How much value do you place on your good reputation?
If we looked at it purely from a financial point of view, our reputations help us get work, make money, and be more influential. On a personal level, a good name is something of which you can be proud. It is something tangible that makes you feel good.
As it becomes increasingly easy for people to make their feelings known and published far and wide, many businesses are implementing reputation management strategies to help protect their good name.
This area used to be the domain of big business, who employed teams of PR and legal specialists to nurture, defend and promote established brands. Unlike small business, which didn’t have to worry about what someone on the other side of the country might have said about them as it didn’t affect business in their locality, larger entities were exposed nationally, and often internationally. It was also difficult for an individual to spread their grievance, unless it was picked up by mainstream media.
These days, everything is instant and international. Those with a grievance can be heard far and wide, without the need to get media involved. We hear about problems with brands across the other side of the country, or the world, just as easily as we hear about them in our own regions, or market niches. If someone is getting hammered in the search industry, you and I probably both hear about it, at roughly the same time. And so will everyone else.
Media stories don’t even have to be true, of course. False information travels just as fast, if not faster, than truth. Given the potential, it’s a wonder reputation problems don’t occur more often that they do.
This is why reputation management is becoming increasingly important for smaller firms and individuals. No matter how good you are at what you do, it’s impossible to please everyone all the time, so it’s quite possible someone could damage your good name at some point.
Much of the reputation management area is obvious and common sense, but certainly worth taking time to consider, especially if you haven’t looked at reputation issues up until now. When people search on your name, do they find an accurate representation of who you are and what you’re about? Is the information outdated? Are you seen in the same places as you competition? How does their reputation compare to yours?
Also, some marketers offer reputation monitoring and management as an add-one service to clients so it can be a potential new revenue stream for those offering consultancy services.
The Indelible Nature Of The Internet
In some respects, I’m glad the internet - as we know it - wasn’t around when I was at school. There were far too many regrettable nights that, these days, would be recorded from various angles on smartphones and uploaded to YouTube before anyone can say “that isn’t mine, officer!”
You’ve got to feel sorry for some of the kids today. Kids being kids, they sometimes do stupid things, but these days a record of stupidity is likely to hang around “forever”. Perhaps their grand-kids will get a laugh one day. Perhaps the recruiter won’t.
Something similar could happen to you, or your firm. One careless employee saying the wrong thing and the record could show up in search engines for a long time. If you’re building a brand, whether personal or related to a business, you need to look after it, nurture it, and defend it, if need be. We’ll look at a few practical ways to do so.
On the flip side, of course, the internet can help establish and spread your good reputation very quickly. We’ll also look at ways to push your good reputation.
Modern Media Is A Conversation
These days, no matter how big a firm is, they can’t hide behind PR and receptionists. If they don’t want to join the conversation, so be it - it will go on all around them, regardless. If they aren’t part of it, then they risk the conversation being dictated by others.
So a big part of online reputation management is about getting involved in the conversation, and framing it, where possible i.e. have the conversation on your terms.
Most us haven’t got time to constantly monitor everything that might be said about us or our brands. One of the most cost-effective ways to manage reputation is to get out in front of problems before they arise. If there is enough good things said about you, then the occasional critical voice won’t carry as much weight by comparison.
The first step is to audit your current position. Search on your name and/or brand. What do you see in the top ten? Do the results reflect what you’re about? Is there anything negative showing up? If so, can you respond to it by way of a comment section? This is the exact same information your customers will see, of course, when they look you up.
If you’re not seeing accurate content, you may need to update or publish more appropriate content on your own sites, and those sites that come up in the top ten, where possible. More aggressive SEO approaches involve flooding the SERPs with positive content in an attempt to push down any negative stories below the fold so they are less likely to be seen. This is probably not quite as effective as addressing the underlying issues that caused the negative press in the first place, unless the criticisms were malicious, in which case, game on.
Next, conduct the same set of searches on your competitors. How does their reputation compare? Are they being seen in places you aren't? Are they getting positive press mentions that you could get, too? How does your reputation stack up, relatively speaking?
You can monitor mentions using services such as Google Alerts, Hootsuite, Tweetdeck, and various other tools. There’s another big list of tools here. Google runs "Me On The Web" as part of the Google Dashboard.
Monitor trends related to your industry. Get involved in fast breaking, popular trends and discussions. Be seen where potential customers would expect to see you. The more other people see you engaged on important issues, in a positive light, the more credibility you’re banking for the future. If you build up a high volume of “good stuff”, any occasional critical voice will likely get lost in the noise, rather than stand out. A lot of reputation management has to do with building positive PR ahead of any negatives that may arise later. You should be everywhere your customers expect to see you.
This is a common tactic used by authors selling on Amazon. They “encourage” good reviews, typically by handing out free review copies to friends, in order to stack the positive review side in their favor. The occasional negative review may hurt them, but not quite as much as if the number of negative reviews match the number of positive reviews. Some of them overdo it, of course, as twenty 5 star reviews, and nothing else, looks somewhat suspicious. When it comes to PR, it's best to be believable!
Create a policy for engagement, for yourself, and other people who work for you. Keep it simple, and principle based, as principles are easier to remember and apply. For example, a good principle is to post in haste only if what you are saying is positive. If something is negative, pause. Leave it for a few hours. If it still feels right, then post. It’s so easy to post in haste, and then regret it for years afterwards.
Seek feedback often. Ask people how you’re doing, especially if you suspect you've annoyed someone or let them down in some way. If you give people permission to vent where you control the environment it means they are less likely to let off steam somewhere else. It may also highlight potential trouble-spots in your process, that you can fix and thus avoid repeats in future. I’ve run sites where the sales process has occasionally broken down, and had customers complain. It happens. I make a point of letting them vent, giving them more than they originally ordered, and apologizing to them for the problems. Not only does going over-and-above expectations prevent negative press, it has often turned disgruntled customers into advocates. They’ve increased their business, and referred others. Pretty simple, right, but good customer service is all part of the reputation management process.
Figure out who the influential people are in your industry and try and get onside with them. In a crisis, they may well help you out, especially if they see you’re being hard done by. If influential names weigh in on your behalf, this can easily marginalize the person who is being critical.
In the space of one hour, my entire digital life was destroyed. First my Google account was taken over, then deleted. Next my Twitter account was compromised, and used as a platform to broadcast racist and homophobic messages. And worst of all, my AppleID account was broken into, and my hackers used it to remotely erase all of the data on my iPhone, iPad, and MacBook.
Explaining what happened and getting it published on Wired is a pretty good crisis management response, of course. When you look up “Mat Horan”, you find that article. Separate your social media business and personal profiles. Secure your mobile phone. Check that your privacy settings are correct across social media. Simple stuff that goes a long way to protecting your existing reputation.
What To Do If You Do Hit Trouble
We can’t please everyone, all the time.
A critical factor is speed. If you spot trouble, get into the conversation early. This can prevent the problem festering and gathering it’s own momentum. However, before you leap in, make sure you understand the issue. Ask “what do these people want to happen that is not currently happening?”.
Also consider who is saying it. What’s their reach? If it’s just a ranter on noname.blogspot.com, or a troll attempt, it’s probably not worth your time, and engaging trolls is counter-productive. Someone influential, of course, requires kid glove treatment. One common tactic, especially if the situation is escalating beyond your control, is to try and take it offline and reach resolution that way. You can then go back to the online conversation once it has been resolved, rather than having the entire firefight a matter of indelible public record.
It’s illegal for people to defame you, so you could also consider legal action if the problem is bad enough. You could also consider engaging some PR help, particularly if the problem occurs in mainstream media. PR can be a bit hit and miss, but reputable PR professionals tend to have extensive networks of contacts, so may get you seen where it might be difficult for you to do so on your own. There are also dedicated reputation management companies, such as reputation.com, reputationchanger.com, and reputationmanagementagency.com who handle monitoring and public relations functions. NB: Included for illustration purposes. We have no relationship with these firms.
Practical examples of constructive responses to negative criticism can often be seen in the Amazon reviews.
For example, a writer can respond to any reviews made about their book. A good approach to negative statements is to thank the reviewer for taking the time to provide feedback, regardless of what they said, and address the issue raised in a calm, informative manner. Future customers will see this, of course, which provides yet another opportunity to sway their opinion. One great example I’ve seen was when the writer did all of the above AND offered the person providing the negative review an hour of free consulting so the reviewer could get the specific information he felt he was missing! One downside of this strategy, however, might be more copycat negative reviews aimed at getting the reviewer free consulting!
The same principle applies to any negative comment in other contexts. When a reader sees your reply, they get editorial balance that would otherwise be missing.
It’s obvious, yet important, stuff. If you’ve got examples of how you’ve handled reputation issues in the past, or your ideas on how best to manage reputation going forward, please add them to the comments to help others.
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Place gun to my head. Pull trigger.
How many times have you come across corporate-speak and thought “who are these people trying to kid”? Yet, when many business people sit down to write, that is the sort of thing they invariably come up with.
