One of my biggest business flaws was perhaps starting off with a fairly low self-esteem. Because of that, I catered toward people who were whiny, wanted free stuff, and never had any intent of buying anything. Being naive, and wanting to be liked too much, I catered to such worthless people, and probably cut my income short over the years by millions of dollars. Over the course of the last year I decided that I was going to change directions on that front, and I have never had a problem with being blunt.
Entitlement: People do Not Respect Free
A couple days ago I got this gem.
The data provided by this tool makes it useless. I had over 10k DMOZ entries, over 35k delicious bookmarks, over 300k .edu bookmarks, etc. if this was true, Google would ban me and my first three children plus 100 yrs, and i would be slapped so hard, my cousins would feel it. why provide this tool when it gives insanely data that makes it useless?
I told the person how to update the extension, and yet they were too stupid to read, and kept spamming up my site with progressively nastier comments until I banned them. The software they were complaining about getting for free is better than lots of stuff that sells for $100 or more, but free means dealing with idiots from time to time.
Twitter is soooo Cool
The latest style of cool is Twitter. Where you can look hip by complaining about something being garbage, even if it is something you have personally gained value from. I get blowback every week or 2 on Twitter about someone who feels embarassed to Tweet a link to our great content because this site has a pop up on it.
But if someone really believes in this site (and what we offer) then they wouldn't feel embarassed about an advertisement offering a free introductory course to SEO. If they respected our opinion they would be recommending our work.
The moment of clarity which inspired this post was this tweet
It was quickly countered with
But those people are not non-customers who could be converted to customers. Why? If they are turned off by giving away free information and would rather bitch about it on Twitter than click the "don't show again" link then they were never going to become a customer, and frankly I would not want them as a customer.
If they are too lazy to click the "don't show again" link then they are too lazy to participate in the site or business in a more meaningful way.
The Sales Process
As Peter highlighted, the people who are non-customers that can be converted to customers are people who are typically concerned that the topic is too complex or confusing. And those ***are*** the type of people who would subscribe to our autoresponder, get a lot of value for free, and then decide to...gasp...become paying customers.
Sales and marketing is a sequential process. Which means that everything that happens between the introduction and the sale is 100% important. Anything that interrupts this process can be fatal to your business.
Sales and marketing are the most hazardous parts of a business to outsource. Things like payroll and bookkeeping and manufacturing, easy to outsource. Your voice and your identity, almost impossible.
Sales and marketing is worthy of your passion, devotion and dedication. It is typically the highest leverage activity in any business. And despite the fact that many "academic types" sneer at it, it's still true: Nothing happens until somebody sells something.
You MUST master two things: ONE way of getting traffic, and ONE way of converting it. If you achieve mastery, it will be perfectly OK to be merely "competent" at the other things and your business will still flourish.
The autoresponder (and the pop up that promotes it) are part of that sequential sales process. Remove them and something like 50% of the non-customers that can be converted to customers never convert. It's not worth throwing away half your sales because some whiner on Twitter bitches about free not being good enough for their tastes, and they are too lazy to click the "don't show" link.
We have put in over 1000 hours of work on the project. Is it too much to ask you to leave a useful comment? I am also tired of marketing gurus that sell products that direct their users to our lists. They have made lots of money and they claim to support leaving useful comments. However, the response from these visitors. Is about only about .3%. Yes, that less than 1%. I will rejoice when these niche products never send anymore traffic here. I regret that our efforts caused others blogs to switch back to No Follow. I truly regret what this good idea became.
And then you feel embarassed for all the comment spammers that comment spam nofollowed links (and even links that are not seen by Google). Check out Google's cache of this Work.com page and then look at how many SEOs there are who are too stupid or too lazy to view the source code or Google cache before comment spamming a page about SEO, and looking like an embarassement in front of their peers.
Catering primarily to the crowd with a $0 budget is rarely a business building strategy for a media business built on selling. Yes the people who waste hours daily chatting on social sites all day can help shift the perception of your product, but those same people who are out there bad mouthing your site were not going to give you very good word-of-mouth-marketing...it certainly would not lead to many sales. To that class of people everything is overpriced (except whatever they sell).
Focusing on Real Customers
Plenty of people enjoy our site, and profit from our advice. We have many subscribers who have been with us ever since we started our business model...hundreds that have been subscribers for over a year. Their opinions matter, but the feedback from the free whiners is worth less than nothing. Why? If I listened to them I would promote my site less aggressively and less effectively, while ignoring the fact that the complaining "me first" free-loaders are the type of people who complain about carpet stains while they take a shit in my virtual livingroom.
