Relaunches Are Harder Than Launches

Jan 29th

In the past I have highlighted how hype-driven hard launches often lead to hard landings. But what is even more challenging than launches is relaunches. Some relaunches are just flicking a switch, done mostly as a marketing gimmick. But those that are real changes are brutal, largely because you have already built up expectations in the past and have to manage expectations, even while everything is changing, and many things are not in your clear control. The more polished you become the worse you look when things go awry. :D

An Error of Confidence

In our member forums while using vBulletin 3 I became confident enough with upgrades that I did them myself even without a programmer standing by. Then I did the vBulletin 4 upgrade and it broke the templates & forced us to create a new design. vBulletin 4 has all sorts of bizarre variables in it and a lot of members were at first put off by the new design that vBulletin forced me into doing. There was almost an emotional visceral reaction amongst some members because we hate change that is forced upon us, especially if it feels arbitrary!

Based on that experience I decided that when we were going to upgrade Drupal and install a new member management software that it made sense for us to pause user accounts in case anything goes wrong. Lots has gone wrong with the update, so that turned out to be a good decision. Although at the same time it means I am spending well into 5 figures a month on upgrades and such while the site is producing no revenues.

I figured the no revenues part would encourage us to be as fast as possible, but Drupal 7 was a far more difficult change than vBulletin 4 was.

Guaranteed Broke


Whenever you do major upgrades will break. And it is virtually impossible to catch it all in advance. There are issues that happen with drop downs on certain browsers only when they are using certain operating systems with certain sized monitor, and all sorts of other technical fun stuff that doesn't appear until thousands of eyes have seen your website.

When you are new and obscure feedback comes in small bits and you keep getting incrementally better. But when everything changes you get hundreds of emails a day and it is nearly impossible to respond to them.

Did You Run Your Site Through a Geocities Generator?

We are trying our best to rush to fix stuff & get up to speed, but some issues that are even fine the day of an upgrade can appear crazy on day #2 due to how things interact. If we had our member's area accessible now, how would we really justify & explain end users seeing something like this...where bizarrely our designs merged:

Weird bugs like that can be difficult to troubleshoot, especially when they are intermittent. We have to fix those huge issues before we can even consider launching (and we mostly have already). But then there are other things that break in other ways that need fixed too.

A Laundry List of Issues

  • Post comment permalinks that add 30,000 pages of duplicate content to your site. (mostly fixed)
  • Updates that wipe out the ability to reply to a threaded comment on blog posts. (still need to fix)
  • Default sign-up page ugly & pretty version not posting to default. (still need to fix)
  • Users who desire our autoresponder still not getting it due to needing to test it again before having it send any emails. (still need to fix)
  • Integrating on-site social proof of value & activity like recent comments and member information. (still need to fix)
  • Redirect issues for certain login types. (mostly fixed)
  • Enable multiple product tiers & levels. (still need to fix)
  • Cookies issues based on old cookies before the CMS upgraded to the new system. (fixed for those who cleared cookies already, not for those who haven't)
  • Password reset emails don't send new passwords, but a one-time login link.
    • But some of those login links might be so long that they wrap and are broke by certain email clients.
      • Do you build a custom hack to try to fix that directly? or
      • Do you wait until you install your membership permissions management software and run everything through that? or
      • Do you convert your email module to send HTML emails? HTML emails which then requires a lot more testing because it might get stripped by some email clients. (Or, perhaps the email goes through, but the unsubscribe link is broken, which causes immediately a douchebag freetard to open up a support ticket with "lawsuit pending" as the title.)

That is only a partial list of items...there are literally about 100 more! And, as you can see from that last passwords issue, some corrections lead to additional issues. It is sorta like running up the side of a mountain carrying weights. :)

The challenging part of being a marketer, an SEO, and the guy who interacts with the customers is you deeply know how some things are flawed & that forces you to try to fix them as fast as possible. You can't just ignore the canonicalization issue that would be missed by most webmasters as you know the pain that leads to. :D

Brutal Pain

Even if you are pretty quick at fixing things, some will still blow for a bit. Complex systems are complex.

Not only will freetards complain, but you will get other forms of legitimate friction simply by virtue of being. Lots of eyes are on your errors. Once you have a well known website there is a lifeflow that goes through it 24 hours a day - if you are there or not. And if any of the common interactive paths are broken you will hear about it again and again and again. And again. :)

And yet, while you are trying to decide the best way to keep making things better you get emails that are condescendingly friendly. ;)

You guys have some very useful tools on this site and provide very useful seo information. Yet your site's user flow is surprisingly confounding and awkward. You guys strike me as practical internet marketers and I can't help but wonder why, if you were to upgrade anything on your site, you wouldn't have addressed your awkward user flow as opposed to spending time and money on some hipster faux web 2.0 window dressing. I know I'm not a paying customer...but I've always used this site for the keyword search tool and it has helped me drive traffic and increase eCPMs on my sites.
...
My guess is the type of people who use your site are not impressed by silly, day-glow,pastel makeovers and are more interested in useful seo data and information.

