Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless

One of our commenters, WebsterJ, recently made the astute observation:

So Derek calls out SEO as a scam while touting social media - a field that is quickly cornering the market on snake oil. Fast talking social gurus charging boring clients with nothing interesting to say big $$$ to make Twitter profiles, blogs and Facebook pages that will bring in zero return. They just make the client feel like they are "doing social media."

Heh. Indeed.

Social Media Guru Snake Oil

Social media, used as a means to make money, is - mostly - useless.

Now, before a gaggle of unemployed social media gurus accuse me of doing the same thing as Powazek, I'm going to hedge my rant.

But first, let's have some fun.

Why $ocial Media Doesn't Work

Social media - and by social media I'm mostly talking about Facebook & Twitter - doesn't work for many businesses, and never will, because the medium is not the message.

Yet that is how a lot of social media marketing is approached.

Companies are being encouraged to create Facebook pages and open Twitter accounts to announce to the world they have nothing to say. Well, that would happen if anyone was actually listening.

Which they're not.

People aren't listening in the same way they're not reading email newsletters they signed up for a few years back and can't remember why. They'd unsubscribe, only that would require effort.

Highlight. Delete.

Likewise, most Tweets and Facebook entries dissolve into the ether, unread and unloved.

Obviously, just using the medium is not communicating, building brand, or creating engagement. That requires reflection, strategy, focus and having a story worth listening to. If a person or company has nothing to say, then creating a social media channel isn't going to help.

First, they must have something worth saying. Then they must say something people want or need to hear, and say it in a way that resonates with the audience.

The problem is....

Many People Have Nothing To Say And Few People Are Listening

In the past few minutes, I've seen the following tweets:

"Head hurts. Going to bed early..."

"Trying out tweetie2"


Riveting stuff, certainly.

Sure, I'm being facetious. Selectively pulling out the personal stuff. So how about people doing social media business?

If you're a masochist, or a psychologist examining the growing problem of delusions of grandeur amongst generation Y, you could do a lot worse that following a few social media gurus on Twitter:

"Marketing is a vulgarized concept. That's why we see so many brands lacking credibility in the digital world. Windows, not mirrors folks"


That's almost as bad as some of mine! And to think, some people are worried that Twitter will get innane when it becomes mainstream.

Here's a good example of implementing a social media channel with seemingly little thought given to the message or the audience:

Twitter. Check.

Facebook. Check.

Something worth saying? Erm....

There's not a lot of strategy behind much of this stuff.

Show Me The Money

Count up the hours you spend on Twitter or Facebook, then figure out how much money you made for each of those hours of effort. I'm guessing the result for most people is somewhere around zero. Now deduct your hourly rate - and other opportunity costs - for each of those hours.

But wait, I hear some people say. "Social media is about attention! About getting noticed! Getting on radar!"

They didn't really say that. I just made that up. The only person here is me. But it sounds like something a social media guru might say, especially if they were charging by the hour at the time.

People place a lot of importance on getting attention. They point to the number of followers as if that metric means something. It doesn't, of course. The important metric is how many of those followers are paying attention and then engaging in a way that contributes to the bottom line.

How many social gurus are measuring the bottom line, I wonder?

Argument By Selective Observation

But wait, some imaginary social media guru interjects, pausing only to push his sunglasses onto the top of his head:

"What about They killed with their recent social media campaign that netted $1,000,000,000,000 in two hours!"

No matter how inane, publicity stunts can work. Once. Early adopters can benefit from being first - they are remarkable simply because they are first. But once the followers arrive, the stunt is no longer remarkable, and the technique is no longer repeatable. The medium was the message, but not for long.

Social media has grown past the stage of being remarkable for its own sake.

Also, what works in one area may not translate to other areas. Wired companies can use leading edge communication channels because that's where their customers are. These communication channels might not work so well if you're selling cheese to housewives. I know this sounds weird, but they probably still listen to the radio.

The rule "go where your customers are" still applies.

Join The "Conversation"

Is it possible to have a conversation in Twitter or on Facebook?

Perhaps, on a superficial level, but mostly it's quick blast of - and I use this phrase loosely - information.

A lot of people who wrote some really interesting, deep, valuable stuff in forums and on blogs migrated to Twitter, used it a bit, then stopped. I think that happened because there was no value in it for the writer. Conversation didn't happen. Relationships weren't being built.

A temporary shot in the dark.

Perhaps that is why people update social media channels so often. Social media only exists in the now, and if you're not posting right now, you don't exist.

But is there anything worse than the compulsive updater? "Going to Reno tonight! Feeling pumped!". Millions of people saying nothing to millions of people who aren't interested.


Pretending To Work

Social media is mostly a waste of time.

And that's exactly why I have a Twitter account :)

We all do. Why? It's fun. It can be fascinating. Useful, even. But for most people, even most business people, it's not really about doing business and making money. It's about being, well, social and pretending to work.

When Social Media Works

Ironcly, social media works wonders when combined with that other well-known scam, SEO.

