Chitika - the 5th Search Engine?

I recently had an email chat with Alden DoRosario from Chitika about the recent rapid growth of their ad network. They have been aggressively signing up bloggers and other independent publishers, and are now getting over 2 billion monthly impressions, with their behaviorally targeted Premium ads getting hundreds of millions of monthly search driven impressions, putting their search distribution network on par with Ask.com.

How their premium ad network works is they target the ads to be relevant to search query that sent traffic to the publisher's site, thus even if the ads are not shown on a search page they still are seen by searchers right after they search and click through to the site.

Alden gave me a link for a $75 bonus code for any publisher that makes $75 in commissions before the end of October. Publishers are paid 60% of the ad click value, with the house getting 40%. I just added their ads to my mom's weight loss blog. It looks like their ad network is not quite as deep as Google's but they do well for higher volume search queries.

Most search engines are a backbone for an ad network, but it is hard to build query volume for a new search engine. Just look at how few people have used Wikia Search in spite of endless hype. Wikia Search got a couple million lifetime searches whereas Chitika gets billions of monthly ad impressions.

Most people do not feel they have a search problem, but many publishers feel their content could be monetized better. If you didn't have huge search distribution how would you create a search ad network? If an ad network grows big enough do you think they could do it the other way around, using their ad network distribution as a backbone to start a search engine?

Disclaimer: The free $75 bonus is an affiliate link, but when I chatted with Chitika I pushed hard to get publishers the best payout bonus and longest payout bonus period possible rather than focusing on trying to maximize my commissions.

Google Beta Testing Showing Related Phrases Near Documents in Search Results

Jul 31st

While using Opera I noticed the following Google test which places related phrases near some documents in the search results

When I entered our above link building page into the Google AdWords Keyword Tool they showed mostly phrases related to the broader category of SEO and did not list the niche link related phrases, which indicates Google is still holding back quite a bit of data from advertisers that they are willing to share with searchers for free.

Getting Paid to Edit Search Results

Jul 31st

In the past I have mentioned that I am not a fan of doing lots of traditional SEO consulting for a number of reasons (mostly economic), but I still work on a few large projects from time to time. One of the great parts about working with large corporate clients is when you uncover holes in their strategy, finding areas and opportunities that they can own just by deciding to. To some degree it feels like editing the search results, just like a search engineer, seeing you will pushed upon them.

Unlike playing with Wikia Search (which only has a couple millions lifetime searches and nearly a million edits!!!) some of the changes you suggest for enterprise level sites can bring millions of high value visitors to their business free of charge.

When taking on new consulting projects you have to price with the confidence that you will be able to find something that really helps them build their business (and if you are not there is no point taking the project). At first sometimes it can seem like you set the bar too high, but when you do strong research and have a strong partner to bounce ideas off back and forth good things just happen.

Those easy big wins are rare finds, but seem to happen on every project, just in different areas - site structure, duplicate content issues, keyword coverage, internal linking strategy, etc. Digging into a large site with fresh eyes allows you to see things that people who have been close to a project for a long time can not see. Why is that link there? Can this page rank for a couple more related queries? You end up stumbling into something that catches your eye and keep digging in until you have a good solution that earns far in excess of the consulting investment.

With affiliate and AdSense oriented sites the wins are typically much slower, smaller, and harder - sometimes requiring 6 months of effort just to get to break even, and requiring you to fight for every additional link and every additional rank. But the slow and steady path is a stronger business model for SEOs than giving clients millions of dollars of advice for a small fraction of the price. If only I knew how to talk Fortune 500 companies into giving a % of the upside, as that would make consulting so much more profitable than the slow and steady model. :)

Google hires remote quality raters part time for $15 an hour. SEOs working in client based business models usually top out somewhere in the mid 6 figure range. CEOs and some leading web publishers make deep into 7 or 8 figures a year. And some of the early Google engineers might have 9 figures worth of stock. And every one of them is getting paid in part to edit the search results. Does your business model match your ambitions?

And The Winner Is...

Jul 31st

I decided to pick David Lubertazzi and Elisabeth Sowerbutts as the winners for their SEO Knol improvement comments.

I added a few pictures and fixed up some writing errors and incorporated a bunch of the feedback (like making the introduction better - thanks Andrew). There are many things (like domain names, duplicate content, blogging, social media, conversion, history and background of SEO) that I could have discussed, but I was unsure of how long I should let the Knol get, while still claiming that it was a basic introduction. Thanks for the feedback everyone!

What Are Your Favorite SEO Analogies?

Jul 30th

I try to teach my mom SEO stuff from time to time, and often do so through the use of analogies. Some analogies perhaps oversimplify the SEO process, but are good for helping get the basic concepts across.

On Page Content

  • fish and a fishing pole - when explaining how text heavy sites often outrank thin ecommerce sites, I like to call searchers fish and each word on the page an additional fishing pole in the water. This is really powerful when used in combination with analytics data, showing her the hundreds of phrases that people searched for to find a given page on her site...helping her see the long tail as schools of fish. :)
  • Don't Make Me Think - people scan more than they read. Large blocks of text are imposing. People are more likely to read well formatted content that uses many headings, subheadings, and inline links. Expect people to ignore your global navigation, and do whatever you ask them to do (via inline links).

Site Structure

  • Broadway Street in Manhattan - used to describe the value of descriptive .com domain names, and when describing what top search engine rankings are worth.
  • a pyramid - when explaining how some phrases are more competitive than others, and how to structure a site.
  • chapters of a book - used to describe the importance of focused page titles, and how to structure a website.

Link Reputation

  • search engines follow people - helps explain why new sites tend to not rank well, and how links are seen as votes.
  • roads and highways - used to describe PageRank and why some votes count more than others.
  • multiple audiences - used to describe why many types of content are needed to address different audiences, and the importance of creating content that is loved by buyers, linkers, and search engines.
  • rising tide lifts all boats - used to describe how links to one part of your website help other pages on your website rank better
  • pet rocks & overpriced dolls - describing how perception becomes reality when describing cumulative advantage, and how some poor quality sites are popular while better content remains hidden

Pay Per Click

  • instant market feedback - describing how it can be cheaper to test and learn than it is to theorize
  • taxing irrelevancy - explaining how irrelevant ads are priced out of the marketplace.
  • users vote with clicks - if your ad does not get clicked on it costs way more or is not shown

Tracking Results

  • flying blind without autopilot - when explaining the importance of analytics, and how most businesses that do not track results stand a good chance of failing.
  • people are lazy - describing the power of defaults and how a #1 ranking gets way more traffic than a number 5 or number 10 ranking.

Google Relevancy

  • Trust is Important - cares deeply for user experience, unless they are paid enough to think otherwise.
  • The House Advantage - when explaining why YouTube and Knol pages rank better than they deserve to.
  • Link Authority is Important - explaining why garbage general made for AdSense sites like eHow clog up the search results when higher quality information is hidden.
  • Informational Bias - when explaining that Google's business model relies on people clicking paid ads for commercial sites, and why Wikipedia ranks for everything.

How do you describe SEO to people who are not deep into the field?

Update: A few months ago Jaan Kanellis posted many analogies.

Google Knol - Google's Latest Attack on Copyright

Knol Off to a Quick Start

One day after Knol publicly launched Wil Reynolds noticed that a Knol page was already ranking. Danny Sullivan did a further test showing that 33% of his test set of Knol pages were ranking in the first page of search results. Danny was also surprised that his Knol was ranking #28 after 1 day. After citing it on his blog now that Knol page ranks #1 in Google!

Google's House Advantage

From the above data (and the aggressive promotion of YouTube content after the roll out of universal search) it is fair to state that house content is favored by the Google algorithm.

Another Knol Test

Maybe we are being a bit biased and/or are rushing to judgement? Maybe a more scientific effort would compare how Knol content ranks to other content when it is essentially duplicate content? I did not want to mention that I was testing that when I created my SEO Basics Knol, but the content was essentially a duplicate of my Work.com Guide to Learning SEO (that was also syndicated to Business.com). Even Google shows this directly on the Knol page

Google Knows its Duplicate Content

Is Google the Most Authoritative Publisher?

