Profitable Publishing in the Digital Age: the Archivist vs the Anarchist

The Archivist

When I was about 1 year into the field of SEO my friend brought me over to his parent's house for a winter break for a few days. His dad is a genius (in about every way possible) and worked at the time as an archivist that digitized old content collections for media companies. I told him of what I did (SEO) and he told that I should learn XSLT, and that Google would soon kill the field of SEO.

The Anarchist

I believed just the opposite...that SEO was an extension of marketing (which will only increase in demand as the web grows older), and that as Google's profits grew, they would use them to forge partnerships with content creators and build their own mini-web to supplement the greater web and give themselves a second bite at monetizing searchers. In the past few years Google added news results to their organic search results, bought YouTube, digitized a ton of books, settled a publisher and author lawsuit with books, created a books API, created Google Maps (and local), created Google Earth, created Google Maps, created Google Local, and Google just purchased 20 million digitized historical newspaper pages from PaperofRedord.com.

So far I am winning that bet, but only because I view SEO as an extension of marketing and have aggressively re-invested profits toward growth...which got me to thinking of publishing trends that will grow in the years to come.

Publishing truths for the digital age

  • Many forms of scams and spam will look so much like real information that most people will not be able to distinguish between them.
  • The web has a deep and rich memory. But most people's use of it will remain shallow.
  • As the world gets more complex, we will increasingly question authority and seek out experts to turn to for alternative view points and advice.
  • We will subscribe to niche channels that largely match our biases and worldview. Information retrieval tools (search engines), information consumption tools (feed readers), and the social structure of the web (links, comments, how we use language) will further create a self-fulfilling prophecy on this front.
  • Curiosity and the ease of publishing will turn a half billion people into experts connected to a passionate audience.
  • Amongst that competition, there will always be an unquenchable demand for marketing, branding, and public relations.
  • If you sell information, accessibility and marketing will matter much more than being deep and/or factually correct.
  • Piracy is a cheap distribution channel.
  • The tightness of a social network will be far more important than its raw size.
  • It is easier to build a large profitable revenue stream selling what is new rather than selling what is old.
  • Information without personalization and context will increasingly become commoditized. The average web page will be worth less than a cent unless there is a strong editorial voice associated with it and/or there are explicit votes for it.

Your Turn

What do you see changing as the web ages and grows?

How Long Until People View Google Like Microsoft?

From the Official Google blog 9 months ago

Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies -- and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets.

I expected a bit more class from Google. That would be like Microsoft publishing this

Could Google now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with ignoring copyright and establishing a virtual monopoly on text links? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Google has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies -- pushing the rel nofollow tag, telling people broking ads similar to Google's ads that they must mark paid links in a human readable way, then banning or demoting webmasters for following that advice, and paying criminals to steal their content and wrap it in Google ads.

It is interesting to note how much Google has changed in the past couple years: buying products like FeedBurner and taking the leading position in the feed reader market, buying YouTube and owning the video market.

And their network effects are starting to show up in their ad network / approach to their ad network:

Google is finally getting to the size where they are starting to get market blowback from governments...

Google bought Russian ad network Begun, but the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service banned the purchase.

Today Google announced they were backing out of the proposed ad partnership with Yahoo!

However, after four months of review, including discussions of various possible changes to the agreement, it's clear that government regulators and some advertisers continue to have concerns about the agreement. Pressing ahead risked not only a protracted legal battle but also damage to relationships with valued partners. That wouldn't have been in the long-term interests of Google or our users, so we have decided to end the agreement.

The SEO Police


I was a bit disappointed when I saw Rand out yet another website recently. Why was the site outed? Because they were ranking for SEO company and Rand didn't feel that their backlinks should count (and Rand wanted another excuse to promote his new LinkScape tool).

In his post Rand...

  • claimed that the site ranking #1 for SEO company was an embarrassment to Google and other search engines
  • wrote "Outing manipulative practices (or ANY practices for that matter) that put a page at the top of the rankings is part of our job"
  • wrote "Isn't the goal of a successful web marketing campaign to build a strategy that is legitimate to survive a manual review by the engines and strong enough to be defensible even to those who peer review or investigate?"

