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

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?


But they will have worse rankings than you do!

Ryan Deiss Perpetual Traffic Formula Review

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.

I don't mind when the get rich quick market work their core market, as there is a group of weak minded individuals who are addicted to buying that stuff. But I always get pissed off when someone claims that your field is trash or a scam (as an angle to sell something else), and then they later start trying to paint themselves as an expert in your field.

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."

You don't have to be an expert to create an info-product!

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.

Blekko Cozy Up to Webmasters, Offers Killer SEO Data Free

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 Search Engine.

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

They are also following the Jason Callus-Anus strategy of anti-SEO marketing (while giving SEOs tons of free data)

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.

Blekko goes one further than the traditional sense of "open" for their launch. They not only give you the traditional open strategy:

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

What Creates Digital Ghettos?

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.

The free tool you use is using you as a free tool.

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.

YouTube intentionally violated copyright because they figured someone else would get stuck eating the $100 million legal bill.

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.

The network that was on top of the world seemingly only yesterday is today's digital ghetto.

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.

I Like it, I Love it, I Want Some More of It

In information retrieval some words are powerful / potent. They are really descriptive and get right to the point of what someone is looking for. Other words have little to no value. The reason the concept of stop words came about is that you really couldn't tell much about a document by it including words like a, an, the, and, are, etc. The flip side of stop words are words which have a high discrimination value. Recently I was searching to see if there was a FedEx office in the town where my mom lives, and in spite of there not being one, Google still returned multiple pages (the home page and the store locator page) from the FedEx.com website in the search results. That was a great search result, and Google was smart to place more weight on the core concept word in the search (FedEx) while placing less weight on the location.

Words which have a low discrimination value may have a higher discrimination value when combined with neighboring words. Hot and dog might have a different meaning when they are next to each other. As explained in this Wired article:

Take, for instance, the way Google’s engine learns which words are synonyms. “We discovered a nifty thing very early on,” Singhal says. “People change words in their queries. So someone would say, ‘pictures of dogs,’ and then they’d say, ‘pictures of puppies.’ So that told us that maybe ‘dogs’ and ‘puppies’ were interchangeable. We also learned that when you boil water, it’s hot water. We were relearning semantics from humans, and that was a great advance.”

But there were obstacles. Google’s synonym system understood that a dog was similar to a puppy and that boiling water was hot. But it also concluded that a hot dog was the same as a boiling puppy. The problem was fixed in late 2002 by a breakthrough based on philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein’s theories about how words are defined by context. As Google crawled and archived billions of documents and Web pages, it analyzed what words were close to each other. “Hot dog” would be found in searches that also contained “bread” and “mustard” and “baseball games” — not poached pooches. That helped the algorithm understand what “hot dog” — and millions of other terms — meant. “Today, if you type ‘Gandhi bio,’ we know that bio means biography,” Singhal says. “And if you type ‘bio warfare,’ it means biological.”

The concept of discrimination value also has value outside of search. If you get feedback from an anonymous person on a third party site it gets so much weight (maybe none). If you get feedback from someone who is not anonymous it gets more weight. If you get feedback from a paying customer it gets much more weight. One of the most powerful levels of discrimination is indeed payment. If a person pays you the (typically) you know who they are & they have expressed significant interest beyond what most people will do.

I think online business models which require payment from the typical user are not hyped and are not considered sexy because those sorts of models are often slow growth due to the penny gap and the requirement of greater trust to convert. Whereas a programming marketer can hear of a new network (say Pippers) and create 40,000 bogus accounts in an hour. The owners of Pippers can then talk about their explosive growth rate in the media, which earns them media coverage. In turn this increases their ability to raise capital and continue their "growth."

But many of the social networks end up being a bag of smoke that will fade because they aim to bucket people as beings in a database and are so broad as to have little discrimination value. I have been reading You Are Not a Gadget and he compared the depersonalization on the broad social networks to the beauty of an oud forum he is a member of. Much like charging for admission, obscurity is a filter which improves the level of discourse.

Compare the comments on *any* niche topic site to what you find on Youtube. If you can show me a site which is consistently worse than Youtube (outside of site like 4Chan which specialize in creating campaigns to try to make epileptic people have a seizure) I will buy you a beer then next time we meet. :D

My wife deleted her FaceBook account because she was annoyed at some people's behavior on it. Part of the problem with the social networks is that they are so broad and so frictionless that your activities on them really don't matter. As a marketer there are a couple ways to play such networks

  • largely ignore them
  • be friends with everyone
  • use bots

As a marketer the first of those options means you are saving your time for higher paying areas, and the second of those options means more people seeing more distribution of whatever content you create. But many of the helpful aids are at best dubious short term opportunistic ploys. The third option means you are one of the people who is going out of their way to make the web worse, but many will. ;)

Generally any given month I haven't been on Facebook for more than 5 minutes outside of writing & targeting ads, or approving a few real "friends" and hundreds to thousands of other people who claim to be my friend. But if you message me on FaceBook there is a precisely 0% chance of getting a reply. :)

When FaceBook launched Beacon a few years ago they wanted to sell peer pressure as an ad unit. If brands can show that your friends did something then maybe that can help lead to a cumulative advantage sort of environment which has you follow along. Beacon was such a flagrant violation of user privacy that it was quickly shot down by the market. But with the new FaceBook like button, they are trying to use like button clicks to put your name on ads:

"Marketers have always known that the best way to sell something is to get your friends to sell it," says Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer. "That is what people do all day on Facebook. We enable effective word-of-mouth advertising at scale for the first time."

In the short run it may work, but in the longrun I don't like the concept. The reasons are many.

  • You can agree with one particular thing a person says and like it while being nearly diametrically opposed to their general philosophy on life. For example, when we launched that "How Google Works" infographic last week one of the reporters who wrote about it also mentioned how sleazy and nefarious the SEO industry is, and yet he was willing to promote the efforts of an SEO because it was published on a blog with a sister acronym in the domain name. :D ... Of the 3,000+ people who voted for us likely less than half of them know anything about me, or even my association with the site.
  • You can like one product from a company, but not like their other products. I have worked with GoDaddy as a registrar for years. And I have had no complaints on that front. But they also sell some search engine submission service that I would cringe to see my name promoting.
  • You click the like button once on one page. Years later the business you liked is trading in another area...they moved from remnant inventory to spyware, and you recommend them. ;)
  • An individual can have multiple lines of work. You might like Thom Yorke's role in Radiohead, but you might not like his political views or his solo work.
  • Imagine when someone buys a car that you passively recommended which has a manufacturer defect. One of their loved ones gets killed and you eat the blame.
  • Just like businesses, people change over time. This is especially true in the area of business, where a former partner or friend goes out of their way to betray your trust and screw you.
  • How do likes work with 301 redirects? How do they work when the content of the page shifts from genuinely useful to hawking trash with a hyped up sales letter?

A like doesn't have much discrimination value. And it shouldn't last very long. Why did you like something? When did you like it? Who knows.

Did you like Toyota right up until the brakes didn't work? After you get out of the hospital, how do you feel when your friend asks you why you are still promoting their products? Did you work for a digital sharecropper overlord like Jason Calacanas who required you to push their junk elsewhere? How did you feel when your friend asks you why you are promoting his trash after he canned you with 1 week notice while boasting how they are nearing break-even and have over 8 years of cash in the bank?

Once people experience that will they become jaded and stop recommending things?

And if there isn't a backlash against the like button then given enough time one of your friends will like almost anything. It doesn't matter the product/service/offer ... if your pool of "friends" is wide enough then one of them is receiving an affiliate commission for pushing something, one of them owed a favor to the merchant, and one of them liked the merchant because they picked up a tab in the bar last month.

