The Ugly Side of The SEO Industry

When people are angry they are anything but rational, so the amount of brand damage they can do for you is near limitless. Imagine if a person or small group has reach to a group of people entering your space, and tells them that you are unethical, a liar, worthless, etc.

If such a statement is contained then no big deal, but if it starts spreading as common knowledge people will just assume it is true. For every person creating media there are 100 people quietly consuming it, and if you are successful and have mindshare people will try to tear you down every month.

When Unprovoked Try to Be Empathetic, if That Does Not Work, Then Consider Highlighting the Issue

If they are already creating unprovoked brand damage then they are probably angering other people too. If you can't clear it up directly it might be a legitimate strategy to call them out on it such that other people they offend down the road will discover your brand. Another popular strategy is to ask friends to clear it up if you want to keep yourself removed from the conflict.

Do Not Make The Google Engineers Editors Angry

We are all flawed, and the goalposts are always moving. One day we are at the top and the next day people are surprised at the fact that we are a spammer.

One of the things that is most likely to kill a successful SEO job is boasting about the ROI and/or how easy it was. Ever since Google started aggressively editing the search results the difference between a successful strategy and an ineffective one is often one blog post. Brent Csutoras gave a lot of great examples of strategy gone awry in his STFU post.

People Inadvertently Screw You

Back around 2004-2005 Google was having issues with 302 redirect hijacking, so I made the SEO Book affiliate program use 301 redirects. I mentioned that those links passed weight in our online SEO training program. 301 redirecting affiliate links is a popular way to build link equity, but after Rand used my site as an example in the following video those 301s no longer pass PageRank.

People Trash Your Site as Spam to Justify Their Spam

Remember when Jason Calacanis was launching Mahalo, and how he started railing on about Squidoo being spam before he launched his site? A year later the truth washed out that Jason intended to create a site with content that would be categorized as spam by Google's internal documents.

Consider Future Effects

Many years back Jill Whalen and I had a falling out because I was bidding on people's names via AdWords, and she did not like it. She thought it was scummy for me to bid on other brand names, but she had no desire to police her affiliates when they did the same. To this day she still slings mud at me, calling me a black hat, etc.

Public Online Communities Eat Their Young

Dan Thies, who wrote an ebook a couple years before me, had to battle through some nastiness as well, so I am not sure what percent of what I dealt with was natural feeding off the young or if the people complaining about me were actually mad at me. Given that they didn't mind when they profited from what they did not like, I would guess that it was mostly the former.

The big issue with eating your young is that you never know when it will come back to haunt you.

Someone Might Become a Star

Some people who get established allow their egos to grow beyond any rational limit, and are nasty to many new people entering their field. But the thing is you don't know who is going to become a star down the road, and who will have the influence to crush or embarrass you.

Consider how Shel Israel angered Loren Feldman years ago. Shel had long forgot doing so, but then Loren registered and put up a sock puppet show that lasted for months!

That conflict just ended, but the associated brand damage will last for years. Here is Loren's take on why he did what he did:

When I first started my career, you made it a point to bury me online, and more importantly back channel as well. This is a fact. You and your crew went out of your way to take food off my plate. I never forgot that, and now you have something you’ll never forget.

Communities Are Full of Cliques

One of the things I struggle with in the SEO field is that so many of us end up doing so well that sometimes we let our egos get ahead of what made us do well and we forget where we came from. And so I hear negative stuff about interactions between many friends. Its hard to be empathetic when it seems everyone has wronged others at some point in time. I know I have screwed up more times than I can count, and much of the conflict ends up being drama for the sake of marketing.

PageRank was, is, and will always be a flawed concept. In some cases the best person wins, but in many cases the best person loses because they were not good at public relations and marketing - or because they made somebody angry, and they decided to blackball them.

Some of the top communities in the search marketing field do not get along well. Incisive Media employees and Third Door Media employees are banned from attending each other's conferences. Ever since Danny stopped doing the Search Engine Strategies conferences I have been asked to speak a grand total of 0 times. Guys like Graywolf and I were replaced by sponsored panels.

PPC Blog - SEO Book's New Sister Site

My wife has been learning a lot about pay per click marketing recently and decided that she wanted to create a site focused on PPC. We have made about a half dozen posts so far to PPC Blog, and she just finished her review of Google Ad Planner.

She plans to make at least a couple posts a week, so please subscribe. :)

ICANN Approves Broad Expansion of Top Level Domains (TLDs)

ICANN laxed strict rules on top-level domain names, which will allow people like you and I to create new domain name extensions based on "any string of letters, in any script." The initial cost of setting up a new TLD could cost a few hundred thousand dollars.

Given that Google is already biased against some domain extensions (Google dropped .info names a month ago) and trillions of dollars have been spent advertising businesses connected to current TLDs, many of the new TLDs will be fighting an uphill battle from both a search relevancy standpoint and a mindshare standpoint.

When Google's Carter Maslan was interviewed about Google Local he stated

We are experimenting with how much verification vs. how much ease of use. There are variables as to when to prompt... In the past it had been too liberal, and is becoming more stringent. We are experimenting on the quality of the listings and spam. There is no hard yes or no answer to the correct structure.

That strategy works well for Google Local, Mahalo, Squidoo, Digg, etc. but new domain extensions will struggle with growing in a similar manner though, because there is significant opportunity cost to building something great on them, and if they are too lax and spammy they might get filtered out of Google's search results.

How might the marketplace react to an increase in the number of competing domain extensions?