That same email course is being recommended by people across the web. In the forums Anita Campbell told me she was talking to a friend who out of the blue mentioned our autoresponder and that they thought it was the best autoresponder sequence they ever subscribed to. And Deseriee Sanchez, the single kind Twitter user, liked it as well ;)
Not that all Twitter users are bad...just the ones that whine about a marketing site using effective, honest, and wholesome marketing techniques.
That same pop up that is offensive to the non-customer who is too cheap to ever be a customer is getting free media exposure and word of mouth marketing by people who ***are*** using the advice to build their businesses. Just last week I got this via email:
Hi Aaron. I am a reporter at the New York Daily News. I plan to mention seobook.com in an article running on Monday re SEO for small business owners.
A source I spoke to recommended seobook.com as a good resource for business owners who might want to do seo themselves and are on a limited budget. I wanted to confirm that you offer a free email course. Is that correct?
Chasing Popularity Distracts You from Profit
Worse yet, while I spent years catering to this guy...
DON'T BUY ANYTHING, just visit his site and bitch about all the years of hard work he has done and the millions of dollars worth of information and software he shares for free.
...others were re-wrapping my work in hype and aggressive marketing, outselling me on my own work 5:1 and 10:1 because they sold that same info in a way that was obvious. Aggressive hyped up launch with super-basic how to videos. Clean formatting, limited information, rarely updated, and a linear prescriptive layout.
Focusing on Profit
Some of those guys (who became multi-millionaires from being good at sales and repackaging) lifted lines out of my ebook and went so far as asking for free updates to my ebook to help base their next competing product off of.
I have seen the other side of many of the $1,997 guru online membership websites. Sometimes they don't protect their member areas, and then when they launch they link to our site. So that tool the guy was whining about in my comment section is the same one other internet marketers tell you to go use after you give them a couple thousand dollars.
Many of those guys offer 0 interaction when you buy their stuff, and they plan for a high refund rate...hoping that the initial price point and hyped launch (built off of affiliate marketing) are still enough to make it worthwhile. Based on their clickthroughs to this site, some of these guys make a decent number of sales.
We don't do bad, but we offer a more interactive learning environment at a compelling price-point and we shouldn't cede customers to other sites reselling access to free parts of our site so we can cater to penny-less Twitter users - who are unhappy getting for free what others gladly pay hundreds or thousands of dollars for. If that makes me less popular I guess that is the way it is going to be.
I'm reading a book called "In Search Of The Obvious". It makes many references to another book, written in 1916, called "Obvious Adams". The book outlines the simple truth of marketing, which is that the best marketing solutions should be evident. They should be obvious. They should be simple.
But isn't that the deep, distant past? This is the internet age. Everything is different now. We're living in a complicated age, surely!
It's not different now because while circumstances change, the human condition remains the same. And those who don't learn the lessons of history are destined to repeat it. Looking at what happened in Vietnam will tell you what will happen in Iraq. There is plenty of advice that stands the test of time, and I think this truth is a great one.
A search for any marketing strategy should be a search for the obvious.
Five Tests Of Obviousness
The book outlines five tests to see if an idea, a strategy, or a solution is obvious.
The Problem, When Solved, Will Be Simple
If an idea is clever, ingenious, or complicated, it's not obvious.
History is full of of simple solutions to complex problems. A search engine, although complex in execution, is a simple solution to a complex problem. You type a topic you're interested in, and the search engine shows you where to find information on that topic. E-mail lets you send messages to other people instantly. A mobile phone lets you call people from anywhere.
Anyone can understand these solutions.
Does It Fit With Human Nature
Will it be accepted by a wide range of people when you tell it to them?
Will your mother understand it? Will you friends? Will the guy behind the counter at the shop? Do you feel comfortable explaining your idea to these people? These people are a cross section of human nature. They will be indicative of the wider community in which your idea will exist.
Because these people won't understand industry conventions and technical jargon, in order to explain it, you'd need to strip your idea down to the basic features and benefits. Does it still work?
Put It On Paper
Write your idea down on paper.
Write it as if you were explaining it to a child. Can you do so in three sentences? When you find the right words to describe your idea, it will sound simple. If it sounds complicated, it's probably not a great idea.
Does It Explode In People's Minds
Do people say "now why didn't we think of that before"?
You've probably had that experience yourself. It's the head-slapping moment. From that moment on, the matter appears settled.
No further talk seems necessary.
Is The Time Right?
