The Future of Your SEO Career

So here we are, aren't we? It's 2011, SEO is still not dead (despite a decade of claims to the contrary), but the landscape is very, very different in this post-Panda world. Most sites that have been hit by Panda (inclusive of all iterations) are still on ice some 7 months after the initial roll out.

Businesses have been destroyed, livelihoods ruined, and the future of a once thriving business is seemingly on the ropes for newcomers and seasoned veterans alike.

Seems like a good time to dial this up:

This all appears to be just fine with Google. As Eric Schmidt once said, "Brands are how you sort out the cesspool". How very elitist of you Mr. Schmidt.

What exactly is a brand anyway, to you? Is it content factories ranking for medical queries like "How to survive a heart attack" and other assorted medical terms?

Or maybe you think an article that is in the running for queries around avoiding heart attacks, written by a guy with an English degree, is something that isn't part of a cesspool?

Matt Cutts has highlighted health issues as a great example of why selling links was "evil." What his post didn't disclose at the time was that Google had built a half-billion Dollar enterprise selling illegal drug ads!

I don't know about you, but I sure don't want to read an article on a medical topic that could have life or death implications which is written by a guy with an English degree! The point is that the lines continue to become extremely blurred and the algorithm "adjustments" continue to become more and more severe.

The combination of those two attributes must give an SEO pause when thinking about short, mid, and long term strategies for their business model. One mistake or one algorithm update (completely out of your hands) can have devastating consequences for your business.

Talk is Cheap

Now we can queue the white hats (whatever the heck that means) who will now wax poetic about building "brands" the right way (whatever the heck that means) and begin to play the "I told you so" game as you struggle to survive. Keep in mind that salespeople will use your uncertainty against you, and try to calm your fears by telling you "everything is ok if you do things the right way".

Problem is, what is the "right" way and why aren't "they" doing it? There is no "right" way, rather, just all sorts of shades of gray.

Don't buy into the hype and save yourself a bit of sanity. The same people who will whip out their white hats at the first sign of algorithmic shifting are the same people who want to sell you something that, at its core whether it's a tool or product, is designed to give you information on how to manipulate search results (irrespective on how they frame the language).

Bottom line is that folks in the industry are confused, scared, nervous and it's easy for salespeople to prey on the scared and the informationally-poor to enhance their bottom line.

Keep this quote from Voltaire in mind when you are searching for answers or guidance in these times of uncertainty:

The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.

The best defense is education, experience, and information.

The Shrinking Google SERP

It's getting harder to breathe in the SERPS. We routinely point this out in various blog posts, but I thought now would be a good time to revisit this problem. As it continues to appear as if Panda was less about content farms and about something a bit more sinister the incredibly shrinking organic SERP is cause for concern as well:

Here you see one site with extended AdWords and organic sitelinks:

If you're not in the top 3, well then you're pretty much not in the game:

So much for SERP diversity:

A few key takeaways when looking at these results are that:

  • Competing and monetizing just on search traffic is probably not a good long term strategy (but can work short-mid term)
  • Google continues to layer on Google "stuff", becomes another competitor that is almost impossible to beat
  • You might want to explore PPC a bit more than you have in the past for more visibility, if the margins are available

It might make some sense to start evaluating the cost of your SEO efforts and figuring out how they could translate into getting your foot into other areas of traffic acquisition online via targeted advertising, media buys, monitoring blogs and forums for discussions about your market, keywords, or products. Spread the funds out to get maximum exposure in multiple areas (for both short term and long term positioning)

As you can see from the images, the long term viability of just relying on search engine traffic is likely to be a losing proposition.

Leveraging Your SEO Skills

SEO has long been more about marketing than making sure your title tags are perfect. A good SEO is a good marketer and it's been said on this blog over the years that SEO really should be part of a more holistic approach to an overall marketing strategy. However, many of you reading this might be in affiliate or Adsense camp rather than a full service SEO agency.

The good news for the SEO agency is that you have all sorts of ways to leverage your SEO skills. You can get into things like:

  • conversion optimization
  • email marketing
  • online media buys and adverts
  • analytics services
  • social media services
  • the venerable "design and development" market
  • offline advertising and tracking
  • local SEO and Google Places SEO as well as Yahoo! and Bing local

The options listed above are all items that can quite easily come up within the context of an SEO proposal or discussion and should make for fairly doable cross-sales or up-sells.

The problem with just selling rankings or traffic is that it's all too easy for the client to dismiss you after you've achieved rankings. What's worse, even if you achieve rankings there are no guarantees of results and going back to the client 4 months in to up-sell conversion optimization is usually a non-starter if the stuff you've delivered thus far is of little value ROI-wise.

No matter how effective your performance is, as an SEO you are working in someone else's ecosystem. Google may extend the AdWords ads or insert their own product search or local search or video search results right at the top and push your work down.