  • This will likely increase the .com premium for domain names (and local GTLD premium for .de,, etc.) as more TLDs lead to more confusion in the marketplace, which leads consumers back to the default
  • It might provide a cap the price that some generic names without businesses trade at. As noted by a person who commentedon this Domain Name Wire post, "Why would disney spend millions on when they can get their own extension for MUCH MUCH less and just go with Resorts.disney."
  • I suspect .org names will still remain strong because so many organizations already use them and most non-profits will not be able to justify spending 6 figures on a domain extension.
  • The .net domain name might suffer a bit, while some of the less meaningful TLDs (.info, .biz) will sharply drop in value
  • Decent - but not great - .com names (like 3 or 4 word domains without much exact match search volume) might lose some of their value. I suspect even more of a drop for lower end .net and .org names.

What new extensions will do well?

  • A few new generics (.web and .blog) might get some traction, but most will fail. Even if .com names keep increasing at 7% a year, there is a lot of certainty on going with the established standard, and a lot of risk in going with something brand new. Who knows if an extension might eventually go away after you spent years building a brand on it?
  • The new TLDs will create a great opportunity for branded community websites built around memorable ideas and causes, but the backers need to be good at public relations to gain meaningful awareness.
  • Some of the new TLDs will buy sponsors (like when Demand Media partnered with Lance Armstrong on to gain awareness, while others will gain mindshare by making hosting and other paid for services free and easy.

Matt Cutts on Using Search Usage Data to Fight Spam

A couple weeks back we mentioned that Google's Peter Norvig stated that Google does not use search usage data directly in their relevancy algorithms. Yesterday Matt Cutts made a post on the official Google blog stating that Google does look at search logs / usage data to determine how large spam attacks are and how well new anti-spam measures are doing

Data from search logs is one tool we use to fight webspam and return cleaner and more relevant results. Logs data such as IP address and cookie information make it possible to create and use metrics that measure the different aspects of our search quality (such as index size and coverage, results "freshness," and spam).

Whenever we create a new metric, it's essential to be able to go over our logs data and compute new spam metrics using previous queries or results. We use our search logs to go "back in time" and see how well Google did on queries from months before. When we create a metric that measures a new type of spam more accurately, we not only start tracking our spam success going forward, but we also use logs data to see how we were doing on that type of spam in previous months and years.

Links Are the New Lotto Ticket

I was just forwarded an email from a popular internet marketing list where a company gave people linking at them a chance to win $500 or $1000 for linking to them.

For each link you put on a page online, before May 30th, 2008 midnight you could have entered into a draw for the cash prizes. For example; if you put up 5 links on various sites, blogs, or even in a forum... you get 5 tickets into the draw. We did not accept 5 links on one URL as 5 tickets to the draw; it needs to be 5 separate URLs.

It is much harder for Google to kill paid links when those links come as a side effect of a contest or promotion.

Email lists of would be internet marketers have grown less responsive as blogs offering free information have sprung up, but having an email list or other audience that is not public will be a valuable tool for running contests through such that you can buy links without being called a spammer.

The beauty of having a list or large RSS subscriber base is that even if Google tries to take away your PageRank they can't take away your audience, which is already sold on you and do not care about your PageRank.

Free Business Building Advice From Billionaires

Warren Buffet's quiet partner goes by the name of Charlie Munger. Charlie has a 500+ page book full of gems. Before becoming heavily involved in the investment field, Charlie worked at a law firm, where his top tip for attracting clients was:

It's the work on your desk.... It's the work on your desk. Do well with what you already have and more will come in.

When you look at some of the most successful companies many of them live and die by that. In spite of Microsoft's monopoly position in many markets Bill Gates still views his product through the eyes of consumers.

Gord Hotchkiss recently posted an article about how many of the newer mega-companies (like Google and Apple Computers) are built not just by viewing customers as an asset, but because the founders are customers of their own products and services, who built the service they wanted to use.

The more I think about it, the more I don’t believe customer-centricity is the key. It’s not a goal, it’s a by-product. It comes as part of the package (often unconsciously) with another principle that is a little more concrete: product-centricity. Product-centric leaders, the ones that are obsessive about what gets shipped out the door, are customer-centric by nature. They understand the importance of that magical intersection between product and person, the sheer power of amazing experiences. The iPhone is amazing. Disney classics are amazing. My first search on Google was amazing. Steve, Walt, Larry and Sergey wouldn’t have it any other way.

That strategy of investing in people who build things for themselves has been a guiding thought behind many investments for years. Mike Moritz of Sequoia Capital on how he chooses what companies to invest in:

It’s the idea that the founders are doing something that they think is useful for themselves, And, then, eventually perhaps, coincidentally, perhaps accidentally, they discover that the product or service that they have built because they wanted to use something like this is that of great interest to lots of other people.

When you build for yourself you can build a product for one (ie: no demand), but the cost of failure is low, one of the core ideas in Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody. It is so fast and cheap to test things online that if you are passionate and aggressive success often happens accidentally. PageRank was an academic project for finding authoritative citations that just happened to turn into a search engine.

Best Google Search Engine Submission Programs

About 6 months ago I created a site explaining how worthless most search engine submission programs are. After referencing it again via email today I remembered it and figured it was worth sharing it amongst other SEOs for a laugh. :)

Please read this site for a laugh, but do not link at it:

And here is the summary of the service provided by one well known search engine submission service (which lead to email spam, bait & switch offers, and spammy MFA sites that did not even have a submission link)

January 5, 2008: Bought $29.99 _______ SEO service from a second shady search engine submission service provider.