Nice. So they use us, make money from our work while paying us nothing, and yet they need to sling insults towards us while we publicly state that we are doing upgrades. Way to be a winner! If only everyone in the world was like them this site would disappear.

And they are completely wrong in suggesting that aesthetic doesn't matter. You can't quantify the losses without testing a different approach, but companies do not sink billions of Dollars into testing CPG packaging just for the fun of it. At a minimum a better looking site will increase trust. That leads to all sorts of other things like:

  • better perceived quality
  • lower perceived risk
  • higher conversion rates
  • being able to charge higher rates
  • higher visitor value
  • more media exposure

In many industries the winner is not who is well known within the industry, but rather who is safe and easy for outsiders to reference. Design is important for the same reason that domain names are. Either can yield an instance sense of credibility when done well & either can quickly take it away when done poorly.

And people who are new to an industry become the experts of tomorrow, so if they trust you more off the start then you build a self-reinforcing marketing channel. Whereas if you are not trusted you have to convince people to switch away from defaults after they already made their choice. And that is hard to do if they already passed you over once & your website is ugly.

And there is also the blunt straight talk feedback: "Your Products are bullshit."

I actually prefer the latter to the former because they don't insult your intellect by wrapping the insults in a passive-aggressive flowery packaging. (OK so I said a nice thing about him, so now I can REALLY insult him!!!)

Expecting Friction


One of the online issues that I think is rarely talked about is the issue of user friction. Media plays up the benefits of success but rarely highlights the cost of it. A popular game developer launched a hugely successful game at 99 cents & was devastated by his success:

I’m angry at a small percentage of customers who actively work towards harming its success. I’m angry at the customers who send me nasty emails or reviews, threatening me with ‘telling Apple to remove it’ or rating it 1 star with a ’should be cheaper than free’ remark because after paying the ridiculously exorbitant 99c, they found it didn’t live up to expectations. The absolute worst is users who condescendingly ‘try to help’ by outlining every little thing they think is wrong with it.
...
The anger, the sense of entitlement, and the overriding theme that I owe them something for daring to take up any of their time is sickening.
...
I can see now why many companies provide rubbish support, and have a ‘give us your money then piss off’ attitude. They have no doubt learned the hard way how soul destroying taking pride in your products can be.

That is a big part of the reason I abandoned the ebook business model. I felt that if I kept the model much longer I was going to have to sacrifice the quality of the customer interaction & be more like the companies I grew to hate. Rather than living that way we move higher up and get a higher quality of customer. Another benefit of our current (or soon to be restored) model is that if people ask questions in a closed garden social setting almost nobody is comfortable acting like a troll. People generally won't write the stuff in a social setting that they would write in an email, especially if they are not fully anonymous and they know doing so is going to make them look like a jerk.

While we still have tons of things to fix, the first things we fixed were related to duplicate content (to simply avoid the pain) and some issues associated with the registration path. The ones that people are going to complain about most are generally the ones you need to fix first, because that ends up saving you time in the longrun.

But if you price too cheaply (but not at free) then it is hard to ignore any of the feedback, even when it is ugly. This is why you are better off having higher prices & only converting a small portion of your audience. The folks from MagneticCat left a good comment on the above blog post:

$0.99 is an unsustainable price point. Because, if you sell 1 million games, you make $700,000 BEFORE taxes. A nice amount of money, but you also get 1 million customers – the amount of people living in a huge city – that could potentially have some problems with your game. Maybe because their iPhone’s accelerometer is broken, or because their headphone jack is not working anymore, or because there is an actual bug in your game.

We are only at about a half-million registered users & it is hard (20+ hour work days) to keep up when anything breaks. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a million PAYING customers. I think I would be sitting in the fetal position somewhere. ;)

That said, I am excited to get our site re-launched again and miss the daily water cooler nature of our forums. And based on the emails I am getting every day, so do many of our customers. Sorry for the delay guys!

Status Update

We have Drupal 7 installed on both parts of the site. We have 3 days of bug fixing left and testing our membership software (which will also take a couple days). We may try to do some of it concurrently & test our membership software Sunday or Monday & hope to have a recurring test & a cancellation test done by Tuesday evening for a soft launch to past subscribers. If that goes well then we would hope to do a full launch before the end of next week.

Focus On Adding Value

Jan 27th
posted in

Times are tough.

In times like these, clients tend to focus on the value proposition. "Throw it at the wall, see if it sticks" is not a phrase you hear a lot in recessions.

Instead, your customers will tend to have their eyes transfixed on your value proposition. "How does this spend make me better off?"

Whilst we may think search marketing services are essential, the spend on search services typically comes out of marketing budgets, and marketing budgets tend to be the first thing companies cut when things get tight.

So, they might need more convincing that usual.

If you weren't doing so already, it can be a good time to go over your proposals and pitch, and look to emphasize, and add to the value proposition you offer.

A few points to consider....

1. Address Genuine Needs

Address the need a client has, which may be different than the need they articulate.

This may seem obvious, but often people aren't quite sure exactly why they need search marketing, or they may have wrong ideas about it. Their genuine business need may be buried. You need to tease this out.