Brent Csutoras, in a comment on SEOWorld put it well:

When you have content that becomes popular on sites like Digg, Reddit, or Delicious, you get in front of the largest body of linking individuals on the web. Most journalist, media, and bloggers/webmasters watch the front page of these top social news and bookmarking sites to get current and popular content to use for their own site, magazine, newspaper, or show.

By having your content in front of this group of people, you are likly to get a lot of natural links to your content. Sometimes you can get links up to a PR9 level such as TBS, MSNBC, AOL, Wired, Huffington Post, all of which i have personally received off of successful campaigns.

How many social media gurus talk about this angle?

Ever listen to Chris Winfield speak? That guy can create a brand from scratch. And that is the other area social media works well: brand building.

Much social media theory is nothing new. It's regurgitated brand theory. You create value by recognition and having customers engage and spread the word. It helps get the message out. Driving brand awareness, particularly with youth and wired demographics.

Building brand, and the benefits that come from that - engagement, word of mouth, connection - are where social media can excel if executed as part of a coherent strategy. It's cheap. It's cheerful. It's fun.

All good stuff.

The trick is to....

Measure it

Find out how social media translates to your bottom line. If your social media guru can't demonstrate that, s/he is a waste of space. Social media must either increase sales, or cut costs, or both. If it doesn't, it's not business, it's just time wasting. If it can't be measured, then there's a good chance it isn't happening.

Agree? Disagree?

Do you measure your return on social media?

Abuse, constructive or otherwise, in the comments please :)

News Alert: SEO is a Scam

Derek Powazek - no, I hadn't heard of him until today either - is, according to the blurb: "one of the top 40 "Industry Influencers" of 2007 by Folio Magazine..has worked the web since 1995 at pioneering sites like HotWired, Blogger, and Technorati".

A designer, apparently.

He doesn't care much for SEO.

The fact we may never heard of him just goes to show that the web is a big place. It is quite common that the rockstars in one niche can be unknowns in an adjacent niche. It is therefore no surprise that those who spend a lot of time in separate niches may not understand each other particularly well.

Derek understands little about the value of SEO.

Read the anti-SEO rant entitled "Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists".

I'm sure you'll find it amusing.

If Someone Charges You For SEO, You Have Been Conned

Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned


Well, I'm sure some SEO is undertaken by people without either brains or soul, but the same could be said of web designers.

It is true to say some web designers are clueless about the web, seemingly only interested in crafting pretty pictures. In Flash. They charge clients a fortune for it, and have no idea whether their self-indulgent nonsense will add any value to the clients business. It's barely even a consideration.

That's rather misleading. It might be true, but it's still misleading. Some web designers, just like some SEOs, are pointless. That doesn't mean all SEOs or web designers are pointless. Unfortunately, Derek thinks the entire SEO industry is a con.

Judging an entire industry by what some bad actors do is wrong.

And so, like the goat sacrificers and snake oil salesmen before them, a new breed of con man was born, the Search Engine Optimizer. These scammers claim that they can dance the magic dance that will please the Google Gods and make eyeballs rain down upon you.
Do. Not. Trust. Them


Of course a good SEO can "make eyeballs rain down on you". We do it every day. A good SEO can take a site where a "designer" has indluged in what loosely passes for an adult version of finger painting and get it ranking under appropriate keywords. SEOs do this by identifying keyword traffic (demand) and ensuring pages (supply) meet that demand. We untangle messes made by designers and developers and we implement web marketing strategy where there was none.

Whilst Derek is wrong about SEO on a number of levels, he says some stuff I agree with, stuff we often talk about on this blog.

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog. (Don’t have those things? Start them.) Tell people who give a shit – not strangers. Tell them why it matters to you. Find the places where your community congregates online and participate. Connect with them like a person, not a corporation. Engage. Be real. Then do it again. And again. You’ll build a reputation for doing good work, meaning what you say, and building trust."

Seth Godin says the same thing. We often quote Seth.

But the problem with "making something great" is that the search engine may not think it is great. This is because a search engine is stupid. It's a machine. And like any stupid machine, it may not recognize greatness, especially if it can't crawl it, or if that greatness doesn't exist in a form it finds palatable.

SEOs help make sure the search engines don't miss greatness.

Derek appears to think SEO is mostly about crawling and hacking. Competent SEOs know that crawling is one part of the puzzle, and most have never hacked to get links. SEO is mostly about the publishing and marketing strategy that comes out of keyword research. Most designers don't understand this concept and therefore misinterpret how SEO works.

As for publishing content for Google, then - yes - guilty as charged, By making content Google wants, Google rewards you. Don't, and it won't. Content can satisfy both Google and humans. It is false to suggest content that appeals to Googles algorithms isn't what humans want to read. Google wouldn't be a business if their results didn't satisfy humans.

Web Design Is Mostly Unimportant ;)

Here's a quote Derek makes lower down in his comments section:

Also, I didn’t call SEO people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people.

For a "influencer", the guy sure is mature.

