Spam Free Search?

Just for fun. But if things get much worse it might be good for utility as well ;)

3 Steps for Optimizing Content for Long Tail Keywords

The following is a guest post from Tom Demers.

One of the most pivotal aspects of driving large volumes of search traffic in most verticals is effectively targeting long tail keywords. While ranking for competitive phrases and developing link authority are certainly crucial aspects of SEO, much of ranking on long tail keywords is properly targeting and optimizing for them. A while ago Aaron made the following image as a conceptual example of how the relevancy algorithms may differ for different types of keywords:
Long tail keyword ranking factors

This article will outline a three step process for targeting long tail keywords.

Step 1: Build a Basket

The first (and possibly most important) consideration is determining which keywords to target. For this I think a three-step process is best:

Traditional Keyword Research

It’s always a good idea to do some idea generation and to get a feel for the possible variations of your specific targeted keyword by utilizing a keyword research tool. For the sake of the article, we’ll assume that we’ve selected our “head” or core keyword target, and that we’re attempting to rank an article for the key phrase and related key phrases. Three tools that I find particularly useful for this purpose are Google’s Search-Based Keyword Tool, the SEO Book Keyword Tool, and my company’s Free Keyword Tool.

Using Your Own Analytics

Really the best source of keyword data for determining the long tail keywords you can target is your own data. This is powerful because it shows you a variety of keyword combinations, the data is proprietary (your competitors didn’t pull the list from the same keyword tool you used, so they won’t be targeting the same keywords), and you have actual data both that you can rank for a given keyword, and you have an indication of how that keyword performs on your site. In Google Analytics, there a couple of reports you can pull to get this information (most analytics packages will provide you with similar capabilities). Drill down to traffic sources > keywords > non-paid:
Long tail keyword content stratgies
Then you can create a filter for the head term. For the sake of this example we’ll say we’re targeting the phrase “long tail” and variations:
Long tail keyword filter in Google Analytics.
By creating the filter, we can see a variety of modifiers that the page and/or other content on our site are already driving. And, if we are in fact attempting to optimize an existing page for multiple keywords, we can utilize a content report to see what that page is already driving traffic for:

View Entrance Keywords for a page in Google Analytics..

You can then see all of the queries driving traffic to that page. By analyzing the traffic and conversion statistics for that page, you can then start to feature more effective variations more prominently. The beauty of analyzing your own data lies in the fact that you can de-emphasize variations that don’t convert for your site.

Continually Iterate on Both Keyword Research and Keyword Analysis

Periodically, it’s a good idea to return to traditional keyword research, and to dig back into your analytics. This is particularly true if a concept or product is seasonal, but regardless the queries driving traffic to your site are bound to shift, and analyzing both the segment of keywords you’re targeting and the actual traffic to a given page can help to drive a tremendous amount of additional traffic to an individual page.

Step Two: Put It On The Page

Unless you coordinate an army of writers or build a venture-backed model around creating a piece of content for every phrase imaginable, you can’t create a piece of content for every phrase you want to rank for. As such you’ll have to effectively target long tail keywords by including the multiple phrases in your keyword bucket throughout the page:

  • Varying the Title Tag and Header - In varying title tags and headers for SEO you are ensuring that your pages aren’t over-optimized and they include relevant long tail keywords you’ll want to target (rather than redundantly featuring the same keyword twice).
  • Place Variations and Modifiers in Your Content - By researching the variations of a keyword you might want to include in your content, you can be aware of them as you craft content, and you can strategically place modifiers throughout your page’s content. For instance, it might not be natural for you write out the phrase “affiliate long tail keywords for promoting products” but if you know this is a phrase that drives some traffic, you can be sure to include phrases like “whether you are a retailer or an affiliate promoting products”. You’ll be using phrases like long tail keywords frequently enough that if the longer phrase is lower competition, you might not even need to include the exact phrase to rank for it. Note below that none of the ranking pages use the exact phrase “affiliate long tail keywords for promoting products”:
  • This is the SERP for affiliate long tail keywords for promoting products.

  • Pay Attention to All of Your On-Page Elements - Be sure to work into your page’s headlines, bolded copy, alt attributes, title attributes, etc. the variations you’re targeting. By mixing up the words and phrases you use in these elements, you’re also ensuring your page isn’t over-optimized

Step Three: Building Links For Your Keyword Basket

Finally, even though many of your long tail keyword variations will rank on their own, you’ll want to develop some links with specific anchor text to these pages. You can do this in a few different ways:

  • Vary Your Internal Links to a Page– Again, this allows you to avoid being “over-optimized,” and if you stick primarily to variations that contain the head keyword within the variation and append modifiers, rather than synonyms, you’re consistently transferring relevance for your core term.
  • Use an Important Modifier in Your Headline – While your title tag is what’s seen by searchers, many people linking to your article will use your headline as anchor text. Using a variation here helps attract links for important modifiers
  • External Links You Control- Things like company listings, directory listings, and nepotistic links often offer you the opportunity to control your own anchor text: while many times just leveraging internal links on an authoritative site is enough to rank, sometimes utilizing article submission Websites or other low-quality external linking sources with keyword-rich anchor text can help you to rank for mid to low-competition keywords.

Ultimately the best way to rank for long tail keywords is to build an authoritative Website and seed it with a lot of content, but on a page-by-page basis you can often leverage strategic keyword targeting and your own analytic data to help drive exponentially more traffic than you would focusing solely on the “head” keyword.

Tom Demers is the Director of Marketing with WordStream, a software company specializing in pay-per click software and keyword research and organization solutions for SEO. Tom is a frequent contributor at the WordStream Internet Marketing Blog.

Which Multivariate Testing Software is Best?

My buddies from Conversion Rate Experts have put together a review site for multivariate software called Which Multivariate. Surprisingly old school in the modern affiliate link filled web, they have made the site vendor neutral and are not planning on ever taking affiliate commissions in an attempt to gather honest reviews. Check it out. Its worth a look!

Spam vs Mahalo: Matt Cutts Explains the Difference

When the internal Google remote quality rater guidelines leaked online there was a core quote inside it that defined the essence of spam:

Final Notes on Spam When trying to decide if a page is Spam, it is helpful to ask yourself this question: if I remove the scraped (copied) content, the ads, and the links to other pages, is there anything of value left? if the answer is no, the page is probably Spam.

With the above quote in mind please review the typical Mahalo page

Adding a bit more context, the following 25 minute video from 2008 starts off with Matt Cutts talking about how he penalized a website for using deceptive marketing. Later into the video (~ 21 minutes in) the topic of search results within search results and then Mahalo come up.

Here is a transcription of relevant bits...

Matt Cutts: Would a user be annoyed if they land on this page, right. Because if users get annoyed, if users complain, then that is when we start to take action.

And so it is definitely the case where we have seen search results where a search engine didn't robots.txt something out, or somebody takes a cookie cutter affiliate feed, they just warm it up and slap it out, there is no value add, there is no original content there and they say search results or some comparison shopping sites don't put a lot of work into making it a useful site. They don't add value.

Though we mainly wanted to get on record and say that hey we are willing to take these out, because we try to document everything as much as we can, because if we came and said oh removed some stuff but it wasn't in our guidelines to do that then that would be sub-optimal.

So there are 2 parts to Google's guidelines. There are technical guidelines and quality guidelines. The quality guidelines are things where if you put hidden text we'll consider that spam and we can remove your page. The technical guidelines are more like just suggestions.


So we said don't have search results in search results. And if we find those then we may end up pruning those out.

We just want to make sure that searchers get good search results and that they don't just say oh well I clicked on this and I am supposed to find the answer, and now I have to click somewhere else and I am lost, and I didn't find what I wanted. Now I am angry and I am going to complain to Google.

Danny Sulivan: "Mahalo is nothing but search results. I mean that is explicitly what he says he is doing. I will let you qualify it, but if you ask him what it is still to this day he will say its a search engine. And then all the SEOs go 'well if it is a search engine, shouldn't you be blocking all your search results from Google' and his response is 'yeah well IF we ever see them do anything then we might do it'."

Matt Cutts: It's kinda interesting because I think Jason...he is a smart guy. He's a savvy guy, and he threaded the needle where whenever he talked to some people he called it a search service or search engine, and whenever he talked to other people he would say oh it is more of a content play.

And in my opinion, I talked to him, and so I said what software do you use to power your search engine? And he said we use Twika or MediaWiki. You know, wiki software, not C++ not Perl not Python. And at that point it really does move more into a content play. And so it is closer to an than to a Powerset or a Microsoft or Yahoo! Search.

And if you think about it he has even moved more recently to say 'you know, you need to have this much content on the page.' So I think various people have stated how skilled he is at baiting people, but I don't think anybody is going to make a strong claim that it is pure search or that even he seems to be moving away from ok we are nothing but a search engine and moving more toward we have got a lot of people who are paid editors to add a lot of value.

One quick thing to note about the above video was how the site mentioned off the start got penalized for lying for links, and yet Jason Calacanis apologized for getting a reporter fired after lying about having early access to the iPad. Further notice how Matt considered that the first person was lying and deserved to be penalized for it, whereas when he spoke of Jason he used the words savvy, smart, and the line threaded the needle. To the layperson, what is the difference between being a savvy person threading the needle and a habitual liar?