  • After entering keywords that I came up with, _______'s meta tag generator came up with the following meta tags for me
    <title>dollar seo search engine optimization services inc.</title>
    <meta name="description" content="No information was found">
    <meta name="keywords" content="No information was found">
    which prompted me to use my meta tag generator, which offers real useful advice on how to generate a good page title and good meta tags.
  • Submissions are done manually or semi-manually. They list the big 3 engines, Alexa, DMOZ, Librarian's Internet Index, and the Yahoo! Directory.
  • I submitted to the engines, but did not submit to the major directories because I doubt they would list this site there, and did not want to risk them removing some of my other sites because they were angry I submitted this one. The Yahoo! Directory may have listed this site if I paid their fee, which is $299 a year. Paying that extra $299 fee removes DollarSEO from its roots though ($299 for one link sure takes the $30 SEO project out of the $30 category), and again, I did not want to risk them removing my other sites from their directory.
  • Beyond that they list something like 200 more directories and search engines. Since many of these directories are free, their business model is hidden on the back end. You will find that they send you no traffic, but do spam the crap out of your email inbox for submitting to them.
    • Some of these emails say click here to confirm, and then if you click through and submit your email address and website details they offer a Paypal button for you to spend $20 on the submission, even though it is to a search engine with poor relevancy that nobody uses. Even if you do not pay you can bet they will email you.
    • Some try to upsell you on more "submit your site to thousands of additional search engines" programs.
    • Ask yourself why so many of them need to validate and revalidate your email address to take your listing. It is because they want to pound the crap out of your inbox with spammy offers. I remember being on the receiving end of this crap when I started out on the web about 5 years ago.
  • Some of the listings have errors.
    • Skaffe (the directory) was listed as a search engine.
    • The additional search engines category includes AltaVista and Alltheweb, which are powered by Yahoo Search.
    • The first additional search engine link I clicked on was in German, had no actual submission form that I could see, and included a huge AdSense ad block in the content area.

Update: For driveby searchers here are some free search engine submission links, though you will probably need to build links to rank for anything competitive.

Your work is marvelous...

according to the world's most benevolant comment spammer, hoping to use spam to fight world hunger :)

If People Respect You They Will Pay You for Your Time

Every day I still get lots of emails and phone calls asking me to answer SEO questions and how to build their businesses for free. I get far more email than I could possibly answer, but much of it is from people who place a $0 value on my time - which does not scale as a 1 person business, especially after the failure of communism.

There are a couple great things about running a paid members only forum in a marketplace dominated by the cheaper faster free mindset

  • When people pay they value and appreciate what they pay for and are more likely to act upon it. The act of paying for information increases its utility and value.
  • Lots of people dig up scoops and have a wide array of experience that make the forums far more valuable than they could ever be with just the experience of one person or a small group.
  • The pricepoint filters out people who do not value my time or their own time. This has multiple benefits, a couple of which are listed below.
    • Rather than being chuck full of the self promotional hype, affiliate offers, and misinformation that dominate most public forums our private forums have a much higher signal to noise ratio.
    • Rather than rushing through hundreds of emails just to finish them, I can take time and do the best job I can answering the questions of the people who actually value my advice.

There is no such thing as pricing pressure. You just need to focus on the people who care about what you have to offer, and ignore the 99% of the market that does not.

Google AdPlanner Media Buy Planning Tool

Google announced AdPlanner, a tool to help ad agencies find where desired demographic audiences are active online. The WSJ highlighted how the new Google tool can help make the ad marketplace more efficient:

The Web-audience data could be combined with the ad-serving system, so that advertisers would be able to find out whether they would reach the right audience before they committed to placing an ad.

In addition to AdPlanner, Google will launch another tool that compares consumer response to ads against a control group of users who did not see the ad:

Separately, Google this week is expected to roll out a new tool aimed at showing how Web surfers respond to online ads. It will compare groups of people who are exposed to an ad with others who haven't seen it, taking into account such factors as search activity and site visitation.

Update: Search Engine Land Reviewed AdPlanner.

Google Website Trends & The Death of Privacy

Google launched a new version of Google Trends which includes website traffic estimates, and highlights....

  • visitor locations
  • top keywords
  • related sites

You need to be logged into a Google account to get a numerical scale on the traffic graph, but you can still get the general trend graphs and other data without logging in. Google also allows you to compare up to 5 sites at any given time

Search Engine Land reported that Google Trends...

This tool bases its data off Google search data, aggregated opt-in anonymous Google Analytics data, opt-in consumer panel data, and other third-party market research.

Those who wondered why using Google Analytics is a bad idea just got a taste of why it is a bad idea! Sure the data is only aggregated anonymously, but with Google owning 70% of the search market and having access to your analytics data you never know how deep they could decide to go through the data for competitive purposes. Is your site a keyword source for AdWords? How much of your data will appear on Google Trends?

You can't export the data yet and it only shows data for high traffic sites, but it is a great free tool for marketers.

  • If sites do not show any data then they are probably either low traffic sites or penalized.
  • The related sites feature lets you know how related your audience is to other sites, which is useful for determining how familiar their audience is or if you are reaching a new audience when buying ads.
  • The top keywords shows you what competing sites are getting traffic from, and if those terms tend to be more brand oriented or more generic in nature...which is useful when thinking about the stability of a website you may want to purchase.

