eHow.com Using Expired Domain 301 Redicts to Spam Google

Jul 27th

Perhaps part of the "interesting data" Richard Rosenblatt was talking about was link anchor text on expired domains & cybersquatting efforts that he could redirect in bulk at high earning eHow pages.

Not to fear, Demand Media is a trusted Google partner, so the algorithm and engineers are prohibited to take action against the same activity which would get your website removed from the search results.

I am not sure how long Yahoo!'s link function will work for, but below are screenshots showing the inbound links pointing at these expired domains that eHow was exploiting.

After the domains got press coverage Demand Media quickly removed the redirects & the domains are generic PPC park pages.

The domain names are registered using a proxy for cover to hide who is behind this sort of activity, but if you click on the "Buy this domain" link it leads to AcquireThisName.com, which has been highlighted as an eNom front organization:

if these domains were acquired by Enom, fair and square and not from their own customers, then why all the deception, and not just offer these domains for sale through Enom?

Is this another example of registrar abuse?

Certainly, this maybe another reason for all domainers to take a long hard look at which companies they choose to do business with.

Buying expired domain names for links is something Matt Cutts loathes. In fact, the first time he came across spam it was someone doing the exact same thing eNom was doing above - taking a well linked to domain name and leveraging that link equity for another purpose (see the very first question in the following video).

The very technique that eHow uses today is *exactly* what caused Matt to create Google's anti-spam team!

Google's blind eye and double standards toward the large MFA spam sites are becoming such a big issue that it looks to be at the core of the marketing strategy for new search engines!

Portrait of an SEO

Jul 26th

The following is a guest post by Kpaul. :)

A long time ago, on an Internet far, far away (when I wrote for fun - and for free), I did a piece called Portrait of a Blogger. The year was 2002 and blogging was just beginning to really hit the mainstream hard. If you’re not familiar with the audience at Kuro5hin.org, they’re a snooty version of slashdot readers if you can imagine such a thing. (Mentioning both of these websites is outing my age, I think. I better not mention Compuserve.) The story was published on K5 and is still available today. I was told once that it drew a lot of traffic, although Mr. Foster never would share the exact numbers with me. (I imagine he’s laughing somewhere on his yacht these days.) It’s interesting to see how many of the links are still active in that article.

In any case, I thought about that story the other day when I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t start publishing my own content on my own sites earlier. (I spent the bubble years working for corporate media on the Death Star.) I let the idea of the piece gel in my mind for a while. I knew I couldn’t do another portrait of a blogger piece. I mean, I could, but I don’t think it would do as well as the previous one did. Also floating around in my mind was an okay from the esteemed Aaron Wall to submit a guest post for SEO Book. Eventually, these two ideas crossed paths, exchanged emails, and set-up a plan to combine the old Portrait of a Blogger piece with something relevant for Aaron’s audience.

So, without further ado, I give you a portrait of an SEO circa 2010

The SEO Newbie

Favorite software: SENuke
Favorite website: webmasterworld.com
Favorite drink: Jolt (cause that’s the stereotype and it was in Hackers the movie)
Favorite viral video: Numa Numa
Favorite rapper: 50 cent

A friend of their friend’s sister’s little brother makes money online, so it’s totally going to be possible. The SEO newbie looks forward to a life of an hour of work every week for untold riches. While more and more people are trying to make money online, many of them just don’t have what it takes to work for themselves online. While chasing the magic button - also known as the golden tip, the super duper affiliate secret, or even the extra double tip for making money online - the SEO newbie tends to get distracted from the one obvious thing that equals sucess - i.e. work. Once most SEO newbies find out making money online takes work (more and more of it as time passes and competition increases), they drop out of the game and go back to whatever it was they were doing. Before that, they’re usually found on Webmaster World gabbing about the latest “Google Dance.”

SEO Auto-Blogger

Favorite software: WordPress MU
Favorite website: Any with an RSS Feed
Favorite drink: Watered Down McDonald’s Pop (mass produced sugar water that sorta resembles soda)
Favorite viral video: Lazy Sunday (something everyone copied)
Favorite rapper: Black Eyed Peas

If one page in the SERPs is good, and ten pages in the SERPs is great and so on and so forth, what about 1 billion pages? That would be best, right? But how to write a billion pages worth of content? Enter the auto-blog. This spray and pray method of SEO is still tried by many new to the industry, but it is becoming more and more difficult to keep a site like this going for more than a few months. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, but there are few low level auto-bloggers who don’t end up getting burned. And yet auto-bloggers make up a large slice of the SEO landscape. This will undoubtedly change in the years ahead.

The mainstream media also plays this game :D

SEO Link Merchant

Favorite software: Yahoo! Site Explorer or any Online Link Tool
Favorite website: Any that will buy or sell a link
Favorite drink: Absynth (not legal anymore)
Favorite viral video: Star Wars Kid
Favorite rapper: Tupac

These people live and dream about links. From the value of links to anchor text to placement to link wheels, their world revolves around the power of the link. Since link selling and buying has gone into a shady black market type atmosphere over the last few years, some of these characters can be shady. A common technique is to peddle “text advertisements” for a low monthly rate to unknowing webmasters. While there are some websites and email accounts still operating in the open, there are also black hat link merchants in some very bad neighborhoods. While I probably shouldn’t mention it, there are some who see short term success using these methods. The thing is, online you want to play the long game. And for that, buying and selling links is out.

Phony SEO Guru

Favorite software: The autoresponder
Favorite website: forums.digitalpoint.com
Favorite drink: Acai Juice
Favorite viral video: That annoying frog techno thing!
Favorite rapper: Vanilla Ice

The schemes and scams are plentiful in the world of the phony guru. Yes, you too can make money by showing others how to make money. A lot of these so called gurus don’t even make money on the Internet other than peddling their ebooks and membership sites. The problem with these people is that after a person is burned by so many, they run the danger of not spending ANY money online. This can be just as bad as wasting money on worthless, phony gurus. For example, an SEO Book membership is a wise investment that will pay off in the long run. Don’t be afraid to invest money wisely after being burned by phony SEO gurus.

