2010: The Year Information Pollution Takes Off

Google's relevancy algorithms have largely been driven by taking the "authority" shortcut. Have lots of other domains linking to your site? It must be good. Here is a golden ticket...your site ranks for everything.

That curbed some types of spam (by increasing the sunk cost needed to rank a new site), but it has taken brands only a few years to adjust to that hole in the algorithm. Witness the rise of answer spam, scraper re-purposing spam, social media recycling tools, freelance articles for a nickel spam, machine spun articles that are textually unique, etc etc etc

Increasingly, the biggest role of brand in search publishing is to legitimize stuff which might otherwise seem illegitimate and give them enough scale that it hopefully kicks off enough AdSense revenue that it matters to Google.

Demand Media recently highlighted their business model in Wired magazine:

To appreciate the impact Demand is poised to have on the Web, imagine a classroom where one kid raises his hand after every question and screams out the answer. He may not be smart or even right, but he makes it difficult to hear anybody else.

The article (unlike most eHow articles) is well worth a read, but a quick summary...

  • buy up some aged well linked to sites (that were perhaps linked to when it was easier to get links with watered down content and before the web graph was as corrupted by $ as it is today)
  • create algorithms to mine their analytics data and Google's tools to estimate the earnings potential of any piece of content
  • pay freelancers crumbs to write write write based on whatever the algorithm spits out
  • run the content through a tool like Copyscape to verify it is unique
  • pay a reviewer ~ $1 to verify the article is (nearly) legible
  • keep refining and optimizing the above components based on feedback from earlier tests
  • create sister websites that are heavily cross-linked which host a second page about the highest earning topics

And in opening up their playbook to Wired, Demand Media likely created dozens of additional competitors who will aim to monetize the longtail of search via freelance articles of varying quality. Aol, headed by former Google executive Tim Armstrong, has been talking up a revolutionary media model to the media, which reads exactly like the Demand Media playbook:

The predictions, it says, are based on a wide swath of data AOL collects, from the Web searches people make on its site to the sites visited by subscribers to its Internet services.

The system is designed to track breaking news and trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

Based on these recommendations, the company's editorial staff, which totals about 500, will assign articles to a network of free-lancers across the country via a new Web site called Seed.com. AOL says it now works with about 3,000 free-lancers, but it is hoping to sharply increase that number through the Web site, which is open to anyone looking to submit a story. To cut costs ahead of its spinoff, AOL recently said it was cutting about a third of its total staff, or 2,500 employees.

If authors are going to get paid for performance on a freelance basis to churn out junk then they may as well spend a few months learning internet marketing, blogging, and Wordpress...if publishing is algorithm driven you don't really need to work for someone else to make a few Dollars per article. It is VERY easy to beat that, so long as you are willing to wait 3 to 6 months for your payout.

And the process of scaling automated low quality content generation is only going to make existing media channels reliant on search feel more pain. Dollars become dimes. Dimes become pennies. As traditional media companies go bankrupt companies like Demand Media and AOL will buy up the brands and fill the sites with more good content.

This not only will further harm traditional media models, but it will also pollute up the search results so much that...

  • it makes it hard to find quality information via search
  • private membership sites and paid niche content will become more popular
  • Google will either be forced to change their relevancy algorithms or make an example of a big company in the search (g)arbitrage game, or else searchers are going to have an awful experience over the next half-decade or so

I wish there was an Exchange Traded Fund which allowed me to place a bet on information pollution...until Google stops it, the profit potential will be too great for opportunistic "publishers" to ignore. It is a rare sure bet. And it is entirely up to Google to decide how big they want to let the bubble get before they deflate it.

Here is what the content revolution Tim Armstrong speaks of looks like:

Imagine 8 of the top 10 search results for every longtail query looking like THAT. And yet, it is about to become reality.

Those who know the least yell loudest. And Google is colluding with the likes of Demand Media and Aol to ENSURE every idiot has a megaphone. Ignorance is powerful.

Google Give Us Our Rank, Our Daily Bread(Crumbs)

Sorry I haven't made any posts in a while...as we recently took on a big project AND moved hosts on SEO Book (currently on a speedy quad core), and I wanted to have minimal activity around the time of the move.