Many ideas and plans are obvious, but occur at the wrong time. Ask yourself if the time for this idea has passed? Or is it some way off in the future?
For example, given the existence of Twitter, would you start a blog that pointed out interesting things on the internet? The time for a blog pointing out interesting things on the internet has clearly passed.
Does this all sound too simple for the complicated internet?
A lot of people start with simple ideas and deliberately make them complex. By making ideas complex, they make themselves sound clever. They use complicated charts and diagrams. They use big sounding, empty phrases. Some people certainly buy into that approach. By buying into it, it makes them appear clever, too.
But is that what people really want?
Do you buy goods and services that confuse you?
Isn't the real aim to be self-evident?
Apply These Ideas To The SEO Pitch
So why is SEO so difficult to get across to people? Why aren't there hordes of people knocking down your door to sign up? Do people's eyes glaze over when you tell them what you do?
I think that happens because the language is wrong. SEO hasn't been boiled down to the simple idea.
I recall watching a video a few years back where Jill Whalen addressed a marketing conference of non-SEOs. She was talking about SEO, but I'm not sure the audience were responding all that well, mostly because it was new concept for them.
However, when Jill got to the end of her speech, where she talked about a local dentist who had been about to go broke because he had a lack of patients, and after Jill did her work, she said "and instead of going broke, he had to hire more staff!".
At that point, you could see the the audience just light up. The MC noted it, too, and commented on it. The language resonated. At that point, the idea became simple and obvious.
SEO is really about growing business.
Everyone could relate to that, where they couldn't relate to rankings, links, and keywords or any of the other process elements SEOs often talk about. A lot of SEO pitches, particularly to customers who are new to SEO, focus too much on the "how". However, the "how" is not evident. Rankings, links, keywords...none of that is simple.
The evident thing is that more customers arrive on the site and buy, or sign up for, something.
So, when pitching SEO, try to focus a lot less on the "how", and a lot more on the "why". Structure your offering around improving the customers business. If you can't do that, there is no point doing SEO. SEO, in itself, is not evident.
The business building benefits of SEO certainly are.
If you want to increase revenue, should you focus on getting more out of your existing customers? Slicing your offering finer in order to better appeal to a segment of the existing market?
That's one way.
But how about looking closely at non-customers. Why are all those people not buying what you, or any of your competitors, have to offer? Are there any commonalities between the non buyers?
I'm reading a book called Blue Ocean Strategy. The author offers the following example that illustrates why focusing on the commonalities of the non-customers can be a good idea:
Think of Callaway Golf.
It aggregated new demand for its golf club offering by looking at non-customers. Rather than fighting to win a share of the existing golf market, they looked at why people hadn't taken up golf.
By looking at why people had shied away from golf, they found one commonality uniting the mass of non-customers: hitting the golf ball was perceived as being too difficult. The small size of the club head demanded enormous hand-eye co-ordination, took time to master, and took a lot of concentration. As a result, this was no fun for novices, so they avoided taking up the sport in the first place.
So what did Callaway do?
They built a club with a bigger club-head, thus making it much easier to hit the ball. Not only did this open up a whole new market of buyers, it appealed to players in the existing market who were having the same problem
What Do Your Non Customers Have In Common?
Let's take a look at the SEO industry.
In my experience, a commonality of non-buyers of SEO perceive that SEO simply won't work. They fear they will pay money, and not get any results.
Therefore, in order to convert more of the non-SEO customers to buyers, the SEO should focus heavily on mitigating the risk of non-performance. They should also clearly demonstrate value.
The SEO industry tends to shy away from offering guarantees. This is understandable, given that rankings aren't controlled by the SEO, and therefore guaranteeing a ranking is simply being misleading.
But why focus on guaranteeing ranking? How about guaranteeing that you'll add value, instead?
Ask yourself: can you guarantee to deliver more value to the client than they pay you? Can you increase the value of their business by doing so? If you answer no to such questions, then you'll begin to understand why there are so many non-SEO customers.
Figure out what the customer perceives as valuable, and guarantee to deliver it. After all, what is the difference between a contractual obligation and a guarantee? You need to deliver regardless, but a guarantee just sounds better. It certainly helps mitigate the sense of risk.
Let The Customer Decide What Is Valuable
A lot of SEO sites describe the services an SEO thinks s/he can deliver.
Instead, how about asking the customer what services they think are valuable. You'll learn a lot just by asking such a question. And the more people you ask, the more chances you'll have of spotting commonalities.
How about running an Adwords campaign that asks people to answer a few simple questions about why they don't buy SEO services?