A wave of 100 million blond hair 18 year old girls who are lonely have joined FaceBook friending up with the desperate and then promoting scammy wares to them via automated clicks of the like button. And then of course there will be services like SpikeTheVote.

Sure a fad might work in the short run, but given enough time and there will be friend recommendations for almost anything. Once the novelty wears of does any of it matter?

In time any database record can be an ad targeting mechanism. Will I be promoting some of the products my thousands of "friends" create or endorse by a click of the mouse which changes purpose after the fact?

At first online petitions were powerful because they seemed to have mobilized swaths of people. But then people realized that a vote represented nothing more than an automated form submission and clicking send. 2 clicks of the mouse. Not much discrimination value.

Excessive Worry About Competition

Excessive Worrying = Missed Opportunities

Do you worry too much about who you are competing against? Do you feel competitive research leads to many more "move on please" rather than "let's go!" types of outcomes? Believe it or not, it may be a good sign.

Competition is usually a good thing, it means something is worth fighting for. A lot of hucksters try to push ways to "Uncover hidden markets that nobody else knows about, that you can make millions from with little effort, and that is yours for just $47."

Here is the problem with lots of opportunity and 0 competition: businesses follow the money and shorten the supply chain. If an ad market is ripe it means that some of those advertisers are also going to be publishers in the same darn market, targeting the same darn keywords. So if there is big money there will be competition. It is unavoidable.

It isn't so much that specific niches are glossed over, but more to do with the fact that the bigger a site gets and the more keywords it targets the less time it has to focus on optimization at a granular level. These kinds of sites leave the door open for you to come in and attack some of their profitable keywords by creating niche sites around those topics.

Consider that our competitive research tool shows a site like ehow.com coming in with 2,948,950 organic keywords they are ranking for in the top 20 (our tool is powered by SEM Rush). Lots of opportunity there!

However, if you are interested in your public-facing status then chasing the long tail of a large site may not be the sexiest thing in the world to you. If you are more interested in profiting from your efforts versus tooting your own horn then what should matter is how you can maximize profits while keeping expenses low.

Certainly I'm not advocating that you only focus on niche keywords. If you have the resources then you can go after just about anything you want. In either scenario, long-tail plays or broad keyword plays, there should be less worry about who your competition is and more focus on what their weaknesses are, and how you can beat them.

There is an intimidation factor that is at play in just about every situation where competition exists:

  • Business
  • Sports
  • Personal Relationships

Much of that intimidation is perceived by the underdog or the new competitor. The following points are worth keeping in mind:

  • The best team is not unbeatable
  • The biggest site is not strongly optimized for all their keywords
  • The girl or guy you are quite fond of is actually approachable

Many of the competitors at the top of the heap are there for a reason, they're good. However, it doesn't mean they are invincible or beyond reproach. In fact it's quite the opposite. Some of the upper echelon sites in your market likely have become lazy or so big that can no longer reasonably go all out on all their profitable keywords. There are no shortage of tools out there that can help you find potential keywords for your sites by looking at profitable keywords of a competitor's site.

You can't win every battle you fight but if you win more than you lose then you are on the right track. Competing, in and of itself, is not going to mortally wound you if you lose :-). Look at is as a learning lesson.

  • What could you have done better?
  • Where could you have pushed harder?
  • Do you need to rethink how you view potential opportunities?

The great thing about SEO is that (providing you don't torch the site) there is no 4th quarter, final set, TKO, or bottom of the ninth. Your timing for failing is based on when you think it's a good time to pullout and move on to another site or use a new approach. The effective holding cost for a paused project is ~ $0. And who knows, maybe a future algorithmic update or another search engine will take a liking to your site. As long as you have analytics installed you are passively collecting market data - not a bad deal.

Google can be the referee that makes a horrible call which ends the game but more often than not you get to be the decider of when to push and when to pull.

So rather than worrying about your competition you are better off tracking your competition and figuring out where they are outperforming you. I like to keep a running log of ideas and processes that my competitors are implementing along with notes on where I think they are weak and how they could do what they are doing more efficiently.

Armed with that information, along with your findings with free tools like SEO For Firefox, you can start in on a thorough review of your competition and the feasibility of competing against them. Some core items you'll want to consider are:

  • Number of backlinks from unique domains (don't be *wowed* by the total link count)
  • Anchor text distribution of external links
  • Domain age, relative to when the site went live (with a few links)
  • Presence of the site in some of the better directories like Yahoo! and Business.Com
  • .Edu Links
  • .Gov Links
  • Is the exact match ranking?
  • Is it all big brands?
  • Are there lots of interior pages ranking?
  • The on-page optimization of the site/page
  • PageRank
  • and so on...

There are a number of tools available which can help you find weak spots in areas where your competition is possibly profitable and where potential opportunities exist for you. We did a review of the following spy tools :

We outlined a competitive intelligence strategy recently in addition to having quite a bit of killer tips and posts in the competitive research threads inside the forums.

So while you shouldn't ignore the competition completely you shouldn't be consumed by it, particularly if it's just a few metrics that you find daunting. There are enough tools out there where you can try and clone most of their best strategies but at some point you will have to go beyond what they are doing.

Studying a competitor's on and off page strategies, then finding ways to exploit weaknesses and build on strengths, will produce a better ROI for your business rather than searching for "The Fountain of No Competition" promised by that really nice internet marketing fellow you got that email from :-).

And SEO is just one phase of your analysis. Does everyone have the same business model? Are there other options? Do they all have similar site structures? Are they so inspired by one another that they are missing huge market segments?

Building a Business by Focusing on Angry Overly Important Individuals?

I just read a WSJ article about how some hotel chains are trying to woo people leaving negative remarks publicly about their brand.

'I Hate My Room,' The Traveler Tweeted. Ka-Boom! An Upgrade!

Generally speaking, the idea is crap.

In essence they are spending resources trying to make the most unsatisfied segment of their market happy, and rewarding people for trashing their brands with free upgrades & other perks. And so it teaches more people to complain & to find arbitrary things to complain about. Hence the friendly article offering the tip on how to get free room upgrades, with tips like: "Have a lot of online friends or followers. Hotels will pay more attention to your requests."

Hey Ritz-Carlton & Shangri La ... we have 10,000's of readers and you suck! Please save my complimentary upgrades for the next time I am in town. :D

Does anybody think those leading brands got to where they are by tracking complaints on Twitter? The customers who have complaints actually worth listening to will probably give it to you directly rather than Tweeting it.

The people who are unhappy are often the type of people who shop by price and have 0 brand loyalty. And no matter what you do it is never enough. About two days after opening up our membership site (nearly 2 years ago) I got a phone call while on the road by someone who couldn't figure out how to log in. I pointed out where it was. That wasn't good enough. I spent about 6 hours digging through the PHP to try to make the login even more intuitive for them. The next day they asked for a refund because I didn't provide 24/7 phone support. The login wasn't the problem. It was just a handy excuse. The problem was that they were cheap and nothing was going to be good enough for them. And just to put a bit more salt in the wounds, about a week later someone else complained about how the login was changed. FAIL! :D

Since then we have increased our price 200% (as we have added more tools, more staff, and the value of my time keeps going up every day) and we still have many people who are happy as longterm customers at a higher price point. In fact when some people accidentally cancel their account I can get 3 to 5 emails in an 8 hour period when I sleep because they miss the site that much.