Given that Google knows that Business.com is a many year old high authority directory and that the Business.com page with my content on it is a PageRank 5, which does Google prefer to rank? Searching for a string of text on the page I found that the Knol page ranks in the search results.

If I override some of Google's duplicate content filters (by adding &filter=0 to the search string) then I see that 2 copies of the Knol page outrank the Business.com page that was filtered out earlier.

Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.

Hijacking Your Rankings via Knol - Google Knoljacking

Where this becomes a big issue is if a person...

  • posts your content to Knol
  • and buys/rents/begs/steals/spams/borrows a couple decent inbound links

they can get you filtered out of the search results - even if your site is an authority site. Bad news for anyone publishing copyright work online.

Google Knol Undermines the Creative Commons Spirit

Some new publishers decide to license their work via Creative Commons (hoping to be paid back based on the links economy), but Google wants no part in that! All outbound links on Knol are nofollow, so even if a person wants to give you credit for your work Google makes it impossible to do so.

Google Voids YOUR Copyright

Why do I get enraged by this sort of activity? I remember when one of my sites was voted against, and Google paid someone to steal it and wrap it in AdSense. The person who stole my content outranked me for my own content because a Google engineer thought that was reasonable and fair.

To this day someone publishes seobookopen.blogspot.com, a site dedicated to stealing and sharing an old version of my ebook. As the opening post on that blog explains

www.seobook.com very famous book from Aaron Wall its really good but paying $79 its really sucks so yesterday, I think why not to share this book to my friends etc openly in text by decompling Acrobat files

Can a casual mention get it removed? Nope. Can flagging it as spam and highlighting that it is stolen copyright content get it removed? Nope. I need to file a DMCA request to get it removed. (Or maybe they will remove it out of embarrassment after I hit publish on this post...we shall see!)

Google Pays Thieves

Google doesn't like lonely cheating housewives, unless it favors their business objectives.

Microsoft Search BrowseRank Research Reviewed

Jul 27th
posted in
msn

cNet recently covered a new Microsoft Search research paper on BrowseRank [PDF]. The theory behind the concept of BrowseRank is that rather than using links (PageRank) as the backbone of a relevancy algorithm, you could look at actual usage data from hundreds of millions of users.

Since there are more web users than webmasters BrowseRank would be a more democratic system, but many users are mislead and/or easily influenced by social media, public relations, and some referral spam strategies, so BrowseRank could surface some low quality temporal information, making manipulating Digg and other "firehose of traffic" sources more valuable than they perhaps should be. Although if certain referrals were blocked (Digg, StumbleUpon, etc.) and/or BrowseRank was combined with a blended search strategy (like how Google mixes Google News in their organic results) Microsoft could have a bit more confidence in waiting out some traffic spikes to see if traffic is sustained. And this potential shortfall (if managed properly) could actually lead to a major advantage over the stale effect of PageRank. If you create non-resource hyped up piece of linkbait that gets a quick rush of links and never gains any more votes then why should that page have a lot of authority to pass around your site?


BrowseRank can look at user time on site to help determine if the site was of quality, and perhaps even normalize for page length, but what happens if a page is really good at answering a common question? Even if people only ask it once in a great while quality content should not be penalized for great formatting, ease of use, and a great user experience - though as search evolves search engines will keep displaying more content in the search results, license specialized data, and answer many common questions directly in the search results.

In addition to looking at traffic that comes via links, BrowseRank also identifies direct URL visits via bookmarks or typing in URLs. These types of traffic sources

are considered "green traffic" because the pages visited in this way are safe, interesting, and/or important for users.

Such an algorithm would add value to direct navigation keyword rich URLs. Another obvious extension of such an algorithm would be identifying brand specific searches and URL searches, and bucketing those referrals into the green category as well.

To encourage such branded search queries and long user interactions it would be better to create strong communities with repeat visitors and many web based tools rather than allowing useful user interactions occur through browser extensions.

Another big issue with BrowseRank is that it highlights many social media sites. The issue with social media is that any piece of content is generally only relevant to a small number of people and most of the content is irrelevant to the population at large. Unless the search engine had a lot of personalized data promoting the general purpose social media sites would be blunderous - surfacing lots of results that are irrelevant, spam, or both.

One of the big advantages PageRank has over BrowseRank is an economic one.

  • People are more likely to link at informational resources, thus surfacing those pages and sites higher in the search results.
  • This gives Google's organic search results an informational bias which makes searchers more likely to click on Google's paid ads when performing a commercial search.
  • Google also has the ability to arbitrarily police links and/or strip PageRank scores to 0 with the intent to fearmonger and add opportunity cost to anyone who gathers enough links pointing at a (non-corporate owned) commercial domain. This layer of social engineering coerces publishers to create the type of content Google likes to rank.

Taking Your Beginning Blog To The Next Level Of Traffic - by Michael Natkin

Jul 27th
posted in

Like so many pursuits in life, it is easy for blogs to get stuck in an intermediate rut. I know, because I've been there. My site, Herbivoracious.com, has hit several plateaus in its first year of life. Each time the visits started to level out, I debated whether it was worth the effort to keep writing if only a few people were going to read it.

Naturally I wondered what it would take to get more exposure for my site. So I began to research all of the great information out there on promoting your blog. And there is no shortage of advice. I know, because I've spent countless hours reading articles, with more tips than you could ever follow - some of them contradictory.

Aaron & Giovanna's Blogger's Guide to Search Engine Optimization provided the most straightforward and usable techniques that I found, and since I've put them into play, my search hits have gone up dramatically, as you can see:

In this article I'll share with you some of their ideas that I found especially easy and effective to implement, along with a few practical suggestions of my own.

Allocate Your Time Wisely

When I lived in Milwaukee, I used to pass a corner grocery whose hand-painted sign said "Where Cash Is King". If the Internet could paint a sign for itself, it would say "Where Content Is King".

Far and away the most important thing you can do on your blog is write great posts and include great pictures and video. Even if you manage to draw visitors to a site with relatively few, crappy articles, they won't come back. The search engines are actually pretty smart, and they aren't going to send traffic to you if there isn't value there, and other quality sites aren't going to link to you either. Besides, how happy are you going to be if you aren't proud of your material? You won't be blogging for long.

So bottom line, you should be spending at least 80% of your time developing content, and only 20% improving the site. Naturally it will be sporadic. I've had brief periods, such as when I recently added this Visual Index, where I spent a ton of time on site design. But most weeks I don't mess with the blog at all, I just write my posts. Remember that your design is a work in progress, don't feel as if you have to perfect it out of the gate.

Get Off The Beaten Path

It is a lot easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a minnow in the ocean. If your posts are all on extremely popular topics, it will be hard for them to get to the front page of a search engine no matter how good they are. That is where the long tail of the curve comes in. This post I wrote about making fluffy couscous is number 5 on Google for "how to make couscous", and generates traffic every day. Imagine how much more effective that is than a post about chocolate chip cookies, which everyone and their grandmother has written about. The same is true in any subject area. Your thoughts about what a fine orator Barack Obama is are no doubt incisive, but probably not going to send you a lot of hits.

Get To Know Your Blogging Platform

When I first started blogging, I was happy enough to use a basic template. Before long I'd graduated to the pro level of TypePad, where I could tweak my own CSS. Then when I was ready to do more sophisticated design and SEO, I moved to their top-of-the-line Advanced Templates system so I can implement just about any feature I want.

Whichever blog platform you use, there is a lot of power under the hood. Don't expect to absorb it all at once, but learn about the pieces that are relevant to your current goals, and build an arsenal over time. Even the simplest things, like knowing how to schedule posts for future delivery so you can keep content flowing during a vacation, can make a huge difference.

Besides reading the documentation for your platform, learn which external websites are considered the experts and hang out there. For example, John T. Unger's TypePad Hacks is a legendary resource for TypePad users. Many of the concepts I learned from SEOBook were then implemented using code I found there.

Get To Know An Analytics Tool

Your blogging platform or host probably let's you do a basic review of your referrer logs. You should look at them regularly to get a sense of how your traffic is doing and where it is coming from. Before long you are going to want to dig deeper. I recommend Google Analytics because it is free, easy to set up and use, and let's you drill down deep to figure out what is and isn't working on your site.

