No Effort Longtail SEO Revenues, from FindTheBest

In our infographic about the sausage factory that is online journalism, we had a throw away line about how companies were partnering with FindTheBest to auto-generate subdomains full of recycled content. Apparently, a person named Brandon who claims to work for FindTheBest didn't think our information was accurate:

Hi Aaron,
My name is Brandon. I have been with FindTheBest since 2010 (right after our launch), and I am really bummed you posted this Infographic without reaching out to our team. We don't scrape data. We have a 40 person+ product team that works very closely with manufacturers, companies, and professionals to create useful information in a free and fair playing field. We some times use whole government databases, but it takes hundreds-of-thousands of hours to produce this content. We have a product manager that owns up to all the content in their vertical and takes the creation and maintenance very seriously. If you have any questions for them about how a piece of content was created, you should go to our team page and shoot them a email. Users can edit almost any listing, and we spend a ton of time approving or rejecting those edits. We do work with large publishers (something I am really proud of), but we certainly do not publish the same exact content. We allow the publishers to customize and edit the data presentation (look, style, feel) but since the majority of the content we produce is the factual data, it probably does look a little similar. Should we change the data? Should we not share our awesome content with as many users as possible? Not sure I can trust the rest of your "facts", but great graphics!

I thought it was only fair that we aired his view on the main blog.

...but then that got me into doing a bit of research about FindTheBest...

In the past when searching for an issue related to our TV I saw a SERP that looked like this

Those mashed sites were subdomains on trusted sites like VentureBeat & TechCrunch.

Graphically the comparison pages appear appealing, but how strong is the editorial?

How does Find The Best describe their offering?

In a VentureBeat post (a FindTheBest content syndication partner) FTB's CEO Kevin O’Connor was quoted as saying: “‘Human’ is dirty — it’s not scalable.”

Hmm. Is that a counter view to the above claimed 40 person editorial research team? Let's dig in.

Looking at the top listed categories on the homepage of Find The best I counted 497 different verticals. So at 40 people on the editorial team that would mean that each person managed a dozen different verticals (if one doesn't count all the outreach and partnership buildings as part of editorial & one ignores the parallel sites for death records, grave locations, find the coupons, find the company & find the listing).

Google shows that they have indexed 35,000,000 pages from, so this would mean each employee has "curated" about 800,000 pages (which is at least 200,000 pages a year over the past 4 years). Assuming they work 200 days a year that means they ensure curation of at least 1,000 "high quality" pages per day (and this is just the stuff in Google's index on the main site...not including the stuff that is yet to be indexed, stuff indexed on 3rd party websites, or stuff indexed on,, FindTheListing,,, or the death records or grave location sites).

Maybe I am still wrong to consider it a bulk scrape job. After all, it is not unreasonable to expect that a single person can edit 5,000 pages of high quality content daily.

Errr....then many pages can you edit in a day?

Where they lost me though was with the "facts" angle. Speaking of not trusting the rest of "facts" ... how crappy is the business information for SEO Book on FindTheBest that mentions that our site launched in 2011, we have $58,000 in sales, and we are a book wholesaler.

I realize I am afforded the opportunity to work for free to fix the errors of the scrape job, but if a page is full of automated incorrect trash then maybe it shouldn't exist in the first place.

I am not saying that all pages on these sites are trash (some may be genuinely helpful), but I know if I automated content to the extent FTB does & then mass email other sites for syndication partnerships on the duplicate content (often full of incorrect information) that Google would have burned it to the ground already. They likely benefit from their CEO having sold DoubleClick to Google in the past & are exempt from the guidelines & editorial discrimination that the independent webmaster must deal with.

One of the ways you can tell if a company really cares about their product is by seeing if they dogfood it themselves.

Out of curiousity, I looked up FindTheBest on their FindTheCompany site.

They double-list themselves and neither profile is filled out.

That is like having 2 sentence of text on your "about us" page surrounded by 3 AdSense blocks. :D

I think they should worry about fixing the grotesque errors before worrying about "sharing with as many people as possible" but maybe I am just old fashioned.

Certainly they took a different approach ... one that I am sure that would get me burned if I tried it. An example sampling of some partner sites...

  • "BusinessKnowHow ended the relationship with find the best as soon as we realized how spammy they were." - Janet Attard

we have seen search results where a search engine didn't robots.txt something out, or somebody takes a cookie cutter affiliate feed, they just warm it up and slap it out, there is no value add, there is no original content there and they say search results or some comparison shopping sites don't put a lot of work into making it a useful site. They don't add value. - Matt Cutts

That syndication partnership network also explains part of how FTB is able to get so many pages indexed by Google, as each of those syndication sources is linking back at FTB on (what I believe to be) every single page of the subdomains, and many of these subdomains are linked to from sitewide sidebar or footer links on the PR7 & PR8 tech blogs.

And so the PageRank shall flow ;)

Hundreds of thousands of hours (eg 200,000+) for 40 people is 5,000 hours per person. Considering that there are an average of 2,000 hours per work year, this would imply each employee spent 2.5 full years of work on this single aspect of the job. And that is if one ignores the (hundreds of?) millions of content pages on other sites.

How does TechCrunch describe the FTB partnership?

Here’s one reason to be excited: In its own small way, it combats the recent flood of crappy infographics. Most TechCrunch writers hate the infographics that show up in our inboxes— not because infographics have to be terrible, but because they’re often created by firms that are biased, have little expertise in the subject of the infographic, or both, so they pull random data from random sources to make their point.

Get that folks? TechCrunch hosting automated subdomains of syndicated content means less bad infographics. And more cat lives saved. Or something like that.

How does FTB describe this opportunity for publishers?

The gadget comparisons we built for TechCrunch are sticky and interactive resources comprised of thousands of SEO optimized pages. They help over 1 million visitors per month make informed decisions by providing accurate, clear and useful data.

SEO optimized pages? Hmm.

Your comparisons will include thousands of long-tail keywords and question/answer pages to ensure traffic is driven by a number of different search queries. Our proprietary Data Content Platform uses a mesh linking structure that maximizes the amount of pages indexed by search engines. Each month—mainly through organic search—our comparisons add millions of unique visitors to our partner’s websites.