Fred Wilson did a review of Google Trends, comparing Google Analytics to and comScore across 3 high traffic websites.

Since we are investors in these three companies and know what their internal numbers are saying, I can safely say that ComScore and Compete are lower but directionally correct. Google is like Alexa in that they don't report absolute numbers but even if they did, they are not directionally correct on this particular set of companies.

The fact that Google is even compared to the analytics firms with years of experience and algorithmic tuning shows how easily they could take a leading position in this market if they wanted it. Google will improve their accuracy, and at any point in time they could chose to expand the top 10 keywords to the top 100 or top 1,000.

The AP threatened to sue a blogger for quoting small passages, and at the same time the mainstream media is trying to redefine copyright for their own benefit. Eventually much of the mainstream media will start looking like eHow and Mahalo. Your content compiled and slightly rewritten by a third party. Your keyword list is their money list. Thousands of people are competing against you while you read this sentence. As your data leaks it is going to be tough to stay competitive unless you are often the topic of conversation. Public Relations is the only PR that matters.

I am probably a bit less pessimistic than Michael is at the moment, but firms are using G.P.S. data to create "reality mining" for offline analytics, predicting everything from traffic patterns, where to buy an ad, and where to place another store. A recent NYT article highlighted some such services:

Tony Jebara, also 34, the chief scientist and another co-founder of Sense, said, “We can predict tourism, we can tell you how confident consumers are, we can tell retailers about, say, their competitors, who’s coming in from particular neighborhoods.”

The idea of staying competitive through obscurity is obsolete. So you may as well be a loud mouth, encourage users to be loud mouths, and build a big brand that helps protect your plot from competitive market forces.

Niche SEO Advice

As a field get saturated one of the easiest ways to stand out is to take generalized tips from one field and apply them to another niche. Recently Rebecca mentioned this Recruitment SEO guide, and a friend of mine named Dave spotted this real estate marketing guide.

Some resources are niche specific while others are applicable to many industries. Ping Pong Pie (nice domain name) compiled a list of top social networking sites by category. The Zip Code Guy blog offers a 27 MB database of US cities, counties, and states which works great for local keyword generation for AdWords when used in combination with tools like Speed PPC.

Defending Your Brand From Shadow Brands & Email Spam

If you build a clean trusted brand many people will emulate your brand and leech off it. Everything from wrapping spam in the Google brand right on through to registering a domain name that sounds just like your name and doing mass email spam with it. You can't stop all of it (or even most of it) but you can defend yourself from a lot of it by:

  1. Registering a couple of the more common alternative domain extensions (like .net and .org). This also has the benefit of locking out some competition if you own a keyword domain.
  2. Adding the word the to your domain name and buying it
  3. Adding an s to your names and buying the .com versions (the person who bought wanted $25,000 for it...I should have spent $8 instead)
  4. If you own a 2 or 3 word domain name consider buying the version with a hyphen between the words
  5. If you have an affiliate program you either need to actively monitor the search results or prevent affiliates from registering your brand in the URLs
  6. If your brand domain is not generically descriptive then buy not only your brand name, but also buy the name with your brand name + your field of trade in it. Just recently one well known SEO firm was the victim of brand dilution due to someone registering and doing a massive email spamming campaign.
  7. Given that the April 2007 version of Google's remote quality rater guidelines defined social sites as vital results if they rank then it is best to register your brands on the major social sites before others do. (Someone else is already seobook on twitter and I don't think it would be cheap or easy for me to change that at this point.)
  8. For each major product launch or linkbait launch you may also try to get at least the matching .com name (advice I wish I would have gave myself in the past).

Some companies may also go so far as to check for other domain names containing their keywords, monitor recently registered names containing their trademarks, or pay a third party to do so. You probably do not need to go that far in most cases, but if you are going to put a lot of time and effort into building a brand then carrying an extra couple hundred dollars a year in registration costs is a negligible fee to help protect your offering from brand dilution from unsavory market competition.

Peter Norvig - Google Does Not Directly Use Search Usage Data in Relevancy Algorithms

Anand Rajaraman recently spoke with Peter Norvig, who revealed that:

  • their best machine learning algorithms is already as good as, and sometimes better than their current hand roled relevancy algorithms
  • but they still prefer to use their hand roled algorithms because of hubris, and they feel that machine learning algorithms may be more inclined to have catastrophic errors on searches that do not look much like those in the training set

I think a third piece (that you will never hear Google employees admit to) is that as the web's structure changes Google feels they have use FUD to police the web and help ensure Google has revenue entry points into important markets. In their 2007 Google search quality rater guidelines they used a typical Commission Junction link as an example of a sneaky redirect. It is doubtful that Google would ever do that with AdSense code or a Performics link (since they own those).

In the follow up post about his chat with Peter Norvig, Anand highlighted how Google measures relevancy. In the post he stated why Google prefers internal review data relative to using direct usage data:

Peter confirmed that Google does collect such [usage] data, and has scads of it stashed away on their clusters. However -- and here's the shocker -- these metrics are not very sensitive to new ranking models! When Google tries new ranking models, these metrics sometimes move, sometimes not, and never by much. In fact Google does not use such real usage data to tune their search ranking algorithm.

Exposure from top rankings already creates a self-reinforcing effect because of the power of defaults. Further tying in search usage data directly into relevancy might not add much benefit to searchers, especially as more people click on the first search result. Anand further explained why direct usage data is not used to refine Google's relevancy algorithms:

The first is that we have all been trained to trust Google and click on the first result no matter what. So ranking models that make slight changes in ranking may not produce significant swings in the measured usage data. The second, more interesting, factor is that users don't know what they're missing.