Likewise, you should immediately move your RSS feed over to FeedBurner. It is also free, they will give you good stats on people that are reading your content without going to the site, and lots of useful features too. Their FeedFlare service let's you trivially add links so that users can socially share your post via digg/stumble/facebook/email and so forth.

Don't Waste My Time, Man

There are a ton of sites out there that offer badges and widgets which promise to network traffic too and from your site. I won't name names, but for the most part I think this is a waste of time. At least in my niche, I just never saw any significant hits coming in from them, and they make your blog look like a tacky MySpace page, which will cause visitors to click away in horror.

Also, until you are getting at least 1,000 page views a day, don't waste a lot of time on monetization. (Unless of course the point of your blog is to review products). On Herbivoracious I have Google AdSense between posts, adsdaq ads, and a featured publisher deal with a food blog aggregator. I also include Amazon affiliate links whenever I mention a food, utensil, or book that my readers might like. I've screwed around a fair amount with the types of ads, positioning, and style. My total earnings from all of that is negligible, maybe $50/month. I probably shouldn't tell you that, but I want to be honest to spare you the pain of thinking you are doing it wrong. If I were doing it over, I'd skip it for the first year and just focus on building content and credibility.

Along those lines, you need to be realistic about your niche. Herbivoracious is sort of triply niched: food > vegetarian > fine dining, which means that my readers are loyal but not necessarily legion. I don't have any illusion that it can have the same readership as Gizmodo! It might someday lead to a book deal, or a job offer or some other amazing thing, but it is unrealistic to think it can ever be my day job.

Finally, please don't bother trying to do so-called Black Hat SEO. Google is smarter than you. Trust me. No link farms. No hidden text on your pages. Don't try to spam StumbleUpon or digg. All you are going to do is get yourself blackballed.

Optimize Your Design

There are a few basic things you should do in your design to make sure that both users and search engines can find your best content.

  • Write good page titles with specific keywords, preferably near the beginning. For example, imagine I started with a hypothetical post title of "Recipe: Tofu Grilled With Lemongrass And Thai Chilis". "Recipe" is generic and though useful, is going to appear on millions of pages, so let's move it to the end to get "Tofu Grilled With Lemongrass and Thai Chilis - Recipe". I thought I was done at this point, but when Aaron reviewed this article, he pointed out that using keyword suggestion tools we can see that people search for "grilled tofu" rather than "tofu grilled", so let's make our final title "Grilled Tofu With Lemongrass and Thai Chilis - Recipe". The other descriptors (lemongrass, Thai chilis) will help people envision the dish, and will generate search results as well, because of the long tail we discussed above.
  • Be sure your meta description tag for each post is clear, as it can appears in search results. Well written descriptions increase the odds that a user will actually click to your page.
  • The meta keywords tag, on the other hand, is pretty useless. Search engines mostly ignore them because they are so easily manipulated. So set them if it is easy for you but don't worry about it.
  • Put a caption on every image you use, so that image search engines will find them. Set the alt attribute on the img tag as well.
  • Include a navigation bar that encourages new users to find your best content. For example, I have a "Most Popular Recipes" link. People who look at your best stuff are more likely to subscribe and visit often.
  • Prominently feature links for readers to subscribe via RSS or email.
  • If you feel comfortable, include a picture of yourself - people relate to faces.
  • Include a "recent comments" section in your sidebar, and then be sure and respond to most or all comments. When other users see that you, the author, are responding they will be more likely to join in.
  • Include a "recent posts" (or "related posts") list after each post. When the user reaches that decision point after an article, they will be encouraged to remain on your site longer.
  • Simplify, and then simplify some more. Make sure that everything on your site is there for a reason, especially the stuff "above the fold" on the front page. If you've got something useless on there, those are pixels that could be left pleasingly blank, or could be put to work driving traffic. For example, I replaced my list of Archives By Date which was filling a few hundred pixels of sidebar space, with a popup that serves the same function. The date archives are pretty obligatory, but really how many of my readers are looking for what I wrote in November, 2007 specifically? The popup fills the need but saves the pixels.

Don't Forget, SEO is Only Part of the Traffic Story

Besides creating great content and optimizing for search engines, there are a lot of other things you can do to build traffic. Here's are some of the keys, each of which is worth of a whole article:

  • Build relationships with other bloggers, especially those in your niche and in your geographic area. You can start this by commenting respectfully on their blogs, or dropping them an email. Don't ask for favors until you know someone a little. Instead, do small favors for them like linking to their blog, commenting with valuable info, suggesting related story ideas, participating in contests or surveys they are running and so forth.
  • While you are reading other blogs, don't just skim to find stuff you can comment on. Go deep, and learn from what is working for each author. Don't try to copy their style. Be yourself but accumulate good ideas that you can incorporate.
  • Learn about non-blog websites in your niche. For example, TasteSpotting, FoodGawker, and PhotoGrazing are invaluable for food blogs with good photography. They send hundreds of hits to each of my posts that they accept, and those are well targeted visitors that love food and have the potential to visit Herbivoracious regularly. Urbanspoon not only links all my restaurant reviews, they provide me with a way for users to automatically see the location, phone number and hours of each business, and simple social ranking. What are the equivalents in your neck of the net?
  • The web is a huge place and you can't know everything that is happening on it, but you can use Google Alerts to keep track of new web pages that refer to you or your site, and to keywords that are relevant to your niche. If someone writes about you, be sure and say thanks and go comment on that page. When a topic you care about comes up, strike while the iron is hot and write a post too. Watching your logs and analytics data pays off here too. If you see a burst of hits coming in from a site you didn't know about, go check it out right away and see what you can do to to help that trend continue!

Wrap It Up, I'll Take It

Blogging can be great fun, whether it is primarily an outlet for your thoughts, a way to showcase your talents or build your credibility as an asset to your profession or business, or even as a way to directly make money. If monetization really is your primary goal, you should definitely dive deep into the business side and do Aaron's SEO Training Course. If your goals are more modest (at least for now), the tips above should help you get your hits growing in an encouraging direction.

Weekend Links

Jul 27th

I was recently interviewed by Eric Enge. On a related note, Bob Massa reminds us that asking to interview people is a great way to build links. Egobait works. Even a goofy contest where my wife is dressed up as a reindeer is bound to get a link. :)

SEO for Firefox was updated to include nofollow on links that are blocked via a meta robots nofollow tag.

In this blog post Amit Singhal highlighted how Google's search system is heavily dependent on creating local vocabularies.

Google AdWords has blended keyword targeting and site/placement targeting. They also bought Begun for $140 million from Rambler Media, the #3 Russian search/ad play. Dave Davis highlighted how you can use AdWords conversion stats to buy undervalued domains.

Google created Ratproxy to find site security related issues.

The Google speech team is beta testing audio search.

Wordpress 2.6 launched with a cool built in versioning system good for seeing how you edited your content over time.

Paul Graham shared 30 great web based business ideas he would like to invest into.

How to Migrate Blogger Powered Blogs to Wordpress

Jul 26th

I gave my mom my old weight loss blog a few years back. In spite of publishing it on its own domain (smart) I was still using Blogger (dumb) when I gave it to her. It is not that Blogger is bad, but that Wordpress offers so many customization options that allow you to effectively rank for a wider array of keywords, and thus earn more per word.

These are the steps I did to help move her blog over from Blogger to Wordpress.

Step 1: Download and install Wordpress (also requires setting up a MySQL database).

Step 2: Make Wordpress URL configurations.

  • set the category base to /c and set the tag base to /t
  • set the post slug to /%postname%/

Step 3: Cloned my mom's old blogger theme design using Themepress (cost $10), and then had to hack the CSS by hand for about 10 minutes.

After verifying the layout was fairly decent I deleted the blogroll links and the opening post.

Step 4: publish my mom's old blog onto blogspot.com so I could import it to Wordpress using the one click import located at domainname.com/wp-admin/import.php

After importing it I used Blogger to republish the blog back to her domain instead of leaving a copy on Blogspot, such that she does not have a stray cloned version of her site floating around.