Thousands of long-tail keyord & QnA pages? Mesh linking structure? Hmm.

If we expand the "view more" section at the footer of the page, what do we find?

Holy Batman.

Sorry that font is so small, the text needed reduced multiple sizes in order to fit on my extra large monitor, and then reduced again to fit the width of our blog.

Each listing in a comparison has a number of associated questions created around the data we collect.

For example, we collect data on the battery life of the Apple iPad.

An algorithm creates the question “How long does the Apple iPad tablet battery last?” and answers it

So now we have bots asking themselves questions that they answer themselves & then stuffing that in the index as content?

Yeah, sounds like human-driven editorial.

After all, it's not like there are placeholder tokens on the auto-generated stuff



Looks like I was wrong on that.

And automated "popular searches" pages? Nice!

As outrageous as the above is, they include undisclosed affiliate links in the content, and provided badge-based "awards" for things like the best casual dating sites, to help build links into their site.

That in turn led to them getting a bunch of porn backlinks.

If you submit an article to an article directory and someone else picks it up & posts it to a sketchy site you are a link spammer responsible for the actions of a third party.

But if you rate the best casual dating sites and get spammy porn links you are wonderful.

Content farming never really goes away. It only becomes more corporate.

Google Copyright Transparency Report

Aug 13th

Google timed a nice Friday evening release to update of their policy toward copyright infringement.

Starting next week, we will begin taking into account a new signal in our rankings: the number of valid copyright removal notices we receive for any given site. Sites with high numbers of removal notices may appear lower in our results.

Wow. Sounds like trouble. Surely that means that YouTube's rankings are about to get torched.

Oh, nope. One quick exemption for the video king:

This data presents information specified in requests we received from copyright owners through our web form to remove search results that link to allegedly infringing content. It is a partial historical record that includes more than 95% of the volume of copyright removal requests that we have received for Search since July 2011. It does not include:

  • requests submitted by means other than our web form, such as fax or written letter
  • requests for products other than Google Search (e.g, requests directed at YouTube or Blogger)
  • requests sent to Google Search for content appearing in other Google products (e.g., requests for Search, but specifying YouTube or Blogger URLs).

Google does not state where the thresholds will be set & grants blanket immunity for themselves, yet they (illegitimately) emphasize that they are being transparent.

Only copyright holders know if something is authorized, and only courts can decide if a copyright has been infringed; Google cannot determine whether a particular webpage does or does not violate copyright law. So while this new signal will influence the ranking of some search results, we won’t be removing any pages from search results unless we receive a valid copyright removal notice from the rights owner. And we’ll continue to provide "counter-notice" tools so that those who believe their content has been wrongly removed can get it reinstated. We’ll also continue to be transparent about copyright removals.

YouTube vs Sites Cleaner Than YouTube

Courts have ruled that embedding a YouTube video is not copyright infringement. The EFF has mentioned that embedding a video is simply a link.

And yet, a UK student faces up to 10 years in jail in the US for founding a crowdsourced site which links to sites that allow you to watch TV online.

Kim DotCom suffered a militant raid on his house & had his assets frozen for running MegaUpload, which was a tiny spec of dirt compared to the size of YouTube.

On the copyright front YouTube was rotten from the start:

  • "In a July 19, 2005 e-mail to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote: 'jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.'"
  • "Chen twice wrote that 80 percent of user traffic depended on pirated videos. He opposed removing infringing videos on the ground that 'if you remove the potential copyright infringements... site traffic and virality will drop to maybe 20 percent of what it is.' Karim proposed they 'just remove the obviously copyright infringing stuff.' But Chen again insisted that even if they removed only such obviously infringing clips, site traffic would drop at least 80 percent. ('if [we] remove all that content[,] we go from 100,000 views a day down to about 20,000 views or maybe even lower')."
  • "In response to YouTube co-founder Chad Hurley’s August 9, 2005 e-mail, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen stated: 'but we should just keep that stuff on the site. I really don’t see what will happen. what? someone from cnn sees it? he happens to be someone with power? he happens to want to take it down right away. he get in touch with cnn legal. 2 weeks later, we get a cease & desist letter. we take the video down.'"
  • "A true smoking gun is a memorandum personally distributed by founder Karim to YouTube’s entire board of directors at a March 22, 2006 board meeting. Its words are pointed, powerful, and unambiguous. Karim told the YouTube board point-blank:
    'As of today episodes and clips of the following well-known shows can still be found: Family Guy, South Park, MTV Cribs, Daily Show, Reno 911, Dave Chapelle. This content is an easy target for critics who claim that copyrighted content is entirely responsible for YouTube’s popularity. Although YouTube is not legally required to monitor content (as we have explained in the press) and complies with DMCA takedown requests, we would benefit from preemptively removing content that is blatantly illegal and likely to attract criticism.'"
  • "A month later, [YouTube manager Maryrose] Dunton told another senior YouTube employee in an instant message that 'the truth of the matter is probably 75-80 percent of our views come from copyrighted material.' She agreed with the other employee that YouTube has some 'good original content' but 'it’s just such a small percentage.'"
  • "In a September 1, 2005 email to YouTube co-founder Steve Chen and all YouTube employees, YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim stated, 'well, we SHOULD take down any: 1) movies 2) TV shows. we should KEEP: 1) news clips 2) comedy clips (Conan, Leno, etc) 3) music videos. In the future, I’d also reject these last three but not yet.'"

Broader Copyright Questions

There still are a lot of murky questions in Google's "transparency."

  • If a person embeds an image from Imgur, ImageShack, TinyPic, PhotoBucket or elsewhere & the page that has a hotlink gets a DMCA how does that count?
  • If a brand is large enough does it take many DMCAs to get hit?
  • Is there any analysis of the underlying business model of the site? What happens to document storage sites like DocStoc & Scribd, or even image sites like Pinterest?
  • What happens to sites that link at penalized sites too frequently?
  • What happens to ad networks that frequently fund such copyright violations?