To do so, listen. Hard.

One common mistake people who are "fixers" - seos tend to be fixers - can make is that they'll go through the motions of listening, but really they're just waiting for an opportunity to launch into their solution.

A client will tell you a lot, and perhaps cover a lot of angles you hadn't thought of, if you let them talk long enough. They will like the fact you are interested in them and their problems, and it will make your eventual solution sound more considered and tailor-made.

Because it will be.

If you don't solve a genuine problem, your relationship is more likely to be a short one. Services that don't solve genuine business problems are more likely to get cut.

2.Go Beyond

Look for ways you can enhance your offering.

Look to solve genuine problems in closely related fields. For example, a client may lack a content strategy. They may want to publish content regularly, but haven't got around to doing so. You could enhance your offering by incorporating this work in your offer, reasoning that it dovetails nicely with your SEO strategy, thus killing two birds with one stone.

This can also get you on-going work, if pitched right, and may involve little more than hiring the services of a copywriter.

3. Establish Feedback Mechanisms

Feedback is important.

Not only does it give you added insight into what the client is thinking, it also offers you the opportunity to demonstrate your value proposition in action.

You said you would do X, you do X, then show them you've done X. This helps build trust.

Clients will often elaborate, if given the opportunity, which can give you more ideas on how to "Go Beyond", and how to "Address Their Real Needs".

4. Look At Jobs As Partnerships

If you've ever bought services, you know that selecting a service provider can be a pain. It is time consuming, and there is risk involved. A wrong choice can lead to opportunity cost, and having to repeat the process all over again.

No one wants that. People want partnerships with their suppliers. They want someone on their side.

Once you've landed a client, try to see them as a business partner. This is certainly how they will view you if they like you. They are unlikely to go back out to the market unless they are disastisfied, so try to make their business, your business.

Take the approach that you will boost your own business by building theirs.

5. Every Job Is An Opportunity To Build Hybrid Skills & Knowledge

Let's say you have a travel client.

Learn everything you can about the travel industry. Press the client for information. Research and understand the wider industry, not just the search marketing opportunity within that industry.

One of the golden things about being a consultant is that you get to look inside people's businesses. This information is valuable and difficult to obtain by other means, yet you're getting paid to learn it. You're learning about real business issues, who's-who, and the language of the industry.

You then become more valuable to any other travel-related client as you're now "a travel guy". You can pitch convincing to them, because you speak their language, understand their problems, and you've got industry history.

Now All Blogger Outreach Campaigns Will Be Considered Spam Too :)

Nov 12th

Not that long ago I highlighted how infographics were largely being destroyed as a link building tool by some unscrupulous folks who were offering to pay people to host the infographics to their sites - in a sense making the word infographic seem & feel like spam, just like paid links. :D

After killing that source of links, the folks behind that work are proudly moving on to fake non-profits and awards for bloggers, launching multiple fake charity sites in the last couple months, and then mass emailing bloggers with fake awards and link buying offers, along with a touch of comment spamming. I mean, its not that many comments. :)

Any website with only 4 pages of content, that claims to be a non-profit, yet has no contact information available, while claiming to be 3 or 4 years old (even the domain name was only registered 2 months ago) is probably somewhat sketchy.

Hello,
I'd love to purchase a text link ad on one of your pages such as ____

The link would be going to a finance or MBA site.

My budget is $100 and can pay via PayPal. I can give you a call about the
details or email you more information, let me know.
--
Maggie Sands

As a marketer, you want anything you do to pass the sniff test. So if your stuff looks anything like this fake scammy crap garbage then you are not going to have much success with it. Largely because the folks who are sending out millions of emails are going to sterilize the market and turn the web cynical toward even more marketing techniques. So you need to make your marketing efforts that much more personalized, and it also helps to have a real presence in the field, that way bloggers won't dismiss you as just another scam, like they might those folks promoting the fake charity angle.

This is another reason why it also helps to create things in entirely unique formats. The gamers exploiting stuff burn out one opportunity after another, but most of their new & creative slants are simply extensions of things that worked for others. Getting out in front of the scammers on a new trend & format is far more profitable than following in their footsteps. But be aware that marketing ideas have a curve to them. An idea which starts off pure and is successful & profitable will end up coming under the eye of scammers at some point. And most forms of fraud are based around trying to look like the real thing, so eventually a format that was once profitable eventually loses its potency and you must move on.

The best forms of marketing which help you differentiate yourself from the scammers are those which build trust over time: branding, awareness, social interaction, etc. The person holding up a puppet might be able to compete with you here and there from time to time, but if you build something with depth and substance they will have a hard time competing on a sustainable basis.

SEO (Usually) Does Not Create Demand

Oct 11th

At a recent SEO conference there was a question asked about getting a geo-local page to rank better for their own specific brand + the location (where they were competing against resellers & aggregators in that vertical). I was a bit tired at the end of the day, so I am not sure if I got my point across well enough there...so I figured it would make sense to follow up here. :)

When the above question was sussed out more fully it turns out that the core issue was not that of rank, but rather one of demand. Even with them + all the aggregators that particular branch was simply not profitable, especially when compared against other branches in neighboring towns.

