In the above interview Steve Balmer states that search innovation has slowed down over the past 5 years compared to the 5 years prior. While committing to pouring billions of Dollars into the search market, Steve Balmer does not think that search has kept up its rate of innovation. But this perception is actually a fib. A lie. One that Steve must tell himself AND the media in order to try to gain press coverage for Bing and justify what will amount to a very expensive competition in the search marketplace. And it is a lie the media mush push to be able to write about / hype THE NEXT GOOGLE!!!!!!
Search Innovation is Speeding Up
The reason I know that search keeps speeding up is that I write about it. We offer subscribers a monthly newsletter, have forums that we participate in daily, and blog about the latest developments in search. This past month I have done a week of traveling and 2 conferences, but I have absolutely struggled to keep up with the all the changes recently (in spite of closing our site off to new members). Frankly I am amazed at how Danny Sullivan is able to put conferences together and still keep up with everything!
To understand the search game you must first understand that Google is first and foremost a public relations driven company which sells itself as a technology company. This is precisely why they market their browser/operating system as a browser and not an operating system...to avoid the regulations on (and comparisons with) Microsoft.
Now some of the changes may not be noticeable to the average searcher because Google has become more refined over the years. But it does not mean that the market lacks innovation. I thought it would make sense to put a post together to highlight some of the ways search has changed so far this year.
Here's my current idea. I believe that Google's staff contains more statisticians than any other specialty. The algo is, more and more, driven by statistics and probability. These statisticians watch query data as well as backlink data. That's what jumped out at me while re-reading this patent: backlinks PLUS queries.
This is my current brainstorming area, and it's why I recommend the idea of ATTRACTING backlinks more than "building" them. Backlinks alone cannot create a statistically correct footprint for a growing, thriving website. Even though such a "dummied-up" impression has been a working tool for improved ranking in the past, it's a tool whose future is getting more and more cloudy.
Creating a legitimate looking link profile by doing nothing but push marketing keeps getting harder as Google refines what they are looking for as a natural link building profile based on better statistics. If your link building efforts revolve around public relations, publicity, and brand then you are good to go. But if they are mechanical and aggressive you can use fairly similar link building strategies on 2 parallel sites and see one rank while the next is stuck somewhere in Google hell. From the above linked 5 Googler interviews you can see how Google is constantly working to improve localization, word relationships, indexing, and spam detection. QDF + universal search further complicate the search results.
Beyond the core ranking algorithms there are also new ways to sort through information.
Google has added many options / filters / lenses to view search through, including links to...
vertical databases (like Videos, News, Blogs, Books, Forums, and Reviews)
results within specific time frames
ways to navigate related searches (via Related searches, Wonder wheel, Timeline)
additional filters (like displaying images from the page, more text, fewer or greater shopping sites)
Thinking through those type of filters with universal search in mind (and Google's new caffeine index in place) you could see how Google can further alter the search landscape on a query by query basis. Give me something fresh, give me old trusted stuff, give me at least 1 authoritative review, etc. In select markets this can be further refined by editorial partnerships like the health onebox.
Here are recent SEO results. And when authoritative SEO related sites (like SEO Book, Search Engine Land, SEOMoz, SE Roundtable, Search Engine Journal, Search Engine Watch, etc.) publish fresh posts they quickly get mixed into the top 10 to 20 search results (similarly to how Google News results get mixed in). As Google tests mixing in different types of results they can track user response on a per query basis, and bucket different related keywords together.
Inspired User Interface Innovation
A lot of the innovations come from competing search services. Consider that
Google's SearchWiki (and SideWiki) were heavily inspired by Wikia Search.
Yahoo! implemented search suggestion features widely before Google did.
Ask 3D pushed about a lot of the universal search sort of ideas.
Google tried to clone Youtube, right up until they were forced to buy it.
It doesn't matter what regulations appear, advertisers feel the need to buy those ads because that is where the distribution is. Currently Google (and Facebook) have such domination over advertisers that they can mass ban them and shut them down overnight as desired, in spite of the economic climate.
There is going to be continued innovation in the online advertising space as marketers better test / recommend / track / explore / learn how to better automate blending ads and content.
Why Write a 5 Page Blog Post With ~80 Links in It?
to help me collect my thoughts and share them with you, our readers! :D
to point out that anyone talking about a lack of innovation is search is speaking from ignorance, hyping public relations messaging to the media, and/or lying
to help push to save Yahoo! Boss. By some measures it might be bigger than Bing AND it if it stays around it will help ensure that search keeps innovating at faster and faster rates with healthy market competition
A few months back I had a chat with ShoeMoney and we talked about a lot of marketing stuff. He always speaks of the importance of being able to leverage success to build other related projects. It is typically worth far more money to be a lead player with projects that build off of each other than it is to be a #10 player in many different markets trying to build disconnected brands that can't feed off each other. Even traditional slow moving publishing organizations like newspapers are aggressively leveraging network effects in their SEO strategy.
Networks Allow You to Come From Behind
When you look at Theme Forest they came late to the market, and yet are many times as large as competing businesses that are twice as old. Envato was launched in 2006, and in spite of coming late to market they were nearly instantly successful. Owning popular blogs helped them create thriving marketplaces, and the marketplaces help them make the blogs more popular. The promotion is circular.