Because they are business people. They are talking about business. That is how business sounds.
Well, it’s how they think business should sound, because that’s the way it has always sounded - a monotone drone of description, chest puffed out. These people are stuck in the business-speak echo chamber.
No one sounds like business-speak in real life. If you ask someone how their job is going, a lot of them will invariably say “it sucks”, "too busy", "it's okay". These same people might work for the firm that has says they were nominated “best place to work”. The image and the reality don't match. At best, people will ignore business-speak. No one really believes it.
There are better ways to communicate.
A lot of business-speak fails to communicate because it isn't rooted in truth.
I once worked at a Telecommunications Company. The marketing team was having a meeting about a new brochure and came up with the slogan - I am not making this up - "(Company Name) - first in service!". Once I stopped wondering how any of these people ever managed to land a job in Marketing, I asked how we knew we were "first in service"? It seemed a reasonable question, but I may as well have asked the Pope if he really believed in God.
Apparently, it was self-evident we were first in service! There was no basis of truth in it, of course. Just an empty slogan, meaning nothing. No measurement. It was a phrase that "sounded positive!"
I doubt any customers believed it, especially those waiting in call queues.
Do you notice how some small companies try to appear large? They list multiple offices, when in, reality they consist of two guys who have a call forwarding service. I’m not quite sure why a company would pretend to be any bigger than it actually is, because as soon as they get a customer, they are going to get found out. The feeling they’ll likely leave with that customer is that they are fundamentally dishonest.
Which is a strange approach to take.
Many customers consider small to be an advantage. Small can mean you are more connected with your customers as there is no barrier between you and the customer. They can talk directly to you. They can email you. They can see you Twittering. Many customers love that. Big companies have “policies”. They have call centers. They have barriers to entry. It’s no wonder they talk in business-speak. It’s just another means to keep people at a distance.
Small companies sometimes try to appear big because they think they need to be big in order to attract big companies as clients. This is sometimes true, but mostly false. It is true that big companies often like to deal with other big companies, mostly so they can successfully sue them if they stuff up. It is false because smart big companies will know a great idea when they hear one, and size simply won’t be a consideration so long as the small company has got something the big company wants.
For example, I mentioned I’d been reading “The Pumpkin Plan” recently. There is a story about a tiny two person company. They came up with a new way of marketing pharmaceuticals.
One major problem many pharmaceutical companies face is that they need to change their marketing approach in different regions, even though they are marketing the exact same product.
In some areas, they have to market based on price (Los Angeles). In other markets they need to influence the cardiologists (Boston). In other areas they must talk directly to African-American patients (Atlanta). Exact same product, different marketing strategy for each city. Get the strategy wrong, and they waste a lot of money and lose market share.
Two guys came up with a way to crunch the numbers that tell pharmaceutical companies exactly what the biggest driver of performance is in each territory.
Through a network of colleagues, they managed to land a meeting with a pharmaceutical company. Not just any meeting - they go straight to the top floor, and talk to the Chairman Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceuticals. They barely get five slides into their presentation when the Chairman stops them to call in his VP of marketing. They both love the idea! This solves a big problem for Johnson and Johnson. The result is that this two person company lands 500K worth of business on the spot, $4m worth of business in the first two years, and $14.2m by year four. They expand, of course.
So, they were two guys pitching to one the biggest pharmaceutical businesses in the world. They landed millions of dollars worth of business because Johnson and Johnson like their idea. They didn’t need to convince Johnson and Johnson they were anything more than two guys with a good idea. It didn't require any business-speak about mission statements, just a focus on finding and solving a real problem.
Tell A True Story About You (And Them)
If you’re ever tempted to write business-speak, try telling a story instead. Turn your pitches into stories. Turn your proposal into stories. Turn your presentations into stories. Make them true stories. Tell them in your authentic voice. People love to be told a story as stories are both familiar and revealing. A string of facts is never going to have the same impact. Business-speak will invariably leave an audience focused on their smartphones.
A story can be about how you solved a problem in the past. A problem just like the one your prospective clients are having. What was the problem? Why was it painful? What did you do to solve it? What was the result?
Easy and memorable. You can structure almost anything as a story. Stories move from the status quo, straight into a crisis (business problem), then the crisis is resolved, and a new status quo is reached. Start with a problem. Explain why it is painful. Bring in the hero - you - and tell them what you did to solve the problem. Then tell them the result - the new status quo.
Are you more likely to recall the text of my opening paragraph, or the story about the two guys pitching to Johnson and Johnson?
Stories can be so much more effective than business-speak.
The Google example demonstrates that no one can be good at everything, even if they do hire a lot of smart people and have billions in the bank. People, like companies, are good at doing some things, and are okay, or poor, at everything else. Not because they can’t do other things, but because they don't have the time, inclination or disposition.
This truth has led to specialization. Individuals specialize. Companies specialize. Countries specialize. In economics, this is the principle of comparative advantage and it is the basis of trade. We do the things we’re good at, and buy in the things we’re not so good at, or don’t want to do.
We Can’t Be Good At Everything
Like Google, we can’t be good at everything.
Many small businesses make the mistake of trying to do everything, mainly due to lack of resources. However, the opportunity cost of trying to do everything can mean they end up being not very good at doing any one thing. This approach can make them uncompetitive.
Just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should.
Like many web professionals, I can do some coding. Some web design. A bit of this. A bit of that. But I know there are people who are way better at those things that I am, so I let them do it. If I focus on what I’m good at, then I can make money doing that, and buy in the skills I need.
There are many benefits to specialization. For starters, it’s much easier to build a reputation or brand. Who is the go-to guy for Search Engine News? Many people would answer Danny Sullivan. Who is the go-to guy for search patents? That would be Bill.
Another advantage is that specialization leads to omptimized and more efficient processes, and therefore lower costs. The specialist can optimize and improve their approach to a niche activity in a way a generalist seldom can because their focus means they are more likely to see the details.
Most of us occupy very crowded marketplaces, which makes it difficult to stand out as a generalist. Brands, and reputations, can get confused and diluted if businesses spread themselves over multiple service areas. Virgin gets away with it - mainly because of the brand that is Richard Branson - but they are an exception, not the rule.
Not that this article is about the merits of specialization vs being a generalist. More a case of optimizing a business to focus on those areas that are most lucrative, and literally weeding out everything else.
Weeding Out Clients
A lot of companies, like a lot of people, live paycheck to paycheck. They don’t want to turn down any business, because the more clients, the better, right? The more opportunities, the better?
Not all clients are equal. Not all opportunities are a good fit. A client who costs a lot to service, who doesn’t pay their bills on time, who makes life difficult for you is probably not a client worth having. Sure, they might help keep us going to the next paycheck, but this is not an optimal way to run a sustainable business long term. Such clients present an opportunity cost i.e. we could be working with better clients, be making better money, and honing our service around mutual benefit.
For this reason, many companies make a habit of firing clients, or never take them on in the first place.
For example, last year, I received a letter from my accountant. She advised me they were reviewing their business and letting a lot of their clients go, although they were still happy to work with me, and asked that I have a chat with them if I had any concerns.
I did have a chat with them, mainly to confirm my suspicions.
They were deliberately getting rid of 50% of their clients. They had figured out who their top clients were i.e. the clients who took them the least time to service because their books were in order, and they eliminated the rest i.e. those clients whos books were a mess and were generally a pain to deal with. They downsized their business, reduced overhead and now tell me they are making more money than they previously were due to their optimized cost structure. They also appear to be playing a lot more golf!
They optimized their business, became more profitable, and have a lot more time because they made a point of figuring out the core of their business, and saying “no” to everything else.
Saying no can be very powerful. Prospective clients seem to respect this more, not less. There is something very appealing about a service that is exclusive and beyond reach. It signals a level of confidence that can be attractive.
Exclusive positioning is not just done for the sake of it. It’s a way to filter clients in order to find a good fit, which is especially important for small companies, as they have less resources available to carry bad risks. If we can figure out a client need that we know we can service well (specialization), with sufficient margins for us to be enthusiastic, and the client gets the value they were looking for, then everyone wins.
Let’s say running a PPC bid management service earns an internet marketing company the most money with the least effort. Let’s say they also do web design, but this is a lot more work (read: higher cost to service), and the margins are lower.
Would this company be better off saying “no” to new web design business? Quite possibly. They could dedicate more time to PPC, their PPC processes would get more refined through increased specialization, and they would likely be better placed to compete in the PPC space as their brand and attention becomes more focused. They could let go of the web designer, thus reducing overhead.
Granted, there are many factors to consider, but the question is this: are some areas of your business being serviced only because you can? Or does it make sense to focus on the areas where there is best fit? i.e. better margins, lower costs, most productive relationships - even if that means letting some clients, and even some staff, go?
The following is a guest column written by Rory Joyce from CoverHound.