Further lets look at some other surrounding facts in 2010, shall we?

  • How does Jason stating "Mahalo sold $250k+ in Amazon product in 2009 without trying" square with Matt Cutts saying "somebody takes a cookie cutter affiliate feed, they just warm it up and slap it out, there is no value add, there is no original content there" ... Does the phrase without trying sound like value add to you? Doesn't to me.
  • Matt stated that they do not want searchers to think "oh well I clicked on this and I am supposed to find the answer, and now I have to click somewhere else and I am lost" ... well how does Mahalo intentionally indexing hundreds of thousands of 100% auto-generated pages which simply recycle search results and heavily wrap them in ads square with that? sounds like deceptive & confusing arbitrage to me.
  • Matt stated "and if you think about it he has even moved more recently to say 'you know, you need to have this much content on the page,'" but in reality, that was a response to when I highlighted how Mahalo was scraping content. Jason dismissed the incident as an "experimental" page that they would nofollow. Years later, of course, it turned out he was (once again) lying and still doing the same thing, only with far greater scale. Jason once again made Matt Cutts look bad for trusting him.
  • Matt stated "I don't think anybody is going to make a strong claim that it is pure search" ... and no, its not pure search. If anything it is IMPURE search, where they use 3rd party content *without permission* and put most of it below the fold, while the Google AdSense ads are displayed front and center.
    • If you want to opt out of Mahalo scraping your content you can't because he scrapes it from 3rd party sites and provides NO WAY for you to opt out of him displaying scraped content from your site as content on his page).
    • Jason offers an "embed this" option for their content, so you can embed their "content" on your site. But if you use that code the content is in an iframe so it doesn't harm them on the duplicate content front AND the code gives Jason multiple direct clean backlinks. Whereas when Jason automatically embeds millions of scraped listings of your content he puts it right in the page as content on his page AND slaps nofollow on the link. If you use his content he gets credit...when he uses your content you get a lump of coal. NICE!
    • And, if you were giving Jason the benefit of the doubt, and thought the above was accidental, check out how when he scrapes the content in that all external links have a nofollow added, but any internal link *does not*
  • Matt stated "[Jason is] moving more toward we have got a lot of people who are paid editors to add a lot of value" ... and, in reality, Jason used the recession as an excuse to can the in house editorial team and outsource that to freelancers (which are paid FAR LESS than the amounts he hypes publicly). Given that many of the pages that have original content on them only have 2 sentences surrounded by large swaths of scraped content, I am not sure there is an attempt to "add a lot of value." Do you find this page on Shake and Bake meth to be a high quality editorial page?
  • What is EVEN MORE OUTRAGEOUS when they claim to have some editorial control over the content is that not only do they wrap outbound links which they are scraping content from in nofollow, but they publish articles on topics like 13 YEAR OLD RAPE. Either they have no editorial, or some of the editorial is done by pedophiles.
  • Worse yet, such pages are not a rare isolated incident. Michael VanDeMar found out that Mahalo is submitting daily lists of thousands of those auto-generated articles to Google via an XML when Jason claims the indexing was an accident, you know he lied once again!

Here Jason is creating a new auto-generated page about me! And if I want to opt out of being scraped I CAN'T. What other source automatically scrapes content, republishes it wrapped in ads and calls it fair use, and then does not allow you to opt out? What is worse in the below example, is that on that page Jason stole the meta description from my site and used it as his page's meta description (without my permission, and without a way for me to opt out of it).

So basically Matt...until you do something, Jason is going to keep spamming the crap out of Google. Each day you ignore him another entreprenuer will follow suit trying to build another company that scrapes off the backs of original content creators. Should Google be paying people to *borrow* 3rd party content without permission (and with no option of opting out)?

I think Jason has pressed his luck and made Matt look naive and stupid. Matt Cutts has got to be pissed. But unfortunately for Matt, Mahalo is too powerful for him to do anything about it. In that spirit, David Naylor recently linked to this page on Twitter.

What is the moral of the story for Jason Calacanas & other SEOs?

  • If you are going to create a thin spam site you need to claim to be anti-spam to legitimize it. Never claim to be an SEO publicly, even if you are trying to sell corporate SEO services.
  • If you have venture capital and have media access and lie to the media for years it is fine. If you are branded as an SEO and you are caught lying once then no soup for you.
  • If you are going to steal third party content and use it as content on your site and try to claim it is fair use make sure you provide a way of opting out (doing otherwise is at best classless, but likely illegal as well).
  • If you have venture capital and are good at public relations then Google's quality guidelines simply do not apply to you. Follow Jason's lead as long as Google permits mass autogenerated spam wrapped in AdSense to rank well in their search results.
  • The Google Webmaster Guidelines are an arbitrary device used to oppress the small and weak, but do not apply to large Google ad partners.
  • Don't waste any of your time reporting search spam or link buying. The above FLAGRANT massive violation of Google's guidelines was reported on SearchEngineLand, and yet the issue continues without remedy - showing what a waste of time it is to highlight such issues to Google.

Funny Dilbert SEO Comic Strip Cartoon by Scott Adams

And all this, only to find out there was a missing ingredient the whole time ;)

Of course, if Dilbert had a text version of the cartoon and perhaps a more relevant alt tag in his embed code that would help too. Just saying ;)

Killer Google AdWords Guide for Affiliates

My wife used to tell me that I would give too much away...and then she pens something like this AdWords affiliate guide. It doesn't seem fair ;)

Comparing SEO Business Models

One of the great things about SEO is that it allows you to see many lenses on business that you can't normally see with most other professions (outside of perhaps something in high finance or management consulting anyhow). One day you are building a bootstrapped business from scratch wondering when it will make its first Dollar, and the next day your on the phone with McKinsey consultants or an executive from a fortune 500 company talking strategy.

Zeta Interactive's Hugo Guzman is one of the the folks in the SEO industry who has a broad experience set which perhaps eclipses my own, as he has done virtually everything. And so I recently interviewed him...

You run some of your own sites, have done some private SEO consulting, I believe you may have done some in house SEO for a while, and are now deep into the bowels of the SEO agency world. What are the best and worst parts of each role?

Great question! Here’s my take based on personal experience in each role.

Running your own site(s)

Best Thing: That feeling of unbridled entrepreneurism. I’ve always felt that website building is sort of like the new real estate development, only anybody can do it and it costs less than $100 to get started (if you know what you’re doing). The other great thing about running your own site(s) is the ability to cut out on time wasting and bureaucracy. There’s no need for filling out corporate approval paperwork or sitting through useless meetings or conference calls, so you can focus in on building content, building links, building databases, and building relationships.

Worst Thing: The cold hard reality of monetization. There used to be a day when paid links could easily bankroll early development until you got other revenue streams to a point of sustainability, but that well has dried up to a certain extent. Affiliate revenue and Adsense are both viable but take time to develop, especially if SEO is the main source of traffic, so like you, I believe that the best option is to cut out the middle man and develop a product/service of your own that fills a specific niche need at a fair price. I think that the emergence of FourSquare and Twitter localization suggests a strong opportunity for hyper-niche, location-based website development. You don’t have to be the best in the world at a specific thing in order to be successful. Just be the best in your locale or region.

SEO consulting

Best Thing: Being able to do SEO “The Right Way” (or at least “your own way”). It feels good to execute an SEO program that way you see fit, especially when it works! It makes for a very rewarding experience. It’s fun to build out the list of deliverables, the timeline for implementation, and the success metrics and KPIs that will be the foundation of your client programs.

Worst Thing: Dealing with the sales grind, chasing after clients that don’t pay on time (or at all) not getting the hourly bill rate you know you deserve, etc…basically all the business stuff that has little or nothing to do with pure SEO. Unfortunately, many of the SEOs that go this route get caught up in the grind by failing or refusing to fire bad clients, so that they can focus on building revenue by offering more granular or expanded services for their good clients.

In-house SEO

Best Thing: Being embedded in so many different aspects of a business and learning about marketing and biz dev elements outside the pure SEO realm. I spent several years working with CBS Interactive and I learned a ton about so many things and worked with some really intelligent people.

For example, I learned how C-level executives frame marketing channels like SEO. The main success metric that I was measured on was percentage of overall referring traffic (well under 10% when I first started). Even though I was able to exponentially grow natural search referrals, especially for key niches like fantasy football and March Madness – both of which are huge moneymakers for CBS – the cumulative effect on overall traffic was minimal (never reached 20%). The reason was simple; CBS owns their major television network as well as a myriad of local television affiliates, radio stations, billboards, email addresses, etc, which literally drove millions and millions of unique referrals.

This introduction to mass media metrics helped me gain perspective on the role SEO plays within the larger scheme of things (brand building and management, push/interruption marketing, email marketing, etc). And it was this perspective that would help me connect with marketing executives when I made the move to agency SEO, because I finally understood that while SEO is arguably the most cost-effective marketing channel, it was only one piece of a much larger puzzle.

Worst Thing: It’s hard to move up the corporate ladder and earn big dollars. Because SEO is typically straddled between marketing and IT, it’s tough to move up into upper-management positions. Some companies (like the Tribune Company) are starting to wake up, but for the most part, it’s still tough to move on up.