HUGE Impact on the Web

Has anyone registered & yet? ;)

In terms of impact on the web for publishers, this change is every bit as big as Florida, Panda & Penguin. It may not seem so at first (as it will take time for market participants to consider the uses) but this is a huge deal. Consider some of the following scenarios...

  • You try to create something like YouTube for another form of content (Pinterest?) and it gets hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You offer a free blogging platform that competes with Blogspot, but it gets hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You decide to create a project like Google's book scanning project & you get hit as spam for following Google's lead.
  • You run an ad network & start growing quickly. As you grow some sketchier publishers enter your ad network. Like Google AdSense, a large portion of your ad network is filled with sites that have copyright violations on them. Suddenly working with your ad network gets people hit as spam because your business model is too similar to Google's.
  • You create a new social network & are struggling to compete with Google's preferential ranking & hard coded placements of their own network. You make your network more open to encourage growth & you get hit as spam.
  • If You are Amazon or eBay you can afford premium featured content to pull up your other listings. But if you can't afford their cost structure & hire freelance writers or work with outsourced workers to create some of your content & they use some copyright work without you knowing. But does Amazon now have to vigilantly review their reviews for plagiarism?
  • A competitor licenses some of their content as Creative Commons for years & doesn't mind wide use of it. Then you use it & one day they see you as a competitive threat and remove their Creative Commons license & bulk DMCA you. Or you have a lifetime syndication deal with a company, they later change the policy & claim that your documents are forged.
  • Getty images presumes you didn't license an image that you did & files a DMCA. At some point there is no purpose in targeting the webmaster or host...just go direct to Google knowing that you can create the equivalent of a "patent trolling" styled business model where you create a business model where it is cheaper for people to pay to have the issue resolved the quick way before they lodge a formal complaint. Some organizations might even have a subscription service set up where you pre-pay for immunity.
  • A former employee who wrote content for you claims you used it without permission. Or that same former employee used pirated images & longish quotes from other sources that they didn't disclose to you that they now highlight via DMCA.
  • You license data from a source & they do a mid-contract change leveraging the small print & have a bot lined up to send 40,000 DMCAs against you if you do not agree to the higher pricepoint.
  • Google is considering making an investment in your site & you want too much money. As an edge case near the threshold of this copyright limit you know you have immunity if you join the borg, but lack it if you don't work with them.
  • Big media players that play in the gray area will be fine, but smaller sites that try a similar model will be sunk by DMCAs and/or legal fees.
  • Your leading competitor realizes that your blog publishes comments by default with editorial review (and that even later has lax review) and then they file DMCA reports against you. Or they could just grab chunks of content from Google's leaderboard of complainers and post them into your web forum, knowing that those companies will file a DMCA report against you.
  • A site has some content public & some behind a paywall. With a page partially indexed, how does Google respond to DMCA requests when the alleged infraction is behind a registration wall or paywall?
  • A competitor (inspired by Google no doubt) hires off shore "contractors" to copy your site & then file DMCA reports against you in bulk. How long until people start uploading their own content to file their own DMCAs against certain sites with user generated content?
  • Even if your site is 100% legal, a combination of ignorance & crowd-driven vigilante justice can still take you down.
  • Any site that offers interactive features & has user generated content is at risk of being labeled as spam unless they have tight editorial control over user generated content. And at the same time, Google can enter vertical after vertical with scrape & displace garbage knowing that they don't have those editorial costs due to their self-granted blanket immunity.
  • If you do not register your sites with Google & counter claims (even bogus ones) then you are seen as being a spammer. And if you register with Google then when they don't like something one site does they can hit other sites all at the same time. No point going to the host or registrar, go direct to Google & start building up negative karma.

Why did Google feel the need to grant themselves blanket immunity from the policy?

That question was largely missing among the fanboi blogs & journalists who were encouraged by Google's "transparency."

24 Karat Pyrite On Sale for Only $100 an Ounce

If YouTube is going to win big, then that's a great place to invest, right?

Maybe not.

Some venture capitalists are investing in YouTube channels, but that is a fool's game.

  • Google is also investing in select channels (like Machinima). It is quite hard to outperform Google in returns while investing into a platform that they control & thus have better data on than you ever could.
  • As YouTube's dominance increases (and it will now that competing platforms with a similar business model will be smeared as spam), you can count on them offering premium partners crappier revenue share deals in years to come. They will offer nice deals to Warner Bros. & such, but the independent smaller players will get cut out of the ecosystem in much the same way as they did in Google's organic search results.
  • Google, prince of transparency (for everyone but Google), requires that premium publishers *not* disclose the terms of their deals: "The Partner Program forbids participants to reveal specifics about their ad-share revenue. Rates can vary depending on the size and demographics of the partner’s audience and an array of other metrics."

Note that I don't claim YouTube is a bad host for your own content, but that I am skeptical in applying the VC model to it with a belief that you can out-invest Google on their own site; particularly when they own the dominant platform, control the non-public revenue share rates, invest in competing channels & can offer free promotion + higher rates to anyone they invest into in order to dominate the category.

And the issue isn't just video either. The same dynamic can apply to just about any other infrastructural layer. For instance, Google could buy out a torrent site (say like uTorrent) and have that site gain immediately immunity for being part of the borg, while other sites that compete now absorb both greater editorial filtering costs & greater risks that destroy their ROI.

As Google continues to lock down search, you can expect more smart publishers to hedge investments in search and YouTube with investments in proprietary non-search applications that Google can't take away.

The Devil is in the Details

"We are optimistic that Google’s actions will help steer consumers to the myriad legitimate ways for them to access movies and TV shows online, and away from the rogue cyberlockers, peer-to-peer sites, and other outlaw enterprises that steal the hard work of creators across the globe. We will be watching this development closely — the devil is always in the details — and look forward to Google taking further steps to ensure that its services favor legitimate businesses and creators, not thieves." - Michael O’Leary, Senior Executive Vice President for Global Policy and External Affairs of the Motion Picture Association of America, Inc.

The concerned with Google pitching themselves as the preeminent authority on copyright is they have consistently played both sides of the fence.

