Not too long ago I read a book called How to Write, Publish, & Sell Your Own How-To Book. At that point I was already doing well with my current ebook, but was debating whether or not it was worth trying to get it physically published. Generally the How to Write... book was strongly biased against being published primarily due to profit margin related reasons, as well as a few other restrictions.
If you asked me to name off book publishers I know the names of I could do it on my hands with fingers left over. I got an email yesterday from one of the few I would have been able to name, asking me if I would be interested in having them publish & distribute SEO Book.
One of my friends also made the same offer, but offered to publish at cost because he wanted to get some titles for his new publish house.
Away from the web I think there is a huge gain with going with a publisher for at least one book, to help build your authority and credibility, but on the web I do not think there is a need for network publishers, etc.
With blogs I do not think there is a need for additional blog networks. You can learn a lot from a blogger just by watching what they do. It is considered bad form to copy exactly, but you can learn the pieces that fit your style or see what pieces are working elsewhere, and why they work. Many of the blog network business models do not encourage the best kinds of postings. Many of the best bloggers read far more than the write, and that is just so much harder to do when it feels like writing the blog is your job and you are doing it for a boss.
Sometimes getting articles syndicated is as easy as writing them and submitting them. Also odds are fairly high that if you learn your topic well you should be able to build more high quality links into your site than a blog overlord would.
The blog networks don't directly pay you for participating in a community and if you ever need to jump ship from the network partnership that brand you helped them build the whole time may not carry with you.
Why I think blog networks suck:
Advertising: Most blog networks just publish AdSense for most of their advertisements. If they are going to cross promote the blogs and make them obviously known then it is easy to see how they place the ads for maximum profits. You do not need to be part of the network to learn from it. It is a transparent business model.
Link Selling: Some of the networks sell off topic links as if it is going out of style. That is the type of activity that leads to search engines placing limited or no trust on the linkage data from within the network. If they underpriced the ads a bit to entice a few on topic advertisers and then stayed on topic the ads would have greater longterm value and a lower risk profile.
Most People Make Nothing: As with the About.com network, or any group publishing network, a few topics are going to bring in the bulk of the cash. If you are in one of the lesser known topics then it is hard to make your blog well known and profitable unless you are actively marketing the heck out of it, which is much harder to do when you do not own the content and only get a meager percentage of the overall earnings.
Internal Links WILL Get Discounted: Being part of a blog network paid on comission is a good deal if you are the Poker blog riding off the link popularity of Engadget or Gizmodo, but inevitably as these networks spread you have to believe that search engines are going to deweight the internal linkage. Most of the blog network channels have limited linkage data outside of the link popularity which flows in from the few most popular channels. Jason Calcanis often brags about how much money his network is making with no money spent on marketing. How can spending no money on marketing be the optimal spend?
Stuck Business Models: I would guess that Gawker might make more per blog than I make on this blog, but most of the blog networks are stuck in their low paying business models. Some channels might make lots of money selling ebooks while others might be able to sell newsletters or software or other information products. The problem is that most of them are probably not willing to challenge what they know works. What happens if a channel really takes off and the author wants to go elsewhere where they can make more money?
You Still Need to Learn the Same Stuff: Using WordPress is free. Google AdSense optimization probably only takes a few days of tweaking to become decent at. Blog networks are not going to give you inside knowledge of your marketplace, and unless you are well cited within your topic only bad search algorithms are going to make your site relevant for it's network participation. The network that REALLY matters is the community that covers your topic.
Too Much Too Quick: Sometimes having few visitors off the start is a good thing. It gives you the opportunity to learn quickly without necissarily opening you up to the criticism of everyone in your community. I have got hate email from people who later gladly linked to my site. My guess is that if I had more exposure when I knew less about my topic, blogging, & the web I would have got a lot more hate mail, and it may have turned me off early.
Time Off: Sometimes I feel like crap, and if I posted while I felt that way it would only have a negative effect on my blog and the poor eyes reading my HateTypeTM. Blogging is about being timely, but it is also about posting more when you are thinking and feel like talking. It is also about keeping quiet when you don't feel like talking.
If You Really Care: If you are really going to go after something may as well make it your own. If you really don't care much a network might be cool, but I fail to see the point in doing anything you are only sorta interested in.
Inevitably blog quality will have to stand on it's own. Readers and citations come if people want to give you their attention. Being part of a network might be able to help you boost that a bit off the start, but it may also hold you back when you want to let out a rant or zig when others are zagging :)
The whole point of the web is you do not need an overlord.