This could work for any good or service, of course - not just SEO.
You'll also see what language potential customers use. It is especially important when stating benefits to do so in the customers terms. Your language should be their language.
They'll feel you understand them.
What would an SEO that spoke exclusively in the language of the customer look like? I guarantee it would look nothing like most of the SEO sites out there right now.
How Bad do They Want it?
When Aaron interviewed Perry Marshall about using AdWords to find market opportunities Perry suggested asking consumers how bad they want something and how hard they are struggling to get it.
Ignore the answers where consumers say they aren't struggling very hard. Look at the answers where the consumers find something extremely difficult, and need that thing badly.
That is good or service people will gladly pay for.
People Who Can't Afford What You Offer
There is a huge, huge market for SEO services. Everyone could be doing better in the search engines.
So you've got to ask - why aren't SEOs getting through to these people? Is the SEO offering simply wrong?
The price will always put some people off. But rather than dismiss these people as non-customers, think about what you can sell them for what money they do have.
Perhaps they can't afford a full campaign, but they certainly might be able to afford a one hour phone call. How about providing a pay-per-minute SEO phone line? How about providing a specific e-book, personalized to the customers site and problem? They can do the work themselves, you just outline exactly "how".
This could always lead to more work when they do have more of a budget.
Customers Who Don't Know What SEO Is
The size of this market is the biggest of all.
The reason this market remains untapped is mostly down to language and visibility. SEOs simply aren't talking the same language, and both parties cross like ships in the night, unaware of each others presence. That's if they get anywhere near each other to begin with.
Why are you going to yet another SEO conference? Why aren't you going to dental conferences? Or hotel conferences? Or any other conference where general marketing is being discussed?
You might be the only SEO there!
All industries have common problems e.g. how to acquire new customers. You know how to do that. They don't. That's valuable to them. They need you.
You need to go where they are, and talk their language. Get hold of their trade magazines and visit their websites. What language do they use to describe their problems? I guarantee it isn't the language you read on SEO blogs and bulletin boards each day. It is a million miles from there.
Look the problems that you can solve, and use their language to describe what you do.
Got any tactics and ideas on how to turn non-buyers into buyers? Add them to the comments.
We get a lot of positive feedback about our flowcharts.
It pays to remember the attention grabbing, and link-grabbing, power of graphics. It can be counter-intuitive for SEOs to use images, because we spend so much time thinking about the written (key)word.
This is a hunch, but I'm guessing peoples attention spans on the web are getting shorter, especially as they become accustomed to "quick hit" sites like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Digg, et al. Images help hook people in. Also, people scan web pages. Jakob Nielsen has long advocated breaking up copy using large headings, thus providing visual cues that help readers deal with large blocks of text.
And let's not forget easy top ten placement in Google's universal search results....
They certainly can't justify blogging about cleaning up manipulative spam anymore if they are going to offer that up as a friendly SEO tip.
Google considers redirecting expired domains for links to be a black hat SEO practice. Danny Sullivan recently quoted Matt Cutts on buying domain names:
"The sort of stuff our systems would be designed to detect would be things like someone trying to buy expired domains or buying domains just for links." - Matt Cutts
What Matt reveals is how Google would work in an ideal world, however some domains slip through. If Google ever finds them then they may ignore it or they may burn everything to the ground based on some small percentage of the site's link profile relying on expired links. Matt Cutts got started building the webspam team at Google when he found an expired domain (with a link from the W3C) that was converted to a porn website.
Screw Buying Links, Buy Rankings
If Matt Cutts claims that he does not like the buying of sites for links, what about buying sites for their rankings? (Isn't that what the links are for?) Could buying rankings possibly be any better? Bankrate's CEO admited to buying CreditCardGuide.com for Google rankings in the media (and in a press release published at investor.bankrate.com/releasedetail.cfm?ReleaseID=334008 )
"As an affiliate of Nationwide Card Services, which we acquired this past December, we have worked with CreditCardGuide and have been able to watch their growth and momentum firsthand," stated Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of Bankrate. "CCG has done a great job of developing its organic traffic and ranks highly in a number of important credit card search terms. Adding more direct, high-quality traffic to our credit card business will grow our revenue and improve the margins in this important category," Mr. Evans added.
If I issued a press release about buying a site for its strong links or strong rankings the Google engineering team would probably burn it to the ground on principal. It would not last a day. But it is ok if BankRate does it.