SEO Agency

Best Thing: It’s sort of like the Peace Corps in that it’s the hardest job you’ll ever love. Granted, you’re not really helping the world be a better place (just helping companies become more profitable) but getting to work with so many different verticals, marketing philosophies, business executives, and web environments is incredibly rewarding. Agency SEO (if you work at a good agency) will undoubtedly make you a better SEO, and a better business person in general.

Interestingly enough, it’s the seemingly unconquerable workload that proves to be the catalyst for professional growth. Dealing with multiple clients, each of which has impossible deadlines and unrealistic ROI expectations, forces you to prioritize your efforts and focus on the strategies and tactics that will deliver the most bang for their marketing buck. SEO’s that fail to grasp this are quickly burned out and leave the agency life (and usually return after a year or two after realizing that they can’t make much money in-house). SEO’s that “get it” quickly make an impact for clients – and the agency’s bottom line – catapulting them into management and executive roles.

Worst Thing: It’s sort of like the Post Office. The work just keeps coming and coming. It’s extremely stressful, demanding, and demoralizing at times. But hey, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger right?

From which of the 4 roles do you see the greatest profit potential?

That’s a tough one. In-house probably has the least profit potential, followed by agency work. Although it’s worth pointing out that some of the better agencies out there take extraordinary steps to keep talented individuals happy and give them a true stake in the company’s success. My agency definitely falls in that category.

Consulting has very solid profit potential but building your own site(s) is definitely king in my book because if you pick the right niche and truly devote yourself on all levels the potential is limitless.

You (Aaron Wall) write about this topic quite a bit, but it’s important to re-emphasize. If an enterprising SEO is looking to start their own site(s) the first thing to take into consideration is the level of passion they have for the topic/theme that the site(s) will encompass, because if the passion isn’t there, it’s unlikely that said SEO will have the motivation to work through the inevitable plateaus that await his/her new business. Also, as most of us know, building the right kind of content is what often leads to the inbound links that will serve as the foundation of a solid search presence, and that’s much easier to do when you truly love the topic/theme you’re dealing with.

When you guys take on new clients are you knee deep in the SEO projects? Or do you focus more on training your team?

Truthfully, I’m no longer involved in day-to-day management of SEO projects. I do touch almost every single account, but usually it’s as an advisor to the SEO specialist that’s assigned to the account or because the client needs to tap into my historical knowledge of the account (I’ve been working with some of our clients for several years now and know more about their history than some of their employees). Basically, I keep tabs on each account and come in to deal with really tough and/or complex scenarios that junior team members have never encountered. That said, I do spend a considerable amount of time testing specific hypotheses, either on client sites or on test sites that are owned and managed by my agency.

One of the most memorable tests we performed was for a major insurance and financial services brand (one of the biggest in the world) that was having a ton of trouble getting their agent profile pages indexed (they had thousands of them). They were convinced that simply adding these pages to their XML sitemap would do the trick, despite the fact that Google explicitly states that submitting an XML sitemap does not replace override their normal indexing and ranking methodology. In order to convince them to take an alternate route (focusing on internal linkage that helped eliminate orphaned agent pages) we simply tested their hypothesis by taking a baseline measurement on the number of indexed agent pages, then adding all of the agent pages to their XML sitemap en masse and then measuring the impact on indexing for those pages (the impact was nil). We then convinced them to implement our recommendations and subsequently measured their impact on indexing of agent pages (over 80% of those pages were subsequently indexed). The result? An interesting conclusion that helps guide our recommendations for other clients as well as an incredibly happy Insurance brand that has now been with us for going on three years!

As for the rest of my time, it is spent training our team of specialists (and the sales folks and the account management folks) supporting sales across the US, leading sales efforts in the Southeastern United States, and working with our product development team to build tools that help facilitate SEO. Oh and I try to help promote the agency when I find some spare time ; )

It wasn’t always like that by the way. I started my agency life as a specialist and have gradually moved up the ladder.

Many of the bigger agency-styled companies sell watered down services of limited value. For example keyword ranking / websourced / marketsmart interactive went from the largest SEO company to closed almost overnight. How do you scale SEO within an agency while preventing the watering down effect that is common at most?

This is an extremely tough problem to overcome, but one of the things that we’ve focused on is product development that helps automate certain facets of the SEO process, so that our specialists can spend their time being truly strategic.

For example, back in 2008, I figured out that our specialists (including myself) were spending an inordinate amount of time formatting and filling out the Excel templates that are used to deliver page-level code recommendations to clients (more or less a staple of agency life). This included copying and pasting the existing code side-by-side with our recommended code, so that the client’s IT/dev folks could use it as a point of reference when implementing. This was essentially data entry work that was extremely tedious and took up a tremendous amount of time.

Working with our tremendous product development and digital services team based in Hyderabad, India, we were able to develop a web application that automatically scraped the designated code for a particular client web page and populated in the correct fields within our Excel template. Now, all our specialists have to do is fill in the recommendations in the appropriate fields, cutting delivery time in half. It’s tremendous productivity booster and also a tremendous morale booster for our specialists.

If you’re on the client side and are interviewing perspective SEO providers, make sure that they have some sort of technology platform in place that will help automate or at least facilitate some of the non-strategic facets. Otherwise, you’re going to spend a ton of money on what essentially amounts to data entry.

From a consumer perspective, a lot of the agencies are long on sales but short on results. What are some of the key signals consumers should pick up on when determining if an agency is the real deal or one that is selling watered down water?

That’s easy.

Ask them if they can help with direct implementation via CMS and/or hard coding. Ask them to go into excruciating detail in terms of how they handle link building (most agencies claim they do link-building, but it usually just boils down to directory submissions and paid links). Ask them to explain how content influences link-building and social media efforts. Ask them to go into excruciating detail in terms of how social media and SEO dovetail. Ask them to go into excruciating detail in terms of how they leverage analytics as it pertains to SEO. Ask them if they’re accustomed to working with senior (even C-level) executives to facilitate approval and implementation of recommendations.

If they’re worth their weight, they’ll jump at the chance to give deep answers to each and every one of these questions.

As an ad agency you guys are also involved in other marketing elements from companies. Does search ever become a key consideration when it comes to product naming, product positioning, and other advertising formats? If yes, could you share some examples?

My agency was arguably the first to truly embrace the cross-channel interactive agency model, so we definitely work with clients across a variety of marketing channels, and as a matter of fact, we offer a variety of services beyond search (we just made the Forrester Wave for email service providers).

I can’t get into specific clients and URLs due to confidentiality agreements, but I would say that well over 50% of the clients we work with take search into consideration when naming products, positioning products, and even picking vanity domains. I would say that about 25% of our clients make search their top priority when considering these types of things. Those are our favorites, because they really “get it” and work SEO into everything they do.

One example that I can give you (without revealing specific client names) is the purchasing of vanity domains to drive SEO for specific product/service offerings. I’ve seen companies drop anywhere from a few thousand to hundreds of thousands in order to secure domains that have large, authoritative link profiles and already rank for high volume keywords. In fact, I recently did some consulting on behalf of one of the largest VC firms in the world, helping one of their clients (we’ll call them “Company A”) essentially put a price tag on a the value of a domain that was owned by a smaller firm that “Company A” was looking to acquire. I actually think that this type of work could become a nice hyper niche for me in the future (until Google and others finally accomplish their goal of eliminating domains from the search equation…but that’s a story for another day).

What strategies do you use to help clients provide adequate resources for a large or complex SEO assignment when the results might take many months to materialize?

We’ve gone as far as to help clients screen potential hires or contractors in order to help them staff up for large initiatives. In addition, we’ve embedded our employees at a client’s office for large stretches of time in what you could call a “dedicated resource” type of arrangement. Lastly, we’ve helped coordinate cross-division committees and/or multi-agency collaboration in order to help get large initiatives off the ground.

Basically, I’ve always preached to the team that they have to do anything and everything to make things happen. Often times, it’s this extra effort that ends up become the primary measure of success in the client’s eyes, especially if there are some solid metrics to go along with it.

What success metrics are used along the way to help clients appreciate the returns on the SEO efforts?

I find that year-over-year trending is extremely valuable because it takes seasonality into account, and we’ll deliver that type of trending both at the aggregate level and focused on specific “big money” keywords. Incidentally, our agency doesn’t shy away from extremely competitive keywords. We go after everything that fits the client’s vertical but just make sure to set expectations early on. Clients deserve to rank for the biggest money terms, but they also need to understand that in certain cases it could take years to achieve above-the-fold placement.

Also, I believe that it’s critical to drill down and measure non-branded keywords as opposed to just looking at raw aggregate referral data, especially when you’re working with big brands that drive mammoth amounts of brand queries. If you don’t strip out the branded search referrals, then you’re not really measuring SEO (99% of the time, branded keywords have and always will rank No. 1 so the traffic they drive are a function of brand awareness, not search engine optimization).

Google is known for letting bigger brands get away with being a bit spammy. Do you ever suggest to clients that they have the opportunity to push the window?

The short answer is “Yes”.

