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Thanks to John Andrews for highlighting the above industry trend.

Google Admits 'Organic Results' Are Filler To Pump Deceptive Ads at Consumers

Some of Google's new search results look quite alarming in terms of every single link above the fold is either a paid ad, or links to yet another Google page wrapped in ads.

I have a huge monitor & it is impossible for me to click *anywhere* above the fold on some search results without going through Google's toll booth or clicking off to yet another Google ad wrapped page.

(click on the image for the full sized view)

Some people have given Google the benefit of the doubt "well this is just vertical search" and "this is just for the consumer" but we see that in many cases it harms consumers by limiting choice:

Charlie Leocha, the director of the Consumer Travel Alliance, says Google Flight Search is “limiting consumers’ knowledge.” He explains, “this is a situation where Google is trusted as a ‘search engine’ that goes across the whole Web, but it is only going to a small select group of airlines and including them in Flight Search.”

The bottom line?

According to Leocha, “Google and the airlines have a sweetheart deal with each other, and the consumers are getting screwed.”

Those who coddled Google & gave Google the benefit of the doubt now have egg on their face, and the industry as a whole is poorer for their poor judgement & lack of stewardship.

As absurd as the above behavior is, it gets worse. When Google acquired DoubleClick, Larry Page wanted to keep Performics (an SEO/SEM company). But since it would have been a flagrant violation of law for him to run an SEO company, they now decide that nobody should run an SEO company...telling consumers to simply forget about SEO even when they specifically search out information about SEO!

Google recently ran AdWords ads with the following copy when consumers searched Google for SEO information:

“Forget about SEO. To be visible in Google today, try Adwords”

You know Google's slogan: "maybe the best ads are just answers." And sometimes they are misdirection or scams that quite literally kill people.

You can't be 100% certain which is which until long AFTER you click. And by then Google's cash register has already rang & it is off to dupe the next person.

Comments turned off, as this is a conversation that NEEDS TO SPREAD. If you run a blog about SEO, you owe it to your readers & your industry to cover this topic. If this topic doesn't get broad coverage then pretty soon your career might be over & you will deserve it too.

Cloaking: Survey Says?

In the below video Matt Cutts states that "there is no such thing as white hat cloaking" ...

... yet Google is testing a new ad unit where users have to fill out a survey before they can view the content.

How long until the surveys include something like:

  • did you vote in 2008
  • what presidential candidate did you vote for
  • how do you feel about issue x
  • how strongly do you feel about your opinion on x

Then after the survey: "Thanks for your feedback. Candidate y supports your views on issue x."

Advertisers then get a report like: "in Ohio, 84% of the 289,319 swing voters with an average household income between $32,400 and $67,250 think issue x is vitally important and have a 6:1 bias toward option A. They respond to it more strongly if you phrase it as "a c b" and are twice as likely to share your view if you phrase it that way. The bias is even stronger amongst women & voters under 50, where they prefer option A by a factor of 9:1."

Couple that ability to flagrantly violate their own editorial guidelines with...

... & Google is in an amazing position politically.

It is thus not surprising to see how politicians have a hard time being anything but pro-Google, as they are the new Western Union.

This isn't the first time Google experimented with cloaking either. Threadwatch had a post on Google cloaking their help files years ago & YouTube offers users a screw you screen if they are in a country where the content isn't licensed - yet they still show those cloaked pages ranking in the search results.

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

It is common knowledge that you shouldn't mix business and politics, however if one looks at history, many of those who gave us those sage words did precisely the opposite - and often illegally so - selling us down the river.

What is so obnoxious about Google's survey trial is that a big site that was hit by Panda was hit because they used scroll cloaking & didn't let the users get to the content right away. Googlers suggested users didn't like it & voted against it, and then roll out the same sort of "wait 1 moment please" stuff themselves as a custom beta ad unit.

And today Google just announced that they might create an algorithm which looks at ad placements on a website as a spam signal outside of Panda:

“If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it,” asking publishers to consider, “Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?”

On the one hand they tell you to optimize your ad placements & on the other they tell you that those were not optimal & are so aggressive that they are spam.