Last week Google Advisor made its long-awaited debut in the car insurance vertical -- in the UK. Given Google’s 2011 acquisition of BeatThatQuote.com, a UK comparison site, for 37.7 million pounds ($61.5 million US), it comes as little surprise that the company chose to enter the UK ahead of other markets. While some might suspect Google’s foray into the UK market is merely a trial balloon, and that an entrance into the US market is inevitable, I certainly wouldn’t hold my breath.
Here are three reasons Google will not be offering an insurance comparison product anytime soon in the US market:
1) High Opportunity Cost
Finance and insurance is the number one revenue - generating advertising vertical for Google, totaling $4 billion in 2011. While some of that $4 billion is made up of products like health insurance, life insurance and credit cards, the largest segment within the vertical is undoubtedly car insurance. The top 3 advertisers in the vertical as a whole are US carriers -- State Farm, Progressive and Geico -- spending a combined sum of $110 million in 2011.
The keyword landscape for the car insurance vertical is relatively dense. A vast majority of searches occur across 10-20 generic terms (ie - “car insurance,” “auto insurance,” “cheap auto insurance,” “auto insurance quotes,” etc). This is an important point because it helps explain the relatively high market CPC of car insurance keywords versus other verticals. All of the major advertisers are in the auction for a large majority of searches, resulting in higher prices. The top spot for head term searches can reach CPCs well over $40. The overall average revenue/click for Google is probably somewhere around $30. Having run run similar experiments with carrier click listing ads using SEM traffic, I can confidently assume that the click velocity (clicks per clicker) is around 1.5. So the average revenue per searcher who clicks is probably somewhere around $45 for Google.
Now, let’s speculate on Google’s potential revenues from advertisers in a comparison environment. Carriers’ marketing allowable is approximately $250 per new policy. When structuring pay-for-performance pricing deep in the funnel (or on a sold-policy basis), carriers are unlikely to stray from those fundamentals. In a fluid marketplace higher in the funnel (i.e. Adwords PPC), they very often are managing to a marginal cost per policy that far exceeds even $500 (see $40 CPCs). While it may seem like irrational behavior, there are two reasons they are able to get away with this:
a) They are managing to an overall average cost per policy, meaning all direct response marketing channels benefit from “free,” or unattributable sales. With mega-brands like Geico, this can be a huge factor.
b) There are pressures to meet sales goals at all costs. Google presents the highest intent of any marketing channel available to insurance marketers. If marketers need to move the needle in a hurry, this is where they spend.
Regardless of how Google actually structures the pricing, the conversion point will be much more efficient for the consumer since they will be armed with rates and thus there will be less conversion velocity for Google. The net-net here is a much more efficient marketplace, and one where Google can expect average revenue to be about $250 per sold policy.
How does this match up against the $45 unit revenue they would significantly cannibalize? The most optimized and competitive carriers can convert as high as 10% of clicks into sales. Since Google would be presenting multiple policies we can expect that in a fully optimized state, they may see 50% higher conversion and thus 15% of clicks into sales. Here is a summary of the math:
With the Advisor product, in an optimized state, Google will make about $37.50 ($250 x .15) per clicker. Each cannibalized lead will thus cost Google $7.50 of unit revenue ($45 - $37.50). Given the dearth of compelling comparison options in insurance (that can afford AdWords), consumers would definitely be intrigued and so one can assume the penetration/cannibalization would be significant.
Of course there are other impacts to consider: How would this affect competition and average revenue for non-cannibalized clicks? Will responders to Advisor be incremental and therefore have zero opportunity cost?
2) Advisor Has Poor Traction in Other Verticals
Over the past couple of years, Google has rolled out its Advisor product in several verticals including: personal banking, mortgage, and flight search.
I personally don’t have a good grasp on the Mortgage vertical so I had a chat with a high-ranking executive at a leading mortgage site, an active AdWords advertiser. In talking to him it became clear that there were actually quite a bit of similarities between mortgage and insurance as it relates to Google including:
Both industries are highly regulated in the US, at the state level.
Both verticals are competitive and lucrative. CPCs in mortgage can exceed $40.
Like insurance, Google tested Advisor in the UK market first.
Hoping he could serve as my crystal ball for insurance, I asked, “So why did Advisor for Mortgage fail?” His response was, “The chief issue was that the opportunity cost was unsustainably high. Google needed to be as or more efficient than direct marketers who had been doing this for years. They underestimated this learning curve and ultimately couldn’t sustain the lost revenue as a result of click cannibalization.”
Google better be sure it has a good understanding of the US insurance market before entering, or else history will repeat itself, which brings me to my next point...
3) They Don’t Yet Have Expertise
Let’s quickly review some key differences between the UK and US insurance markets:
Approximately 80% of car insurance is purchased through comparison sites in the UK vs under 5% in the US.
There is one very business-friendly pricing regulatory body in the UK versus state-level, sometimes aggressive, regulation in the US.
The UK is an efficient market for consumers, the US is not. This means margins are tighter for UK advertisers, as evidenced by the fact that CPCs in the UK are about a third of what they are in the US.
As you can see, these markets are completely different animals. Despite the seemingly low barriers for entry in the UK, Google still felt compelled to acquire BeatThatQuote to better understand the market. Yet, it still took them a year and a half post acquisition before they launched Advisor.
I spoke with an executive at a top-tier UK insurance comparison site earlier this week about Google’s entry. He mentioned that Google wanted to acquire a UK entity primarily for its general knowledge of the market, technology, and infrastructure (API integrations). He said, “Given [Google’s] objectives, it didn’t make sense for them to acquire a top tier site (ie - gocompare, comparethemarket, moneysupermarket, confused) so they acquired BeatThatQuote, which was unknown to most consumers but had the infrastructure in place for Google to test the market effectively.”
It’s very unlikely BeatThatQuote will be of much use for the US market. Google will need to build its product from the ground up. Beyond accruing the knowledge of a very complex, and nuanced market, they will need to acquire or build out the infrastructure. In the US there are no public rate APIs for insurance carriers; very few insurance comparison sites actually publish instant, accurate, real-time rates. Google will need to understand and navigate its way to the rates (though it’s not impossible). It will take some time to get carriers comfortable and then of course build out the technology. Insurance carriers, like most financial service companies, can be painfully slow.
I do believe Google will do something with insurance at some point in the US. Of the various challenges the company currently faces, I believe the high opportunity cost is the toughest to overcome. However, the market will shift. As true insurance comparison options continue to mature, consumers will be searching exclusively for comparison sites (see travel), and carriers will no longer be able to effectively compete at the scale they are now -- driving down the market for CPCs and thus lowering the opportunity cost.
This opportunity cost is much lower however for other search engines where average car insurance CPC’s are lower. If I am Microsoft or Yahoo, I am seriously considering using my valuable real estate to promote something worthwhile in insurance. There is currently a big void for consumers as it relates to shopping for insurance. A rival search engine can instantly differentiate themselves from Google overnight in one of the biggest verticals. This may be one of their best opportunities to regain some market share.
I run my own business, but I've just completed a short stint working on-site at another company.
And after a few months working for another company, I realized that, at my own company, I had fallen into routines and work habits not all of which could be considered productive.
Procrastination, which some argue can be beneficial, can also be a problem when we really need to get things done. So, it was refreshing to see how other people organize their work, and an opportunity to reflect upon, and improve, my own work approach.
In short, I really needed a way of getting more valuable stuff done each day.
How Often Do We Produce Business Value?
Do you sometimes find that you’ve been working all day, but end with a sneaking suspicion you didn’t create a lot of actual value? Are you sometimes busy for the sake of being busy?
That was true in my case.
But now I organize my work to ensure I deliver something of real value - every day.
I discovered a method of working that has been around for a while, called Agile. Agile is a software development process incorporating a number of elegant concepts that can help skyrocket personal productivity. It is used by companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Yahoo and Salesforce.
Agile is a huge topic, and there are many flavors of Agile, but I’ve picked out the one key feature that can be very effective for individuals and small companies working in areas beyond software development.
But first, let’s talk about how a bunch of amateurs built a supercar in under three months.
Wikispeed are a group of part-time volunteers. They built a 0-60mph-in-under-five-seconds supercar, that can do 100mpg, and they did so in under three months. What is more astonishing is that the people building the car often weren’t in the same room, city or even country.
But with very little money, no factories, and little formal car-building experience they built something astonishing in a very short space of time. Currently, they’re building a full production car suitable for the mass market, and if you want to help build it, well, you can!
That's quite some feat in terms of both organisation and personal productivity.
Some people would be forgiven for assuming that the process must have been meticulously planned in advance, laying out precise complex technical and procedural detail, but that wasn’t the case. The project was broken down into very simple concepts even a child could understand
The work was broken down into stories
What Is A Story?
In Agile, a “story” is short, simple description of a feature told from the perspective of the person who will use the capability being created. It also defines the business value.
Here's a template for a story:
As a (type of user), I want (some goal) so that (some reason).