The core issue here is this: SEO fulfills demand, but SEO doesn't create demand.*

* There are some exceptions to that, like in complex long B2B purchase cycles & people selling abstract products & services like art, but generally its true for most businesses.

Where SEO is Exceptionally Valuable

If you are selling a commodity product that is similar to other commodity products (or you are 1 of 1,000 similar reviews on the web - like an affiliate) then ranking a bit better for the brand you are targeting will lead to more conversions for you the affiliate.

But all of that opportunity is built on the back of arbitraging existing brand equity & consumer demand, it doesn't really create new demand in and of itself. Sure some sorts of reviews can make certain products seem more compelling than others, but the sort of demand creation needed by the above organization has to come from broader generic search queries and/or arbitraging competing brands.

How to Create Demand

If someone ranked just below us in the search results for "seo book tools" with reviews of our exclusive domain finder tool, our competitive research tool, and a few other tools we offer then they might make a limited number of incremental sales for us, but if we wanted to create significant incremental sales we have 3 options

  • build our brand
  • cross market
  • try to gain exposure on broader related generic keywords

Brand Building

There are many ways to build brand, from public relations to offering additional products and features to interacting at more events to writing more frequently on our blog to advertising, etc. etc. etc. The good thing about building brand exposure is that branded keywords tend to be the keywords with the highest conversion rates...so when you build your brand you create a surge in traffic and a surge in conversion rates.

When I lived in State College, Pennsylvania the guy who owned StateCollege.com mentioned that at one point he put a huge blimp up in the parking lot of the football stadium advertising his domain name. He was fined for doing it, but it was just a cost of doing marketing...a cheap source of exposure.

As a regional office you might not be able to do that much with brand though: you may lack the budget for branded advertising & there might be some types of restrictions on the types of things you can do to gain awareness.

Cross Marketing

This is an area where the people asking the question at the conference could have done well. They could have done more aggressive cross marketing within their organization and with other organizations.

Part of what created demand for this whole region / area was a huge theme park of sorts. So in theory they could have also ran special promotions with that theme park offering discounts to frequent visitors. Perhaps they could have found out who went to that theme park and sent them mailers with seasonal discount offers.

If neighboring branches were frequently sold out and this branch was not then what they could have done is find out who amongst there customers are frequent customers and who amongst those people are budget conscious...promote the concept of saving a lot by being a bit further away amongst those who value money more than time.

Further segmentation could be done separating out business functions from tourists. Offer businesses that are holding meetings a discount on meeting room rentals at the cheaper spot that is further away & try to load most of the tourists into the venue with higher demand. Beyond that, demographic targeting can be a strong option. Some areas hold yearly festivals for certain alternative lifestyles.

In the online sense of cross-marketing, both SEOmoz and Raven have been aggressive at running conference discounts and/or offering free conference passes when you set up at one of their higher tiered account levels.

Coupons and loyalty programs can also help on this front. One could also petition the local chamber of commerce to create some sort of seasonal celebration or promotional hook for the town, which would help almost all the local businesses. Is your town the home of the cranberry? There has to be some type of hook or angle.

The world is full of unique places & there is something interesting in your back yard if you look close enough.

Exposure on Broader Related Keywords

The above company which thought they needed to rank better for "their brand name" + "their location" could have driven some additional incremental volume by ranking better for the related query stream, like:

  • "their product category" + "their location" (putting themselves in front of more of the generic related traffic stream ... they can also run direct ads on other sites that rank well and have relevant traffic streams)
  • creating a page focused on "their product category" + "near popular local attraction" (coming up with alternate ways people search with the same intent ... there are boatloads of options on this front for those who create content focused on solving specific business problems)
  • running ads on competing local brands stating things like "free ___ feature" or "up to _% cheaper than brand x" (arbitraging competing brands ... this can be effective, but can easily be misplayed & lead to blood + tears)

Inside Voices, Please

Oct 8th

Marketers often rely on a facade. If marketing and advertising were truly transparent few marketers would ever be seen as heroes ;)

When information didn't spread as widely it was easy for one public relations hero to scam one country into bombing and destroying another for the benefit of their client.

Distortions and misinformation can work in the short run, but with the web people are connected all the time and the memory is deep.

What is risky about the gap in the narratives is that it gets harder to cover over as time passes. And if you are aggressive + swim with sharks eventually one of them will get mad at you...so your inside voice goes public.

This sort of parallel is almost everywhere in business. Google's Eric Schmidt highlighted how amazed he was at how lobbyists write legislation. In the same way, Google writes their guidelines for webmasters to follow. Follow them or accept great risks.

How do you know a person is a big link buyer? If they tell you not to buy links and that they don't buy links then they are probably lying. It is a lie you are *expected* to spread to minimize the risks of Google coming down and crushing you.

