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.

Buying & Selling Websites

On Sitepoint Clinton Lee wrote a 6 page high quality web site valuation guide.

The New York Times recently published a great article about flipping websites, quoting my buddy Peter Davis.

Shane Pike recently blogged about selling one of his sites to Internet Brands. The site he sold was the one that let him quit his job. I gave him some tips on how to build traffic and increase monetization during a 15 minute chat at Elite Retreat in December of 2006. He quickly took my advice to heart and is a richer man for it. Here is his revenue graph from that site

But where he really made a killing was when he found investment bankers to help him sell on a nice multiple of that

If you believe your site could sell for more than $100,000, you’re throwing money away if you don’t use an experienced broker or investment banking firm to help you sell it. Because they’re much more adept than you at running an efficient process, finding potential buyers, and maximizing the bids from those buyers, they make up their fee many times over.

For example, this whole process started when I received an unsolicited bid for the site. Before all was said and done, though, my representatives had secured not just one, but two final bids that were ten times that initial offer. I couldn’t have gotten half that on my own.

Weekend Links

I was recently interviewed by Eric Enge. On a related note, Bob Massa reminds us that asking to interview people is a great way to build links. Egobait works. Even a goofy contest where my wife is dressed up as a reindeer is bound to get a link. :)

SEO for Firefox was updated to include nofollow on links that are blocked via a meta robots nofollow tag.

In this blog post Amit Singhal highlighted how Google's search system is heavily dependent on creating local vocabularies.

Google AdWords has blended keyword targeting and site/placement targeting. They also bought Begun for $140 million from Rambler Media, the #3 Russian search/ad play. Dave Davis highlighted how you can use AdWords conversion stats to buy undervalued domains.

Google created Ratproxy to find site security related issues.

The Google speech team is beta testing audio search.

Wordpress 2.6 launched with a cool built in versioning system good for seeing how you edited your content over time.

Paul Graham shared 30 great web based business ideas he would like to invest into.

Link Laundry List

A bunch of goodies recently. I still have about 5 pages worth of links saved up, but figured it was a good time to share some of the new and the old. Rather than pounding out 10 blog posts I figured it would be easier to write a nice list of attention worthy items.

When Will Mahalo Add Nofollow to Outbound Links?

Wikipedia is a powerhouse because

  • they have so much content
  • they don't run ads on their site
  • they turn users into evangelists by making it easy to contribute
  • they have so many inbound links
  • where possible they replace their outbound links with links to more internal Wikipedia pages (I just saw a page on performance based SEO pricing models, which seems outside the scope of the goals of an encyclopedia)
  • when they do link out they use nofollow

Nofollow is the flip side of paid links - you pay content creators for a while (with links), and then stop paying them while keeping their content.

In an attempt to follow Wikipedia's strategy (but with monetization) Mahalo...

  • is creating a bunch of easy to read how to articles (though I am not sure I would trust a guide covering how to invest online from a person who is willing to spend a couple days writing it, for less than $100)
  • now allows people to recommend links without logging in
  • allows anyone to create new pages

In the past couple years Google has killed many paid link sources, and stripped PageRank from most general directories and most article directories. Given how much harder it is got to get clean links, some SEOs will be tempted to add content to Mahalo hoping for the outbound reference link, but in a year Mahalo will likely claim they need use nofollow to stop spam, so the opportunity is probably fleeting.

SEO Book Help Center

We recently added support software for SEO Book members. It is powered by Kayako SupportSuite, which is perhaps a bit more than we need as a 2 person business, but I think the software is fairly powerful and looks quite professional. :)

The only downsides were that it took me a while to install it and we are running out of room in the sitewide navigation at the top of the page...one more item and the formatting dies!

How Microsoft Could Compete With Google

Yahoo! is back around the $20 range again today. If Microsoft could find a way to buy them they could quickly gain some search marketshare, but presuming Microsoft builds a memorable search brand they could probably catch up through other acquisitions cheaper.

I think rather than buying another overpriced ad platform a cheaper way to attack Google would be to buy some of the leading editorial brands/sites that dominate Google's organic rankings. For far less than the $47 billion Microsoft offered for Yahoo! they could buy...

  • Expedia (currently valued at $5.2 billion) and have a leading role in the travel market. I think something like 40% of internet commerce is travel.
  • Monster.com (currently values at $2.24 billion) and have a leading role in employment and education.
  • Bankrate (currently valued at $700 million) and have a leading role in the mortgage and consumer credit markets.
  • WebMD (currently valued at $1.64 billion) and have a leading role in the medical market
  • IAC (currently valued at $5.38 billion) After IAC spins off many of their other units this price might go cheaper. Google paid $1 billion for 5% of AOL. Microsoft can get 100% of Ask (with more marketshare than AOL) for not a whole lot more, giving them significantly more marketshare than they currently have and an actual brand in the search market. Plus IAC is buying Dictionary.com and some other generic high traffic sites.
  • The New York Times (currently valued at $2.25 billion) and have a leading role in the news market. If they wanted to they could buy it out, spin out About.com as a Microsoft owned web property, then set up the NYT as an industry non-profit that monetizes via a longterm ad arrangement with Microsoft.

I think those companies add up to around $17.4 billion. Pay 50% over market value to close the deals and they could have all the above for $26 billion, giving them a leading position in most high value markets and $20 billion left over for marketing, branding, and buying further assets.

Is the above strategy crazy? What would you do if you were Microsoft?

The Ugly Side of The SEO Industry

When people are angry they are anything but rational, so the amount of brand damage they can do for you is near limitless. Imagine if a person or small group has reach to a group of people entering your space, and tells them that you are unethical, a liar, worthless, etc.