Let's try that with web designers to see if it is any less vacuous:

Also, I didn’t call web designer people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people."

Nope. Still vacuous.

I have nothing against the web design community. I use web designers - good ones - who understand a little about SEO. Good designers who understand a little about SEO are as rare as hens teeth. And even though they do understand a little about SEO, that still leaves the real SEO work to do, which is identification of traffic streams, content creation and link building.

SEO plays, like eHow and Mahalo, attract hundreds of millions in venture capital funding. SEO play sold to the NYTimes for $410 million. Microsoft and Yahoo employ inhouse SEOs to advise their staff and maximize traffic to their content.

Meanwhile, content management systems are free. Great looking templates are cheap. The worlds most valuable web properties don't use "designery" design. They place most emphasis on function. The web is evolving from the crafted, fixed brochure into a platform. Perhaps custom design just isn't as important as it once was. Design has become commodity.

Now, I know that web design is about a lot more than making pretty pictures. It's about structure and interaction. Defining design narrowly as "picture making" is just as stupid as Derek's implied narrow definition that SEO is about crawling, hacking and generating low quality content intended only for Google. Such narrow definitions can lead to false assumptions and conclusions.

Danny Sullivan has also dissected Dereks rant.

Click Economics: The Last Click

Sorta an old post that I forgot to publish until today! Having the site closed to new members has given me time to start working through a few of my almost done posts that were never published yet. It's hard to have time to do everything while growing a few businesses...and thus the blog needs a little TLC ;)

Media has traditionally been afforded a wall between editorial and advertising due to limited marketplace competition. But, as Jim Spanfeller stated, the perception of value in "last click marketing" where search gets most of the credit for the entire demand creation and fulfillment cycle, is killing the value of online content:

A publisher can and should price their inventory at levels that will meet the market expectations and drive their business model. What they should not do is allow some sort of invisible hand (or should I say hands) to price their inventory against a backdrop of objectives that can and often does change at a moment’s notice. This practice has fundamentally driven pricing down across the web and, perhaps more importantly, changed the success metrics from ones based on “demand creation” to ones driven by “demand fulfillment.”

Worse yet, the leading metrics most closely track how the poorest members of society interact with media, creating a media ecosystem designed to exploit the poor. The above linked article states "we now know that 16% of web users generate 80% of clicks and that this 16% represents the lower income and education segments of the total user base."

It may have cost Google 1 day of revenues to create the default analytics tool, which by default has a last click wins behavior that few people know how to edit. They can even add more features like tracking SEO rankings without risk because they know few people will use them.

Google's web domination is so impressive that experienced and well trained journalists writing for publications like Wired mistake Google's mission statement as the goal of the web. Literally...

The Internet’s great promise is to make the world’s information universally accessible and useful. So how come when you arrive at the most popular dating site in the US you find a stream of anonymous come-ons intermixed with insults, ads for prostitutes, naked pictures, and obvious scams?

Gary Wolf should know that was actually Google's mission statement, not the goal of the web. ;)

Sure data mining and sentiment analysis can be parts of the web, but the best bits are often scattered messes and weird stuff we accidentally bump into. Promo Codes for Business's Web Directory - Save $50 Today

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The Unexpected Success

Have you ever had an unexpected success?

For example, you may have targeted a keyword term you thought was highly important, yet a few obscure long term keywords brought you more business? Or the site you've put all your effort into lately isn't doing as much business as that throw-away site you've been neglecting?

I'm re-reading a great book called "Innovation & Entrepreneurship" by Peter Drucker. Drucker was a management consultant who wrote a lot about demographics, the importance of marketing and the emergence of the information society, with its necessity of lifelong learning.

Drucker discusses the "unexpected success", that thing that works, usually whilst you are pursuing something else.

Drucker gives the example of Macy's, which had the "problem" that it was selling too many appliances.

Why was this a problem?

Macy's considered themselves to be an upmarket clothing store, and clothing is where they had always put their effort. They took pride in it. Clothing defined who they were. Macy's actually wanted to slash their profitable appliance business because they thought it would affect their clothing business.

When Macy's management changed - management unclouded by the emotional investment of the past - they looked at the data, re-oriented around the unexpected success - the appliances - and Macy's business took off once again.

Why Does This Happen

Why does a carefully laid out plan, a plan you're executing well, and into which you have invested a lot of time and effort, not do so well, whilst some throwaway project is returning more?

It could be due to an underlying change in the market, or a section of the market you hadn't previously noticed is now revealing itself. Many people remain blind to such opportunities, even when, like Macys, it is staring them in the face.

We must always be on the lookout for these unexpected successes on the periphery of what we do.

The original IBM computers were scientific instruments meant for arcane academic research purposes. However, businesses started to buy computers for more mundane, everyday functions, like payroll. IBM reoriented their company around business machines, and the rest is history. Had IBM not tuned into what was working, rather than what their business plan said should be working, they probably wouldn't be here today.