When Google was competing against YouTube, this was how they viewed copyright internally.

Business Objectives Drive "Relevancy" Signals

Google is a big player in business online and off. They can sell private data exclusively & their online profits are so huge that they are now buying auto loan bonds.

Now that Google wants to sell premium content they (sort of) respect copyright (& are willing to hold the rest of the web to a higher standard than themselves to create this impression).

I have long believed that relevancy signals were often politically driven & that internal business development goals often lead or create various signals. Certainly that was obvious when Google+ was hardcoded in the search results. It was equally true when Knol outranked the original content sources. Google frequently pretends to be (belligerently) unaware of externalities, but when the issues impact their own business they gain an elevated sense of importance.

And these business objectives not only influence the relevancy algorithms, but also the editorial guidelines.

And even while Google is rolling out this "copyright violators are spammers" algorithm (which they are exempt from) they still chug on with their ebook offering:

They posted several of my 41 books up as free downloads (some were missing a few pages at most a single chapter) It took several e-mails from me pointing out that they were infringing copyright before they took them down. During the time my books were free on Google my sales of e-books fell dramatically. " - K C Watkins

When Google started scanning books an internal document stated: “[we want web searchers interested in book content to come to Google not Amazon” ... or, as put another way, in that same document, “[e]verything else is secondary … but make money.”

How is Search Spam Defined?

Aug 12th

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What is Spam?

A Quick Look at Cell Phone SERPs & the Mobile SEO 'Opportunity'

Jul 27th

Mobile Ad CTR

Worstream recently put out an infographic where they suggested that 64.6% of search result clicks on highly commercial keywords are clicks on AdWords ads. Shortly before Google's quarterly announcement RKG put out their digital marketing report. In it they highlight how search ad CTR differs by device.

What causes a higher CTR on cell phones & tablets? A smaller search interface, which allows ads to dominate a larger portion of the screen real estate.

Screen Real Estate

Vertical iPhone = 1/3 of an organic listing above the fold.

Horizontal iPhone = all ads above the fold.

Vertical iPad is about 2/3 ads above the fold.

Horizontal iPad has about half of a single organic listing above the fold.

Vertical Kindle is about 2/3 ads.

Horizontal Kindle is 100% ads above the fold.

And the above interfaces are not going to look any less ad heavy as Google adds paid inclusion shopping results.

Controlling the Ecosystem

Google offers sitelinks when they think a search query is navigational in nature. In spite of that, for some brands they will still show 3 AdWords ads above the organic search results, in an attempt to force the brand to re-buy their own brand equity.

If you control what is above the fold (and can get away with serving nothing but ads above the fold) you can make a lot of money.

SWOT Analysis for Web Publishers

The rapid changes in the search industry over the last sixteen months have left many web publishers wondering whether they should pivot their business models or exist the industry entirely. This is a difficult question for business owners who have invested years of their lives and much of their wealth in firms which may no longer be viable contenders in the "new" search industry.

SWOT analysis is a technique which business owners can use to strategically analyze their businesses in relation to their competitors and the marketplace as a whole. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunites, Threats.

  • Strengths are attributes of the organization which provide an advantage in the marketplace.
  • Weaknesses are attributres of the organization which cause a disadvantage in the marketplace.
  • Opportunities are actions the organization could take to create an advantage in the marketplace.
  • Threats are events which could happen in the environment and cause the organization to be disadvantaged.

The first two areas, Strengths and Weaknesses, focus primarily on the internal attributes of the organization. The last two areas, Opportunities and Threats, focus primary on how the organization may be affected by external events.

Specifics for Web Publishers

Many firms in the same industry will share similar Strengths and Weaknesses. Even more so, most firms in any industry will be responding to similar Opportunities and Threats.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has an attribute which makes it stronger than it's competitors, add that to your Strengths list. If you feel that your organization has an attribute that makes it weaker than it's competiors, add that item to your Weaknesses list.

  • Access to Funding
  • Brand Recognition
  • Domain Authority
  • Industry Connections
  • Technical Skills
  • Marketing Savvy
  • Vertical Expertise

Examples of Strengths might include:

  • We have ready access to venture capital
  • We own a widely recognized brand name
  • We own a PageRank 8 domain
  • I have Matt Cutts on speed dial
  • Our technical team members are experts in our platforms, development tools, and applications
  • Our marketing team members can make linkbait about lug nuts go viral
  • We invented this niche and our competitors have no hope of ever catching up

Examples of Weaknesses might include:

  • Our working capital is limited to what's in my wallet
  • Our top domain is a hyphenated .us domain
  • We're hoping to gain PageRank at the next update
  • Matt Cutts blocked me on Twitter
  • Our technical team is outsourced to Pakistan
  • Our marketing team is outsourced to Bangladesh
  • I read a book about this niche and it seems very exciting

Opportunities and Threats

The same event might be an Opportunity or a Threat, depending upon how your organization can respond to it. Search is a zero-sum game. For every winner, there must be a loser.

Take a look at your organization. If you feel that your organization has the ability to benefit from a coming change in the business environment, add that to your Opportunities list. If you believe that your organization is at risk from a coming change, add that to your Threats list.

  • Our niche (travel, local, etc...) is being taken over by Google (unless you are Google)
  • Our niche is being persecuted (gambling, medication) or promoted (green energy, section 8 housing) by the government
  • Our niche is being regulated by the government, which benefits large companies and hurts small ones
  • Our niche is being increasingly dominated by the top brands (unless you are one of the top brands)
  • Our niche is growing (iPads) or shrinking (Blackberries)
  • Profitability in this niche is rising (medical training) or falling (almost everything else)
  • Some marketing tactics may be filtered or penalized (directory submissions, blog commenting, profile building)
  • Significant competitors are entering (or leaving) the niche

Examples of Opportunities might include:

  • Legislation could force consumers or businesses to buy our goods and services
  • Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're a large competitor
  • Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're a top brand
  • Our niche is growing
  • Profitability in the niche is rising
  • Our marketing tactics are being increasingly rewarded by the search engines
  • Our niche has significant barriers to entry which prevent competitors from entering the market

Examples of Threats might include:

  • Legislation could make our business illegal in our country
  • Government regulation could force small competitors out of the market, and we're one of those small competitors
  • Google is increasingly ranking the top brands for all searches, and we're not a top brand
  • Our niche is shrinking
  • Profitability in the niche is falling -- unless you can operate on thinner margins than your competitors and take their market share when they fail
  • Our marketing tactics are being increasingly filtered or penalized by the search engines
  • One of our competitors just did an interview with Forbes bragging about the high profit margins in this niche

Responding to the Results of Your Analysis

After listing your Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats you should have a pretty good idea where your business stands. From here, it's time to take advantage of this new knowledge.