Do you think you could start from scratch today? was one of the more interesting discussions I listened to at SEO Roadshow.
Mainly people were talking in terms of money, but I think the biggest assets for most people who are doing well in terms of SEO are their friendships and what they have learned, and you can't really unlearn or unfriend (unless you really try hard or have a freak accident).
Google is significantly harder to manipulate today than it was when I started. If I were to start from scratch today I think I would still be able to do well. Google would take a bit longer to manipulate than it used to, but I know so much more about marketing than I did back then. When I first started I was in the negative in terms of cash, and can't imagine that it would take me longer to find a profitable business model today. As a form of payment I also prefer links and friendships to cash, as they don't get taxed.
Sometimes I think about sorta just making this site archived and trying to change how & why I post and do things, but it is so easy to assume that what worked in the past will continue working in the future. I realize that is not true though.
My 3 week old free SEO tools update list already has over 10% the number of subscribers as my nearly 2 year old free newsletter does (and I give stuff away in nearly every newsletter).
Knowing what I paid to create some of the tools, and seeing some of the ad rates around the web, I am willing to bet most SEOs pay more for leads than I paid per subscriber to my free tools update list.
I do not like spending tons on advertising because I think viral marketing works so much better. It kinda feels insulting to think of how little money and effort went into creating some of those tools and how much time they can help save in the SEO process, especially when compared to how unproductively I have spent large portions of time, and now I am over the hill...26 years old. :(
Could you start from scratch today?
What would be the hardest bits?
A while ago Edward Lewis (of SeoConsultants.com) found a rather unpleasant hate site about him which existed right up until around the time he pulled his news coverage of Traffic Power and 1P.com business practices.
I believe the fake SEO forums went down around the same time I was sent the paperwork to drop the lawsuit against me in agreement for me removing any and all content in any way related to Traffic Power from this website.
Due to feedback from friends I decided to fight the lawsuit. I still don't know how in the hell I could comply even if I wanted to since they have refused to give me ANY specifics and I do not know all the various names they operate under.
PR is not dishonest. Not quite. In fact, the reason the best PR firms are so effective is precisely that they aren't dishonest. They give reporters genuinely valuable information.
Bad PR firms hand out spin and / or misinformation that eventually chips away at their credibility. Traffic Power's public relations firm is AMR Partners. I want to run through some of Danny Sullivan's questions to them and some of AMR's responses to highlight the honesty in the answers. I will then go through their quote that was in the Wall Street Journal and a strategic blog comment spammers comments.
Danny: The letter never actually says what it is he supposedly pirated or published. What exactly is it that's in contention here?
AMR Partners: Traffic Power tells me that in threads regarding Traffic-Power portions of private and confidential emails have been presented as well as links to proprietary company information as well as false claims against the company regard non-existing lawsuits and other potentially libelous claims.
While the Internet Archive was blocked on my site clearly that is a poor idea to cluster it with that answer since the Internet Archive can be used to prove the rest of that particular AMR Partners answer sounds at best misinformed.
It is not like I have been posting AND DELETING lots of stuff about Traffic Power. If I did delete whatever they claimed was wrong then wouldn't I be complying with their desires anyhow?
Danny: How is he supposed to comply with a demand for source disclosure when you haven't cited what was allegedly published or pirated? Are you expecting a list of every person he's ever talked with?
AMR Partners: I have no idea what the legal team might expect in terms of disclosure of sources, but I have been told that any evidence will not be presented until it has been decided whether or not they need to file a lawsuit.
Aaron: If they are not going to disclose specifically what they want until well after they decide to sue me then how am I to comply without getting sued first?
Score: Aaron: 2 AMR Partners: 0
Danny: Are you suggesting everything on the SEO Book web site that might mention Traffic-Power is somehow pirated material? Doing a quick search, I see http://www.seobook.com/archives/000314.shtml, where he talks about being called by Traffic-Power. Is this the pirated communication? And if so, was he informed of this before the phone call began?
AMR Partners: I do not think the intent of the letter is to imply that everything on the site is pirated or in response to the two links you've posted, but rather to suggest that pirated material as well as material that could be considered libelous are present and that there are several issues on Mr. Wall's sites that are potentially actionable.
In conclusion, Traffic Power has assured me that they would much prefer a civil dialog with their critics instead of any legal action and that they at least, would be open to discussion.
Aaron: That in conclusion bit is sorta funny. They still have never told me specifically what was wrong, and - at least as I am aware of - outside the cease and desist they made no legitimate effort to contact me in any way about what is wrong prior to filing suit. So if they would prefer one thing then why did they do the exact opposite? Or was that "would much prefer a civil dialog" statement a blatent lie?