Most Leading Web Companies Use Networks
Larger web networks like IAC, Amazon.com, Yahoo!, Internet Brands, Quinstreet, Expedia, Classified Ventures, BankRate, Monster.com, and Demand Media employ the same tactics. At $170 million Mint was a cheap buy for Intuit just to block out competition. Any additional distribution and cost savings are a bonus. Once you have distribution you have free inventory to promote a new site into a related vertical. And this strategy works with smaller niche sites as well. Publishing this site made it easy for us to get a lot of exposure for my wife's PPC strategy flowchart.
We originally gave away free SEO tools mainly with the ideas of building links and promotion in mind. But now they also help establish a customer funnel while commoditizing the value of some similar business models. And because many of the tools are decentralized (as Firefox extensions) maintenance costs are much lower than someone who centralizes everything. Our customers on average tend to be toward the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, so giving away useful and extensible tools helps us meet that market. But a lot of our business strategy has been made up as we went along, rather than having an aggressive master plan in place.
Watching Big Companies Develop Strategy
Some companies are driven by big goals and 5 (and 10) year plans. Adobe bought Omniture and plans on offering deep analytics into user interactions with flash widget ads. Out of nowhere Adobe entered the ad market.
This might be the most subtle yet important shift that marketers face as they deal with the reality of new media. Marketers aren't renters, now they own.
For generations, marketers were trained to buy (actually rent) eyeballs.
Suddenly the new media comes along and the rules are different. You're not renting an audience, you're building one.
Google is GOD of the Web
One of the best companies to study from the perspective of using market leverage to enter new markets is Google. Recently they struck a deal with Warner to bring their music back to Youtube. But even while their music was not on Youtube I was still able to listen to it - on Youtube ;)
Make the service essentially free to buy marketshare, become the marketplace, and kill the business model for competing start ups in the space.
Promote it across search, the AdSense content network, and via a thick public relations program.
Use the work of thieves and the blurry parts of copyright law to diminish the value of non-partner content to try to force non-partners into a formal partnership.
12 to 36 months later start charging a fair to normal market rate for the service. Claim the service makes no profits until it is an undeniable cash cow.
One of the more cynical, but perhaps accurate, in depth research reports on Google's use of market leverage is Scott Cleland's Googleopoly [PDF]. You might not be able to apply every idea in there to your projects, but it should help you understand where Google intends to intersect with your market and how you can leverage some of those touch-points to your advantage.
One last tip, from Larry Ellison, "Pick your competitors carefully for you will quickly come to resemble the companies you compete with."
This should be of huge interest to anyone who produces content on the web.
...it comes off.
Google is planning to roll out a system of micropayments within the next year. Micropayments, as the name implies, are small payments - a cent or even a fraction of a cent - and the idea is that micropayments can be used to pay for accessing web content.
While currently in the early planning stages, micropayments will be a payment vehicle available to both Google and non-Google properties within the next year,” Google wrote. “The idea is to allow viable payments of a penny to several dollars by aggregating purchases across merchants and over time.”
Micropayments are not a new idea, of course. People have been suggesting micropayments will be the next big thing for quite a while now. Jakob Neilsen got it rather wrong in 1998:
I predict that most sites that are not financed through traditional product sales will move to micropayments in less than two years. Users should be willing to pay, say, one cent per Web page in return for getting quality content and an optimal user experience with less intrusive ads. Once users pay for the pages, then they get to be the site's customers, and the site will design to satisfy the users' needs and not the advertisers' needs."
Will Google be the first company to make micropayments work? It remains to be seen, but if they do, this will be the biggest game-changer on the web since PPC.
The Decline Of News
The news industry have been howling as their outdated business model falls apart. Their days of running regional oligopolies are fast coming to end, eroded by the ubiquitous web and the low cost of online publishing. The media is fueled by advertising, and as their readership fragments, the value to advertisers drops.
But what happens if 100% of a newspapers revenue came directly their readership? Micropayments may make this possible.
The big question is: who would pay for the garbage the media serves up? Why should we pay for regurgitated press releases and stories about celebrities shopping expeditions?
Micropayments could help increase the quality of news. Paid news outlets, like STRATFOR charge $349 for annual membership. How can they do this? By providing a level of analysis and research you don't get from mainstream media. Clearly some people are prepared to pay for news that isn't driven by advertisers and the lowest common denominator.
However, the subscription price is still a barrier for most. But what if micropayments, by introducing economies of scale, made it possible to get quality news, analysis and content for a few cents a week? What happens when the price is so low you barely even notice you are paying it?
The scale of the web, plus the tiny charging increments, could be a game changer. And not just for news. This opportunity applies to anyone in the web content business.
A true micropayment system would operate invisibly and simply accumulate charges on the user's monthly bill without an explicit confirmation for every click. That's exactly how electricity bills and long-distance telephone bills work. True, people wouldn't make many long-distance calls if they first had to discuss the fee with an operator (though we certainly made calls back when we had to talk to a long-distance operator and acknowledge charges for each call). In any case, telephone companies now simply add up the calls and put them all on a single bill. Intellectually, you know that it costs money to use the phone and turn on a light, but if you want to talk to somebody, you pick up the phone. And if the room is too dark, you switch on the light. You don't go out to the meter every few minutes to check on your electricity bill.