An example might be:
As a marketer, I want a report that shows the number of links coming to my site from Twitter so that I can measure if my Twitter experiment resulted in over 1000 links
We then create a list of tasks needed to accomplish the story.
Investigate software solutions for Twitter link measurement
Implement software solution
We then create success criteria to measure if the story has been completed i.e. what output of business value is created?
I can see a report that shows how many links are coming into my site from Twitter
Ensure You’re Focused On Delivering Value
On a Monday, I write a set of stories about what I’m going to do that week. I estimate how long each story will take, and then I arrange them in a hierarchy. The order of the hierarchy is determined by which stories produce the most business value.
Next, I count up the hours involved, and if the hours involved exceed the number of hours I have available, the story gets put on the backburner for consideration next week.
I define tasks for each story, and then systematically work through them. It’s like a to-do list, but richer and more valuable because each story forces me to think in terms of delivering something of measurable, business value relative to each other unit of work I need to do. Needless to say, engaging with Facebook doesn't appear often in my stories.
Big projects, such as entire search marketing campaigns, can be broken down into multiple stories, spread over multiple weeks, chunked into tasks, and then timeboxed as a means of project management. In plain, simple language, everyone can see what needs to be done.
If you have trouble determining the business value of a chunk of work you’re doing, chances are it isn’t producing much value, so you should ditch it and find something that does. In this way, you fill your day with the things that matter most.
Satisfaction In a Job Well Done
There are, of course, many ways to manage projects, and many different ways to use Agile. Most companies adopt different flavours of Agile, or use only bits and pieces as it suits.
Personally, I have little use in my own business for the numerous meetings and the often tedious ritualistic activity Agile can involve. I’m also wary of over-hyped--latest-greatest-thing-since-sliced-bread work systems, but I do find stories a great way of deciding what work is most valuable to do at any given time.
I use this chart tool, called LeanKit, to align the story tasks into pre-set columns of “defined” (meaning I've written the story and estimated how long it will take), “in-progress” (meaning "I'm working on it") and “done” (yay!). You can also use sticky notes on a board if you prefer a more tactile approach
I work on one story at a time (the most important first), see it through to "done" status before I start the next one. If I underestimated how long the stories would take, then at least I can be assured I've done the most important work first. If time runs out, the low priority stories simply drop off the end for reconsideration next week.
Click the image for slideshow:
The chart, called a Kanban, is a nice visual representation of how work is progressing, and if other people need to see what I'm working on, and where I'm up to, they can do so at a glance.
As a bonus, it feels very satisfying to move each task across into the done “column”.
Do you use any systems to help ensure you get valuable work done? Please tell us about them in the comments!
PS: I’ve barely touched on Agile, and its many, many variants - a lot of it is more applicable to production processes rather than marketing - but if you want to read more, see the links below.
Claiming to run an open auction, while running obfuscated quality metrics that price gouge advertisers.
At the same time Google is trying to push social sites to offer transparent data, they decided to block some Google search referral data (unless you are paying for the clicks, then you get that data).
When planning some of the features behind Google+ one of their employees wrote a book about the social circles concept with Google's blessings. Then, after he wrote the book, Google revoked permission to publish it!
Nuking affiliate links of some websites & then investing in Viglink, a network that automatically turns links into affiliate links.
Burning some networks of websites for being doorway pages & then investing in the Whaleshark Media roll up & launching Google Places.
Nuking some UK financial comparison sites for link buying & then buying BeatThatQuote.
Suggesting 60 or 90 days of penalty is a reasonable penalty for sketchy links & allowing BeatThatQuote to rank 2 weeks after penalizing it without cleaning up any of the paid links.
Android is open but internal Google emails revealed that carriers were getting wise to Google using compatibility as a club.
Not sharing revenue share stats with AdSense partners for a half-decade.
When websites are nuked they are frequently given no explanation. Worse yet, their content often re-appears in the search results on some other domain that stole it, in many cases while being wrapped in AdSense ads.
Arbitrarily making it hard to export AdWords campaigns to other services (& making it against the TOS to do same via the API).
The Panda update was needed to rid the web of garbage content. And yet Google is pre-paying Demand Media to post videos on YouTube. Since the Panda update downstream Google traffic to YouTube has more than doubled & YouTube is serving over a trillion streams per year!
Calls for "transparency" in SEO may sound great on their face, but once you peal back the covers the absurdity is laughable. If Google didn't discriminate against certain types of players & if Google didn't compete in the very markets that it judges then perhaps transparency would be a good idea.
However Google is perhaps the single biggest direct competitor in many markets, so to be fully transparent with them when they are the opposite with you is a naive business strategy:
I also disagree that outing each other would make the industry less like a mafia, because SEOs aren't the mafia. SEO is a symbiotic marketing channel reliant on Google, until the next big search engine/method comes along. In a mafioso analogy, Google would be the mafia - as they control the market. Removing all webspam wouldn't necessarily create better search results or a fairer market, as Google still decides who wins and who loses. The biggest winner being Google itself, the next level being their friends.
Secrecy is also the cornerstone of all marketing channels. Social Media for instance works in a similar way to SEO, except they have secret voting methods rather than secret linking methods. You don't see major social media companies outing a rival's voting methods, as it would shine a torch on their own methods. Even outside of marketing, McDonalds probably worked out KFC's magic blend of herbs and spices decades ago, but it's not in their best interest to tell everybody.
Outing webspam helps an SEO blog to keep their UVs up and their VCs happy. It helps a failing newspaper to appear modern and edgy, whilst allowing the contributor to launch a protection racket off the back of another company's misery.
Do You Want SEOs to Seem More Professional?
How often do you see tier-1 public relations firms marketing themselves by smearing other PR firms?
The question is less whether black hat and webspam are a good thing or not, but if Google is the unbiased and benevolent instance who shall make the rules. Google is a business and persuits its very own interestes, since it is aware of its market power with a lot of arrogance, aggresivity and obviously double standards. That was also Aaron's point, but seomoz has been missing the point completly in the last time.
I expect an SEO portal/community to focus on how stuff actually works/can work, not to propagate how the monopolist does it want to work. It is their risk of doing business if they decide for an algorithm, not ours. It is our risk however, to decide whether to stick to the rules or not. And it's not only about ethics but has several practical implications...
Full Disclosure Required, Except From Us
On paid links Google claims to require machine AND human readable disclosure. Then on their own site they use an ad color background that literally fades to white on many monitors. Maybe it is legitimate that they are only able to fool some of the users some of the time. But some of their ad initiatives have 0 disclosure at all. None.
You wouldn't know by looking at it, but according to the WSJ it is: "Google lists booking links to the airlines as advertisements, but the company declined to comment on how much money it makes from the arrangement."
There is no disclosure that you are in a paid ad funnel until the very last click. And those who fail to pay are either unlisted, listed last, or have a broken booking process where their brand is arbitraged in an attempt to flip the click to somewhere else. According to Leocha, “Google and the airlines have a sweetheart deal with each other, and the consumers are getting screwed.”
In the hotel market Google is also testing comparison ads & price ads.
Notice how little they care about relevancy so long as they keep the click on Google or are paid for the referral. They rank the car rental company Avis as a top Las Vegas hotel! And even the ad links that are sold off of that do not line up. Priceline pushes the Plazzo Luxury Suites & Booking.com pushes the Venitian.
If you only had to manage competing against other market competitors & staying inside Google's editorial guidelines then investment isn't that difficult, but if you have to stay within Google's guidelines in the short term yet try to build a business that is sustainable even after Google enters & destroys the market it is far more difficult.
Skimming the Cream
At any time Google can enter any market and skim off the cream: "An independent study from Leads360 showed consumers using Google’s comparison ads converted better than any other lead provider."
When Google enters a market it might buy out a competitor, buy out a supplier, bundle, use predatory pricing, grant themselves superior search placement, adjust the relevancy algorithms and/or editorial guidelines, violate IP, scrape 3rd party content, work with sketchy advertisers & publishers to undermine competing business models, or any combination of the above.
They are rarely transparent with their interests when they enter a market. Almost everything is labeled as "a beta" and "just a test." They promise to "act appropriately" & you may not be aware of the steamroller until you are under it.
I recently read a blog post about how anyone could do the above & the opportunity is open to everyone. But the truth is, I can't state that something will become a relevancy signal that manipulates the search results in order to get buy in. Or, if I did something which actually had the same net effect, Google would likely chop my legs off for promoting a link scheme.
A Google spokesman said "applications that are installed without clear disclosure, that are hard to remove and that modify users' experiences in unexpected ways are bad for users and the Web as a whole."
The business model of "violate & then buy protection" has helped lead to a protection-racket styled marketplace in patents that makes the risk of innovation for smaller players so expensive that it drives them under.
Where Google has gained a dominant position in a marketplace they can begin misdirecting for profit. Let's say you link to your own location on Google Maps to drive traffic to Google & help your users locate your office. Well in some cases they then reciprocate by confusing users by putting an ad in your location bubble.
Once again, you are forced to buy your own brand unless you teach your customers (and prospective customers) to avoid Google products.
