrong) or simply wait patiently in the SERP for the curiosity of the consumer to manifest itself in search. I’m going overboard to make a point, but, the challenge for the marketer is determining the marginal value that any conversation has in moving the consumer closer to a purchase. That challenge holds true for any marketing or advertising. Increases in early brand metrics only matter if the consumer either purchases themselves or influences others to purchase.

In a number of your columns you have talked about search and the buying cycle. What strategies do you find most effective for early stage searches? How do those strategies compare to brand keywords and other keywords with more purchase intent?

Even on late stage keywords, clearly the vast majority of searchers don’t convert, at least not online. Other than a couple of instances with brand keywords, I can’t recall conversion rates even approaching 50%. So, the first hurdle for the search marketer is to get the CMO on-board with the idea of targeting a larger pool of non-immediate converters. It still makes sense to take every incremental marketing dollar and go after the next segment of converters. It’s trick is to understand the marginal value of each click based on conversion profiles and then you’ll know the best way to work back the buying cycle toward awareness and consideration while still capturing those consumers who were open to converting in the near term. Clearly the messaging in ads and landing pages may need to migrate a bit as one moves away from simply harvesting demand to helping influence the consumer during earlier stages of the buying cycle.

For a person short on budget running a small campaign, are the tools provided by the search ad networks adequate? Are there any other budget analytics or PPC tools that are surprisingly good? Would you suggest trusting sending your conversion data to Google Analytics?

Even for small marketers, I think one can make the case for the value of third-party analytics and technology. There are clearly reasons why one might not want the advertising seller to know the conversion data, but the issue is even broader than that. In a world where one of the next big frontiers is behavioral targeting, do you really want to give the traffic sellers BT data that might be exploitable at some point down the road?

Several firms are attacking the small marketer market with respect to search. One promising upcoming candidate is Clickable.com. They are technically still in beta I believe, but their mission is admirable.

A lot of affordable competitive research tools (like Compete.com, KeyCompete, Keyword Spy) have been launched in the past few years. Have you compared any of these to the higher priced services? Are these competitive research tools giving smaller players a chance, or are they only working to consolidate traffic for the largest market players?

We license the raw comScore data and have built internal tools and reports that have been quite valuable. I’ve experimented with many of the other services and the biggest problem with most of them for smaller marketers is that as one moves into the tail, data validity drops. So, ironically some of these tools are more useful for larger marketers than smaller ones.

comScore data has shown Google has been displaying ads against a smaller set of their total search queries over the last year. Does that trend surprise you? Might it go the other direction at some point?

There’s no point in showing ads if the ads aren’t sufficiently relevant. However as all of us know, Google uses both the carrot and the stick to drive marketers towards higher relevance in the PPC portion of the SERPS. As marketers build out content and ads to take advantage of this fact, it is quite conceivable that the ratio of paid to organic results could reverse itself and we see both more ads and more ads showing up above the organic results.

Have you found business models that do not do well with search? Or businesses that have done better than expected? What are some key signs and metrics for knowing if a business model works well with search?

Arbitrage doesn’t work as well as it used to. At some level of scale, one can get almost any business to work, but doing well requires that you have some advantages in your business over the competition. After all, economically speaking once everyone is making rational bid decisions (which may not happen for a while) if your competition have huge cost or profitability advantages over you even the best bidding strategies will have to cede them top position in many cases due to their inherent advantages.

In this video interview with Sage Lewis you talk about how with scale it is easy to break through many efficiency plateaus. What are some of the most common issues holding back new advertisers (or old advertisers with broken strategy)?

Ahh, the old logo and the frog. I miss them sometimes.

The most common thing I see is a failure to accurately predict their missed opportunities. Waste can be found in campaigns fairly easily but missed opportunities are difficult to quantify. So, they are usually significantly underestimated. As you well know, this is a challenge with organic SEO as well. Lack of the right technology of course cripples the marketer from executing on many of the strategies that would bring increase profit and scale. Lack of sufficient production capability is also a huge hurdle. If you never get around to the account reorgs ad testing, landing page testing or the keyword expansions you’ll continue to miss those opportunities.

Lack of education as you pointed out ends up also being a huge issue for new advertisers.