Google recently announced adding breadcrumbs to the search results for some sites which offer hierarchical breadcrumbs in their navigation. The display looks likeso:

Each breadcrumb is a clickable link to the associated page (which could increase traffic to the target site in some cases), but the initial implementation is a bit sloppy for a couple reasons

  • Google initial implementation shows the hierarchy (and places more emphasis on hierarchy) rather than listing the current page...this has a net effect of making the result look less relevant UNLESS the breadcrumbs are really tightly associated with each other and/or the site covers a small tight niche
  • when people look at the search results they scan them and match patterns. the lack of showing the current page hurts perceived relevancy, and even when a search keyword is in the breadcrumb it is not highlighted

As an example of how far astray the above 2 points can go, check out the following listing for Joost's great Wordpress SEO guide.

While seeing the site structure might be nice...the exact reason people are using search is because they don't want to have to drill down through someone's site structure...they want the most relevant thing shown in the search results.

So did Google do this for relevancy? It is hard to believe they did given that they don't list the current page and employ no bolding.

Perhaps they want to make the results harder to scrape? Or they wanted to give advertisers even more options with the ads (many new ad formats hit the organic search results first)? Or maybe, as John Andrews mentioned, "Google would LOVE to eliminate the URL altogether. Just another try..."

Do I recommend using breadcrumbs? Historically I have, but if Google does not fix the above issues it will likely end up costing publishers some perceived relevancy, and in some cases I might not recommend using them except for on small sites or those with tight and descriptive breadcrumb structures. And on larger sites they might make more sense on category listing pages rather than on item detail pages.

SEO Book Re-opening

After about 11 weeks or so of being closed to new members, I have caught up on a number of projects and we have decided to re-open again. We increased the price again to try to help manage demand, as it is far easier for me to keep adding more value to x members than to have 2x customers. There are so many ways to profit from search, but it is too easy to get bogged down doing administrative work if we were to have thousands and thousands of customers. Plus increasing price tends to increase customer quality (keeping any pikers out while encouraging more successful people to join) and make doing the work that much more enjoyable. Current members are locked in at their current rates, but new members have to pay the current rate.

If you are at Pubcon I am flying out in about a half hour to speak a couple times today. First up is links at 1015, and then immediately following that at 1130 I am speaking on contextual ads. Many people probably know that I am a bit of a link hound, but what is lesser known is that I probably know way more about AdSense than most the people who have wrote books or ebooks about it. Like many other AdSense publishers I even have my own favorite layout + strategy which maximizes earnings without sacrificing linkability.

Budweiser says drinkability is the difference. Nonsense. It is all about linkability. ;)

Both sessions should be fun and I look forward to seeing you if you are there. If you aren't there I look forward to seeing you in our community. :D

10 Blue Links (and a Bunch of Other Stuff!)

Google announced product listing ads today, a cost-per-action ad program that shows images in the search results:

Product Listing Ads is part of our effort to simplify the advertising process for merchants with large product inventories. Some of the key features of Product Listing Ads include:

  • Pay only for results: Product Listing Ads are charged on a cost-per-action (CPA) basis, which means that you only pay when a user clicks on your ad and completes a purchase on your site. Because Product Listing Ads is charged on a CPA basis, it offers a risk-free way for you to reach a larger audience on Google.com.
  • List your entire inventory: Product Listing Ads requires no keywords or additional ad text. Whenever a user enters a search query relevant to an item in your Google Merchant Center account, Google will automatically show the most relevant products along with the associated image, price and product name. Product Listing Ads makes it easy for you to promote your entire product inventory on Google.com.
  • At this time, Product Listing Ads is still a beta feature and is only available to a limited number of retail advertisers. Over time, we'll increase the number of users who see Product Listing Ads as well as the number of advertisers able to participate.

Along with this launch, Google is also pushing product search harder in the organic search results. If you look back at our last post, it is not beyond the realm of possibilities that those product listing ads and product search could eventually blend (to some degree) and appear as part of the AdWords ads above the organic search results.

Given that only launched today, the current impact on the search results of the new product ads is quite noticeable.

The big problem with this vertical data is that it is not as fuzzy as general search is...so none of the above products are the popular video game. But in time Google will collect lots of click data and use it to help determine if they should broaden or narrow the exposure for a particular product, product class, or vendor. And if they are collecting conversion data on the back end it makes it that much easier to measure customer satisfaction - just look at what adds the most money to Google's bank account.