Traffic Power Spokesman: Steve Pellegrino, a spokesman for Traffic-Power.com, said the company had asked Messrs. Wall and Baardsen to remove some material from their Web sites before filing the suits, and sued them after they refused. "We have let this go on a year and a half," Mr. Pellegrino said.
Aaron: Other than "everything" I was never told what specifically to remove (and I was also told that I may also need to give information for all sources). If a company operates under a variety of names or has a variety of affiliated sites how can I ensure I removed all information if I do not know the names of the various related entities?
He'd been served with a cease-and-desist letter from SEO company Traffic-Power.com that seemed impossible to comply with.
Also, if it has been going on for 1.5 years and there is something wrong with it why wait that long to do something about it? Also this JimWorld Traffic-Power.com thread started in 2002, so that puts us well over 1.5 years of Traffic-Power.com coverage.
Score: Aaron: 4 Traffic-Power.com: 0
Disturbing comment anonymously left on various search related blogs:
GET YOUR PRIORITIES STRAIGHT!
Donate to Aaron Wallâ€™s legal fund? You must be kidding. Why so a spoiled little brat can rant and rage against things he doesnâ€™t like. This is a sad and pathetic joke, in case it has escaped your attention there are people in New Orleans who are DYING, and could really use donations. Anyone who sent Aaron Wall any money should be ashamed of themselves, to support this and turn your back on people who are in real need is disgusting. Aarons right to bash a bunch of spammers, is irrelevant in the grand scheme of things, if the Blogging Community want to rally behind something, raise money to help the people of New Orleans!
PLEASE DONATE TO A TRULEY WORTHY CAUSE, TO EASE THE SUFFERING IN NEW ORLEANS.
Comment by French Quarter
Another Comment on My Blog:
I bet three voodoo dolls French Quarter post guy is from Traffic Power
Aaronâ€™s court case could stop companies and government entities from suing or issuing gag orders to the mini-press or public-press (bloggers). Imagine if the National Guard or Bush admin had the power to erase all tales of suffering and crimes against humanity stemming from the administrations lack of help during the evacuation and almost one week afterwards.
Funny you use the name French Quarter, as the Quarter is above sea level and apparently was the only target of organized evacuation due to the millions of dollars invested daily by tourists.
(someone spammed Loren's Search Engine Journal blog, SE Roundtable, Blog Herald, The Intuitive Life Business Blog, and Abakus SEO Blog with the same posts as the stuff they placed on my site. They also created a moderated Aaron Wall hate group in Google Groups.)
Why I have yet to mention Katrina on my site:
I am so pissed off about it that my thoughts on the topic would likely be a bit abrasive and likely piss off a large percentage of my readers.
Did you know that prior to the storm FEMA could not finish some of their New Orleans hurricane walk throughs because their funding was cut, and that money to improve the levees and city pumps was cut in part to help fund the war on terrorism / Homeland Security?
Why I Have Yet to Donate to Support Katrina Survivors:
When the tsunami's happened I donated as much as I could. I gave a full month's income while I was still in debt and soon after had to pay off part of my taxes using credit cards.
I have yet to donate to support Katrina survivors because it is hard for me to ask friends to help support my case and then lower my financial stability by giving away money that might be needed to defended against Traffic-Power.com.
The more I think about it the more I think this suit was intended as a big plublicity stunt by Traffic Power. I probably would not have made a post about the bad or inaccurate comments from their public relations firm, but I think:
PR is what the case is about
they should be kept honest, and any dishonestly or half truths should be shown exactly for being what they are (although Danny did a good job pointing out many of them already - thanks Danny)
if people help spread half truths or deception they are just as bad as the people who come up with the half truths
the strategic blog comment spammer about Hurricane Katrina was going way too far.
Sometimes I mention something that seems exceptionally important to me that has absolutely no importance in the grand scheme of things (most of my important things probably fall into this category). Other times some things have far greater importance to others for other reasons.
I always learn alot when others change my perspective of why things are important or what words mean.
A while back I read one person explaining to another on a forum about something they learned from something I wrote, stating what they thought I was explaining and what I meant.
What they learned was, in my opinion, something exceptionally powerful, although I absolutely was not trying to convey the message they learned & I had not thought of what they were saying in the same way they did (at least until I read what they wrote).
I learned a ton from their interpretation of what I was trying to say :) The cool thing is, their feedback can be used to change how I think, write, & act; and it was available fast & free.