Some of the most profitable businesses rely on having multiple business models and multiple brands that monetize markets in different ways. To the person who is afraid of risk you sell the fear - don't buy links. To the person who wants the juice you sell the juice. Then you use the data from their link purchases to figure out what keywords you should be targeting and what domain names you should be buying.

When DIY SEO launched one of their "advanced" tips was to ensure you were not buying or selling any links. And that is from a person who sold a text link network for north of $30 million & is rumored to be associated with yet another text link network. If a person tells you that the links they are selling you are giving them the information needed to figure out what domains to buy then they lose the data source.

But if the person comes out and tells you that you should buy links then that puts all their other publishing enterprises at risk. For me to even write about this weird dichotomy would make some people think "well that person is black hat" when in reality simply observing and stating truth is as white hat as you can possibly be. So as an SEO you either have to lie, or absorb additional business risks for being stupid or naive enough to be honest in a market dictated by a monopoly which preaches the value of openness.

The weird thing about that appreciation for openness is that (beyond a marketing & public relations angle) it never applies to anything core to their own market position, but rather to competing business models. With their own business they don't have the time of day for their paying customers.

It is hard to beat someone by following their lead. As a new business with limited leverage & capital you must create your own value systems if you want to find opportunity & create a lasting business. This is especially true because many value systems are arbitrary.

Early Google research highlighted how they hated ad based business models and how they felt that having a pure search service was crucial. After they gained market leverage they also gained amnesia. Now on some searches half of web users see nothing but paid ads above the fold. :D

Certain markets & certain business models rely on using a key piece of misinformation to dupe consumers (even Google highlights how searchers do not realize AdWords ads are paid placements). If you are new to market and you have nothing to lose then one of the easiest ways to cause a stir and get noticed is to highlight those types of issues and/or cannibalize those business models.

There is a bit of a water cycle to businesses and business models. Notice how Blekko is pushing hard on openness and sharing data? Great market entry strategy.

Once you are more established the risk/reward ratio is significantly different. Which is precisely why you rarely read a blog post like this one. By the time a site is as wide read as this one is there should either be a bit of common sense or an investor who has me on a short leash. :)

I should be telling you to not buy links and stay away from the types of folks who have ever even considered thinking about it. :D

The point of this post isn't really about link buying, but rather that you need to consider risk and reward with anything, and do so using your own value systems if you want to compete. Most media has some fibs in it, as concision requires reductionism & it is rarely profitable to give away the farm.

We promote how fair society is and how important meritocracy is. But the conclusion I have come to is that the concepts are largely a farce. Your job as an entrepreneur is to succeed *in spite of* the lack of meritocracy, the extreme corruption, and the debt slavery that are core to modern living. And the first few years are the hardest part!

And I am convinced that this sort of dichotomy isn't unique to the field of SEO, but is rather well ingrained in every large highly-profitable market. It is core to capitalism. After all, there is the a reason the banking class can get away with repeatedly systemic violation of the rule of law and you can't: lobbyists write the laws.

Public Relations Lessons From Matt Cutts

Oct 6th
posted in

The latest video from Matt Cutts talks about the value of SEO to Google.

The questioner asks:

"Why does Google support SEO specialists with advice? Google's business is to sell text ads..."?

Matt explains that Google sees SEO helping, rather than hindering, their business model long term.

How?

SEOs create - and encourage site-owners to create - the very sites that Google's technology demands i.e. context accessible by an automated crawler, largely text based, and clearly marked up.

By having sites that jive well with Google's technology, this lowers Google's costs, and helps make Google results more relevant in the eyes of the end user. The larger their index, the more chances Google has to answer the query. SEOs love creating crawlable content!

This means the end user keeps coming back, which in turn translates to Google's bottom line.

It's also a good idea to give webmasters something, else Google risks an more adversarial relationship, which again can cause Google problems.

So SEO is good for Google's business - the "good" type of SEO, as defined by Google, of course.

Win-Win

Matt, as always, is giving the side of the story Google wants you to hear.

His position sounds reasonable, generous, and inclusive, and it is - in many respects. But make no mistake - Google aren't there for webmasters. Google will do what is good for Google. If SEO was bad for Google, Google would not be reaching out to the SEO community, in much the same way they don't reach out to, say, the malware writer community. They just stamp it out.

Matt is a master of public relations. Webmasters can learn a lot from Matt in terms of how to handle their own public relations challenges.

Here are a few pointers, based on Matt Cutts approach:

Public Relations Is Relations With The Public

Matt doesn't talk from on high. He doesn't talk at his audience. He talks with them. He attends events where his audience congregate, and he encourages interaction and questions. This activity serves to build a personal relationship, which helps make his messages easier to convey and sell.

Look for ways in which you can go *to* your audience/customers. Where do they hang out? Address them on their own terms, and in their own environment. Regularly encourage questions, criticism and feedback. When it comes time to announce new products and services, your audience is likely to be more receptive than if your communications are anonymous and sporadic.

Ok, this might be all very well for Matt Cutts. Everyone pays attention to Google, because Google are important. However, no matter how big or small your audience, you still must find a way to relate to them.