In a recent interview Marissa Mayer stated that universal search results appear on about 25% of search results pages, and they would like to keep increasing that number:

When we launched [universal search], it was showing in about one in 25 queries. Today, it shows in about 25 percent of queries. And we think there are probably times when those auxiliary [file] formats could actually help, and we aren't triggering them on our results page. That's something we need to continue to strive to do.

As Google collects that data they can expand this stuff at will. It becomes a simple game of math. And even while charging CPA Google will still be able to increase yields because there will always be some new funded project, ambitious brand manager, or CEO looking to increase stock volatility to drive up share price to where "the company" wants to buy customers without profit to increase marketshare. Some non-sense metrics beyond lifetime customer value will be used to justify the expenses, because it is so easy to do nothing and let Google do all the work - even though that strategy yields no long-term competitive advantage.

Matt Cutts said that Google will wait on caffeine (though pieces of it might already be implemented), but I seriously doubt that any short-term changes to the search results under caffeine would present anywhere near as big of a concern to webmasters as Google becoming (roughly the equivalent of) an affiliate in ecommerce, local, and lead generation - while using their search results to aggressively push into market leadership roles in those new markets.

Question: Who cares where they rank algorithmically if the algorithmic #1 result is below the fold?
Answer: Nobody!

And yet for certain search types that is the world we are increasingly living in.

I am not sure how sloppy and aggressive searchers (and competitors) will let Google get with pushing verticals...but I am betting that the limit is probably even worse than the above. And remember that it can get far more aggressive while not appearing so to the end user. As Google collects data they will make the vertical insertions more relevant. And each time searchers see search results with more banner-like junk in them, they are being conditioned to expect more of it in the future.

Google realizes that if they want to keep increasing profits from search they have to drive down the organic search results with either

  • more ad units in different formats
  • other filler (like Youtube)

Increasingly these types of shifts in the search results will drive affiliate SEOs (or at least the ones that care about product quality and customer satisfaction and long-term profit margins) to create their own products & services rather than marketing someone else's. If you own the product you have the fattest margins and can partner directly with Google for distribution, rather than fighting for scraps of scraps as the organic search results keep disappearing.

The upside for searchers (and publishers) is that as Google aggressively pushes to become a back-door algorithmically driven portal it leaves a market opening for Blekko and other search players which would be happy to make just a few billion here or there...the same hole AltaVista and Yahoo! left for Google. :D

Excuse Me, But Where Did Google's Organic Search Results Go?

In the past many SEOs have called organic search results the results on the left side of the page and the pay-per-click / AdWords results as the results on the right side of the page. As Google has grown more aggressive with promoting vertical/universal search I think a better way of defining the portions of the search result page are ABOVE THE FOLD and BELOW THE FOLD.

As recently as yesterday Google stripped the phone numbers off of non-sponsored map listings, even if you were doing a navigational search! And that shows that the primary goal of the maps is as filler content (rather than utility).

Update: it looks like Google claimed the phone number removal was a bug, but weird timing that the bug appeared at the same time they started selling premium local ads that appear on the regular search results.

So lets redefine these search result pieces as they are...

  • AdWords Ads: the ads at the top of the search results and those which run down the right rail of the search results.
  • Universal Search Results: filler stuff to put in the search results to a.) drive the organic search results lower down the page, while b.) driving additional incremental click volume to other Google properties which display ads.
  • Organic Search Results: the results on the search result page that are determined algorithmically and appear below the fold. On some larger monitors a listing or 2 from this category may appear above the fold, at least for the time being.

In the future A LOT of verticals (movies, music, books, news, ecommerce, travel, etc.) are going to look more and more like local, where Google in some cases has at least 15 ads above the fold AND filler pushing down the organic search results...quietly building a backdoor portal that sends Google the second click if they were not able to monetize the first one.

To me this screams the importance of working the tail of search, because the more obscure a search query is the greater the risk to Google if they pollute it with junk from vertical search databases.

As Google gets stingier with their traffic that will increase the importance of relationship development and lead capture, as well as developing distribution channels outside of Google.

This new search result layout also highlights the importance of being #1 for your most important keywords...if only 1 result is going to show above the fold then there is little point being #2. So that will really help/force you to decide which words are practical to target and which words are not. If you have some valuable #3 or #4 listings you better start marketing them today before they end up below the fold tomorrow.