Sure I May Have Failed, But at Least That Failure Was Transparent...
If you are fully transparent against an arbitrary set of guidelines when the company that judges you also competes against you & brushes up against the limits of the DOJ & FTC then you might lose for no reason other than being transparent. And not only are you competing directly against Google, but the algorithms are biased toward certain players.
Today the Internet is an information highway where anybody — no matter how large or small, how traditional or unconventional — has equal access. But the phone and cable monopolies, who control almost all Internet access, want the power to choose who gets access to high-speed lanes and whose content gets seen first and fastest. They want to build a two-tiered system and block the on-ramps for those who can’t pay.
But when Google launched their Panda algorithm they did the same thing.
For many businesses the unknown Panda risk is every bit as damaging as the great firewall of China. Each additional unknown kills x% of small new online businesses. If unemployment is high, companies are not hiring & the bar for self-employment is too high then the web stagnates.
If the old established corporate competition needs to be as good as you to compete then there is little risk to being transparent if the competition is doing nothing beyond following you around. But if the playing field is tilted and the competition only needs to be 5% as good as you are to beat you (and can easily come from behind to copy any success you have) then full on transparency brings much more risk than potential profits.
You Are the Ad
We are moving into a media world where the content becomes ads & even how people interact with the ads and content becomes a part of the ad.
Every time you view a page and click an ad (or even don't click an ad) you are feeding highly personal data back to Google. And they will use it as they wish. Here they are saying thousands of people like eBay, which is of course plenty reasonable, except for the fact they claim the people voted for that specific page rather than the site as a whole.
Yahoo! offers a useless "buying guide" for fish tanks that is nothing more than a paid pointer to Overstock.com.
If you click on their coupons tab on that fish tanks search Yahoo! shows you coupons for tank tops, which is pretty idiotic.
Why is this Yahoo! Shopping & Yahoo! Deals product so ugly? They outsourced it years ago. So it is a non-product & thus the integration can't be anything but crappy.
Why do Yahoo! & Bing typically get a pass? They own a fairly low search marketshare. Missing traffic from either or both of those is certainly significant enough to be felt, however even when they are combined it is still less than half of what Google controls in most markets. Market leaders are expected to operate in less conflicted & less self-serving ways than also ran players in their market do. If Microsoft would have had 10% or 15% marketshare for their operating system then it is unlikely their browser bundling would have come under such scrutiny.
Transparency in The Real World
In the past I highlighted how every form of media is manipulated in Why Outing is Bad, but I thought it would be fun to run through some other markets and highlight how transparency often exists only as an illusion (to lure in punters so they can be rooked).
TrueCar aimed to make that market more transparent by giving consumers pricing data online to remove some of the asymmetrical advantage dealers have & makes the sales process smoother for consumers. How does the automotive market respond? Honda issued threats to their dealers & now TrueCar has a hate video ranking for their brand.
This nontransparency is not something new, but rather the way it has always been.
It exists at every level of society. Countriesspy on one another & companies may chose to show different views of the world to different markets.
News International’s leading profit centre, the News of the World, was dependent on a very ugly culture of lawbreaking, hacking and impunity. This freewheeling, ask-no-questions attitude spread to other parts of the organisation, such as the Times and the Sunday Times, both of which used have used illegal or unethical techniques. Even more troubling, when senior News International management were confronted with evidence of wrongdoing, the company made false statements and took actions which prevented key evidence from reaching the public domain.
Both cases involve News America Marketing, an obscure but lucrative division of the News Corporation that is a big player in the business of retail marketing, including newspaper coupon inserts and in-store promotions. The company has come under scrutiny for a pattern of conduct that includes below-cost pricing, paying customers not to do business with competitors and accusations of computer hacking.
Were The Robber Barons Transparent?
Going back into history it is sort of hard to pick a starting point (one can go to the spice trade & orders that are unsealed at sea, or likely earlier than that) but to pick a somewhat recent starting point, we could look at the railroads:
So how did unnecessary, inefficient railroads get built? Because of government subsidies. In short, the federal government paid to build the railroads through massive financing subsidies and also gave them ample land grants. The trick to building a railroad was not knowing anything about railroads or even about business; it was having friends in Washington who could give you the right financing and land subsidies.
Even then, the railroads lost money. Not only was there insufficient demand for their services, but they were run by people who were generally incompetent. (For one thing, they didn’t even know their own costs of doing business.) Yet the people who owned the railroads made fabulous amounts of money (of which Stanford University is one symbol). The main way to do this was simple. The people who controlled a railroad (generally by putting up very little of their own money, thanks to the government subsidies) would also wholly own a construction company. They would cause the railroad to overpay the construction company to build the railroad—in effect transferring wealth from railroad stockholders and creditors into their own pockets
"Get the facts" styled campaigns are rarely about promoting a complete worldview.
Remember the $500 million fine for Google from them pushing ads selling overseas Viagra in the US? Now they promote scaremongering ads against fakes from filthy labs.
Coca-cola runs The Beverage Institute & has "doctors" highlight how healthy soda is.
At the same time, when Pepsi was sued over an alleged rat being in a can of Mountain Dew. Pepsi's defense claimed: "the mouse would have dissolved in the soda had it been in the can from the time of its bottling until the day the plaintiff drank it" turning the mouse into a 'jelly-like' substance. But don't worry folks, it's healthy. :D
It is hard to know what is in our food & those who label things as organic have to fill out more paperwork than those who manufacture frankenfood. Then there are the baseline chemicals sold as biodegradable which are not. ;)
When looking at my credit card bill I saw a scammy $22.99 charge on it for a credit report I have never ordered. I looked up information about the "company" offering that service & the #1 result (with sitelinks) was my darn credit card company's website! They had to conduct a block on themselves, but if you don't notice it they will steal $23 a month until you die. ;)
Bank of New York Mellon ripped off their clients with unsavory Forex rates: "As investigators sought to determine whether the bank overcharged clients to execute their currency trades, a senior BNY Mellon executive nicknamed "Rambo" urged traders not to tell clients how much money they made on trading, according to the informant."
A former Federal Reserve member writes about the Fed: "No matter the legalistic interpretation, the Fed is, working through the ECB, bailing out European banks and, indirectly, spendthrift European governments. It is difficult to count the number of things wrong with this arrangement."
"What’s happened is that, almost overnight, we’ve switched from democracy in real-property recording to oligarchy in real-property recording. There was no court case behind this, no statute from Congress or the state legislatures. It was accomplished in a private corporate decision. The banks just did it." - Christopher Peterson
The financial markets are becoming glorified crack houses: "Frankly, I am concerned that Wall Street is becoming little more than a glorified crack house. Day after day, the sole focus of Wall Street is on more sugar, stronger sugar, Big Bazookas of sugar, unlimited sugar, and anything that will get somebody to deliver the sugar faster. This is like offering a lollipop to quiet down a 2-year old throwing a tantrum, and expecting that the result will be fewer tantrums. What we have increasingly observed over the past decade is nothing but the gradual destruction of the ability of the financial markets to allocate capital for the benefit of future growth. By preventing the natural discipline of the markets to impose losses on poor stewards of capital, and to impose interest rates high enough to force debtors to allocate the capital usefully, the world's policy makers are increasingly wrecking the prospects for long-term economic growth."
Individuals who put in extra hours of work because they are sold on the promise of their options may also find thosedisappear: "Taking away the value of options that are vested means that the concept of vesting becomes bogus. It doesn't matter whether the employee understood if this was the deal or not, it's a scummy practice, and it's ultimately self-defeating (both for the company and the industry as a whole). Who would go to work for Skype (or any PE-backed company) in the future? "
Limitless fraud before the courts & dancing on the graves of the newly homeless: "Court records show that the firm angered state court judges for alleged false statements and filing suspect documents. Arthur Schack, a state court judge in Brooklyn, in a 2010 ruling said that pleadings by the Baum firm on behalf of HSBC Bank, a unit of London-based HSBC Holdings, in a foreclosure case were "so incredible, outrageous, ludicrous and disingenuous that they should have been authorized by the late Rod Serling, creator of the famous science-fiction television series, The Twilight Zone."
The law firm said it would shut down after New York Times columnist Joe Nocera in November published photographs of a 2010 Baum firm Halloween party in which employees dressed up as homeless people. Another showed part of Baum's office decorated to look like a row of foreclosed houses."
That theft of physical property is ongoing: "Also announced over the weekend was the jaw-dropping, yet illuminating fact that the MF Global bankruptcy was fraudulently, nefariously and illegally drawn up as a Chapter 7 BK for a SECURITIES DEALER and NOT a commodity brokerage as it should have been. Look, MF Global was the second-largest non-bank FCM in the United States next to NewEdge which is the old FIMAT. If MF Global wasn’t an FCM, then there are no FCMs. Of course it was an FCM. It had $7.2 billion in customer seg funds as of August 31, 2011. And yet MF Global was immediately, from the get-go, put into Chapter 7 BK as a SECURITIES FIRM. This is fraud. MF Global’s BK should have OBVIOUSLY been established under Subchapter IV of the Chapter 7 code as a COMMODITY BROKERAGE."