For a while there was a period of time where you could use something like "would Google do this" as a rule of thumb for gray area behavior.

In the current market that won't work.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

As ad units get more interactive & Google keeps eating more verticals the line between spam vs not will keep blurring.

Perception is everything.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde

Is Google Too Big To Fail?

Too big to fail.

We are better off if we ignore what Google is saying and follow one thing: Google wants more money for Google. When we make this assumption, everything Google does makes sense. Deception and doublespeak are logical and expected rather than shocking and upsetting.

When it comes to scale, as pointed out with Groupon, all of these rules go out the window. If you look at the biggest advertisers, replace their account with one with no history and the brand "Geico" with "SEOBook auto insurance" and the campaign will simply not run. You are spam. In some cases larger advertisers are able to run ads which are clearly deceptive and go against guidelines which they actively enforce on smaller advertisers. I have a strong suspicion now that this is in fact institutionalized in Google's rating process rather than any employee going out of their way to overturn some sort of penalty.

Google will not disrupt a site or advertiser that will negatively impact their own quarterly earnings. When Google does disrupt one, it is because they have a backup in place. That backup may be their own internal project or a competitor of yours who sends 95% of their advertising through Google's ad platforms. When Google claimed they were going after content farms, and Demand Media's properties (which are explicitly spam) were spared, the reason was obvious, because it would have visibly impacted their bottom line.

Brand is a deceptive concept. A hairy, smelly drug addict that compulsively molests women is not a sex offender but rather a globally famous rock star. Much the same holds true to many of the biggest brands. As long as a brand spams, that spam is opaque to Google's customer base and their customers do not bring a negative association with Google's brand. However, when that same hairy, smelly drug addict is anonymous he is a nuisance which destroys your reputation when you publicly associate yourself with him.

Google is like an oil company which not only dictates the price of oil but also chooses where an oil field will exist. Google is now "too big to fail" as indicated by the recent DOJ investigation which could have resulted in a felony charge for their co-founder, and most certainly would have for a smaller firm without $500m of liquid cash. We should be thankful that visitors are still directed to our websites when they could simply receive excerpts of what they are searching for.

My conclusion: first, I monetize my existing sites with Google's own products as much as possible. Second: I no longer invest my time or money in new businesses that require Google's traffic. Google should expect more walled content gardens in their future. Google's biggest challengers such as Facebook and Apple recognize this, and their platforms are very much walled gardens. That is too bad for the web as we know it today.

As a consumer I want Google to have the best, most trustworthy experience possible. They can fight SEOs and affiliates all day long and it doesn't bother me. I fully expected the innovative waves that helped the web destroy old media do the same again to itself. But, when Google lies, and do things that in fact damage that consumers experience no longer can I defend Google (when eHow first started popping up in 50% of the searches I did I was shocked; I am absolutely appalled they still show up on page 1 for anything, the articles are obviously written by authors that re-hashed another article in 10 minutes and often factually incorrect on top of it.)


Andrew Johnson submitted the above (less the image) as a comment here, but we thought it deserved to be its own post on the blog so more people get to see it.

Celebrities Killed The SEO Star

As the co-founder of an SEO Consultancy, my biggest hurdle in business is finding more staff. Clients are lining up at our door, we have no trouble there, it's finding the staff to work with them that becomes the issue. This may not sound like the worst dilemma for a business to face, especially during the current global economic decline, but the causation is a matter of great concern to me as both an SEO and a businessman.

Ayima's company structure is such that only highly skilled SEOs make it through to our interview stage and yet even then, less than 5% meet our skill requirements. This isn't me being picky, misjudging characters or sourcing bad candidates - this is a knowledge pandemic that is spreading through our industry. We've started apprenticeship programs to teach eager candidates from the ground up, but this can take several years to generate the finished article.