By 2009 Will PPC = AdWords? As Keywords & Industries Evolve...

I created a new training module talking about how language in new industries changes over time, how you can track change, and how you can take advantage of structural changes. I made the first 1/3 of it freely available, but the action items are for subscribers only.

I am still trying to figure out how to balance creating premium members only content and publish many posts to the blog. Which of the following ideas do you like best?

  • make one out of every few freely available forever
  • make a portion freely available forever
  • make new content freely available in its entirety and then make it exclusive after a week or some other period of time

Create more value than you capture

Tim O'Reilly thinks the web is much bigger than search, and actually likes the Yahoo! deal. I think it is easy to overlook how Google is quietly winning marketshare in many non-search markets - and how they can easily build such positions using their brand recognition & distributed ad system. A throw away quote from Tim's post is the title of this post:

At O'Reilly, we always say "Create more value than you capture." All successful companies do this. Once they start capturing more value than they create, their market position erodes, and someone displaces them. It may take a while but it happens eventually.

Two of the easiest ways to ensure short term growth are to

  1. undermonetize to ensure you have a better user experience worth talking about
    • create some content that is easy to monetize aggressively, and leave most content clean and pure while only monetizing the most profitable content
    • use ad units that do not look or feel like ads, and/or ads that add value to the experience
  2. reinvest profits into building content & social relationships that get network effects on your site
    • feature your best content so it is easy to find
    • interact in the community
    • ensure your domain name and design add credibility to your content
    • create interactive or viral components that raise brand awareness even if they do not create direct revenue streams

SEO for Firefox Support Thread

SEO for Firefox.
Our CMS only shows 300 comments per page. I am sure there is a way to enhance that, but for ease of publishing and following the conversations I decided to close the last SEO for Firefox thread and start a new one. If you have any questions about SEO for Firefox this is the place to ask them. :)

The two unanswered questions from the old thread were

I've used this plug in for awhile and I love it, but the number of links in Yahoo won't display now.

I have the plug in set so that it doesn't automatically query, but when I click on any of the link items, it says that there are no links.

I'm using Firefox 2.0.14 and uninstalled and then reinstalled the plug in, and it is still the same thing.


I've noticed that Y! is requiring API Keys for all of the automated lookup tools now. Any word on when support will be out for SEO for Firefox?

The answer to each of these are

  1. Is that issue occuring for all sites? Have you tried putting the tool on automatic and seeing if it will pull data in for you?
  2. SEO for Firefox already contains an API key. I used it this morning and it worked fine for me.

Google AdWords Price Fixing

In Google's commentary about their ad deal with Yahoo! they wrote:

This does not let Google raise prices for advertisers. Google does not set the prices manually for ads; rather, advertisers themselves determine prices through an ongoing competitive auction. We have found over years of research that an auction is by far the most efficient way to price search advertising and have no intention of changing that.

Aspects of that statement are categorically untrue, perhaps even lies. In many competitive markets with lots of participants the ad market may set ad price minimums, but Google...

  1. publicly talks about how they tweak the number of ads they display to maximize revenues
  2. uses quality scores that allow them to give friendly businesses discounts
  3. Google not only favors its own ads, but also creates custom ad units that only it can buy

Abitrary Pricing Floors

Google has articles in the media talking about how they tweak dials to optimize revenues. While many competitors have increased the number of ads they show, Google has been showing ads across a smaller portion of their search queries, as shown via this comScore data.

If you do not pay Google enough they simply will not show your ads, even if there are no competitors. I have ads where I am the only bidder and I get a 17% clickthrough rate - and yet there is a 17 cent price on those clicks, rather than a true market floor. Bid too low and your ads simply do not show up - even if you are bidding against nobody.

Preferential Pricing

Getting your account Google slapped is a well known phrase amongst many affiliate marketers. One day your ads are going great, and then the next day every keyword has a minimum bid of $5 or $10 per click.

On the flip side of that, many click arbitrage based business models are only profitable *because* a publisher gained access to a high authority trusted Google partner which allowed cheaper ad prices for the same keywords & ad units.

Google has went as far as publishing information about the types of business models that they do not like. Unlike acceptable business models like reverse billing fraud and infidelity, selling ebooks on sites with ads might merit a low landing page quality score.

Google Only Ad Units

Google products are advertised aggressively across Google's content network. Given that internal Google product benefit from brand awareness, bidding with funny money, and cheaper ad prices (since they don't have to give Google a cut) others with similar business models can not compete.

When Google recently entered the mortgage lead market they gave themselves an ad title of 49 characters, and a dropdown that is not available to other advertisers.

Yahoo! Inks Ad Syndication Deal With Google

The WSJ reported that Google and Yahoo! have inked a non-exclusive ad deal

Yahoo said it will display some ads sold by Google in an agreement estimated to generate $800 million in annual revenue. In the first 12 months following implementation, Yahoo expects the deal to generate an estimated $250 million to $450 million in incremental operating cash flow.

Both companies have agreed to "delay implementing the deal for up to three and a half months while regulators review it." The deal can be terminated at any point in time, but if it is terminated within 24 months Yahoo! will owe Google $250 million.

The partnership is only for the US and Canadian markets, but expands beyond Yahoo!'s search results into Yahoo! content ads and even the syndicated Yahoo! Publisher Network. Given Yahoo!'s poor ad relevancy and that they are reselling Google ads, how will the Yahoo! Publisher Network ever gain marketshare from AdSense?