These days, it's not so much what people say, it's often who is saying it. Modern media is driven by personalities. The content of the message is seldom good enough to stick, unless it is truly remarkable.

People listen to Matt in ways they don't listen to an anonymous Google press release because of the personal relationship he has worked hard to establish. This works just as well for small businesses. In fact, this is one of the big advantages of a small business - the personal touch. Google is a big company, but they work hard to appear like a small one, at least in terms of their personal relations approach with webmasters.

Matt also gets out in front of issues. If there's something going on in the web community relating to his area, he's almost certainly quick to comment on it. By doing so, he can control and frame the conversation in terms that suit Google. If there are industry issues that relate to your work or company, use them as an opportunity to grab the spotlight. Try to become the media go-to person in your local community for issues by building relationships with media and news outlets.

PR consultants aren't quite as necessary as they used to be. They aren't redundant, but the most important lesson to learn from Matt Cutts is that PR is something you need to embody. It's not just a function that you slap on, or hire in, when it suits, and still be as effective. Make PR flow through all you do.

Matt's greatest skill is not making it look like PR at all.

Integrating Demographic Data Into Your Search Marketing Campaigns

Oct 5th
posted in

I recently came across an interesting stream of search traffic.

The demographic using this search stream was one I had no direct experience of previously. I was amazed at the high level of site interaction this group engaged in. It was related to the wedding of two people I'd never previously heard of - Ti & Tiny. From the names of the people who responded, I determined the traffic was mostly African-American. Pretty obvious given the topic, right.

What was interesting was this group engaged and responded at a much higher level than other groups I was targeting on similar campaigns. It was a reminder of the different ways some demographics choose to participate online, especially when the marketing pitch reflects them.

Target Marketing

Target marketing, otherwise known as market segmentation, is marketing focusing on specific groups of people.

Marketers use demographic profiles to break down groups into a series of traits, such as gender, race, age, income, disabilities, mobility, educational attainment, home ownership, employment status, and location. This helps marketers determine the correct pitch, language and approach to use when trying to appeal to a given audience.

When we use search keyword lists, it's often easy to lump people who use the same keywords together. However, if we add demographic information into the mix, our marketing can become more focused, which can translate to higher conversions, and higher returns.

For example, according to a recent demographic study, the African-American market makes up 13 percent of the U.S. population and spends more than $600 billion every year. African-American buying power is expected to reach $1 trillion this year. 26 percent of African-American households had incomes of $50,000 per year. 64 percent of African Americans—versus 51 percent of Caucasians—spend more on products they perceive as being “the best”. That last piece of information is very useful if you were designing a page to appeal directly to this market.

How about the gay market. This market tends to be affluent. The average annual income for a gay household is $61,000, 20.4 percent higher than in a heterosexual household. This group tends to have a high level of education. Some 83 percent of gays and lesbians have either attended or graduated from college. This market is also brand-loyal. Approximately 89 percent of gays and lesbians are brand-affiliated and are highly likely to seek out brands that advertise to them - i.e. advertising that depicts gay lifestyles and models, for example.

How about women. Women make up 51 percent of the US population and influence at least 80 percent of all spending on consumer goods in the United States. By 2010, women are expected to control $1 trillion, or approximately 60 percent of the nation’s wealth. Retail stores are designed around women, and it would be interesting to note how women and men may respond differently to the online retail equivalent.

General marketing one-size-fits-all messages may miss such groups. How much advertising language is geared towards white, middle class family groups, for example? That's fine if a white, middle class family group is the target market, but it pays to be aware of groups we may be missing.

Relevance

Relevance is more than matching a search keyword to page topic.

"Know they customer" and reflect your audience in your site design, language and pitch. Do your pages reflect your world view, or the world view of your customers? Is there a difference? Can you use keyword terms to identify and segment specific demographic groups? Are there keywords that women are more likely to use than men? Keywords that Hispanics are more likely to use than African Americans? Think about the ways different groups in our society use language.

Your website should hold up a mirror to your target audience, using their language, depicting their lifestyles, and speaking directly to their wants and needs.

Research

In my Ti & Tiny example, the demographic was pretty obvious. It was easy to picture the fanbase, and adjust the language, and pitch, accordingly.

For more in-depth demographic information, you could look at census data, available at the US census beureau, or your regional equivalent. Check out the Country and City databook.

Using keyword research tools, look for broad keyword associations to get a feel for language use and associated areas to target.

The Inside Facebook Blog often provides interesting snippets of demographic data about Facebook usage and trends, which will likely be reflected in the wider online community.

Professional data mining companies, such as Nielsen, are great sources, if you have the budget. And if you want to dig even deeper, check out the VALS survey.

VALs.

How to: Out Yourself for Buying Links

Sep 27th

Effective marketers leverage marketing channels.

Scammers & spammers ruin them for everyone else.

There is a long line of this on the web...

  • Email was personal, then it was easy to automate & done in bulk.
  • Guest books and blog comments were a way to add value, then they were sources of free links.
  • Links were a signal of relevancy, then they were bought and sold in bulk.