After looking back at our past 30 interview candidates, my opinion for the reason behind this issue may not be a popular one. I believe that celebrity SEOs, brands and blogs are feeding a generation of untested and poorly trained search marketers, who pass themselves off as SEO experts. I will of course explain my positioning…

The Pander Update

Some high profile SEO bloggers recently ceased client work and personal projects, in order to appear impartial and trustworthy to their community. This makes sense at first, after-all, who wants to use a link building tool operated by someone working for one of your client's competitors? It does however bring to light 2 much larger issues;

1) a reliance on tertiary information for SEO analysis, and
2) a reliance on search engineers to provide fresh and exclusive information/data.

Some SEO information sites may argue that they have access to the Web Analytics accounts of their partners and that they do study index changes, but nothing replaces the value of following a handful of websites every single day of the year. An absence of "boots on the ground" leads to misinformation and a distancing from the SEO practices and concerns that really matter. This in turn results in an information churn which newbies to the industry naturally perceive as important.

Moving away from servicing clients or running in-house/affiliate projects also causes a financial flux. Revenue no longer relies on problem solving, but on juicy search engine spoilers and interviews. Search Engines are businesses too though and it's in their best interest to only reward and recommend the publishers/communities that tow their line. A once edgy and eager SEO consultancy must therefore transition into a best practice, almost vanilla, publisher in order to pander to the whims of over-eager search reps.

How do we expect the next generation of SEO consultants to analyse a website and its industry competitors, when all they've read about is how evil paid links are and how to tweak Google Analytics?

I could directly link the viewpoints and understandings of some recent SEO candidates back to a single SEO community, word for word. They would be horrified to see the kind of broken and malformed SEOs that their community has produced.

OMG, Check Out My Klout

It's true that social media metrics will become important factors for SEO in the future, but this certainly does not negate the need for a solid technical understanding of SEO. Getting 50 retweets and 20 +1's for a cute cat viral is the work of a 12 year old schoolgirl, not an SEO. If you can't understand the HTML mark-up of a page and how on-page elements influence a search engine, pick up a HTML/SEO book from 2001 and get reading. If you don't know how to optimise site structure and internal linking, read a book on how the web works or even a "UNIX for Dummies" manual. If you're unable to completely map out a competitor website's linking practices, placement and sources, set up a test site and start finding out how people buy/sell/barter/blag/bate for links.

You may be thinking at this point, "Rob, I already know this - why are you telling me?". Well, the sad fact is that many SEOs, with several years of experience at major and minor agencies, fail to show any understanding of these basic SEO building blocks. There are SEOs who can't identify the H1 on a page and that seriously consider "Wordle" and "Link Diagnosis" as business-class SEO tools. It used to be the case that candidates would read Aaron Wall's SEO Book or Dan Thies' big fat Search Engine Marketing Kit from cover-to-cover before even contemplating applying for an entry level SEO role. These days, major agencies are hiring people who simply say that "Content is King" and "Paid Links are Evil", they have at least 50 Twitter followers of course.

"Certified SEO" is NOT the answer

In most other professional industries, the answer would be simple - regulate and certify. This simply does not work for SEO though. I die a little, each time I see a "Certified SEO" proclamation on a résumé, with their examining board consisting of a dusty old SEO company, online questionnaire or a snake-oil salesman. A complete SEO knowledgebase cannot be taught or controlled by a single company or organisation. No one in their right mind would use Google's guide to SEO as their only source of knowledge for instance, just as no self-respecting Paid Search padawan would allow Google to set-up their PPC campaigns. Google's only interest is Google, not you. Popular SEO communities and training providers have their own agendas and opinions too.

I do however concede that some learning should be standardised, such as scientifically proven or verified ranking factors. Just the facts, no opinions, persuasions or ethical stances.

My Plea To You, The Industry

I plea to you, my fellow SEOs, to help fix this mess that we're in. Mentor young marketers, but let them make up their own minds. Put pressure on SEO communities to concentrate on facts/data and not to be scared by controversy or those with hidden agendas. Promote apprenticeship schemes in your company, so that SEOs learn on the job and not via a website. Encourage people to test ideas, rather than blindly believing the SEO teachings of industry celebs and strangers.

An experienced SEO with, what I perceive to be basic skills, isn't too much to ask for is it?

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. ;)