SEO Tail Chaser

Favorite software: The latest WSO!
Favorite website: warriorforum.com
Favorite drink: Budweiser (or something domestic and bland)
Favorite viral video: Anything their neighbor liked
Favorite rapper: Eminem

Usually found huddling around the phony gurus (which grow in numbers every month it seems as more and more people try to monetize the web), tail chasers are those people who try to copy current successful marketing methods online. If you study the whole rebill period of Internet marketing, there were a few people who started off strong (and somewhat legit), but as more and more people got into the game, the boundaries were pushed more and more. The highlight for me, I think, was seeing an elderly lady talking on a YouTube video about posting links to Google to make money. While some tail chasers may be able to make small (or even moderately large) amounts of money in a short time, they lack the skills (and vision) to replicate the success on a continual basis.

<INTERMISSION>

We interrupt this guest blog post for a shameless plug. On one of my blogs, I’ve started using D&D character alignments instead of ‘colored hats’ to tag various methods for SEO and marketing online. Okay, it’s not really unique and I doubt it catches on, but it gives more opportunities to categorize Internet marketers. We now return to our regularly scheduled guest blog post. Thanks, Aaron!

</INTERMISSION>

White Hat SEO

Favorite software: Vanilla Internet Explorer
Favorite website: mattcutts.com/blog/
Favorite drink: Water (good for you)
Favorite viral video: Anything LOL cats
Favorite rapper: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

When not wearing their “I Heart Matt Cutts” t-shirt or coming up with ways to make their website more unique and useful for visitors, these individuals like to volunteer at local homeless shelters and nursing homes. But seriously, these people make an effort to do things above board online. Many are still able to make a good living while doing this. Many don’t have the patience for white hat SEO, which is a shame, because it’s one of the better long term methods of success online. Think of your visitor after they get to your site more than trying to trick Google into ranking you high in the SERPs and you’re on your way to becoming a high level white hat SEO, which comes with many special abilities and powers.

Black Hat SEO

Favorite software: xRumer
Favorite website: Any that will take a link - willingly or not
Favorite drink: Whiskey (wine is fine but liquor is quicker)
Favorite viral video: Anything from 4chan
Favorite rapper: NWA

There are some who fall between the tail chasers and the SEO grandmasters (of all persuasions) who have the ability to recognize an opportunity and jump on it, making a bit of money along the way. The problem is that most methods used with Black Hat SEO are short term. They may have a huge payout, but the model is not sustainable unless you can stay somewhat ahead of the crowd when it comes to new things to exploit online. While some are fine with this, most at this level have the ability to come up with unique ideas on their own. When you consider that there’s about the same amount of work involved and the non-black hat techniques last longer, it makes sense to try to get beyond this stage in your SEO evolution.

Grey Hat SEO

Favorite software: A little of this and a little of that
Favorite website: wickedfire.com
Favorite drink: Coffee (some mornings with a dash of rum)
Favorite viral video: Boom Goes the Dynamite
Favorite rapper: Drake

If you mix black and white, you get grey, of course. The grey hat SEO uses both white and black hat techniques. While they’re more open than those who wear a black hat most times, they are generally more cautious than people into white hat SEO. For the most part the mix of both (good and bad) vary at any one time with grey hat SEO. Over the years, this label has morphed somewhat into a blue hat SEO, with a few key differences. Grey hat SEO, to me, means more about techniques while blue hat SEO concentrates on a mixing of web properties with different values.

Blue Hat SEO

Favorite software: A little of this and a little of that
Favorite website: wickedfire.com
Favorite drink: Coffee (some mornings with a dash of rum)
Favorite viral video: Charlie the Unicorn
Favorite rapper: Ice Cube

I’m pretty sure I know who came up with this phrase, although I’m not exactly sure of their definition of the term. To me, it follows the ‘SEO Empire’ line of thinking that was created by Eli at Blue Hat SEO. So, it would be a mix of pure white and somewhat grey (or downright black) websites in a network online. So, garbage sites at the bottom of the pyramid point up toward the money sites at the top of the pyramid. How this differs from straight grey hat SEO, I’m not sure, but it’s used by quite a few people these days. For the most part, Blue Hat SEO peoeple are well versed in the way the Internet works. And if they don’t have skills, they have someone in their network who does. There are quite a few high level blue hat SEOs currently operating online.

Article Marketer

Favorite software: Google Docs
Favorite website: ezinearticles.com
Favorite drink: Green Tea (proven weight loss, act now!)
Favorite viral video: None (text based viral only)
Favorite rapper: Mos Def (very lyrical)

When they’re not actually banging out articles for their own or other sites, they’re thinking up ideas and topics for their next round of articles. They know the value of content online. This group is split like most others into various levels of quality ranging from garbage to modern literature and everything in between. You will notice if you look closely that the more successful article marketers have higher quality content. This is no coincidence. Of course, good content is only one small piece of the puzzle, but you may want to consider outsourcing your content needs to an article marketer.

Viral SEO Ninja

Favorite software: Anything related to email
Favorite website: digg.com
Favorite drink: Tang (it’s orange, it’s different)
Favorite viral video: lonelygirl15
Favorite rapper: Kanye West (marketing magic man - good or bad)

When it comes to linkbait and causing ripples in the blogosphere, there’s nothing like the skills of a high level viral ninja. Part Charlie the Unicorn, part Star Wars Kid, and with a dash or two of LOL cats and one very, very, extremely tiny bit of 4chan, the viral ninja can mix media to send a message, get a laugh, or compel people to tell their friends about the content. As more and more people come online and try to be viral, it’s becoming more and more difficult to be unique and stand out from the millions of other people online who are vying for attention. The viral ninja understands this and is already working on three or four projects that will drown the numbers for the “Please don’t taze me” video.

