Google Maps shows local rentals, homes for sale, and foreclosures. The real estate data is one of their featured content categories, searchable by location, and sortable by price. How long until Google starts charging for featured real estate listings or pushes this offer more aggressively to the end homeowner?
Helium announced the launch of their article marketplace. Arbitrage giant Geosign is on the client list, scooping up automotive articles. Some of the article descriptions show that the goal is to get just enough content to wrap ads around it, in true arbitrage style:
Collect the latest news about Honda (or another car manufacturer of your choosing). Summarize the news. How does this news affect the average Honda owner? Before you write, make sure that you do some research. Take a look at the latest articles on Google News, the latest automotive blogs on Technorati, and any other online sources you feel are relevant. Max 350 word count.
Some of the other publishers are looking for a bit more meat, but all are likely sharing their marketing strategies with anyone willing to take a look.
How They Should Have Launched
If they were trying to make a big splash at launch time they sent the wrong message. They should have done some co-branded marketing allowing writers to publish for traditional media sites, and/or partnered with trusted charities on important issues.
Why You Should Try Helium
The pitch at Helium is:
Real advice from real people-more than 300,000 articles. Why should you waste your time wading through search results when what you really want is the knowledge that comes with first-hand experience?
Do a bunch of underpaid freelance writers on a generalist site about writing filter through the world's information better than Google or other sites that crawl and index the web? Not likely. For example, I just went to Technorati, and discovered this video is currently popular, with 44 people linking to it
How can a closed off network compete with the web as a whole? It is slower and of lower quality, and will always be that way. Plus it has a spamming incentive baked into the pay structure.
Will the marketplace be a vibrant one, or will the site be a noise filled AdSense honeypot that results in watered down content clogging up the search results? With about a half million pages already indexed in Google you would think Hellium should have more than 14 advertisers signed up. Once writers start tracking their AdSense profit-share results and the site starts ranking for more competitive phrases how many erectile dysfunction articles do you think will get published? The same thing will happen to it that happened to Squidoo.
Human Focused Near Markov Chain Content Websites
Content for everyone about everything by everyone websites are going to make search engines more aggressive in filtering how deep they are willing to crawl these types of sites. If they are not, it won't be long until AssociatedContent, Helium, eHow, WeHow, WikiHow, Yahoo! Answers, UK.Answers.Yahoo.com, Wordpress.com (I have seen PR6 automated splogs on Wordpress based on aggressive tagging) and a few other similar sites join Wikipedia, YouTube, eBay, subdomain.ebay.com, and Amazon as Google's top 10 results for everything. And then the newspapers will respond by getting more aggressive with pumping out garbage content. Some deep pocketed domainers may also look at the success or failure of sites like WeHow to help determine their longterm strategy.
What signal does Google want to send? Will Google ever try to regulate how you acquire content? Will any of the content sources eventually be deemed bad in a similar light to how Google tries to manipulate public perception about buying link based advertisements?
Hiring Great Writers
With more people trying to solve the content problem it is getting easier to scale and look large even if you are solo. If you have an arbitrage website or authoritative website and just need backfill content then sites like Helium might fit your needs, but if you are looking for higher quality writers search around for stories about how Gawker got built, search for thought topical leaders in the blogosphere and offer them similar salaries, and perhaps post an ad on Craigslist or the Problogger Job Boards.
If you value your time in the longrun it is cheaper to hire a great employee rather than filter through the noise hoping to find a star.
Discovering the Hellium Experience
I am off to go read about contacting aliens, the truth about Kennedy, debt consolidation mortgage loan, what you need to know to apply for a credit card, how to get an instant approval credit card, uses of Viagra, hypoactive sexual desire disorder, and best places to bet online. All the best bits of the web in one spot. They even have what is spam, but it's not comprehensive enough. There is no mention of Helium. ;)
Any independent webmaster who has been making good money on the web for a few years has realized that blending ads in content, or distributing ads as content, is much more profitable than a clean separation of church and state. Jakob Nielson recently wrote about usability research showing that people ignore ads unless they look like content and are in the content area of the page. Once a publisher has enough distribution they claim it is unethical to blend content and ads, but if you look close enough at the publisher and advertiser relationships there are overlaps in virtually every category and on every site. There are numerous well known sites in the search space that would never give me any exposure until AFTER I bought ads at their site, which mentioned me regularly after my ad buy.