Many Businesses Are Built Off Search
Lots of sites are bought for their links. Business models are built off of extending out a shell of a site with links. Look at the (low) quality of content published on sites like eHow. Would such incentivized user generated content like that have any chance at ranking if it were not built on an old trusted domain purchased for the project?
If Google wants to corrupt many new links with nofollow and put excessive weight on old websites then people will buy old sites. It is simply a game of economics. Every algorithm move causes an obvious reaction. There is already a market in selling Facebook profiles. What is so bad about buying and selling domain names and websites?
Search Engines Aid Illegal Businesses
Content is bought and sold. And sometimes it is stolen
It is no secret that Google is being called the next pirate bay. And with good reason, for anyone selling content online. If you sell desirable content, Google will recommend the torrent, a practice which likely makes them liable for contributory infringement and/or vicarious infringement.
Have cash and want some editorial links? There is probably a good court case to be had suing Google for that infringement.
It hurts the mainstream media's credibility when they steal a bit of content, but most of those millions of pages of stolen content wrapped in AdSense have no brand or legitimate business to protect.
Just like the scammers offering "free" government grants (complete with reverse billing fraud) through AdWords. Google's public relations team lied to ClickZ and the FTC when they said they cleaned up those grant ads over a month ago, as those scam ads are still running.
Google's Lack of Morals
Which is worse
buying a link or site that may have a commercial offer on it
claiming to be the moral police of the web, while knowingly selling ads to advertisers that are defrauding consumers, and lying about cleaning it up once questioned by authorities?
Google added a feature to search for similar images and has a claim your content feature for video, but what is taking Google so long to create a similar system for textual content? It won't appear until they get enough blowback that it makes financial sense for it to appear.
Search is Not About Relevancy (or User Experience)
If search engines were concerned with user experience they wouldn't sell ads to scammers (and lie about cleaning it up).
If search was about relevancy go compare would at least rank for their brand name. But they don't. And so would John Chow and Text Link Ads. But they do not.
Search is not about relevancy or the user. It is about ensuring profits and maintaining the perception of control. It's simple as that, really.
"When you got nothing, you got nothing to lose
You're invisible now, you got no secrets to conceal." - Bob Dylan
When your website's got no rankings, you got no traffic to lose
You're website is invisible now, you got no links to conceal.
Do not let another organization's self-serving (and hypocritical) guidelines control your every move...especially if you are so new and unestablished that your biggest risk is never gaining traction.
The biggest risk you can ever take is taking no risk at all.
You can't benefit from pull marketing unless you first do push marketing.
You can't be a market maker without first being a market manipulator.
If you are new, network effects are working against you right now.
YouTube used a legal loophole to loot billions of dollars of copyright content. Had they "played by the rules" they wouldn't have been bought by Google for $1.65 billion. And you would not get to enjoy this wonderful video right now
Somewhere, just across the Mexican border, a small cabal of search gurus meet.
They sit in a low lit, smoke filled room. The location is only known to the few, because membership of this club is exclusive. It is highly unlikely you will ever be asked to be a member.
That's just how it is.
In order to be invited, you need to bring some serious benefits to the table. But once you're a member of this club, you get to learn "the secret". The secret is the recipe for how to rank high on Google, Yahoo & MSN.
Want to be a member of this club?
Hey, who doesn't!
Many new to SEO, and some not so new, may well imagine such a club. They scour message boards and blogs for "the secret" in the hope "the secret" will be leak out somewhere.
It's a fools quest, of course.
There are only two ways to get such a secret. Work for the upper echelons of Google, Yahoo or MSN, or engage in some heavy reverse engineering. If someone did discover something by reverse engineering, are they going to post it to a blog or a forum? Would you?
Ok, I will.
Are you ready?
Hack a site to host your content, which forces redirects on end users, and then hack a few other sites to link at those hacked pages
Doesn't really help, does it.
SEO Wizadry & Why You Don't Need It
The fact is, you don't need to be a technical wizard to be a competent SEO, or to benefit from SEO.
Those who benefit most from SEO probably aren't focusing much on SEO at all, because SEO is only one part of the puzzle.
Take Wikipedia, for example. Wikipedia is top ten for countless terms, yet the SEO is simple, solid, and basic. What separates Wikipedia from the rest is that they combine basic SEO with a sound business model. They have found a way to have people create content for them for nothing, and to talk them up.
The same lesson applies to any site. Integrate good, solid SEO, just as you would integrate copywriting, design, market analysis, and other aspects essential to success on the web, and lay it on top of a sound business model.