The same thing happened with search. Search wasn't working as a business, even after Google was underway, until Google saw the massive opportunity presented by that much maligned, preposterous idea - pay per click - devised by Pay-per-click was working, in a business sense, in that it was a search function that delivered revenue. Google thought they were building a search engine. Remember the search appliance? Google reoriented and built the ultimate marketing machine instead.

How Do You Spot The Unexpected Success?

Sometimes the unexpected success isn't seen at all. Our frame of mind may render the success invisible. If we invest a lot of emotional energy into something, it can cloud our vision to new opportunity.

We need to be attuned to unexpected success. We need to look for those things on the edges. The obscure keywords where the traffic is growing quickly. Try not to second guess the market. Instead, measure what the market is actually doing. The market you were targeting might have moved. Or you may have discovered the edge of a new market no one else has seen.

The shift at Macy's was due to a shift in the underlying market. The market was segmenting. The market was no longer a socio-economic group of shoppers, it was a new, wider group of "lifestyle" shoppers. Had Macy's responded to data, rather than be blinded by their pre-conceptions, they would have exploited this opportunity sooner.

These opportunities lurk in the shadows. And can disappear just as easily.

Have you seen any examples of this happening in your work?

Who Sets Your Prices?


In the past I historically set my prices too low. Some of that was due to starting out with a low self-esteem, but just as much of it was due to not appreciating the actual value of what I was delivering. Because I could do something cheap I had no problem doing so, even if my pricing was well below the value delivered. Another thing that caused me to charge too little was a distaste for traditional salesmanship techniques (a difficult hang-up if you are a marketer!)

Where I learned how off my pricing was is when I reviewed work done by some competing firms for 5 figure sums. Some of which was of far less value than what I was offering in my $79 ebook. Well that made me feel a bit like an idiot.

When Low Prices Make Sense

I think when a person is new to a field it makes sense to set prices somewhat low so you can...

  • overcome starting friction
  • build customer experiences & interaction
  • get feedback from customers on how to improve your product or service
  • gain testimonials & social proof of value

Setting prices a bit too low helps subsidize creating other pieces of your sales strategy...whereas if you set prices way above market expectations you won't get sales or market feedback.

The Problems With Discounting

But typically discounting should be done for a short period of time, only as something that is given as a reward for being fast acting. If you frequently discount you just lower the perceived quality and value of your product. And while you think you might be giving someone a good deal by discounting you have to look at it in the broader perspective. Offer a lower price and the customer...

  • respects and values it less
  • is less likely to use it and act on it
  • is more likely to be demanding (since they don't see as much value they expect you to spend more time and effort proving it)

all the while you...

  • become over-worked and burned out
  • work over twice as many hours servicing twice as many people (and, not surprisingly, miss an email or 2 because you are constantly behind)
  • sell your time at a discount while watching your health erode

Really the whole set up to discounting is quite stupid.

What About Free?

In a world where traditional advertising is losing efficacy, offering something free that helps gain mindshare and establish a relationship is smart. But free does have limitations. One of the biggest limitations is a sense of entitlement. If a person is a non-paying customer they are not a customer. You have to assume their complaints are worth $0. You owe them nothing and they should be thankful for whatever valuable tools and services you offer for free.

Overcoming Entitlement

After you get enough momentum it makes sense to erect barriers to entry so you can gain value while giving it away. Rarely do one way exchanges build lasting value. If 1,000's of non-paying users are sending you emails asking questions then they are noise that must be filtered through ... a non-trivial cost.

The hard part is that it feeds the ego when you give stuff away and help people out. You think that you help so many people and that lots of people care for you. Put any barrier in their path and you will see how selfish and worthless many of those people are though. Every barrier brings about some level of hate from the most ignorant, greediest, and least appreciate members of the crowd. But if you get something like this you can't respect the sender:

This is crap. Every download link goes back to the same page. Like how are you suppose to download the tool if there's a download link which say #.

Instead of spending time collecting peoples emails and spamming them you should try more in giving better product and easier way to access them.

I like your tools, but it was easy last year to use them, now it's a waste of time. If this system keeps on getting more slower and I've to go through more registering then using I'm better off using something which is less good but instantaneous, which was your product, but it's not anymore.

So I hope you start easying out the process of installing your tools or you'll start loosing your customers.

So that person...

  • is not paying me
  • uses our CUSTOMER support area
  • tells me they like our tools
  • wants me to create BETTER products
  • calls me an email spammer
  • expects me to dismantle my sales funnel in return for nothing (other than random critical hate mail)
  • tells me I will lose customers if I don't make it easier for freeloaders to use my stuff
  • never intends to pay me

As far as my business interests go, that person is worth less than nothing. If they are still breathing, it is no doubt a waste of oxygen.

Would I rather spend my time helping out that ungrateful USER, or would that time be better spent spending it with someone who loves me and cares for me?


Now some people have a tough break and sometimes it is worth helping them out. But in most cases a lack of resources is simply caused by a lack of resourcefulness. And, since change comes from within, if you try to help those kinds of people out they are far more likely to pull you down than you are to lift them up.

