The Naivety of Starting From Scratch

When I was new to the web I was excited when I would get things to rank from scratch, thinking I did a great job of SEO, but if your results are effective and consider applicable risks does it matter what techniques you used to promote a website? None of us really start out from scratch. When I started on the web I was a recluse with low living costs, lots of time, the need to be successful, and lots of rage. Those were off the web assets that played in my favor, as well as my liking for reading and writing, and my experience selling baseball cards in high school. I also had a friend who was web savvy and made many friends on forums. Without them I would have failed online.

That is probably too much of talking about me, but consider yourself:

  • what unique experiences or biases do you have?

  • what resources do you lack?
  • what resources do you have a lot of?

After you think of your own assets and skill sets, ask yourself if it matters how you achieve your results.

  • Does it matter how you learned what you know?

  • Is it better if your site is brand new? Or is it better if you bought an established site?
  • Is it better if you designed your site? Or is it better if you used a free template or paid a site designer to create it?
  • Is it better if your site is hand coded? Or is it better if you use an extensible content management system?
  • Is it better if your site validates? Or is it better if your site renders in browsers and you spent that extra time and money to create more content?
  • Is it better if you created all the content yourself? Or is it better if you paid writers to create it?
  • Is it better if you sell your own product? Or is it better if you sell ad space?
  • Is it better if your links are all organic? Or is it better if you bought a few topically related trusted links?
  • Is it better if you rank your own site? Or is it better to buy an ad on an authoritative site and rank that page?

You learn more by doing things yourself, but you can't learn and do everything if you are trying to make a scalable business. All those points of distinction are arbitrary. Every market is gamed, and so long as your methods work it doesn't matter how you got there as long as you didn't have to hurt others to do so.

After you are profitable and growing, for many projects it makes sense to outsource tasks, including:

  • website design

  • content creation
  • ad sales
  • maybe even initial marketing, by buying old websites

Thinking that you have to do everything from scratch means that you are going to run into scale issues much quicker than a competitor who believes in outsourcing will. Once you consider opportunity cost, doing everything yourself becomes far less appealing.

Elite Retreat Was Fun

Elite Retreat just finished, and I think this one was even more fun than the last one. Wendy and Kris both blogged it. Thanks to everyone who attended and spoke.

Google Beta Launches Affiliate Network

Via SEL, Google beta launched a distributed pay per action ad network, and are accepting publisher sign ups here. More background here and here, including a new ad format, text links:

Text links are hyperlinked brief text descriptions that take on the characteristics of a publisher's page. Publishers can place them in line with other text to better blend the ad and promote your product.

For example, you might see the following text link embedded in a publisher's recommendatory text: "Widgets are fun! I encourage all my friends to Buy a high-quality widget today." (Mousing over the link will display "Ads by Google" to identify these as pay-per-action ads).

Though the maximum length of a text link is 90 characters, we've found that shorter links perform better because they allow the publisher use the link in more places on her/his site and in different context. The maximum length is 90 characters but less than 5 words is best. Even better, just use your brand name to offer maximum flexibility to the publisher.

If they push this as hard as they did AdSense or search it is going to teach advertisers and publishers to create efficient conversion oriented content and sales funnels. It will fundamentally change the structure of the web.

TicketMaster: An Interesting Auction Model

TicketMaster, a near monopoly which hated ticket auctions in the past, now auctions seats for a premium. You can bid on an auction for row 1, and if the minimum bid drops below the required amount to win they will automatically drop you into an auction for row 2, and so on. Imagine if 1 minute before the end of the auction you thought you were in row 1, and then in the last 5 seconds of the auction a network of scalpers bid and you got a notification that you were in row 4. Paying $500 for row 4 tickets could feel a bit salty, but I imagine that many flat priced commodities will eventually move to an auction model that finds a way to squeeze money out of people bidding on the most expensive item even when they lose. It makes them more efficient, but will also frustrate many consumers.

eBay the largest general auction site, bought StubHub, a leading ticket reseller site, earlier this year for over $300 million. SnapNames recycles domain names. Google makes billions hand over fist as an ad auction (and likely eventually a content auction and an attention auction). What other businesses do you see becoming more efficient or growing due to a web auction based model?