A micro-payment system should be quite different from existing payment systems. You won't be asked to fill out your details each time. Rather, it would be as simple as a click of a button, and tracking and billing would happen in the background.
Google Extends Their Reach
With Adsense, Google cleverly figured out a way to click the ticket on content it didn't own or produce.
The problem with Adsense is that it works best when placed on content heavily geared towards commerce. Micropayments opens up a business model for other types of content, content that is not easily aligned with a commercial imperative.
Imagine the potential for high quality, non-commercial content. Imagine the potential for channels like YouTube. On demand television and movies for a few cents. With micropayments, the volume of content Google could click the ticket on gets much, much bigger.
Does brand matter? That seems to be a question Google wants to challenge. Eric Schmidt offers quotes like "brands are how you sort out the cesspool". Google's search algorithms this year have put more weight on domain authority (which is often associated with brands).
But while Google is telling everyone else to build a brand, Google might be looking to compete head on with brands in many large verticals. According to the NYT:
“LendingTree recently learned that Google imminently plans to launch a loan aggregation service in late August or early September of this year that would compete with LendingTree,” the complaint says. “Lending Tree has also learned that Mortech intends to make its pricing engine services available for use with Google’s new service and will send information related to mortgage loan offers to be displayed to consumer on Google’s Web site.”
The complaint further says that LendingTree has obtained screen shots of a trial version of Google’s service that further indicate that it plans to “provide customers with conditional loan offers in addition to lenders’ contact information.”
Google made a similar test in the UK last year. This is just more reason to develop longtail content and try to build distribution channels outside of search. It seems if you are too successful with search Google may do some self-serving to compete directly against you.
For the last several months, a large team of Googlers has been working on a secret project: a next-generation architecture for Google's web search. It's the first step in a process that will let us push the envelope on size, indexing speed, accuracy, comprehensiveness and other dimensions. The new infrastructure sits "under the hood" of Google's search engine, which means that most users won't notice a difference in search results. But web developers and power searchers might notice a few differences, so we're opening up a web developer preview to collect feedback.
In the new infrastructure so far I think there is...
an increased weighting on domain authority & some authoritative tag type pages ranking (like Technorati tag pages + Facebook tag pages), as well as pages on sites like Scribd ranking for some long tail queries based mostly on domain authority and sorta spammy on page text
perhaps slightly more weight on exact match domain names
perhaps a bit better understanding of related words / synonyms
tuning down some of the exposure for video & some universal search results
You can check out the new results here and CompareCaffeine.com offers side by side comparisons of new Google + old Google - similar to the recent blind search service which compared Google, Yahoo!, & Bing results.
This WMW thread mentions some relevant background on Google's approach to storage. In his post on the update John Andrews mentioned how smaller chunking of data could allow the algorithms to make SEO more challenging (or at least more holistic):
Smaller chunks means faster SERP generation…. and possibly more specific quality management (smaller more specific binning of URLs if desired) How this plays out for SEO is interesting now… and especially whether or not we will be able to influence various aspects independently from the whole.
The ROI on effective SEO campaigns is simply unbelievable, and Google is going to do everything in their power to diminish the ROI of algorithmically focused optimization efforts. As the cost of memory drops and the algorithms improve, the next couple years might separate the men from the boys in the SEO space. Those improvements will drive many SEO practitioners into parallel fields like niche publishing and public relations. 5 years ago was the perfect time to start building your empire. But starting today is far better than starting tomorrow.
I tend to be somewhat cynical toward Google because I generally do not trust authorities and they CAN and DO kill many web based businesses that are too reliant on search. But to offset such posts I figured it would be cool to do a counter post on reasons to love Google
They pushed search. Back when search was unprofitable they believed in making it better rather than being at least 80% as good as the next portal. Search was eventually going to become big no matter what, but they largely are who pushed it becoming so big so fast. And search makes marketing more efficient because users feel they are in control when they search for information, even if in doing so they find your advertisements & offers. A search driven marketing strategy also allows you to build relationships by people finding you while looking for topics you published content on. This enables genuinely useful sites to bolt on services for sales without needing to worry about having to get as much value out of each person as a hyped up salesman because the website with real utility will typically reach far more people.
In time Google may become more self-serving with their search result biases, but for now they still do not have a paid inclusion program and they are nowhere near as self-serving as some competing companies like Yahoo! are.
They make SEO somewhat challenging. About a month ago a friend of mine launched a site and ranked it in the top 3 for some money keywords in Bing. Unless you are the U.S. government you typically can't do that in Google. The complexity of SEO presents a barrier to entry to new market participants, but once you are already established that barrier to entry helps protect your profit margins. And if you sell SEO products and services you know that there is going to be a market in need for a long long time.
In 2003 when I started SEO I was broke, in debt, new to marketing, unemployed, and within 6 months of opening Dreamweaver (to create a rant site rather than a marketing site!) I ranked in the top 10 for keywords like search engine marketing. I believe similar things are possible today with sweat equity, but the time delay is typically much longer and/or you need to operate at a much higher level than the stuff I did back then. In a way, this barrier to entry causes a lot of the worst parts of the web to disappear because it requires more commitment and/or investment to compete.