The web publishing industry is currently undergoing a major contraction. Some organizations will choose to continue in this business, while others will choose to pivot into related business or to exit the industry entirely. AdSense publishers may decide to move into affiliate marketing or selling white label products. Web publishers may decide to halt development on their own projects and offer their services as SEO's to large enterprises. Entrepreneurs may simply close their companies and accept positions with larger firms.

If your niche is travel, which Google is slowly taking over and Wikimedia is considering a push into, you might consider moving to a different niche, pivoting your web publishing business into an SEO firm, or moving into the nascent eBook market. If your niche is 3D printers, you might seek funding to stake out early market share in a niche that may be about to cross the chasm from the early adopter stage of development.

If you have deep knowledge, experience, and connections in your niche, you might try to stick with it and be the last man standing after your weaker competitors have failed. If your knowledge is less niche focused and more related to publishing and marketing, you might sell SEO services or take a job with one of the huge multinational brands which Google is currently favoring in the SERPs.

If you have access to large amount of venture capital, you might take advantage of that to become one of the large brands which Google prefers to rank. With enough funding, anything can be ranked well in Google. I would caution, however, against entering a niche which is likely to be on Google's roadmap. Google, in being able to control the order of search results, has an unbeatable advantage in promoting their own properties (YouTube, Google+, etc...).

As margins in the industry are falling in our race to the bottom, you may even find a significant competitive advantage in having a lower cost structure than your competitors. Lower costs create larger amounts of retained earnings which can be used to fuel development and growth.


The two most important aspects of SWOT analysis are to be honest with yourself and to take action based upon your analysis. As Virgil wrote, fortune favors the bold. Be bold in your honesty and your actions and fortune will smile upon you.

Will Spencer is the CEO of MemeBridge and Alpha Geek at The Tech FAQ.

Online Journalism: eHow, Journatic & Narrative Science

Jul 17th

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Online Journalism & Sausage Factories.

Top 10 List of Top 10 Lists for your Top 10 List Compilation

A lot of amazing technology is being created.

The Only Constant is Change

When you think of all the implications of the above video (and all the things that are going on in machine learning & search), it can be somewhat difficult to think about sustainable strategies.

Want to fund in-depth automotive reviews in part based on your organic rankings? That business model breaks down when the organic SERPs move below the fold.

When platforms are new they start off as being fairly open to win attention & maximize their growth rates. Over time as they push to monetize they shift gears & what was once true becomes misleading. Thus a lot people likely come off as sounding like quack jobs because they keep having to reinvent themselves & reassess their belief systems as the markets change.

Hello Mr. Cynic

If you write things that sound like rants & complaints a lot of people mistake it as thinking you are a crank full of gloom & nonsense. For what it is worth, in many ways I think the future of the web will still be bright, but just relatively less bright than it was in the recent past for smaller players.

During the creation of any new communications network there are amazing opportunities, but over time they get arbitraged away & returns move more toward the typical norm in business as the platform gets locked down.

No Longer An Isolated Channel

The web is becoming more & more like the physical world (and is merging with it). For a long time search & online was largely a meritocracy, where the best person could easily win even if they came from the most humble beginnings.

In the offline world there are many hoops one has to jump through to win and the online market is just becoming more like that & at an accelerating rate due to network effects that allow big companies to saturate channels & tracking leading to asymmetrical advantages.

From Meritocracy to Corporatocracy

In search of years gone by, large & complex organizations that were overly bloated and inefficient routinely had their asses handed to them by smaller & more efficient operations. But then size became a primary signal of relevancy & quality, and that all changed. As Larry Page & Sergey Brin warned, the relevancy algorithms inevitably follow the underlying business model of the search engine.

That is a big part of the disillusionment with Google. For many years they were a leveler which was concerned primarily with quality. That grew the importance of search & differentiated them from everyone else, but then they decided to be "the same" & so many who promoted them felt a bit betrayed.

If a person gives you something and then takes it away you likely view them worse than someone who simply never offered that in the first place. As a species we are biologically aligned with being adverse toward loss.

Vertical AND Horizontal Integration

I was chatting with a friend about the above trend & his responses were:

  • "you don't shoot the guy that didn't give you the job; you shoot the guy that gave you the job and then fired you"
  • "their public image as being a leveler becomes more grating too, given how much they no longer represent that"
  • "the biggest problem we have in search is that search engines don't view themselves as a medium. They want to be the cable operator + television show + in-show advertising + commercials...I'm not aware of another medium where it works that way"

The last of those 3 points is a big deal. Consider how popular music is & that Machinima drives about 2/3 as many video streams as all of VEVO does & yet Google invested directly into it. That gives Google power to rank the content (Google serps), host the content (YouTube), monetize the content (ads), and have an ownership stake in the content. All that is in addition to owning a browser, an operating system (make that two) & building hardware.

If Google's internal stats show someone else is catching up to a channel they invested in, Google can...

  • relay this news across to drive editorial quality, content quantity, or even ad placement
  • preferentially promote the network they are invested in (free ads, better rankings, more "you might also like" recommendations, more post-view recommendations)
  • give a higher revenue share to the network they are invested in (or offer them early access to new betas and exclusives that increase monetization)
  • slow the growth of the competing network by using more aggressive ad placement (or lower CPM ads)
  • slow upload speeds for competing channels
  • etc.

If you are batting for the home team, such advantages are great. But they blow for everyone else in the ecosystem.