Watch Aaron Russo's Freedom to Fascism Online for Free

Update: After reading Alan Greenspan's book I realize that not all central bankers are bad, but I still believe there are a lot of dirty people in international banking.

Learn how sleezy international bankers are. Freedom to Fascism is available online for free. Not as good as The Money Masters, but well worth a watch, especially if you are in debt or care about the concept of freedom.

Changing the World by Linking to Socially Friendly Sites

A bit of a do-gooder tip here, but when a main story gets cited by bloggers many of us tend to link at the same mainstream media source, thus voting for that source as the best article on that topic, when it is often the first perspective we found, but not the best.

When considering who to link to, it is worth it to take a minute or three to do a few news searches and blog searches to find better articles from sources that are more trustworthy than the mainstream media.

Why Research Many Sources?

At the very least you learn how similar various sources are, how influenced they are by public relations, and learn a bit of background on the topic. At the best this will not only make you more educated, but will also help you shape the web, and what articles others will cite going forward, which is especially important when you consider how concentrated and deceptive the media is (like firing their workers for being honest) and how much fraud there is in business.

Right now some sleazy agricorp companies are creating self destructing seeds, using rBGH in cows (which provides exactly no benefit at all to consumers), and at the same time the FDA is mulling the idea of selling cloned meat (without requiring labeling).

How to Find Other Sources:

  • Check out a few of your favorite blogs or alternative media sites on the subject.

  • Check meme trackers such as Techmeme, Megite, and Tailrank to look for others talking about the subject. Technorati also offers topical meme tools and blog tags.
  • Search Google News, Yahoo! News, Topix, and other popular news sites.
  • Search major search engines for a key quote from the article wrapped in quotes to see who is syndicating the story and who has quoted it.
  • Create a Google Custom Search Engine which you seed with sites you personally trust. Search it for their past takes on keywords related to the theme of the story.
  • Check out social news and bookmarking sites to find related stories and trusted sources, either directly or recursively. Start with Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, and
  • Look at the Wikipedia page on the topic. If the topic is controversial ensure you also look at talk pages about the topic.
  • Find related topics and keywords using keyword suggestion tools.
  • See which bloggers are linking to the article in question by searching Google Blogsearch and Technorati. For example, to see who has recently linked at the SEO for Firefox extension download page I would search Google Blogsearch using link: and search Technorati for Those may give you other sources which may be worth citing, and some other people discussing the same story may also be linking at other sources. It should also tell the story from a different angle or perspective unless the bloggers are parrots.

Change the Web & Change the World:

With each word you read or write, each sentence, each page, and each link, each of us are helping to shape the web every day. Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy.

Mainstream Media Deep Linking to Wikipedia Articles

Not sure if this is something new or not, but I just saw a CNN Money article which linked at a Wikipedia article about Joe Kraus as background on him. Given how much the search engines already trust the Wikipedia imagine how much exposure it will be getting if the mainstream media regularly cite it and deep link at their biographies!

Just the fact that the mainstream media would link at articles that anyone can edit shows a big shift in power over the last couple years.

SEO & the Static vs Active Web

A while ago I made a bunch of posts about search (and the web as a whole) being about communication, but I think the posts were so verbose that nobody cared. :)

Since then I have been playing with social web stuff a good bit more and it is hard to grasp the full potential of it until after you see some of your marketing ideas spread like a weed. I have done well spreading ideas related to SEO, but I really was blown away by the potential when I had ideas not related to SEO that spread fast and far. In A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History Manuel De Landa highlighted that smaller businesses tend to act as research labs for larger ones. Nick Carr highlighted the erosion of blogs from the Technorati top 35 media sites over the past couple years, based on David Sifry's most recent state of the blogosphere post. The problem is not that blogs are less important than they were, it is just that big media is integrating blogging into what they are doing, and are leveraging their other assets to boost the blogs.

As more and more people write online the value of any singular algorithmic exploit is reduced, and the value of creating what people want or being able to influence decision makers and authorities directly goes up. If you are featured in TechCrunch the odds are good that thousands of people will see your product and hundreds of people will link at your site.