SEO Grandmaster

Favorite software: LAMP
Favorite website: SEOBook.com
Favorite drink: Vitamin Water (expensive, but worth it)
Favorite viral video: Dancing baby (old school...)
Favorite rapper: Grandmaster Flash

You don’t hear from these people too much on the forums or at conferences. They don’t typically have a very active blog. They do, however, spend their time making money online - most times quite a bit of it. They apply their SEO knowledge quietly in the background, slowly building their empire piece by piece. They understand marketing and business principles and employ them. These people learned early on that wasting time online - especially at forums chasing the magic button - is not a good thing. They learned how to buckle down and apply the knowledge that everyone who’s anyone has. They know it’s all about applying the information rather than just knowing about it. While you don’t hear much from these people publicly, when they do talk quite a few people tend to listen.

Real SEO Guru

Favorite software: Firefox browser + extensions
Favorite website: Any that they own or are involved with
Favorite drink: Orange Pineapple Juice (sweet, sour, but good for you)
Favorite viral video: All Your Base Are Belong To Us (cause they do)
Favorite rapper: Jay-Z (making piles of money)

What are the lyrics from Ghetto Boys about real gangsters not talking much? Go Google it. (Sorry, Matt, it’s a verb now. You know there are secret Google parties celebrating the fact. Smile.) But yeah, real gurus aren’t all talk and no action. Real gurus of the industry don’t pitch anything and everything just to make a buck. The real gurus are few and far between, but they do exist. If you run into one, be nice to them. Unlike the SEO grandmasters, they’re more public and don’t mind interacting with the public. That said, they tend to value their time, so don’t waste it. This path has the most opportunities for people who are into SEO. (In gaming terms, it has the highest level cap.) It’s a long road, and it’s not a quest that can be undertaken alone, but if you’re serious about SEO, this is the route you want to take.

The Future of SEO?

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you know that the Internet is still constantly changing. Some of the changes are for the better and some aren’t as good, but they all are something that everyone who works online has to deal with. The SEO of last week - or even today - isn’t the same SEO that is going to be in operation over the next decade. Personally, I see the word organic being more important.

By organic SEO, I mean not mass produced, not a trick, not a scam, not a scheme, but an actual relationship between publishers and website visitors. The sites that are able to build communities around themselves are going to be the ones that survive, I think. And there is no method of SEO known to man that can create a community - a real one - out of thin air. That said, SEO can be useful to help draw people to a website that is worthy of a community forming around it.

-----

The above was a guest post from K. Paul Mallasch, who runs kpaul media, which publishes local news communities like Anderson Free Press as well as many niche websites. You can contact him at kpaul.mallasch@gmail.com

A disclaimer from Aaron: I thought it was fun, but I loath rap music (especially that from asshats like Kanye West), and I realize that being a publisher in the SEO space is way more profitable than being labeled as an SEO guru. I also didn't put the last picture in because he used me...and I felt that would have been a wee bit egotistical for me to publish a guest post highlighting me like that. ;)

But the post is still a lot of fun & I am sure you can associate with at least 1 or more of the above profiles. If not then you haven't been in the SEO space very long yet! ;)

Yahoo! Tests Microsoft Search Results

Jul 21st
posted in

Straight from the horse's mouth:

We’ve started testing organic (also referred to as algorithmic) and paid search listings from Microsoft for up to 25 percent of Yahoo! Search traffic in the U.S. The primary change for these tests is that the listings are coming from Microsoft. However, the overall page should look the same as the Yahoo! Search you’re used to – with rich content and unique tools and features from Yahoo!. If you happen to fall into our tests, you might also notice some differences in how we’re displaying select search results due to a variety of product configurations we are testing.

If you haven't given Bing much attention now would be a great time to review your Bing SEO strategy.

Blekko Cozy Up to Webmasters, Offers Killer SEO Data Free

Jul 20th

Both Yahoo! and Microsoft have confirmed that they will start testing the Bing algorithm live on some Yahoo! traffic this month. One of the big questions from the SEO perspective is what happens to Yahoo! Site Explorer? If it goes away then webmasters will need to get link data from web indexes built by SEO companies, perhaps either Open Site Explorer and/or Majestic SEO.

Yahoo! also offers a link: search in their BOSS program. While they have stated that the BOSS program will live on, there is little chance of the link: operator working in it over the longrun as Bing has disabled inbound link search on Bing.

Blekko Search Engine.

Blekko, which is a soon to launch search start-up, doesn't have much to lose in sharing data. In the short run anything to gain awareness will likely make them money in the longrun. And so they are doing just that:

Blekko is also showing just about all the behind the scenes data that they have to determine rank and relevancy. You can see inbound links, duplicated content and associated metadata for any domain in their index.

Blekko will also come with custom slashtags which users can use to personalize search. And end user feature for average users? Not sure. But it will be interesting to web developers & power searchers. There are already heated debates in the comments on TechCrunch on if people will use that feature. IMHO the point isn't for it to be an end user service for average searchers, but to be one which generates discussion & builds loyalty amongst power users. And clearly it is working. :D

They are also following the Jason Callus-Anus strategy of anti-SEO marketing (while giving SEOs tons of free data)

The SEO gamers, content farmers and link shoppers are not going to be happy. These guys are flooding the web with content designed to turn a profit, not inform, and the searcher pays the price. One company alone generates literally tens of thousands of pages every day that are solely designed to make money from SEO traffic. Slashtags are the perfect way to bypass them and search only the sites you like. One more reason the content farmers aren't going to be happy: we're opening up all the data that is the core foundation of their business. Link data, site data, rank data - all there for everyone to see. In one fell swoop the playing field just got leveled.

I think a core concept which many search engines have forgot (in an attempt to chase Google) is that if you have a place in the hearts and minds of webmasters & web developers then they will lead other users to your service.

Money is one way to buy loyalty. And Google will pay anyone to syndicate their ads, no matter what sort of externalities that leads to. But now the web is polluted with content mills. Which is an opportunity for Blekko to differentiate.