The Google AdWords blog had a post titled Websites that may merit a low landing page quality score. Some thin affiliates have been slapped with $10 minimum bids on every keyword, and can not profitably buy any traffic from Google. It seems Google is trying to clean up their ad network on some fronts, and yet they showed my wife an ad for cheating lonely housewives. If Google openly discriminates in their pricing models based on how well they like the business model of the advertiser, are they endorsing the ads that they allow to run for months and years? That lonely cheating wives ad was publicly referenced last November and the ad is still running.

I think Google continues to put most of its relevance efforts into its own SERP. If some irrelevant ads show up in the contextual network, unless the publisher complains, there’s not really damage to the Google brand among consumers.

As an SEO, in my experience, the complexity of the ranking algorithms and the amount of money needed to reliably rank in Google keeps increasing the opportunity cost of ranking in the organic search results (unless there is a healthy dose of public relations, brand building, promotion, community participation, and traditional marketing in that SEO mix). In a couple of past interviews you (at least to some extent) equated SEO to spam (or at least used both words in close proximity). Do you still think that SEOs have control over Google or do you see Google gaining more leverage in the relationship?

I’ve probably been taken out of context somewhat. However, I firmly believe that in the log run, Google, Yahoo and MSFT will police both their organic and their paid search listings (not so much contextual and behavioral) to assure relevance. That means that if you start to engage in SEO and you couldn’t make a credible argument as to why you in fact are the most relevant to a room full of strangers then you probably will get booted from the SERPS even if you used black-hat SEO to successfully manipulate yourself to the top. It’s not so much about leverage, as it is about tools Google could conceivably use to gauge relevance that they may not be using now. For example, the toolbars you see proliferating could watch post-click behavior and that could be combined with click-back percentages (those who abandon the top-listed site returning to the SERP) to flush out results that are not particularly relevant in comparison to others.

Marketers without the rankings their content deserves should absolutely invest in SEO. Those with the ability to create additional great content that ranks well should similarly invest. However, the one key thing is that when it comes to SEO, as with Public Relations, expectations need to be reasonable. If an SEO practitioner (in-house or outsourced) promises results that Matt Cutts would likely grade as poor quality SERPs well, then even in the unlikely instance where success was attained with white-hat methods there is clear risk that those results will be temporary.

One of my favorite SEO strategies is to use PPC to drive traffic to key pages for link building. What are your favorite PPC strategies that are rarely talked about, and do you use an SEO techniques to augment your paid search campaigns?

Actually your strategy is interesting, because it partially explains why relevant sites in the organic results often remain there. They get lots of traffic, some of those visitors blog, and even if one out of 1000 visitors links-in, that process creates a really sticky feedback loop for PageRank generation.

People rarely talk about geotargeting and dayparting. Both are favorites of mine. I’m a big fan of any segmentation analysis and cluster modeling that helps marketers cherry-pick the very best clicks from the stream of possibilities.

I advise clients to train their webmasters on SEO basics and best practices because if they are in fact relevant, perhaps some of their existing visitor stream will blog and can help cement better organic position.

Didit is one of the most well known and respected brands in the PPC space. What were some of the keys to growing into your market position?

Being around for a dozen years doesn’t hurt. However, putting the client’s success first is really the key. That forces us to innovate and also puts the pressure on us to provide the right level of service given the relationship. Many people also seem to appreciate our passion for the industry. We do a ton of speaking, writing and are involved in trade associations.

PPC ad networks, like search engines, have many publish guidelines. Some of which are loosely enforced, and some may erode profit to follow. Have you ever recommended to a client that they ignore such policies? Have you ever fought a search engine's policies and got them to change them?

We encourage marketers who have an issue with a guideline to understand the reason he guideline exists. That helps predict the likelihood of enforcement if something is perhaps in the grey zone and a policy might end up being tested. Similarly, that same understanding is key is attempting to get a policy changed or an exception made.

Thanks Kevin!

Microsoft Proposes Another Yahoo! Partnership

May 19th
posted in

Since buying out Yahoo! seemed too expensive, Microsoft is back again with another offer. Microsoft's Statement:

In light of developments since the withdrawal of the Microsoft proposal to acquire Yahoo! Inc., Microsoft announced that it is continuing to explore and pursue its alternatives to improve and expand its online services and advertising business. Microsoft is considering and has raised with Yahoo! an alternative that would involve a transaction with Yahoo! but not an acquisition of all of Yahoo! Microsoft is not proposing to make a new bid to acquire all of Yahoo! at this time, but reserves the right to reconsider that alternative depending on future developments and discussions that may take place with Yahoo! or discussions with shareholders of Yahoo! or Microsoft or with other third parties.