Beyond the incremental revenue stream, this also gives Google another opportunity to spy on web users who use their largest competitor - allowing Google to get a better view of the average web user and making it easier for Google to clone and beat Yahoo! in any market where Yahoo! leads.

Here is Google's take, and the full Yahoo! press release is below

Yahoo! to Strengthen Competitive Position in Online Advertising Through Non-Exclusive Agreement With Google
Thursday June 12, 6:16 pm ET

Agreement Advances Yahoo!'s Open Strategy; Enhances Ability to Compete in Converging Search and Display Marketplace

SUNNYVALE, Calif.--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Yahoo! Inc. (Nasdaq:YHOO), a leading global Internet company, announced today that it has reached an agreement with Google Inc. that will enhance its ability to compete in the converging search and display marketplace, advancing the company’s open strategy. The agreement enables Yahoo! to run ads supplied by Google alongside Yahoo!’s search results and on some of its web properties in the United States and Canada. The agreement is non-exclusive, giving Yahoo! the ability to display paid search results from Google, other third parties, and Yahoo!’s own Panama marketplace.

Under the terms of the agreement, Yahoo! will select the search term queries for which – and the pages on which – Yahoo! may offer Google paid search results. Yahoo! will define its users’ experience and will determine the number and placement of the results provided by Google and the mix of paid results provided by Panama, Google or other providers. The agreement applies to paid search and content match and does not apply to algorithmic search. The agreement also applies to current partners in Yahoo’s publisher network.

Yahoo! CEO and co-founder Jerry Yang said, “We believe that the convergence of search and display is the next major development in the evolution of the rapidly changing online advertising industry. Our strategies are specifically designed to capitalize on this convergence -- and this agreement helps us move them forward in a significant way. It also represents an important next step in our open strategy, building on the progress we have already made in advancing a more open marketplace.”

“This agreement provides a source of funds to both deliver financial value to stockholders from search monetization and to invest in our broader strategy to transform display advertising and advance our starting point objectives with users,” said Yahoo! President Sue Decker. “It enhances competition by promoting our ability to compete in the marketplace where we are especially well positioned: in the convergence of search and display.”

Agreement Provides Attractive Economics and Enhances Search Monetization

Yahoo! believes that this agreement will enable the Company to better monetize Yahoo!’s search inventory in the United States and Canada. At current monetization rates, this is an approximately $800 million annual revenue opportunity. In the first 12 months following implementation, Yahoo! expects the agreement to generate an estimated $250 million to $450 million in incremental operating cash flow.

The agreement will enhance Yahoo!’s ability to achieve its goal to grow operating cash flow significantly, while at the same time providing flexibility to continue to invest in ongoing initiatives such as algorithmic search innovation and search and display advertising platforms. It gives Yahoo! complete flexibility to continue to use its Panama paid search results.

Significant Benefits Will Flow to Users, Advertisers, Publishers and Employees

Users will also benefit from Yahoo!’s ability to invest incremental operating cash flow in ongoing improvements to its search services, building upon recent major innovations such as Search Assist and SearchMonkey. Advertisers will continue to benefit from multiple marketplace alternatives including Panama, Google and others. Publishers will benefit from a winning combination of distribution, monetization and services to help them grow their businesses. The financial benefits will enable Yahoo! to broaden the scope of its investments and initiatives, enhancing Yahoo!’s ability to offer attractive career opportunities to its employees.

Terms of the Agreement

The agreement will enable Yahoo! to run ads supplied by Google's AdSense™ for Search and AdSense™ for Content services next to Yahoo!’s internally generated paid search and algorithmic search results. Yahoo may also run Google-supplied ads on non-search Yahoo web properties, as well as on current members of its partner network. The agreement has a term of up to ten years: a four-year initial term and two, three-year renewals at Yahoo!’s option. It applies to Yahoo!’s operations in the U.S. and Canada only. Advertisers will continue to pay Yahoo! directly for clicks served by Yahoo! from Yahoo!’s Panama and Content Match marketplaces. Advertisers will pay Google directly for each click on Google paid search results appearing on Yahoo! owned and operated network or certain affiliate sites. Google will share a percentage of such revenue with Yahoo!.

In addition, Yahoo! and Google agreed to enable interoperability between their respective instant messaging services, bringing easier and broader communication to users.

The agreement allows either party to terminate the agreement in the event of a change in control of either party. The agreement also requires Yahoo! to pay a termination fee if the agreement is terminated as a result of a change in control that occurs within 24 months. The termination fee is $250 million, subject to reduction by 50 percent of revenues earned by Google under the agreement.

Although Google and Yahoo! are not required to receive regulatory approval of the deal before implementing it, the companies have voluntarily agreed to delay implementation for up to three and a half months while the U.S. Department of Justice reviews the arrangement.

Goldman, Sachs & Co., Lehman Brothers and Moelis & Company are acting as financial advisors to Yahoo!. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP is acting as legal advisor to Yahoo!, and Munger Tolles & Olson LLP is acting as counsel to the outside directors of Yahoo!.

Yahoo! will host a conference call to discuss the agreement with Google at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time today. To listen to the call live, please dial 877-391-6847 (reservation number 70308474#). A live audiocast of the conference call can be accessed through the Company's Investor Relations website at In addition, an archive of the audiocast can be accessed through the same link. An audio replay of the call will be available following the conference call by calling 888-286-8010 (reservation number 84138579).