Since Yahoo! is a big publisher they had mixed incentives on this front. They do share a lot of cool stuff, but they are also the same company which just disappeared the default online keyword research tool and replaced it with nothing, and they recently purchased a content mill. This was a big area where Bing could have won. They created a great SEO guide & are generally more receptive to webmaster communications, but they have fumbled following redirects & have pulled back on the data they share. Further, if you look at Bing's updated PPC guidelines, you will see that they are pushing out affiliates and chasing the same brand ad Dollars which Google wants. Bing will be anything but desperate for marketshare after they get the Yahoo! deal in place.

Blekko goes one further than the traditional sense of "open" for their launch. They not only give you the traditional open strategy:

Furthermore, we intend to be fully open about our crawl and rank data for the web. We don't believe security through obscurity is the best way to drive search ranking quality forward. So we have a set of tools on blekko.com which let you understand what factors are driving our rankings, and let you dive behind any url or site to see what their web search footprint looks like.

but they also offer a "Search Bill of Rights" which by default other search companies can't follow (based on their current business models):

1. Search shall be open
2. Search results shall involve people
3. Ranking data shall not be kept secret
4. Web data shall be readily available
5. There is no one-size-fits-all for search
6. Advanced search shall be accessible
7. Search engine tools shall be open to all
8. Search & community go hand-in-hand
9. Spam does not belong in search results
10. Privacy of searchers shall not be violated

And so based on the above they appeal to...

  • anyone who submits themselves to the open ideology
  • journalists who hate content mills
  • searchers who hate junk search results
  • SEOs & webmasters who like free data
  • programmers who like to hack and tweak
  • people interested in personal freedom & privacy

From a marketing perspective, their site hasn't even launched yet and there is *at least* a half-dozen different reasons to talk about them! Pretty savvy marketing. :D

What Creates Digital Ghettos?

Jul 19th

Open source software is awesome, and I am much richer for it existing. But the concepts that work in widely downloaded free software may not apply as well elsewhere. One of the best books on this topic is Jason Lanier's You are Not a Gadget, which in large part inspired this post.

Openness is one of the most widely espoused important ideals upon which to build an online business. The reasons it is preached so heavily are

  • anything that is free doesn't have to get over the penny gap, so it is easy to gain traction when compared against paid alternatives
  • openness encourages economies of scale built on the labors of others (and re-mashing bits of others works together wrapped in a thick layer of ads)
  • the growth and margins created by the above 2 allow the embedded value in network effects to be flipped to a greater fool for a huge multiple of its intrinsic value

But most such plays are exploitative and short term based. They are leveraged bets with hidden costs.

The free tool you use is using you as a free tool.

Given people free access to post content to your server means you spend hours every week fighting spam, and when they post kiddie porn (or similar) your site goes down without warning. Did you build your website on that same "free" service that went down without warning? Oooops.

Not too long ago the publicity whore who preached the importance of loyalty & openness canned all his freelance writers with a 1 week notice, but revoked their ability to delete their own content before breaking the news to them.

YouTube intentionally violated copyright because they figured someone else would get stuck eating the $100 million legal bill.

The network of free content is a PageRank black hole which creatively flows PageRank to the shadow sites heavily wrapped in ads.

Have 43,807 friends? How many of them know your name? I define a friend as someone who you know something embarrassing about, who also knows something embarrassing about you. If there are no inside jokes there is no friendship. The only way you have thousands of friends is if the word friend is meaningless.

The network that was on top of the world seemingly only yesterday is today's digital ghetto.

Once you build exposure, the openness that was initially vital to overcoming obscurity can become a hindrance. Which is precisely why the highest value web companies are quite closed off. Sure they might have a public relations angle where they promote openness (and perhaps you should too), but beyond that it is often better to go the other way.

Multi-Level Marketing BS

Jul 19th
posted in

Excellent Penn & Teller program on multi-level marketing. BTW, NSFW. Those who are easily offended, shouldn't watch it. Any of it. Not one minute.....

As Penn & Teller rightly point out....

Easy Money Is BS

These multi-level marketing schemes aren't limited to home parties for sex toys, BBQ accessories, and household cleaners, of course. They are rife on the internet. If you've spent any time in internet marketing circles, you'll have seen hundreds, no doubt.

Worst business ever.

What Is Multi Level Marketing?

Multilevel marketing is where the salesperson sells items on commission - with a twist. The real "opportunity" - supposedly - is to be had recruiting a downline. A downline consists of other commission-only salespeople who try to recruit other commission-only salespeople. And so on. Some may even sell a few products!

Apparently you're not allowed to refer to the triangular-shaped Egyptian icon anymore....

The Problem With Any Marketing Opportunity

One major problem with MLM, or any market opportunity, be it affiliate or otherwise, is the size of the market.

All markets are limited. All markets are limited because the number of people is finite. Some markets are significantly more limited than others. For example, the number of people who have $2K, or whatever, to spend on, say, a rapid-mass-cash-code-instant-money-generator is quite small.

That isn't to say there isn't money to be made, however the more people trying to flick products, or recruit a downline, and the more people trying to rank well in the SERPS, the less chance a paying customer will arrive via any one site. Claims about making a lot of easy money on-selling such products, therefore, should be taken with a large grain of salt.

Evaluating Market Size And Potential

Over-hyped marketing opportunities often fail because they attempt to sell commodity product into very saturated markets. Or, there may be very little demand for the end product. If there was a lot of demand, surely they'd invest money in experienced salespeople in order to grab market share ahead of competitors.

So how do you size up a market, MLM or otherwise?

If there was an easy way, well....life would be too easy :) Really, it all comes down to some educated guesswork.

Here's one simple way of thinking about it:

Market size = the number of buyers in the market x quantity of product purchased buyers in the market per year x price per unit

You could get a rough idea of the number of buyers by looking at search volume against keywords you deem to have some level of buyer intent. Estimating the quantity they buy depends very much on the product. Does it need to be replaced often? i.e. a battery. Or is it a one-off? i.e. A house? When multiplied by the cost, you can estimate the potential size of a market.