There of course can be no assurance that any transaction will result from these discussions.

From AllThingsD:

The software giant would not give details, but sources at both companies said it involved Microsoft buying Yahoo’s search business and the ad business related to text-based ads.

Kevin Johnson also posted an internal Microsoft memo on News.com.

Content & Culture for a Dollar

May 15th

Amazon just created MP3 clip widgets that pay 10% payout on MP3 downloads. You can create a list of your favorites as content, while displaying ads. Those who run large communities may be able to make a decent income selling culture.

If you are a member of our community I wrote a post about why I think Google Friend Connect is a bad idea for most web publishers.

Andrew Johnson has a good post on why Yahoo! as a content company is a failing strategy. While Google and Amazon are expanding in many directions, Yahoo! is forced to contract due to their high editorial costs.

Mozilla Corporation may create a service around aggregating usage data. Yet another great example of giving away something and building value around it.

How Click Arbitrage & Dirty Ad Syndication Killed Yahoo! Search Marketing

May 14th

Most Yahoo! Search Ad Clicks Are NOT From Yahoo!

Danny Sullivan mentioned Efficient Frontier research which stated that 55% of Yahoo! Search ad clicks from last week were from syndication partners.

Arbitrage Clicks Have Less Value

If you normalize the above Yahoo! numbers you will see that search clicks convert nearly twice as well as their syndication traffic does.

Imagine how ugly those numbers were before both Google and Yahoo! aggressively fought click arbitrage. Yahoo! let advertisers take the shaft for years and years, and only started caring this year after Microsoft's offer to buy them out.

Comparing Google Click Prices to Yahoo! Search Marketing Click Prices

What type of clicks are likely to be driven by arbitrage and other syndication partners? Arbitragers are more likely to go after high value keywords, thus driving down their value. Buying a valuable keyword like "mortgage" on Google costs much more than it does on Yahoo!.

Google AdWords Average Estimated CPC: $15.58

From Google Traffic Estimator

Yahoo! Search Marketing Average Estimated CPC: $4.85

From Yahoo! Search Marketing's keyword tool (Yahoo! Search Marketing account required)

Default Pricing Options

I did not enter bid prices in the above tools. Those were the default bid prices the tools suggest for mortgage. The difference in click cost is an indication of how much Yahoo! is undermining the value of their own traffic to prop up syndication partners that funnel dirty traffic through the Yahoo! Search Marketing ad network. Even when I slid the Yahoo! tool all the way to the right it said the estimated click cost was $4.98 - less than 1/3 of Google's suggested price.

Yahoo! has to sell 3 mortgage clicks to make as much as Google makes from 1, but Yahoo! sells a couple of those clicks through syndication partners which keep most of the ad revenue.

Yahoo! Search Syndication Blows

Advertisers Are Forced Into Ad Syndication

Because Yahoo! makes it hard to opt out of search syndication they are essentially paying shoddy syndication partners 70 to 80% payout for arbitrage that builds volume, but destroys the value of Yahoo! Search.

Put another way, a Yahoo! click for mortgage is worth the same $15 that it costs on Google, but it goes for less than $5 because Yahoo! forces advertisers to eat junk traffic too. If Yahoo! virtually killed off their syndication partnerships (at least all but the cleanest ones) their short term revenue might decrease, but their click values & click prices would sharply increase.

Google AdWords to the Rescue?

Google is Not a Viable Solution

Yahoo! mentioned the possibility of syndicating Google ads if the Google ads paid more, but if they do that then Google gets Yahoo!'s best inventory while Yahoo! Search Marketing advertisers buy random mystery meat traffic. What exposure do you get from a Yahoo! Search Marketing ad account if your ads do not appear on Yahoo!? Sounds a lot like Looksmart to me.

