Via TC, I discovered IBM released a report on how the they think the $550 billion global ad market might change in the coming years. The predictions look bleak for most ad agencies and traditional media gatekeepers, but good for niche publishers who have a solid stream of attention:
The "voice" delivering a message, along with its perceived authenticity, will become as powerful perhaps as the message or offer.
As media gets more saturated, we get better at filtering out garbage. Jakob Nielson's article about writing articles instead of blog posts does a great job of explaining why writing fewer and more in depth articles is effective for gaining and keeping attention in a competitive marketplace.
Some of the posts I write about the macroeconomic trends of online publishing and the search economy take 5 hours to write, get few or no comments, get few or no citations, and probably scare off potential customers. Those posts do not cater to people looking to buy SEO information. The short SEO videos I recently made are easier to create and easy to consume. Daily sales are near my all time high.
Once you have a trusted brand you can create low value white label brands that are given a free pass by search engine editors based on the trust of your core brand. These can feed back profits to your main site in many ways, including allowing you to:
filter link juice to your mother brand site, which is especially useful for temporal news or in categories where link building is tough
Thom Yorke told TIME, "I like the people at our record company, but the time is at hand when you have to ask why anyone needs one. And, yes, it probably would give us some perverse pleasure to say 'F___ you' to this decaying business model."
And the record executives realize what is going on
"This feels like yet another death knell," emailed an A&R executive at a major European label. "If the best band in the world doesn't want a part of us, I'm not sure what's left for this business."
Any time a big media company writes about publishing ethics, just remember how much fraud is baked into their business models. Comcast was fined by the FCC for displaying fake news about a sleeping pills. Direct to consumer drug marketing wrapped as fake news. Can a company get any sleezier?
In a recent post I stated that one of the biggest flaws from a conversion perspective with this site was that the homepage was a blog. I just made a new homepage that features more of the site's content. I think it is a bit text heavy still, but I wanted to get your feedback on what you think of the new homepage.
Google and Amazon are both pushing to sell ebooks directly aggressively. An article in the NYT mentions a new device Amazon will offer for reading ebooks, but I don't think the problem with books and ebooks is that they need a better reader.
The big problem is that the web is quickly becoming more interactive and diverse and useful, making books irrelevant for all but true enthusiasts, desperate people seeking a manifesto for life change, or those who read as an escape.
The larger a book becomes, the less likely it is to be relevant to any individual, and the less value each word has. People who may disagree with some concepts in your book may agree with pieces that they would be willing to cite if they could only find it. But they will never cite your information unless they can find it.
No matter what people believe, in almost every case someone has already shared the same belief. Format it in small sharable chunks with good findability and people will cite it.
People may want to consume relevant bits. Cognitive dissidents. Summaries that let us dive deeper if we want to. Little chunks of information that change how we perceive the world around us.
Rarely is something that is fully polished, comprehensive, and dated what we need. More likely it is easier to learn by stepping into a process and learning one piece at a time, starting with your interests, then expanding as we run into additional problems. Even with blog posts, people justifiably complain about my writing blog posts in spurts, and using links that are not descriptive enough to merit a click-through.
Leveraging the Web
Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. Writers should use the web for what it is worth. Break books into pieces, read and write daily, cite sources, go back and polish the best pieces and package them, but try to keep each idea as sharp as possible.
Knowing how to create a useful information product is not enough to maximize profits. A big flaw with my ebook is that it has soooo much information in it, but it is hard to show the value of it because it is a single item. You can't tell how much stuff was waded through to write it, that it is mentally and emotionally draining to revise, and it doesn't help that most Internet marketing ebooks are lead generation devices or affiliate marketing tools. Someone could sell much less and look like they were selling more, just by using better packaging.
[TV] was a wonderful system. For you [TV Networks] anyway. Except that it had one huge flaw. Which is that for you guys, the middlemen, to get rich, you needed to fuck over the people at both ends of the value chain -- the consumers who had no choice in what they watched and spent years being fed mountains of dog shit, and the producers of content who were at your mercy and had to negotiate with this tiny number of networks who operated, let's be honest here, as a kind of cartel.
Artists Become Publishers
If I target an idea to a market and people tell me it is garbage then so much for that idea. If early feedback looks promising then it is time to dig deeper, do more research, read more, and write more. Invest where your interests align with the interest of others.
You “artists” out there generating content will have to learn to publish if you want to participate in the Internet economy. Maybe that’s why Google spends so much trying to help the Internet advance… because it helps Google disintermediate the middlemen. When will Google bring us fast quantities of ISP-free, wireless bandwidth?