The last important thing this search result signals is the importance of increasing conversion rates and lifetime customer value...if/when search becomes pay-to-play in your market, will you still be able to compete? If not, what can be done to help bridge that gap?

More Ways for Google to Embed Themselves in Your Conversion Stream

The Free Credit Report ads have caused such user confusion in the marketplace that the government has felt the need to create a spoof site with $100,000 worth of amateur video to mock Free Credit Report.com. And yet even if you search for the official website [Annual Credit Report] to this very day Google is cashing in showing 3 PPC ads ABOVE the organic search results for that NAVIGATIONAL search query...sorta like how they were cashing in on eBay's brand recently.

For [Annual Credit Report] the government has stepped in and said what is right for the consumer. But the Google AdWords team has different ideas. "Increasing user choice" means the official site at best ranks #4.

It doesn't matter if you are a white knight SEO. This free credit report link doesn't matter if Google is going to put scammy AdWords ads at the top of the search results where most searchers think those are the most important results.

Google is cashing in on searcher ignorance and misplaced trust, at least while they can - just like other scammers pushing reverse billing fraud would do.

Search competition is important, because without it, consumers lose out on choice. You can see the absurdity of Google's position when they claimed sitelinks on AdWords ads increase user choice. Giving the most dominant players in any market more share of voice only aims to consolidate the marketplace further. If they wanted to increase user choice they would show more result diversity on the page and/or more search results on the page, not just show you more from a big spending market leader.

When you think about Google moving into lead generation and becoming an affiliate play you can see they have massive upside potential. Why? They are the default way most people search the web. So even if someone is searching on a brand and making a navigational search, Google still gets a bite on the apple and shows up as the source of conversion. Don't pay Google their tithing? Too bad, they will sell your brand to leading competitors.

And they are aiming to extend out with this strategy. Not only did the Google Chrome browser replace the address bar with a search box, but Google has been pulling back on data they put in some search results to drive a second click onto other Google properties.

Here is my favorite local Indian restaurant on Google

Up until this past week that listing had a phone number on it. Now it doesn't. I am required to make 1 more click so Google can show their large local search marketplace and their dominance over local/maps search.

In the short run Google makes it easy to embed themselves in your business. Analytics and testing are free. They provide services at a loss to gather data and destroy marketplace competition - exerting their monopoly power without being called a monopoly. Cell phone providers get the Android operating system for less than free. Ecommerce players get a new commerce site search option. Content players get an enhanced Friend Connect. In the short run they make life easier and margins thicker. But after competition is removed from the marketplace look for Google to claw back on partners - just like they did to LendingTree, domainers, and anyone with a brand or a local business listing.

BEWARE: Information wants to be free. Attention wants to be monetized. After net-neutrality will we need a Google neutrality?

Borrowing From PPC

Search marketers know that if the title of the ad matches the searchers keyword query, they stand a good chance of getting the click.

This mirroring strategy works for obvious reasons. The visitor already has a psychological attachment to the phrase - after all, they typed it in!

Making Sure You Get The Click

A lot of SEO strategy talks about how to achieve rankings.

Whilst important, the SEO pro knows ranking is only half the battle won. While it's true to say most searchers will click on the top results in preference to results lower down the page, they will also scan across the various titles displayed. All links on the results page compete for the click, and a compelling title may win out over a higher ranking position.

If the user doesn't find what they want when they scan, they will likely rephrase their search and try again. So the way you phrase your title tag is not only important in terms of helping attain a ranking position, it is also important that it stands out.

But how do you know which phrases will work?

What You Can Learn From Adwords

Actually, the answer is right in front of us.

Google rewards top performing Adwords advertisers with the top positions i.e. the advertisers who are achieving the highest click thru rates. The copy and titles you see in the top PPC ads are proven.

If the advertiser has been in that position for some time, it is highly likely s/he is making a positive return on their spend. Their approach is, therefore, working.

That's a lot of valuable information.

Look at the copy the advertisers are using. What words are they using in the title? Try emulating their approach. Emulating their description is a little more tricky as Google uses snippets. However, if the phrase the user is searching for also appears in your meta description tag, Google will tend to display the tag snippet instead.