Part of your SEO career planning, if you are in it for the long haul, should involve you starting to take a serious look at some level of client work and/or refine your product offering to a more holistic one rather than one with a singular focus.

Affiliates Feeling the Squeeze

Since Google has clearly shown its true colors with respect to how they view affiliates on the AdWords side is it that hard to believe that is how they view affiliates on the organic side? In fact, one of our members received this email when applying their AdWords credit:

Hello Aaron Wall,
I just signed up for the Get $75 of Free AdWords with Google Adwords. After receiving an e-mail stating that I was to call an 877 number of Google Adwords, I was told in my phone call that affiliate marketing accounts were not accepted. I guess I confused by this statement. Is this in error? Or am I not understanding the Tip #3 for setting up an account for Google Adwords for promoting a website?
Thank you in advance for your time.

Do you remember this video where the body language suggests AdSense is ok but OMG YOU'RE AN AFFILIATE (at approximately 0:38)!

Diversity, Diversity, Diversity

To counteract being viewed as a "thin affiliate", I'd suggest reading up on SugarRae's blog, specifically her affiliate marketing section.

Clearly you can build a quality affiliate site that is quite profitable, but how many can you reasonably expect to build out into thick, market leading sites without scaling high on internal costs to the point where margins become an issue or until Google monopolizes your SERPS?

Diversity is still key with respect to revenue streams but diversity between different revenue types (affiliate, adsense, client, product) is what you should be aiming for rather than just your garden variety diversity in revenue (just different sites of the same monetization method)

Where Do You Go From Here

The best thing you can do for your business is to stay out of debt. This is much easier said than done, especially if you live in the US where debt slavery is the norm and gets pretty ugly before you even have a chance to earn real money.

Being mostly debt free with some savings put away not only puts you in a better spot than most consumers but it also allows you to be less subjected to the whimsical nature of Google. Also, you can afford to be more patient, invest in new opportunities, and be less stressed out if some of your stuff turns down for a bit.

I'd venture to say that debt is probably a major reason why some folks went out of business after the Panda update and being debt free with some backup savings and income diversity helped keep some folks in the game.

Taking the First Steps

I would suggest that you take stock of your personal financial situation, your current revenue streams, your skill sets, and your feeling on the overall landscape of the industry and then start to make some decisions on the future of your career. With any update or change there are usually new opportunities that arise from the ashes of Google's scorched earth policy (or policies).

Now that Google is overtly spamming their own "organic" search results to try to capture the second click, riding as a parasite posting content on their own parasitical platforms is likely going to be an extremely profitable strategy in the coming years.

You might not make as much money posting content to Youtube as you made posting it to your own site, but you NEVER have to worry about Youtube disappearing from the search results.

The barrier to entry is getting much higher and rising fast. You need patience, capital, reliable/trusted information sources, and a bit of luck to succeed going forward. Within the span of a couple years it's gone from (mostly) the wild west to survival of the fittest. How do you plan on surviving?

What is Killing AOL & Yahoo!?

The Big Portals Can't Grow Ad Revenues

In spite of the transitioning of print Dollars to digital dimes for print media, TV advertising remains healthy and robust. Much like the decline of print media, the flow of brand ad Dollars online is skipping over even some of the largest players, leaving them out of the growth from the shift to online media.

While Yahoo! is still a leader in many categories they are struggling to sell their ad inventory directly & are selling more of it as backfill/remnant inventory. This issue has also hit AOL pretty hard. In spite of acquiring Huffington Post & being willing to sell ads at a bogus $1000 CPM, they are still losing money and their ad revenues were only up marginally.

The Stock Market Values Big Portals at Next to Nothing

Some of the bigger portals are hoping that TV-styled web ratings will lift their ad sales, but I am skeptical & so is the market. AOL's stock was down about 50% over the past month before the recent rally (and half of what was left was cash on the books). Part of AOL's recent stock price recovery is from them announcing a stock buy back. Yahoo! is basically valued at $0 when you back out their cash on hand & investments in foreign assets.

Why Can't the Portals Grow?

Part of the lack of growth in ad budgets for the large portals comes down to hype around mobile (which is now ~ 12% of search ad clicks), Facebook & social media. The brand ad Dollars that are being spent to "look cool" are riding the new fads & trends.

Riding the social hype, now even AdWords ads have a social element to them.

Three other big issues that are impacting the portals (discussed further below) are ad retargeting, custom integrated media buys, and the mixing of traffic quality.

As a baseline to consider how significantly these trends are impacting the big portals are, consider that...

... yet their quarterly traffic was roughly flat compared to Q1 & revenue was up 32% year over year. In spite of having a search-first distribution strategy, getting hammered by Panda, and removing tons of content, Demand Media is still growing far faster than AOL or Yahoo! are. Thus it is no wonder that Yahoo! & AOL are not highly valued by the investment community.