Recently a person asked me via a blog comment what they should do if they are smart but can't afford a conference ticket and know nobody. The frame of that question is one which is lacking in resourcefulness. When I was new to the SEO industry part of why I got known was because I syndicated content to other sites, participated in some online forums, moderated some online forums, and blogged day in and day out. I further spent tons of money giving away free software, which some people appreciate ;)

And even when I was less known, had no money, knew nobody, etc. I did not see those as obstacles. They were opportunities. Since I lacked capital I could leverage my time as an undervalued resource until the market started to value it more. I got a job to create cashflow, spent everything I could on learning + networking, helped organize a conference in exchange for a free pass to go to it, and out of the process the only thing I regret is that I didn't savor obscurity as much as I should have. :D

Corporate SEO Services

You would either have to be new to the industry or under a rock to not notice how the SEO industry has become more corporate over the past 3 or 4 years. The trend has been slow and gradual with many small steps, but I thought it would be a good idea to try to put the pieces together. What started off as a 5 minute project took a couple hours. I hope you like it! If you are a creative thinker you should be able to get a number of actionable ideas by thinking about how such trends will change your market.

Warning: this image is big! ~ 225KB

This is sorta a high level document which looks at many existing and emerging trends and how they combine to change the landscape. A lot of small businesses and small online publishers are feeling the following trend

In a recent comment on a blog post about link buying Google's Matt Cutts stated:

Personally, I believe the reason that so many people come to Google is that for the last decade, we’ve worked really hard to protect our users and return the best search results. When other search engines showed pop-up ads, Google didn’t. When every other major search engine offered pay-for-inclusion into their search results, Google didn’t. And Google has taken strong action to protect our users from spam, malware, and poor-quality sites. I think part of Google’s lead (and brand loyalty) in the search space is because we’ve taken strong action to protect our users.

Sure I think they try to protect people (and do a good job), but I never really see the bits that are inaccessible, so I don't know what I am missing. In time I do wonder if you could have too much media consolidation due to favorable reviews of "too big to fail" brand companies while smaller competitors are flushed away for using similar marketing techniques.

To the best of my ability in the above linked image I tried to explain why SEO outing is bad in how it influences the entire search engine optimization, search, and online media ecosystems. If I had to shorten it down to 3 points, those would be...

  1. Outing limits media diversity. Media plurality is important, but it is something that Eric Schmidt doesn't get. And it is often the independent types who have the editorial freedom that enables them to highlight major fraud. Some media channels are so driven by advertiser interests that they fire employees who dare to mention risks in advertiser's products. (And I would rather pay a bit more to not drink poisoned milk!)
  2. Outing harms small businesses while corporatizing the web. Historically most economic innovation has come from smaller companies. Microsoft was once a small company. And so was Google. ;)
  3. Outing drives down the earning potentials of many SEOs and will eventually force many independent SEOs into low paying in-house SEO jobs. Most societies operate on a debt-based money system where debt slavery controls many decisions. The ability to be self-employed, do what your passionate about, and operate outside of that system should be cherished by anyone lucky enough to not have a boss.

Google's Eric Schmidt claims that "brands are how you sort out the cesspool." Brands take money to build, but they are bought and sold just like anything else - only they require more capital and/or more insider connections to buy.

You know those damn bankers who bankrupted their own companies through the use of leverage and predatory lending? And then the same people lied, cheated, and looted trillions of Dollars from United States tax payers to save their companies (and pay their bonuses)?

Well they are not only leading media advertisers, but they now own a HUGE chunk of the traditional media sphere:

One wonders why Goldman and JPM were so eager to provide "rescue" financings to virtually the entire distressed media space: both companies knew too well that sooner or later they would end up with full equity control over essentially the most coveted industry: thousands of TV stations, radio channels, newspaper and magazines. If you thought the media propaganda was unbearable now, just wait.

Broken Reward Circuitry: Money vs Happiness

Unbelievable Stupidity

When I was in the military they would run these stupid drill where they would try to create as much stress and chaos as possible in a short burst of time, find someone who makes an error, and chastise them for it. That killed morale. So to make up for declining morale they decided to run more frequent test and drills. And thus being an enlisted nuclear power sailor in the US Navy is a horrible life that I wish on nobody.

At one point in time I was on watch when a new kid made a mistake during maintenance that killed all electrical power on the submarine. Later we had a discovery meeting where we found out what went wrong. Having been 5 feet from the maintenance, I knew that the kid's boss came over and told him "remember to trip close trip the breaker when maintenance is done." The kid listened to that wonderful tip and turned the turbine generator into a turbine motor.

But since the new kid was dumb enough to listen to the bad advice he took all the shelling and blame. It was as simple as that, but even the captain of the boat (along with everyone in the chain of command - including the guy who gave the stupid tip) were together in a huge group insult fest where they tried to one up each other insulting the new guy. It lasted for like an hour and a half and the lines were so bad that things like do you realize how stupid you are? were said to that kid. I thought that if the meeting lasted another 5 minutes they were going to start chastising him with questions like do you realize how fat you are?