If such a statement is contained then no big deal, but if it starts spreading as common knowledge people will just assume it is true. For every person creating media there are 100 people quietly consuming it, and if you are successful and have mindshare people will try to tear you down every month.

When Unprovoked Try to Be Empathetic, if That Does Not Work, Then Consider Highlighting the Issue

If they are already creating unprovoked brand damage then they are probably angering other people too. If you can't clear it up directly it might be a legitimate strategy to call them out on it such that other people they offend down the road will discover your brand. Another popular strategy is to ask friends to clear it up if you want to keep yourself removed from the conflict.

Do Not Make The Google Engineers Editors Angry

We are all flawed, and the goalposts are always moving. One day we are at the top and the next day people are surprised at the fact that we are a spammer.

One of the things that is most likely to kill a successful SEO job is boasting about the ROI and/or how easy it was. Ever since Google started aggressively editing the search results the difference between a successful strategy and an ineffective one is often one blog post. Brent Csutoras gave a lot of great examples of strategy gone awry in his STFU post.

People Inadvertently Screw You

Back around 2004-2005 Google was having issues with 302 redirect hijacking, so I made the SEO Book affiliate program use 301 redirects. I mentioned that those links passed weight in our online SEO training program. 301 redirecting affiliate links is a popular way to build link equity, but after Rand used my site as an example in the following video those 301s no longer pass PageRank.

People Trash Your Site as Spam to Justify Their Spam

Remember when Jason Calacanis was launching Mahalo, and how he started railing on about Squidoo being spam before he launched his site? A year later the truth washed out that Jason intended to create a site with content that would be categorized as spam by Google's internal documents.

Consider Future Effects

Many years back Jill Whalen and I had a falling out because I was bidding on people's names via AdWords, and she did not like it. She thought it was scummy for me to bid on other brand names, but she had no desire to police her affiliates when they did the same. To this day she still slings mud at me, calling me a black hat, etc.

Public Online Communities Eat Their Young

Dan Thies, who wrote an ebook a couple years before me, had to battle through some nastiness as well, so I am not sure what percent of what I dealt with was natural feeding off the young or if the people complaining about me were actually mad at me. Given that they didn't mind when they profited from what they did not like, I would guess that it was mostly the former.

The big issue with eating your young is that you never know when it will come back to haunt you.

Someone Might Become a Star

Some people who get established allow their egos to grow beyond any rational limit, and are nasty to many new people entering their field. But the thing is you don't know who is going to become a star down the road, and who will have the influence to crush or embarrass you.

Consider how Shel Israel angered Loren Feldman years ago. Shel had long forgot doing so, but then Loren registered ShelIsrael.com and put up a sock puppet show that lasted for months!

That conflict just ended, but the associated brand damage will last for years. Here is Loren's take on why he did what he did:

When I first started my career, you made it a point to bury me online, and more importantly back channel as well. This is a fact. You and your crew went out of your way to take food off my plate. I never forgot that, and now you have something you’ll never forget.

Communities Are Full of Cliques

One of the things I struggle with in the SEO field is that so many of us end up doing so well that sometimes we let our egos get ahead of what made us do well and we forget where we came from. And so I hear negative stuff about interactions between many friends. Its hard to be empathetic when it seems everyone has wronged others at some point in time. I know I have screwed up more times than I can count, and much of the conflict ends up being drama for the sake of marketing.

PageRank was, is, and will always be a flawed concept. In some cases the best person wins, but in many cases the best person loses because they were not good at public relations and marketing - or because they made somebody angry, and they decided to blackball them.

Some of the top communities in the search marketing field do not get along well. Incisive Media employees and Third Door Media employees are banned from attending each other's conferences. Ever since Danny stopped doing the Search Engine Strategies conferences I have been asked to speak a grand total of 0 times. Guys like Graywolf and I were replaced by sponsored panels.

Your work is marvelous...

according to the world's most benevolant comment spammer, hoping to use spam to fight world hunger :)

Smart Speaking, Deep Writing About Shallow Reading, & Great SEO Content

J.K. Rowling gave the Commencement Address at Harvard this year. Two killer quotes:

So why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.


Those who choose not to empathise may enable real monsters. For without ever committing an act of outright evil ourselves, we collude with it, through our own apathy.

Nick Carr, who I was lucky enough to interview a few months back, wrote the cover article for this month's The Atlantic. His story, about how the web is reshaping our minds, is important to consider from both a sanity perspective and a marketing perspective:

The Net’s influence doesn’t end at the edges of a computer screen, either. As people’s minds become attuned to the crazy quilt of Internet media, traditional media have to adapt to the audience’s new expectations. Television programs add text crawls and pop-up ads, and magazines and newspapers shorten their articles, introduce capsule summaries, and crowd their pages with easy-to-browse info-snippets. When, in March of this year, The New York Times decided to devote the second and third pages of every edition to article abstracts, its design director, Tom Bodkin, explained that the “shortcuts” would give harried readers a quick “taste” of the day’s news, sparing them the “less efficient” method of actually turning the pages and reading the articles. Old media have little choice but to play by the new-media rules.

You can learn a lot about how ideas spread by playing on the web 16 hours a day, but many of the best ideas are either recycled from other markets and/or sparked by deep thinking from reading about other markets and determining how those markets & ideas intersect with your own. When I play online too much I start to feel stagnant and like I am not learning anymore. Reading a good book cures that.

And, more SEO related, Joost de Valk wrote a 12 page Guide to Wordpress SEO, which goes nicely with our Blogger's Guide to SEO.