Those sorts of issues don't just appear in a few isolated incidents, but appear over and over again.

Social networks should be open, unless they are Google+.

Affiliate links shouldn't count for ranking purposes, unless they are Viglink, which Google invested in. ;)

Affiliate links should be clearly labeled as such. When they are not clearly labeled & go through tracking redirects they are sneaky redirects in Google's remote rater guidelines. On YouTube the affiliate links to Amazon & iTunes are not labeled as such & add an extra layer of tracking redirects to the sequence.

Let Me See Your Backlinks!

Yesterday someone sent me an email about their reinclusion request being denied because someone else scraped their eZineArticles article & syndicated it to another 3rd party site.

They didn't create that link and yet they are somehow supposed to get a spammer (maybe one from another continent!) to remove it. In many cases spammers won't respond to anything other than cash, but if you do offer cash to get the job done then that spammer might keep adding more and more links over time, turning their mark into an easy source of subscription revenues.

What is Wrong With This Picture?

The above scenario is ridiculous.

If you look at *any* site closely enough there will be something wrong with it.

Just by the virtue of existing & ranking you will pick up dozens to hundreds of spammy links you don't even want, due to SERP scraper sites that are trying to rank on longtail keyword queries.

About 5 years ago I had a page get filtered out because it gained about 500 scraper links in a month. No matter what I did that page would not rank until it was rewrote with a fresh page title. When you could change things & have the algorithms re-evaluate them automatically there was at least a decent opportunity to get around such issues.

Now that there is a manual review process holding you responsible for the actions of third party webmasters the market is a bit more grim.
But at least a bunch of link removal services are cropping up to profit from Google's errant logic. ;)

Engineers Ad Networks Love Quality Websites Big Brands

A bigger company can always shut a site down, split off into sections, & so on. Plus if you are a bigger company you are more likely to enjoy the benefit of the doubt.

But if you are a low margin small business who has seen declining revenue AND have to jump through further hoops (rather than focusing on running your business) at some point it is easier to give up than to keep on fighting.

After this year's FUD there is zero camaraderie in the industry.

That's How Business Works

Eventually a lot of the displacement trends that are hitting the organic search market will hit the paid search market & Google will make many of the enterprise AdWords management tools obsolete via a combination of various free scripts & data obfuscation.

At that point in time some of the paid search folks will look like the guy to the right, but nobody will care, as those same people reminded us that this is just how business works. :D

Perhaps they're right:

Google appears to have a culture that condones shamelessly violating consumer privacy. How else can you explain a company that bypasses Apple's iPhone privacy settings in a reported attempt to strengthen advertising revenues?

It is hard to believe that Dave Packard or Andy Grove would ever tell a group of entrepreneurs that he did "every horrible thing in the book to just get revenues right away," or brag to trade publications that his company used behavioral psychologists to design "compulsion loops" into products to keep customers engaged. But Mark Pincus, the founder of Internet gaming giant Zynga, has done just that.

When corporate leaders pursue wealth in the winner-take-all Internet environment, companies dance on the edge of acceptable behavior. If they don't take it to the limit, a competitor will. That competitor will become the dominant supplier -- one monopoly will replace another. And when you engage in these activities you get a different set of Valley values: the values of customer exploitation.

Which Source Do You Trust Most?

Apr 15th

Consumer Search Insights.

Which do you trust most as a source of advice on important issues?

People tend to trust friends & family and the mainstream media far more than they trust websites & search engines.

Vote All (1204) 
friends & family 37.1% (+3.0 / -2.9)
newspapers 32.5% (+3.0 / -2.8)
search engines 19.3% (+2.6 / -2.4)
social media websites 6.7% (+2.0 / -1.6)
weblogs 4.4% (+1.9 / -1.3)

Relative to one another, men tend to trust newspapers, search engines & weblogs more; whereas women tend to trust friends & family and social media websites more.

Vote Men (643)  Women (561) 
friends & family 34.7% (+4.0 / -3.8) 39.4% (+4.6 / -4.4)
newspapers 34.1% (+4.0 / -3.8) 31.0% (+4.4 / -4.1)
search engines 20.1% (+3.5 / -3.1) 18.6% (+3.9 / -3.4)
social media websites 5.7% (+2.5 / -1.8) 7.6% (+3.3 / -2.3)
weblogs 5.5% (+2.5 / -1.8) 3.4% (+3.3 / -1.7)

The youngest age group tends to trust social media a bit more & newspapers a bit less than other age groups do. Outside of that, it is somewhat hard to see other age-based patterns.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (278)  25-34 year-olds (307)  35-44 year-olds (158)  45-54 year-olds (191)  55-64 year-olds (166)  65+ year-olds (104) 
friends & family 39.8% (+5.8 / -5.5) 34.2% (+5.8 / -5.4) 38.9% (+7.8 / -7.2) 34.0% (+6.9 / -6.3) 36.3% (+7.6 / -6.9) 37.2% (+9.8 / -8.8)
newspapers 26.2% (+5.5 / -4.8) 35.8% (+5.9 / -5.5) 33.9% (+7.7 / -6.9) 31.7% (+6.8 / -6.1) 33.1% (+7.6 / -6.8) 34.6% (+10.0 / -8.8)
search engines 19.7% (+5.1 / -4.2) 16.8% (+4.9 / -4.0) 17.7% (+6.7 / -5.2) 23.5% (+6.5 / -5.5) 21.8% (+7.1 / -5.7) 17.7% (+8.5 / -6.2)
social media websites 11.0% (+4.2 / -3.1) 6.8% (+3.6 / -2.4) 3.6% (+5.1 / -2.1) 7.4% (+4.6 / -2.9) 4.3% (+4.5 / -2.3) 6.6% (+8.0 / -3.8)
weblogs 3.3% (+2.8 / -1.5) 6.4% (+3.5 / -2.3) 6.0% (+5.1 / -2.9) 3.4% (+4.1 / -1.9) 4.4% (+5.3 / -2.5) 3.9% (+7.4 / -2.6)

Here is data by geographic region.