We conform to “White Hat” SEO (whatever that means) but we also believe that it’s our job to educate clients on techniques that may or may be deemed as “spammy” by search engines like Google. They deserve to understand the entire SEO landscape, not just the vision created by Google’s Webmaster Guidelines.

Also, for clients that are already relatively SEO savvy and were already dabbling in techniques deemed unsavory by Google, we will gladly provide a third-party opinion and consulting on those activities. We believe that they deserve that level of service for the premium they’re paying.

Within a company internal politics often end up kicking SEO into the back seat. When doing agency work, who are the key individuals from within the companies you service that you consider it a must to loop in on the project?

Start with the CEO (seriously). And by the way, this also applies to social media initiatives.

The goal is to find a way to move the needle for a client, even if we are faced with a tough situation in terms of marketing approval, legal approval, or IT implementation (this is more or less par for the course in verticals like Pharma and Financial Services). If we can move that needle, then we’ll immediately push to get in front of upper-level executives, so that we can help them understand what we’re trying to accomplish in the long term (and that we won’t accomplish it at the expense of their brand affinity or legal standing).

If you’re not getting face time with a senior director, VP, or C-level executive, then you’re probably not doing a very good job.

Hugo Guzman is the Vice President of SEO & Social Media at Zeta Interactive. He can be reached via email at or via Twitter at

Grading Google's Marketing Practices Based On Google's Standards?

The following is a guest post by Slaven Radic.

The Google Buzz team has had quite a week. Their new product quickly lived up to its name, though mostly for the wrong reasons, generating buzz about its own privacy issues. Calling the original Google Buzz privacy settings lax would be a gross understatement. It created a storm of complaints, best put in perspective by Harriet Jacobs in her F*ck You, Google piece.

In short, when you logged into your Gmail account Google simply took all of your frequent contacts and mashed them up into an active social network without much input from people they were connecting. If you exchanged a lot of emails with your editor and your under-cover sources from the same Gmail account, now they were connected through your public profile if you didn't happen to catch the Buzz opt-out checkbox. Or what about using the same Gmail account for emailing your husband and your boyfriend? Well now they're introduced - you're welcome.

Yes, sounds like a pretty naïve and reckless way to implement a major feature but Google protested that they just wanted to help and meant no evil. After all, their CEO Eric Schmidt had an interesting take on expectations for privacy online: "If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place". That was said nary two months before Google Buzz launched - I guess people like Harriet Jacobs and her abusive ex-husband just didn't listen.

Oops, Our Bad: Thanks For All the Users...

Since the launch, Google has done an amazingly quick about-face and pledged to do better. The latest set of changes make signing up for Buzz a tangibly more transparent experience, probably what it should have been at launch time. The press has mostly applauded their quick response and patted Google on the back for their responsiveness and keen focus on Gmail user experience.

But let's see what Google's naiveté about privacy issues meant for Google Buzz:

  • 9 million posts and comments
  • 300,000 mobile check-ins per day
  • Buzz already rivals Twitter for sheer network size

Those are some pretty impressive numbers for any online launch, but to achieve this in under three days is just unheard of. Actually, there are businesses that do generate this level of interests from their prospects in that short of a time-frame and Gmail deals with them on a daily basis: spammers.

The '9 Million-Post' Question

The question is did Google simply make a "mistake" and not consider these fairly serious privacy issues, or did the massive amount of spam Gmail churns through each day actually demonstrate effectiveness of a new business model?

The former is hard to believe when you consider the army of privacy lawyers Google has and their job to review privacy considerations in revenue-generating AdSense programs. This is especially critical in Gmail, where you are shown ads based on emails you exchange. Gmail achieves this by reading through all your email and matching you up with advertisers interested in addressing your daily struggles. After the initial outrage over this concept a few years ago most users have resigned to trust Google that they have their best interests in mind.

Your Trust, Google's Toilet Paper

Google Buzz violates this trust in a serious way. In light of Google's experience in this field, it is hard not to take Google's mea culpa with a huge dose of skepticism. After all, if Google had made Buzz an opt-in service - something that users had to enable rather than be tricked into joining - they would be just another social network trying to compete with Facebook and Twitter.

Leveraging millions of Gmail users was a shortcut simply too tempting to avoid. The fact that Google decided to revise Google Buzz activation process over the weekend is simply a red herring: they only needed a few days to convert some of the hundred million plus Gmail users into millions of Buzz users, and become the de-facto Twitter competitor over a single long weekend.

Google "fixing" this privacy snafu a few days later is equivalent to spammers adding an "Unsubscribe" link to an email that's already done its damage.

The strong impression from the last few days is that Gmail users were a pawn in a very cynical game: Google trying desperately to become a player in the social networking space, after the Orkut launch and their acquisition of a handful of other companies in this space failed to produce results.

We're Not Evil

This is a tough act to pull off when your motto is Don't Be Evil. It's been said that eventually Google's shareholders will push it to make product moves and decisions that end up hurting its brand in a quest for monetization. It will be interesting to see if Google comes out of this with their motto intact.

How To Start A Web Business And Survive

An SEOBook reader, Josephbm91, outlined a problem many of us have faced: when you're starting out, it's easy for clients to walk all over you.

So let's take a look at strategies for those starting out, be it in SEO, web design, or other small, web-based businesses. Those of you who have established web businesses, it would be great if you could share your experiences and strategies in the comments :)

Making The Start

How do you make the start? You've got a computer, an internet connection, and a few ideas. How do you get from that point to a thriving business, when you have no customer base, no money and no experience?

Yeah, it's hard.

But you'll literally work through it :)

Society Is Testing You To See If You're Serious

Ask anyone in business, sports, music or any other competitive human endeavor how they got recognized in their given field. They'll most likely tell you it didn't happen overnight. Whilst talent, luck and having the right connections play a part, the one trait common to those who succeed is persistent hard work.

In Outliers, a book about how people achieve extraordinary things, Malcolm Gladwell found that to achieve mastery in anything - be it golf, webdesign, programming, music, fashion - takes roughly the same amount of time: 10,000 hours.

Thankfully, we don't need to be masters at running a small business before we start one, else no one would ever do so. But the underlying idea is sound - persistent hard work is the key to success.

Being persistent sends a message to those around you, including potential customers, that you're serious about what your doing. If they see you often enough, doing the thing you say you do, then you'll eventually be recognized for it.

So if you feel you need to prove yourself, you're right. Society actually demands you do.

What Is Worth Getting Serious About?

Many people start businesses because they enjoying doing something. Someone who plays sport may have the desire to be paid a good living wage for playing the game she loves. Someone is good at art, so he wants to be a designer.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this approach - having a genuine passion for something will help you get through the rough times - I'm sure you can spot the potential problem. There might be a LOT of people who have a passion for the same thing. The more people who want to do something, the more effort you need to put in in order to stand out.

In terms of sport, it's relatively straighforward. The sprinter with the fastest times gets recognized and progresses. Those sprinters with slower times either get better, or go find something else to do. In business, its a little more complicated, but the principle remains the same.

You need to stand out.

Supply And Demand

Think carefully about supply and demand. Ask yourself: is there sufficient demand for what I want to do?

Let's say you want to do web design. Is there demand? Why, yes, the demand for web design services is almost infinite. New companies start every minute, and most of them will need a web presence. Established companies who already have a web presence change their design from time to time, thus creating even more demand.

All good.

Now let's look at the supply side.

How many people want to be web designers. The answer is: quite a few. In fact, it would appear that web design demand is more than met by the supply of web designers. What happens in such situations is there is a downward pressure on prices, because those who create demand have a lot of supply to choose from.

The world is oversupplied with web designers. At least, it's oversupplied by people who call themselves web designers. There's a difference, of course, between someone who owns the tools of production and those who use those tools well to solve business problems. Owning a camera does not make someone a commercial photographer. Likewise, those with the most artistic design skills may make lousy web designers if they aren't focused on business aspects.

Recognizing the reality of the situation might may you reconsider your choice of career, and opt for an area where there is heavy demand and short supply instead.

Another way to face this problem is to differentiate. Can you do something better than other designers? You may be highly skilled in contemporary graphic design, in which case you may choose to place strong emphasis on displaying your portfolio, and target the type of clients who appreciate - and will pay for - this expertise.

You may have, or can acquire, detailed market knowledge in one particular niche - i.e. travel sites, real estate sites, etc. Clients, generally speaking, are a lot more comfortable with providers who understand their area of business. You have an advantage if you can speak their language, rather than just the self-absorbed language of design forums.

Can you focus on a geographic area? i.e. the immediate area where you live. Sometimes, people want to deal with someone local.

What is the thing you can do for which there is a market? If there are too many competitors in that market, then slice that market up until you can find a niche. Aim to be top of that niche. Then put in persistent effort working that niche in order to build reputation.

Chris Pearson gave away a number of popular free Wordpress themes on his site, created designs for popular sites (including Copyblogger & SEO Book), and then created the Thesis theme for web developers, which has since done 7 figures in sales volume. Yes Wordpress themes have become commoditized, but due to his strong marketing and continual increase in product value he was able to differentiate & build a solid business model. In his own words on starting out, Chris wrote:

Before I launched Thesis, I created a few free WordPress themes that became extremely popular. Although these themes defined the early stages of my career, they are really nothing more than visible markers of a learning process that continues today with Thesis.