But there is the opposite end of the spectrum as well: potential "customers" who demand a free trial, beg for aggressive discounts, or have 50 "one more question" questions before joining. They probably are not sold enough on the solution to be worth the effort of selling to. No matter what you offer them its probably not going to be enough. Their lack of internal value is reflected into their perception of the works of others, and if they buy from you without being sold on you they will probably ask for a refund, or find a way to be abusive to make you want to can them.

In our support suite many non-paying non-customers mark their messages as critical. Whereas the people who are paying customers use a less extreme level, like normal. The levels that people can select are almost a filtering mechanism. Have you spent $0 with us & you mark your issue as critical & you use caps lock & rude slurs? Shift-delete.

I didn't intentionally plan it, but our old programmer even built another filter into our business model. The people who join and then cancel right away get locked out right away. We then send them refunds, but this level of filtering filters out a major type of potentially abusive customer. The type who generally won't read or research but will ask 5 different questions 8 different ways each every single day until they have annoyed your members so much that you are forced to boot them to lessen the noise. The person who makes over 100 posts in their first 2 days isn't taking any time to read or listen or implement, so they would just harm your community without getting any value out of it.

This leads to my theory of filtering: if a person needs lots of support becoming a customer (or before they become a customer) then they probably are not going to become a good customer. And if you take them on as a customer (or spend any money pushing in that direction) you will probably lose money.

The person who sends me an enraged email about "why should I install Firefox" just wasted 5 seconds of my life & will never spend a penny with me. And that is fine.

Many of the best companies aim to be polarizing. They pick their spots and define what they do, and work hard to make that market segment happy. That is how Steve Jobs views flash, and it is how Marc Andreessen likes to invest.

Find out what people smarter than you are doing and find a way to incorporate those themes into your business strategy. The smaller you are the more polarizing you can be, because you don't have to create something that feeds thousands of employees to be profitable.

You could spend every day trying to make any unhappy person happy with your offering.

... OR ...

What if you took those same resources that were spent trying to appease the angry and spent them on making those who are happy that much happier? Does the free upgrade go further when it is given to an enraged steroid addicted customer, or does it go further when given to someone who has stayed with your hotel multiple times in the past? Where are they on this circle?

The concept to think about here is that if someone is already fairly loyal it doesn't take much more marketing or attention to make them *super* loyal. And then they spread the word.

There is a concept of fairness which is preached in school, but you should overweight your business toward your best customers.

The person who has been a paying subscriber for years is worth thousands to tens of thousands of Dollars to our future business interests.

And for clarity purposes, I agree with Chris that their can be great value in being a guide & helping people out. But angry high-maintenance people are rarely where sustainable profit margins come from (unless, of course, you are a divorce lawyer OR a PR firm who gets paid to give hotels bad advice).

From the above WSJ article's comment section

It wasn't enough. It never is. :D

Strategizer Review, Wordtracker's New Tool

Wordtracker continues to add value beyond their position as a well-respected keyword research tool provider.

Wordtracker Logo

About Strategizer

Strategizer Logo

Wordtracker's keyword toolset has long been popular for finding additional, longer tail keywords to apply to your search or PPC campaigns. Strategizer integrates with Google Analytics to incorporate your current keywords into the Strategizer tool to help you analyze groups of related keywords to determine how viable those groups are to your campaign.

Wordtracker takes the view that you should not be focusing on a single keyword, but rather "keyword niches". In the example on their site they use donuts. Essentially it's presented as

  • The single search term in the areas the marketer sells to is 2,400 per month
  • The expected click through rate is 8% as they were ranked in position 3, totaling 192 visitors per month
  • Conversion rate was pegged at 4% so the expected sales numbers would be about 8 sales a month

In Wordtracker's opinion focusing on a single keyword might be a losing effort for this marketer because the entire donut niche produces about 450,000 searches a month (chocolate donuts, glazed donuts, chocolate glazed donuts, and so on) and it will likely take him years to rank for that single keyword. So the focus with this tool is more on the long tail side of things.

Long Tail Keywords

In theory this makes sense but in some markets you can compete with less difficulty if you own the exact match domain and can scale the marketing, content, and link building with degrees of success. There are other ways to compete as well so while there is great wisdom in paying attention to the long tail of a main keyword there are some other factors to consider as well.

The most actionable keyword research data you can get generally comes from your analytics program. So a tool which can integrate with your current analytics program and expand on your profitable (or help you find more profitable) keywords is a definite win. While there can be some concern about using Google Analytics on your site (giving Google your data and such) it's hard to argue how deep and powerful their analytics program is.

Strategizer and Google

A lot of spy tools provide "keyword value" estimates based on traffic and cost-per-click figures. While that is a good barometer of how valuable a keyword might be in the eyes of a search engine, keyword data specific to your site (which factors in real traffic numbers as well as conversions) is the best way to analyze your current site architecture for expansion or improvement.

A tool like Strategizer can be quite helpful in interpreting that data and providing additional keyword options based on the keywords found in your Google Analytics program. Furthermore, mining additional keywords which are found in niches that are already converting for you (with help from Wordtracker) is really quite a win because it's real data that is almost instantly actionable.

How Strategizer Works

You need to integrate your Google Analytics account with Strategizer for the tool to work. Once you do, you'll be given report options.

Note that Wordtracker recommends having more than 20,000 non-paid search engine visits prior to processing that data (this can be a cumulative number met over months of data). In order for their niche set up and model to function correctly you do need a decent amount of data as the model is trend-based from a higher-level overview rather than a focus on individual keywords.

Here is the options page:

Strategizer Options

The time period and the country, territory, and language settings are self-explanatory. You also have the option to choose an "Advanced Segment" which can be:

  • All Visits - defined as all non-paid search engine visits
  • Default - segments in your Google Analytics account which Google has defined
  • Custom - segments in your Google Analytics account which you have specifically defined
  • Dynamic - segments which you can define as you create your Strategizer reports (this feature is not yet available)

As the third option is not yet available and there are not a ton of custom segments set up here we'll go with "Default"/"All Visits".

A Strategizer Report

A Strategizer report groups your keyword in up to 2,000 niches. The initial report looks like this:

Strategizer Full Report

The data presented is pulled from your Google Analytics keyword report and grouped into niches by the Strategizer tool. Each keyword listed in the row is the perceived main keyword for the keyword niche and the keywords that fall under a niche classification include that main keyword as part of their phrase.

So what Strategizer does is take your exact match keywords from your Google Analytics account (the actual keyword used to produce a visitor) and convert them into broader reports (niches) for all keywords containing that exact keyword found in your analytics account.

Keyword Niche Analysis in Strategizer

Before getting into how the data is presented, understanding how niches work in Strategizer is pretty important as it is the basis of the analysis going on within the tool.

The reports will not break niches down by individual keywords so having a firm grasp of how a niche is defined will help you understand and more efficiently use the tool.

*Note, a niche's name (link building in this case) is derived from an exact match keyword on your site. So in this case someone searched for link building and clicked on SeoBook.Com in the search results.

Strategizer sees the keywords that are bringing you traffic and uses that exact keyword, link building in our example, to set up a niche. Then, Strategizer pulls in broad match keywords for that keyword which brought you a visitor per Google Analytics (link building in this case) via the AdWords Keyword tool to populate the "Niche Size (Google)" Column.