One day there will be no more middlemen. And then, Google will squeeze you for more profits. After all, growth needs to come from somewhere, right? When all the middlemen are gone, what’s left? You are. For every producer there are hundreds of consumers hungry for more. Will Google offer rewards for you to procreate? Of course it will. It has to. It’s Google’s destiny to manage the creative class.
Contrary to popular belief, selling is not about tricking people into buying what they don't want. Yes, there are liars and thieves but that is not selling. That is lying and stealing.
Selling is about getting people to trust you enough to tell you their needs or desires and you satisfying those needs or desires. It is not always easy but it’s certainly not complicated.
The Key is to Not Look Like You are Selling
If markets keep getting more competitive and artists become publishers then I think publishers need to start becoming artists. Almost anything you want to consume has free samples available online. Some are copyright violations, others are free marketing, and some are both.
Here is Dane Cook on why it is so hard to win an argument against a woman:
the trust and goodwill you built up through sharing information, personal interaction, and the above points
Even when we are not buying we are still paying with attention. Familiarity and attention are early steps in sales. The WSJ wrote about how Disney kept a low-fi feel to Marié Digby's YouTube videos. She mixes in a few of her own original songs with old classics that have been viewed MILLIONS of times prior to dropping her first album. It is much easier to launch if you start off with a large fanbase.
Why it Helps to View Marketing as an Art
People are lazy and selfish. Especially anonymous people. If you try to replicate the links of an older competitor using the same techniques, many of the webmasters who linked at them will ignore you, even if your content is better than the stuff they are already linking at.
In all honesty, profit margins come more from perception than reality. If you are going to stay profitable you have to see the wave coming in and stay out in front of it, especially because as marketing techniques get abused they stop working. I am doing things today that I know I would not be profitable in a few years if I didn't go out of my way to lay the foundation to make them look and feel exceptionally legitimate today. The only differences between legitimacy and illegitimacy are trust, familiarity, and perception.
The Short Side of Web Publishing
This post is not to suggest that the web is a utopia that is better than all other sources of information, but more that it is cheaper, faster, easier, and provides something that is good enough to satisfy most demands for free.
The web has downsides to it, like promoting hyped up information pollution as a form of marketing. But the reality of it is that everyone is short on time. And few deeply understand the publishing dynamics of search, so when people get screwed by finding bad information on the web or make bad decisions because of ideas they discovered over the web they will likely blame themselves for it.
Werty just sent me this. Pretty ruthless, sad, and funny:
hello , my name is Richard and I know you get a lot of spammy comments,
I can help you with this problem. I know a lot of spammers and I will ask them not to post on your site. It will reduce the volume of spam by 30-50% .In return Id like to ask you to put a link to my site on the index page of your site. The link will be small and your visitors will hardly notice it , its just done for higher rankings in search engines. Contact me icq _________ or write me _______(at)yahoo.com, i will give you my site url and you will give me yours if you are interested. thank you
When you have scarcity you have price control. But the web makes most forms of scarcity a farce. That is why so many marketers place arbitrary limits on their offerings (like sales price ends today or we are only letting in x more customers), to make it seem as though their information is bound by some limits. Just about every idea worth selling is accessible for free if you spend enough time to sort through it all, and just about everything ends up bootlegged on eBay and Limewire.
If everything is available for free then how can we sell anything?
Is Anything Really Free?
The truth is nothing is free. The stuff that is pitched as free is usually an ad, or wrapped in ads. You don't know if someone is getting paid for their words, you don't know their qualifications or motives, and you don't know if they have philosophical interests setting their goals for how your opinions and worldviews should be shaped.
How Good Information Stays Hidden
Beyond that unknown ad / bias / other influence, the other problem with free information is that it is often hard to find the best parts.
Some sectors of the web are entirely invisible. A friend has published a great blog for months now, which has 0 traction because without marketing nobody can find her site or subscribe to it.
Sometimes garbage information is easily accessible because of high affiliate payout schemes, manipulative public relations budgets, authoritative websites cashing in publishing junk content, or because the self reinforcing nature of authority (especially on the web).
As forums grow in popularity they become a sea of noise. How do you rate the best threads? How do you keep them separate from the noise and make them easy to find?
Old blogs do the same as their information ages AND much of the information becomes inaccessible due to depth and breadth of information coupled with poor information architecture and comment systems that place great comments next to junk. It sometimes takes me a half hour to find stuff I posted, and I am a good searcher with a great memory.