As people get burned the web as a whole gets more cynical. The scammers steal from the plates of honest folks as the web adjusts to a new level of cynicism...each round more cynical than the last. This is why you have to prove to people that they are going to get a 20x return when they buy from you, because a half-dozen scammers already ripped them off, and by the time they find you they simply have no trust in internet marketers (and perhaps none for humanity).

This is why people view SEO as a scam like anything else in marketing...most people who jump online get hosed.

Sometimes cost protects a channel. For instance, since people have to pay to be a member of our forums we don't really have to deal with spam in there. But as far as media formats go, things that start off as expensive can often be made cheaper through systemization & outsourcing ... so any given format that was once too expensive to do poorly eventually becomes accessible to do in bulk with marginal quality (blogs can be autogenerated, so can books, video is getting cheaper, and infographics can be done cheaply if you are not concerned with quality).

The thing about infographic promotions is that they are easy to like...part of what makes the media so appealing is the great lengths they go to in order to find new, innovative, and interesting ways to format content. Years of learning go into creating a graphic like this - which can be consumed in 5 minutes. But any interesting format gets used then abused.

Are most infographics created by independent webmasters designed for promotional purposes? Absolutely. They cost thousands of dollars to create (in terms of research, editing, formating & promotion) especially if you do good ones.

The big issue with any format is not the format itself, but pollution in the marketplace. Pollution leads to cynicism, which destroys the market for EVERYBODY who is not the bulk spammer churning out trash.

Not too long ago there was an IamA thread on Reddit highlighting how infographic promotions work & making them seem seedy. That led to an infographic being created about how off-topic infographics are being used to promote sites of marginal quality.

What did the guilty parties do in response? They not only didn't stop or change strategy, but they increased their volume and started offering to pay people to syndicate their infographics.

I know you’re really busy, so I will try to make this quick and painless. My name is Sarah and I work with a company that creates and distributes infographics. I was wondering if you’d like to be part of our infographic distribution list. We are willing to pay you for every infographic you post.

Here are a couple examples of the work we do:
mashable.com/2010/05/10/ipod-revolution-infographic/
huffingtonpost.com/brian-clark-howard/the-meteoric-rise-of-crai_b_649183.html
neatorama.com/spotlight/2010/06/17/13-things-worth-knowing-about-super-mario/

We would love to provide you with content while paying you for it. Please don’t hesitate to contact me with any questions. I hope to hear from you soon!

Thanks!

What does Super Mario Bros. have to do with Home Owners Insurance? It's an easy way to buy links. But likely one that won't last long given that these people are killing the medium with irrelevant trash.

The Perpetual Time, Err, Hype Machine

Sep 22nd

Sometimes when reading TechCrunch I feel like I am watching the History Channel, and that there is a regularly scheduled show called WWII Wednesdays (or something like that). Ironically there was even a junk TechCrunch post about killing the hype cycle. But they know the truth on manipulation - they wouldn't have a profitable product without it.

So often marketers highlight how *this changes everything*

I just saw an article about how the Facebook like button kills SEO, promoting some white paper.

Perhaps it gets the white paper opened, and pre-qualifies prospective customers as ignorant corporate types who are willing to pay big bucks for misinformation, but it seems online marketing is so saturated that we have to act comical or absurd to pull in attention. And then make revisions a week later stating "my bad."

Promptly followed by "...but this changes everything..."

(or hope that the sea of noise is so loud that people forget yesterday by the time tomorrow happens)

"The most important idea in advertising is new. It creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of calomine lotion." - Don Draper

Part of the reason I have decided to post less is that I decided I would rather not participate in that. At some point it helps to believe in what you sell, even if another path is more profitable. :)

I want to make sure we highlight what is new and interesting, but a lot of online marketing is just blocking and tackling ... the basics. A few months back I wrote "its the boring stuff that makes the money" largely because that which is boring has been refined, is predictable, and can scale.

New Twitter might change everything. But then next week Facebook will. And the following week the sun will come up from the west. And everything changes once more!

But the pendulum never swings in 1 direction forever. Blockbuster was once a sure win, today Google is a monopoly, but things will change.

Though those changes will likely be slow and gradual. In aggregate, the impact of Google Instant is not as extreme as many thought (outside of a few edge cases). IE9 also puts some interesting wrinkles in the search space - particularly for domainers. When the address bar becomes a search box with search suggestions in it, how many people will type in undeveloped URLs? Though I suspect that change will also be gradual. After all, Yahoo! is still doing well in spite of all their blunders, brands creating their own media, the tectonic economic decline, and the US being functionally bankrupt.

Why 'Spam' is Everywhere & Why That Means Nothing!

Aug 18th

Sigh, not this again. ;)

Recently Rand highlighted his surprise at how prevalent search spam is. But the big issue with search today is not the existence of spam, but how it is dealt with. For a long period of time Google spent much of their resources fighting spam manually. That worked when spammers were sorta poor and one hit wonders fighting on the edge of the web & few people knew how search worked. But as technology advances & "spammers" keep building a bigger stock of capital eventually Google loses the manual game.