Once import was complete I looked it over and verified it generally looked good. If you still have your old site up you can view the Wordpress blog version by going to yoursite.com/index.php (presuming you installed Wordpress in the root of your site).

Step 5: rewrite the .htaccess file to include both the Wordpress specific functions and rewrite rules needed to lose the dates from the URLs. The exact .htaccess file you need to write depends on your old URL structure and file extensions (the below one redirects html and shtml files). Our .htaccess file looked like this (note there were a few dozen lines like the first line, but I limited it to one in this example for brevity)

redirect 301 /2008_07_01_archive.html http://www.fattyweightloss.com/2008/07/

<IfModule mod_rewrite.c>
RewriteEngine On
RewriteBase /
RewriteRule (\d{4})/(\d+)/(.*)\.shtml$ $3/ [L,R=301]
RewriteRule (\d{4})/(\d+)/(.*)\.html$ $3/ [L,R=301]
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
RewriteRule . /index.php [L]
</IfModule>

Please note that when Wordpress imports your blog some of the stop words are removed from the URLs, which can end up creating some mean 404 errors until you line up the new URLs with the old ones (which we deal with in step 7). Also, if you used Blogger tag pages then you might need to make your .htaccess file a bit more complex than the above one, adding entries to redirect the tag pages.

Step 6: Delete my mom's old static file archives.

If you are afraid that something might get hosed up with the move you can rename the old archive files and folders. For example:

  • Name the root index.html to something like index5.html
  • If you have a /2004/ folder make it something like /12004/

After these are renamed or deleted click around the site and verify it generally works.

Step 7: Installed a couple SEO related plug ins.

Akismet - comment anti-spam tool installed by default, but I had to get an API key and enable it.

SEO Title Tag - allows you to make the page title and H1 post heading different...great for on page optimization.

Redirection plug in - keeps track of 404 errors and allows you to redirect URLs.

What I did, rather than redirecting URLs, was find the URL slugs that did not align with the old URLs and rewrite the URL slugs to add the stop words into it (I believe the most common ones were and and the).

I monitored 404 errors logged by the redirection plug in for ~ 4 days and fixed everything I came across. I figure all the important, well linked to, and/or high traffic posts should have got traffic within the first 4 days.

After 8 weeks I will flush the 404 error log and look for any stray link equity that I am not capturing, and redirect those URLs to their new location.

WASABI Related Entries - this plug in automatically creates a list of related entries wherever you like in your theme (you can install it in the sidebar or possibly after your comments). The beauty of such a plug in is that it allows you to keep more of your PageRank flowing internally, and it allows you to put a bunch more keyword rich content within a page without it looking spammy. For instance, given the following image you know what the related post is about without even seeing it.

Lorell reviewed a variety of other related post plug ins.

Step 8: While I was fixing up my mom's URLs I helped offset the revenue shortfall from the short term traffic decline by using IE conditional comments to place an extra AdSense block on her 404 page when Internet Explorer viewers accessed the error page.

Step 9: Final window dressings :)

Use Xenu Link Sleuth to crawl the site to look for any broken links you need to fix. Please note that you may need to change the number of threads running or Xenu might get blocked by your server. I had no luck with 30 threads, but 4 worked ok.

Set up your robots.txt file to prevent Googlebot from trying to create search pages (?s=). Also prevent them from trying to index admin pages, feeds, trackback URLs, and the p= post URLs (presuming you are using post slugs as mentioned above).

User-agent: *
Disallow: /page/
Disallow: /*p=
Disallow: /?q=
Disallow: /?s=
Disallow: /*trackback
Disallow: /*feed
Disallow: /*wp-login
Disallow: /*wp-admin
Disallow: /*xmlrpc.php

Matt Cutts offers some tips to protect your Wordpress blog from getting hacked. Patrick Altoft offers tips on how to use a Google Alert to check if your blog gets hacked.

Map out keyword strategy and assign old posts to related categories. Set your default category to something that is useful rather than leaving it as uncategorized. While editing particularly high traffic posts it might make sense to see if the page title or page contents could be further improved to make the post even more successful. In some cases a post can rank for a wide array of related keywords.

While ensuring that are category pages are linked to sitewide, I used conditional PHP statements in the sidebar.php file for monthly archives such that they were linked to from the homepage, but not from the individual post pages. This drives more link equity toward the category level pages, while driving less to the date based archives (as we would rather rank for low fat recipes than for August 2007).

<?php if ( is_home() || is_page() ) { ?>
<li><p class="sidebar-title">Archives</p>
<ul>
<?php wp_get_archives('type=monthly'); ?>
</ul>
</li>
<?php } ?>

As a bonus, one could also add a plug in for editing default category pages, but we have not done that yet as we still have a long way to go with categorizing the current contents first. Anyone know of a good plug-in to edit category pages?

Step 10: (Only if Your Old Blog Was Published on Blogspot) redirect Blogspot address.

If you were hosting your blog at Blogspot and have some good inbound link equity coming into it you can redirect those links to your website by using this code in your Blogger template, which was an upgrade of the code orignally published here.

Why Working Weekends Can be a Great Competitive Advantage for Publishers

Jul 26th

Many businesses are still stuck around the concept of working on weekdays while working little on weekends. I actually like working weekends and then try to take some time off during the work week. Why?

  • Many companies time news that they do not want discussed. For instance, at 1:02AM this morning the WSJ published an article titled Two More Banks Fail. During the weekday it is hard to beat others to the scoop, but it is much easier to do on weekends.
  • In the constant blur of noise it is easy to get distracted on weekdays. But on weekends it is much easier to be productive because not as much is going on.
  • If I go to the park today I pay $3 for parking and there will be lots of people out and about. On weekdays parking is free, fewer people are using the same resources, and there is less traffic.

Help Improve My Google SEO Knol & Win a Free 3 Month SEO Training Trial

Jul 24th

Squidoo, Mahalo, eHow, EzineArticles, etc etc etc just got validation for their business models and competition for the ad network that helps them monetize their sites. Google today launched their Knol project:

The key principle behind Knol is authorship. Every knol will have an author (or group of authors) who put their name behind their content. It's their knol, their voice, their opinion. We expect that there will be multiple knols on the same subject, and we think that is good.

With Knol, we are introducing a new method for authors to work together that we call "moderated collaboration." With this feature, any reader can make suggested edits to a knol which the author may then choose to accept, reject, or modify before these contributions become visible to the public. This allows authors to accept suggestions from everyone in the world while remaining in control of their content. After all, their name is associated with it!

Wired has an article about the designing of Knol, and Danny Sullivan offers more Knol background, including that it is a product from the search team (which could greatly hint at future search integration plans).

Want a free 3 month trial of our SEO training program and community?

Comment on my SEO Knol leaving tips on how I could improve it and a way to contact you, and I will pick a winner next Wednesday.

Wordpress Automated Email Link Building

Jul 22nd

James from Semvironment created a plug in to automatically email webmasters you link to from within Wordpress blog posts. When he launched it, the opening post sent me an email

Hi! We linked to your website in our post: Link Builder for Wordpress - Download it Now!. Please stop by and check it out, subscribe to our blog and if you find something useful on our site or blog - we would welcome a link back anytime ... no obligation - we're happy to link to high quality websites and blogs like yours! To your continued success, [Your Name Here]

That link was broken (pointing to a revisioned archive version of the post before the URL changed), but even beyond that I sorta do not like the idea. Why? Automated communications is the enemy of relationship building. And the worst people to offend are the people you find interesting / important / influential enough to want to talk about them. You can get the person's attention just as easily by clicking the link in the post a dozen times and by commenting on their blog. And most of them would even be up for lending their time to you if you stoke their egos.

As more people start using a wider array of automated link building tools the effectiveness of automation will drop. And you can't train an automated tool to be personal. A tool like this might work in some verticals for a year or two, but if people find it effective look out for the tragedy of the commons to be heading toward your inbox some time soon!

Use Custom Homepages to Build Routines

Jul 22nd

I recently had a useful web based service built but kept forgetting to use it on a daily basis. I set my IE homepage to that tool so I would remember to use it. Since then it has helped up make some great business decisions (as well as add context showing how good or bad some past decisions were).