To further illustrate this point, here's a look at the niche "link building":

For the niche of "link building" you are shown the following columns in the "Analysis" tab (we'll cover the other tabs in a bit):

  • Keyword Niche - the niche defined by Strategizer via an exact match keyword in your Google Analytics program.
  • Keywords - the number of keywords with the Niche Size (Google) data point that actually brought traffic to your site. So out of 665,000 searches done on broad matched variations of the keyword link building, we received at least 1 visit from 1,932 keywords.
  • Visits - total number of visits from those 1,932 keywords.
  • Niche Size (Google) - total number of searches, broad match based on the keyword that defines the niche (link building in this case) via the Google AdWords Keyword Tool.
  • % Market Share - the percentage of searchers that end up as visitors on your site, compared to the total number of searchers out there for that niche (Visits/Niche Size).
  • Bounce Rate - percentage of visits which left on the entrance page
  • Goal CR - percentage of visits that resulted in the completion of a goal
  • E-Commerce CR - percentage of visits which resulted in a e-commerce transaction
  • Per Visit Value - defined as revenue/visits

For the niche of "link building", there could be all sorts of variations within that niche as the niche size is populated by broad matched keywords from the AdWords Keyword Tool. This niche could include:

  • link building training
  • how to do link building
  • cheap link building
  • link building training program
  • link building tools
  • link building majestic seo
  • and so on...

So just to summarize:

A keyword niche is set up by an exact match keyword found in your Google Analytics report. The keywords that make up the niche are broad match keywords pulled in from the AdWords Keyword Tool

Additional Strategizer Reporting Options

Strategizer gives you 4 tabs to work with:

  • Analysis
  • Site Usage
  • Goal Conversion
  • E-commerce

The tool also offers handy, robust exporting and filtering features.

Tabbed Options

You can also select up to 5 keywords and link through to Google Insights:

Google Insights

You have the following filter options (all are "greater than or less than" except for "Keyword Niche". In "Keyword Niche" you can choose to include, exclude certain keywords or just work with the one's you've targeted by checking them off).

Filtering Options

We went over the Analysis tab earlier in the post when discussing the link building niche. The other tabs, which have a few unique metrics, are as follows:

  • Site Usage
  • Goal Conversion
  • E-commerce

Site Usage

The Site Usage tab includes a few other metrics not included in the Analysis tab and removes some data points which are not relevant to the actual usage of your site:

Site Usage Strategizer

The new data points are:

  • Pages/Visit - average number of pages viewed during a visit to your site. Repeated views of a single page are counted.
  • Avg Time on Site - average time spent on your site over the visits within that keyword niche
  • % of New Visits - percentage of visits by people who have never visited the site before

Goal Conversion

Goal Conversion

The Goal Conversion tab will show you the percentage of visits within your keyword niches which resulted in goals that you defined in your Google Analytics account.


The E-commerce tab does about exactly what you think it will do, gives you data specific to any e-commerce items you are tracking within your Google Analytics account. There are a couple of new data points here as well.

Ecommerce Tab Strategizer

Strategizer will show you:

  • E-commerce CR - percentage of visitors which resulted in an e-commerce transaction
  • Transactions - total number of transactions completed
  • Average Value - the average value of a visitor (factoring in transactions and overall visits)
  • Revenue - revenue, including tax and shipping, from e-commerce transactions
  • Per Visit Value - determined by dividing revenue by visits
(Note that our Google Analytics account didn't have this enabled, but if we would have this is one of the areas where Strategizer really sings in terms of trying to show you how much money is on the table in different keyword themes).

Targeting Options

You may only want to investigate certain keywords niches at any given point so Strategizer gives you the option to target specific niches and makes it quite easy to remove targeting and re-apply it.

So if you just want to look at a specific niche topic, take "links" for example, then you filter by niche name:

Sort by links

Click on the niche you want to target (highlights in green):

Strategizer Check Target

Then click the target button and set your filter to include niches that are targeted:

Click Target

Strategizer Filter

Pick the ones you want to target (highlighted in green) then click Target/Untarget (the targeted choices change to red):

Green Link Filter

Then you have the ones you want to evaluate:

The sorting and filtering options are quite deep which is much needed given the vast amount of data you are given to work with.

Strategizer Wrap Up

As you can see there are lots of data points to play with inside of Strategizer. Since the data is pulling right from your Google Analytics account you know that the conversion data and value data are both fairly accurate.

The sorting options can help you get a good look at keyword sets which need further investigating as to why they may or may not be performing as well as other keyword sets across all the metrics in the Strategizer tool.

Due to the tremendous amount of data available it makes sense to utilize the sorting options within the Strategizer toolset to help weed out keyword niches which are really low volume sets and could distort results. With great data comes great responsibility so it would be wise to play around with the filtering options within the tool to sort through results or metrics which might not be overly important to you.

Right now you can't drill down into specific keywords but that is a function Wordtracker is considering.

Is Strategizer Right for You?

I really like what Wordtracker is doing with this tool. Many times you might be working with tools which are just "estimates" and are usually not very accurate anyway. I would say this tool is a more than solid investment for:

  • Site owners with good amounts of traffic
  • Site owners with defined goals and conversions in Google Analytics
  • PPC folks who can mass identify strong (and weak) performing keyword sets to further investigate for their campaign structure
  • Anyone who is serious about understanding their site and site architecture
  • Someone who wants a higher level overview of how their site and site structure are performing across a variety of important metrics
  • And any site owner who wants to understand as much as they can about their site, their site's engagement, and to identify areas for increased (or decreased) attention.

Logo Part Deux

Pricing Options

Product Tour

$1 Trial

Wordstream PPC and SEO Tool Review


Another Option

Based on the negative remarks directed at Wordstream in comments on this review (about aggressive "flexible" sales techniques, long-term client contracts, etc.) & a discussion with one of our friends who manages a number of large AdWords accounts, we recommend Optimyzr, as Timmcg did below.

Modified Broad Match for the Win

Since Google added modified broad match ad targeting to AdWords, it is typically a far more efficient use of a business owner's time to manage the longtail of search with modified broad match and negative keyword targeting rather than managing thousands and thousands of low traffic terms. Using modified broad match and the desktop Google AdWords Editor makes many "optimization" features in some DIY PPC platforms obsolete. And I write this as a person who offers one of the more widely used free keyword list generators.

Finding secret uncovered keywords that no other ads are showing against? That ship has largely sailed. Really broadly matched targeting on broad match keywords guarantees most terms with significant value will have multiple bidders aggressively competing in the ad auction, with Google both carrying ads across from other related keywords and lifting floor ad prices based on the performance of related keywords.

An Example of Using Modified Broad Match

Here is an image Google shared when they first publicly unveiled modified broad match.

The beauty of modified broad match is it allows you to capture a vast array of longtail terms using just a handful of keywords. For example, if one wanted to cover longtail concepts around "keyword tools" or such one could add something like this:

  • +keyword +tool
  • +keyword +tools
  • +keyword +research
  • +keyword +programs
  • +keyword +software

The above would target thousands of different unique keyword tool related searches (like: downloadable keyword research tools, online keyword software, etc.) without requiring a person to manage thousands of independent terms. And then let's say a particular term tends to have little to no value to your business. For example, let's say people wanting "free" rarely convert to paying clients. You could then add that term as a negative match -free to block your ads from running against searches containing that term, or you could add it as a negative match to that campaign and then set up a second campaign with lower bids that doesn't block those sorts of modifiers. In such a way you could quickly capture most the cream from the longtail while blocking out the worst bits of it (or bidding significantly less for the lowest value portions), while having minimal management overhead.

So Why do People Still Pitch Huge Keyword Lists?

Some parts of search largely run without direct keyword control anymore. And those that you can easily control are far more efficient to control with tight targeting on the head and the above broad match strategy on the tail.