Establishing Yourself

Once you've decided on an angle, you then need to establish yourself. Society wants to see how serious you are.

It is very difficult to market a business without some form of track record. But every business needs to start somewhere, and they don't start with a track record. So, the most important task for someone starting out - in any occupation - is to get one.

One way to get a track record is to treat your first few jobs as a marketing cost. This is the cost of establishing a reputation, and if you make any money at all from these first few jobs, it's a bonus. The aim is to get referrals and a portfolio of work.

Approach charities or small local business who need a web presence and offer your services for a deeply discounted rate, or for free. It's a win-win for both parties, because they may not be able to afford web design, and you need their testimonials and experience.

Be sure to make it clear that the job is being done at a discounted rate, and let them know what your usual rate it. This way, they'll perceive value, and won't be in for a shock when you ramp your prices up for any future work. Focus on building a positive relationship with these clients. If they are happy with your work, they may well refer you to others.

Once you have a track record, the risk to a future customer of hiring you is diminished. You become a known quantity, which puts you above the wanna-bes.

Is this working for free? Some might consider it that way, but it could also be seen as just another marketing expense, like advertising. Many businesses, including big, established businesses, give away products and services - in the form of loss leaders - in order to help get their foot in the door. People who train for careers pay to learn, whilst as a freelancer, you can potentially learn on the job for free. Clients can teach you a lot about your own business , especially where your strengths and weaknesses lie.


It's important not to stay cheap or free, however.

Some think the easiest way to get business is to undercut competitors on price. This can be a self defeating strategy, especially for the sole operator, for a number of reasons:

You get cheap clients - people who seek the lowest price probably aren't placing much value on what you do. These type of clients, ironically, can also be the most demanding. They want the most for the least, and will often push you on the amount of work you deliver.

Someone else can always undercut you. There will always be a competitor who has a cost base lower than you do. From there, you're locked in a no-win race to the bottom.

If it looks cheap, it is cheap. It's human nature not to value something that is cheap, and place a lot of value on something that is expensive. In the book How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, the author describes an experiment conducted with wine. Participants were told one bottle was cheap and one was expensive. The expensive bottle got rave reviews from tasters, and the cheap one - not so good. However, the labels were switched. The expensive wine was actually the cheap wine.

Perception counts for a lot.

So if your angle is cheap, make sure your margins are still high enough to sustain you. Only you know how much you need to survive at any given time.

Alternatively, target ruthlessly, either by offering a superior, needed product, more niche know-how, or find some other angle where there is untapped demand. Be prepared to prove your worth by providing case studies describing how you've solved people's business problems in the past.

Got any other tips for those starting out? It would be great if you can share what you know :)

Why Be Fair

We've discussed in the past about how our brand is "everything we do".

As an SEO provider, business owner, or service provider, your brand is more than your logo, website and advertising. It's also what you say, what you do, how you act, and how you treat people.

Today, let's look at the benefits of using fairness as a way to add value to your brand.

The Importance Of Reciprocation

We all know about "win-win" deals.

The best deals leave enough on both sides of the deal so both parties can prosper. A deal where one party takes all and the other party gets very little isn't desirable for many reasons, one being it just isn't fair.

Rational business theory often overlooks this point. If a client "wins" by screwing you down to the very last cent, and concludes the deal, then supposedly everything should now proceed through to delivery and conclusion. But humans are emotional. The aggrieved SEO is hardly going to act like a true partner. More likely, they'll look to reciprocate the treatment they've received.

What is the cost of negative reciprocation?

We are social animals. If someone treats us well, and is fair, we feel we should treat them likewise. If someone screws us over - well - they can't expect us to give 110%. What they can likely expect is negative reciprocation, which can manifest itself in many different ways. It's not quite "revenge", but such ill-feeling can end up costing a lot more than any savings the customer made on the deal.

The same is true of your customers.

The Process Of Fairness

It is important that your dealings with customers be:

  • Fair
  • Transparent
  • Honest

If you commit to being fair, and be seen to be fair, you can still get more out of the deal than the other party - win-win deals don't need to be, and most often aren't, 50/50 - but the other party is unlikely to resent you for it if they feel the process by which the deal was arrived at was a fair one. Psychological studies have shown people often care more about how a decision was arrived at, rather than what the final decision actually was.

Fairness of the process colors people's perception of the outcome.

What Does It Mean To "Be Fair"?

Be seen to be fair in the eyes of the person you're dealing with. This can be difficult to make concrete, but if you don't have a genuine intention to be be fair, you almost certainly won't achieve it.

In practice, it means not making arbitrary decisions, listening to all parties and considering their view. It also means making making the rules transparent. A game where only one party knows the rules breeds resentment.

An outcome should be reached where each party can see each step taken, and why it was taken. People may not even like the outcome, but they are much less likely to reciprocate in a negative manner if they feel they have been treated fairly, in a fair process. A sense of fairness runs very deep in our psyche- it's tied up with ego, self-respect, status and recognition.

This attitude of fairness can run across all aspects of business, not just in deal making and sales. It also applies to customer service. If a customer highlights a problem, how do you react? Do you see it as an opportunity to build brand? Do you seek an outcome that will advantage only you, or do you aim to arrive at a fair outcome for all? I'd wager aiming for the fair outcome is the better long-term bet.

But what happens if a customer is being unfair to you?

Of course, this can and does happen. Some people will take advantage. Again, seek to make the process fair and transparent, even though they might not like the outcome you seek.

Hard But Fair

Yes, yes - this all sounds very nice, but it's a shark-fest out there! That may be so, but you can still play hard whilst also using fair process. You've heard the phrase "hard but fair". The fairness makes the "hardness" acceptable. "Hard and unfair" tends to result in lawyers. In this respect, a fair process itself can add value, rather than destroying it by incurring extra costs.

Brand And Fairness

Proctor & Gamble have an internal set of "Ten Commandments" and the very first commandment is "Do The Right Thing". Their employees must demonstrate" rectitude, integrity and fairness". Sure, all companies say that, but the companies that actually do it build stronger on-going relationships, and strong brands. Do you return to companies who you felt treat you unfairly?

Your brand incorporates relationships with all those who you deal with, and may of those people you'll deal with over and over again. Great brands aren't just about the outcomes they achieve. They are also about how the process by which they achieve those outcomes, and if that process adds emotional value, as opposed to destroying it - by being seen to be fair - then your brand becomes stronger.

Why Many Successful People Become Jerks

Why Popular People May Seem Negative to Some

I was chatting with a friend today about one of our projects and he mentioned how he stopped liking a few other internet marketers recently due to their negativity. Him stating that gave me a bit of internal reflection, and I think it comes down to a few things...

  • When people get from a certain level of success to say 5x or 10x, many may feel guilty about making the money and become negative about others to justify their own behaviors (after all, in *many* cases, when you grow income beyond a certain level it can require either moral flexibility and/or the ability to sharply change your internal values).
  • Some people forget where they came from and become arrogant.
  • Market forces force you to value your time. If you don't the market will set it at $0. And so (the people they used to help for free) they now tell to screw off simply because their time is valued more and they keep having less of it to spread around to a larger pool of people. This is also a learned behavior because the neediest people are often the laziest, rudest, and least appreciative. If a person is not willing to pay you for your time they simply DO NOT VALUE IT.

That third point is worth thinking through from an economic perspective. The law of marginal utility states that the first x is worth more than the second x (be it Dollars, hours of free time, video games, pieces of food, etc). But if you are becoming abundant in one resource (cash) and scarce in another (time) the impact on the required rate of conversion is multiplied...not only is your time worth more, but even at a higher price you still have less of it to spread around.

I look to pass off some consulting projects I would have loved to have done years ago just because I have no time. (Or perhaps I lack the creativity to be able to derive sufficient yield from those projects). And, at the same time, in spite of having plenty of money to hire them I have been rejected as a potential customer. Rejection sucks, but trying to please everyone is a sure path to failure.

What is Popularity?

In Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody he described popularity as basically being an imbalance between the attention you garner and the attention you can give the market. Sure you can reach out to a few dozen people. A few hundred? Maybe. Thousands? Not a chance.

You Can Never Give Enough

In this interview Bob Dylan talks about how he can never do enough, and how the media distorts a lot of what he does in a negative frame:

On a micro-level, consider how a person who suddenly became popular may have been happy (and excited) to do an interview or 2 felt after about a dozen AOL robo-reporters contacted them in a single day. Suddenly it doesn't feel as exclusive, important, or exciting. Wait a week or 2 and see that 90% of the interviews they did never got published and it feels at best wasteful.

And people who are popular (even in small niches) have people try to give them false complements and try to goad them into doing free work. That is part of the reason I love our current business model. I can respond with "Great question. Feel free to ask that in the member forums!" It not so subtly tells them that if they value my time they are welcome to it, and if not then they are not.

Does the above always work out perfectly? Not always. I have been told I was rude from people who had questions about things with our site (and were alleged potential customers) but most of them were from people who were too lazy to read the publicly accessible information BEFORE trying to dip into my time. If someone needs a lot of your time to become a customer they are not likely to become a customer. And if you sell consulting then they are likely going to waste a lot of your time if/when they actually become a customer (as they will be the type of person who reads nothing, ignores responses, and has about 40 questions in their first day).

