I run a good number of websites in a variety of verticals. One of my sites that does exceptionally well in the search engines monetizes poorly with contextual ads and does not yet have the scale to sell direct ads, so I tried integrating affiliate ads on it.
When I initially applied for CJ with this site, the advertiser I wanted to partner with rejected my site (I am guessing because there was a new account associated with that site). The traffic quality and relevancy are as high as you can get though. About 3 months later that same advertiser contacted me asking me to join their affiliate program with my search-marketing.info website, which is wildly off topic. I joined the affiliate program and also added my relevant site to the account about two weeks ago. I integrated the offer and waited for the money to roll in. But did it?
This particular affiliate program was a lead generation program, which I figured had a delay in reporting while the leads were classified and approved. This site is a high traffic site in a big money vertical. The advertiser's ad was integrated similarly to how it is integrated on other sites still in their program today, and their ad was seen by about 100,000 people.
I logged in today and still no conversion. Odd. Weeks for an approval? Hmmmm.
I looked at my invalid clicks report and it said my offer from this advertiser was disapproved. I was not told why, and was not even informed of this disapproval (from the advertiser who approached me) until after I searched out the information.
Meanwhile that same company is paying search engines thousands of dollars to buy similar traffic to the stream they rejected from me. I know someone in upper management in the marketing department at that advertiser, so I will ping them to see what is up with their affiliate manager, but how many publishers get scammed like this every day? Sleazy workflow their CJ.
The value add for publishers going through an affiliate network (vs going direct) are
having fewer accounts
independent reporting (for if you don't trust the advertiser)
the offer data on top performing offers
But on the down side,
many other marketers are looking over the same offers you are
some networks (like CJ) require tracking images or other footprints that identify your site as an affiliate site to search engines (and search engines do have algorithms to detect and demote certain types of affiliate sites)
communications channels are generally worthless when you add a bulky affiliate network to the mix
I have had a number of affiliate networks come to me asking me to join them, often offering reduced rates, but I still don't see their value add, especially after this experience.
As large media sites open up to user generated content they are going to keep losing brand and value to niche channels owned and operated by people who are so passionate about their subject that their brands have purpose and lasting value.
When markets are healthy and growing that growth can hide major issues, but when the markets swing toward a loss the winners are separated from the losers. As the markets consolidate and the thin arbitrage opportunities fall away the market leaders own a much bigger piece of the market.
The above chart could just as easily be a finance chart comparing Google's 5 year performance to Yahoo's, or any other industry undergoing heavy consolidation. Google's brand is search. Yahoo's brand is ???
Many people view you how you view yourself and label you with the labels you attach to yourself. Something to consider when creating a new business in a saturated field.
If you are not considered the #1 site in your class / vertical then you need to change your brand, find ways to add value (like editorial content, unique data formats, syndication, or open APIs), build an organic advantage (using a strong domain name, a great site design, and through public relations) or do something else to change the rules.
John Donahoe will set out a plan to reward the company's best sellers with sales incentives and priority ranking in search results for auction items.
"Sellers that describe items accurately, ship on time, and ship at a fair price will enjoy preferential pricing and discounts on eBay," [John] Donahoe said in prepared remarks. "We're serious about making eBay easier and safer to shop."
On February 20 the changes will start taking place. Depending on how serious eBay is about this change, many eBay based businesses may die. But they also plan on lowering initial listing fees and trying to get more commission when items sell, which could lead to more junk listings as the opportunity cost is lower. If you are one of a few legit sellers in a market saturated with scams perhaps this helps increase margins, but eBay will have a hard time bring back buyers who got scammed in the past or sellers who were sick of years of rate increases.
It is remarkable that eBay has been around over a decade and are just finally getting around to making these kinds of changes. If they didn't have a near monopoly there is no way they could have waited this long.
I understand why some people sell on eBay, but for anyone who has been doing it for a long time I wonder why they don't create a site and sell direct. Being stuck in someone else's network where quality scores can make you irrelevant is a risky way to make a living.
Lots of people are solving common problems and giving publishers a wide array of choices that keep driving costs down. Just about everything is getting cheaper and easier - except marketing. Audiences fragment, people ignore advertising, and everyone is so busy that they have no time for you.