Vote The US Midwest (252)  The US Northeast (311)  The US South (372)  The US West (269) 
friends & family 40.2% (+6.9 / -6.6) 39.0% (+6.2 / -5.9) 34.9% (+5.3 / -5.0) 36.1% (+6.2 / -5.8)
newspapers 30.4% (+6.8 / -6.1) 36.0% (+6.1 / -5.7) 33.7% (+5.2 / -4.9) 29.9% (+6.1 / -5.5)
search engines 21.5% (+6.4 / -5.3) 15.7% (+5.2 / -4.1) 18.7% (+4.6 / -3.9) 21.2% (+5.5 / -4.6)
social media websites 6.7% (+5.1 / -3.0) 5.2% (+4.3 / -2.4) 6.6% (+3.8 / -2.5) 7.9% (+4.5 / -3.0)
weblogs 1.3% (+9.5 / -1.1) 4.1% (+4.3 / -2.1) 6.2% (+3.6 / -2.3) 4.8% (+4.3 / -2.3)

Rural people tend to trust friends & family more, while urban people tend to trust newspapers more.

Vote Urban areas (602)  Rural areas (91)  Suburban areas (480) 
friends & family 30.9% (+4.4 / -4.0) 45.8% (+11.3 / -10.9) 38.7% (+4.9 / -4.7)
newspapers 38.5% (+4.7 / -4.5) 25.4% (+11.3 / -8.7) 30.0% (+4.5 / -4.2)
search engines 18.4% (+4.2 / -3.6) 20.2% (+10.4 / -7.5) 20.2% (+4.3 / -3.7)
social media websites 8.5% (+4.1 / -2.8) 2.3% (+14.6 / -2.1) 6.2% (+4.3 / -2.6)
weblogs 3.7% (+4.2 / -2.0) 6.3% (+11.2 / -4.2) 4.8% (+4.3 / -2.3)

The richer you are, the less you generally trust friends & family. The rich also trust newspapers & blogs more (though the blog data point had a small sample size).

Vote People earning $0-24K (138)  People earning $25-49K (655)  People earning $50-74K (307)  People earning $75-99K (81)  People earning $100-149K (25) 
friends & family 40.6% (+8.7 / -8.2) 38.2% (+4.1 / -4.0) 33.9% (+6.3 / -5.8) 36.6% (+11.1 / -9.8) 14.4% (+19.1 / -9.1)
newspapers 25.6% (+9.1 / -7.4) 30.6% (+4.0 / -3.7) 37.0% (+6.4 / -6.0) 42.2% (+10.6 / -10.0) 42.2% (+20.3 / -18.0)
search engines 22.8% (+9.1 / -7.1) 20.6% (+3.7 / -3.3) 17.4% (+5.7 / -4.5) 13.4% (+10.9 / -6.4) 22.0% (+21.5 / -12.7)
social media websites 7.2% (+9.2 / -4.2) 7.0% (+3.2 / -2.3) 5.4% (+5.6 / -2.8) 5.2% (+13.2 / -3.9) 5.8% (+23.7 / -4.9)
weblogs 3.8% (+11.0 / -2.9) 3.6% (+3.5 / -1.8) 6.3% (+5.4 / -3.0) 2.6% (+18.2 / -2.3) 15.6% (+21.7 / -10.2)

Content Locking Ads

Apr 10th

Consumer Search Insights.

Google recently launched a consumer insights survey product, which quizes users for access to premium content.

How do users get access to these poll questions? Google locks premium content behind them, likeso:

Google has long stated that "cloaking is bad" and that it was deceptive & users didn't like it. Earlier this year Google also rolled out an algorithm to penalize sites that were too ad heavy:

We’ve heard complaints from users that if they click on a result and it’s difficult to find the actual content, they aren’t happy with the experience. Rather than scrolling down the page past a slew of ads, users want to see content right away. So sites that don’t have much content “above-the-fold” can be affected by this change. If you click on a website and the part of the website you see first either doesn’t have a lot of visible content above-the-fold or dedicates a large fraction of the site’s initial screen real estate to ads, that’s not a very good user experience.

Also recall that the second version of the Panda update encouraged users to block sites & many programmers blocked Experts-exchange due to disliking their scroll cloaking. That in turn caused Experts-exchange to get hit & see a nose dive in traffic.

Between the above & seeing how implementation of this quiz technology works, I had to ask:
How do you feel about ads that lock content behind poll questions like this one?

Response Vote
Hate them. A total waste of time 63.7% (+3.3 / -3.4)
I am indifferent 30.8% (+3.3 / -3.1)
I love them. These are fun 5.5% (+2.5 / -1.7)

There isn't a huge split between men & women. Men hate them a bit more, but they also like them a bit more...they are just less indifferent.

Vote Men (811) Women (409)
Hate them. A total waste of time 66.1% (+3.4 / -3.6) 61.5% (+5.4 / -5.7)
I am indifferent 27.2% (+3.4 / -3.2) 34.2% (+5.6 / -5.2)
I love them. These are fun 6.7% (+2.3 / -1.7) 4.3% (+5.1 / -2.4)

Young people & old people tend to like such quizes more than people in the middle. My guess is this is because older people are a bit lonely & younger people do not value their time as much and presume it is more important that they voice their opinions on trivial matters. People just before their retirement (who have recently been hosed by the financial markets) tend not to like these polls as much & same with people in their mid 30s to mid 40s, who are likely short on time trying to balance career, family & finances.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (359) 25-34 year-olds (267) 35-44 year-olds (151) 45-54 year-olds (200) 55-64 year-olds (158) 65+ year-olds (83)
Hate them. A total waste of time 62.1% (+4.9 / -5.2) 62.6% (+6.0 / -6.4) 69.4% (+6.9 / -7.9) 64.5% (+6.5 / -7.1) 68.3% (+6.3 / -7.1) 62.3% (+10.2 / -11.4)
I am indifferent 28.9% (+4.9 / -4.5) 32.1% (+6.2 / -5.6) 24.0% (+7.6 / -6.2) 30.8% (+7.0 / -6.2) 28.4% (+6.9 / -6.0) 28.7% (+11.3 / -9.1)
I love them. These are fun 8.9% (+3.4 / -2.5) 5.3% (+3.7 / -2.2) 6.6% (+5.3 / -3.0) 4.7% (+3.7 / -2.1) 3.3% (+4.4 / -1.9) 9.0% (+9.7 / -4.9)