As I perused the wikipedia notes for editors back then, I came across a discussion about linking out. When is it proper to link out from a wikipedia article to a web page on the Internet? The answer was scary to me at the time. Wikipedia editors were told to look at the web page and consider if the information it held could be taken and rewritten as part of the wikipedia article. If it could, do that and don’t link out because that web page would have become redundant: it’s information would now be part of wikipedia. If it could not be so hijacked (my word), then yes, consider linking out to it.That early observation set my course for competing with wikipedia. I knew where they stood, and that they had a plan to disintermediate me as a web publisher.
Such a system is "revolutionary" and "displays a new and glorious side of humanity" ... so long as it is not your content that they are stealing.
The "advanced" piece of the Wikipedia strategy comes down to business & marketing strategy. Creating the marketing story that make people perceive something as being better than it is, while hiding the externalities. Had they not pushed the story "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge" then they would not have been able to steal so much content, and they would not have accumulated enough link equity to make their for-profit business work.
Essential SEO Advice
Most SEO advice you'll see boils down a variation on the following:
Focus your efforts on keyword terms that relate to your market segment
Make sure a spider can crawl the content
Build content that people will link to
Actively pursue links
Of course, there are various how-to's on how to achieve those four points, and for that you should buy the book ;)
Once these aspects are covered, there is marginal return in arcane trickery for most people. Your time is almost certainly better spent focusing on business fundamentals & holistic marketing strategy, because you have a lot of control over these areas.
If the business fundamentals are wrong, SEO trickery won't help.
People may arrive on a site, but then what? Do you provide something others want? Does it cost less to provide that something that the price you can charge for it? Is your offering better than your competition?
Someone who has asked those questions and satisfactorily answered them will always be a step ahead of those who haven't.
When I was new to SEO, I wish someone had told me how it really was. It would have saved me a lot of time and effort. I got sites ranking that didn't have sound business models, and they rightly failed. We've all been there, I'm sure.
So, for those new to SEO, make sure you cover the basics of both SEO and business.
Internet advertising in all its glorious forms we know it doesn't work. If it did, newspapers and magazines would be enjoying a season of power and control they haven't held since the early 20th century. But they are not. Instead they are dying. Same goes for the entire TV industrial complex. And keep in mind that if anyone on the planet knows advertising and how to sell it, it would be TV and print. But they are dying while trying very hard to find a way to wiggle in and salvage some face, (and revenue).
It's a good point.
If advertising is so lucrative, why are advertising driven companies, like newspapers, struggling? If this advertising worked well, then the advertising rates would surely be a lot higher than they are now.
Of course, people do make money with internet advertising. Just look at Google. But, for those without massive scale, traffic is getting more and more niche-ified and dispersed, yet conversion rates are staying around the same level - 3-4%. The task of making money out of your site becomes harder and harder. There are only so many advertisers to go around, and there is a low barrier to entry to markets, which means a steady stream of competition.
How many people are frustrated with Adsense? The Adsense model relies on sending people away from your site. Without an increasing stream of visitors prepared to click on the ads, this model is difficult to scale, especially in high value niches.
Google’s ability to place small, targeted text advertisements next to internet-search results, and on other websites, meant that many of the business models thought to have been killed by the dotcom bust now rose from the grave. It seemed there was indeed money to be made from internet advertising, provided you could target it accurately—a problem that could be conveniently outsourced to Google. The only reason it had not worked the first time around, it was generally agreed, was a shortage of broadband connections. The pursuit of eyeballs began again, and a series of new internet stars emerged: MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and now Twitter. Each provided a free service in order to attract a large audience that would then—at some unspecified point in the future—attract large amounts of advertising revenue.
Now the bubble has burst, internet companies are again laying people off and closing their doors. It turns out not many businesses can live off advertising alone, especially in a slump.
So, if advertising isn't really working, what can you do instead?
Better Than Free
You've heard the saying "information wants to be free"?
Information may want to be free, and those consuming the information may want it to be free, but how will the publisher earn a living? If the publisher isn't paid, s/he will stop publishing and do something else. Publishing high quality material consistently takes a lot of time and effort.
But the internet makes information easy to copy and redistribute, thus driving down it's value in dollar terms.
The newspaper business is stuck in this trap. Stories can be copied. Stories are abundant. Newspapers only survived up until now because they have been able to exploit monopoly positions based on geography. The internet has blown that barrier to entry wide open.
When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied".
We've talked a lot on this blog about networking and building up brand. Part of the reason this strategy works in the long term is that you're building up something that cannot be copied. In so doing, you're creating a barrier to entry.