*(Perhaps the only exception to that is large slow moving corporations which need a sign off from many people. But even then I never do RFPs just because it means you are being shopped and they are not serious about hiring you).

Just a Quick Question ... (or 10)

You have to filter or else you are valuing your time at nothing. This is especially true if you run a small company and have heavy load on yourself day in and day out.

The big issue with email (especially with non-customers) is that you can never give enough. Even if you give your time away for nothing many of them try to use the "just one more quick question" approach. A recent freeloader asked "what do you recommend for an internet business?" and my response was "sell your time and expertise to people who value it enough to pay for it, and forget the rest of em."

And he got the message :D

But while mentioning the above about the perceived negativity of some other internet marketers to a friend, I wrote "the thing is, if we didn't chat and you didn't see me helping on the forums and just read my blog, sometimes I would sound quite negative right?"

A person who read the last dozen blog posts but didn't know the background context on Mahalo would certainly think that way. But those posts were made out of love for the industry. You just need to share the love to understand it. ;)

Deciding what goes where bit is also where selling information becomes tricky. There are tips worth 3, 4, 5, or even 6 figures (based on results) that have been shared in our community. And I have also shared many such tips on the blog here too. But it is tricky to figure out what to post where. You want to post enough publicly to maintain relevancy and audience and awareness, but you want to keep a lot of your best tips private so the people who are paying you get far more than their money's worth. That is the only way to keep subscribers happy. And it is far more efficient to keep current subscribers happy than it is to churn through a ton of members & hunt for more.

It is amazingly hard to have enough time to keep learning, come up with original stuff, and keep adding value in a saturated marketplace for a few months straight. And it is infinitely harder to do it for close to a decade. But we try our best, in spite of the fact that expectations from us and pressure on us never lower.

When Doing Charity Work...

Once you go from helping everyone because you think you have to & feel it is your duty ... to a person who realizes 95% of people are useless (and won't even listen to the advice they claim to NEED, but need for free) ... well it makes you more cynical when helping the needy and resource-less, and keeps you focused on productively spending your time on the 5% who do matter :D

There is a large segment of people who think they can act like dirtbags just because you are a small business, but trying to help those types of people will just pull you down rather than lifting them up. Their lack of perceived value in others is a reflection of an internal perceived lack of value. The best marketing techniques are often a reflection of the passion of a business owner. Its very hard to make a career out of providing marketing services to people who lack self-esteem (unless perhaps you are selling a get rich quick package).

The fact that you cant help everyone forces you to filter. And if you want to do charity work you may as well monetize your time at market rate then use some of that income to feed a bunch of poor children in the third world, rather than give your time away to pikers who don't value it.

Insecurity / Peter Principal

Many people who are successful are not any smarter or more gifted than everyone else. They are not superheros. In most cases they just work harder and are more focused. Timing helps too.

And in some cases if people become popular too quickly they may fear that their reputation has got ahead of them. Any time they interact with others is some level of risk of being exposed. And if they interact with people quickly and hastily then those people will be far more likely to misquote them or try to tear them sometimes it is better to be non-responsive than to respond, especially when the opportunity offers little to no upside to counterbalance the associated risks.

A relevant example:

Bullying Freetards

One time a guy on Twitter complained about our conversion flow and he was too lazy to click the "don't show again" link on a pop up...while being too lazy to click that link he was willing to go to the length to write a feature attack post on his blog.

Another time on Twitter a girl threatened that she would no longer recommend our site because we require people to set up accounts to download our free tools. I explained that the email option is primarily so we could give the people who would potentially care to convert another path / chance to. But she stated that I needed to state what all promotions I intend to email for the next x months/years upfront to collect an email. Meanwhile you can't buy a server from her company without going through multiple high pressure sales calls with multiple final offers, etc. Freetards *always* demand more transparency from you then they provide themselves (or offer at their place of employment).

After reading a post on why I thought making Google Chrome SEO extensions was a bad idea that would cost me money while providing 0 yield one guy wrote a blog post about how evil I am for only offering Firefox extensions. He then explained how he thought all SEO stuff should be free. Meanwhile he is a programmer who has done exactly nothing useful for the SEO industry and has already heavily wrapped his blog in cheesy ads, promoting some of the very paid tools he stated should be free ... (and the ads were often promoting the scammiest end of the market, too).


Lots of great things are free. And its awesome that there are so many cheap or free options. But figuring out how to combine them all into something profitable is valuable. Having the courage to invest heavily (in marketing, in education, in content, etc.) is crucial in a market saturated by noise. Food and rent are not free, and neither is our time (when you consider that we all eventually perish). When some people filter out noise they may be seen as negative, but in most cases if you were in their shoes you would probably do the same things they do.* ;)

* Except for the cheesy mo-money rapper photos. Nobody likes that crap. NOBODY

The 'Information' Age

Relevancy is a good thing. It makes search and the world more efficient. Many attempts at relevancy, like search is getting more social, may just create more noise. But computers are getting better at understanding language is a good thing "our measurements show that synonyms affect 70 percent of user searches across the more than 100 languages Google supports."

But it seems each increase in relevancy justifies additional increases in irrelevancy to increase monetization.

'Accidental' Hijacking

Each individual piece sounds useful and helpful, but the end effect (and goal) is hijacking and misdirecting traffic to display more ads.

Search companies are hijacking publisher content to offer "answers" right in the search results, while testing displaying full images in the image search results.

Even when you claim your own business listing, Google will show your customers recommendations of other competing businesses on your business profile page. One of the best advertising based business models is extortion. And while the sum of the pieces may amount to that, certain ad networks are clever in how they tie it all together to *appear* innocent, even when acting like a shark.

What does a spam site do? Scrape content, misdirect visitors, and hope to get an ad click. Look at the above sequence through the same lens. It is the same thing - eeeeeeeeeevil.

SEO is Evil, Except When I Am Selling It!!!!

And yet a lot of the largest online spam publishers / scraper websites are taking a page out of Google's SEO professionals scammers selling snake oil, while building search arbitrage businesses based on stealing third party content and wrapping it in ads. Perhaps the goal of charlatan douchebags like Dave Sifry and Jason Calacanis are to promote the Google anti-SEO public relations messaging in hoping that Google will not burn their sites to the ground. It may well work.

A popular SEO figure who sold a content management system based on cloaking mentioned at a secret meeting amongst Google's spam team and top SEOs that he loves turning in spammers. If he didn't promote Google's misinformed view he probably wouldn't get away with a business model built on cloaking.

What are Technorati and Mahalo but glorified scraper websites? And yet to promote such trash they claim to be search evangelists fighting for the purity of the search results (while they scrape scrape scrape).

While publicly those people trash SEO, they sell SEO services, and a friend told me that they are even using high pressure telemarketing and email spam to pitch "services" ... one such message I was forwarded stated:

Thanks for taking the time to review our new and improved demo. I'm glad you liked it and I'm forwarding you the PowerPoint version for you to truly experience the animation. Once you've distributed to the right parties I can always hop on a quick call to go through the demo really quick to really emphasize the value as an SEO component which is what the end result really is. Along the way you reap the benefits of having great content, a social media platform that all work to SEO and drive traffic. So even if up front the value is hard to fit into the normal SEO purchase, think of it as SEO with bells and whistles.

And as long as Google continues to rank the main scraper websites from such companies, that provides the proof of value which sells the garbage content to big brands. And so the above pitch was made by you-know-who, and Demand Media is going to start selling content to old media sites "One example Kydd mentioned was Demand’s partnership with the travel section of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, which, like most newspapers, is strapped for cash."

Quick question: what is to prevent Demand Media from partnering with hundreds of such media sites to leverage the combination of cheap labor, keyword earnings data, the media site's PageRank, and really just doing some serious damage to the search results? Unless the trend is altered, within 3 years almost any midtail to longtail keyword of value will have at least 7 of the top 10 results recycling the same poorly researched semi-legible informationless information.

All of the top Google search results say it is true. SO IT MUST BE!!!

AOL made a slight profit this past year and they are scaling a similar "content" business model, pushing tons of robo reporters to conduct flavor of the minute interviews.

Who Does This Hurt?

  • searchers who may presume stuff in the search results is factually correct
  • publishers which actually do real research and ensure their content is factually correct
  • individual artists and authors who are experts but who are not hype driven & not self promotional enough to outrank dumbed down rewrites of their content heavily wrapped in Google ads

Recently there was an article about how fremium often does not work as well as advertised and the NYT highlighted Jaron Lanier's take on the online social contract:

“The basic idea of this contract,” he writes, “is that authors, journalists, musicians and artists are encouraged to treat the fruits of their intellects and imaginations as fragments to be given without pay to the hive mind. Reciprocity takes the form of self-promotion. Culture is to become precisely nothing but advertising.”

The above has been highlighted many times on this blog, but its damage has been far faster and far more widespread than even I anticipated.

Since Google is scraping so much CitySearch content, CitySearch felt the need to become a distributed content & ad network to remain relevant.