AdWords = instant market feedback. AdWords allows you to test a business model idea before building the business. And it gives you instant feedback from relevant market channels that you may not be reaching. It is one of the cleanest distribution channels with one of the smallest overlaps with other marketing channels:
Consumers who buy after clicking a competitive (non brand) paid search ad are the least likely to have been to the site previously through a different channel. In our research, only 10 to 20% of buyers who touched a PPC ad last came through any other channel previously. Compare this to affiliate traffic, where 60 - 75% of buyers came through another channel first.
Once you can convert cold leads from search it is much easier to convert warmer leads that are recommended via word of mouth marketing, affiliate arrangements, and other editorial & marketing channels.
Google furthers the value of this channel by baking a/b split testing directly into AdWords, creating valuable tools like their Website Optimizer, making their Analytics tool (somewhat) free, and even putting free conversion optimization presentations online:
AdSense offers a fast and easy baseline revenue stream. Many years ago advertisers had a big advantage over smaller publishers due to asymmetric information. While contextual ad networks have depressed the CPM rates of many large bloated "premium" publishers, they have also gave smaller publishers the ability to easily, quickly, and automatically test monetization potential. From that baseline publishers can look to improve the model by...
use that data to work on optimizing + promoting high earning content and/or creating more content covering similar themes
advertising similar offers that are advertised on their site
Vastly improving productivity. Like search, email was a vast wasteland of non-innovation (at least amongst the mainstream providers) until Gmail came out. They made it larger, faster, and more convenient. And they made obvious improvements (like adding search to email). A lot of my productivity that I take for granted comes from features in Gmail. Without Gmail evolving email I doubt I would be able to service nearly 1,000 customers while also having time to do marketing, work on building other sites, spend time reading, and have a bit of time for playing and working out.
Their document collaboration is great, and the recent addition of forms (that you can embed into pages for free) is killer.
A Free MBA Marketing Course. If you follow Google, know where they are moving, and understand the intent behind many of their moves it is better than any marketing course you could take.
Marketing to young people + making their software suite a default by giving it away to schools: "For more than two years, Google has approached colleges and universities with a near-unbeatable offer: provide unlimited hosted e-mail and other applications, all branded by the institution and delivered free of charge."
And what is more remarkable about the above 5 points is that all of them are reasons to talk about Google and they are things that were mentioned just from this past week. There is a reason to talk about Google every day, even if it seems like some of us publishers are becoming broken records in doing so.
Hating Google in context. I do disagree with many of their policies, but I think a lot of blame goes toward Google when market forces commodize existing business models. But they are just another market force pushing the evolution of media. That means they will commoditize a lot of businesses and business models. When it is done hypocritically (I could write another post on this topic!) I think it is fine to complain, but it is typically more profitable to keep evolving your business model to make it keep adding value and make it less reliant on search.
And the less reliant you are on search the more reliant search becomes on your content. If you keep adding value every day then your business is not likely to see any risks with search traffic. If you were more like Google (to where people had new reasons to talk about you every day) you wouldn't need search traffic to build a sustainable business.
I wonder if at some point in time if AdWords advertisers selling the scammy government grand & biz-op offers will get to use this data to target poor people with low credit scores. It only makes sense that Google would spin this positively stating that it is good for brand advertisers to find credit-worthy customers, which is the story that was marketed in the above linked piece:
Consumers with high FICO scores demonstrate some unique attributes that show they shop carefully for the best cards. For example, shoppers begin using search earlier in their application process, they use the term "best credit cards" at three times the rate of lower FICO shoppers, and they are more likely to use branded terms.
Consumers with high FICO scores use non-branded search terms more than branded -- approximately 60% of high FICO searchers. They tend to search on terms, such as "travel rewards," "low rate," and "balance transfer."
From a marketer's perspective this makes a lot of sense. Smart people who manage their credit well look for tangible benefits in their financial choices...they don't just blindly buy the brand.
Overall, we find that debt literacy is low: only about one-third of the population seems to comprehend interest compounding or the workings of credit cards. Even after controlling for demographics, we find a strong relationship between debt literacy and both financial experiences and debt loads. Specifically, individuals with lower levels of debt literacy tend to transact in high-cost manners, incurring higher fees and using high-cost borrowing. In applying our results to credit cards, we estimate that as much as one-third of the charges and fees paid by less knowledgeable individuals can be attributed to ignorance. The less knowledgeable also report that their debt loads are excessive or that they are unable to judge their debt position.
I teach contract law at Harvard Law School and I can't understand my credit card contract. I just can't. It's not designed to be read. Read the Government Accountability Office (GAO) study on this. The GAO looked at credit cards and they said: "Nobody can understand this stuff." Are you kidding me? And understand when you've got terms that say: "In effect, we'll charge anything we want any time we want for any reason or no reason at all," what's the point of reading it?