Public relations and search marketing are the new advertising because unlike most ads they are not ignored. They are seen as editorial content even if it is bought and sold on a per article basis or per ranking basis. And so you have smart business deals where you slap Lance Armstrong's name on a bunch of user generated content. Generate the PR buzz and watch the ad dollars roll in:
The Lance Armstrong Foundation, which spends about $40 million a year on health programs and cancer research, is teaming up with Web-site operator Demand Media Inc. to launch a health-and-wellness Web site funded by advertising. The site, called "livestrong.com," is expected to go live this year.
How does the Google view of spam and editing out non-editorial link buys stand up in a world where companies like Demand Media recycle the web and cross link it all, while companies like Pay Per Clip offer:
WEB MEDIA placements can range from $450 for a brief appearance in an online article, to $2,750 for a full feature, including a link to your web site, in a top tier web publication.
Google needs to realize that public relations, promotions, and advertising are a normal part of the business process. After all, ads only account for 99% of their revenue. But Google engineers can dictate arbitrary mandates based on a broken understanding of the business world because Google's founders thought big.
Value your time properly and think big. You can not invest too much in learning, clean organic looking marketing (like domain names, site design, and public relations), or brand building.
Mr. Murdoch made his latest comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, in answering a question. "We are going to greatly expand and improve the free part of The Wall Street Journal online, but there will still be a strong offering" for subscribers, he said. "The really special things will still be a subscription service, and, sorry to tell you, probably more expensive."
The Wall Street Journal has enough trust, connections, and signifigance to keep charging for their best stuff.
I'm sure there could be blackmailers out there. We absolutely know that every single day, people try to game our system. Users are involved in illegal or inappropriate activities all the time. They try to set up fake accounts to promote a story. The thing is, we make changes to our algorithm on a regular basis. We plan for that.
Notice how he put illegal and inappropriate right next to each other, as to equate them. This comes from the same company that published this:
We had to decide whether to remove stories containing a single code based on a cease and desist declaration. We had to make a call, and in our desire to avoid a scenario where Digg would be interrupted or shut down, we decided to comply and remove the stories with the code.
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be.
If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
Why is the Yahoo! Directory Considered a Legitimate Link Buy?
In addition to what Jim said, I also believe the following play a role:
They predate Google.
Google needs some sort of baseline.
The directory business model is horrifically inefficient and poses no risk to Google's market dominence. (Yahoo! demoted it in favor of Yahoo! Answers. Even the Google Directory, a DMOZ clone, has a higher PageRank than the Yahoo! Directory does.)
Few other sites are comparable to the Yahoo! Directory (especially after the Google directory purge of 2007), so it is not a technique that can't be easily and profitably be replicated like paying for reviews.
The entire Business.com directory of over 65,000 categories is managed by 6 editors (source). How could they possibly review stuff as well as you or I do? They can't. But if we all do our business in a direct to direct exchange fashion the central networks and search engines do not get a cut of the action.
Why Google is Different than Digg
Unlike Digg users looking to waste time, searchers have real targeted intent and real value. In response to Michael Gray's post Danny Sullivan said:
But if he wants to stand up to Google, take the lead and block him from crawling his site -- and encourage others to do the same. ... No one has a right to Google traffic. Follow the rules, as stupid as they are, if you want it. If don't like the rules, sure, complain about them -- but don't argue they're robbing you of anything that is supposedly "yours."
They change the guidelines on an as needed basis (use nofollow or else), apply them unevenly (why is TLA penalized when TextLinkBrokers still ranks?), and if they don't like you they can penalize other businesses associated with you.
Recently Google has been more than fair to me, but if they want to use the language they are using to try to control others, they need to clean up their ad network. Just because an ad has a high CPC and gets a high CTR does not mean that it is not immoral or illegal. Plenty of people commit crime.
As mentioned on SearchEngineLand, the Google Local onebox may now include up to 10 links in it. The increase from 3 to 10 results was allegedly due to usability testing, but them using text smaller than the rest of the text on the search results doesn't really conform to good usability standards either.