1. Ad Retargeting

Between contextual ad targeting & ad retargeting advertisers have many options to reach their audience without paying premium ad inventory rates to show up where they are less relevant.

At first I thought ad retargeting would lift CPMs as another ad channel to compete for inventory. For smaller sites about knitting or celebrity gossip it probably does, but for "premium" media that is way overpriced, it does the opposite. At first this hit some of the sorta b-list sites but not the big portals, then over time that trend grew and it eventually even consumed the big portals.

Google took ad retargeting mainstream. At first advertisers bid artificially high for this traffic, based on its perceived value, but since these advertisers were largely only competing/bidding against themselves & these ads can appear anywhere, many have now figured out that they can significantly cut their bids & still get plenty of exposure.

Some ecommerce websites not only do ad retargeting to people who visited their website, but some go so far as to target the individual products you looked at or put in your cart. You may not notice the trend if you are shopping for things you purchase (as a reflection of our identity we generally tend to perceive the things we like as being normal & as being more widely popular than they are), but if you shop for something out of the blue then the ads that follow you are far more noticeable.

Sometimes I buy a gag gift to give away before the real gift so as to sorta mis-set expectations & see a range of responses. :)

When I was buying a 4th anniversary gift for my wife, while shopping online I joked with a friend about how ugly & over-the-top some of the Zales items were. Those items then started to follow me around the web in banner ads!

What is more valuable than seeing a person putting an item in a shopping cart is seeing the actual items a person has already purchased. Amazon suggests related products on their web pages, sends personalized "you might like" email recommendations, and is leveraging their data to build a distributed ad network:

Amazon will now use its huge supply of data to pool consumers into buckets based on the products they looked at or purchased on the retailer's website. The company will help advertisers reach these consumers with targeted media, using behaviorally targeted display ads to drive them to
any URL.

There are many other technologies & business models built off of retargeting: some businesses try to rent a pixel on 3rd party websites, some analytics services respawn cookies, Akamai's CDN offers pixel-free tracking, Facebook's like button collects data even if you do not click on it, and 3rd party social media "add to" buttons collect & sell similar data.

The shift to mobile will only further improve ad retargeting. Digital receipts are becoming more popular and Eric Schmidt wants to be in your pants.

2. Integrated Media Buys


WebMD has sponsored sections where you go from information to self-quiz right into integrated custom ad channels tied directly to the disease.

Blog Sponsorship

Pay Per Post sort of took the low road in their marketing approach with getting exposure on blogs. ReviewMe (which I co-founded & sold my share in many years ago) intended to take a somewhat higher road, but perhaps didn't attract as much brand attention as we had hoped for, at least not initially.

More recently many of the online blogging communities have become custom ad networks. Want to reach moms? P&G did a deal with BlogHer & it was popular enough that there are blog posts and videos about it.


Shortly after watching a Youtube video about sugar and insulin I soon saw the following YouTube experience, with an ad over a video & another related ad unit off to the right

Taking the "be the content rather than the ad unit" one step further, YouTube has done custom ads for Nintendo, where the entire Youtube website interface reflected the game.

Tipp-Ex also had a popular viral YouTube ad.

Google's Nikesh Arora gave a speech where he mentioned that WillItBlend blends in product placements for $5,000.

3. Watering Down of Network Quality

Some of the ad networks backfill with scam "inventory" (like Yahoo! Search or Looksmart were famous for doing with "search" ads).

That mixing in of slop traffic only further drives down network pricing, but that only becomes such a big issue because of the other above changes. Part of why the fraudulent "inventory" on ad "networks" is appealing is that there is likely a far higher markup by the ad agency than there is when buying premium ad inventory.

"We just got u 34 trillion ad impressions...and these are 1/5th the cost of the other ones" sounds efficient & appealing. They can mystery meat up the margin a lot higher on the junk than they can on the premium & they can mix in enough ad retargeting into the aggregate buy so you don't know where the performance came from, but it looks ok in aggregate (so long as you don't look any deeper).

This is no different than email co-registration & incentivized leads being mixed in with quality SEO & PPC driven leads. Backfill with junk to increase volume, but mix in enough of the good stuff to keep the aggregate performance high enough to still make it worth doing, all the while arbitraging the value of existing brand strength & the additional yield from retargeting.

4. Search Engines as Stealth Web Portals

Want local? Use Google Places. Want video? Watch Google's YouTube. Looking to buy something? See the item listings in the search results. Need a stock quote? Its right in the search results.

A lot of the general purpose generic traffic that helped subsidize the large portals is now being ate by search engines like Google & Bing that are putting more data directly into the search results. This trend is even more significant than it appears on the surface when you consider investments in 3rd party companies that are arbitraging the search results (like Whaleshark Media), the inclusion of custom ad formats & lead generation funnels in the search results, and tests of vertical refinements currently being built out (in travel, deals, games and social networks like Google+).

5. The Next Big Issue? Author Identity & Retaining Talent

Services like Klout aim to create a currency out of a person's influence, which helps advertisers figure out who they should pitch.