I recently added support suite software to this site, but am so used to answering everything through the forum and through email that I do not remember to log-in to the support suite section of the site. I set my Firefox homepage to the support suite ticket page today, and presumably I will remember to look at it every day.

With the rise of Widgets and easy to embed RSS feeds it is easy to give ourselves needed reminders.

Patterns can be hard to break and hard to build, but if we give ourselves cues and reminders change is easier. Now I only need to think up a strategy to start using that elliptical machine that I bought a few weeks back!

Poor .info Domain Name Strategy, Afilias

Jul 21st

Afilias had submitted a proposal to ICANN for the .INFO gTLD that would allow them to shut down domain names at will if they consider them abusive. The proposal was approved.

The problem they have is not going to be solved by this strategy. The value of high end .info domains was just diminished because now the registry can take them away from you for anything that they consider abusive, and in this day and age it is easy for someone else to spam for you in order to make you look shady. Given that, who wants to invest $20,000 in buying and building out a premium .info name? Probably only the people who are unaware of what Afilias just did.

Meanwhile .info domain names are on sale at GoDaddy for $1.99 - $8 cheaper than any other extension. And it turns out spammers are less discriminating than most other business people. So spammers still buy .info and Google has to protect their search results. If Afilias wanted to fix the .info quality issue, simply increasing the price at the lower end would go a long way.

Robots.txt Overview, Generator, & Analyzer

Jul 21st

We recently compiled a 6 page robots.txt primer and added a robots.txt generator and robots.txt analyzer to our suite of free SEO tools.

Unintended Consequences

Jul 20th

Edward Lewis runs SEOConsultants.com, one of the more well known and trusted directories in the SEO space. When I first started learning SEO about 5 years back Edward sent me an email letting me know that something I wrote was incorrect. He was right and I made sure I fixed the issue, but he was also quite abrasive.

When Traffic Power was spreading their slime through the SEO industry, Edward Lewis was one of the main people helping to fight them off...so much so that Traffic Power even created a hate site about him. Edward cares a lot, but sometimes a bit too much. Recently he documented his experiences at Sphinn, where he was largely outraged by some inaccuracies he saw. In less than a week he was banned from the site for being too curt, abrasive, and disrespectful.

The problem with trying to clean up everything on the web is that conversations are controlled by power laws...for every person in the know, there are 100 people new to the field. Plus many of the people who know what they are talking about eventually exit the conversation. Given that trend (and how companies like Google profit from spreading misinformation) the goal of killing misinformation is equally painful and self-defeating.

Being correct is not enough to ensure success. You also have to package your message in a format that people find appealing. Which is part of the reason why blogs are so popular. Someone slicker than you is going to take your ideas and repackage them in a profitable format...may as well be you doing the repackaging rather than letting others take credit for your work.

We all get invested in what we know, and to hear something from a different perspective challenges our identities. Easier for people to buy off on changing their opinions if they learn from a trusted messager, especially if they do not have to admit that they are wrong to do so. An easier way to create change is to share your side of the story on your home turf using good formatting, clear language, and logic. Some people will listen and follow, others will not.

Allowing people to self-select is a much more efficient marketing strategy than trying to force change upon others. It allows network effects to work for you, rather than against you. You pretty-much need legal or military might (government) or a monopoly (Microsoft or Google) to get away with forcing change, and even then it usually ends up creating unexpected consequences (just look at Iraq).

The Value of Perception (and the Perception of Value)

Jul 14th

Rich Schefren recently interviewed Dan Ariely. The recording is freely available online here. In the call Dan highlights how companies can increase perceived value and get their customers to spend more by creating a decoy offer, which is discussed in the first chapter of his Predictibly Irrational book.

The decoy marketing offer introduces false choices to make another choice look more appealing. We have a hard time valuing offers, but are relatively good at valuing relative deals. The example Dan uses to discuss the decoy is the pricing of The Economist.

Lets say the pricing is

  • web $60
  • print $120
  • both $120

Given the above virtually nobody will order print, but adding the false choice of print only will make many people buy the both option, whereas if the print option were priced lower or the print option were not there more people would be inclined to opt for online only instead of the web +print combination.

Non-commodity based value is largely a game of perception. You can build perceived value by

  • building exposure and trust in the marketplace by giving something of value away for free (people will think "if this is free imagine how good the stuff they are selling is")
  • minimizing downside risk (through the use of payment plans, refund guarantees, etc.)
  • comparing yourself to higher priced offerings (the words SEO training are considered far more valuable than the words SEO Book - something I wish I would have considered in 2003!)
  • expanding your target market and resonating with niche brands (what is the difference between Prozac and Sarafem?)
  • breaking the language of a commodity product and reshaping it to associate it with higher value fields or fields with less competition (Starbucks language sounds more like fancy tea than a I need caffeine cup of coffee)
  • using scarcity (how much did Beanie Babies, Pet Rocks, and Tickle Me Elmo dolls sell for?)
  • requiring prompt action (when we ran a discount during the launch of our membership site people joined at a much faster rate before the price increased because the price increase was a real tangible cost of not acting quickly)
  • adding bonuses and benefits that are unique to your offering

Everything around us is a collage of overlapping value systems competing for attention and resources. What backs the value of the U.S. Dollar? Why has it fallen 20% in the last couple years? Housing prices went up for a long time, and then they stopped. Last year Indymac bank was a top 10 mortgage lender and now they are bankrupt.

Many investors shorted Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. In response to deteriorating business conditions the U.S. federal government offered to allow the companies to borrow directly from the Federal Reserve and increase their borrowing limits. That help stabilize their stock prices a bit.

What really scared investors away from shorting the stocks further? A proposal from the White House to Congress would give the U.S. Treasury authority to buy the stocks to provide needed liquidity. Imagine betting on a company failing when your government says that they are interested in buying stock in the company if the company gets in a pinch. That is the sort of news that can send a stock price up 40% before the market opens.

Why would the government care about the stock prices if they have little to do with the functionality of the businesses? It all comes down to perception. A healthy stock price gives the perception that all is well and helps keep the housing market as fluid as possible, whereas low stock prices erode confidence and evoke a sense of fear, which adds a lot of risk to an already unstable housing market. Perception becomes reality.

The Grass is Greener...

Jul 14th

One of the easiest ways to scale a business model is to rely on user generated content. This effectively turns readers into writers (free content) and marketers (brand evangelists promoting their own work). But at the same time it makes it hard for readers to keep reading all the content produced from those sources.

We subscribe to personalities and known shared biases. I read everything that John Andrews writes. I read everything Barry Ritholtz writes. The same can't be said for many group blogs. The option to water down what you are doing for a short term revenue boost will always be there, but the ability to re-gain attention and trust that was thrown away in the process is not.

The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be. - Robert Fulghum

Misinformation / Information Pollution Adds Value to Paid Content Business Models

Jul 14th
posted in

The SEO market is flush with free information, but many times the free information is factually incorrect, which can cost a lot of money to anyone building a business based on such information. The cost is not immediately readily transparent, but eventually it appears. By the time it does many people who lost money from it may not be aware of what happened, as their attention is already elsewhere.

There are a variety of reasons for misinformation to spread

  • stale search relevancy algorithms that rank old information because it was published on a leading site in 2001
  • intellectual laziness, reductionism, and lack of openness to the experience of others
  • affiliate programs and business models rendered useless by marketplace changes, but still profitable because they can be sold at a low price point and have no real costs associated with them
  • search engines trying to hide their secret sauce

I thought I would give a few examples of commonly spread misinformation.

There Was No Ranking #6 Penalty / Filter

If you read the comments here you will see how bad I was roasted for suggesting that there was a #6 ranking issue on Google. Matt Cutts stated that he was unaware of such a penalty, and that was the official word until Matt came said they found and fixed the issue.

Where is the harm in that? Well, if you took Google's official word as being accurate, you never had a chance to survey this glitch. Glitches often reveal engineer intent and give you an early warning to make the changes necessary to keep your sites ranking before the new relevancy algorithms launch.