It got so bad that the electricians had to set up a work area to change a light bulb, making each bulb about a half hour process. But since I wasn't an electrician (I was in reactor controls) I could go ahead and change the light bulbs in about 30 seconds each. But if I wasn't helpful to the next division what took me a half hour would have took them about a whole day. The solution to every problem is closer scrutiny, more testing, and more baby sitting.

On the same boat the leaders had us take out the flooring railing in the engine room to have them repainted. This flooring railing was never meant to come off and would not fit out of the boat's escape hatch. BUT someone was stupid and said it must be done. And so there we were using a hacksaw to chop up the floor supports (ruining their structural integrity and making the submarine far noisier and less safe in the process) so the floor supports could be freshly painted and look slightly better.

If you want to see a horribly run organization full of miserable people put them in a confined high stress environment where no matter how shitty they make someone else's life, they get no market feedback or pain for coming up with an endless array of stupid ideas.

The military is a rat testing lab.

You can learn a lot about yourself, what drives you, how to succeed, and how to fail by putting yourself through such a miserable experience...though I would not recommend it to anyone smart enough to be reading this blog right now! ;)

What Drives You?

I respond well to positive feedback and I simply shut down from negative feedback. One of the hardest things I have struggled with is someone I know giving me the wrong kinds of motivation. XYZ knows less than you, works less, sells far inferior products, and makes more so you must be screwing up.

This is true of a lot of direct marketer types who don't give a crap about the success of their customers but are willing to hype anything and everything they can put their name on - even if they make false promises and don't know what they are selling. But if you care about the quality of your product, use what you make, and actually provide real customer service you can't compete on hype without pulling in a lot of people who were not worth having as customers.

In the short run you can't compete with the top line numbers (especially the inflated ones before the affiliate commissions and the huge number of refunds & chargebacks associated with people realizing they bought into a scam), but after a decade of solid effort you can compete with the scammers on earnings (plus many of them get flushed out of the market, constantly replaced by a new breed). But are your goals short term or long term? What are your goals? What drives you? Is it money?

Money in Context

Money is just a tool for exchange. If it is your sole motivation you will end up losing motivation quickly. And as long as you are not printing the money supply and do not have lobbyists working CONgress for funds, it will almost universally hold true that someone dumber than you who doesn't work near as hard will earn more money. But it is not a relevant mindset that will lead to anything productive with your life. What good is money if chasing it makes you miserable?

After reaching a certain level of success an additional dollar of income doesn't provide much additional marginal utility and a singular focus on it can harm other aspects of your life. Money can buy a bit of happiness, but it can't buy a lot of it. And we often spend it incorrectly.

The problem isn’t money, it’s us. For deep-seated psychological reasons, when it comes to spending money, we tend to value goods over experiences, ourselves over others, things over people. When it comes to happiness, none of these decisions are right: The spending that make us happy, it turns out, is often spending where the money vanishes and leaves something ineffable in its place.

Measuring Success

In time smart efforts (combined with a bit of luck and a lot of learning) produce results. So long as you are honest even dumb or failed efforts produce wisdom. But you can't be #1 at everything.

You have to decide what you view as success and stick to comparing yourself against only yourself, or else you will get burned out, singularly focusing on an arbitrary goal while your health and happiness erode. Until the past week I basically had chronic back pain which is just now lifted and I feel like a kid again. That was only made possible because I decided to temporarily close off the site to new members to make enough time for exercise. And it is already working. Paying customers are still getting great customer service, but for now I am not stuck doing as much admin stuff as new members cycle in and out of the site. That leaves a little bit of time for sanity, which I hear is important. ;)

Giving Praise

  • If a person who is gifted but lazy is praised they will just become more lazy and arrogant and worthless, feeling they deserve the world even if they did nothing to earn it.
  • If a person is doing their best and you keep telling them it is never good enough (like the Navy ORSE testing regime) you are just going to make them miserable, shut them down, beat them into submission, and kill their happiness. Such policies kill motivation and drive away talent.

You shouldn't praise the results, but praise the right kind of effort:

Those who had been praised for their effort significantly improved on their first score—by about 30 percent. Those who’d been told they were smart did worse than they had at the very beginning—by about 20 percent.

Social Clustering

Much like you are what you eat, many of your good and bad traits are driven by (and drive) the people who are in close proximity:

When a Framingham resident became obese, his or her friends were 57 percent more likely to become obese, too. Even more astonishing to Christakis and Fowler was the fact that the effect didn’t stop there. In fact, it appeared to skip links. A Framingham resident was roughly 20 percent more likely to become obese if the friend of a friend became obese — even if the connecting friend didn’t put on a single pound. Indeed, a person’s risk of obesity went up about 10 percent even if a friend of a friend of a friend gained weight.