And as banking criminals literally steal money, destroy lives & undermine the rule of law to grow their "profits" sleazeballs like Jamie Dimon think that the reason people hate them is envy.
The above makes no mention of helping Greece hide governmental debt, bid-rigging bribes in Jefferson County, robosigning bogus foreclosure documents, and a host of other crimes. But one thing in common with all the above crimes is this: no jailtime for the banksters.
Big banks represent the ultimate in concentrated economic power in today’s economies. They are able to resist all meaningful reform that could really change their compensation schemes. Their executives want to get all the upside while facing none of the true downside.
But capitalism without the prospect of failure is not any kind of market economy. We are running a large-scale, nontransparent, and dangerous government subsidy scheme for the benefit primarily of a very few, extremely wealthy people.
The actions of the financial cartel are both obvious & predictable. And the damage they do is felt worldwide:
Credit-financed economic booms, by turns in private then public credit as one ratchets up the other over a series of booms and busts, are as irresistible to politicians as hookers and maids.
The failures of American FIRE Economy policies are behind the movements in Libya, Yemen, and Syria, as reflation measures, from quantitative easing to currency depreciation, steal purchasing power from low income families world wide, acting as the most regressive tax imaginable. Simmering hatreds are exacerbated by the developing global crisis over oil supplies and costs.
The so-called debate about debt ceilings, spending cuts, and entitlements reductions is a red herring. The public debt crisis arose from the 2007 - 2008 private credit market crisis, not the government liabilities that have been building for decades. The mistake of both the left and the right is thinking that we can escape an output gap without facing up to the politically unpopular task of demanding that creditors take a loss on loans taken out during the credit bubble era.
A creditor that makes bad loans deserves to go out of business. Their outsized compensation can't be justified unless they are also made to eat their losses. But rather than holding them accountable for their own actions, societies the world overabsorb that pain.
"Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power"- Benito Mussolini
Money is a human construct. The fact that our money is now backed by nothing more than our collective future ability to "produce" relegates us to that of slaves.
Blood hours are a finite measure. Heartbeats.
What's in your wallet? Is it the new debt slavery card: "A personal bankruptcy is supposed to cut borrowers loose from lenders and debt collectors, but Capital One Financial Corp.—one of the nation's largest credit-card issuers—sometimes doesn't want to let go."
After dropping his younger daughter at school, Octa walked into Citibank’s credit card collection department on the fifth floor of the Jamsostek tower just after 10 a.m. Four hours later, he left the 25-story building slumped motionless in a wheelchair -- a victim of what police allege was a violent assault by debt collectors. Driven to a nearby hospital in a Citibank car, Octa was pronounced dead on arrival.
before being bailed out by governments, banks had never made any return in their history, assuming that their assets are properly marked to market. Nor should they produce any return in the long run, as their business model remains identical to what it was before, with only cosmetic modifications concerning trading risks.
So the facts are clear. But, as individual taxpayers, we are helpless, because we do not control outcomes, owing to the concerted efforts of lobbyists, or, worse, economic policymakers. Our subsidizing of bank managers and executives is completely involuntary.
The way the banks make money now is by hiding their losers off balance-sheet, or by forcing them on the taxpayers, and after having themselves declared "systemically important," adjusting their on balance-sheet exposures accordingly, crashing the system and cashing out on their leveraged derivative bets, also at the taxpayers' expense.
In real life, if there is such a thing anymore, all of the major banks are arguably insolvent. So, in reality, they're not making any money at all, they are merely having it transferred to them by their political operatives in Congress and the Federal Reserve Bank. This, after all, is the modern purpose of the Congress, and has always been the purpose of the Federal Reserve System.
government and banks are stuck together like a couple of dogs screwing and we don't know which is on top. Here, Republicans need government to finance war and Democrats need it to finance social programs. Both need it to finance both, as that is how government attempts to maintain power and influence over the people this day and time.
When Senate Democrats finally brokered a compromise over the proposed health-care law, a group of hedge funds were let in on the deal, learning details hours before a public announcement on Dec. 8, 2009.
The news was potentially worth millions of dollars to the investors, though none would publicly divulge how they used the information. They belong to a select group who pay for early, firsthand reports on Capitol Hill.
In the past, periods dominated by virtual credit money have also been periods where there have been social protections for debtors. Once you recognize that money is just a social construct, a credit, an IOU, then first of all what is to stop people from generating it endlessly? And how do you prevent the poor from falling into debt traps and becoming effectively enslaved to the rich? That’s why you had Mesopotamian clean slates, Biblical Jubilees, Medieval laws against usury in both Christianity and Islam and so on and so forth.
Since antiquity the worst-case scenario that everyone felt would lead to total social breakdown was a major debt crisis; ordinary people would become so indebted to the top one or two percent of the population that they would start selling family members into slavery, or eventually, even themselves.
Well, what happened this time around? Instead of creating some sort of overarching institution to protect debtors, they create these grandiose, world-scale institutions like the IMF or S&P to protect creditors. They essentially declare (in defiance of all traditional economic logic) that no debtor should ever be allowed to default. Needless to say the result is catastrophic. We are experiencing something that to me, at least, looks exactly like what the ancients were most afraid of: a population of debtors skating at the edge of disaster.
And, I might add, if Aristotle were around today, I very much doubt he would think that the distinction between renting yourself or members of your family out to work and selling yourself or members of your family to work was more than a legal nicety. He’d probably conclude that most Americans were, for all intents and purposes, slaves.
Clearly any pretence that markets maintain themselves, that debts always have to be honored, went by the boards in 2008. That’s one of the reasons I think you see the beginnings of a reaction in a remarkably similar form to what we saw during the heyday of the ‘Third World debt crisis’ – what got called, rather weirdly, the ‘anti-globalization movement’. This movement called for genuine democracy and actually tried to practice forms of direct, horizontal democracy. In the face of this there was the insidious alliance between financial elites and global bureaucrats (whether the IMF, World Bank, WTO, now EU, or what-have-you).
Of course there are "opposition research" hacks willing to dig up dirt on anyone with wide reach who opposes the state-sponsored fraud: "It will be vital,” the memo says, “to understand who is funding it and what their backgrounds and motives are. If we can show that they have the same cynical motivation as a political opponent it will undermine their credibility in a profound way.”
And, in spite of the FBI highlighting the massive mortgage fraud, and the above quote, the president (who is a horrible human being) aims to keep the population misinformed & ignorant, publicly stating that what Wall St did wasn't illegal!
this is how the much-lauded "freedom of the press" myth in the US actually works. If you perform the job of an actual journalist, telling truth to power, forget about attending press conferences at the White House, Pentagon or State Department. You won't even be admitted in the building.
The people who most heavily rely on pseudonyms in online spaces are those who are most marginalized by systems of power. “Real names” policies aren’t empowering; they’re an authoritarian assertion of power over vulnerable people.
Is there such a thing as "passive" income? Generally no. A person can cash out existing brand equity and exposure, but if they cash out too aggressively and/or do not reinvest enough then they are ultimately cashing out their market position and will eventually fade.
Does Google Make "Passive" Income?
Online there are some network effects that are hard to beat. MySpace had them over Facebook & only lost due to years of systematic incompetence & mismanagement. But if you are boastful about your business model competition will come and eat your lunch. Look at all the Groupon clones. And even Google has to claw and fight for every percent of search marketshare.
A person could say "well Google makes passive income" and I would counter that with "not really."
So far this month Google has made about a dozen search interface changes or tests & the underlying relevancy algorithms have likely had at least 3x or 4x as much change.
Keeping Google's Marketshare Costs Big Money
The propaganda Google spreads include statements like: "users keep coming back to Google even though they have a choice of a search engine every time they open a browser"
While Google maintains that their monopolist marketshare is due to user appreciation of superior technology, a ton of their exposure is paid for. I was helping a friend set up a new laptop and the amount of Google added to the machine made me feel like Google is the new Norton or Symantec.
If you use the Internet Explorer browser to access the web it comes with a Google Toolbar.
That toolbar defaults to enhanced features enabled.
Google not only pays to be the default search provider, but as part of that they also pay to have competition removed from the default options list!
Google also pays for Chrome to be installed in the laptop.
If you are curious enough to click on the pinned Chrome logo then when it opens they try to set it as your default browser.
Ads are also included within the interface of their online tools. For example, if you use Google Analytics they may recommend you try AdSense, AdWords, or their affiliate network.
The act of logging out of 1 Google service may trigger ads for another.
Google bundled chat into Google+ & they were fined by the FTC for bundling Google Buzz into Gmail, a violation of user's privacy.
Google's doodle drawings on their homepage may also promote their other offerings
Even if you don't use Chrome or the Google Toolbar in Internet Explorer then whenever you use Google they suggest setting it to your home page.