There are a number of methods you can use. Some more complex than others. All involve guesswork. However, it's important to have a rough idea when deciding where to best focus your efforts.

Quantifying the potential of a market is somewhat more difficult.

I could find out the size of the car market in the US using the above equation, but that doesn't mean I could successfully enter that market. I would also have to evaluate my abilities, the level of competition, and the level of investment required.

This is often the mistake rookie affiliates/multi/level marketers make. They get suckered by the potential numbers, without stopping to think if those numbers make any sense. Even if they do, then does that mean the marketer can successfully enter that market?

Really, the marketing approach - be it MLM or otherwise - is irrelevant. The key questions to ask when considering any market are fundamental ones: how big is the market, how many competitors are there, and how can I compete?

Google's Brand Debacle Backfires

Jul 13th

As Google reached the limits of returns in direct marketing they started pushing the value of branding (because, hey, if you can chalk it up to latent branding value there is no cap on your max bid). Surprisingly, they even got many big brands to buy their own brands AND buy sitelinks on the AdWords ads. Some went so far as providing case studies for how much of their own brand traffic they were now willing to pay for, which they previously got free. :D

Sure that can make sense for seasonal promotions, but you could do the same thing by having subdomains and sister websites. Dell.com can be the main site, Dell.net (or deals.dell.com) can be the deals & promotions website, and Dell.org can be the good karma charity site. No paying someone else for brand you already spent to build. Beautiful. But I digress...

In October of 2008 Google's CEO revealed which ad Dollars they were chasing, and what loophole they were opening up in their relevancy algorithms

"Brands are the solution, not the problem," Mr. Schmidt said. "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool."

That led to the brand update, and now Google even recommends specific brand modifiers when you search for words like "digital cameras."

...and here is the problem...

Less than 2 years after Mr. Schmidt's prophetic brand drivel, the Financial Times is doing a series on Google, in which Google's Amit Singhal is blaming brands as being a major issue:

Companies with a high page rank are in a strong position to move into new markets. By “pointing” to this new information from their existing sites they can pass on some of their existing search engine aura, guaranteeing them more prominence.
...
Google’s Mr Singhal calls this the problem of “brand recognition”: where companies whose standing is based on their success in one area use this to “venture out into another class of information which they may not be as rich at”. Google uses human raters to assess the quality of individual sites in order to counter this effect, he adds.

No mention (of course) that it was Google which put excessive emphasis on domain authority, or how Google gutted the link graph, or how Google funds most of the content mills with AdSense.

Those are all irrelevant details, just beyond Google's omniscient view. :D

The other thing which is absurd, is that if you listen to Google's SEO tips, they will tell you to dominate a small niche then expand. Quoting Matt Cutts: "In general, I’ve found that starting with a small niche and building your way up is great practice."

And now brand extension is somehow a big deal worth another layer of arbitrary manual inspection and intervention?

Meanwhile scraper sites are still clogging up Google, and they claim they need to write better algorithms to detect them. It isn't hard to see the sun at noon!

If sites which expand in scope deserve more scrutiny then why is there so much scrape & mash flotsam in the search results? What makes remixed chunks of content better than the original source? A premium AdSense feed? Brand?

Content Farming - SEOs Get It, Journalists Don't

Jul 13th
posted in

Recently, there have been a series of negative articles about content farms.

Content farms, such as Demand Media's eHow and similar low-cost content publication sites, are now deemed an industry "concern". "Industry" being the traditional publishing idustry, and concern presumably being "competitive threat".

A trade group called the Internet Content Syndication Council (ICSC) has been circulating a document entitled "Council To Counter Web Content Generators Growing Clout". They talk about "job threatened journalists" and "diminishing content standards". Look, see what happens when the proletariat gets their hands on the printing press! :)

The pundits have also weighed in. So many journalists, eh. Looks like an over-supply if you ask me :) Some of them could learn a thing or two from SEOs.

For starters, many seem to be working on the false premise that Google returns "quality" results. Since when has Google ever been about "quality" results? Google's aim is to return links the searcher finds relevant.

"Quality" and relevance may not be the same thing, and thinking in terms of an arbitrary notion such as quality is to misunderstand what Google does.

For example, if a searcher, with a below-average level of reading in English wants a quick answer to a question about the common cold, then who's to say a simple, peer-produced bullet-point explanation is less relevant than a doctoral thesis on the same topic? Everyone benefits when the answer is factually correct, of course, but there's nothing to say the content mill won't offer factually accurate content just because the production process is low cost. If geared towards rankings, the content may also offer the facts in a format the user finds more useful.

Google is mostly about utility. It's about providing value to the end user. "Quality" is very much in the eye of the beholder.

Let's also not forget Google argue that Adwords - advertisements - are content, which are also rewarded by a relevance algorithm. I'm guessing the council won't be arguing that advertisements can be a form of quality content any time soon.

And what does quality mean anyway? And who defines it? I think I can guess what the elitists at the ICSC may argue - they know what it is, and they will define it! Nice work if you can get it, I guess.

Solutions To The Content Crisis

One solution they offer to this perceived "content crisis" is to create a set of public guidelines for internet content, or an accreditation process for syndicated content.

Heh.

Reminds me of the SEO "best practices" debates of years past. The result will be the same, of course - they'll end up talking to an audience that consists entirely of themselves. Everyone else will be getting on with the job of producing content.

What concerns us is that most of these new content syndicators are producing low-quality articles that are link based,” said Tim Duncan, the ICSC’s recently installed executive director.
“They are designed to score high on search. That drives down high quality content.

Wikipedia, and white hat SEOs, might not agree, of course. Content can both be ranked well and be highly relevant. This is, after all, Google's aim.