Start your search on Google
Clickthrough to a Google map
Clickthrough to the top review site there - still get Google maps
While Google is playing catch up maps will remain open and free. Google Video lost to YouTube because of the viral nature of YouTube. And that cost Google $1.65 billion. Google will not make the same mistake with maps and local.
Most local plays are not viral, and those which have developer platforms limit usage. In a few years Yahoo! will be wishing they begged people to spread that data far and wide to build a leadership position in the market, which is what Google will do via syndication.
If Google can drive a lot of traffic to their local listings and start encouraging user reviews that gives them another way to keep users on the Google network and monetize the search results.
When you evaluate the actual opportunity cost of business opportunities, most client relationships, equity stake deals, and other partnership opportunities fall short of what you could do on your own. The only ways it works out is if their is a symbiotic relationship through different approaches that balance out each other's shortcomings, or if you can learn something from working with them.
Problems With Many Opportunities
Unwilling Clients: Many clients are unwilling to change their sites to add unique content or value to them.
At any time the partner with lots of domains can decide to screw up the project you are working on together, and has 0 time investment and limited capital risk by only putting one or a few domains into the partnership.
6 months or a year after working with you they can take all the knowledge you spent years learning and apply it to their more valuable names while giving you nothing for teaching them everything you know. They were not teaching you how to buy domains why they were accumulating them for years. Why give all that knowledge up for a slice of a slice of a slice?
Buy an alternative average quality domain and keep all the equity. Build it up with sweat equity and learn your market. Buy great domain names when you can afford them.
Follow the Crowd: Many marketers try to saturate a field with affiliates marketing their products and teach affiliates how to market that same product as a piece of the product that is sold. The margins on those opportunities get compressed with each additional competitor you sell that product to.
What happened if you invested in Google a month ago? It seems those who just bought into that market hype just lost a couple dollars. Will Google go back up? Most likely. Will they increase in value at a rate as quickly as you can? Not likely.
Here’s the thing about SEO. Everybody thinks they’re an expert.
From the greenhorn working out of their (or their parents’) garage, to the recent college grad working in the marketing department of Fortune 500 corporation, to the seasoned and often burned-out veteran working at a name brand interactive agency, there are literally hundreds if not thousands of “search engine optimization experts” both in U.S. and the world at large.
And the reality is that very few of them really understand what SEO is all about. Sure, a lot of people know what keyword research is, or how to mine for link targets. But true optimization goes much deeper than that standard set of deliverables.
I currently work for one of those brand name interactive agencies, Zeta Interactive, and if there’s one thing I’ve come away with from my experience in this field it’s that finding and retaining good SEO help is not easy. Both from a site-side and link-building perspective, the workload is extremely heavy, often forcing SEO employees to choose between quality and timely delivery of recommendations. Furthermore, interactive agencies have a nasty habit of failing to take true ownership over the clients they manage and viewing SEO with a pair 2002 glasses, making the job of a truly scrupulous SEO purist extremely demoralizing at times. Add a high level of competitiveness among agencies and the result is a high level of turnover and relatively low number of truly qualified applicants. And did I mention the endless stream of meetings, calls, presentations, and contractual legwork?
When one of my colleagues ponders the cause of this most exasperating of working conditions, I always offer up a painfully simple response; all of the really great SEOs don’t need a day job.
What do I mean by that? Well I’ll tell you if you promise not to get offended. And before I do, please bear with me as I explain a little bit about my own SEO background.
In my former life, I was a salesman. I hated my job and was looking for a more fulfilling way to make a living. A client of mine turned me onto SEO back in 2002, explaining to me just how despite a six-figure advertising budget and a team of marketers and programmers he was simply unable to rank organically for the terms associated with his products. The client basically told me that if I could figure out how to do that for him, and others, that I could probably make a whole lot of money.
That sounded like a plan to me.
Fast-forward to 2004. After roughly two years of working for local search firms in Miami, taking on my fair share of small consulting clients, creating small personal web projects, and writing as much as I could in the various SEO discussion forums, I landed a gig in the marketing department of CBS Sportsline as an SEO coordinator (among other things). I felt like I had finally made the big time. No more foraging around for small business contracts with little monthly budget. No more collection calls to delinquent clients. I was now in charge of SEO for a Fortune 500 company. I should be on easy street from here on out, right?