Strategic Advertising Fraud

Many solid publishers are getting lost in the ad mix:

The lingering effects of the economic recession, coupled with an expanding supply of efficient, and highly targeted online advertising networks, is reshaping the way big advertisers and agencies perceive the value of online media outlets. The result has been a pronounced polarization of the online advertising marketplace, with perceived demand rising for both the high-end of the most premium publishers and the low-end of ad networks and aggregators. This has caused perceived advertising value for the muddled middle of the marketplace - all but the most premium publishing sites, and the major online portals like AOL, Microsoft and Yahoo - to erode, as the ad industry focuses its attention on the top and the bottom players.

Those ad networks are (of course) full of fraudulent distribution which helps make them seem cheaper than they are, while leeching off the legitimate publishers and driving down CPM rates on legitimate media.

Click fraud has hurt the Google network's image, but a lot of it was isolated incidents from amateurs. While Yahoo! search got killed by fraud, Google still did pretty well.

But as Demand Media saturates their site the returns lower and they are in need of more links to get more "content" indexed. And so they are promoting a business model based on incentivized publishing, which includes both "The more high quality links to your article there are on the web, the more highly a search engine will rank it" and "Your family and friends are probably curious about what you are writing anyway. Send them links and invite them to take a look!"

Given that those author's articles are hidden in the bowels of a large site (and that they are already being encouraged to build exposure), how big of a jump is it to assume that some of them will search for this or this? How many of them will create unofficial click rings? How many will ask friends to click an ad while they view it? How will Google be able to detect such activity given the big smokescreen such a large site provides? They can't.

The Shifting Moat

As online ad networks become more polluted will that finally push brands into investing in top social media sites? Yes a lot of social media is seedy...but, increasingly, the "content" websites are not looking much better.

Who does the rise of content scrapers help? Those who are involved in the manufacturing of bulk misinformation, search companies which pay people to steal content and wrap it in their ads, and those who sell subscription content (well, up until some of the above outfits buy subscriptions to those sites to re-write and dumb down the content). In some markets (where the market leader is clear and obvious and oftenly referenced on the garbitrage websites) the backfill junk content might also help develop a competitive moat between the top brands and weaker competitors. It might also help some people involved in analytics, as more businesses need to squeeze every ounce of profit to stay alive.

Success from scratch in many polluted markets will require more grit, more scars, and better differentiation. As robotic content fills the search results, people will likely gravitate toward the expression of emotions. At the same time some employers are trying to prevent employees from having the opportunity to get their hands dirty, leaving an opportunity for competing businesses who want the additional exposure.

Interview with Andrew Shotland

Today I get to interview one of my favorite reads in the SEO blogoshpere, Andrew Shotland. Andrew runs the Local SEO Guide blog and has graciously taken some of his time to share with us his thoughts on Local SEO.

1. You have an enjoyable, albeit unique, writing style. Lots of people write about things worth reading but much of what they write, or how the present it at least, makes it pretty forgettable. How much has your style helped you in acquiring and keeping visitors to your site, landing clients?

With the blog I just try to be myself and talk about what I think is interesting - and let's face it local search, while often interesting, is not always interesting - so if I need to talk about doing keyword research for personal hygiene products to get my point across, so be it. It's no different in how i interact with my clients. I think half the reason my business works is because maybe I know what I am doing and the other half is because I am totally myself with my clients/readers.

While I am serious about helping my clients succeed, I try not to be too serious about much else. I have a friend who ran a pretty cool web start-up. His wife was a phd focused on the palestinian situation in gaza. I remember her asking him when he was going to stop wasting his life and do something serious. That stuck with me. I used to think building companies was a meaningful way to spend your life, and I still do, but compared to trying to solve Middle East peace problems, SEO is not exactly ghandi-type work. So you better enjoy it.

2. In reading your Local Search Predictions for 2010, I found the point about Google not allowing "agency accounts" with respect to their Local Business Center pretty interesting. I imagine it would make it harder on small businesses, who likely don't have time to manage their entire marketing campaign, to do the proper things within the LBC to make it work for them, thus make them less loyal to Google.

Do you think they will eventually implement that? They do that on the Adwords side and you can give agencies access to Analytics so what is with their reluctance with LBC? Do they want to engage the business directly and cut out the middle-person?

I really think they need to do this. First off, let's face it, a huge number of businesses would rather have an agency deal with their LBC account. But agencies have to trick Google into getting control of their clients' LBC accounts. It's really just ridiculous.

Even worse is that there are so many businesses that have problems accessing their LBC accounts when they part ways with an agency. That's a big problem. So it would make a lot of people's lives much easier to have a system that solves these problems.

That said, Google's POV on this is quite interesting. Googlers that work on LBC will tell you that the reason why many businesses would prefer an agency to manage their LBC account is not because these businesses have better things to do than figure out how to use the LBC, but rather because the LBC software design is not optimal. So if they come up with a better software design, then more businesses will use the service and there won't be a need for agencies. I like the apollo-13/mcgyver-like thinking here, but i think that flies in the face of everything I've ever experienced with how SMB's operate.

So I am optimistic that we'll get some kind of agency user thing happening this year. But then again I thought health care reform would get passed in '09 so what do I know?

3. Some marketers entering the "local" scene have preconceived notions about local SEO/PPC not being worth the effort because "most small businesses are cheap, they don't want to listen, and there is no search volume anyway". How real are the concerns and was/is that something you've experienced?

A. There's a ton of local search volume and Google, for one, has made big efforts to drive more web search traffic to local businesses (e.g. the 10 pack).

B. A lot of small businesses are definitely gun-shy about spending $ on SEO and search in general, but they are not stupid. The past year was a real watershed moment in terms of the number of SMB's jumping on the SEO bandwagon. The number of companies selling these services has gone through the roof and there are plenty of success stories out there. So the questions from a lot of these SMB's has gone from "wtf is SEO?" to "I know i need to figure this out. How can you help me?" While it's still a tough pitch to get a lot of these smaller co's to make the investment, all I can say is that there are plenty who are willing to step up and these are the ones who get great results and then help bring their peers into the market.

4. You mentioned a lot of small business can be gun-shy from an investment standpoint. Is getting a commitment on the dollar amount you need to make the campaign work the biggest hurdle in dealing with local SEO clients? If not, what is?

In my experience it's not very hard to get money out of the clients who understand the value of SEO, or at least those who understand that they need to understand the value. If they don't get it, then they are probably not worth pursuing. In my experience, the biggest challenge with these guys, big or small, is getting them to work on their sites to make sure that they are set up to convert. I am constantly surprised at businesses that know how to put together a TV or print ad that is designed to drive people into the store but don't bother to apply the same rigor to setting up their web pages. This is a big reason why so many of us in the SMB marketing world use pages other than the client's website to drive leads.

5. There are lots of places to advertise a site outside of search from a local marketing standpoint. what is your opinion on twitter, Facebook, and/or MySpace for local companies? The buzz seems to be Facebook is great for local businesses and local events, Twitter can be hit or miss, and MySpace is ehhhh.

The consensus in my little corner of the search marketing world is that Facebook is the place to be these days. Lot's of cheap, highly qualified, easy-to-target traffic. I have found Twitter to be an interesting source of traffic, but you have to be pretty creative about it. You need to be a lot more socially engaged in Twitter to get a lot out of it. I think Twitter and Facebook are going to get a lot more locally-oriented over the next year so it should be fun to watch. Nothing against MySpace, but it's not really a factor in my work.

6. Have you experienced any discernible difference between using the free listings vs paid listings/premium services on some of the big IYP's you mentioned in your Top IYP's for SEO 2009 post like Citysearch, Yelp, etc?

one of the biggest opportunities for local businesses is to understand how to optimize not just for Google, yahoo & Bing, but also for the big IYP's the traffic that comes from these sites is uber-qualified and most of the time businesses that are advertising on these sites usually just set it and forget it. if you learn how to optimize your ad on say, you can probably get just as much if not more business than from a well placed Google maps listing. for some of these sites there's no discernible benefit to having a paid v. free listing, but for a few of the biggies, the paid listings allow you to manipulate your listing so that you can better optimize for the site's internal search as well as for Google

7. What is the best way you find for targeting local keywords, since keyword tools aren't so good at it? Checking the popular variations of broader terms and tacking on local modifiers or just jumping right into Adwords upfront when you take on a client?

Adwords is really the best way to test if there is traffic for a locally modified keyword, but of course most SMB's would rather not spend the $ to figure that out. Most RBB's (Really Big Businesses) won't spend the bucks to figure this out either so why should the little guys be any different? That said, I have done enough of these projects for both big and small local search clients that I have a pretty good handle on what the queries are like for the big categories. And once you have done one in a market, the variation from market to market is usually not too big so you can kind of cookie cutter it a bit for those clients in new markets that don't want to invest the time/money to test. This will likely cover 90% of the good queries.


Thanks a bunch Andrew, great stuff as usual. To read more about Andrew and get more great local SEO tips and techniques please visit and subscribe to his blog over at LocalSeoGuide.Com

Mark Cuban's Mahalo Wants Your Blood (And Gets it TOO!)

Mark Cuban recently talked about how search engines and content aggregators are vampires.