Google's weighting on domain authority to some degree locks authors into their current jobs by making it hard for a new site to build up the initial momentum needed to become profitable. Google has implemented rel=author as a way to experiment with creating an author ranking system. If they are successful with it (and share author ratings publicly) that will give the most successful individual authors more leverage over the networks they write for, which in turn would only further weaken the big broad portals by making it easier for authors to jump ship and do their own thing.

As online advertising technology continues to advance, on the next leg down a lot of the of the big media companies will see talent flea. They saw what was coming, but couldn't change.

"They [AOL] absolutely have some core assets, but I think you would have a hard time finding someone who would describe them as a 'must buy,'" says Craig Atkinson, chief digital officer at PHD, the media-buying unit owned by Omnicom Group Inc. - source

Job Crusher Review - a New Type of Spam

I was going through my inbox and noticed that someone sent my Paypal account 10 cents. I believe Paypal eats anything under a quarter, so the only reason for the payment is to try to ensure that there is a better chance of the unsolicited spam email is read.

If the payment served any purpose (other than to insult the person on the receiving end of it) they at least could have sent a few hundred or done something classier like donating money to a charity they know you like. But no, they wanted to go lowbrow with their spam.

That is where you can one day end up if you want to be a big baller like the job crusher can spam people with offensive 10 cent payments. Isn't sending someone a friggen dime sorta counter to the marketing message of allegedly being rich & wealthy? Any way you slice it, the act is, at best, classless.

If you see someone promoting Job Crusher 2 with glowing reviews endorsing it, be sure to look for affiliate links & affiliate redirects. If they are singing praises for it & using affiliate links then they might make up to $10 per click for marketing it to desperate internet marketing newbies who hate their jobs/lives so bad that they keep paying people for tips on how to get rich quick.

If you want to make serious money using the Job Crusher system the way to do so is to email newbies to internet marketing promoting it. The secret to most get rich quick systems is the buyer's ignorance. The newbies *are* the product/system.

Unfortunately, I don't hurt for money bad enough to stoop to promote it, so I just refunded their dime and asked them not to spam me again. ;)

If I sent them an invoice for the time it took to write this "no thanks spammer" blog post, do you think they would actually pay it?

The homepage copy on the Job Crusher site states

What If You Just Did 10% Of A Million Dollars?? That’s Still $100,000 Per Year!
We are sharing this because we are sick and tired of the scam-offers out there being offered and all the BS garbage pounding our community.

What if their classless hack spam marketing angle sent more than 10% of a single Dollar?

What if...

What if they just shot themselves and stopped spamming?

Well, since it is rude to say "just shoot yourself" all I can ask of the Job Crusher team is this: if you want to get rid of "all the garbage pounding" you can start by leaving my inbox alone.


Search Engines as Affiliates + Publishers

Consumer Finance

Google recently unveiled Google Advisor, which ties together the concept of Google Comparison Ads with a better looking interface.

"With Google Advisor, you enter information about what you’re looking for in a mortgage, credit card, CD, or checking and savings account."

And unlike Google comparison ads, Google is caching these pages

When you add in BeatThatQuote, AdWords, Google affiliate network, Google ads that filter content clicks through to search ads, and AdSense there are at least 6 different ways for Google to sniff data on & monetize the consumer financial product market. And that is if you don't count branded display ads on YouTube as another option.


If you go into the fashion market Google has AdWords, Product Ads, AdSense, the Google affiliate network, & branded Youtube ads., which Google purchased in part to build, also remains a live website & yet another way for Google to taste the fashion market.

Videos / Movies

While Youtube was originally against displaying ads before videos, now that they have huge marketshare they are going to push front-loaded ads harder. Youtube offers a movie store & provides links to MP3s near music.


In books Google has Product ads, AdWords, AdSense, and their ebook marketplace. As soon as Google opened up their ebook store they began ranking their books highly in the "organic" search results

In addition to ranking those ebook pages well in the organic search results, Google also offers a vertical book filter


With flight search Google has ran tests where it looked like they were putting affiliate links directly in the "organic" search results. Their most recent flight search result test has an extended option which puts the organic results below the fold.

Google is monetizing the "organic" results on the hotel front, offering hotel price ads, coupons, and suggesting that at some point they might price ads in a cost per booking affiliate model.


In any vertical Google can offer local refinement to get a taste of more of the end user data.

On mobile phones Google can leverage click to call, their local "offers" in addition to using geotargeted AdWords ads. They can even use a person looking up directions as a relevancy signal!