Google Does Not Care About Domain Names or TLDs

Some people believe that domain names and domain extensions do not matter. After seeing Google temporarily drop .info domain names that was a pretty clear indication to me that they did not think as highly about .info names as they do about some other extensions.

For years current and past Google employees have denied that domain names mattered much in the relevancy algorithms, going so far as calling the domain name "a relatively minimal factor" (in 2008 no less).

Matt Cutts eventually confirmed that domain names have value at a domainer conference

Generic domains that users are likely to remember, will indeed carry more weight than others. There is a real value to those FuneralHomes.com for example. Google does give keywords in the URL a certain amount of weight, but you don’t need it in order to rank.

But people still blog discounting it because they have not tested it.

.edu Links do Not Matter Much

Here is a lovely SitePoint forum thread where the moderator claimed I was full of crap and I responded with more background context on his claim. He deleted my post and banned me for life. About 5 months later Matt Cutts confirmed my hypothisis:

But, certainly, all of the things that have good qualities of a link from a .edu or a .gov site, as well as the fact that we hard-code and say: .edu or .gov links are good - and when there are good links, .edu links tend to be a little better on average; they tend to have a little higher PageRank, and they do have this sort of characteristic that we would trust a little more. There is nothing in the algorithm itself, though, that says: oh, .edu - give that link more weight.

But I still have a lifetime ban from the SitePoint forums for being more open-minded and attentive than their SEO moderator is.

Free & Easy is Often Wrong!

The simple / easy answer is often the incorrect answer. Many algorithmic changes (-30, -950, the sandbox effect) are written off as anomalies by many people who do not experience or understand them. But, for the sandbox effect, a couple years ago if you knew that you could create a subdomain off an established site and then later 301 redirect it to a new domain you were able to rank quickly while competitors thought there was a 6 to 12 month wait needed in order to rank.

It is not that forums need to go away, but we need to do more experimenting on our own, and we need to learn who is trustworthy. The web is still a highly inefficient marketplace, but each day it moves a bit closer toward being efficient. Google believes in security through obscurity, so if you have to wait for an official comment by Google then much of the arbitrage opportunity of a technique is already gone!

The 200% to 1,000% year on year ROI you and I currently enjoy will not last forever. Getting correct information early in context helps ensure you have better information than the general public, which should help boost your ROI if you act on it.

Does Your Website Make People Angry?

Jul 12th

Just as it is good to invest in structural change it is good to invest in restructuring debates and reframing ideas.

When we consume media one of the biases we often overlook is our own. When NPR created their Budget Hero commentors quicky stated things like "it's too liberal" and "they used right wing think tank as a *credible* source." Such statements reveal as much or more about the reader as they do about the media.

When you know a field better than most people producing media in your space it is easy to denounce everyone who knows less than you as being full of crap. Dr. E. Garcia, a brilliant Information Retreival scientist, makes a habbit out of roasting me because I have a more practical and less academic experience in the space.

While he feels my work is not up to his standards, the work he denounces helps people gain top rankings in Google and is getting free inbound links. Even better, I syndicated some free Creative Commons licensed content on latent semantic indexing called Patterns in Unstructured Data. Dr. Garcia thinks I know nothing about the topic, but when the original source went offline I started gaining citations as the source for that work too! Am I a leading expert on academic information retreival? No. I read some of Gerard Saltan's work, but my experience are more well aligned with finding the criteria necissary to rank in Google.

Web Designer Wall recently published an SEO guide for designers. In it they stated "Most people aim for a keyword density of 2%." I am not sure where they got that stat from, but generally the document was fairly well done and I am glad they cited me as a resource. I could be envious of the exposure their article got and try to rip it to shreds, but where is the benefit? Dr. E. Garcia flaming me generally does nothing but flow PageRank my way. So be it...you know you are doing something right when people hate you. ;)

Chris Anderson, famous for the Long Tail, recently had his long tail strategy ripped apart by the Harvard Business Review.

Chris does not mind though...he is already on to debunking the scientific method!

But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. ...

There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.

Mahalo offers virtually nothing original or of value, but it is worth more than most websites because Jason was good at making people angry. There is greater value in evoking emotions than being the person who's chain is jerked by people writing with the express intent of making you angry.

Writing for Buyers vs Writing for Cynics

Jul 12th

6 fundamental laws for online publishing

  1. Most popular free online content contains factual errors, but it is still popular due to an affinity readers have for the author, and/or the ease of understanding what they are writing.
  2. The more you know the easier it is for you to denounce someone who knows less than you in your field, though doing so will rarely build brand loyalty, and often attracts the wrong kinds of customers. Call this phenomena the Threadwatch effect...good for attention, but bad for monetization. This is especially true since people new to the market are willing to spend money to build their businesses, but more established market players are more ad blind and more cynical to most commercial offers.
  3. If you are selling stuff online you are not your own target audience. Every field has far more novices than experts, and experts rarely buy because they feel they already know everything and have got burned so many times in the past.
  4. Most online content is recycled. Local substitution is a fact of life, and probably has been for thousands of years, only now it is faster and cheaper. Unless you add pretty pictures, write for novices, and aggressively market your best content at launch someone is going to recycle it (with errors) and get credit for your work. Competing publishers can polish up posts you wrote *years* ago and be called a visionary for doing so! If you are not making your work accessible to novices then you lose.
  5. The more mindshare you have in your space the easier it is to get weak references from people outside your space who occasionally graze upon your topic. When people who know little about your topic look at your field they care more about format than accuracy because they typically do not realize when they are reading factual errors.

From a business perspective, one of my bigger errors with this site is that I tend to write more for the cynical person who loves SEO than for people newer to the field who are more likely to buy. That is not to say that we do not have people sign up every day, but that we are only targeting the fraction of the customers that we could.

The hard part about changing is that I typically write about what interests me the most, using my own interests as a filter. Dumbing things down would be walking / swimming in uncharted territories, and I don't think I would enjoy it all that much.

Link Laundry List

Jul 11th

A bunch of goodies recently. I still have about 5 pages worth of links saved up, but figured it was a good time to share some of the new and the old. Rather than pounding out 10 blog posts I figured it would be easier to write a nice list of attention worthy items.

Why do Domain Auctions Partner With Sleazy Registrars?

Jul 9th

I recently won a great domain name at an auction. Spent the money, waited a few days, and got the domain management details.

I logged into my domain management account, and searched around the site...no details on how to transfer a domain name away from their site - no transfer authorization code anywhere. The only article I found was one on ICANN rules, stating that you could email them if you needed help locking or unlocking your domain names - but nothing about auth codes.

Most of their contact policies were via email. I could not find a phone number on their site until after I submitted an email to them explaining my frustrations. Then I got sent back an email telling me to check out their help page which consisted of a Google search box. This page actually had a phone number in the upper right corner. So I called it and it told me I was the first person in line. I waited for a few more songs and got told I was first a few more times before hanging up the phone in frustration.

So then I searched for the parent corporation site and hunted around their site for a support number. That worked and was answered within about a minute. Sweet. But...

The guy who answered the phone at first denied that his registrar had anything to do with the domain name I just bought. "Someone registered that directly with Tucows," he said. I then asked why I was sent a welcome domain name management email to log in at his company's site and why I have a customer number with them. At that point he looked up the name and saw that it was registered with them, but then he told me that they had a 60 day policy on domain transfers and that I couldn't get it yet. I said to send the auth code anyway.

After telling me no a couple times he finally said ok. But then the email did not come right away, so I asked if he could just tell me the auth code. He said "no because then we could seize control of the name." I told him I thought they already did that with their website and customer service.

I finally got the auth code, and the domain name is allegedly "Pending Current Registrar Approval." I hope it goes through!

Are these shady third party registrars actually owned by the same parent companies? Couldn't the domain name auctions allow the end buyers to pay a $10 fee per secured name to avoid sending them to some outfit that wastes their time in an attempt to either steal their domain name or cash? Some of the auctions already have the house keeping some of the best inventory and shill bidding against you for what is left...why must they keep screwing you even after the relationship is over?

Does SEO Consulting Have a Future?