Of course, SEO's have to balance ranking considerations, too, but if you can get these factors aligned, you're in a great position. Given that most people - estimated to be around 70-80% - will click on a natural search result, as opposed to an advertisment, if you can occupy the top few spots using a similar phrasing as the PPC advertiser, you are more likely to get the click.

Don't stop there.

Check out the landing pages used by the top advertisers. If they are occupying top positions over a long period of time, they are either carelessly blowing through a lot of cash, or, more likely, their PPC campaign is making money.

Whilst it's not advisable to copy exactly what they do - and it's probably against the law - you can use their approach as a guide. How are they structuring their landing pages? Where are they placing their offer? What language are they using? What titles are they using? How is the copy structured?

Use a similar approach in your SEO campaign.

One thing to be careful of is to understand that SEO and PPC often have a different focus. PPC tends to be driven by ROI and other profit per visitor type metrics. Once a PPC advertiser pays for the click, they try to move the visitor to desired action quickly.

SEO, on the other hand, can afford to be less specific as there is little jeopardy in only appealing to a tiny fraction of visitors who click. SEO can afford to go wide and broad. Engagement and brand metrics come into play a bit more in SEO.

By The Way.....

Because SEO can afford to go broad, and has the added task of ranking for keywords based on the content of your page, Google's Wonder Wheel is a great tool for finding related phrases which you can integrate into your copy.

If you haven't heard of the Wonder Wheel, here is how to find it:

1. Conduct a search. Click on "Show Options..."

2. Click on "Wonder Wheel" (shown on the list at the right hand side)

3. Click on a few of the spokes....

4. Integrate any relevant, related keyword terms in your copy....

I use this tool a lot as it's great for picking up on long tail searches that still relate to your chosen keyword term. If any of these terms prove worthwhile, you can then develop separate pages to target them specifically.

Jeremy Schoemaker (aka Shoemoney) Interview

I have been meaning to interview Shoemoney for a while now, and after the most recent Elite Retreat we decided to do just that.

I read a recent newsletter you put out about hitting rock bottom and remembering that as a key piece of 1.) what helped you grow 2.) what helped you sustain that growth. How many successful internet marketers do you know who have similar stories? How many do you know who became successful without first having hit rock bottom?

There was a couple key things in helping me grow.

I think a big key in growing was investing in myself - instead of wasting money on cars or excessive crap I did not need I purchased a lot of books and learning material. I also went to a lot of conferences to learn more about the industry. The only thing I was certain I could count on in life is that everything changes fast and what i was doing today was not going to work for very long. I still do a lot of this today and it helps me grow. Thats why you see me attend so many events a year.

I also surrounded myself with successful people. If you look around your circle of friends and you are the most successful... its time to change your friends.

Sustaining growth for me was leveraging my current position into bigger and better things. I started with 1 website in 2002ish that grew to be the biggest mobile community on the internet and learned how to monetize it. I shared my journey on a blog and built a pretty authoritative site in the "making money online" arena. I leveraged that into starting my own advertising network and growing it until we sold it. That got a lot of really big companies attention and they wanted to invest in us. I have leveraged lots of things to build a strong brand which we are leveraging into other things. Always be leveraging your position - thats the key to sustaining growth!

I think about every successful internet marketer has the same story. They usually start by hitting it big on a website or affiliate offer then leverage their position. I meet new "over night millionaires" all the time. But rarely do any of them leverage their position and go on to do anything else. Most are one hit wonders.

I think hitting rock bottom is a common thing you find with the people that leverage their position. They know what it feels like to have nothing and be hungry and they always want more.

I see you as one of the few internet marketers who routinely gets coverage in the likes of TechCrunch and other areas outside of our little bubble. And you were able to get Seth Godin to come speak at Elite Retreat. What are some of the keys that helped lead to that broad-based opportunity?

I have a interesting relationship with Mike Arrington (techcrunch owner). I used to mention him from time to time in blog posts and even poked fun at this name once saying it sounded like a-ringtone. I was stunned the first time I was mentioned on his site Techcrunch. I think it was the whole mybloglog fiasco. I have been to Mike Arrington's house a couple times to meet with his staff about some ideas I had for Techcrunch but did not even say hi to Mike. Then shortly after leaving Mike would email me like "what the hell why didnt you say hi". I dunno I am just not that guy. He looked busy and know he gets harassed a lot. I have a ton of respect for him... I mean he doesnt just own the most read blog on the internet... he owns the most read publication period.