Here are a few examples of how ads influence editorial:
Some advertisers get mentioned just because they advertise a lot, while many publishers create content around high profit niches, and others organize their editorial content based on votes and usage data that can be bought (indirectly) through their ad network (think StumbleUpon and Google AdWords).
If your solution to the issue of low profit margins in publishing is to aggressively blend low value ads then you are eventually going to fail. As a publisher then there are at least 7 major ways to compete against others who are practicing and profiting from the blend, without being labeled as unethical, or undermining your own growth potential:
branding & positioning: create a brand or service that sounds informational and content-like even though it is an ad (think Bankrate, which likely pays virtually nothing to syndicate their ads as content to many major newspapers)
segregate: keep your main content stream free of ads, build authority, and create an offers section on your site
be pure: don't publish any ads, wait until you have a strong brand, and then launch a better business model than competing channels
indirect revenues: use your site to build mindshare, brand awareness, status, and expertise. then cash in on that via indirect revenue streams
move yourself up the value chain: instead of selling AdSense or similar related ads, sell one of your own products and services. you can typically place these ads in-line without as much scrutiny or brand damage as blending someone else's ads in your content (see below)
free user content: if you can create a platform and rule-set that allows others to build value on your idea while drawing enough of an audience to sort signal from noise you can profit heavily from that (think forums, Technorati tags, Yahoo! Answers, Digg, or Google)
Do you have any additional ideas for profiting from integration without being labeled as unethical?
MYTH #2: Copyright was created for artists.
FACT: It was the exact opposite. When copyright was created in the Middle Ages of England, it was about censorship. The printing press had just been invented, and people were publishing of all kinds of writings and reprinting text from throughout history. Parliament feared it, so it set up a corporation with powers to enforce an exclusive printing monopoly.
MYTH #3: Copyright protects artists.
FACT: It protects the publishers, and few artists earn the majority of their income from it. In fact, many artists see no money from it at all--it all goes to their publishers.
MYTH #4: Copyright prevents plagiarism.
FACT: Thanks to technology like the Internet, attribution of original authorship is easily detectable, especially when works are published. In many cases, plagiarism (e.g. taking the successful work of one artist and re-selling it under your name) is even EASIER to detect by performing a Google search than via the United States Copyright Office.
Copyright laws made more sense in the age of printing presses, but in the age of the Internet it is irrelevant. Distribution does not require significant investment by publishers. In the video Karl also said the following quote about what he thought fair copyright law should resemble:
Your name can not be stripped and no one else can claim credit for it. That is credit, reputation is a non renewable resource. It can not be replicated. It can not be copied. To the degree that someone takes credit for your stuff, that's the degree to which you lose credit. It is always proportional.
I agree that current copyright law is messed up, but so is the way that Google handles what they deem to be search spam.
A work can be a collection of keywords and a navigational structure as much as it is a set piece of content. Trusted sites keep building more trust due to their visibility while untrusted sites have to send email spam or do other types of buzz related marketing to gain awareness.
Most large industries have regulatory bodies or rating systems which aim to keep power where it lies. I recently watched Kirby Dick's This Film Is Not Yet Rated, a film about the MPAA ratings board.
The MPAA ratings board is composed of what is deemed as typical moral parents, but they play up to support large movie studios. If a film is rated NC17 some studios won't release it, and even if they will it is hard to advertise the movie.
Matt stone, one of the creators of South Park, mentioned that when he tried to get an independent film reviewed they gave it a NC17 rating, and would not say why because they said if they gave specific reasons they would be practicing censorship. Later on he got Team America reviewed, and they gave him a laundry list of what specifically needed to be changed to avoid an NC17 rating.