If They Syndicate Google Ads, Yahoo! Search Marketing Becomes a Market for Lemons

Yahoo! already has less traffic and lower quality traffic than Google. If they outsource their best traffic to Google savvy marketers will quickly talk about how Yahoo! has low quality and you should just advertise with Google. The perception of market decay and market whispers will only accelerate the decay. When it comes time for Yahoo! to renew with Google they would have lost most of their leverage.

Once again Yahoo! may find a way to pump their short term numbers, but it is not a strategy they should try building their business around. The first step to restoring value to their search results should be making it easy for advertisers to opt out of ad syndication. If they syndicate Google AdWords most advertisers should just opt out of Yahoo! all-together.

What Should Yahoo! Search Marketing Do?

Strategic Content as Marketing for Link Building (and the Win)

May 9th
posted in

HP can spam the hell out of Google and Google engineers are afraid to do anything about it because they do not want to lose the associated AdWords ad budget. But if you follow HP's strategy it is called spam - and a Google engineer will smile while killing your site. It's just business.

Unless you have a well known brand and/or established social relationships with thought leaders it is hard to get lasting quality links for less than a few hundred dollars each. And there are only a few Google approved paid link sources that you can easily find for all your sites...beyond those you have to use high risk techniques or hunt for more, which requires many man-hours of work.

If you are going to spend 100 hours hunting for links, why not just spend 40 hours creating featured content and another 10 hours marketing it? I think my recent how much is a #1 ranking in Google worth article was poorly received compared to many of my other features, and it still got over 100 links...at $100 each that is $10,000 in links for 2 days work. Thousands of people saw that article and it will keep building links as it ages. The network effect is on my side. :)

Using content as a link building strategy is typically far less risky and cheaper than link buying, and it builds brand while establishing a direct organic traffic flow Google can't block. Given tools like Compete.com, Google Trends, and other sources you can create content like that for virtually any field.

Custom content is going mainstream - business marketers are spending nearly 30% of their marketing budget on custom content, and today Danny Sullivan announced he is doing a paid search feature with John Battelle for Thomson Reuters. If you have cash higher personalities and market leaders for brand association and exposure.

The border between content and advertising is blurring. This 45 minute how to AdWords video from Dan Thies comes with an introductional sales pitch and sign up close - but the content in between the sales pitches is of higher quality than most paid content...which builds trust and allows you to charge customers more. Rather than monetizing via ads and marketing with ads it is simply cheaper to use content to capture and qualify leads. This trend will only grow as the rate of innovation and competition online continue to increase.

  • A widely distributed free version is why open source is so effective - it allows you to build trust, mindshare, and marketshare for limited ongoing cost, while allowing you to create a profitable shadow brand.
  • Business organizations are also following an open-source-like strategy. Is SEMPO an industry non-profit? Or are they a for profit SEM training company with a non-profit arm that legitimizes their training programs?

Even if you are not great with video, well formatted text can still go a long way. Sure most people do not read, but some do, and well linked to text documents rank for a lot of long tail search queries.

It only takes a couple links from high authority channels to build cascading links. You can connect with people on a resource level (like this SEO guide for Information Architecture or Principles for Building a Successful Internet Business) or on an emotional level (like Brian Clark's post about almost dieing, and turning his life around).

If neither of those strategies work for you why not try creating a fun toy, like How Rich Will I Be? Rentacoder (or similar) can help you create a custom toy for a few hundred or few thousand dollars.

Don't have enough money to hire a programmer? Then take the time to learn the marketplace and satisfy demands other ways. Strategic content development for link building does not require a lot of money, it only requires patience, time, formatting, a strong understanding of the marketplace, the willingness to be wrong, and the willingness to ask.

Here is a quote from my favorite band

If you have been rejected many times in your life, then one more rejection isn't going to make much difference. If you're rejected, don't automatically assume it's your fault. The other person may have several reasons for not doing what you are asking her to do: none of it may have anything to do with you. Perhaps the person is busy or not feeling well or genuinely not interested in spending time with you. Rejections are part of everyday life. Don't let them bother you. Keep reaching out to others. When you begin to receive positive responses then you are on the right track. It's all a matter of numbers. Count the positive responses and forget about the rejections.

Sometimes a lack of cash gives you an incentive that the competition lacks to create something great.

Interesting SEO Links...

May 5th

Roger Montti offers an insightful post on link building for new websites in 2008. If you have no traction you need to find a way to buy/beg/borrow/steal attention. Use that exposure to spread content that turns people on / gets them excited / evokes an emotional response / ties in with their worldview and identity...and watch the links flow like wine.