In the end its all about connections and networking. Some of the Techcrunch staff writers were readers of shoemoney.com and would comment on my stuff every once in a while. They even syndicated some of my youtube content.

I was introduced originally to Seth Godin by Darin Rowse (problogger). Over the years Seth has been very awesome to me and it was truly a dream to have him speak at the Elite Retreat conference last month.

How much of your work day goes into doing the public stuff vs behind the scenes business development stuff vs working on conversion optimization vs working on new ideas?

I LOVE the public stuff. One of the hardest things in running my own business out of my house when I started was the lack of social interaction. I am a very social person and love to meet people. Biz dev has always somewhat naturally happened for me (as I am sure for you also Aaron). As you do things people notice and they want to be apart of what you are doing. As far as a split goes I would say it varies but I spend 10% of the time maintaining what I have 10% of the time on misc stuff and 80% of the time trying to make it grow.

You are very good at doing linkbait stuff to cause publicity, but doing it in a way that does not harm your credibility much. What are some of the secrets to doing that?

This is a great question. I am always amazed at how people say I am "linkbaiting". Here is the deal.... I have a blog... which contains my thoughts and ideas... and I am a pretty emotional and sometimes volatile person who is not afraid to express myself publicly. Everything I post is from my experiences.

The most linked page on my site is my check from Google for 133k for 1 month in sept 2005. Is that link bait?

The 2nd most linked page on my site is about how I used to be 400lbs and all the strugles that came with that. Is that link bait?

the 3rd most linked page on my site is about my addiction to MMO games like world of warcraft. Is that link bait?

I can tell you on the last 2 I was so super nervous about posting them I almost didn't.

I can only think of 1 time I intentionally did a linkbait post asking if George Bush was a great president or greatest president ever? Then I followed up 1 hour later with the amazing results.

I am not a news site trying to "break a story".

So how do I get a lot of links and maintain credibility.... man I dunno. I can barely complete a sentence yet I get credited for being a literary genius at times...

And, like the above question, you are very good at monetizing the audience of your website, but doing it in a way that does not harm your credibility much. How is that other people get flamed for monetizing every so slightly, but you are able to do it so aggressively without much blowback? Is it your brand positioning? Or?

I make no bones about who I am or what I do. I am not a starving artist. I am a capitalist pig. I am an affiliate marketer. People follow my blog because of my ability not only monetize but to do it in ways never before done. It is VERY challenging to monetize a audience who studies ways to make money on line. Its like selling ice to eskimoes or lap dances to strippers.

You are known in part for that AdSense check. If you were just starting out today would AdSense still be part of your strategy?

Absolutely. AdSense is a great place to start in monetizing a website. Its how I started. Its incredibly stupidly simple to implement and really for all the services Google provides they take a very small cut of the money you make. I still monetize some of our stuff with AdSense but its more of a last ditch effort to monetize.

If you got on the web today with nothing where would you start? Would you first try to create a distribution channel, start with an offer that worked, etc.?

I get that question a lot... The truth of the matter is I have no clue. I almost would like to be put in that position to see. It would be an interesting experiment to take on a new identity with zero money or reputation and try to make... say 5k in the first month without using any previous contacts or connections or properties. I would like to say I could easily do it. But only one way to find out.

I would create a lot of wordpress/blogger accounts as affiliate sites for various products and try to get some sales via free traffic. Then take that money and buy traffic to those sites.

I seriously would love a challenge like this if we could ever make it work.

What books would you suggest someone new to the web read right away? What books have been most important in helping to shape your success?

I highly recommend everything Seth Godin writes. The Dip helped me more then any other book I have ever read. All marketers are liars helped me understand why my blog was so successful (its a great story at the end of the day if you look at where I started to where I am now). Purple Cow taught me the value of being #1 in your industry and separating yourself from the pack.

I also recommend the 4 hour work week by tim ferris. Even though its 99% fluffy crap that book has 10 excellent takeaways for time management that can help anyone.

One of the biggest problem for creative entrepreneurs is spreading too thin working on too many projects. How do you prioritize opportunities?