According to Google insiders, mobile operating systems can be used to club "partners" over the head with compatibility requirements. And Google has taken advantage of that opportunity well enough that telecoms are complaining about net neutrality issues amongst the software platforms. As the saying goes, bundling is evil, unless it is Google bundling. ;)

General Commerce Integration

In addition to AdWords, AdSense, Product Ads, product search, merchant reviews & their general web index, Google is trying to pull in information from the offline world. They are set to announce a mobile payment system with the ability to include coupons:

For Google, the system could help boost its digital advertising business. The planned payment system would allow Google to offer retailers more data about their customers and help the retailers target ads and discount offers to mobile-device users near their stores, these people said. Google, which hopes to sell ads and discount offers to the local merchants, isn't expected to get a cut of the transaction fees.

In addition to receiving targeted ads or discount offers, users could manage credit-card accounts and track spending, loyalty points and other things through applications on their smartphones.

Google also invests in technologies that blend ads in content, like VigLink:

tools will allow publishers that opt-in to insert new links automatically into their content, rather them finding the links themselves.
Roup said one of the biggest misconceptions that marketers have begins with Google's disapproval of the affiliate marketing model. Google does not have an issue with affiliate marketing, but rather, with marketers trying to buy page rank -- or links that are paid but try to fool the consumer and appear as unpaid, Roup explains. "Our links are financially motivated, so they don't convert page rank, but neither do any other affiliate links," he said.

Google, which claims that you need to disclose any form of paid links in human & machine readable formats now invests in automated paid links, with blurred & inconsistent levels of disclosure. See for yourself.

Other Vertical Projects

Google can make minor design tweaks to their productivity suite and then launch it under any label they like, from project management to wedding planning.

Monetizing Dirty Markets

Google set aside a half-billion Dollars to settle an issue with the US Department of Justice over selling bogus online prescription drug ads. Google was repeatedly warned over the practice, but rode it until they got caught in a sting operation. Likewise, their general "AdWords advertisers selling counterfeit products" was over 50,000 strong by the time Google finally shut them down. And the whole time Google was recommending searchers search for things like "warez" & "serials," a practice which they finally stopped based on regulatory pressure.

In dirty ad markets where illegal goods & services are pushed Google can (and does) monetize them at the general ad network level until they cause public relations issues, allowing Google to capture a large portion of the reward with minimal risk.

Google can get to know you a bit better & monetize literally anything.

While Google claims ad disclosure is important, they can "accidentally" leave it off when convenient. I just recently saw the following ad served by Google's DoubleClick. I have no idea what it was promoting though, as I was afraid to click on it.

It's Not Just Google

Obviously I mentioned Google because they are the most successful search company. However, Google is not the only search company monetizing their organic search results & pushing results below the fold.

Ask monetizes their "organic" results via a variety of cross-promotional results.

Yahoo! has custom "organic" ad units & intends to further monetize search with their Search Direct offering.

Bing, which has remained fairly clean, also offers promotional vertical results in their organic search results.

As search engines take big slices out of their search ecosystems, the gap between winners & losers will only grow.

The (Sub)Human Network

The New York Times has an interesting article about Cisco's roll in the Great Firewall of China + more:

Cisco, the maker of Internet routing gear, customized its technology to help China track members of the Falun Gong spiritual movement, according to a federal lawsuit filed last week by members of the movement.

The lawsuit, which relies on internal sales materials, also said that Cisco had tried to market its equipment to the Chinese government by using inflammatory language that stemmed from the Maoist Cultural Revolution.

And that from a company which promotes itself using the label "the human network."

And how did Cisco react when the above information became public? "When evidence of the company’s activities in China became public in 2008 through a leaked PowerPoint presentation, Cisco disassociated itself from the marketing materials, stating that they were the work of a low-level employee."

That is what big brands do. The PR team steps in and says "Oops it was a rogue marketer/trader/monkey/employee who was smoking crack at work and they have now been fired. We were ignorant of our actions but we really care about people. We promise to not (get caught) doing it again!" TM

As Google pushes to make the web more corporate, it is worth taking a step back and considering what that means for "the human network."

Google likes to pretend that something is good just because it is a big brand, but many big brands have big ad budgets *precisely* because their business model contains hidden costs. For instance: bad faith insurance which takes your money as long as you pay & then disappears the minute something goes wrong.

The legal system granted large corporations more rights than human beings. Not because they are any better, but because they are more corrupt. I bet many Google engineers are disappointed to see Google following suit & taking the easy way out. Spy & personalize. And when in doubt, brand, brand, brand. ;)

With the vast potential of the web should we settle for making it as corrupt (or more corrupt) than the real world?

The following song is brought to you by the Facebook "like" spy button. ;)

Upgrading to Firefox 4

Firefox 4 was just released. It is much smoother & faster than prior versions of the browser. And the persistent memory leaking issue seems to have been tamed, even with many extensions installed. Overall an awesome upgrade. I can see this once again becoming my main web browser while also remaining my primary SEO research browser.

With the upgrade I only had 2 major issues

In time we will likely think about moving the icons for Rank Checker and SEO for Firefox out of the status bar & into the upper menu, as it is not great for us to create extensions that are reliant on another extension which is then reliant on a browser that changes too ... too many moving parts.