Some of the absurdity of the movie ratings game include the likes of good ratings for violence in movies (especially without blood), but non missionary sexual intercourse is not proper. The support for violence in unsurprising given the absurd number of movies that run military ads prior to starting the film. The military is not only a leading advertisers, but if a producer needs military stuff to create a movie, the pentagon has to view the film before public does.
Virtually every large market has some form of censorship / reviews board. The stuff they censor is likely a large market waiting to be tapped. If they are unwilling to target those markets because of fear of blowback from advertisers that presents a large targeted audience and strong monetization strategy for independent creators.
TechCrunch recently highlighted how most of Glam's growth has come from the combination of shallow pure SEO play to pump pageview stats and syndicating their ads on other related sites to further pump the success story, all while the network is projected to lose over $20 million this year. But VentureBeat also noted that the growth is significant enough that Google wants to do a custom ad deal with them.
Marchex recently had a brutal quarter which drove their stock price down to $9 a share. Their site development process was far too broad and far too shallow. They need to start developing their top domains or sell them off to someone who will leverage them for their full value. In response to Marchex's down quarter Sahar Sarid asked what they should do and got this brilliant comment:
What is the business model hereâ€¦ we got out sites indexed by Google but the users had a shit experience and BTW our indexed sites make nothing compared to if we just parked them. Come on - it not really very hard to figure it out- take the top 30 golden domains and build them into authority sites NOT openlist scrape sites but bankrate.comâ€™s
As markets consolidate, 2 of the biggest determiners of who will win a market are going to be
brand perception and AdWords ad budget.
Brand perception: Google gives brands a discount on AdWords ad prices while price gouging smaller competitors, which subsidizes the value of building a brand. If BMW spams, Google is afraid to remove BMW from their index for very long. If a smaller site does something that is borderline gray and comes under scrutiny Google may penalize the domain and pay an AdSense spammer for stealing that content and keeping it in the Google index. It all feels a bit like the mafia, but this is Google's way to extort you and kill smaller market players without being branded as a corporate criminal.
AdWords ad budget: if you are blowing millions a month on Google AdWords then Google will be more likely to white list your sites and less likely to penalize you for white-label clone sites, robotic content, subdomain spam, or bought links.
Even if you lose money on the main brand, it still allows you to backfill with high margin garbage with limited risk from Google. What are the odds of Google doing anything about this BizJournals spam? If you want to monetize garbage you have to put one star brand at the center of it to mitigate you risk profile.
"The New York Times is a strong and respected brand however the type of content they are writing about [in columns] is available everywhere," Borrell explains. "Their niche is strong writing and this is not a strong enough niche to charge readers for."
What types of publishing business models will stay profitable?
Niche Industry Leaders Publishers in fields with few competitors, or content which is so good (good as in one or more of the following: evokes emotional response, overtly biased to match user bias, focused, consistent) that people chose to subscribe to that channel as a proxy for that entire industry. If you have your own distribution and a large following you don't need search engines to sell stuff or influence markets.
Conversion Experts If you can pay more for traffic than anyone else you can't lose. There will always be an arbitrage option available for you. Get enough leverage and get a fatter margin, which allows you to recruit and teach a pool of affiliates to make you money. If you can write content that converts you will get paid more per word. Google pushes CPA ads and today Yahoo! today just announced their traffic quality center.
One of the easiest ways to get your message across is to be different and denounce a currently popular meme. Dan Thies recently referenced a person who is launching their marketing brand by calling the long tail crap. Even if they know what they are talking about with some forms of marketing it undermines their credibility to talk about search marketing with no appreciation for the tail.
This is a growing trend with information in general online. Marketers with a for profit agenda, a reason to create spin, or no knowledge of a field create ratings, reviews, or half compiled resource list at a market and get people to talk about them
for being useful (to those naive and new to the market, or those featured in the compilation) and
for being inaccurate (for those who know the market and realize that the lists are marketing garbage)
As marketers like you and I fill industries with information pollution it gets harder and harder for the novice web user to know truth from fiction.