My wife has a saying - Prioritize the potentially profitable projects. That is exactly what we do. I am running 6 companies here going on 20 employees. I dont have the luxory of working on "fun" projects. I am not working from my basement in my underwear with zero overhead anymore. I have to make thousands of dollars a day just to break even.

You created a Huskers quiz where people who scored high enough "won" a trial of NetFlix. What made you think of that strategy? How often do you come up with such ideas? How do you test out such ideas?

Really that is one of my hobbies. I love to find little stuff that can make a couple hundred dollars a day. Its not something I would devote company resources to but its fun to play around.

In the case of the husker football quiz it seemed pretty simple. In Nebraska all we have is the cornhuskers and people are die hard fans always debating stupid facts about former players. So making a site where people could test their knowledge to "win" something just made sense. Most people never know they can get a free subscription just by going to the site or that I get $30 if they sign up.

Affiliate marketing is a art. Its not a science. Its all about creativity and pushing boundaries.

Many affiliate networks are known for spying on their affiliates and cloning their accounts. How do you prevent that from happening?

There is nothing you can do to prevent it. I have seen it happen with my accounts a lot... the funny thing is they still can't do what I do.... even with all the data right in front of their face. I have had affiliate managers tell me they cloned my exact keyword campaign on Google adwords with same adcopy and everything and got 1/2 the earnings per click.

In the affiliate game lots of people clone each other's work, causing returns to race toward 0. What do you differently that allows you to see success after success with affiliate marketing?

Great follow up and glad you asked it since I almost went into this in the previous question.

First and formost testing. We spend 10-30k a day on ppc networks (and have for a long time). This testing gives you an education that you need to make it work. I can honestly give you my exact landing page and keywords/adcopy for something that is working for me right now and guarentee you can't make it work. You don't know what targeting we are doing... what kind of day parting... etc etc. Its not like it was 7 years ago.

This is why a lot of people are so bitter on forums. They spent a full day copying everybody elses shit and cant make it work so they whine. They dont want to actually do any real work testing stuff on their own or being creative.

Its the same reason why I could not give you my position as CEO/CMO for ShoeMoney Media Group, inc and think you could keep the company nearly as profitable even though you have access to everything I did.

What do you feel the biggest risks to your business are? What keeps you up at night?

I don't feel my business has any risks right now. We are very diversified. Between our web properties, subscription income, affiliate income, and new projects about to launch we have never been so stable. I also have put away enough money that our accountant says my wife and I could never work again and live the exact same life style. Most people would be very satisfied with that.

I say bullshit. I know it can all be gone tomorrow. Ive seen it happen to some good people.

I believe that a lot of blogs have been watered down over the past few years as a.) competition has increased and b.) the benefits of sharing information publicly (with people who will likely compete against us) has decreased. Based on that thought, here are a couple questions...

Do you see the recent rise of membership websites as being a cyclical trend until the next wave of people fighting for popularity start gaining it, or more of a longterm trend as free ad-based business models become less profitable due to a glut of inventory?

In general I see a lot of new fly by night people talking in theories and crap with no experience. They write huge long lengthy posts but don't ever have any numbers to back up what they are saying.

They study patents filled by companies and what that could possibly mean and all that stuff while guys like me and you are still in the trenches actually doing stuff and sharing our experiences a long the way.

The ShoeMoney answer is going to probably come off very egotistical but whatever. I do not believe we have any competition for what we do. In everything I have ever done whether it was build the largest mobile community, start my own conferences, build an advertising company, or writing a blog being very transparent about exactly what I do, I feel I have ZERO competition. I do my damnest to be #1 at whatever we do and we have a pretty good track record for achieving that goal. Shoemoney.com in 2009 will make 400% more then it did in 2007 when we first accepted advertising. We get over 50 inquiries a day for our advertising rates & we are sold out for all spots until Jan 2010. The most interesting part is the shoemoney.com blog is not a very significant portion of our company income. It just happened.

What blogs (and other websites) do you still find yourself reading religiously?

here I will give you exactly what is on my iPhone right now:

buddytv.com (various sections).

As you can see its a decent mix of internet marketing/seo and celebrity gossip ;)

Thanks for the interview!


Thanks for the great answers Jeremy. To learn more about Shoemoney, check out his blog. And if you want some great local SEM info, affiliate marketing info, and SEM tools you might want to give his tools project a try, as he currently has trials available for under $10!