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
try to gain exposure on broader related generic keywords
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.
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)
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 yourinsidevoicegoespublic.
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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, 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 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.
In my Ti & Tiny example, the demographic was pretty obvious. It was easy to picture the fanbase, and adjust the language, and pitch, accordingly.
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).
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.
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:
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!
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.
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..."
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!
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.
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.
Marketing generally has 2 core strategies in terms of customers: finding new customers & keeping your current/old customers happy. The best businesses tend to keep the interest of their customers for months and years through consistently improving their products and services to deliver more value. Whereas the other sorts of businesses tend to be hard-close / hype driven & always promoting a new product / software / scheme. It is never a complete system being sold, but some "insider secret" shortcut that unearths millions automatically while you sleep - perpetually. ;)
One of the problems with false scarcity hype launches is that it attracts the type of customers who can't succeed. The people who are receptive to that sort of marketing want to be sold a dream, they are not the type of people who want to put the time and effort in to become successful. They are at stage 2 in this video: "my life sucks" ... so sell me a story that will instantly make everything better without requiring any change from me at all. ;)
Another one of the problems with the hype launch business model is that it requires you to keep repeating the sales process like a traveling salesman. Each day you need to think up a new scheme or angle to sell a new set of crap from, and you have to hope that the web has a short enough memory that the scammy angles used to pitch past hyped up product launches don't come to bite you in the ass.
Here is a video snippet of Ryan Deiss exclaiming his ignorance of the SEO field & how he got ripped off thrice because he knew so little he couldn't tell a bad service provider from a good one.
"If you want to get free traffic you have to get good at the cut-throat game of SEO (which I for one am not). ... SEO for most of us isn't the right answer." - Ryan Deiss
And his latest info-product (in perhaps a series of dozens of them?) is called Perpetual Traffic Formula. In the squeeze page he highlights that it offers you the opportunity to... "Discovering a crack in Google algorithm so big it simply can't be patched. Being able repeat the process for similar results in UNLIMITED niches."
The Droid has a pretty good review of how awful his sites are doing in terms of "perpetual traffic." :D
If you want to buy from a person who *always* has another new product with a secret short cut to sell, Ryan is THE guy. If you want to learn how to evaluate the quality of products being sold, here are some good tips on that front. And if you want to get a good overview of the internet marketing world for free you will love this.
Both Yahoo! and Microsoft have confirmed that they will start testing the Bing algorithm live on some Yahoo! traffic this month. One of the big questions from the SEO perspective is what happens to Yahoo! Site Explorer? If it goes away then webmasters will need to get link data from web indexes built by SEO companies, perhaps either Open Site Explorer and/or Majestic SEO.
Yahoo! also offers a link: search in their BOSS program. While they have stated that the BOSS program will live on, there is little chance of the link: operator working in it over the longrun as Bing has disabled inbound link search on Bing.
Blekko, which is a soon to launch search start-up, doesn't have much to lose in sharing data. In the short run anything to gain awareness will likely make them money in the longrun. And so they are doing just that:
Blekko is also showing just about all the behind the scenes data that they have to determine rank and relevancy. You can see inbound links, duplicated content and associated metadata for any domain in their index.
Blekko will also come with custom slashtags which users can use to personalize search. And end user feature for average users? Not sure. But it will be interesting to web developers & power searchers. There are already heated debates in the comments on TechCrunch on if people will use that feature. IMHO the point isn't for it to be an end user service for average searchers, but to be one which generates discussion & builds loyalty amongst power users. And clearly it is working. :D
The SEO gamers, content farmers and link shoppers are not going to be happy. These guys are flooding the web with content designed to turn a profit, not inform, and the searcher pays the price. One company alone generates literally tens of thousands of pages every day that are solely designed to make money from SEO traffic. Slashtags are the perfect way to bypass them and search only the sites you like.
One more reason the content farmers aren't going to be happy: we're opening up all the data that is the core foundation of their business. Link data, site data, rank data - all there for everyone to see. In one fell swoop the playing field just got leveled.
I think a core concept which many search engines have forgot (in an attempt to chase Google) is that if you have a place in the hearts and minds of webmasters & web developers then they will lead other users to your service.
Money is one way to buy loyalty. And Google will pay anyone to syndicate their ads, no matter what sort of externalities that leads to. But now the web is polluted with content mills. Which is an opportunity for Blekko to differentiate.
Since Yahoo! is a big publisher they had mixed incentives on this front. They do share a lot of cool stuff, but they are also the same company which just disappeared the default online keyword research tool and replaced it with nothing, and they recently purchased a content mill. This was a big area where Bing could have won. They created a great SEO guide & are generally more receptive to webmaster communications, but they have fumbled following redirects & have pulled back on the data they share. Further, if you look at Bing's updated PPC guidelines, you will see that they are pushing out affiliates and chasing the same brand ad Dollars which Google wants. Bing will be anything but desperate for marketshare after they get the Yahoo! deal in place.
Furthermore, we intend to be fully open about our crawl and rank data for the web. We don't believe security through obscurity is the best way to drive search ranking quality forward. So we have a set of tools on blekko.com which let you understand what factors are driving our rankings, and let you dive behind any url or site to see what their web search footprint looks like.
but they also offer a "Search Bill of Rights" which by default other search companies can't follow (based on their current business models):
1. Search shall be open
2. Search results shall involve people
3. Ranking data shall not be kept secret
4. Web data shall be readily available
5. There is no one-size-fits-all for search
6. Advanced search shall be accessible
7. Search engine tools shall be open to all
8. Search & community go hand-in-hand
9. Spam does not belong in search results
10. Privacy of searchers shall not be violated
And so based on the above they appeal to...
anyone who submits themselves to the open ideology
journalists who hate content mills
searchers who hate junk search results
SEOs & webmasters who like free data
programmers who like to hack and tweak
people interested in personal freedom & privacy
From a marketing perspective, their site hasn't even launched yet and there is *at least* a half-dozen different reasons to talk about them! Pretty savvy marketing. :D
Open source software is awesome, and I am much richer for it existing. But the concepts that work in widely downloaded free software may not apply as well elsewhere. One of the best books on this topic is Jason Lanier's You are Not a Gadget, which in large part inspired this post.
Openness is one of the most widely espoused important ideals upon which to build an online business. The reasons it is preached so heavily are
anything that is free doesn't have to get over the penny gap, so it is easy to gain traction when compared against paid alternatives
openness encourages economies of scale built on the labors of others (and re-mashing bits of others works together wrapped in a thick layer of ads)
the growth and margins created by the above 2 allow the embedded value in network effects to be flipped to a greater fool for a huge multiple of its intrinsic value
But most such plays are exploitative and short term based. They are leveraged bets with hidden costs.
Given people free access to post content to your server means you spend hours every week fighting spam, and when they post kiddie porn (or similar) your site goes down without warning. Did you build your website on that same "free" service that went down without warning? Oooops.
Not too long ago the publicity whore who preached the importance of loyalty & openness canned all his freelance writers with a 1 week notice, but revoked their ability to delete their own content before breaking the news to them.
The network of free content is a PageRank black hole which creatively flows PageRank to the shadow sites heavily wrapped in ads.
Have 43,807 friends? How many of them know your name? I define a friend as someone who you know something embarrassing about, who also knows something embarrassing about you. If there are no inside jokes there is no friendship. The only way you have thousands of friends is if the word friend is meaningless.
Once you build exposure, the openness that was initially vital to overcoming obscurity can become a hindrance. Which is precisely why the highest value web companies are quite closed off. Sure they might have a public relations angle where they promote openness (and perhaps you should too), but beyond that it is often better to go the other way.