Some ICSC members have even advocated reaching out to Google to urge the search giant to tweak its algorithm to give more weight to content quality in its search results

Hilarious. I think they mean "any content they think is quality" Perhaps Google can send them a regular cheque each week, too! I suspect money is the true driving force, as opposed to any real concern for editorial standards. Have you seen some of the trash the MSM serves up?

Quality stuff, certainly.

At the end of the day, quality standards arguments are pointless. Besides the confused frame of journalistic news vs Q&A-style content, the end user decides the level of quality they will accept and pay for on the internet. The real problem traditional publishing and the mainstream media is facing is that their business model is screwed. Their content production costs are simply too high, and they are being undercut. If they think that people want higher quality, then the answer is simple - produce it and let the visitor decide.

And get some good SEO advice, so they don't inadvertently bury it.

Google Joining In?

In a further twist, Google might be looking to join the content mills at their own game. An interesting patent, "Identifying Inadequate Search Content" identifies keyword areas where there is search demand, but low levels of relevant content. That's essentially what Demand Media does. Assuming Google don't/can't get into publishing for every vertical in existence, Google would do well to make this information publicly available.

Especially to their hordes of Adsensers ;)

How You Can Create A Successful Content Mill

Ignore mainstream media journalists and whiners who like to form councils.

Understand that Google is looking for relevant content. "Relevance" is, in the end, deemed by the searcher. If there are a lot of searches for "pay levels for doctors" and you publish a page that shows "pay levels for doctors", then you are producing relevant content and Google will reward you.

Google are, no doubt, measuring how relevant visitors think the information is, and there are various signals that could be used to determine this. These signals will not come from a council of elitist, self-interested old media. The signals will be based on user activity and user voting patterns. These signals must be scalable i.e. links, visits, timeliness, recommendations, frequency of appearance, re-quoting, etc.

Increases in "quality" i.e. content depth and accuracy - will come from end-user voting. If users want deeper answers to search questions, either Google will deliver it, or users will abandon Google and go somewhere that provides it. Perhaps that's what ICSC should do - start their own search engine ;)

Having said all that, a lot of samey, lightweight content won't survive in the long run, because Google likes to provide variety in their result sets. Look for ways to differentiate your content. Quality is only one - arbitrary - point of differentiation. You'd be better concentrating on aspects such as ease of access, readability, findability, relevance and freshness.

Keep the end user firmly in mind.

Google As Publisher...

Jul 11th

They might prefer to use different labels (so as to minimize fear in the marketplace & slow down regulators), and they might claim that aggregate statistics control the investments & thus they are not really publishers, but they plan on skimming a big piece off of the top of many big markets.

AdWords was just the start!

Videos, maps & product search...look how Google self-deals in each while managing to call it a value added feature (or some such).

If Google collects data, hosts data, sorts data, recommends personalized consumption habits, and then makes small investments in new content from proven past performers (and then give them a bit of stealth promotion on their network)...how is it possible for Google to lose money? (Outside of lawsuits)?

Google can claim they are "democratizing" media while showing a string of successful partnerships based on investing using real time data that nobody else as access to. Meanwhile if you are a publisher they are gutting your business model through paying people to snag your content and wrap it in their ads, while they also redirect user attention to the companies and acts they have invested in.

"One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try and predict the stock market... and then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that." - Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

Note that there was no moral debate on the table. Their only internal limitation to setting up a hedge fund and swaying the markets to increase the profits of their trades would be that they thought it was illegal.

How much of the online ecosystem can Google consume before publishers promote other views of the web?

One way to fight this sort of strategy is Yahoo!'s sell or outsource everything but the logo strategy. It increases short term margins, but in the longrun it makes one that much more vulnerable. Google can always buy the partner of choice and then ride off the free promotion & validation that the acquisition gained from earlier partnerships. Sure adding more noise to a noisy market can bring in eyeballs, but fleeting ones. Death by a thousand compromises.

The other is to work in markets too small for Google to be interested in. Or to define & create a new vertical, like Zynga did. Even with as shady as Zynga's founder is, longterm that company is in a better position than Yahoo! is.

I Like it, I Love it, I Want Some More of It

Jul 9th

In information retrieval some words are powerful / potent. They are really descriptive and get right to the point of what someone is looking for. Other words have little to no value. The reason the concept of stop words came about is that you really couldn't tell much about a document by it including words like a, an, the, and, are, etc. The flip side of stop words are words which have a high discrimination value. Recently I was searching to see if there was a FedEx office in the town where my mom lives, and in spite of there not being one, Google still returned multiple pages (the home page and the store locator page) from the FedEx.com website in the search results. That was a great search result, and Google was smart to place more weight on the core concept word in the search (FedEx) while placing less weight on the location.

Words which have a low discrimination value may have a higher discrimination value when combined with neighboring words. Hot and dog might have a different meaning when they are next to each other. As explained in this Wired article:

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”

The concept of discrimination value also has value outside of search. If you get feedback from an anonymous person on a third party site it gets so much weight (maybe none). If you get feedback from someone who is not anonymous it gets more weight. If you get feedback from a paying customer it gets much more weight. One of the most powerful levels of discrimination is indeed payment. If a person pays you the (typically) you know who they are & they have expressed significant interest beyond what most people will do.

I think online business models which require payment from the typical user are not hyped and are not considered sexy because those sorts of models are often slow growth due to the penny gap and the requirement of greater trust to convert. Whereas a programming marketer can hear of a new network (say Pippers) and create 40,000 bogus accounts in an hour. The owners of Pippers can then talk about their explosive growth rate in the media, which earns them media coverage. In turn this increases their ability to raise capital and continue their "growth."

But many of the social networks end up being a bag of smoke that will fade because they aim to bucket people as beings in a database and are so broad as to have little discrimination value. I have been reading You Are Not a Gadget and he compared the depersonalization on the broad social networks to the beauty of an oud forum he is a member of. Much like charging for admission, obscurity is a filter which improves the level of discourse.