So what can't be copied?
Technium proposes adopting some of the following qualities
Trust - When all else is equal, you'll prefer to deal with someone you trust
Immediacy - many people will pay to see new release films, but little for or nothing for them six months later. Be first.
Personalization - customize an offering to individual preferences. It is more time consuming, but it encourages a relationship
Interpretation - Red Hat give Linux away but sells the support service. So is the software really "free"?
Authenticity - if you buy a knock off, it doesn't feel like the real thing.
Accessibility - could you make free products more accessible? Charge for that service. Related to nterpretation.
Embodiment - the music is free, the concert is expensive
Patronage - people WANT to pay. It lets them offer a token of their appreciation. Make it very easy to do.
Findability - Google works on this premise.
What aspects can you roll into your service or product? What other qualities are "better than free"?
Google's Eric Schmidt identifies one of Google's core problems:
...you've got somebody who really is very trustworthy, but they're not as well-known and they compete against people who are better known, and they don't "in their view" get high enough ranking. We have not come up with a way to algorithmically handle that in a coherent way
The Google algorithm is essentially a popularity contest.
Google doesn't know what information is worthwhile and what isn't. It looks at the signals provided by others as to decide what is and isn't worthwhile. What people deem noteworthy may not be worthwhile, right or truthful, to you, of course.
There is a wealth of SEO information published each and every day. How does anyone know if this information is right or wrong?
Typically, if someone who is well known to the SEO tribe writes an article, and the article sounds authoritative, it will be deemed by the SEO tribe to be "quality". If you're unknown, and write the exact same article, it is likely to get buried. SEO punditry has largely become a cult of personality.
Recently, news outlets have been arguing that because they are established news outlets, they provide "quality". This self-serving circular argument appears to be what Google also believes, because it favors established media in the form of Google News.
For April Fool’s Day we posted a video of a fake mission where it appeared that we had lost our judgment and crashed a funeral. We fooled thousands of angry YouTube users into thinking it was real. The biggest fools of all were the CW 11 news team who reported on the funeral as if it actually happened. They didn’t do one bit of research or fact checking, they simply broadcast a YouTube video and reported it as fact
Right now, it's not about quality. It's about entrenched power structures and popularity.
On SEOBook.com, we've been writing a lot about the intersection between SEO with related fields such as marketing, PR, advertising and business strategy.
This is the way SEO is going. SEO is being integrated into other forms of promotion. Without undertaking such promotion, ranking will be that much harder, especially in crowded niches.
Ranking signals have traditionally been about links, however code tweaking and link begging is fast becoming a marginal activity. Ranking signals in the future will be about attention.
Those who command the most attention, win.
So let tie the concepts we've been discussing together into a strategy.
1. Be Popular, Or Appear To Be Popular
Get in front of an established audience. Offer to write for someone who has authority already, and get a link from that site. Or offer to interview them. Speak at conferences. Post detailed, informative posts to forums. Post detailed, informative posts to other people's blogs. Find out where your audience hangs out, and get in front of them any way you can. The aim is to generate awareness.
Once you have signs of credibility and activity make them obvious. Encourage comments and actively respond to them. Have a lot of subscribers? Put a Feedburner widget with subscriber count in your sidebar. Get mentioned in the media? Add a "as seen in" section.
Build a personal network. Figure out what you can do for people, and give forward. In future, it will be easier to get your stuff noticed if you can call in favors from friends.
Establish a cult of personality. Have an opinion, and beat it to death. No one likes wishy-washy. Objective doesn't sell. Subjective views, stated boldy - sell. Make your name synonymous with your brand. It is very difficult to counter a brand build on personality. Ask Incisive Media if Danny Sullivan can ever be replaced.
2. Create A Viral Message So People Spread The Word For You
Have you given people something to talk about? Give people a message they feel compelled to repeat. If that doesn't happen, the message is wrong. Rework it until you find an angle worth repeating.
What incentive do people have to repeat your message? Does it make them look smart? Does it earn them money? Does it increase their status? Does it enable them to help a friend? Does it enrich them?
How should they talk about you? Should they link to you? Should they write about you? Should they tweet you? Have you made it obvious to people what you want them to do? (By the way, if this post has proved in any way valuable to you, we would be eternally grateful to you for a link. Or a mention. Or a comment ;)
3. Carve Out Your Niche, Focus On Quality And Building Critical Mass
It might not seem like it now, but providing quality information amidst the noise is the holy grail Google, and others, are working towards.