So if you are living an unbalanced lifestyle and sacrifice other aspects of your life for a singular (and often short-sighted) view of success, it will likely harm you AND the people around you.

The Frequent Failures of Self-Help Groups

Many well established organizations built around causing change eventually become stuck in their ways, fearing change and becoming yet another bureaucratic institution. How much harder is it to create lasting change that creates growth if they bond is built around a weakness?

When people go to support groups they often create bonds around their weaknesses with others who share the same weaknesses. Perhaps this makes the weakness become more ingrained in their identity, makes it seem more normal, and makes it harder to change. If this is true then perhaps the support groups that work are those based around doing something positive, rather than those based around not doing something negative.

And, from an online publishing perspective, if you write about having a specific personal problem (not being able to quit smoking, being overweight, etc.) then that can attract people with similar flaws into your life...recalibrating your sense of normal and making it harder to change the behaviors which create the undesirable results. It is no wonder that most sites in some such self-help categories are scams - anyone who legitimately cares often surrounds themselves with negative influences - making it harder to build and maintain lasting change.

The more you try to erase me, the more that I appear.

Synthetic Happiness

Dan Gilbert has a great talk about how we can synthetically create the happiness that we seek. If our fears or ambitions are not limited then it is hard to be sustainably happy. But by overcoming our fears and limiting our ambitions it is much easier to be happy sustainably.

Do You Realize How Lucky You Are?

Speaking of happiness, I saw the following video on Kevin Kelly's blog, which really helped add perspective.

Now that I have enough spare time to think and grow I see some of the errors in my ways from as little as a month ago. Life is great :)

BTW, this free Clive Thompson article on how social networks work is probably the best marketing article I have read in the past year. It is 10 pages, but well worth the price of admission.

What Parts of Marketing Can't be Automated?

Keyword Technology Improvements

WordStream offers a free tool for keyword research. The coolest feature it offers is that it allows you to download thousands of keywords at once, though it requires giving them your email address to get the keyword list. Their FAQ states they use a variety of keyword sources: internet service providers, browser toolbars, and search engines.

At SES I got to see a demo of their keyword management software, which uses semantic analysis to help cluster keyword themes to automatically mine and group related keywords based off the incoming traffic going into your site. It has a blended set of automated and manual features. From my take I think it could be useful for SEO in some cases, but where it really sings is in decent sized pay per click accounts. I have had beta access to some cool Wordtracker features that are being tested as well. I can't mention everything they are testing just yet, some of those features will be quite cool from an SEO perspective.

Moving Beyond Keywords?

Keyword research + management tools (like the above mentioned tools and Google's suite of keyword tools) are becoming so advanced and affordable, but at some point search may move beyond keywords, at least with the paid search ads. In a recent Search Engine Land article titled Coming Soon: Paid Search Without Keywords, Mona Elesseily mentioned a recent Nick Fox keynote where he mentioned the idea of keyword-less paid search accounts:

Nick mentioned that keywords were used as a proxy for relevance. Conceptually, there is no reason an advertiser couldn’t achieve the same results without having to directly manage a keyword list. Down the road, Google wants to state outcomes and have machine-based learning and algorithms come up with the best method of achieving specific outcomes. In the case of no keyword search, an advertiser (like a retailer) would provide information on products, product descriptions, pricing, etc. and Google would use the information to find the most effective way to place ads in front of potential customers.

Where Will Additional Ad Yield Come From?

Doing keyword-less search efficiently could eventually mean Google integrating themselves into your inventory management system, but that data will eventually be used against you. How else could Google build enough yield to make automated systems perform better than laser targeted hand-rolled campaigns?

And remember, Google is already working as the invisible hand in the online economy. I have some keywords with 0 competing bidders, about a 20% click-through rate, and Google still wants 14 cents a click. The relevancy is there, but the pricing floor is arbitrary. The purpose of the quality score ***is*** price gouging.

What Can't be Automated?

This is where the more abstract + complex (branding & public relations & social networking) and iterative (increasing lifetime customer values & improving conversion rates) aspects of marketing will keep increasing in value. This is where being on the bleeding edge (entering new markets & building your own markets & using marketing techniques that are not common) provides a sustainable competitive advantage.

People (and algorithms created by people) usually can't clone what they don't understand.

To be able to afford being Google's preferred partner for automated ads everywhere you are going to need to build value in the hearts and minds of consumers and/or be more efficient than everyone else in your industry and/or operate in markets that some of the bigger competitors missed. You have to be creating value where the algorithms can not, operating at a level well above execution.

Illusions of Easy Success

While the social networks that flourish on the web bring an artificial closeness to the popular and lead to the illusion that opportunity will be available to everyone, eventually such automated technologies will lead to increased market consolidation and sharper market breaks between the successful and unsuccessful.

As Google plays the role of other established multi-national corporations lots of externalities will appear. Many content-based publishing businesses are getting crushed and will continue to get crushed

“So I don’t know how to characterize the next 10 years except to say that we’ll get to the point - the long-term goal is to be able to give you one answer, which is exactly the right answer over time…what I’d like to do is to get to the point where we could read his site [the definitive authority on a particular searched query] and then summarize what it says, and answer the question” - Eric Schmidt

Shortcuts Partnering With Google?