She later commented on the ideal credit card customer
Every credit card for a credit card company is like a lottery ticket. They're just waiting to see who's going to maybe stumble a little. Maybe get into trouble on a car loan. Maybe nothing at all except they just look vulnerable. They're just in the right zip code. They're just the right profile for people who won't be able to run any place else. And those are the ones you slam. Those are the ones you hit with the 29 percent interest rate, the 35 percent interest rate, the new fees. And then, because of course if you can't pay it, then you get hit with a fee for not paying or for paying late, for going over limit. And the game is afoot. With any luck at all from the credit card company's perspective, these people will become little annuities that will just keep generating profits for the credit card companies for months, for years, maybe forever.
The idea of only servicing legitimate debt needs of customers that can afford their credit card bills has made banking industry executives so angry that they are threatening hitting consumers with lots of bogus new "conveninece" fees:
Now Congress is moving to limit the penalties on riskier borrowers, who have become a prime source of billions of dollars in fee revenue for the industry. And to make up for lost income, the card companies are going after those people with sterling credit.
Banks are expected to look at reviving annual fees, curtailing cash-back and other rewards programs and charging interest immediately on a purchase instead of allowing a grace period of weeks, according to bank officials and trade groups.
This new consumer-credit profiling Google is offering will be far more profitable to use on the poor, the weak, the desperate, the ignorant, and the uneducated. In early research Lawrence Page and Sergey Brin stated
Since it is very difficult even for experts to evaluate search engines, search engine bias is particularly insidious. ... We believe the issue of advertising causes enough mixed incentives that it is crucial to have a competitive search engine that is transparent and in the academic realm.
So were they right back then? Or are the right now? They can't be both.
Update: Sandra from Google's PR team emailed me the following
I've included an outline of the research methodology below the body of this note. Please let me know if you have questions or need clarification on any of the below -- or anything else, for that matter.
* Compete conducted a clickstream analysis on their opt-in panel of 2 million US online consumers, to associate FICO score categories with sites in the Google Content Network.
o The analysis took a look at the online behavior of Compete's opt-in panelists who shopped for or applied for a credit card online between January and March 2009, for the 30 days prior to the application and/or research.
+ Compete, via a sister company that provides secure matching of certain characteristics (one of which is FICO scores) to anonymous/anonymized individuals in the Compete panel, segmented the opt-in panelists into one of three categories, based on their FICO score: Super Prime (720 and above), Prime (600 to 719), and Sub-Prime (below 600).
+ Individual scores and personally identifiable information were not used by Compete, nor were they received by Google.
o Google provided Compete with a list of all sites in the Google Content Network.
o Compete compared how panelists in each FICO band searched and where the panelists spent time on the GCN, and ranked each GCN site based on its ability to reach consumers in particular FICO score bands.
o The ranking/scores of the GCN sites were passed on to Google -- not any information about the credit scores of individuals.
In a world of double-digit unemployment and old-line industries in mid-collapse, here's a sales pitch tailor-made for the times: "Get Paid by Google."
It's a pitch that's compelling millions of people to visit sites such as Kevinlifeblog.com, Scottsmoneyblog.com, Maryslifeblog.com and Googlemoneytree.com, all promising some variation on one theme: Just buy our guide and we'll teach you how to make thousands from Google, right in the privacy of your own home!
Google's 5-Step Easy Money Process
Find a high paying affiliate program which sells a product about how easy it is to make money on Google.
Ideally the program will just charge for shipping to get the credit card details, and make most of the money through back end reverse billing fraud.
Create a fake blog (or fake news site) complete with fake comments about how you lost your job, this program took you from zero to hero. And it makes you 6 figures a year.
Do keyword research to find freshly desperate and unemployed people.
Create ads targeting those people and market them through Google AdWords.
Drug Dealers ***ARE*** Affiliated With Their Drugs
The surprising thing about this process is that Google claims no affiliation to these ads. From the above AdAge article
"As Google is not affiliated with these sites, we can't comment on individual claims," a [Google] spokesman said.
Nice try, but Google ***is*** affiliated with such offers, since they create the distribution channel. Just as a guy who just happens to have a boat load of cocaine he is distributing to clients ***is*** affiliated with the drugs if he is caught in possession.
Businesses Are Responsible for Their Own Business Strategy
Google gives webmasters this guideline "Your site’s reputation can be affected by who you link to." Why shouldn't it apply to Google as well?
As long as Google has 30%+ profit margins they are making a BUSINESS DECISION to run these fraudulent ads. They could spend 1% of revenue on cleaning up this issue (if they wanted to), but they are making a choice not to. Hal Varian has probably done the math, and the offers stay after repeated media exposure of the issue.
Google keeps running the ads because they want the revenue. And they know exactly how much revenue comes from scamming consumers with these ads:
Amoral Ad Networks Constantly Promote Fraud
Is risked mis-priced? Is an asset class overvalued due to fraud? Are consumers unaware of a new type of fraud?
It does not matter where there is a bubble in the economy - amoral ad networks will find it. As Jay Weintraub put it:
The truly complex part of the problem comes from the size of the un-branded continuity program market and just how much it is helping certain companies hit their numbers, along with what happens were it to go away. In so many respects, the current fakevertising trend is the 2008-9 equivalent of the mortgage advertising boom from 2002-2006.