Compare the comments on *any* niche topic site to what you find on Youtube. If you can show me a site which is consistently worse than Youtube (outside of site like 4Chan which specialize in creating campaigns to try to make epileptic people have a seizure) I will buy you a beer then next time we meet. :D

My wife deleted her FaceBook account because she was annoyed at some people's behavior on it. Part of the problem with the social networks is that they are so broad and so frictionless that your activities on them really don't matter. As a marketer there are a couple ways to play such networks

  • largely ignore them
  • be friends with everyone
  • use bots

As a marketer the first of those options means you are saving your time for higher paying areas, and the second of those options means more people seeing more distribution of whatever content you create. But many of the helpful aids are at best dubious short term opportunistic ploys. The third option means you are one of the people who is going out of their way to make the web worse, but many will. ;)

Generally any given month I haven't been on Facebook for more than 5 minutes outside of writing & targeting ads, or approving a few real "friends" and hundreds to thousands of other people who claim to be my friend. But if you message me on FaceBook there is a precisely 0% chance of getting a reply. :)

When FaceBook launched Beacon a few years ago they wanted to sell peer pressure as an ad unit. If brands can show that your friends did something then maybe that can help lead to a cumulative advantage sort of environment which has you follow along. Beacon was such a flagrant violation of user privacy that it was quickly shot down by the market. But with the new FaceBook like button, they are trying to use like button clicks to put your name on ads:

"Marketers have always known that the best way to sell something is to get your friends to sell it," says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer. "That is what people do all day on Facebook. We enable effective word-of-mouth advertising at scale for the first time."

In the short run it may work, but in the longrun I don't like the concept. The reasons are many.

  • You can agree with one particular thing a person says and like it while being nearly diametrically opposed to their general philosophy on life. For example, when we launched that "How Google Works" infographic last week one of the reporters who wrote about it also mentioned how sleazy and nefarious the SEO industry is, and yet he was willing to promote the efforts of an SEO because it was published on a blog with a sister acronym in the domain name. :D ... Of the 3,000+ people who voted for us likely less than half of them know anything about me, or even my association with the site.
  • You can like one product from a company, but not like their other products. I have worked with GoDaddy as a registrar for years. And I have had no complaints on that front. But they also sell some search engine submission service that I would cringe to see my name promoting.
  • You click the like button once on one page. Years later the business you liked is trading in another area...they moved from remnant inventory to spyware, and you recommend them. ;)
  • An individual can have multiple lines of work. You might like Thom Yorke's role in Radiohead, but you might not like his political views or his solo work.
  • Imagine when someone buys a car that you passively recommended which has a manufacturer defect. One of their loved ones gets killed and you eat the blame.
  • Just like businesses, people change over time. This is especially true in the area of business, where a former partner or friend goes out of their way to betray your trust and screw you.
  • How do likes work with 301 redirects? How do they work when the content of the page shifts from genuinely useful to hawking trash with a hyped up sales letter?

A like doesn't have much discrimination value. And it shouldn't last very long. Why did you like something? When did you like it? Who knows.

Did you like Toyota right up until the brakes didn't work? After you get out of the hospital, how do you feel when your friend asks you why you are still promoting their products? Did you work for a digital sharecropper overlord like Jason Calacanas who required you to push their junk elsewhere? How did you feel when your friend asks you why you are promoting his trash after he canned you with 1 week notice while boasting how they are nearing break-even and have over 8 years of cash in the bank?

Once people experience that will they become jaded and stop recommending things?

And if there isn't a backlash against the like button then given enough time one of your friends will like almost anything. It doesn't matter the product/service/offer ... if your pool of "friends" is wide enough then one of them is receiving an affiliate commission for pushing something, one of them owed a favor to the merchant, and one of them liked the merchant because they picked up a tab in the bar last month.

A wave of 100 million blond hair 18 year old girls who are lonely have joined FaceBook friending up with the desperate and then promoting scammy wares to them via automated clicks of the like button. And then of course there will be services like SpikeTheVote.

Sure a fad might work in the short run, but given enough time and there will be friend recommendations for almost anything. Once the novelty wears of does any of it matter?

In time any database record can be an ad targeting mechanism. Will I be promoting some of the products my thousands of "friends" create or endorse by a click of the mouse which changes purpose after the fact?

At first online petitions were powerful because they seemed to have mobilized swaths of people. But then people realized that a vote represented nothing more than an automated form submission and clicking send. 2 clicks of the mouse. Not much discrimination value.

Excessive Worry About Competition

Jul 7th

Excessive Worrying = Missed Opportunities

Do you worry too much about who you are competing against? Do you feel competitive research leads to many more "move on please" rather than "let's go!" types of outcomes? Believe it or not, it may be a good sign.

Competition is usually a good thing, it means something is worth fighting for. A lot of hucksters try to push ways to "Uncover hidden markets that nobody else knows about, that you can make millions from with little effort, and that is yours for just $47."

Here is the problem with lots of opportunity and 0 competition: businesses follow the money and shorten the supply chain. If an ad market is ripe it means that some of those advertisers are also going to be publishers in the same darn market, targeting the same darn keywords. So if there is big money there will be competition. It is unavoidable.

It isn't so much that specific niches are glossed over, but more to do with the fact that the bigger a site gets and the more keywords it targets the less time it has to focus on optimization at a granular level. These kinds of sites leave the door open for you to come in and attack some of their profitable keywords by creating niche sites around those topics.

Consider that our competitive research tool shows a site like ehow.com coming in with 2,948,950 organic keywords they are ranking for in the top 20 (our tool is powered by SEM Rush). Lots of opportunity there!

However, if you are interested in your public-facing status then chasing the long tail of a large site may not be the sexiest thing in the world to you. If you are more interested in profiting from your efforts versus tooting your own horn then what should matter is how you can maximize profits while keeping expenses low.

Certainly I'm not advocating that you only focus on niche keywords. If you have the resources then you can go after just about anything you want. In either scenario, long-tail plays or broad keyword plays, there should be less worry about who your competition is and more focus on what their weaknesses are, and how you can beat them.