I quickly found out that corporate bureaucracy and office politics prevented me from implementing many of the most cutting edge techniques that would have given sportsline.com the competitive advantage it needed to set itself apart in the organic space. Mind you, this lack of implementation wasn’t due to incompetence on my part, because I did so well at my position that I was quickly put in charge of cbsnews.com and various other related properties, and was retained by CBS Interactive as a consultant after resigning from my position in the summer of 2005. It was just that certain individuals within the organization were either too lazy or too shortsighted to understand the significance of SEO in terms of both traffic and brand awareness.
Ironically enough, many of Sportsline’s stiffest competitors, specifically in the uber-competitive “fantasy” sports genre, were non-corporate entities that were able outmaneuver corporate behemoths like CBS due to their SEO agility and vision.
So I got to thinking, “man, these independent site owners are working for themselves and whipping the pants off the big boys. Now that’s what SEO is all about!”
Mind you, all this time, I had been developing my own small sites and working feverishly to establish a presence in the major SEO communities such as WebmasterWorld, SEOchat, and several others. I wrote features for SEOchat, served as a consultant to various prominent entities (mostly in the paid link arena) and began to make connections with other bright SEO minds like Rand Fishkin and Aaron Wall.
Little did I know, that soon thereafter, guys like Rand and Aaron would make a permanent mark on the SEO community and establish themselves as true SEO rock stars.
I, on the other hand, chose to pursue an entrepreneurial opportunity of my own, accepting a position and a majority stake at a startup by the name of Real Football 365, Inc. Based on my experience at Sportsline, I figured that it would be easier to reach the Promised Land in the sports genre than the SEO genre. Plus I happen to absolutely love football!
It was while working on www.realfootball365.com that I learned what true SEO is all about. Not so much because of my efforts or results with that site (hell, that site still has plenty of SEO shortcomings) but because I gained access to dozens of successful site owners that make a comfortable living doing something that they love. And the best part is that they’re able to dominate competitors with much deeper pockets and diverse resources because of their know-how in the organic search space.
For my own part, I learned just how important a role content plays in SEO (hint: Google is telling the truth. Content is king). I also experienced the joy of working on something that was at least partially my own and the freedom of experimenting with the most radical of SEO-related initiatives.
Most importantly, from a business perspective, I learned the value of developing professional relationships with industry peers and how catering to your base of users, whether they be customers or readers, is a crucial SEO skill. In fact, there are many skills that seem vaguely related, or completely unrelated, to the SEO discipline but are in fact the centerpieces of a truly successful SEO campaign.
Aaron often discusses some these facets on this very blog, but I feel that many enterprising optimizers soon forget the lessons being offered up, giving into the ever-present allure of keywords, meta tags, and paid link considerations. I’m not saying that traditional SEO skills aren’t important, but rest assured that the difference between the average “SEO expert” and guys like Aaron does not lie in the ability to properly construct a title tag.
So what did I mean when I said that the great SEOs don’t need a day job? It’s simple. Great SEO requires an entrepreneurial spirit and an understanding of the underlying business and marketing considerations that will help a particular company be successful. Failing to understand this, whether you’re a garage marketer, in-house optimizer, or agency SEO, will ensure your continued failure to ascend from good to great.
I think about this every day as I juggle multiple clients at my agency gig up here in NYC and continue to consult for realfootball365.com from a distance, hoping that small site eventually pays the way to my early retirement and to that ultimate personal jump from good to great. In the meantime, I’ll remember my humble beginnings and remind my coworkers to avoid the explicit ineptitude that made me laugh at agency SEO proposals back when I was an in-house evaluator.
If you’re also in the business of “selling” SEO (whether to small businesses or large corporations) or have otherwise fallen short of my definition of great SEO, don’t be offended. Just continue to pay close attention to guys like Aaron and always remember that some of the greatest SEO minds of all time don’t even hang out in SEO hubs like Sphinn.com or WebmasterWorld. They’re busy implementing new business initiatives and raking in the spoils of their non-SEO related web empires.