Ultimately, Google, or any knowledge management tool, must return sufficiently high quality information in order to survive as the aggregator of choice. "Sufficient" means "better than the other guy". Google also piles on the value by giving away quality mail tools, stats tools, and more. In a competitive niche, popularity won't be enough to sustain position. The popular aggegator that provides the most quality, and the most value, wins.
Quality will be the next layer of differentiation.
Do the same thing as Google. How can you add value? What can you do that other guy is not doing? What can you give away that the other guy is selling? How can you be better that other guy? Figure out what your audience wants - ask them directly, if need be - and give it to them.
Pick your niche and own it. Niche too competitive or too broad? Keep slicing it finer (go niche within a niche - e.g. rather than take on travel, become the biggest authority on Fiji) until you find space in which you can compete. If your aim is to make money, be careful to pick a niche that is worth slicing. How do you know if a niche is worth slicing? Look at the value of AdWords bids in that niche and the volume of searches. The Search-based keyword tool is your friend.
Make sure anyone searching that niche knows your name. Advertise on other sites in that niche. Appear on other sites in that niche. Figure out a way to lock people into what you're doing. It might be as simple as encouraging them comment on your blog. The aim is to get them to remember you, to interact with you, to internalize your message, then to pass it on.
4. Build Brand
Brand will be so important. What is yours?
If someone mentions your niche, do they mention your site or your name? You must be synonymous with your niche, so that if Google doesn't rank you number one, people would think Google was deficient for omitting you. This is how BMW can break Google's rules and get a free pass. To not find BMW would make Google look bad. To not find cool-bmw-owners-discussion-forum.com is of no concern. Can you imagine searching for the term "seo book" and not seeing this site top ten? You'd think Google was deficient.
That's where your brand needs to be.
Hope we've been giving you some food for thought :)
SEO used to be about tweaking code, but these days, it has more in common with traditional PR and marketing.
Those who command the most attention also get great rankings, no matter how sloppy their code, and they don't need to beg for links.
Google's Eric Schmidt recently indicated that Google may be looking to brand metrics as a means of determining search quality. That's not to say merely having any old brand will mean you rank highly, but the brand building process has synergies with the metrics Google uses to rank sites.
Let's take a look at a few ideas on how to turn this to your advantage.
Carve Out A Niche
When you start a site, you don't have much in the way of leverage. You don't have an established reputation, which can make it difficult to get attention and get links.
One effective way to get attention quickly is to carve out an existing niche.
Let me give you an example. Copyblogger is, as the name suggests, a copy writing blog. Copyblogger competes in the "blogging-about-blogging" niche, which is pretty crowded.
However, by focusing on one aspect - copy writing - and going deep, the writer received a lot of attention, and links, from the established blogs in that space because he wasn't seen as direct competition. Rather, he offered a complementary service.
If you're entering a crowded niche with a new site, this might be a good approach to take.
Personal Networking And How To Tie It Into Your Brand
SEOs talk a lot about PR as in page rank, but sometimes overlook the value of PR, as in "personal relationships".
One advantage the little guy has against the big companies is the cult of personality. A brand tied into a personality is very difficult to counter, no matter how much money the competition throws at it, because personalities are unique.
Building up a personal network makes it easier to get links, because it's easy to talk about you if people already know you. There are the obvious things you can do to build you network, such as attending , or talking at, meetings and conferences, and spending time where your potential audience hangs out on the web. The aim is make your name synonymous with your niche, and it also helps if you have a brand that contains keyword elements.
People will naturally use your keyword terms when they speak about you, both in links, and in context.
For example, when Aaron started SEOBOook.com, the search book market was pretty crowded, and very few people searched on the term "seo book".
Now, a lot of people use that search term - as both a brand search and a description - and associate it with the name Aaron Wall. Aaron pretty much owns that term for as long as he wants it.
This doesn't happen overnight, of course. Aaron did a lot of work building up the site, speaking at conferences, building a personal network, of people who would link to him and help spread the word. The pay off is that Aaron has become synonymous with the term "SEO book", and a wealth of related terms.
Once you've carved out your niche, and your personal brand, these effects start to snowball.
Not only will your rankings get better, you may well become a source for media. You might attain a level of celebrity in your niche. Oscar Wilde had a good quote, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about".
I suspect this is the direction Google will be heading. They will be using a lot more quality signals than links. They'll be looking at personal metrics, including social media metrics, like bookmarking. They'll be looking at the terms people use most when talking about a brand or person.
And if few people are mentioning that brand, it will become increasingly invisible in search engine results.