Debra mentioned how she sometimes has a hard time telling people that their sites will not get links because they are boring. I actually enjoy doing that because it forces them to take some ownership over their own success (it is hard to drag a company across the finish line if you are an outside consultant - much easier to win if they are at least willingly walking in the right direction).

The way I teach people that concept is I remove them for their ownership role. I ask "If you did not own this website why would you tell other people about and/or want to visit it at least once a week?" Once they can answer that question honestly with something that is inline with their market it means they have something worth marketing.

Steve, an all around great guy and moderator of our forums, made a great thread in our local website marketing forums worth checking out if you are a subscriber.

Predictably Irrational (great blog/book name) has a great post on the power of defaults in emotional transactions.

Google is hyping image pattern recognition technology they call VisualRank in the media. Either they are about to improve their image search or they want us to think they have the most sophisticated technology.

Here is a cool example of a nice image script that helps build links.

Brief synopsis of how AdWords has changed over the past couple years - killing off many of the bottom feeder advertisers. The long tail of SEO keeps growing, but PPC is a winner take most game...from head to tail.

Brent Csutoras shared his social media marketing presentation online.

Firewall Script - a tool used to help keep sites secure, mentioned by DaveN so it is probably pretty good.

SEW published an article about analyzing log files to audit redirects.

The Problogger Book is out. Congrats Darren and Chris. :)

Danny Sullivan has a nice recap of the Microsoft Yahoo fiasco. His forward to Philipp Lessen's new book - Google Apps Hacks is also a great read. Congrats to Philipp on finishing the book. :)

Breaking the Digg Code - free guide to getting the most out of Digg, though if you market an SEO site it is not worth marketing it on Digg. The average small-minded short-sighted Digg user thinks all SEO is spam - they are a reflection of the dumbest and loudest parts of society.

Use Intwition to see what posts from a site got the most Twitter links.

Why whitehats need to know blackhat SEO - as noted in the comments "nothing wrong with having a well rounded education."

Seed Keywords is a cool tool which allows you to pass a question on to friends or customers and ask them what they would search for to solve a particular problem.

Why is Google Buying Links From SEMPO?

May 4th

Google, which has arbitrarily forced its will to use nofollow on the web (and declared link buyers and sellers who do not use the tag as spammers) is buying a PageRank 7 link from SEMPO.org.

You would think that if Google wants to set new proprietary standards they would follow them as well. And what better spot to start following them than with a trade organization promoting search engine marketing?

Microsoft Withdraws Yahoo! Offer

May 4th
posted in

Microsoft decided to walk on the Yahoo! deal. After the sharp Yahoo! stock decline Monday, expect many shareholder lawsuits. The press release contained the following open letter to Jerry Yang.

Dear Jerry:
After over three months, we have reached the conclusion of the process regarding a possible combination of Microsoft and Yahoo!.

I first want to convey my personal thanks to you, your management team, and Yahoo!'s Board of Directors for your consideration of our proposal. I appreciate the time and attention all of you have given to this matter, and I especially appreciate the time that you have invested personally. I feel that our discussions this week have been particularly useful, providing me for the first time with real clarity on what is and is not possible.

I am disappointed that Yahoo! has not moved towards accepting our offer. I first called you with our offer on January 31 because I believed that a combination of our two companies would have created real value for our respective shareholders and would have provided consumers, publishers, and advertisers with greater innovation and choice in the marketplace. Our decision to offer a 62 percent premium at that time reflected the strength of these convictions.

In our conversations this week, we conveyed our willingness to raise our offer to $33.00 per share, reflecting again our belief in this collective opportunity. This increase would have added approximately another $5 billion of value to your shareholders, compared to the current value of our initial offer. It also would have reflected a premium of over 70 percent compared to the price at which your stock closed on January 31. Yet it has proven insufficient, as your final position insisted on Microsoft paying yet another $5 billion or more, or at least another $4 per share above our $33.00 offer.

Also, after giving this week's conversations further thought, it is clear to me that it is not sensible for Microsoft to take our offer directly to your shareholders. This approach would necessarily involve a protracted proxy contest and eventually an exchange offer. Our discussions with you have led us to conclude that, in the interim, you would take steps that would make Yahoo! undesirable as an acquisition for Microsoft.