There is no reason to be indexed in Google. ... You haven’t gotten anything back

But he failed to disclose how his Mahalo investment loots content.

If Google is a vampire (while sending away billions of Dollars of traffic for free) then what does that make Mahalo (which borrows your titles and abstracts as content to pull search traffic into their ad cluttered pages pages, while placing your content below the fold (while using nofollow on attribution links))?

Is the following accurate?

If you think otherwise, then please explain. ;)

Danny Sullivan TORE UP Mark Cuban in a must read article which only Danny could have wrote. It is well worth a read for anyone who wants to understand the hypocrisy behind the Mahalo position on content scraping / vampiring.

Slow & Steady vs Hype, Crash & Burn

HOPE is perhaps the single most lucrative thing to sell.

There are so many people in need of direction, while so few actually want to do the work required to achieve the end goal. Thus many scammers sell the end result up front while glossing over the hard work required to get there.

I was over at a friend's house in the bathroom and saw a copy of "Your Infinite Power to be Rich" sitting on the floor & flipped open to a random 102


A salesman needed an automobile for his new job, but he had no money with which to purchase one. However, he knew how to draw a check on his mental bank.

He told me that after he got the job, he went back to his room and formed the mental image of the car he wanted, with the positive certainty that it would be given him.
He struck up an acquaintance with another man in his apartment house who was going to Europe for six months and who said to him, "use my car until I return, and by that time you will be able to buy a car of your own."

If you ever read crap like the above please make sure to burn it, as it is useless.

Anything that requires you to close your eyes while listening to a marketer should make you assume they are preparing to work on another one of your orifices.

Many people who become rich are still unsatisfied by material possessions. And they often let the important things around them fall apart because they are too singularly focused.

Irrational Tweet From a Rich Man

A couple years ago a somewhat well known VC wanted to invest in us, but we had a bad gut feeling right from the get go.

Fast forward to December of 2009 and the guy who did that was Tweeting about a hate site he made for his wife, who he is now going through the divorce process with. Not once, but something crazy like a half dozen times. And in between these Tweets he is Tweeting...

  • asking if anyone knows a bulldog divorce lawyer
  • about his new self published book which contains the word Peace in its title
  • how he needs some new executives for some projects

Who is the desired audience there? I mean after a person knows you will put up a hate site for your own wife, that you would be the type to sick bulldog lawyers on them, and that while you are doing so you are talking about Peace and are trying to recruit business partners ***in the same channel***

Crazy irrational.

But that is what happens when people are emotionally charged and lack balance.

Greed is justified by more greed and nothing else matters.

But what is the end goal?

You can't take money to your grave*

*Even the king of pop's gold plated casket only cost $25,000.

The Caustic Effects of Get Rich Quick Marketers

Ryan Healy recently pulled back the curtains on many internet marketing gurus, the lawsuits amongst them, and the general damage they inflict onto the market. Fake retirements used to cloak legal restraining orders against certain business practices, not paying affiliates, credit cards shutting down payment processors, etc etc etc.

The people who sell the image of the perfect lifestyle to suckers are the exact same people doing business deals with "partners" in the court room and going through divorce...something so scary sounding that I couldn't imagine it.

If you are already drowning in cash, but can't be honest with yourself and your loved ones, then why the need for a few more Dollars? What will they buy? Some hookers and a few STDs?

The Big Banks Are Just as Bad

This sort of crap happens at all levels though. It is so ingrained that many people just assume that if you make a lot of money you must be criminal or doing something morally reprehensible.

And from an affiliate perspective, when you look at the market segments that pay the most it is often the seediest ones (or the ones that are propped up by systemic fraud). A few years ago the mortgage market would pay a lot for leads because that is where the systemic fraud was.

Exhibit A:
2004, - FBI warns of mortgage fraud 'epidemic'

Exhibit B:

Imagine if you had key market insights and could trade on unreleased government information. A guaranteed source of easy profit exploited by some (especially when those people in government used to work for your company). And yet it is not enough. They need to steal more. There is a sickness in society that stems from our broken model of capitalism & materialism...where the central bankers flat out lie/cheat/steal to make even more money.

A nice take on it:

Despite the housing bust and financial crisis, very many of the people whose poor choices generated the housing bubble would make the same choices over again if circumstances repeat. Many industry participants, even those whose firms eventually went bust, were very well remunerated for their poor practices and, whatever their regrets, they kept the money. No one wants to create a catastrophe. But financial professionals want to remain free to make money in the ways that they know, and those are not good ways.

In July of 2007 former Citi CEO Charles Prince said, "As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing."

And now that those people crashed the economy, the opportunity is to sell get rich quick at home doing nothing in your underwear overnight guaranteed. And there is money to be made in helping you fix your credit (since the above mentioned criminal elite class got a free pass while stealing your money and devaluing your savings while robbing the country blind).

Time vs Character

In an environment where such bubbles are core to the economy there is a lot of uncertainty. What is the best strategy? Who should I trust?

One of the best strategies I have found is simply time. Give a shady person enough time and they will reveal their character (divorcing their wife over money, etc). Granted I haven't always been perfect (and especially not when I was in the military), but you can't find many (any?) blog posts about me ripping someone off. Likewise with the people I look up to. Where is it shown that Seth Godin or Eric Janszen or Danny Sullivan took someone for a ride? Nowhere. In spite of a a decade+ of experience.

Every day there is an opportunity to max short term revenues or long term staying power. Each choice and each interaction is somewhere on a continuum. Focus too much on short term revenues and a lot of the things that set you apart disappear.

One of the things Google does with their relevancy algorithms is to trust older and more established websites. You can fake a lot of things, but it is a bit harder (or more expensive) to fake age. And age is what sets apart a lot of the legitimate businesses from the above listed "entrepreneurs" who only need time to reveal their character.

Business vs Base Jumping?

Starting a business is a lot like more like base jumping than it is just following a hope map. Most the stuff you do won't work, but you only need to stay in one piece until you safely reach the ground. Sure you must have hope to get through the bad patches, but you also are forced to constantly improve to keep up with the market. Which is why a site called sells an SEO training program (rather than an ebook) in 2010. ;)

Here is one of the secrets in plain sight that the opportunistic types rarely show you.

That was the growth of search volume last year. STILL over 20%!

Years ago my mentor told me that SEO is a marathon, not a sprint.

In the longrun thin won't win, but (so long as you care) you can start off bad on low volume and get somewhere pretty quick when your field is growing at a 20%+ rate. And if you are new to the field you should be able to grow faster than the market because many business inputs have multiplier effects. You increase your growth geometrically as you

  • learn to optimize your traffic flow
  • increase your knowledge
  • increase the value of your knowledge
  • refine your strategy
  • refine your product or service
  • improve your conversion rates

Slow and steady isn't sexy. And it doesn't sell well.

But it works. :)

A further benefit to slow incremental growth is that as you grow your tribe and focus on their needs your customers become salesmen...helping attract more people just like them. And these are people who are pre-sold on what you have to offer, and why it is valuable. To a jaded audience testimonials from friends are far more valuable than sales copy. And almost everyone gets screwed into buying junk at least once before they find you.

Sales copy will likely push the quick returns no matter what (because that is what people want), but pay special attention to if someone is trying to use an aura of mystique on a brand new discovery as a marketing angle, while having little history. If they don't have much history the odds of buying a bag of smoke are much greater.

And if the recommendation comes with a big loud launch sequence then the chance of it being crap are even greater. And even if it starts out pure, the aim to "optimize" revenues at any cost often causes many partnerships to dissolve. Starting off slow and steady keeps things balanced and prepares you for growth.

Why Heavily Hyped Launches Are Often a Bad Idea

Wealth that comes quickly and easily often disappears the same way. Everyone has their hands in the cookie jar of success until the cookies are all gone.

When you are new to a market there are so many things to learn, refine and improve. Typically customers driven by hype are the most demanding (because an affiliate often oversells the product to get the commission) and the least qualified to succeed (since they want to rule the world in a day). The customers sold on a whole lot of hype and a whole lot of hope are basically set up to fail, trying to go too far too fast. They tend to buy on impulse, lack follow through, have a far higher rate of churn, a far higher rate of refund requests, and a far higher rate of chargebacks.

Further, every piece of a business can be optimized - from choosing who you want your customer to be, to who you don't want it to be, to what types of interactions to build, to what prices to charge, to balancing time spent on servicing customers vs growth, etc etc etc ... right on through to managing your personal load and fixing programming bugs (when we first launched our membership site the programmer made it such that if a person canceled they couldn't rejoin (even if the cancelation was due to an expired or stolen credit card))! But if you keep accepting feedback and incrementally improving you prepare yourself for heavy load by the time you build it.

Whereas a pull the cord and hope this works approach with lots of hype will almost always lead to disappointment and frustration. You probably want to test the equipment before jumping off the mountain :D

Even if the claims about non-payment in this lawsuit are NOT correct, it doesn't make a business look professional if they have publicly accessible lawsuits claiming that the fulfillment partner of choice is incompetent.

Long after the launches details leak out and experiences are shared. And that is what builds your reputation...good or bad. The slow and steady growth model offers time to fix errors and refine strategy. The launch and hope model doesn't.