And even if you don't change your homepage, Google paid to be the default search box on Toshiba's default start page!
If you manage to somehow avoid all the above Google payola then they also pay other browsers (like Firefox) to be the default search service. Further, they then wait for those 3rd party browser plugins to have security issues & then do a bundled cross-promotion there, thus turning competing browsers into ads for more Google crap.
And when you go to update Flash, look where they tell you to search from
If your default search provider isn't Google when you install Chrome they use an option screen to help you change it, with Google being the first choice
Either Google is fibbing when they state how much of their existing marketshare is due to superior quality service, or they are hedging a risk of losing marketshare to Bing by buying placement everywhere they can. And to me this really highlights one of the big issues with truly "passive" online income. In spite of Google's success (& the great network effects they enjoy), even Google feels the need to spend hundreds of millions of Dollars a year buying exposure for their own browser, buying default search provider exposure in 3rd party browsers, and ensuring new computers are filled with promotional Google crapware.
Google also uses their browser's start screen to push beyond software into hardware...a cautionary tale for Android manufacturers after seeing Google acquire Motorola Mobility.
This sort of cross promotion is everywhere, from ads on Youtube promoting Chrome
to Gmail ads highlighting featured Youtube videos
and Google+ games having Chrome ads integrated as special items in the game
right on through to Google buying display ads promoting display ads.
Facebook realizes how powerful this cross-integration is & thus buys ads on Youtube as well.
But if you want to leave Google's ecosystem it takes a lot of effort, as Google is willing to advertise the Google alternative aggressively wherever they can.
Google recently extended their ecosystem of cross-referencing further by automatically adding Google Related to Google Chrome & the Google Toolbar, which recommends Google content within the browser no matter where you are on the web.
Google's bundling not only follows users around the web & personalizes ads, but it also bakes right into the core of their relevancy algorithms. Eric Schmidt stated "the internet would be better if we knew you were a real person rather than a dog or a fake person. Some people are just evil and we should be able to ID them and rank them downward."
Mr. Neronha said those efforts amounted to "window-dressing," allowing Google to continue earning revenues from the allegedly illicit ad sales even as it professed to be taking action against them. Google employees helped undercover Justice Department agents in the sting operation evade controls designed to stop companies from advertising illegally, he said.
"Suffice it to say that this is not two or three rogue employees at the customer service level doing this on their own," Mr. Neronha said in an interview. "This was a corporate decision to engage in this conduct."
Likewise, it costs Google a lot of money to deal with lawsuits that arise due to their business practices & lack of respect for copyright with photos, books & videos. They eventually had to develop an expensive video footprinting technology to adopt DRM features on Youtube.
likely violated Oracle patents (that will likely cost them in the B's)
had other patent issues which required Google to spend $12.5 billion buying Motorola (that is nearly 1/3 of the cash Google has built up through their IPO & saved profits in the 10-year history of the company)
Sneaky ISPs Redirecting Search Traffic
What is worse for Google, is in spite their default status, their huge ad budget, and being large enough to be sued regularly, even all that isn't enough to keep all the traffic they pay for, as there is widespread hijacking of search traffic by ISP providers.
Google Isn't Passive, but ___ Is
Google may have bit off more than they could chew & are certainly doing anything but being passive. But maybe some other companies that make great money are doing so passively. Offline that is certainly true in many instances, but online passive companies tend to disappear.
Look at all the work Yahoo! has done with their news box & their sports vertical, yet when you back out the cash on the books & the foreign investments the company isn't valued at much above $0. AOL has also cratered. In spite of their huge traffic streams they are not growing with the market due to search bypassing them & niche players picking them apart one vertical at a time. Running a portal profitably & sustainably is anything but passive.
Even deep into the long tail at the other end of the equation the profits may be every bit as scarce. Demand Media's accounting techniques show that they were far better at growing revenues than growing profits & the company may never be profitable.
The Limits of "Search"
Google & Bing keep eating more of the value chain through content scraping & a more interactive search experience that include new ad formats, like coupons & product ads with pictures.
In addition, search companies are challenging the boundaries of search by creating vertical media & ad networks that compete against a wide array of publisher websites.
The Huffington Post
Autonomy / Fast Search
MapQuest + TomTom
The Yellow Pages
Dell / HP
That "Shady" Competitor
When Google talks about "protecting users" one of the case studies / angles they push is the health angle:
The paid post at the top happens to be about brain tumors, which is a really serious subject. If you are searching for information about brain cancer or radiosurgery, you probably don’t want a company buying links in an attempt to show up higher in search engines. Other paid posts might not be as starkly life-or-death, but they can still pollute the ecology of the web.
While Google was using the life-or-death approach to policing link buying outside of their AdWords ad network, Google was knowingly selling search ads to Canadian "pharmacies" providing illicit drugs in the US. The official settlement document lists how Google insiders knew work-arounds to the automated systems & were working directly on managing the ad accounts associated with the illegal activities. Google had done so for over a half-decade & only changed their approach *after* they knew a sting operation was underway.
For those scoring at home, this has been Google's approach to the health vertical:
3rd parties buying links that *could* influence search results for important health topics = morally reprehensible
Google selling links *within* the search results for important health topics to criminal organizations = totally reasonable
Given the above investigation, it is not surprising that they shut down their health records initiative. They had already spent all their credibility.
Google may protect you from some third parties, but Google can not protect you from Google. :D
You can also do nothing wrong, but have your model undermined by looking too similar to a company that is exploiting Google's relevancy weaknesses & forces Google to apply retribution. A lot of small ecommerce sites were purged in the content farm update. What is so sad about that is that if not for accounting games & selling stock as a business model a lot of the biggest "success" stories in the content farm might not even exist.
While the above section focuses on Google, it could be about any competing business that touches the web...a bank which uses bogus accounting driving smaller banks out of business, a company that receives no bid government contracts associated with bribes & uses those "profits" to price dump in related fields, an ISP redirecting your traffic, etc. No matter how clean a business model looks at a glace, there is some gray area where businesses meet & exceed the numbers quarter after quarter.
Look, for example, at the sorts of links NetZero puts in some of their customer emails
And those links point at the illegal "fake news" styled $1 trials (with endless unstoppable recurring billing).
Look closely at any mainstream media site & you will run into those ads.
Are Passive Revenues Impossible?
It really comes down to how you define passive.
If your site doesn't evolve & isn't aggressively marketed then eventually a search engine or another competitor will pick away at your advantages until you are soon found ranking #2 then #3 then #7 then #20 then invisible. Or you might get clipped by an algorithm all at once in a sudden stop torch job that makes your site essentially invisible, or it may be a slow & painful debt by a thousand cuts.
This is one of the reasons I generally prefer to have a site with a 30% or 50% profit margin over one with a 90% or 95% profit margin. Sure high margins are great while they last, but if you don't reinvest enough over time an algorithm or a competitor will eventually torch some of those high margin projects.
When it comes to online income, passive and reliable are not synonyms.
If you saved the margins you made while they were there then you are lucky, whereas if you adjust your lifestyle to that level of income & don't save anything then dark times have appeared.
It turns out having passive frugal spending habits & active savings habits are crucial if your lifestyle relies on "passive" income. ;)
Being an ecommerce affiliate keeps getting harder & harder unless you have a strong brand and/or are selling things with a complex sales cycle.
Portable air conditioners is a pretty niche category, but when I look at it I simply don't see any opportunity on the SEO front unless you take on the significant risk of carrying inventory & drop hundreds of thousands to millions of Dollars on branding.
The Corporate, The Bad & The Ugly
Head keyword: note the brand navigation, the extended AdWords ads & the product search results that drive the traditional search results below the fold
Tail keywords are every bit as ugly, with Google product ads sometimes coming in inline, further driving down the organic search results.
And it is nastier when Google Instant is still extended. 10% of browsers can see a single organic search result!
Corporate, Corporate, Corporate
As ugly as that looks, not only do the larger merchants have an advantage in AdWords (getting their product ads on a CPA basis while smaller merchants have to pay on a CPC basis), Google product search (more reviews), inline search navigation options (featuring the same brands yet again), but most of the organic results (that are generally below the fold) are also the same big brands after the Panda update gave them a boost while torching their smaller competitors.
The Chicken vs Egg Problem of Scale
For online pure-plays (outside of Amazon.com, eBay & a few others) the "no opportunity anywhere" problem in search also harms the ability to be competitive on pricing because without the ability to rank you don't have the leverage over the supply chain the way that the big box stores do from winning everywhere in the SERP & having offline distribution. There is little opportunity to organically grow to scale over time unless you enter the market with some point of leverage (like going so far as creating the product right on through to marketing it to consumers), sell something totally different than what is already available in the market (and hope it doesn't get cloned), buy out an existing company that went bankrupt, and/or build significant non-search distribution channels first.
I suppose the last option on that front would be to promote your stuff on a large platform that is already doing well in Google (say eBay, Amazon, or Facebook), but doing that gives you limited control over the customer experience & forces you to keep chasing new one-off sales rather than building & deepening relationships with customers.