But for now stuff works well enough again if you download the Status 4 Evar plug-in, something over 10,000 people a day are doing!

We also just updated the documentation on the plug-in download & upgrade pages for our extensions such that those who do not read our blog still know what they need to do in order to keep everything going smoothly. It also prevents us from having to read too many support tickets like these gems a crazy gave us today, which helps us maintain at least a bit of hope for humanity. :)

In moderation such messages are humorous...but you just hope that the person isn't crazy enough to hunt you down and shoot you because they think Yahoo! is a superior browser to Firefox. Not for the least of reasons because Yahoo! isn't a web browser! :D

Download IE9

If Microsoft used their primary product to bundle other free products they were giving away to gain market leverage Google would hoot and/or holler. Google demanded that Chrome be shown as an option in Europe when Microsoft was required to market their competitors via

Yet if you visit YouTube with an old browser you can see that Google claims it isn't an advertisement, yet somehow Internet Explorer didn't make the short list.

IE9 launched as a solid product with great reviews and enhanced privacy features.

A new version of Microsoft Corp.'s Internet Explorer to be released Tuesday will be the first major Web browser to include a do-not-track tool that helps people keep their online habits from being monitored.

Microsoft's decision to include the tool in Internet Explorer 9 means Google Inc. and Apple Inc. are the only big providers of browsers that haven't yet declared their support for a do-no-track system in their products.

I have long been a fan of using multiple web browsers for different tasks. Perhaps the single best reason to use IE9 is that a large segment of your customer base will be using it. Check out how search is integrated into the browser and use it as a keyword research tool.

The second best reason to use it is that sending some usage data to Microsoft will allow them to improve their search relevancy to better compete with Google. As a publisher I don't care who wins in search, so much as I want the marketshare to be split more evenly, such that if Panda II comes through there is less risk to webmasters. Stable ecosystems allow aggressive investment in growth, whereas unstable ones retard it.

Speaking of Google, Michael Gray recently wrote: "They are the virtual drug dealers of the 21st century, selling ads wrapped around other people’s content, creating information polluted ghettos, and they will become the advertising equivalent of a drug lord poised to rule the web."

The problem with Google's ecosystem was not only that it was running fast and loose (hence the need for the content farm update, a problem Google created, and a solution which had major collateral damage along with some unintended consequences, while missing the folks who were public enemy #1).

Beyond that, Google recently announced the ability for you to report counterfeit products advertised in AdWords. Their profit margins are pretty fat. Why did the problem go ignored so long? Why does the solution require you to work for Google for free?

In the following video, Matt winces, as though he might have an issue with what he is saying. "We take our advertising business very seriously as well. Both our commitment to delivering the best possible audience for advertisers, and to only show ads that you really want to see." - Matt Cutts

How does this relate to Internet Explorer 9? Well let's look at what sort of ads Google is running:

I am not sure if that is legal. But even if it is, it is low brow & sleazier than Google tries to portray their brand as being.

If Microsoft did the same thing you know Google would cry. Ultimately I think Google's downfall will be them giving Microsoft carte blanche to duplicate their efforts. Microsoft has deep pockets, fat margins, and is rapidly buying search marketshare. If Microsoft can use their browser as a storefront (like Google does) they have much greater marketshare than Chrome has.

Cory Doctorow's excellent essay "Beware the spyware model of technology – its flaws are built in" is a great read & warns where the above approach leads.

Skyrocket Your Productivity by Trimming the Fat

If the Google Farmer update doesn't show you the unfortunate amount of low-quality noise in the SEO industry then there is no hope for you young jedi. :)

It's not unlike the unbelievable noise that surrounds an upcoming Apple product launch. In the interest of full disclosure I happen to be an Apple-ite but the coverage is even nauseating to me.

My poor RSS reader and my Twitter stream came under siege these last few days with the ramp up to the iPad 2 launch and the Google algo update.

This inspired me, after hitting the delete button about 432 times in my RSS and scrubbing the Twitter list, to sit back and review how I consume information, where I consume it from, and who is really worth "my time".

Repeat, Re-tweet, Rinse

Technology blogs and SEO blogs are much different in terms of the availability of content that can be churned out on a daily basis, as you know. There is so much more to choose from with tech but there still is this herd mentality which leads to someone saying "The iPad 2 will have a camera" 15 different ways.

With SEO, it is pretty tough to churn out daily content that is:

  • without a lot of conjecture
  • accurate
  • thought-provoking
  • worthy of your time

Sure, SEO changes like any other industry but sometimes you read some of these blogs and you have to wonder how much factual, data-driven information goes into the content? Or is the point stretched to a level where any independent analysis would torch the theory in a matter of minutes?

Show Me The Money!

Something I starting doing a bit before this wake up call which is now helping me whittle down what I am consuming, was to make notes of techniques or tips that were mentioned (noting the source) then implementing those tips while watching to see whether they made any difference (positive or negative).