While some may not feel the post was outing, that was the intent of the post...to cause harm to the business highlighted, and to do so for potential personal profit. As Nick Wilsdon wrote:

Yes, Google probably already knows about them but that's not the point. Once a SERP or a naughty company becomes a public embarrassment, it then gets "cleaned up". Google can't be seen to be gamed. There's an element of politics involved.

ShoeMoney also spoke about that topic in this video, titled Don't Make Google Look Stupid

And that in itself becomes an issue. Sure most of us want to be able to have our sites pass a hand review and stand the test of time, but when things are covered with a negative connotation from a negative frame it makes Google more likely to act against the "spam"...even if it was something that was fine for years.

I had a lively conversation with a search engineer about one of my sites where he stated that he thought the site's marketing tactics were a bit spammy. 2 other search engines chose to promote that same site editorially with shortcuts. Because of who owns a site it can be seen as being spammy, while the same site is seen as the clear cut category leader worthy of promotion by other search employees who do not have anti-SEO goggles on.

Where this "out everything on principal" strategy goes astray is when a person's assumption of how the algorithms and editorial policies should work do not match what the search engineers believe. To appreciate that, consider the SEO Book affiliate program. It passed PageRank for years. And then Rand outed it and it stopped passing PageRank.

Recently Rand wrote that Google engineers said that affiliate programs should pass PageRank. So based on what Google engineers say in public, editorial links promoting my affiliate program should pass PageRank, but because Rand chose to out it, it probably never again will.

Shockingly, when asked point blank if affiliate programs that employed juice-passing links (those not using nofollow) were against guidelines or if they would be discounted, the engineers all agreed with the position taken by Sean Suchter of Yahoo!. He said, in no uncertain terms, that if affiliate links came from valuable, relevant, trust-worthy sources - bloggers endorsing a product, affiliates of high quality, etc. - they would be counted in link algorithms. Aaron from Google and Nathan from Microsoft both agreed that good affiliate links would be counted by their engines and that it was not necessary to mark these with a nofollow or other method of blocking link value.

Editorial affiliate links should count, but it was Rand asking "who does Google come down on" that was intended to harm my business to give himself a better competitive position. It was similar to the strategy of blasting Aviva to promote a list of directories people should buy - a profitable strategy, but not one with a north pointing ethical compass.

As to the absurdity to claiming that as a professional SEO's job to police the organic search results...I can only assume that a person stating such has never had a site hand edited (while seeing factually incorrect sites with spammier links and worse site designs continue to rank in the same results). If you read the Google remote rater documents you can see how things are open to interpretation. If you read the remote search quality rater documents leaked from 2003, 2005, and 2007 you can see how they changed over the years.

Years ago I might have thought reporting all spam was a good idea, but after experiencing and seeing the arbitrary and uneven nature of the editing it is not what I would consider a relevant mindset for SEO in 2008. When I was starting out in search my mentor told me "you can't really appreciate how the game works until you lose a site" and once you do, feeling like it is your job to out spam seems a bit small minded and short sighted.

If Rand really believes that "Outing manipulative practices (or ANY practices for that matter) that put a page at the top of the rankings is part of our job" then why does he offer a testimonial on the Text Link Ads website when Matt Cutts has clearly stated that buying text links is manipulative and outside their guidelines? Does he turn in his own clients for link buying?

Patrick's dedication to providing excellent services echoes in all of his employees and the company as a whole. Support and response times are exceptionally fast, and the process of buying links couldn't be easier. - Rand Fishkin

How can you suggest people should buy links and then out them for doing so? Someone is either being intellectually dishonest or economical with the truth.

Why Are Young Liberals 'Destroying the Internet'?

In the following interview of Jon Stewart, Bill O'Reilly mentioned that Jon's audience was younger and left leaning.

Recent research from a survey of 3,036 Americans confirms that people who contribute content to the web are skewed toward being young, left-leaning, and more passionate about the sites they contribute content on.


In Online Communities and Their Impact on Business [PDF] Rubicon Consulting highlights the following:

Most frequent contributors are different from the average web user. They're more ethnically diverse; more technically skilled; more likely to be single; more likely to work in technology, entertainment, or communications companies; and more likely to be Democrats. But most of all, they are younger than typical web users. Half of the web's most frequent contributors are under age 22.