Killing Off Diversity
As Google collects more usage date (mobile is already 12% of search) these big box stores will have an even bigger moat between them & smaller competitors.
The "big box stores only" search results also create an experience that is bland & uniform. At first glance things may look different, but it is the same type of sites again and again: a lot of the brands cross hire, have similar "politically correct" cultures & have roughly similar customer experience sets. When you buy from Walmart you are not going to get that caring email from a founder offering hands on tips & advice. Scale requires homoginization, which generally kills of personality & differentiation.
Killing Off Innovation
The problem with the "be huge or die" approach to search is that most legitimate economic innovation comes from smaller players that challenge the existing power structure. Set the barrier to entry too high and you might have less spam to fight, but you certainly will have less economic innovation & more of the would-be innovators will be stuck working dead end job at dysfunctional corporations.
Now You See it, Now You Don't
Most people can't see what they are missing out on so they won't know, but (as Tim Wu put it so eloquently in The Master Switch) the same was true for AT&T when it held back innovations like the answering machine & what ultimately came to be the WWW. What sort of price do you put on email taking a decade longer to launch? How many other disruptive changes built off of incremental improvements will never appear because they simply weren't large & corporate enough to compete on Google's web?
The web was great because it offered something different. Unfortunately you have to search using something other than Google to find it.
Somebody, it seems, hired Burson-Marsteller, a top public-relations firm, to pitch anti-Google stories to newspapers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. Burson even offered to help an influential blogger write a Google-bashing op-ed, which it promised it could place in outlets like The Washington Post, Politico, and The Huffington Post.
And why would Facebook run such a campaign?
Confronted with evidence, a Facebook spokesman last night confirmed that Facebook hired Burson, citing two reasons: First, because it believes Google is doing some things in social networking that raise privacy concerns; second, and perhaps more important, because Facebook resents Google’s attempts to use Facebook data in its own social-networking service.
So now Facebook is trying to position itself as an advocate of consumer privacy rights?
Google Inc. is close to settling a U.S. criminal investigation into allegations it made hundreds of millions of dollars by accepting ads from online pharmacies that break U.S. laws, according to people familiar with the matter.
The pharma corporations are powerful & are in bed with the government. In spite of repeated felonious behavior in marketing their drugs for illegal off label use (which has literally murdered millions of people) these companies can have the government step in and protect their property rights, by having the government enforce unto others the same laws that these same pharma corps regularly break (literally killing millions of people).
Maybe Google is Philosophically Opposed to Property Rights?
While Google tramples on the property rights of everyone else, the first sniff of someone operating anything like they do drives Google into black-ops mode & they conduct a smear campaign. Google launched Buzz without warning, but when their feared Facebook was collecting more personal information than they could Google went into black ops PR mode warning against security issues in Facebook.
Remember that bogus "Bing is copying our results" stuff Google engineers did earlier this year? Google later rolled out their content farm update & many of the sites which were torched by Google are now getting more traffic from Bing. What does that tell us? If Bing was putting *any* significant weight at all on Google rankings & traffic then why didn't that carry any weight when Google torched a bunch of websites?
Here is the Google traffic profile for a site that was torched by Panda
And that same website's Bing traffic
Google traffic fell through the floor, while Bing traffic kept climbing. Some sites that were hit by Panda are getting more visits from Bing or Yahoo! Search than from Google.
Conclusion? Once again Google distorts media to promote itself & its business interests, while bogusly smearing competitors with fabricated trash.
Part of why Microsoft's search marketshare is less than Google's is that Microsoft is willing to block sleazy traffic partners, unlike Google. But Google's treatment of their partners is inconsistent. Using "inside voices" Googlers openly explain in plain English how they treat their partners: "we are using compatibility as a club to make them do things we want" - Google's Dan Morrill.
Big Companies Hate Honest Market Innovation
Large companies are largely counter to honest innovation in the marketplace. They are comfortable atop the perch and want to lock down innovation to maintain their current dominance.
Sure the big banks welcomed CDOs, MERS, etc. ... but those were welcomed precisely because they were part of an elaborate scheme of dishonesty and fraud. But the same society which brings us CDOs built on fraud (that ultimately cost you your job, your house, your retirement savings, the value of the currency, etc.) is also a society where dirty corporate whores push to force smaller market competitors to be entirely transparent.
I have for years been telling you even if you have no interest in the new gTLD’s you had to pay close attention to the process as whatever rules come out of that process will be attempted to be applied to all existing TLD’s including .com, .net and .org.
This is especially troubling because as you know the new gTLD process has not even been approved yet since the .Net contract is up for renewal, trademark groups are going to push for this new system to take away domains, be imposed on .net
The very domain name of the front organization that is pushing to remove domain privacy is registered using a private registration. ipconstituency.org uses Domain Discreet!
When a consumer or small business owner gets caught (acting like a big business, and) doing something illegal they go to jail. When a big business repeatedly commits serious crimes the wost thing that could possibly happen is a shake up of management. A company has no soul. A corporation can't go to jail.
As market niches get saturated, the winners are typically those with the deepest pockets.
Up until the last few years, the little guy has been able to prosper with SEO. The little guy didn't face much competition from big companies, because the big companies didn't get SEO. However, Google's current algorithmns and corporate strategy often have the side effect of benefiting large companies.
According to Google CEO Eric Schmidt, the Internet is a "cesspool" where false information thrives....Brands, he said, are the way to rise above the cesspool
There is a danger in reading too much into Schmidt's words, however this statement mirrors a lot of what happens in the search results. A big company or brand, with a crawlable site, will find it easy to dominate the search results. A big company will be linked to, discussed in the media, and have established keyword query volume - all factors which Google rewards. All these factors are becoming increasingly difficult for the small guy to emulate.
Factor in Google's ongoing moves to "own" verticals, and many more little guys will be crushed underfoot. It doesn't matter if your site is white hat, grey or black, if your site competes directly with a big company, or with Google - who are now a big company themselves - you'll almost surely lose.
This isn't just true in the SERPs, of course. It's also true in Adwords, which essentially rewards those with deep pockets. It's true in print. It's true across all media. It's true in politics, in money markets, and in life.
Power is like that.
Even if you don't face competition from big operators, you'll face competition from a million other little guys, especially if there is no barrier to entry. This is often the case on the web. Check out this article by Tim O Shea, founder of the short lived UK group buying site Snippa. Snippa was similar to Groupon.
Due to the number of players, commission levels are being eroded far from the 40-50% that Groupon achieves down to 0% just to get the deal (at Snippa our deals averaged around 10-20%). Merchants are getting numerous phone calls from prospective group buying companies and the conversation with many is more about the commission level charged rather than how they could offer a great discount for a group of new customers. This will continue until a clear leader emerges that can demonstrate a large customer base allowing them to negotiate better deals and commission levels. Many companies chasing the same deal is counter productive for the end customer.
Too many competitors errode margins to zero. Eventually, the biggest operator wins.
How To Protect Yourself And Win
When you're looking for a niche to get into, how do you evaluate it?
Do you look at the search volumes and look to position a site top ten for that search volume? An ok strategy, and one used by many in the SEO business.
However, lets take it a step further.
If you're thinking long term, you need to consider other factors, especially competitive threats. Ask: is this niche likely to be so lucrative that it will attract big companies? If so, then you may need a strategy to become one, or be bought out by one. You may win such a fight for a while, but the big company will invariably win in the end through greater reach and purchasing power.
Are you the cheapest, or are you the best?
The little guy is almost always better off aiming to be the best at what they do. Being the cheapest requires volume, and is very difficult to sustain. Many companies, both big and small, get locked in a downward spiral of price cutting. Again, you'll last being the cheapest until a bigger company turns up. Bigger companies can get price advantage through volume. If the internet equivalent of Wal Mart is your competition, you're in trouble if you compete on price.
Zappos was a small company, that eventually became a big company, not by competing on price, but by competing on service. They aimed to be the best at service. Had they competed on price, they wouldn't have got anywhere. The big shoe and clothing chains would have crushed them.
Is SEO your only strategy to dominate a niche? If so, then you're vulnerable to the whims of Google. Instead, think about ways you can develop a brand. I use the term brand in the widest possible sense. Being the best guy in the world to talk to about, say, the eating preferences of neon tetra fish - is a brand. Whatever it is you do, if you're not competing on price, aim to be the very best. If you have to carve a niche even finer, do it, at least until the costs outweigh the benefits.
Think about ways you can lock in customers/visitors and keep them coming back. If you only ever have search volume, then you rely on people who haven't seen you before. Encourage visitors to bookmark you, or sign up for a newsletter. Hook them in some way. Above all, be memorable. Being memorable will create search volume out of nothing (how many people searched for Zappos years ago? Or SEOBook? ). Building an audience may not be enough to fend off big companies, but it will help you fend off other small companies and new entrants, especially if they only rely on SEO.