The most valuable thing anyone in any field can have is the attention and feedback of interested people. Sometimes I shoot myself in the foot by how I ask for it, but far more often I shoot myself in the foot by not asking frequently enough or not giving people reasons to want to give me feedback.
I search for my name and words semantically related to me or things I have done about once or twice a month and often find stuff that made me wish I was searching about twice as often.
Recently I asked my friend Mike to make another SEO related tool. When I initially did I thought it would be cool for feature X, but then I realized the tool would double greatly as a Y, which could potentially have much broader use, and appeal to a wider community for different reasons (which could cheaply net me a TON of high quality inbound links).
Before it launches I may ask a few friends for feedback about it's name. When the rough beta is up I will be sure to ask for feedback on this blog about it's functionality & the like.
Philipp Lenssen recently wrote a cool blog post about meeting a tribal linguist who changed his perspective of many simple words.
I don't think that after I met this man, I was ever the same again - not when it comes to certain simple words. Nowadays when I think gratefulness would be appropriate, I think back to our conversation, and how easy it is to just say "thanks." But how hard it is to act instead of talk; to be loyal in what you do, instead of reaffirming with words. How hard it is to change your way of living, to adjust your thinking, instead of saying "I'm sorry." How hard it is to carry someone in your mind instead of saying "hello" and "good bye." How hard it is to stick to someone for the rest of your life instead of uttering the words "I love you." And yet, how much more sincere and good-hearted it might be.
Thanks to all of the people who recently gave me feedback in one way or another.
Even cooler that they grabbed the sample and used it with word sample in the background, instead of paying for a non sample. www.seoscene.com
When you work dirt cheap clients work much harder to rip you off.
As time passes more and more content is developed to emulate other content which ranks well or is widely scene. While on some fronts it may compete it also probably offers a cheap marketing channel so long as there isn't much click fraud there.
When you are new to the web you have to start somewhere, but it is usually better to be overly simplistic and plain than to emulate the design of someone in the exact same field as you.
Admitidly I am a big fan of the buy a logo and slap it on a somewhat defaultish template style of design...unless you are designing a site selling web design services, but the word sample in the background is cheesy and the logo does not do much to add credibility to their site.
So it is a bit hard to navigate the internet marketing front without stepping on a few people's toes. Sometimes when other people step on your toes they do not realize it or do not care. Those people are usually the quickest and most easly offended people when you do things that invade their territory.
Truth be told I always wanted to create the ultimate link analysis tool. A while ago I thought ThreadWatch was going to do it, but that idea - for one reason or another - fell through. Later down the road a person contacted me with a pre beta type version of Backlink Analyzer, and offered to sell it to me for $1,200, which is not a lot of cash.
I had a few friends look at it, and they said it looked decent. Almost everyone noted how much quicker it was than other related software on the market.
I bought it and have been working with the programmers to add and remove features such that it would hopefully remain useful while being search engine friendly, which has costed me a few thousand more. By the time it is fully where it needs to be it may likely end up costing somewhere into 5 figures.
That is a lot to pay to develop free software that does not have a revenue stream, but my goal is to help new webmasters be able to compete with larger established players. A large part of that business model is going to be referencing cool stuff, creating cool stuff, & giving stuff away, and hoping that out of it good karma sorta comes back and helps me on the marketing front. In many ways it has - perhaps even more than I deserve.
I think the single most important part about creating stuff is that it gives you an excuse or reasoning to create original content around the tools or ideas. So many of the channels are just "blah said blah" and at times I often feel like I am letting myself do that. It is really easy to do too, especially when you got guys like Gary Price, NickW, and Danny Sullivan digging up so much good stuff.
The biggest cost in developing such software is time though, as you have to go back and forth a number of times to get exactly what you are looking for, and then if you get any serious distribution you have the potential customer support issues.
I remember when SEO Elite first started out. It went by the name of Link Proctor. I was one of the first people who gave Brad Callen a ton of feedback to make his software better, even telling him to change the name and features to add. Over time it got better, but the marketing got more and more aggressive.
His software essentially cloned OptiLink, but with a few added features and much more aggressive marketing.
I eventually wrote a mini guide for him, which I sold him the rights to package with his software. Later while looking at his sales letter I noticed that he put $79 as the suggested value of that bonus . Not so surprisingly that is the exact price I sell my full ebook for. He later changed that price after I told him how bad it pissed me off, but it was no accident that he marketed my free bonus as "newly released" and at "$79". He knew what he was doing. Stepping on my toes.
If people asked on a forum he would tell them that my ebook has broader coverage, but he was driving a ton of traffic at his sales letter, and it clearly led people to assume my ebook was a throw in.