That leads one to ask Why were huge lists of keywords ever popular?

The Original Reason

Overture was a pioneer in paid search. Google was highly inspired by Overture when they created AdWords. In fact, Google had to give Yahoo! a bunch of their shares before the Google IPO to settle a lawsuit for violating Overture's paid search patents. Google ended up winning search by both owning distribution (while Overture relied on syndication partners) and having a more efficient ad auction. One of the reasons the Overture / Yahoo! Search Marketing ad auction was less efficient is they would put a far lower priced bid first if someone bid on a specific term and a competitor bid higher for a broad matched term.

For example, if your competitor bid $50 for web hosting and you bid 10 cents for shared asp web hosting and nobody else bid on that term, your 10 cent ad could show before the competitor's $50 ad.

This inefficiency in the Overture ad auction is part of what drove the demand for creating large lists of keywords. It is also a big part of why Yahoo! struggled to compete against Google in search. By the time this problem was fixed, Yahoo! was aleady well on their way to outsourcing their search & search ads to Microsoft.

The Current Reason People Still Promote Huge Lists of Keywords

The reason large lists of keywords which get next to no traffic remain a popular "marketing" approach (in spite of modified broad match existing) is those lists are quick to generate and they allow some people to show they are doing "lots of work" to justify management fees, even if that work is of marginal efficacy.

Below is our original un-revised Wordstream review from over a half-decade ago, back right around when modified broad match first launched, but before it was widely used.

Wordstream Review

Wordstream Logo

Wordstream is a suite of online marketing tools which cover Keyword Research and Management for PPC and SEO Campaigns. They also offer a Firefox plug-in which we'll cover in a bit. Wordstream gives you access to three free tools:

  • Free Keyword Niche Finder
  • Free Keyword Suggestion Tool
  • Free Keyword Grouper

While there are many free and paid keyword tools on the market Wordstream does offer more in the way of integration with industry leading products like Google AdWords and Google Analytics. Recently Wordstream earned the Editor's Pick award in the Google Analytics Application Gallery:

Google Marketplace Award

Wordstream's keyword data is produced via "blended" data which they acquire from multiple sources. The discuss their data sources on the FAQ section of the Free Keyword Tool. It's important to note that they do not simply pull keyword data from Google like many other "keyword research" tools do.

Both PPC and SEO campaigns can fall victim to poor organization which leads to poor site or campaign architecture which eventually leads to poor results as data becomes more and more difficult to accurately manage. Wordstream aims to aid in your keyword research, PPC campaign management, and SEO execution.

Free Tools

Free Keyword Niche Finder

Keyword Niche Finder

The Keyword Niche Finder attempts to find niches of a core keyword. In this example I chose insurance. Usually, I've had better results with this tool by using really broad keywords. The longer you get into the tail the less associations the tool can perform hence the less niches available for you to analyze. Keyword Niche FInder Insurance Results

You can choose to have the niches emailed to you (you'll get a zip file of all the niches shown on the screen, not all the available ones so be sure you've got the ones you want, and they come as separate .csv's within the .zip) and you can get started sorting through the niches shown to get an idea of what part of the insurance market you may want to pursue. Let's say I'm not interested in travel insurance. So I click the X to get rid of that and another niche pops up, "uk" insurance. Note the number of niches has gone down and I'm left with a new niche to evaluate, "UK", within the insurance market.

Keyword Niche FInder Arrows

So after sorting through the available niches I've narrowed it down to the following niches:

Keyword Niche Finder Trimmed

So I've decided to pursue the life insurance market so I click on the bucket and I'm shown 774 keywords for that niche. As you can see, there is a filtering option but that is available to paid subscribers. Relative frequency refers to their "blended data" approach meaning the term life insurance quote typically is searched more often than life insurance exam in aggregate.

If this is the only niche you want to target simply remove the other niches and request the emailed .csv (need to leave at least 2 active niches for export though). This way you'll receive the keywords you want for further processing in whatever spreadsheet application you use. This tool is somewhat limited as it is a free tool but it can be a pretty useful way to get a broad view of niches available in a specific market when first starting out.

Plus, it's a pretty slick way to bounce back and forth between different niches without having to re-query a keyword tool every time you want to look at a different market.

Free Keyword Grouper

Keyword Grouper

Wordstream's Keyword Grouper tool where you can enter up to 10,000 keywords and have Wordstream group them by category and word/modifier association.

This tool can be quite useful when you pull data from something like your web analytics or PPC programs and receive a variety of new keywords back. The Keyword Grouper tool will group using modifiers (cheap, free, buy, etc) which helps you identify new market segments or new keywords you may have been missing out on initially.

I think the idea behind the tool is solid but I also think you'd want to spend some time going through your own results to further refine your data. The following screen shot was produced after entering the following data:

  • home insurance 88
  • auto insurance 39
  • home insurance company 33
  • auto insurance quote 28
Keyword Grouping Results

The groupings are mostly sensible and they also filtered in some modifiers that I didn't originally include but ones that I know are valuable in this industry. Aligning your keywords to your site's structure is always a good idea when doing SEO and this tool can help a bit in that area. The tool (free) is not perfect but it does provide useful, actionable data.

Wordstream put out a helpful Keyword Grouping white paper as well.


Free Keyword Tool

Free Keyword Tool

Wordstream's Free Keyword Tool does exactly what you would expect it to, it gives you keyword data. Their "blended" method of aggregating data can be found here.

My Favorite Feature

When you export the keywords you are given the top 10,000 sorted from the highest relative frequency to the lowest! Car insurance returned over 45k results and I am now able, for free, to download the top 10k keywords in order of search volume. This is a killer feature for any keyword tool, much less a free one. Consider that:

  • Wordtracker goes up to 1k
  • Google AdWords is less than Wordtracker
  • Even some Competitive Research Tools do not offer the ability to export 10k results with sorting enabled!

Keyword Tool Results

So that about sums it up for their free tools. I personally like how Wordstream keeps feature bloat out of these tools. So many times you see these keyword tools come out and start making up their own custom metrics which at some point involve:

  • Total number of competing pages
  • Some form of KEI
  • Some made up metric to distract you from the fact that all they are doing is pulling data from Google and recycling it :-(

A keyword tool, which pulls data from sources other than Google, has some inherent value as we know that Google's data often has disagreements within their own tools so it's important to have one or three third party sources of data.

Paid Tools

Wordstream's toolset is broken down into 4 groups of tools:

  1. Discover Keywords
  2. Manage Keywords
  3. Create PPC Campaigns
  4. Create SEO Content

Discover Keywords

Keyword Suggestion Tool

A simple keyword tool where you enter your desired keywords and get up to 10,000 results for your search. Wordstream also provides an area where they suggest related words and synonyms which you can easily add to your keyword search by clicking the check mark adjacent to the modifier.

The keyword results section offers up your selected results with the following options pertaining to how deep your results will go:

  • 15
  • 50
  • 100
  • 200
  • 500
  • 1,000
  • 5,000
  • 10,000

Keyword Suggestion Tool DW

From here you can whittle down to the keywords you want to add to your campaign (you can add these keywords to your Wordstream database from inside the tool).

The speed and depth at which these keywords are returned at are both very impressive compared to other keyword tools.

Spy on the Competition Tool

Similar to how the Google AdWords Keyword Tool operates, you can place a URL + check all the pages on a website or just a specific page in the search bar and get keywords relevant to whatever site/page you searched on.