Not surprising that yield based ad systems promote the biggest scams in the marketplace. Mortgage fraud was a multi-trillion dollar industry, and even as the market heads south, there is still yet another way to exploit the public with ads by targeting their dire situation and desperation.
Could Fraudulent Ads Eventually Change the Web?
If the central network operators do not police their networks then eventually web users will stop trusting online advertising. That (plus pending affiliate regulation) could eventually lead to a significant thinning of competition for mindshare online. It might also push many media companies away from ad based business models to creating businesses built through actually taking money from real human customers.
Please Help Google Fix This Issue
Since Google has not put up consumer warnings and lots of consumers are getting ripped off, I believe it is our job as marketers to help warn consumers about this brazen looting and fraud. If you have a blog or website could you please write about this topic? Bonus points if you reference this post using keywords like "Google money" and "make money" as the anchor text such that we can try to rank a warning high up in the Google search results.
And if you write about this topic to help consumers and your site does not carry AdSense ads on it, please list it in the comments below such that anyone who comes to this page can see how big of an issue this has become.
There are a lot of parallels between Google AdWords and SEO, and a lot of the beginner mistakes are the same for both traffic acquisition strategies. I figured it would be worth outlining some of the most common ones to help save you money on your search engine marketing campaigns.
Since Google factors click-through rate (CTR) into their quality scores, anything that influences CTR influences your click prices. And while competitors can and will steal your AdWords ad copy, they CAN'T steal your domain name.
There are many potential errors that can be made with domain names. Two of the more common errors are creating a domain name that is impossible to remember and creating a name that restricts expansion.
Some people feel the need to limit their domain name budget to $10, but it is a foolish strategy. Almost every piece of marketing you do will be influenced by your domain name. Your domain name has limited recurring costs associated with it, but can represent a huge recurring market advantage or disadvantage. Yeah for CreditCards.com, and boo for cheapest-online-apply-credit-cards-and-loans.info.
If you are using Google AdWords for a new product or a non-branded product then test clickthrough rates across multiple domain names.
Make sure your domain name allows you to expand as needed. This is sorta an error I made early on with this site...I had no idea how successful the site would become when I started it and did not anticipate us creating the #1 SEO training program back when I thought of selling an ebook.
Avoid names that are impossible to remember. If you intend to create something that is easy to market online and offline then your domain name must pass the phone test, which typically means avoiding hyphens & numbers. This is especially true if you are trying to build a big brand.
If you feel your company may expand internationally it is best to buy any matching domain extensions where you might intend to eventually do business.
1 page can only be relevant for a certain sector of search queries. In an efficient market anyone who directs all traffic to the homepage will lose a lot of money.
Every additional click you force users to make has some amount of slippage. When using Google AdWords / pay per click marketing a small change in conversion rates can be the difference between sustained profits and sustained losses.
It is sorta impossible to make a page "optimized" for hundreds or thousands of popular keywords because eventually after you add enough different keywords in the page copy it ends up reading bad and it harms conversion rates.
With SEO efforts mis-directing traffic is not as obvious as it is with AdWords because you don't have to pay for every click. But giving users an irrelevant experience still means you are throwing money away and only operating at a fraction of your potential.
With the prevalence of Google (and web search in general) every page of your site is the front door. We navigate via search. So map out keywords against URLs and try to offer the most relevant user experience whenever possible.
Observe how we map out core keywords, variations, and modifiers.
Some Google AdWords advertisers take perceived relevancy one step further and use the search query to help define the page content through the use of keyword insertion into their page copy and/or altering the page based on geographic information based on your computer's IP address.
3. No Link Building
The equivalent of links to AdWords is keywords in your AdWords account. If you only advertise on 1 or 2 keywords you miss out on a large stream of relevant traffic.
If you build it they will come is simply not true in the search game. If it was easy to rank for competitive keywords without links then few companies would buy AdWords ads. You can't typically rank a new site until you have some level of awareness. Search engines follow people. Links are seen as votes of trust.
With AdWords, don't just bid on 1 keyword. Look for additional relevant variations that make sense. If you don't mind splashing out $50 you can also look at what competing sites are advertising on using SEM Rush, Keyword Spy, SpyFu, and/or KeyCompete. There are so many new tools popping up in this market segment that I have not had the time to review them all.
For SEO, download SEO for Firefox and the SEO Toolbar and look at how many links competing sites have and how many domain names those links come from. You will likely need to build some number of links in the range of what competing sites have (from a similar set of sites) to rank. Today is the perfect day to start building links. And yesterday was even better. ;)
4. All Links to the Homepage
Since you are buying the links from the search engines based on keyword, this problem would be corrected by solving issue #2.
A variation of the above thinking. Most quality sites have useful content somewhere that people link to editorially. If all your links point at the homepage then that means you are not using anchor text from external links to boost your internal page ranks. In most markets that creates a big loss considering that some of those pages would get a lot of traffic with just a few more deep links which would yield higher rankings.
Create linkworthy content that people would want to link at and push market it. The objective (vs self-interested) viewpoint here is "if you did not own your site what is unique about it that would make you want to visit it every week and/or recommend it to a friend?"