People out west tend to be more indifferent. Like, whatever man. This may or may not have something to do with California's marijuana laws. ;)

vote The US Midwest (280) The US Northeast (331) The US South (363) The US West (246)
Hate them. A total waste of time 65.2% (+5.6 / -6.0) 69.0% (+6.2 / -7.0) 65.6% (+5.9 / -6.4) 55.6% (+7.2 / -7.5)
I am indifferent 29.7% (+5.9 / -5.3) 25.6% (+6.8 / -5.8) 28.7% (+6.2 / -5.5) 38.7% (+7.4 / -6.9)
I love them. These are fun 5.1% (+4.5 / -2.4) 5.4% (+5.9 / -2.9) 5.7% (+4.8 / -2.7) 5.6% (+7.4 / -3.3)

Rural people tend to like such polls more than others. Perhaps it has to do with a greater longing for connection due to being more isolated?

vote Urban areas (608) Rural areas (117) Suburban areas (477)
Hate them. A total waste of time 62.6% (+4.6 / -4.9) 53.6% (+10.1 / -10.4) 63.8% (+4.8 / -5.1)
I am indifferent 32.2% (+4.8 / -4.4) 37.5% (+10.4 / -9.3) 29.1% (+5.0 / -4.6)
I love them. These are fun 5.2% (+4.4 / -2.5) 8.9% (+9.5 / -4.8) 7.2% (+5.2 / -3.1)

There aren't any conclusive bits based on income. Wealthier people appear to be more indifferent, however the sampling error on that is huge due to the small sample size.

vote People earning $0-24K (151) People earning $25-49K (670) People earning $50-74K (303) People earning $75-99K (77) People earning $100-149K (20) People earning $150K+
Hate them. A total waste of time 69.0% (+7.7 / -8.9) 62.1% (+4.4 / -4.6) 69.7% (+5.5 / -6.1) 69.7% (+9.1 / -10.9) 53.8% (+19.3 / -20.5) Insufficient data
I am indifferent 26.0% (+8.5 / -7.0) 32.6% (+4.6 / -4.3) 23.6% (+5.8 / -5.0) 26.0% (+11.1 / -8.7) 41.7% (+20.6 / -18.1) Insufficient data
I love them. These are fun 5.0% (+6.8 / -3.0) 5.3% (+4.0 / -2.4) 6.7% (+5.7 / -3.2) 4.3% (+11.8 / -3.3) 4.4% (+27.1 / -4.0) Insufficient data

So, ultimately, Google was right that users hate excessive ads & cloaking. But the one thing users hate more than either of those is paying for content. ;)

Some of the traditional publishing businesses are dying on the vine & this is certainly a great experiment to try to generate incremental revenues.


How does Google's definition of cloaking square with the above? If publishers (or a competing ad network) do the same thing without Google, would it be considered spam?

Google Instant Answers: Rich Snippets & Poor Webmasters

This is a pretty powerful & instructive image in terms of "where search is headed."

It's a Yahoo! Directory page that was ranking in the Google search results on a Google Android mobile device.

Note the following

  • the page is hosted on
  • the page disclaims that it is not endorsed by Google
  • the page embeds a Google search box
  • the page strips out the Yahoo! Directory search box
  • the page strips out the Yahoo! Directory PPC ads (on the categories which have them)
  • the page strips out the Yahoo! Directory logo
Recall that when Google ran their bogus sting operation on Bing, Google engineers suggest that Bing was below board for using user clickstreams to potentially influence their search results. That level of outrage & the smear PR campaign look ridiculous when compared against Google's behavior toward the Yahoo! Directory, which is orders of magnitude worse:


Bing vs Google Google vs Yahoo! Directory
editorial Uses user-experience across a wide range of search engines to potentially impact a limited number of search queries in a minor way. Shags expensive hand-created editorial content wholesale & hosts it on
hosting Bing hosts Bing search results using Bing snippets. Google hosts Yahoo! Directory results using Yahoo! Directory listing content & keeps all the user data.
attribution Bing publicly claimed for years to be using a user-driven search signal based on query streams. Google removes the Yahoo! Directory logo to format the page. Does Google remove the Google logo from when formatting for mobile? Nope.
ads Bing sells their own ads & is not scraping Google content wholesale. Google scrapes Yahoo! Directory content wholesale & strips out the sidebar CPC ads.
search box Bing puts their own search box on their own website. Google puts their own search box on the content of the Yahoo! Directory.
user behavior Google claimed that Bing was using "their data" when tracking end user behavior. Google hosts the Yahoo! Directory page, allowing themselves to fully track user behavior, while robbing Yahoo! of the opportunity to even see their own data with how users interact with their own listings.


In the above case the publisher absorbs 100% of the editorial cost & Google absorbs nearly 100% of the benefit (while disclaiming they do not endorse the page they host, wrap in their own search ad, and track user behavior on).

As we move into a search market where the search engines give you a slightly larger listing for marking up your pages with rich snippets, you will see a short term 10% or 20% lift in traffic followed by a 50% or more decline when Google enters your market with "instant answers."

The ads remain up top & the organic resultss get pushed down. It isn't scraping if they get 10 or 20 competitors to do it & then use the aggregate data to launch a competing service ... talk to the bankrupt Yellow Pages companies & ask them how Google has helped to build their businesses.

Update: looks like this has been around for a while...though when I spoke to numerous friends nobody had ever seen it before. The only reason I came across it was seeing a referrer through a new page type from Google & not knowing what the heck it was. Clearly this search option doesn't get much traffic because Google even removes their own ads from their own search results. I am glad to know this isn't something that is widespread, though still surprised it exists at all given that it effectively removes monetization from the publisher & takes the content wholesale and re-publishes it across domain names.


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