We regard with particular concern your apparent planning to respond to a "hostile" bid by pursuing a new arrangement that would involve or lead to the outsourcing to Google of key paid Internet search terms offered by Yahoo! today. In our view, such an arrangement with the dominant search provider would make an acquisition of Yahoo! undesirable to us for a number of reasons:

  • First, it would fundamentally undermine Yahoo!'s own strategy and long-term viability by encouraging advertisers to use Google as opposed to your Panama paid search system. This would also fragment your search advertising and display advertising strategies and the ecosystem surrounding them. This would undermine the reliance on your display advertising business to fuel future growth.
  • Given this, it would impair Yahoo's ability to retain the talented engineers working on advertising systems that are important to our interest in a combination of our companies.
  • In addition, it would raise a host of regulatory and legal problems that no acquirer, including Microsoft, would want to inherit. Among other things, this would consolidate market share with the already-dominant paid search provider in a manner that would reduce competition and choice in the marketplace.
  • This would also effectively enable Google to set the prices for key search terms on both their and your search platforms and, in the process, raise prices charged to advertisers on Yahoo. In addition to whatever resulting legal problems, this seems unwise from a business perspective unless in fact one simply wishes to use this as a vehicle to exit the paid search business in favor of Google.
  • It could foreclose any chance of a combination with any other search provider that is not already relying on Google's search services.

Accordingly, your apparent plan to pursue such an arrangement in the event of a proxy contest or exchange offer leads me to the firm decision not to pursue such a path. Instead, I hereby formally withdraw Microsoft's proposal to acquire Yahoo!.

We will move forward and will continue to innovate and grow our business at Microsoft with the talented team we have in place and potentially through strategic transactions with other business partners.

I still believe even today that our offer remains the only alternative put forward that provides your stockholders full and fair value for their shares. By failing to reach an agreement with us, you and your stockholders have left significant value on the table.

But clearly a deal is not to be.

Thank you again for the time we have spent together discussing this.

Sincerely yours,
/s/ Steven A. Ballmer

Steven A. Ballmer
Chief Executive Officer
Microsoft Corporation

Any guess as to Yahoo!'s closing share price Moday? Vote on this poll and guess below. If you are the first person to guess within a dime you get a free month of access to our online SEO training program.

The short term upside for search marketers is that this lowers the odds of Yahoo! gutting itself by outsourcing paid search to Google.

Yahoo! May Carry Google Ads

May 2nd

Yahoo! may announce a deal to carry Google ads in the next week, according to the WSJ:

While a broad search ad pact would likely attract intense antitrust scrutiny, the options Google and Yahoo are discussing include a nonexclusive arrangement that they believe could satisfy regulators, say the people familiar with the matter.

The basis of such an arrangement would be a real-time auction system that would choose the most lucrative ads for any given consumer query from among those sold by Yahoo, Google and any of their competitors, the people say. Microsoft, for example, could potentially connect to the Yahoo system and have search ads it sold displayed alongside Yahoo Web search results, under an arrangement where they likely would share ad revenue.

It is easy to claim to be in support of open standards with a propriety closed-box system after you already own monopoly marketshare. Unfortunately for Yahoo! this short term revenue boost puts them in the same risk category as the common webmaster - Google is Venice; Webmasters are Constantinople.

Will the TV networks allow Google to do the same to their ad marketplace?

In a recent interview Eric Schmidt said

We're really focused on this huge opportunity before us, which is automating the trillion-dollar industry that is advertising. We won't get all of that, for sure, but we should be able to get a significant part of that over the lifetime, certainly of my service to the company.

How Much is a #1 Google Ranking Worth?

May 1st

I just wrote a ~15 page article aimed at helping SEOs estimate how much a top rank in Google is worth.

I would appreciate any feedback you have on making it better. If you like it please hook me up with a Del.icio.us or Stumble. Any and all mentions are appreciated. :)

PBS MediaShift Covers SEO

May 1st

Mark Glaser recently queried me about improving the SEO of PBS's MediaShift. The tips and advice I gave him apply to most blogging and media websites. The piece was well balanced, with information from Poynter, and he mentioned Joost's great article on Newspaper SEO.






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