Smart Speaking, Deep Writing About Shallow Reading, & Great SEO Content

J.K. Rowling gave the Commencement Address at Harvard this year. Two killer quotes:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.


Those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

Nick Carr, who I was lucky enough to interview a few months back, wrote the cover article for this month's The Atlantic. His story, about how the web is reshaping our minds, is important to consider from both a sanity perspective and a marketing perspective:

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

You can learn a lot about how ideas spread by playing on the web 16 hours a day, but many of the best ideas are either recycled from other markets and/or sparked by deep thinking from reading about other markets and determining how those markets & ideas intersect with your own. When I play online too much I start to feel stagnant and like I am not learning anymore. Reading a good book cures that.

And, more SEO related, Joost de Valk wrote a 12 page Guide to Wordpress SEO, which goes nicely with our Blogger's Guide to SEO.

Google Trends Adds Cool New Statistical Weighting Features

Google Trends announced a cool new feature for determining the relative search volume between keywords:

Suppose you own an ice cream shop and don't know which flavors to serve, or suppose you're responsible for stocking supermarkets across the country; Trends can help you explore the popularity and seasonality of your products. To conduct your own, more detailed analyses, you can now easily export Trends data to a .csv file.

How can you use this data to build your business?

  • Predict seasonal trends, as mentioned above.
  • Better understand the relative volume of keywords to help guide SEO campaigns - especially useful for looking at longtail keyword modifiers given that this keyword data is broad matched.
  • Find what areas where different keyword versions are most popular.
  • View the brand lift of past marketing campaigns done by competitors (by cross referencing blog citations & Google news mentions with search trend data).
  • Better time marketing campaigns based on the performance of past campaigns.
  • Monitor how popular keywords come into being, and when derivatives become popular. SEO Book is far more popular than seobook (over 3X as popular - but only 50% more popular this year), and was picked up by Google Trends almost exactly 1 year prior to the less popular version.
  • Compare the growth of your brand to competing brands to understand general market growth trends.

It would be nice if Google shared this data for lower volume search terms as well, but they typically only show it for more popular search terms. The one big warning with this trend data is that it is broad matched, as easily seen when comparing credit to credit card & credit cards

Google Does Not Like Flash Welcome Screens, Will the Google Browser?

Philipp Lessen pointed out that Google now offers a link in the search results to skip intro on flash intro pages.

Philipp also mentioned rumors of a Google Browser from February.

Google also launched a major offline advertising campaign in Moscow, hoping to gain market share on Russian search leader Yandex.

4 Hidden Benefits to Monetizing via Google AdSense

In the past I have been a bit hard on AdSense, stating how it cannibalizes publishing, but there are some up sides to Google's AdSense too. Many people talk about the ease of implementation, scalability, and lack of maintenance cost, but 4 more rarely talked about benefits are...

  • Safety From Google Editors: Since AdSense is a Google product you never have to worry about internal Google quality rating guidelines calling an AdSense link a sneaky redirect (like they do with CJ links).
  • Profit From Spam: If you have a pharmacy affiliate or payday loan site then many people will consider the site spam by default. But if you tastefully write an article about such topics and then just happen to have AdSense on the page you are not viewed as a spammer by the general web public - Google (and AdSense) are a ubiquitous part of the web.
  • People Under-estimate Your Earnings: Many web publishers have published AdSense sites and made nothing. Thus if they see you publishing an AdSense site they may assume that your site earns nothing, and be less likely to clone your site and more willing to link at your site than they would be if your site appeared more commercially oriented.
  • The Informational Bias of Organic Links:Information is generally considered more citation-worthy than pages that sell stuff. Thus if you monetize via AdSense you can get inbound links to the money making pages without having to buy links. With most commercial offers you are stuck building links to other related pages and hope that internal anchor text & domain authority lift the page's rankings.

Longterm from a business sustainability standpoint it is nice to have direct ad revenues not controlled by Google, but AdSense can make for some nice short-term cash flow.

7 Day Free Wordtracker Trial

Our keyword tool is powered by Wordtracker's API, but if you want access to more keyword data they just announced they are offering a free 7 day trial to the full Wordtracker keyword tool.

Presumed Guilty Until Proven Innocent

A few years back when I came up with the idea of ReviewMe (prior to Pay Per Post launching, but we were slow to market) I felt there was a need for bloggers and advertisers to be able to interact. Largely because I was getting more email than I could handle, and largely because I kept seeing blogs gain momentum in the marketplace.

Recently Patrick Altoft from Blogstorm announced an email group for buying blog placements, and a service which allows you to buy Blogroll links named Blogrolled quietly launched.

But the paying for reviews idea has been a harder sell than I appreciated. Even social scientists 10 times smarter than I am have struggled with making ads go viral. When you directly pay for exposure it is seen as inauthentic. Take the same concepts and run them through a public relations campaign and you are a genius.

The downside of paying for direct exposure & editorial got a bit more exposure this week. A lead generation company named EPerks bought a review on Vlad Zablotskyy's blog through Sponsored Reviews, and generally got a good review. But then people commented on that review, which lead to a follow up post called ePerks - a scam or a gem?. That post got 163 comments, ranks #2 in Google for eperks, and lead to a lawsuit.

Mob mentality is never nice, but when you sue people (especially bloggers) it is easy to create more than enough collateral damage to offset any potential gains. The message being spread (complete with logo, donation buttons, and viral components) is defend free speech online. That is a hard meme to stop.