I still get tons and tons of emails from people asking for free product support for his software or my ebook that comes with it. Even today I had some.
That is surely a valuable lesson in branding. Giving away a similar product to your main revenue stream on another channel for a one time fee or additional exposure can be an exceptionally bad call for branding purposes. Dumb dumb dumb.
Recently Brad sent me an email thanking me for "undercutting someone that's been more than kind to you. Anyway, just a little hurt that you would try to purposely undercut my means of earning a living."
I don't consider some of the marketing methods he was using as being more than kind to me.
What did he think he was doing to OptiLink when he cloned their software and marketed it aggressively? I bet that "undercut someone's means of earning a living."
What did he think he was doing when he put a $79 price point on the guide I wrote for him? I bet that "undercut someone's means of earning a living."
What did he think he was doing when he put a banner on SEO Chat offering a free SEO Book to all SEO Chat members? With the banner using similar colors to my site no less? I bet that "undercut someone's means of earning a living."
What did he think he was doing when he created a free SEO Book for affiliates which allowed them to insert their affiliate ID number into the book? When combined with the above I bet that "undercut someone's means of earning a living."
In the past he also wanted me to give his software home page advertising on my blog in exchange for higher affiliate comission or ads on more static websites he ownes.
The thing is, should I have been able to create faster software than that was on the market for only a few grand? Were the people selling the leading software holding up their end of the bargain?
Does the software automate your ability to cash checks? Some does, but most link analysis software just saves you time...it does not fully automate the process. Are the sales letter claims that the software creaters do not spend a dime on advertising true? Probably not. Especially if they sometimes complain about how expensive certain ads are. Are the claims to get hundreds of free links in under 10 minutes honest?
I could have launched the $1,200 version and it would have been better than many of the other programs, the only thing that stopped me from doing that is that I did not want to get banned by Google for scraping PageRank.
This is in no way a hate post toward Brad. He and I chatted a good bit in the past, and I think he generally is a smart marketer.
I always wanted to create killer free link software (see Link Harvester or Hub Finder), but the low cost of Backlink Analyzer combined with Brad's SEO Books should be free marketing made creating more and better link software a no brainer.
I know there isn't much point duplicating the existing webmaster
forums out there, but if you are going to offer tools, a support forum
is probably a good idea.
It may also be a good accompanyment to your blog, adding space for
discussion and creating a broarder landscape for your sites.
Anyway, I'm sure you would have considered it in the past... just a
prompt to consider it again today.
In the past I debated the idea of a forum, but many of my friends have told me bad call bad call bad call.
So do you think I should start a forum or not? What is the best way to efficiently answer questions related to the tools? Forums? Make an FAQ page? Both?
The problems with forums are:
even if they start off great eventually they lose their appeal to some extent.
the bigger they grow the more of a problem management is.
they are exceptionally time consuming & can cut into my ability to have time to learn other things.
I am not exceptionally even keeled. Sometimes I like to work hard and other times I like to take a break, plus I go away from home somewhat often now.
I really need to become more physically active, and I don't see running forums helping that any.
even if I started a small one just for tools I am sure it would eventually widen out, as that is what happened to Shawn, although he did it in a manner where he does not need to spend much time on moderation.
You can get sued for anonymous comments that occur on chat boards. More on that later today.
although sometimes I have grand ambitions I am not sure forums work profitably unless they have an amazingly huge reach, and I am not sure if I am that ambitious.
The positives of running a forum:
it would make it easy to launch new items / ideas / software projects.
it could help teach me more about social interaction
so far today I have probably answered about 200 emails. there is no archive of that information, although if it were on a forum all that information would be reusable and able to help more people.
If I was making enough money from advertising I could change my business model & potentially be able to afford giving my ebook away. But then again if I put a price of $0 on it that is exactly what some people would value it at: as being worthless.
I have learned a lot from SEO forums, but I have also got to do IM chat with people like Dan Thies and NFFC. The biggest complaints with forums are noise, and learning everything in such small chunks that you view them out of proportion. Getting to listen to guys like NFFC or Dan Thies in an IM conversation it really helps you step back and view things from a broader perspective.
So I get a ton of emails from people offering to rank my website for me. Usually I delete them, but sometimes I reply, asking if they also offer email spamming solutions.
I think the word solutions makes them think I am serious. Sometimes changing or adding one word makes a big difference. Most of them think I am serious and try to sell to the lead. Some manually follow up multiple times. Most of them use a phrase like high volume email deployers. Funny.