Wordstream Spy Tool

Where I think this tool falls short is in the categorization data that the AdWords tool returns when you place a URL in their search box. The AdWords tool basically gives you a nice head start into potential site structure options via how they break down the categories and keywords within a URL that you search on. You can use Wordstream's organization capabilities after you are done adding the keywords into your database but I think having the initial breakdown that AdWords provides is slick and something Wordstream may want to consider as they continue to develop their toolset.

Enable Continuous Keyword Discovery

In a world filled with buzzwords used simply to sell you on recycled products or feature bloat you may look at this as say "riiiiiight". However, this is actually a unique point of differentiation between Wordstream and every other keyword tool on the market.

Continous Keyword Discovery

This tool gives your Wordstream keyword database real time access into keywords that are bringing you traffic from either your Google Analytics account or, if you don't use Google Analytics, a custom Wordstream tracking code you can embed on your website.

If you make the decision to utilize Wordstream to manage your keyword database then this is a killer feature. No other keyword tool offers such a feature, that I'm aware of anyway. So if you are not overly interested in combing through your analytics reports frequently in order to find additional keywords to target, then this feature will be beneficial to you as the new keywords automatically pop up into your Wordstream database.

It's also useful for transitioning these keywords into a PPC campaign you may be managing in Wordstream either as a new keyword to bid on *or* as a negative keyword. So this tool is also handy for being a negative keyword finder as well.

Other Ways to Import Keywords

Wordstream allows you to copy and paste keywords into your account and initially tag them as either "Paid", "Organic", or "Suggested" keyword sources.

Copy and Paste Keywords

You can also download a tool which analyzes your web server logs for keywords

Server Log Keywords

You can also upload a CSV or TSV file...

Upload CSV/TSV

So those are the ways you can initially find and upload keywords with Wordstream. The second function of Wordstream's workflow is actually managing those keywords.

Manage Keywords

Wordstream puts out three options for keyword management:

  1. Organize Keywords
  2. Find Negatives
  3. Prioritize Workflow

Organize Keywords

At first glance it seems a bit overwhelming, but it's not. You have the following features/options available to you:

  • Automated keyword grouping suggestions on the left side, which you can accept, show, hide, or decline
  • Keywords in your campaign sorted by paid, organic, or suggested (based on tagging you control), new keywords found via your analytics or AdWords tie in, date filtering options, view by keywords that are grouped and ones that are not grouped.
  • The ability to add buckets of filtered keywords to a PPC campaign
  • The ability to use their new SEO Content feature to tie into your CMS and create content for a specific keyword
  • Goals and Action data, available for customization within your settings options
  • Export keywords

Organize Keywords

Keyword Group Explorer

The Keyword Group Explorer gives you keyword grouping suggestions based on your keywords. The buckets in yellow are ones which have been accepted by the user as groups and the ones in gray have not been. You can decline the grouping by clicking the gray X or accept it by clicking the check mark. You can hide these suggestions by clicking the light bulb in the bottom of the sidebar.

keyword group explorer

So I'll investigate the puppy suggestion. I click on the suggestions and I'm shown keywords specific to puppy or puppies.

puppy grouping

This groups all the keywords containing puppy or puppies into one bucket. You can rename the group by clicking "create keyword group" in the right corner. You can also hover over any individual word in the keyword group to delete it and filter out any other keywords containing that modifier.

I renamed the group "Puppy Stuff" just to illustrate the ability to customize your groups. So back to the Keyword Group Explorer, turned off other suggestions for now and ta-da, there is Puppy Stuff.

puppy group explorer


The little arrow indicates the sub-groups Wordstream automatically created with the keywords in the Puppy Stuff bucket (I named this pretty horribly as you'll see in a second). So if you click on the arrow you'll see the sub-groups Wordstream automatically created (I should have left it as Puppy!):


Puppy Sub Groups

Similar to the main groupings you can click on the check to accept, the X to decline, or the keyword to see the keywords within that group for further grouping and refinement. Hover over a group and see the following:

Puppy Hover Stats

This gives you the top keyword in that sub-group. The stats are as follows:

  • 15.2% represents how much traffic this group could produce, saying the keywords within the puppy stuff training group accounts for 15.2% of the traffic for the main group Puppy Stuff.
  • 16.5% represents the % of keywords in this group accounting for that same percentage in the parent group Puppy Stuff. So this group has 16.5% of the keywords in the entire group.

If you right click on a group you get the following options (applies to groups and sub-groups as well)

Rollover Options

Some of these items are self-explanatory but the de-duplicate option is pretty sweet. Click on that and you'll see duplicate keywords across your groups. This is handy because it really lets you refine your lists pretty quickly and efficiently. You can choose which group to remove duplicates from:

de duplicate

Another neat feature is if you click on the jack looking icon in the keyword results you can get options to search Google Trends, the Google Search Results, Bing's xRank, and Bing's search results:

Google Bing Integration

Google Bing Search Box

You can use this method to keep creating more and more sub-groups if desired but usually 1-2 levels deep is good enough. You don't want to integrate so tightly that someone has to click 17 times to get to an article that could have been easily served on a sub-page within a top-level category.

Negative Keyword Selection

This tool allows you to search for negative keywords at the group and sub-group levels. It highlights the words that might be irrelevant to your campaign and gives you the option to accept the modifier or deny the modifier via a yes/no option. So what you are saying yes/no to is the highlighted word, not the phrase itself.

negative keywords

They also have a checkbox option which keeps potential negative keywords out of this report IF they have previously resulted in conversions (via your AdWords/analytics tie-in data).

Once you add a negative keyword in there you can choose phrase, broad, or exact match as negative keyword options. You can manually add negative keywords as well.

One option I'd like to see is "add full keyword/phrase or just highlighted modifier" rather than just adding the modifier.

They also offer a feature which tries to associate a selected negative keyword with other ones that appear in this report. So for instance, I checked off Chesapeake and hit yes, then I was presented with this:

Related Negative Keywords


Prioritize Workflow

Wordstream's products play to agency type accounts and workflow is a big part of what they offer. The Prioritize Workflow tool allows you to review workflow information at the group, sub-group, and account level.


From here you can:

  • Segment groups with no sub-groups into sub-groups
  • Associate an ad group with a keyword group
  • Associate a landing page with a keyword group or groups
  • Cleanse a group (takes you to the negative keyword tool)
  • De-duplicate groups

The columns are as follows:

  • Relevance - A custom score which is derived initially from the amount of keywords within a group and how many visits they have driven. Typically the higher the relevance the more important the group to your traffic levels.
  • Visits - Total number of visits per group of keywords
  • Keywords - Total number of keywords within a group
  • Group Size - If you get the triangle it means you've exceed the group size you set (or was set by default) in the Wordstream Settings panel which is found under the Settings Tab - Wordstream Settings
  • AdWords/Landing Pages - Shows whether or not a group is associated with a landing page or an AdWords account
  • Filthiness - Shows (based on settings that can be modified in Settings - Wordstream Settings) if you've exceed limits set for negative keyword candidates as a percentage of the keyword group.

The Relevance field has some customization options:

Keyword relevancy

So you can play with this a bit and throw in goals and value of goals as variables as to show which groups are not only driving the most traffic, but are also producing the most goals. Usually you'll find custom keyword performance metrics are not so great because they don't use any relevant data. Here though, Wordstream is using 3 of the most relevant pieces of data when it comes to keywords and keyword importance

  • Actual Traffic
  • Actual Conversions
  • Value of Conversions

That was an overview of what Wordstream can do for finding and managing your keywords both on the paid search and organic search side. The third piece of Wordstream's suite of tools is the PPC Campaign Management option.