Sure getting in the flippers can seem like an advantage, but any destination Google builds just gives them more leverage over the rest of the market. Nickels today, pennies tomorrow.

Moving Beyond the Google Economy

The best businesses - the ones that are sustainable for decades - may use Google as a starting point and a distribution channel, but the more distribution channels you can build outside of search the less likely you are to have your business killed by search innovation.

A word from Adam Smith:

In the progress of the division of labour, the employment of the far greater part of those who live by labour, that is, the great body of the people, comes to be confined to a few very simple operations, frequently to one or two. But the understandings of the greater part of men are necessarily formed by their ordinary employments. The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects too are, perhaps, always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to exert his understanding, or to exercise his invention in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become... His dexterity at his own particular trade seems to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues. But in every improved and civilised society this is the state into which the labouring poor, that is, the great body of the people, must necessarily fall, unless government takes some pains to prevent it.

Rely too heavily on Google and your business becomes a commodity. One of the healthiest things a worker can do is explore something they know nothing about. It helps prevent you from becoming a tool (which also makes it harder for tools to clone what you do), making it easier to be.

Are You Fighting Human Nature? Measuring Opportunity Cost

Danny Sullivan highlighted his frustrations with dealing with running Sphinn, a social media voting site for internet marketers:

Sounds easy, right? Sure, but as I’ve learned in the two years since we’ve run it, it’s a minefield.
While a community site can be fraught with egos, and concerns about double-standards or fairness, at least you have sympathy for people who are part of the community itself. Who have invested time, or energy or part of their souls to it. You want to do well by them. You want to do nothing for the drive-thru asshole who makes no effort at all.

A number of years ago I bought Threadwatch and eventually shut it down in part because it was facing some of the same issues. Largely it can be summed up with drinking well = pissing well (and, to some, a full on outhouse).

We can complain about human nature, but we can't really change it.

The problems with free for all internet marketing sites are 3 fold

  • The economic incentive for sharing is broken. Apply an idea to your own website in obscurity and make thousands of dollars (or more) off it. Share it publicly and lose a competitive advantage as you watch it get cloned and/or burned to the ground. If it is really effective then sharing the idea can not only cost you a competitive advantage, but can also put you on the Google watch list, and make search engineers more likely to penalize your websites.
  • There are perhaps at most a few dozen SEOs who both a.) are original thought leaders b.) who frequently share original strategies publicly freely. While there are over 1,000 SEO firms listing in DMOZ AND there are over 4,000 SEO blogs listed in BlogCatalog's SEO category. Most of the market ***is*** noise. Sure people who are relatively obscure have great ideas from time to time, but rarely are they the people trolling public internet marketing sites to vote up a pool of (largely) spam & rehashed content.
  • Those who really know what they are doing in the SEO field should eventually be able to earn x hundred to y thousand Dollars per hour. Whereas the media that is freely available is often presumed to have limited value because of its price-point. Even if you share great tips with people they won't value your help. A couple days ago a person who bought a domain name based on a mention here also wanted me to link to them for free. And if you went to their site there was no mention of me and no link to my site, in spite of me being the reason they have the great domain name. Take. Take. Take. Take. Take. No thanks!

Want to get rid of the noise? Charge $100 (or more) to open a new account (and maybe an annual membership fee). That will clear out the 99%+ of the market that are faking it until they make it and/or who are there just to spam the site with dreck. And (if required) you could charge $1 each for votes, making them have a real economic cost.

Such moves would clear out a big chunk of the current Sphinn audience, but no pain no gain. Longterm the site would be far stronger if the signal to noise ratio was improved. Take the earnings from new account registrations and apply that to hiring a full time editorial staff that both writes original featured content AND scours the web to submit stories. Maybe some of the features become member's only.

To further promote hunting for leading content across the web, perhaps whoever submits posts that make the homepage get some "earnings" for finding that story (though this would need some thought to prevent encouraging of spamming...but it is easy enough to have advertising sponsors offer prizes and such that are non-monetary to some degree).

One of the lessons I learned the hard/slow/stupid/painful way is that anytime you put all of the opportunity cost on yourself people will abuse it. They will treat you like a tool and waste your life. And some days they will make you loathe humanity. The more popular you become the more nutcases you reach. (Of course you reach great people as well, but they are not the pain in the ass that the bottom 10% of the market is).

You have to cut off the bottom feeders and charge for anything that wastes your time. Today a guy called me up for phone support for one of our free tools. He got no help because my business model is not built around offering quality tools AND premium personalized support for free. If I value my time at $0 then eventually so will the market. I can't think of another person who works as hard as I do who sits around waiting for calls demanding free help. Of course people can pay for help and get my best. And that is the beauty of fixes most of the noise problems. But if you don't value your time you can't (legitimately) expect others to do so.