Also, try and pay attention to trend predictions and industry predictions.

The ones that are usually spot on are probably worth more of your time

One thing I noticed while doing that was some of the information was simply being either re-tweeted, or republished with thin commentary, or referenced with essentially the same content but spun a different way with different industry language.

The problem was that many of the blogs or sites occasionally had a good point or three but the vast majority were just kind of "meh". I don't mean that in a disparaging way but I think if the goal of the writer is to publish frequently then so be it, but it isn't a necessity in my opinion and it can actually hurt the quality of the content if the writer feels like daily or semi-hourly publishing is required of them.

I figure that if you are going to spend time reading or paying attention to someone, you ought to pay attention to how often you skim over their stuff versus how often you actually read it and benefit from it.

Authors That Branch Out

As SEO becomes more and more a part of a holistic view of marketing your business or site, it might be a good move to look at people who can write intelligently about SEO as well as what else goes into web marketing. Things like:

  • tool reviews
  • web design and/or development
  • using popular cms frameworks
  • domain buying, selling, and domain names
  • social media
  • and the many other things a typical SEO or webmaster might be interested in

I'll give you one of my favorite blogs to read (outside of SeoBook of course :D ), Michael Gray AKA Graywolf over at Wolf-Howl.Com. His blog covers many aspects of the web marketing industry and has provided me with some extremely useful advice and tips.

Looking at the homepage of the site today he's covering Raven SEO Tools, How to Choose a Domain Name, a review of a Social Media tool, some Facebook tips for small and local businesses, and a couple of posts on SEO factors.

It's a solid example of a really well-rounded blog which gives actionable information, tips, and strong opinions.

A site that I like as sort of an all in one solution is Search Engine Land. Solid news round ups, excellent guest writers, and a group in tune to what's going on in the world of search marketing.

Many of you might subscribe to these ones already, but if not you should take a peek. :)

Do They Have Something (of value) to Say?

Twitter is probably the worst in terms of noise if you don't engage in some strategic filtering or unfollowing. A stream can quickly get littered with a bunch of RT's with posts about how nice the weather is outside.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the personal or non-work tweets (in fact sometimes they are a nice break from the monotony of the day as a webmaster) but if you notice that the person you are following is basically a re-tweet machine then it might be time to move on.

The nature of the web and social media present a way for you to interact with other folks in your industry in a way which makes it seem like you are bosom buddies with your (fill in a number) followers on Twitter, or people you interact within a community.

The hard, sobering fact is that quite a few people have nothing to say professionally that really is of any true business value to you (and why would you care what they are doing over the weekend?).

There are thought leaders in every space who consistently put out good stuff, but thought leaders are few and far in between. We live in a superficial, ME ME ME, celebrity world.

People want to be heard, seen, adored, revered, etc. It's really easy to spot thought leaders but you also have to be able to weed through people who look like thought leaders just because they have a high Twitter follower count.

It's easy to separate out noise though. Pay attention to who you are reading and following and really look at how much you are learning from that person or group.

A Cleansed List & a Productive Day

I ended up cutting my RSS feeds by quite a bit, probably around 70% if I quickly look at the numbers. I follow a few SEO-centric blogs as well as some PPC blogs, a few Local SEO blogs, Google & Bing blogs, blogs specific to tools that I use, and some general business blogs/feeds.

I'm not a big Twitter user, because after the celebs/corporations/internet marketers/bots there is little left. Diversity is good, overwhelming noise is not.

You could spend all day reading theories or re-spun posts instead of getting the information from the cream of the crop and putting that data into action for your business. Some of the spots I no longer read weren't re-publishing houses but they simply didn't bring enough to the table consistently to warrant an investment of *my* time.

What about your time? Are you giving it away to places that do not deserve it?

The Joys of a Scott Richter Moment

When I went to sleep last night all was well. When I woke up my inbox was exploded with angry emails about people getting dozens and dozens of emails from some cases perhaps almost 100. Since we put the new design live on the site I think people are more receptive to it. And there are not many Drupal websites which have more registered users than our site does. The combination of improved usability (in some areas, still working on others), better design, and a fairly strong rate of growth in popularity have caused us to hit a bit of a breaking point.

Some of the plugins for Drupal work solidly up to a point. But everything has limits. Servers, software, etc.

When you use technology sometimes it breaks. And never at a good time!

We were getting ready to fully launch our membership site publicly, but we just had a bit of a meltdown.

I think what happened was that our autoresponder was emailing the first x people & then it would reset without ticking that the day was done and those same people would get pounded with the same exact emails again. That cycle sorta looked like this

We are still troubleshooting the autoresponder issue to fix it, but while we are troubleshooting it of course we have to turn it off. (The first step to fixing any problem is to stop digging & stop making it worse)!