The common stereotype for the Digg crowd also applies across many other sites and industries.

That's not to say you should try to appeal to the Digg audience, but if a disproportionate amount of content is created by young liberals then there is business sense in appealing to that demographic. Appealing to the 10% of people who create content makes you look better to the other 90% of people who use the web.

If you look at a traditional user adoption curve the people to the far left are the people who have blogs and the people who leave feedback on other websites. The interaction with the loud users is what helps potential customers build confidence. These loud stakeholders are influencers.

A site which has more user generated content on it has the following benefits

  • a broader range of unique textual content to rank against (which helps it build a larger organic audience)
  • built in social proof of value/cumulative advantage (people think it is popular, and perhaps more authoritative, because others contribute to the site)
  • built in loyalty (people who contribute to your site have a vested interest in spreading the word about your site, and seeing to the success of your site)
  • more editorial reviews that turn searchers into shoppers into buyers (reviews increase consumer confidence and make them more likely to purchase)
  • more inbound links (people are more likely to link at a page full of editorial reviews, and the people who review products are more likely to own websites)
  • faster and cheaper market feedback
  • a broader reach with new releases (particularly if you build an audience by offering an email newsletter or a regularly updated blog)
  • lower traffic acquisition costs, lower marketing cost, and higher value per visitor (due to many of the above points)

The Rubicon research also states that young people are more likely to be influenced by online reviews, and are more likely to search online for support issues...so having a search accessible FAQ section can drastically lower customer support costs.

How to Update Firefox Extensions (and/or Uninstall & Re-install Them)

Since we have a number of popular Firefox extensions, I frequently get asked how to update Firefox extensions. Rather that writing 3 emails a week I figure it was quicker to jot down a quick blog post. To update or uninstall an extension you first have to click into the add-ons panel.

When you get inside the extensions area (by following the path highlighted above) you will see an Add-ons window with a Find Updates button at the bottom of it. That is an easy way to update many extensions at once.

The other way to update or uninstall is to scroll on an extension and click on it.

  • If you left click, Disable and Uninstall buttons will appear.
  • If you right click on an extension you will see a menu pop up with the option to Uninstall the extension. This menu also gives an option for you to Find Update.

Any time you do an update or uninstall you have to restart Firefox for it to take effect. If you uninstall an extension that you want to reinstall, go to the source where you downloaded it from to be able to reinstall it again. Instructions for installing an extension are well laid out on the SEO for Firefox page.

Google's Chinese Wall Between AdWords Ads & Organic Search Results Disappears*

In years past Consumer Reports WebWatch studies showed that consumers struggled to differentiate ads from organic search results and that "more than 60 percent of respondents were unaware that search engines accept fees to list some sites more prominently than others in search results."

Since those studies Google has changed the background color on top ads from blue to a light yellow color that is hard to notice on some monitors. Changing my contrast setting from 50% to 55% it is hard for me to see the edge of the sponsored box...it simply bleeds into the organic search results. Google interviewed German searchers to ask if they noticed the yellow background on sponsored links and got a negative answer:

INT [interviewer]: “Why do the results on top have a yellow background, did you notice?”
TP [tester]: “I didn’t notice this.”
INT: “What does it mean?”
TP: “It definitely means they’re the most relevant.”

Google has done studies on the the brand lift of search, but it only tells part of the story. When one considers that

  • many searchers do not know where the paid ads are,
  • people will be searching more on mobile devices,
  • maps and other verticals will eventually have ads integrated in them, and
  • search suggestion services may show ads before the searcher hits the search results

...it is going to get much harder to compete for attention in big verticals unless you have the best visitor value and can afford PPC, or you build a formal partnership with the search engines.

To see where this is headed check out the Yahoo! Search results for a popular band, and see how Yahoo! turned their search results into a useful interaction AND an advertisement for Rhapsody - allowing searchers to play songs directly in the search results. Large portions of the search stream (lyrics, music, entertainment, sports) are going to be directly controlled by the search engines that keep users on their network longer and the second click.