How much is a static link in a lower quality directory worth? It is hard to quantify, but as the static portions of the web represent a smaller and smaller portion of the whole, the value of being mentioned there goes down. If you create something that people are actively talking about which quickly spreads the marketing value of that exposure can be far greater than any marketing you could buy, especially if you value your time.

There are many ways to participate in the active web. If you build a finite amount of attention in the marketplace before you need to leverage it then you can use that asset over and over again.

Blogs & Forums: You can leave comments on blogs and forums, or if you are motivated you can create your own blog or community. If you have limited funds to invest you can invest by spending significant time learning your industry and freely linking out to other sites.

Feedback: Before launching an idea ask important members in your community what they think about your idea. Sometimes their feedback can make it far easier for your idea to spread. If they owe you a favor or feel emotionally attached to your idea they may even help you market it for free.

Social News & Social Bookmarking: You can learn a lot by seeing what stories are spreading on various social bookmarking and news sites. Pay attention to article titles, community bias, bias of the marketed content, format of the marketed content, how frequently certain topics appear, and how you can relate your site to topics these communities enjoy.

The Past: It used to be cheaper and easier to directly manipulate the engines by doing things like

  • focus on a highly profitable commercial niche

  • focus your anchor text
  • buy high PageRank links and build many low quality links
  • focus your link equity, pointing links at the page you want to market

But Google filters many obvious bought links, has added cost to low quality links (by making it harder to get in their index and not crawling some sites that have too many low quality links), has a -30 ranking penalty for sites with artificial profiles, and even MSN is getting more aggressive at filtering link spam.

The Present: In many markets it is getting cheaper and easier to manipulate the engines indirectly by participating in the active web, by dong things like

  • creating ideas and content people like and want (even if those ideas do not have a direct monetization model)

  • being willing to go exceptionally niche or exceptionally broad with some content to create an idea which people would be likely to vote for
  • not caring about anchor text
  • not caring about what page they link at (realizing that authoritative links to any page on your site will boost your site's authority and the rankings for all pages on your site, and thus will allow you to monetize your commercial pages from the authority of the linkworthy pages)

The Future: Imagine a day when

  • hardware, software, and bandwidth are free

  • Google and other engines have access to most web usage data
  • most people who use the web run websites
  • the web is a reflection of what most people think

If that happened would you still be able to compete in your vertical? No matter how good any of us are at manipulating engines, invariable for longterm brands and websites it is going to be cheaper to influence people.

Creative Process Flipped On Its Head

Threadless is like a Digg for t-shirts. Tim O'Reilly thinks it is an important step in meshing the web with the physical world. I used to associate wealth with negative ideas until I read this Paul Graham article, which made me realize that you didn't have to be responsible for destroying Earth to be wealthy.

The fight for freedom from censorship is only going to grow as innovative business models undermine many unneeded authority structures. When old authorities try to mesh with new technologies they will create conflicts of interest that prevent them from maintaining their authority.

History - a Cool Marketing Idea

Not sure if this idea exists already, but it would be a cool project idea for anyone ambitious enough to do it. What about creating a social network site that leverages famous poems, speeches, and quotations, and integrated them into the web by allowing submitters to add links to famous text that existed before the web. The links could show

  • how the meanings of words changed over time

  • how static human nature is
  • how politicians lie and lied
  • how religious material changes over time
  • how bogus and misguided most forms of patriotism are
  • whether cultural norms should change
  • or anything else you are interested in

There is a lot of marketing potential in history. Google realizes it, and is already exploiting it, but not to its full potential. Invariably traditional publishers are losing control due to network efficiency. Warner is already threatening to sue Google over YouTube, but YouTube just sold for 1.65 billion. I think historical text (and maybe personalized versions of it) is another vertical which is low hanging fruit like video once was.

Part of Google's move toward trying to be the default hard drive for different types of information is such that they can add context to whatever you are doing. Some of that context will be relevant ads, but the other piece of it will be useful related ideas based on other's usage data.

I think the best way to make the wisdom of the past appealing to a wide audience would be by making it interactive and showing how it is relevant to today. Some amount of that can be automated, but given how many people are trying to interpret the meaning of lyrics and how layered great writing is you would think there is a market for adding personalized or opinionated context to historical text.