But while the autoresponder is turned off, it breaks the autoresponder unsubscribe links.

So it is a pretty crappy deal no matter what we do. Even if we used something like Mailchimp going forward, it still wouldn't fix the issue from yesterday.

Lose/lose, so you get to see the rudest behavior in the world and chastised. Fun stuff. If a person is intentionally sending email spam of course they would vary the message, not do it from an account that they actually answer replies on, etc. But people assume the worst because most people get burned by scammy get-rich-quick stuff before they find their way to quality SEO information.

Anyhow, the autoresponder is off until we troubleshoot it. Sorry about the bulk emails. And I can only imagine what Scott Richter's inbox must look like! Lucky for him he doesn't actually read it. ;)

We run a fairly lean business & rely on giving away a ton of stuff to do our marketing for us to attract customers. Rather than bulking up on sales staff we decided to be lean and efficient. If a person wants a sales call to try to squeeze a free consult we say no thanks. This model has worked decently well for us, but whenever anything breaks it sucks because we don't have tons of slack built into our business.

The bright side of the issue is this: even though a minority of people who responded cursed, most people were actually surprisingly polite given how annoying that autoresponder repeat was. And while there are all sorts of food riots in the Middle East & countries collapsing, I feel a bit lucky to have myself as my biggest problem & to be able to run a site with so many great members who give us the benefit of the doubt when I shoot myself (and everyone else) in the foot. ;)

Thanks guys!

Free SEOBook Wordpress Theme

Since switching over our site design some folks have asked us what we were doing with the old design.

I spoke with Chris Pearson (of Thesis fame) who made our old site design and he said it was cool if I turned it into a free Wordpress theme. And given the number of folks liked our old site design enough to use it without permission, we decided that we may as well turn the theme into a free Wordpress theme, so that everyone can benefit from it.

Theme Preview

Here is an image of what the theme looks like

Download It Now

You can download the theme here.

Editing The Logo

Currently the theme shows the old SEO Book logo in it (as logo.gif in the theme's files). You can easily change that out with a custom logo from the likes of 99designs, CrowdSPRING, or Logo Design Works.

A couple notes of caution with that:

  • The dimensions of the current logo are 720 wide by a height of 154 pixels. If you change the height of the logo then you would want to adjust the height of the space above the top navigation. Currently the header div has a height of 173px, so it is set to logo height + 19 pixels.
  • If you order a logo you may want to color match it to the existing site design colors. For your convenience, there is a color swatch to the right & you can grab HTML colors using an extension like ColorZilla. The HTLML color code for the green is roughly #9bdc1d and the blue is roughly #5bacd8 (though both have a bit of gradient to them).

Editing the Site's Colors

Given the reliance on white in the design, it is fairly easy to change the design's colors simply by changing the color of a few images in the design. You can replace the green and blue with a wide variety of colors and still have it look good. I believe we did red and gray on PPC Blog for a while and it looked pretty good. This tool is a good tool for making gradient images. Then you can use something like SnagIt to size the images similar to the old design's images. Of course Photoshop experts should have no problems with editing the colors either. ;)

Editing the Site's Width

The white content area with a white page background makes it easy to change the theme's width in the CSS if you are pretty knowledgeable about CSS. The divs are pretty easy to understand. Container wraps around the content area. Each post div is within the content div & the sidebar is named sidebar. :)

General Disclaimers & Whatnot

First and foremost, since the theme is free it does not come with any sort of support. If you have doubts or concerns with using it then we suggest testing it out on a secondary site & customizing it as needed before putting it on your primary website.

Although we are an SEO website, I do not claim that the theme is "SEO optimized" or anything like that. As a best practice, I believe there is value in making the page titles and post titles different from each other (especially in light of this). But that best practice is not something Wordpress does by default.

There are a wide variety of other themes & Wordpress plugins that offer more granular SEO control. When using a theme like this one on our sites then typically we would use SEO title tag and a related posts plugin to help with SEO. If we are aiming for a fairly flat site structure then we would show excerpts on archive pages and use a different posts per page plugin to put something like 100 posts on each category page. But there are many other themes and plugins that do those sorts of things.

The template has a credit link in it. I would prefer you leave that there so others can find out how to get the theme, but if you do need to remove it all I ask is that you instead link to a charity you believe in & donate whatever you can to that charity. :)

Why Did We Switch Site Designs Here?

The above design was live on our site for nearly 5 years. And I would have kept rolling with it if our site didn't become so complex. One of the leading complaints about our old site was how navigation was inconsistent in different parts of the site.

The site started off as a blog which happened to sell an ebook, but over time as it grew to have dozens of tools, 100+ training modules, thousands of blog posts, etc. Given all the various user rolls and login permissions it was important for us to tighten up our navigation and make it more consistent (with the use of sitewide drop downs and such). I plan on using our old design on a few of our other websites that are less complex and more bloggy. And I hope you like it too! :)


    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.