Jul 8th

This is a guest post by John Hargaden from wevolution.ie, which is a follow up to our post on selling SEO consulting services.

a chip in the sugar

Try not to look like a country bug. Blend. Blend in.
- Flik, A Bug’s Life

The complexity of SEO, the forensic nature of parsing words and matching lines, is a hard sell. How do you describe it without sounding like Lou Grant, as opposed to a can-do service provider? PPC is transparent, measureable, a better market to focus on.

SEO versus PPC. Experiential versus rational processing. Intuition versus logic.

Once upon a time, there was no ‘versus’, no sound of a hair, splitting. Just SEO and PPC. Now, as the online market matures, limbs get minds of their own, and the question becomes, “Which would you prefer, working in organic search or working in PPC?” And I say, “Organic search” (because I’m trying to be cool). But I mean, “PPC” (because I need to eat).

And I also speak today, because I can’t help it, about the parallels I see in the evolution of the online marketing sector today, buffeted by a recession (petty distinctions among the econ gurus aside) as a mirror of the games development industry in 2000, buffeted by the dot com deflation.

Why Pay-Per-Click is Important

Pay-per-click marketing allows you to test in real time. Conversely, the more expensive the associated PPC ads are, the more value there is in performing SEO on a site in a paid niche.

Why Traditional SEO Consulting Tires Easily

In a frontier, we few settlers have the time and space to hold hands, to tame the beasties. With online marketing, the elastic mindshare stretches ever outwards, and how a client interacts with the media and people in their marketplace (and here I’m thinking particularly of social marketing, semantic search etc.), rapidly morphs as time delivers a consumer and producer net-literate family – we will watch our care grow surly, independent and, oddly enough (or maybe not oddly at all), conservative and risk-averse.

Oh dear.

As SEO movers and shakers, then, our assumed mantle of progenitors will, as history teaches, count for nought; it will be up to us to change. Again.

But, here’s the thing: companies and corporates, for all their twittering on about flat management structures, are hierarchical, irrespective of how big the base or how shallow the pyramid. And I mention this because, at this stage in the evolution of the search marketing industry, the internal architecture of a company cannot accommodate what is, at this moment in time, an essentially horizontal agent – the SEO analyst. You can tell that companies are caught in the headlights of oncoming online traffic, because they invariably advertise for an online marketing manager “....reporting to the Marketing Manager.”

Ah lads, get a grip.

I have faced grown marketing managers across the mahogany tables of traditional sales and marketing lairs, lilac carpets bristling with empathetic static, as their watership down eyes peer into mine, pleading with me to answer that question normally reserved for their newly-appointed, crabbid-out CEO, but now commandeered almost exclusively on the appointment of an online marketing executive, “What the hell am I supposed to do with him....?”

Empathy is a shared keyword. You hear a lot of talk about empathy. Perhaps, as an online marketer, I can admit to valuing the relationship with the Client more than the relationship with the product. Liking the Client drives motivation. I wouldn’t worry about it – it’s a growing pain.

The point is, search results – the kind that the Client wants – are predicated on future, not current, ambitions. Marketing managers, and their staff – they implement based on what’s coming down the product pipeline. The Head of Search Marketing, on the other hand, is required to be at the conception of the new ambition, before the specifications are written, at the point where the Boss wakes up in bed in a cold sweat, turns, and, leaning over his (shhh, sleeping) Corporate Body, whispers to his online acquisition principal (who, convinced that he as ‘a bit of all right’, as opposed to being, quite literally, just ‘a bit on the side,’ is patiently consuming lines of shifting search engine algorithms under a night-light livid with the colour of validation), “I think I know where this is going to next.”

Yummy.

With marketing managers, size matters; we, on the other hand, console ourselves with the thought that it’s what you do with it that counts. Traditional marketers view adrenaline as a reward; we view it as a rival for our charms. Design versus dasein. A chip in the sugar.

Which reminds me: epistemology and metaphysics, logic, semantics – we need philosophers, not technologists (whatever they are). And still we repeat the sins of our forebears, when online games recruitment banged on about quote having a passion for gaming unquote, until it copped itself on and realised that what games development needed were full sets of feet to march forward upon, not more ingrown toenails. Perhaps even we can teach the old dog new tricks.

Less self-regard, more oxygen. To paraphrase William Goldman about another all-sex, zero-foreplay industry, nobody knows everything.

Why Traditional SEO Consulting Will Persevere

Businesses that value their online objectives will be clever enough to realise that you can internalise process, you can internalise implementation, but you must outsource strategy, you must outsource training, you must outsource mentoring, you must hold your nerve, be sufficiently confident to absorb externals telling you what needs to be done – and what doesn’t. The only people I know who can provide that level of service are people who value what they have learned from their mistakes more than their successes. Scars versus skills. SEO versus PPC.

Cor. And blimey.

John HARGADEN
wevolution.ie

Selling SEO Consulting Services

Jul 7th

Why Traditional SEO Consulting Usually Sucks

I do not like doing much traditional SEO client work, and see the business model as having limited longterm value for most SEO consultants. The best consultants could usually make more promoting their own sites and brands than they would working for clients.

  • Most prospective SEO customers are not ranked well because their businesses are unremarkable and have little to no competitive advantage. Worse yet, some of them have arbitrary constraints that hold back growth potential. In many cases it would be cheaper, easier, and more profitable building from scratch with a strong brand and domain name that was built around succeeding on the web.
  • Those who have not fully bought off on the power of SEO often end up underpaying the first time they buy services, which precludes honest consultants from working with them. After they got burned once, they want to minimize future risks, which sets off a market for lemons effect.
  • As the web gets more competitive many of the best SEO techniques are going to relate to content strategies and how a client interacts with the media and people in their marketplace...something that is a bit hard to control as an external consultant unless there is an internal team that also pushes to get it done.
  • Businesses that *really* get SEO and value SEO bring it in house.
  • The people with in house SEO teams sometimes hire 3rd party consultants, but there is a limit to what they *can* spend before their own competency is called in question.
  • Most the time clients do not want you to mention them, and if you do there is a risk that Google will edit the ROI right out of your service.

3 SEO Consulting Models That Work

If one wanted to sell search marketing services for the long haul then the best options are probably

  1. Quasi-Publisher: having an editorial position in a niche vertical (like automotive or consumer credit) where you act as both a thought leader and a promoter who monetizes through display ads, affiliate offers, and product sales. The diversity of revenue streams allows you to shift focus as desired or needed.
  2. Paid SEO Tools: some sort of tool or software product that adds incremental value to the SEO process, though this model is hard because so many people are giving away tools to gain mindshare. At the higher end this model can work for companies that get SEO but have temporary IT related roadblocks that prevent indexing, though it is hard for that to be a longterm strategy for clients because tool providers could keep hiking prices after the companies are dependant on them.
  3. In House SEO Training: some sort of training program where you help others succeed, but you offer guidance more than doing the work directly, though this model is also hard because there is so much free information, and most people do not realize the hidden cost of free.

Why I Still do Limited SEO Consulting

If it doesn't pay well relative to my other income streams, why do I still occasionally sell SEO consulting services?

  1. Projects where I feel I can learn: one of the things that attracted me to search is that it intersects with so many marketing disciplines and site aspects that it feels like I am always learning. Having a partner who is a 20 year veteran of the ad agency world that knows the algorithms better than I do makes it easy to learn something from every project.
  2. Projects where I feel I can have fun: when I was new to the market cash flow would have been a bit more of a criteria, but if client work is a pay cut (which it usually is for me) then it needs to be enjoyable.
  3. Ego and validation: I think more than most people I find a need for validation. This is still a bit of a remnant character flaw of mine that I have been quickly losing since meeting my wife. But it is cool to go to websites you know and patronise often, and see your ideas and strategies make their way into the source code and marketing.
  4. Diversity: variety is the spice of life, and if you sit and look at a computer screen far too long every day it is nice to mix up what you are doing from time to time.

When PPC is Better Than SEO

The complexity of SEO makes the barrier to entry much higher, which is why I like SEO so much from a publisher standpoint. But if you are selling consulting services PPC is a better market to focus on. Businesses using PPC spend lots of money and would look at any external help as a chance for cost savings on current spend, rather than an unknown investment or investment that had to be limited in scope for internal business reasons.