Search engines concede the importance of SEO. It is now officially mainstream.

  • Both Google and Microsoft offer SEO guides.
  • Microsoft and Yahoo! have in-house SEO teams.
  • Yahoo! purchased a content mill.
  • Microsoft's update email about powering Yahoo! search results later this week contained "After this organic transition is complete, Bing will power 5.2 billion monthly searches, which is 31.6 percent of the search market share in the United States and 8.6 percent share in Canada. You can take advantage of this traffic by using search engine optimization (SEO) to complement your search campaigns and boost the visibility of your business."

Sure you will still see some media reports about the "dark arts" of SEO, but that is mainly because they prefer publishing ignorant pablum to drive more page views, as self-survival is their first objective. Some of the same media companies alerting us of the horrors of SEOs have in-house SEO teams that call me for SEO consultations.

A Google engineer highlighted this piece by submitting it to Hacker News, using this as the title "sufficiently advanced spam is indistinguishable from content." We tend to over-estimate end users. If most people don't realize something is spam then to them it isn't. If the search engineers have a hard time telling if a blog is ESL or auto-generated, how is a typical web user going to distinguish the difference?

Some SEO professionals have huge networks of websites and are 8 or 9 figures flush in capital. They can afford to simply buy marketshare in any market they want to enter. Burn one of their sites and they get better at covering their tracks as they buy 5 more. At the same time the media companies are partnering with content mills & the leading content mill filed for an IPO where they are hoping for a $1.5 billion valuation.

Why does one form of garbage deserve to rank when another doesn't? If link buying is bad, then why did Google invest in Viglink? If link buying is so bad then is lying for links any better? If so, how?

How exactly can Google stop the move toward spam in a capitalistic market where domains can be registered with privacy and marketers can always rent an expert to speak for the brand? Is a celebrity endorsement which yields publicity spam? How can Google speak out against spam when they beta test search results that are 100% Google ads?

Wherever possible, Google is trying to replace part of the "organic" search results with another set of Google vertical results. If Google can roughly match relevancy while gaining further control over the traffic they will. Just look at how hard it is to get to the publisher site if you use Google image search. And Google is rumored to be buying Like.com, which will make image search far more profitable for Google.

As Google continues to try to suck additional yield out of the search results, I believe they are moving away from demoting spam (due to the point of diminishing returns & risks associated with demoting what they themselves do creating anti-trust issues). Instead of looking for what to demote, they are now shifting toward trying to find more data/signals to promote quality from.

The issue with manual intervention (rather than algorithmic advancements) is that it warps the web to promote large beaurocratic enterprises that are highly inefficient. That is ok in the short run, but in the long run it leaves search as a watered down experience. One lacking in flavor and variety. One which is boring.

Google is going to get x% of online ad revenues and y% of GDP. In the long run, them promoting inefficient organizations doesn't make the web (or search) any more stable. They need to push toward the creation of more efficient and more profitable media enterprises. Purchases of ITA Software and Metawebs allow Google to attack some of the broader queries and gain more influence over the second click in the traffic stream. Business models which are efficient grow, whereas inefficient ones are driven into bankruptcy.

As Paul Graham has highlighted, we might be moving away from a society dominated by large organizations to ones where more individuals are self-employed (or who work for smaller organizations). We hire about a dozen people, but they are sorta bucketed into separate clusters. Some work on SEO Book, some blog, some help create featured content, some help with marketing, etc. etc. etc. The net result of our efficient little enterprise is pushing terabytes of web traffic each month. Would you describe the site you are currently reading as being "spam" simply because it is efficient & profitable? Would a site that took VC capital and was less efficient be any more proper? How much less interesting is the average big media article on the field of SEO?

If a search engine gets too aggressive with penalizing "spam" then tanking competitors becomes a quite profitable business model. If they are to focus on what to demote search engineers need to figure out who is doing what AND who did it. Thus the role of SEO today is not to remain "spam free" (whatever that is) but to create enough signals of quality that you earn the benefit of the doubt. This protects you from the whims of search engineers, algorithmic updates, and attempts at competitive sabotage.

You can future-proof your SEO strategy to the point where your site never loses traffic because it never ranked! Or you can get in the game and keep building in terms of quantity and quality. If lower quality stuff is all that is typically profitable in a particular market then it isn't hard to stand out by starting out with a small high-quality website. That attempt to stand out might not be profitable, but it might give you a platform to test from. After all, Demand Media purchased eHow.com to throw up their "quality content" on.

Online the concept of meritocracy is largely a farce. Which is precisely why large search companies are willing to buy content mills. If search engines want to promote meritocracy they should focus more on rewarding individual efforts, though that might have a lower yield, and some people prefer to stay anonymous given competitive threats from outing AND some of the creepy ways online ad networks harvest their data to target them.

What does the lack of meritocracy mean for marketers? If you are a marketer you need to be aggressive at marketing your wares or someone with inferior product will out-market you and steal marketshare from you.

Will someone consider your site spam?

Sure.

But they will have worse rankings than you do!

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.