* at least in the mind of searchers tested by Google and used in Google promotions to promote paid search advertising.

Think Tank, SEO for Opera, & Sustainable Online Business Models

Shoemoney is giving away a free ticket to ThinkTank, a free form gathering about Internet marketing on September 26th through 28th. My wife and I will be attending as well. Check out the official Think Tank site for more information.

An SEO Book reader has ported over SEO for Firefox to make an Opera SEO extension. I have not tried it yet, but if you are an Opera fan let me know what you think of it.

Dan Thies recently launched his Stomping the Search Engines 2 video series with an interesting business model...the buyer only has to pay $10 for shipping and handling, and is added to a continuity product where they buy a print magazine about marketing each month.

In Macropayments Cory Doctorow highlights the incremental costs (and flaws) of an artist acting like a publisher selling information at a low price point. Truth be told I stretched my limits under my old business model and the new one is much better...proving his theory correct.

In this video David Heinemeier Hansson highlights why most start ups that charge money for their products do better than the start ups that aim to make everything free and make everyone happy.

To appreciate how bad free can be (in the wrong context), think of how good many of Amazon.com's reviews are, and then read the drivel in their political forums. Same site, same audience, and yet one is remarkably intelligent while the other is equally banal and belligerent.

Reading, Writing, & Helping

Brian Clark highlights various levels of reading, and how many bloggers fail to go beyond scratching the surface.

Improved data visualization technologies are making it easier to transfer knowledge.

I few posts back I mentioned that Amazon's Mechanical Turk would be good for some SEO processes. It looks like people are already using it to spam social media. As sock puppets rise up many of the broad/general social media sites will get polluted by increasing amounts of spam.

My latest column on SEL was about how you have to give your SEO as much information as possible if you want them to solve your problems in an efficient manner, equating a broken website to a sick patient.

Interviews & News

I got mentioned in the media 3 or 4 times last week and just finished my last interview (at least for a while). It is hard when you get used to doing interviews with friends or talking to the media because it is easy to be unprepared for the other. With reporters you have to be guarded because they often aim for a misquote because that sounds more interesting, whereas you can be really open with friends.

Anita Campbell recently interviewed me about SEO and business stuff on the Open Forum, and Augusto Ellacuriaga interviewed me about SEO on his Spanish SEO blog.

Kim Krause Berg recently interviewed Sugarrae.

In Leonard Klaatu's article about Bassackwards Business Model he mentioned me a bunch, but did not interview me...he didn't need to though as I think he understood my philosophy and strategy, perhaps better than I do. :)

On Search Engine Land I wrote tips on how to rank a new site quickly.

If you are going to SES please support Todd Malicoat's IM Charity Party on the 18th. I won't be attending SES, but I should be at the IM Charity Party for an hour or two.

David Mihm did a great rundown of SMX local and mobile.

Microsoft Live Search upgraded their webmaster tools, so if you want to dig into details but were afraid to give Google any more data this is a great opportunity. Rand recently interviewed Live's Nathan Buggia.

Amazon's Mechanical Turk fully launched. It has to be good for a lot of creative publishing ideas...the most obvious are spamming opportunities, but I have not tested the upper limit of quality yet. Have you?

Google is showing more data about when and how they customize and personalize search results...claiming greater transparency. Meanwhile, they have begun blocking some automated rank checkers and sending bad data to users of their API.

Zappos is practicing the ugly anti-marketing art of line extension, by selling laptops. Did you know that before ketchup Heinz was a leader in the pickles market?

Emotionally Engage or Enrage

I just got done talking with a pretty sharp reporter about some SEO stuff. He had done far more research than most reporters I talk to, but still had one big misconception about the field of SEO...thinking it was largely about mechanical processes, hidden text, and other such tricks.

Market research, site structure, and on page optimization are important. Doing them well can double or triple the earnings of a site, but when you get into the big fields where people are deeply passionate or interested links are needed to win. And those links are often a reflection of our emotions.

When you look at your site do you find anything that is emotionally engaging? enraging?

As the web gets more efficient and search engines gather more data, those who evoke emotional responses will keep gaining marketshare while bland webmasters fall quietly into the abyss.

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