Are you still selling SEO consulting services? Do you still plan to do so in 5 years?

Automated Internal Linking on Steroids

Jul 6th
posted in

For a while Google was against the idea of seeing search results inside of search results, calling them redundant. But over the last couple years they losened up their stance on the issue...not only do they index and rank tag pages, but they go so far as generating content pages on the fly by entering keywords into search boxes on websites.

Search and tag pages usually have some editorial input, but some community content sites (like associated content) automate the process of adding links to content through algorithms which are likely self reinforcing on rankings and revenues. eHow takes this one step further by automating the internal links and pointing them at recycled content from Dealtime, eBay, and Amazon.com...just in case you are shopping for Ice online ehow.com/shop_ice.html.

Automated internal linking will become a big SEO trend in 2008 and 2009. Jim Boykin offers an interlinking tool inside his Internet Marketing Ninjas program, which came as inspiration for Gab Goldenberg to make a free Wordpress plugin to do the same. If a site like TechCrunch installs the plugin they could basically pick any phrase and own top rankings in a week. For smaller sites they might need to partner with a circle of 20 or so friends that swapped promotional editorial links back and forth.

Search has been a driving force in lowering the value of most traditional media business models, but how useful will search be if most major publishing platforms aggressively use automated internal linking, especially if they start doing it to point links at custom advertising pages focused on high value keywords? The problem with many publishing business models is a high cost structure coupled with poor targeting. Automated internal linking fixes the targeting issue, and those ad pages would subsidize the cost of their editorial.

Update:

I am guessing that if people are too aggressive with this they could get penalized. In fact, at SMX Todd Friesen stated the following tip, attributing DaveN as the source

Because different link brokers moved from Sponsored Links to inline linking, there's now a Google filter that looks for too many new links coming from old blogs. If you have a network of 40 aged blogs, go back into the archives, add a link to the site you want knocked down across the network; you'll knock someone down.

A safer way to use the automated linking strategy is to look at data from tools like SEO Digger, ranking reports, analytics, and SEO Digger. See where you rank close to the top, and then add a few more links pointing at pages ranking for the best keywords...keep iteratively testing and make a number of smaller moves rather than automating mass shifts in PageRank, especially if you are doing automated linking cross site.

Social Network Theory

The more I learn about the field of SEO the more it feels like public relations and the less it feels like anything to do with machines, algorithms, or search engines. I am soft launching a blog about social stuff called social network theory.

Not so much Digg spamming sorta stuff, but tips and ideas about how social networks work from my limited understanding thusfar. In time I hope to read lots of books on the subject and related subjects like behavioral economics and linguistics. The blog might just be a fling, or it might turn into more if I really get into the topic. SEO Book will still be my main venture for the foreseeable future.

When Will Mahalo Add Nofollow to Outbound Links?

Jul 6th

Wikipedia is a powerhouse because

  • they have so much content
  • they don't run ads on their site
  • they turn users into evangelists by making it easy to contribute
  • they have so many inbound links
  • where possible they replace their outbound links with links to more internal Wikipedia pages (I just saw a page on performance based SEO pricing models, which seems outside the scope of the goals of an encyclopedia)
  • when they do link out they use nofollow

Nofollow is the flip side of paid links - you pay content creators for a while (with links), and then stop paying them while keeping their content.

In an attempt to follow Wikipedia's strategy (but with monetization) Mahalo...

  • is creating a bunch of easy to read how to articles (though I am not sure I would trust a guide covering how to invest online from a person who is willing to spend a couple days writing it, for less than $100)
  • now allows people to recommend links without logging in
  • allows anyone to create new pages

In the past couple years Google has killed many paid link sources, and stripped PageRank from most general directories and most article directories. Given how much harder it is got to get clean links, some SEOs will be tempted to add content to Mahalo hoping for the outbound reference link, but in a year Mahalo will likely claim they need use nofollow to stop spam, so the opportunity is probably fleeting.

Smart Brand Extension: Matt Cutts Fights Spam Offline

Jul 3rd

Not content with attempts at trying to rid the web of spam, Matt Cutts has been posting about how to get a free credit report and how to stop junk mail. If your job is abstract, an easy way to gain further authority and credibility is to extend your brand into related more established markets that are easy to understand.

Thank You!

My wife and I just had our first anniversary dinner, which was a lot of fun. She actually found me by buying my ebook back when I still sold it, and our connection was only made possible through years of supporting this site / blog / brand by readers like you...so I just wanted to say thanks. :)

SEO Book Help Center

Jul 2nd

We recently added support software for SEO Book members. It is powered by Kayako SupportSuite, which is perhaps a bit more than we need as a 2 person business, but I think the software is fairly powerful and looks quite professional. :)

The only downsides were that it took me a while to install it and we are running out of room in the sitewide navigation at the top of the page...one more item and the formatting dies!

How Microsoft Could Compete With Google

Jul 1st

Yahoo! is back around the $20 range again today. If Microsoft could find a way to buy them they could quickly gain some search marketshare, but presuming Microsoft builds a memorable search brand they could probably catch up through other acquisitions cheaper.

I think rather than buying another overpriced ad platform a cheaper way to attack Google would be to buy some of the leading editorial brands/sites that dominate Google's organic rankings. For far less than the $47 billion Microsoft offered for Yahoo! they could buy...

  • Expedia (currently valued at $5.2 billion) and have a leading role in the travel market. I think something like 40% of internet commerce is travel.
  • Monster.com (currently values at $2.24 billion) and have a leading role in employment and education.
  • Bankrate (currently valued at $700 million) and have a leading role in the mortgage and consumer credit markets.
  • WebMD (currently valued at $1.64 billion) and have a leading role in the medical market
  • IAC (currently valued at $5.38 billion) After IAC spins off many of their other units this price might go cheaper. Google paid $1 billion for 5% of AOL. Microsoft can get 100% of Ask (with more marketshare than AOL) for not a whole lot more, giving them significantly more marketshare than they currently have and an actual brand in the search market. Plus IAC is buying Dictionary.com and some other generic high traffic sites.
  • The New York Times (currently valued at $2.25 billion) and have a leading role in the news market. If they wanted to they could buy it out, spin out About.com as a Microsoft owned web property, then set up the NYT as an industry non-profit that monetizes via a longterm ad arrangement with Microsoft.

I think those companies add up to around $17.4 billion. Pay 50% over market value to close the deals and they could have all the above for $26 billion, giving them a leading position in most high value markets and $20 billion left over for marketing, branding, and buying further assets.

Is the above strategy crazy? What would you do if you were Microsoft?

The Value of a Generic Brand

Jul 1st

I am usually a fan of creating niche sites that are easy to link at and in profitable categories. In some cases generic sites can do well because they allow you to expand wherever the money is.

  • Sites like NexTag can buy mortgage ads on Bankrate because they already have enough volume that it makes it easy for them to quickly build inventory whenever an arbitrage opportunity comes about.
  • From an SEO standpoint generic websites are great for creating top 10 lists and other egobait driven publishing strategies which allow you to tap into link equity from established bloggers and other publishers.
  • A site about coupons or reviews is heavily focused on a traffic stream of people looking to spend money.
  • A site about trivia focuses on a traffic stream of people looking to waste time who will engage in quizes and zip submit offers.

The downside to many generic sites is it is hard to build a loyal following, but as long as SEO is driven by links maybe you don't need a following to make a lot of money.

ScribeFire QuickAds

Jul 1st
posted in

Imagine turning a Firefox extension into the base for an ad network. Someone just did that, as Patrick Gavin recently announced that ScribeFire is launching an ad network and ad optimization service for bloggers. They are currently in limited beta testing, but if you want to sign up your blog quickly you can be one of the first to try it out by emailing them at seobook@scribefire.com.

An extension to a social network usually does not create such an opportunity, but if you create a brand and destination around the extension and aggressively market it there are opportunities to expand your business. Which sorta makes me want to make SEO for Firefox better and come up with some sort of cool strategy for it. Have any ideas?

SEO Friendly Flash?

Jul 1st





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