The net effect is that we all buy more lies and garbage, become less trusting and more cynical, and small businesses end up having more similar externalities to large businesses, where the profiting company does not take into account any of the downsides to the pollution they created to generate profit.
Some publishers feel absolved of any wrongdoing when they rely on a third party ad network for ad targeting, but profit driven ad network are amoral. Why would someone pay $3 a click for free ringtones if there wasn't some sort of reverse billing fraud on the backend?
Sometimes people borrow and rewrite content, but it is just plain out sick when they steal your site design and content without the decency to even bother changing it. Tonight in the SERPs I saw a weird site that looked awfully similar to a friend's site.
You judge the similarities between the content at CollegeScholarships.org (original site) and at ScholarshipsInTheUS.com (thief). Their site design looked similar to the original, until the site went offline. A few of his internal links even point at the real site! Earlier tonight I called the number that was on the WhoIs data of the site stealing content. He was mad someone called and bothered him, but claimed he did not have anything to do with the content theft or domain. Within hours of the phone call the site was offline.
I bet they hope my GoDaddy representative doesn't look at the link to Google's cache I just sent them, and that they hope their Google AdSense account doesn't get banned. If either of those happened that would be a real shame.
The Anonymous Web of Theft
I am not listing a name or the AdSense account number here because someone may have spiked the guy by putting false data in the WhoIs or publishing someone else's AdSense code to try to get them burned. What is to prevent me from doing that to someone who I don't like?
Part of the great strength of the web is that it is anonymous...so that people like you or I can do what we like and find a way to spread our ideas and profit from them (I use the term profit loosely there...I am not just talking about money). But I think some of the central network operators need to take on a bit more responsibility in who they are willing to partner with.
Google's Lack of Respect for Copyright
The real issue I have here is not just with the content theft, but also with the central networks on the web. Google is currently lobbying to soften up copyright warnings, largely because they have no respect for copyright.
Google's Youtube Copyright & Piracy Claims
Google claims they can fingerprint video content to prevent piracy and copyright violation (although the world is still waiting for that technology). If Google can fingerprint duplicates to remove them from the search results, and claims they can even find copyright video content, then why do they allow 100+ page websites that nearly 100% match current sites in their index to run AdSense ads without doing either of the following
flagging the site for automated or human review to compare it to related content sites before approving ad distribution
notifying the other publishers of the potential content theft being sponsored by AdSense
Maybe they are slow to getting around to that because doing the right thing would cost them a couple dollars. But delaying on that issue is actually going to cost the web as a whole, because if people think that by publishing anything online that they are granting someone permission to steal it and Google permission to run ads on it then Google isn't encouraging the production of the high quality content needed to make their search service more relevant and more useful.
eBay Also Supports Theft
Google isn't the only large network which openly and proudly profits from theft. eBay, which has made $10,000's from my Paypal payments, is allowing this dirtbag to sell my ebook on eBay over and over again. I have sent complaints using eBay's internal system, and talked to my Paypal representative, but so far they have not yet banned the thief and I am stuck monitoring eBay for theft that eBay's policies clearly and openly encourage.
Making Anonymity Work
Yesterday a leading search engineer at another search company informed me that he thought my book was good, but it was being distributed by another thief on another site. Here I am with a Technorati top 100 ranked blog, thousands of subscribers, millions of inbound links, giving these large companies tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, and still eating crow.
How are new entrepreneurs to compete on the web if many of the central networks place a $0 value on content? How is that good for the long-term health of the web? Unless you sell ads, are syndicating misinformation or public relations spin, or have a large back-end up-sell you are screwed.
If the web is to remain anonymous the large networks need to make it easier to inform you if they are partnering with thieves to share in the profits from stealing your content. Or perhaps they could put a little effort into avoiding the issue by limiting their partnerships.