PPC Campaign Management

Wordstream's Create PPC Campaign tab takes you right into a nice, clean (dare I say Google like) interface. Here you can pretty much do everything you can do with the AdWords Editor.

You can do all of the following here:

  • Download an existing campaign
  • Create a new campaign (for uploading or exporting later)
  • Set your campaign name
  • Set your campaign budget
  • Adjust your campaign status
  • Choose Search and/or Content Network
  • Work with Content Network bids
  • Set a start and end date
  • Work with language and location targeting
  • Assign ad groups to campaigns
  • Interface with Google's Conversion Optimizer

Moving Keyword Groups to Ad Groups

It is very easy to move one of your existing Wordstream Keyword Groups into Ad Groups. All you need to do is go to Manage Keywords - Organize Keywords right click on the ad group (we'll go with Puppy Stuff) and select "Create Google AdWords Ad Group"

keyword group adwords group integration

Then you are brought to a screen where you select the campaign you want to add it to:

Create Ad Group

Then the group is added to the Create PPC Campaign interface where you can work with just about everything you are use to working with within AdWords.

Currently you can only work directly with the AdWords interface but you can export your campaigns in both Yahoo and Microsoft AdCenter format.

Landing Page Assignment

In the same way you export Keyword Groups to AdWords AdGroups you can associate landing pages by simply clicking "Associate Landing Page with Keyword Group" in the Manage My Keywords - Organize Keywords area or in the Prioritize Workflow Area.

Adding Conversion Goals

If you tie into Google Analytics this is already added automatically added (each time you add a Goal to analytics).

Conversion goals

You can manage them here and add ones manually. This is managed in the Settings - Conversion Goals tab.

So this feature is pretty sweet on the SEO side of the house because with that custom Relevancy data we discussed earlier you can get a real, honest picture of which set of keywords are performing well and perhaps where more sub-groups of that keyword need to be investigated for more content and hopefully more conversions.

The goals can be viewed right in the Organize Keywords area and keywords can be sorted by completed goals which is handy when you are refining your campaign.

So this is really another piece of their unique feature which we talked about earlier, Continuous Keyword Research. If you choose to manage your campaign within Wordstream it is really a slick set up for SEO (and PPC) and they are looking to beef up the SEO side of things in the near future which is exciting.

Create SEO Content and Wordstream Firefox Plug in

seo firefox

Wordstream's Create SEO Content feature within your account is a tie in with the Firefox Plug-in. The plug-in is really useful if you utilize blog software for web publishing and especially if you have multiple content authors.

The firefox plug-in loads in the left side of your browser and ties into your existing Wordstream database giving you the option to do keyword research as well as create blog entries right from the plug-in in either:

  • Wordpress
  • Blogger
  • Drupal
  • Typepad

If you are self-hosting the blogs/sites on WP, Drupal, or Typepad you'll have to provide your login URL and the URL for adding content. You can use your own CMS as well, but you'll need to manually log in to these CMS's/Blogs.

The image below shows you how the keywords are presented (in groups similar to the Wordstream tool), the content tie-in to the right, and the keyword options on the bottom:

  • Top Ten Keywords
  • Longer Tail Variations
  • Questions associated with your selected bucket

Seo Plug-in Overview

And when you are writing your content the tool will show you instances of the longer tail keywords in your copy as you write it!

Seo Plug In Content Creator

In the first image the second tab shows "My Keywords". This is the tie in to the existing Wordstream database (your private database) and allows you to start building out your site structure, pretty cool stuff. The "associate content" link indicates that you have not associated a page with your keyword(s).

You can also right click on any keyword and get direct access to the following queries:

Search Features


I stole these images from Wordstream's great piece on their plug-in as they do a great job of showing the CMS integration:

Wordstream's Firefox Plug-in

A Handy Dashboard Ties it Together

In your account you have access to a dashboard that shows the following stats in one spot:

  • Top New Search Queries (from Analytics)
  • My Search Query Database Size
  • New Negative Keyword Possibilites
  • Best Performing Search Queries
  • Search Query Conversions
  • Possible Grouping Options Based on Queries
  • Worst Performing Queries
  • Best Performing Groups


Great Wordstream resources can be found here:

About Wordstream

Wordstream User Guide

So What Do You Think?

Wordstream certainly has lots and lots of features as well as some nice features not present in any other quality keyword tool (that I'm aware of) such as:

  • Continuous research (being able to bounce from keyword set to keyword set right in the same interface and managing those keywords as well)
  • Being able to research keywords in clusters/groups with a click of the mouse, then automatically showing sub-categories
  • Their database, likely because it pulls from many sources, does a solid job with long tail keywords
  • Using your analytics and AdWords reports to automatically pull in new keywords for you to act on, to track goals on, and so forth is a fantastic feature as we discussed earlier (being able to truly see the more valuable keyword sets within your site's architecture)

Overall Wordstream has a robust PPC offering along with a strong SEO toolset offering. In discussing their future plans on the SEO side they did state that they are continuing to improve their UI (which I quite like) as well as continue to add SEO features and tools to their current offering. Their current SEO offering is on par, price wise, with many of the other non-Google tools out there, and offers just as many features as some and more features than others.

They have a 7 day free trial available and I think it's worth spending some time with their toolset to see if it fits in with your current workflow. You can manage multiple sites (profiles) so long as you own and operate the sites. You can also get an agency account with Wordstream so you can manage client accounts as well. Each type lets you add multiple users to the account to assist with whatever your workflow needs happen to be.

Check Out Wordstream

Wordstream Pricing Options

SEO is a Zero Sum Game

In much the same way that people have developed banner blindness there will be an eventual blindness toward other forms of ads.

People only need to be screwed by a gem like the following about once before they lose trust in sharing *any* personal data with anybody.

The above example is a great example of the scumbag affiliate mindset. Find whatever loopholes in the law exist, and exploit them right up until they are illegal and you risk a fine. If it is profitable enough keep running it until you get fined.

The problem with such exploitative ads is that they ruin the game for everyone. And so the best networks backed by companies who intend to be around for decades typically don't want to run those nasty ads.

The alternative way to build yield is to be more efficient by knowing more. This is part of the reason Google and Facebook are trying so hard to collect as much information as possible AND give each other blowback for their efforts. If you know someone really well and have more data than anyone else then it can be quite hard for others to build a comparable yield. This is true for your own site, but is especially true in terms of creating a distributed ad network.

Distributed ad networks are quite powerful because over time the ad unit can change as personal preference and advertiser preferences change. And with each ad load the network is collecting more data, which can be used to make the network more efficient and price gouge advertisers.

Most online businesses do not aim to operate at the core infrastructural level though, and competition is even more fierce due to a lower barrier to entry. As information is shared publicly people try to clone it precisely (or, at a minimum, create heavily inspired renditions of it). The easier your business model is to clone the more expensive it is to share your information publicly. There are over 1 million AdSense publishers. With Google sharing data down to the page and keyword level that market will get pretty efficient pretty quick.

But techniques and business models can get worn out. Even ad clicks are heavily reliant on vertical and user type. Internet Explorer users have a much higher CTR than more sophisticated web users who are more aware of advertising.

In one market we sent out a few emails to relevant sites by hand and 2 of the 5 people bitched us out because another webmaster with a similar domain name had sent them about 100 emails in the last year, and wouldn't stop even when asked. The technique of investing thousands of Dollars into relevant content and then mentioning it to a few relevant people was, to some degree, killed ... at least in that vertical.