5. No Link Anchor Text Variation (or AdWords Ad Copy Variation)
You shouldn't use the exact same ad copy on all of your keywords. You should segment it out by trying to understand user demand and create compelling advertising text that is relevant to the search query, relevant to the user demand, and relevant to your landing page. If you use a single generic boilerplate ad copy you are loosing a lot of money because your ad will not look as relevant as some of the top competing ads.
When people link to things naturally there tends to be some variation involved. If all your inbound links say "my keywords" then that can look suspicious...particularly if you are buying lots of links.
With AdWords, at a minimum you would want to use dynamic keyword insertion. But if you sell a lot of different products then you should try to find a way to match up small groups of relevant keywords against a set of ad copy. Make your core keywords stand out on their own, and be willing to be somewhat less descriptive with low search volume backfill keywords.
With SEO you should try to mix up your link anchor text when you are manually building links. If you create original compelling content that people want to link at (and push market it to the right audience) then that will also pull in natural anchor text.
6. No Focus on Quality
Some advertisers are compelled to go after "cheap" clicks. But some of the more expensive keywords are expensive because they are associated with significant and valuable consumer demand.
Google algorithms estimate the probability of a new site being quality or low quality. If you start off with 2,000+ "free" directory links you align your site with sites that are often of lower quality. Similarly, if you try to promote watered down or average content then few people will be receptive to those efforts.
There is nothing wrong with buying cheap traffic, but make sure you track the business value you get from that traffic. If you buy "cheap" traffic from 3rd tier ad networks and/or keywords without any commercial intent those will not build your business anywhere near as well as developing a solid traffic stream from valuable industry keywords on leading search engines.
Start your link building efforts with quality links first. As your site gets more trusted you can fill in some lower quality links as well, but you don't want to do it first, and you don't want to do it in bulk.
When you decide to do push marketing for link building make sure the content you are promoting is unique, original, useful, compelling, & citation-worthy.
7. Lacking On Page Optimization
Quality user experience and usability are crucial to converting well. When users come from search to your site they are switching channels. The more cues you can give them that they are in the right place (like relevant page headings + navigation) the higher your conversion rates and visitor value should be.
For every person searching for "seo" or "sem" there are probably 10 people searching for more obscure queries like "how do I promote my business on Google?" You can see how our page about link building ranks for hundreds of related keywords.
This is probably the single most powerful graphic explaination of why having lots of useful on-page content:
With SEO you can reach a lot of the searchers by using alternate word forms, alternate word orders, related phrases, and keyword modifiers in your content.
8. No Site Structure
If your AdWords ad campaigns are not well organized then you are likely losing money. A strong site structure also helps ensure that your AdWords account has a strong structure, which can aid profitability.
If your site is not structured well then...
navigation will likely be hard or confusing
some of your key pages may not get much of your link authority
some of your unimportant pages may accumulate a lot of your link authority
Create separate AdWords campaigns based on goals. Perhaps you can have campaigns for brand related searches, seasonal offers, public relations, campaigns that are based on ROI metrics, and even backfill campaigns like misspellings.
Some content management systems (CMS) have major errors with duplicate content and site structure issues. A review of that topic is beyond the scope of this article, but search for the name of the CMS and SEO prior to implementing it to verify there are no serious issues and/or that there are easy fixes on the market.
Set up site categories and sub-categories that are aligned against the keywords people use to search for your products and services.
If you blog (or publish content regularly) reference older related materials when relevant.
If your content is in a database you can use automated contextual links to help fix some site structural issues and redistribute PageRank down toward lower pages in your site structure.
My very first profitable website was a no value add website that I got some spammy links for. The site did make thousands of dollars in affiliate commissions (a gift from God at the time), but that income was only made ***because*** I was a bad speller and misspelled some casino brand names back before search engines integrated spell correcting aggressivley. Such a site would simply go nowhere today.
Google often considers sites without value add to be unneeded duplication and/or spam. If you ever get a chance to read some of the Google Remote Quality Rater Documents you can see what Google believes is associated with "value add."
In competitive AdWords markets competing businesses are forced to keep improving their business processes and efficiencies to be able to afford increasing bids from competing businesses.
If you have a lower lifetime customer value than competing businesses you may eventually be driven out of the market.
With some seedy affiliate offers in many cases the only people with sustained profit margins are basically those who are surprisingly sleazier than the rest of the market or those who are barely breaking even themselves, but are using their blog to build a downstream of followers that they get commissions from.
Some (perhaps most?) affiliate networks ***will*** shave your commissions AND steal your keyword list if you send them the data.
If you don't have a value add and want to play catch up in a competitive SEO market you need to have some sort of competitive advantage (be it nepotism, domain name, market experience, etc.).
Making paid things freely available, creating useful software or tools, and having deeper & better editorial are 3 great ways to add value and win marketshare.
10. Competitive Saturated Market With Inadequate Budget
In some markets it is hard to compete buying traffic without having a strong brand. If Geico pays Google $30 a click, but only pays affiliates $10 per lead then there is no way an affiliate can compete against Geico on the core industry keywords like auto insurance.
If there is no demand for an idea then it is quite hard to create demand through search engine marketing. Search engine marketing works best when it captures existing demand.
Keyword research tools can give you estimates of search volume.