There is an intimidation factor that is at play in just about every situation where competition exists:

  • Business
  • Sports
  • Personal Relationships

Much of that intimidation is perceived by the underdog or the new competitor. The following points are worth keeping in mind:

  • The best team is not unbeatable
  • The biggest site is not strongly optimized for all their keywords
  • The girl or guy you are quite fond of is actually approachable

Many of the competitors at the top of the heap are there for a reason, they're good. However, it doesn't mean they are invincible or beyond reproach. In fact it's quite the opposite. Some of the upper echelon sites in your market likely have become lazy or so big that can no longer reasonably go all out on all their profitable keywords. There are no shortage of tools out there that can help you find potential keywords for your sites by looking at profitable keywords of a competitor's site.

You can't win every battle you fight but if you win more than you lose then you are on the right track. Competing, in and of itself, is not going to mortally wound you if you lose :-). Look at is as a learning lesson.

  • What could you have done better?
  • Where could you have pushed harder?
  • Do you need to rethink how you view potential opportunities?

The great thing about SEO is that (providing you don't torch the site) there is no 4th quarter, final set, TKO, or bottom of the ninth. Your timing for failing is based on when you think it's a good time to pullout and move on to another site or use a new approach. The effective holding cost for a paused project is ~ $0. And who knows, maybe a future algorithmic update or another search engine will take a liking to your site. As long as you have analytics installed you are passively collecting market data - not a bad deal.

Google can be the referee that makes a horrible call which ends the game but more often than not you get to be the decider of when to push and when to pull.

So rather than worrying about your competition you are better off tracking your competition and figuring out where they are outperforming you. I like to keep a running log of ideas and processes that my competitors are implementing along with notes on where I think they are weak and how they could do what they are doing more efficiently.

Armed with that information, along with your findings with free tools like SEO For Firefox, you can start in on a thorough review of your competition and the feasibility of competing against them. Some core items you'll want to consider are:

  • Number of backlinks from unique domains (don't be *wowed* by the total link count)
  • Anchor text distribution of external links
  • Domain age, relative to when the site went live (with a few links)
  • Presence of the site in some of the better directories like Yahoo! and Business.Com
  • .Edu Links
  • .Gov Links
  • Is the exact match ranking?
  • Is it all big brands?
  • Are there lots of interior pages ranking?
  • The on-page optimization of the site/page
  • PageRank
  • and so on...

There are a number of tools available which can help you find weak spots in areas where your competition is possibly profitable and where potential opportunities exist for you. We did a review of the following spy tools :

We outlined a competitive intelligence strategy recently in addition to having quite a bit of killer tips and posts in the competitive research threads inside the forums.

So while you shouldn't ignore the competition completely you shouldn't be consumed by it, particularly if it's just a few metrics that you find daunting. There are enough tools out there where you can try and clone most of their best strategies but at some point you will have to go beyond what they are doing.

Studying a competitor's on and off page strategies, then finding ways to exploit weaknesses and build on strengths, will produce a better ROI for your business rather than searching for "The Fountain of No Competition" promised by that really nice internet marketing fellow you got that email from :-).

And SEO is just one phase of your analysis. Does everyone have the same business model? Are there other options? Do they all have similar site structures? Are they so inspired by one another that they are missing huge market segments?

Free Data

Jul 1st
posted in

The other day a person contacted me about wanting to help me with ad retargeting on one of my sites, but in order to do so they would have had to have tracked my site. That would have given them tons of great information about how they could retarget all my site's visitors around the web. And they wanted me to give that up for free in an offer which was made to sound compelling, but lacked substance. And so they never got a response. :D

It is the same reason I don't use services like AddToAny on our websites.

Given that we live in "the information age" it is surprising how little people value data & how little they expect you to value it. But there are still a lot of naive folks online! Google has a patent for finding under-served markets. And they own the leading search engine + the leading online ad network.

At any point in time they can change who they are voting for, and why they are voting that way.

They acquired YouTube and then universal search was all the rage.

Yes they have been pretty good at taking the longterm view, but that is *exactly* why so many businesses are afraid of them. Google throws off so much cash and collects so much data that they can go into just about any information market and practice price dumping to kill external innovation & lock up the market.

Once they own the market they have the data. From there a near infinite number of business models & opportunities appear.

Google recently became the #1 shopping search engine. How did they respond? More promotion of their shopping search feature.

All those star ratings near the ads go to a thin affiliate / Google value add shopping search engine experience. Featured placement for those who are willing to share more data in exchange for promotion, and then over time Google will start collecting data directly and drive the (non-Google) duplication out of the marketplace.

You can tell where Google aims to position Google in the long run by what they consider to be spam. Early remote quality rater guidelines have highlighted how spammy the travel vertical is with hotel sites. Since then Google has added hotel prices to their search results, added hotels to some of their maps, and they just acquired ITA software - the company which powers many airline search sites.

Amongst this sort of backdrop there was an article in the NYT about small book shops partnering up with Google. The title of the article reads like it is straight out of a press release: Small Stores See Google as Ally in E-Book Market. And it includes the following quote

Mr. Sennett acknowledged that Google would also be a competitor, since it would also sell books from its Web site. But he seemed to believe that Google would favor its smaller partners.

“I don’t see Google directly working to undermine or outsell their retail partners,” he said. “I doubt they are going to be editorially recommending books and making choices about what people should read, which is what bookstores do.”

He added, “I wonder how naïve that is at this point. We’ll have to see.”

If they have all the sales data they don't need to make recommendations. They let you and your customers do that. All they have to do to provide a better service than you can is aggregate the data.

The long view is this: if Google can cheaply duplicate your efforts you are unneeded duplication in the marketplace.

Look at the list of business models Google publicly stated they were leery on:

  • ebook sites
  • get rich quick
  • comparison shopping sites
  • travel aggregators

3 out of 4 ain't bad. But even on the one they missed, they still have an AdSense category for it. :D






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