Wherever trust is placed abuse follows, and so we have what Brett Tabke eloquently described as Google's LinkLess Internet:

  • no one links honestly any more.
  • all links are suspect.
  • no one links freely any more.
  • those that do link freely are considered naive.
  • page rank is specifically worth money.
  • links are currency
  • articles that once contained great links - no longer link to story targets.

Google might care more about the damage they have done, but looking the other way has been too profitable. As Brett concluded: "Not by design, but think about this: if you click a link from Google and go to a page, and that page has no interesting off site links - then you are going to turn around and go back to Google."

When trying to organize the web there are always going to be philosophical points of view & business goals that are reflected in the relevancy algorithms. When Google was small and nimble they rooted for the little guy, embraced the affiliates who were their earliest advertisers, and claimed to be a uniquely democratic view of the web. As Google grew they realized that they were near the yield limits of direct marketing, and so they claimed brands are how you sort out the cesspool.

If you build brand you can create new search demand, but for most publishers search is a 0 sum game. For you to win somebody else loses. You are targeting the exact same existing demand as someone else is. It is certainly true for AdSense publishers and affiliates, as well as most other online publishing business models. Even offline publishers are willing to lose money so long as they can bleed dry a strategic competitor.

How are brands responding to Google's call to promote brands? They are exploiting the holes Google is gifting them:

More major media companies are looking for ways to find cheap content. Thomson Reuters, Cox Newspapers and Hachette Filipacchi have run articles supplied by Associated Content, one of several companies, such as Demand Media and AOL's SEED, that mines reporting from masses of freelancers for as little as $5 a story.
Though Mr. Keane and his media partners declined to provide details, an executive with knowledge of these deals indicates the media partners have paid anywhere from $75 to $120 per article as well as a share of any related ad revenue.

It gets a bit tiring to say brand is the solution, but water flows downhill. And so if Google wants to promote brands, who wants to promote the business models that have been banned from AdWords? How many second and third chances might you get if Google by default already hates your business model? If you have a term paper writing service that they penalized you are likely down for the count.

As a service provider understanding Google's business objectives helps you understand where it is easiest to build returns. If they already like something then you might only need to give it a small push to get it over the hump. If you are pushing something that Google is moving away from then you are pushing uphill the whole way.

Not every SEO client project makes money. In fact, at the start of new ongoing projects it is a near certainty that both parties start losing money. There is a different approach to each type of business, and it is far easier to be profitable promoting what Google wants to promote.

The same SEO technique is typically worth much more when applied to a strong brand than when applied to a small business. Recently there has been a bunch of GARBAGE misinformation polluting the SEO space about concepts like "the brands hiding on Google." Why? That is where the ad budget is.

Brands can practically fall over the finish line and still win - even with an incompetent SEO practicioner doing the work, so even as Google is promoting brands, SEO firms are lining up to claim brands are not getting a fair shake.

Truth is brands have it easy, and there are tons of ways to bake SEO into other advertising + marketing efforts.

There was a recent Google update which impacted many websites. Googlebot has been going crazy, but as some sites drop others went up. It makes little difference to Google, and they probably prefer to have the results mix up (even if it sacrifices relevancy a bit) because it prevents people from becoming too comfortable.

Part of why Google wants to mix new verticals into the search game is that the more people they have competing against each other the more leverage Google has over the game:

Google says users will be able to buy digital copies of books they discover through its book-search service. It will also allow book retailers—even independent shops—to sell Google Editions on their own sites, taking the bulk of the revenue. Google is still deciding whether it will follow the model where publishers set the retail price or where Google sets retail prices.

Google can be content running at a loss or break even in new verticals because they are buying marketshare which can be used to enhance relevancy. "We're quite comfortable having a diverse range of physical retailers, whereas most of the other players would like to have a less competitive space, because they'd like to dominate." - Dan Clancy. Once they have the marketshare and data, they can ramp up on pricing.

Google also unveiled a new 3 column search result layout, and has no intent of offering a broadly marketed easy way to revert back to the old version. There is a legacy URL that still works, but for how long is anyone's guess. The new search result layout allows searchers to dive deeper into various verticals. And some have speculated that the change to the layout could cost Google some ad clicks, but if it did those losses would be temporary. Many of Google's vertical search services have limited relevancy, and the inline integration in the regular search results was hit or miss (I once saw a Philip M. Parker auto-generated book at #2 in the organic search results for a competitive keyword). :D

But when you think of the types of verticals Google is now promoting, to some degree you could almost think of them as ad channels / categories where Google is buying market data and/or taking a second bite at the apple on monetization to grow the search pie.

  • Where are most videos hosted? Youtube.
  • Discussions? What do most free web forums & QnA websites use to monetize their websites? AdSense.
  • Books? Google Editions is launching in the next couple months.
  • Updates? Google will eventually likely buy Twitter.
  • Product search? Could that eventually tie into the Google affiliate network?
  • Maps & Local? There is an ad for that ;)

If Google knows you want something local or recent then those are just additional dimensions to target ads against. And if many users like vertical x after searching for something then Google can use that usage data to promote that vertical more aggressively in the regular search results. Google can optimize everything from search suggest right on through to ad targeting.

And as paid content models mature, Google's focus on verticals ensures they stay at the heart of the transaction flow, giving them the data needed to improve relevancy and recommend featured paid content.

In the broader sense of marketing, I think the idea that SEO is primarily fulfilling demand is one of the reasons many people dislike the business model. The idea of being one of many shifting choices doesn't sound very exciting to most people, especially if they don't know much about the relevancy algorithms:

in this post industrial information age, if you are just one more entry in an algorithmically defined index, the index algorithm makes even the most amazing employee the digital equivalent of a 1909 Ford production worker. Ford didnt care if you were the most productive in the plant. Google doesnt care if you are the most valued brand in the index. They will assign their own value to you. You are just one more entry into an equation. An equation that you dont have access to.

The bigger issues with simply filling existing demand are that you miss some organic start up opportunities because you are not growing the pie. You miss the transformational business models. You won't create a Paypal or a Skype or a Google with an SEO oriented strategy. And even if it is successful, it can be quite bland and boring as you are not covering new ground:

The technology business is fundamentally the innovation business. Etymologically, the word technology means “a better way of doing things.” As a result, innovation is the core competency for technology companies. Technology companies are born because they create a better way of doing things. Eventually, someone else will come up with a better way. Therefore, if a technology company ceases to innovate, it will die.

These innovations are product cycles. Professional CEOs are effective at maximizing, but not finding, product cycles. Conversely, founding CEOs are excellent at finding, but not maximizing, product cycles. Our experience shows—and the data supports—that teaching a founding CEO how to maximize the product cycle is easier than teaching the professional CEO how to find the new product cycle.

The other big problem when you are just selling existing solutions into existing value systems is that it often means you promote outdated products, hyped crap, and anything that is in a bubble. And if you think otherwise, take a look at the ads on your website and see if they promote the best solutions, or the solutions which produce the highest yield.

All throughout history man has fought for and stole what is his. Some legally gained, some not. But even the legal systems are a reflection of the most profitable business models. It's why Warren Buffet believes that derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, except for *when he owns them* ... and it is why no bankers are in jail and bonuses are at record highs when unemployment is still so high. Most the recovery was fraudulent ponzi finance and the individual has to fight for whatever scraps they get. For most people search presents the same type of opportunity as a debt-based finance system, where success seems just within reach, but is not.

I am just as guilty as anyone else on that front, but it does feel good to run at least 1 or 2 websites which aim to have meaning. I just wished they provided as much yield as the other stuff does. :D

As search gets smarter perhaps one day they will!

But for now search is still a zero sum game ;)