The link graph solves part of this problem by making it easy to locate what is popular, but popularity and quality are not one and the same. Popularity is more aligned with brand strength, marketing budget, who came to market early, and who is controversial than it is with information quality.
Onsite vs Offsite Marketing Spend Mismatch
Given that many people are selling the same ideas and similar products, packaging and formatting are key to maintaining profit margins.
How much does Google make? We spend a near endless sum of money bring people to our sites, but how much do we spend on ensuring our sites are easy to use and convert well? Usually there is a big miss-match between onsite and offsite spending. If we optimize the on site experience we have a higher visitor value and can afford to pay more for advertising, thus gaining a larger marketshare or allowing us to raise our rates to filter out the low end of the market.
Optimizing On Site User Experience
Imagine if someone recommends my site to a friend. That friend comes to the homepage and immediately jumps into the latest post. Is that an optimal experience for people new to my brand? Most likely not. It was a good idea for building the authority and mindshare of this blog in 2003, but I have done that about as well as I can with this format, and most likely there is a better way to introduce people to this site.
For over a year my tools page was worthless from a usability perspective. It was imposing, unorganized, and cluttered. Pathetic on just about every level possible. Compare the old to the new. Which looks more appealing to you? Which is more intuitive to use? Which do you trust more?
The old version put everything on one page and used headers to separate topics, whereas the new version uses category pages to separate topics. The new version also offers a brief intro at the top of each category, and many of the tool category pages also have embedded videos that further explain why the topic is important and/or offer free tips about the topic.
I still need to place breadcrumb navigation on the individual tool pages, consolidate some of the tools, and clean up some of their formatting issues, but just fixing the top level is a start. It makes it easier to access everything else.
Why is is so Important to Make Your Site Easily Usable to New People?
I recently had a search engineer tell me that they bound my book up and made it required reading for their team (which felt cool to hear), but for every person like that (who has been in the industry for many years) there are 1,000+ people just entering the field who need much more guidance.
Navigation is a form of guidance. It can scare people away or help them convert. If my site's navigation assumes everyone else knows what I know or thinks about the web the ways I do, then what could I be justified selling them, and how can I justify selling them anything?
Profitability is at the Edges of the Customer Curve
Not only is there that 1,000 to 1 ratio mentioned in the above section, but new people are also more likely to spend money than people who already feel they know everything.
Who is more likely to buy my book? A person who has been doing SEO twice as long as I have, or a person using my keyword density analyzer? Many brand managers would like consumers to believe the former, but in most cases the latter is more likely. Most of the money for information products comes from people new to the field, with some amount coming on the backend if you sell high end services.
Content Selection vs Community Growth & User Participation
Not only are new people more likely to buy, but they are also far more likely to participate in a community. Many of my friends read this blog daily, but most of them rarely leave comments. Back when I was more naive about search my topic selection naturally drew many newer readers who felt more empathy with what I was writing about, and were more likely to comment, which made my site look much larger than it was. Now that I blog about many more abstract or higher level topics I get far fewer comments, in spite of increasing site traffic month over month and year over year.
Eventually the growing traffic trend will turn the other way unless I focus more on the beginner portion of the market, and help create more brand evangelists participating on and promoting this site.
Content Targeting & Conversion
It doesn't matter how much value you create or offer if the format is bad, or fails to display the value of the product. If the communication sucks so does the product. Then if you are unwilling to change you may get bitter as you watch inferior products outsell your product without realizing that you forgot to talk to your customers using their language.
A friend of mine showed me a listing service of his that focused the homepage on sellers with little to no communication for prospective consumers. What kind of seller is going to think that site is a legitimate listing service? Google has advertising programs in the footer of their homepage in a small text link. Both of those are extremes, but you have to figure out who your customers are and gather enough attention to be able to monetize it.
Information Format & Perceived Value
Others have resold the information in my ebook in other formats for over 5 times the price (some even asked for my latest copy before their launch, telling me about it). Good on them for formatting information in a way that allows them to deliver value. It does not matter who creates the most value. What matters is who is best at formatting it and sharing it in a way that makes people happy when they consume it. People are likely to gravitate toward channels that are positive because the market for something to believe in is infinite.
For most business owners how you structure your website and communicate with prospects day in and day out to gain their trust and attention is more important than your salesletter or product quality.
The one scarcity that will continue to grow scarcer as markets saturate is attention. If you have the attention of people at the beginning of the sales cycle likely you will have it at the other end as well, but you have to keep marketing to keep people talking about you and help your business grow.