Since AdWords is so much quicker and easier to test than building a full site and implementing an SEO campaign, you can use AdWords to test market demand and interest for an offer before spending money building and marketing a full website.
It can be good to be out front of trends (as one of the easiest ways to win a market is to be the first person in it), but just as easily you can go after an established high money market with your own original spin or angle.
12. Pick a Market Which Does Not Monetize
If similar competing business models have much higher visitor value you may have to change your business model to compete. Some low earning business models might simply be precluded from participating in the AdWords market in a meaningful way.
There is nothing wrong with building a site about a topic you are passionate about and interested in without knowing how well it will monetize, but if you are trying to build a business you should pick something with a high enough visitor value to create enough profit potential to make it worth the time and money investment.
If you are planning on participating in the AdWords market, but have a low margin business then you should look for ways to increase profit margins, customer order size, and lifetime customer value.
If you run an editorial site it can be a good idea to under-monetize off the start to build market momentum without people viewing you as a competitor, but it can be hard to bolt on a business model if you have spent a lot of time servicing the wrong market segments.
13. Over-Aggressive Monetization From Day 1
If you are buying traffic there is no problem with trying to monetize it. But most website visitors will not convert.
Sell in line text links & have pop ups? Is ever other post an affiliate link? If so, why would anyone want to subscribe to an ad stream when there are many useful alternatives to look at?
Since most website visitors will not convert to paying customers on the first visit, you should look to establish a relationship with them by giving them a free offer and/or some reason to come back to your website. You can see the offer we make at the bottom of our pages and on our join now page.
Existing leading trusted sites that have built up a following benefit from cumulative advantage. If your site is brand new and driven by editorial content it is a good idea to give away more value than you capture. Under-monetize until you build enough market momentum to make your rankings stick even when you do monetize.
Consider monetizing some areas of your site more aggressively while not monetizing other sectors of your site, but instead using them for public relations and link building.
Blogoscoped scooped an email to a Google advertiser promoting Google Product Ads:
Product ads are paid product listings that appear when users search for products on Google. Through participation in the Google Affiliate Network product ads beta program, you can promote your products to users actively searching for your products and pay only when users make a purchase on your site.
Google product ads will feature product specific information directly in the ad such as price and product image. During the beta program, Google will be testing to identify the most effective ad formats. Google product ads will complement standard text ads on Google.com and will run independently during the beta.
And these ads could eventually create a near perfect marketplace. Google automatically targets the ads based on your Google Base feed. Either you are descriptive and give Google lots of information that they can commoditize, or you get limited exposure. And as far as pricing goes...
How are these ads ranked?
Ad Rank = Commission × Quality Score. The quality score takes into account the relevance of your product to the user’s query, conversion rate of the query and the matched product ad on Google, your account history, and other relevant factors.
Either you have the maximum visitor value and hand over the maximum profit share to Google or you get limited exposure.
Unlike text ads, product ads will “feature product specific information directly in the ad such as price and product image,” according to the email Google sent some advertisers inviting them to try out the ads this week. Google said that it would continue to work on the most effective format for the ads and that the ads would “complement standard text ads on Google.com.”
We call developed domain names “assets” because we have difficulty accounting for that stored value. Accounting methods allow for “intangible assets” such as “intellectual property” and “good will”. If you build a successful site, you do it on a domain. When the site is no longer active, the domain retains a significant amount of “stored value” from the previous market success.
Search engines want to take back that stored value, or perhaps keep it for themselves. On many fronts, the domain name is in the way.
Could Google Open Up to Lead Generation Markets?
Google also launched a click to find out what's here option. When you think of how they carved out a dominant position in the map market, how they have aggressively pushed maps into the search results (even for some queries that lack local modifiers), and how they have merchants upload product feeds, what is to prevent Google from offering inventory data and hotel booking experiences right in Google's search results?
Seedy & scammy offers will continue to be pushed through AdWords/AdSense so Google can keep an arm's length distance from liability, but what happens to the CPA affiliate market (and small affiliate networks and thin affiliate sites) when the #1 lead source for most legitimate merchants is Google.com?
Will they force brands to pay for leads that are already driven based on brand?
Can they push the "organic" results down far enough to make the CPA option more appealing to merchants?
If this is successful will it kill many affiliate networks? Might that give Google more room to lower AdSense partner payouts?
If they are too aggressive with ad integration might they drive searchers to Bing or Bleko?
Twitter Looking at Ecommerce Too
A Twitter board member confirmed commerce is going to be part of the Twitter revenue strategy as well:
“Commerce-based search businesses monetize extremely well, and if someone says, ‘What treadmill should I buy?’ you as the treadmill company want to be there,” [Todd] Chaffee said. “As people use Twitter to get trusted recommendations from friends and followers on what to buy, e-commerce navigation and payments will certainly play a role in Twitter monetization.”
I could only imagine that those relationships will be affiliate driven.
Legitimizing Affiliate Marketing
Generally central networks have taken a dim view of affiliate marketing because it competes with their business model, but once they become themselves that will surely go away. Yahoo! already has a lot of affiliate relationships. Google's test is only a beta, but even if it fails they will try something similar again. They have to keep evolving their model to keep growing revenues.