Lots of links will flow, but unfortunately their brand is destroyed. Perhaps they can later 301 redirect their site, but the PageRank is probably going to be worth less than the negative karma associated with the conflict.

Compare the above scenario with having a blog in the marketplace and building fans one at a time. Sure connecting with people one at a time is slower, but it is much less risky too.

Yahoo! Content Ads Exceptionally Irrelevant

After hearing a few people mention the NBA finals I went over to Yahoo! Sports to check it out. The Celtics are ahead of the Lakers 1 game to 0. Given the history of that rivalry it is no surprise that decent NBA Finals Tickets are selling for over $1,000 and courtside tickets fetch $20,000 or more. Yahoo! paid the editorial costs to create great content relevant for this high profit margin niche, and what do they do with it? They waste it.

How are these ads relevant to an article about the NBA finals? Mind you this is Yahoo!'s own editoral content located on, so it can't be hard to make an algorithm a bit more relevant than that.

Given Yahoo!'s irrelevancy it is no wonder that they are heavily reliant on arbitrage and syndication - they need those players to add relevancy to their broken ad platform. At least the people who are paying for the clicks care about a relevant experience, though one would imagine Yahoo! could earn more with an honest attempt at relevancy.

What Are Your Favorite Foreign SEO Information Sources

I have worked with some large multi-national brands who had multi-lingual sites, but they typically hired us for English optimization, and never really asked for much more than general advice and strategies (internal link flow, subdomains vs unique domains, etc.) when it came to other languages and cultures. I noticed a few differences between & International Google results while traveling, but I still only analyzed stuff that was published in English.

What are the best informational sources for SEO in Japanese? SEO in Chinese? SEO in Spanish? SEO in your language or region? How do you feel SEO in your area differs from the SEO advice you read from those of us who operate in the English US marketplace? I also would love to publish a guest article for each language.

Will Wikia Search Turn Into Spam?

Wikia recently announced that their search service was finally almost worth using. It is easy to rate and vote sites up to the top of the search results. When they have limited marketshare they will not get much spam. As they start building marketshare will they be able to get enough people engaged in the project to fight off spam? And who defines what is spam anyhow?

You can comment about the results, rate a result, spotlight it, and add images to it. With over 100 edits so far today, SEO has to be one of the most frequently edited pages. I am not sure if voting is cumulative, but please vote for SEOBook just in case. :)

Here is an image of a couple results for SEO. Notice how I put my logo in the SERPs

If this project gains any momentum and they provide a list of most frequently edited search results you can expect that to be a nice list of commercial keywords, much like Mahalo!

Wikia Search also offers a nice keyword suggestion tool in their Bloom tool, which shows related search queries based on an input query.

Google SERP-rot, Paid Links, & Spam Classification

I talked to a search engineer a few months back and he mentioned that he thought one of my sites and one of the promotions associated with it were both spammy. This month I came across a random blog comment where a person talked about how great that search company was for showing them that same site! The only problem was that since that site was new and we still need more links we had to pay Google for those clicks.

Meanwhile a network of older established poorly designed English third language sites dominate Google's organic search results, and keep getting self-reinforcing links that make it virtually impossible to compete with them without buying links. But our AdWords ads and viral marketing we did lead to some exposure where editors from other companies got to evaluate our site.

  • A number of mainstream media companies (newspapers and radio shows) mentioned us on their site.
  • A leading search company featured a link to our site aggressively in their portal (sorry I can't say more than that or a partner would kill me for doing so).
  • Mahalo listed our site with a cool rating and listed many deep links from our site on their overview page.
  • The Yahoo! Directory listed our site for free.

Had we not paid Google $1,000's, the organic links we got never would have existed, and our site might never rank. Amongst most other search related companies they generally love our site. But because I am associated with the site and I am an aggressive marketer the site is seen in a different light by search engineers at Google, in spite of providing a better user experience than the outdated garbage Google currently ranks (as indicated by searchers and editorial judgement from human reviewers at other search companies).

I am not complaining here, as we are on page 2 and getting close to page 1, but most content producers are not as aggressive at marketing as we have been, and some of the best content might take many years to rank - if ever. The bigger issues at hand are

  • Most English speaking webmasters with trusted sites use Google, thus if something is not in Google it is hard for it to get the quality links needed to rank unless the webmaster buys AdWords or spends a lot on public relations
  • many employees of other search companies are likely using Google search
  • any warp in Google's view of the web (like SERP staleness & bias toward huge media companies) creates opportunity for another search company to be born, and to some extent validate arbitrage plays by companies like Mahalo.

By relying on old websites to clog up the search results Google virtually guarantees that you need to buy links to rank a new site. The only question is who is getting paid!

Catch Me on The Black Ink Project Today

Jeremy Palmer invited me to do a presentation on link building for his Black Ink Project. The presentation will be today at 3PM Pacific time. If you are a member of the Black Ink Project please listen in. If you have not joined the Black Ink Project it is free to sign up.

If you have followed this blog for years and are a member of our training program this will not be a ground breaking presentation, but if you are new to this site and the field of SEO I hope you listen in and like the presentation. There is also 30 minutes of Q&A time at the end of the presentation if you catch it live, and the presentations are recorded so you can watch them later.

Back From Vacation

My wife and I got back from our Kauai vacation Sunday afternoon. I slept most of yesterday, but am now back after the seasonal hibernation period. Hope to start posting a bit more frequently in the near future. :)