Bill Slawski recently made a post about using mind mapping to think of types of people who would be interested in a site and types of content one would want to create to appeal to them.
Effective navigation acts as a visual cue and guides people through your site. If your site was rendered without graphics or CSS would people still be able to understand what your site was about? Today I spoke with the owner of Saffron Marigold. While the site has been featured on HGTV and in the NYT it is still only converting to a portion of its potential because the top level navigation consists of about, products, policies, shopping bag, my account. That navigation could not possibly be any more generic.
Effective navigation is descriptive and places the most important / common / profitable needs first.
I just looked at my navigation, and it wrongfully assumes the reader already knows what search engine optimization is. This site would be more effective and profitable if there was a page linked to about What is SEO?, or some other general introductory post.
It is no secret that Forbes.com and many other major news sites publish advert / lead generation sections (get your meso help at Forbes), but a newer trend is that trusted publishers are creating these types of pages without even placing links or lead generation forms in them.
Not only can you comparison shop for credit card offers online, but you can also apply for a credit card online. This is rather convenient. In one fell swoop, you can tour through all kinds of credit cards, then apply for the one that best suits you.
How does that type of content end up published on that site?
Dave started by noting that itâ€™s easier for the user to become a manufacturer than a manufacturer to become a user. Whatâ€™s wrong with the manufacturers of the world? They come down from the mountain with their product for you to buy and worship, and then maybe two years later they return with the next product for you to buy and worship. Dave then asked the audience to think about how things have changed over the past ten, fifteen, twenty years, especially around travel and dealing with travel agents.
When it comes to making money, Dave dismissed ads on websites. Instead, the websites should be ads for ourselves and we should learn who shares common interests. An example he provided is Engadget: how long until Engadget is providing feedback to manufacturers around exactly what they & gadget lovers want? This would make manufacturers fulfillment houses for visionary users.
What is important is not blogging itself, but communication. Everywhere you look communication is getting faster and cheaper. You can test an idea and see market response in near real time.
Why is that important? If you care about something it is easy to talk about it in a meaningful way and create ideas that will spread far and fast. The faster they spread the more profitable they are and the further you can spread your next idea. If you mess up packaging your message you can repackage it and launch it again.
Success & Emulation
When I do not read much my writing gets bad. When I read my writing quickly improves.
Some people spread ideas directly, while others chose to emulate them. One of the biggest historical drivers of innovation has been the rate of substitution. When another person replicates what you do in their community you then need to do something else to keep providing value. On the web one only stays original if they are willing to take big risks or constantly change. The worst ideas die and the best stick around, spread, are emulated, spread, are emulated, etc etc etc.
The Internet crosses all borders, touches people at every moral and socioeconomic background, and is largely controlled by amoral profit driven machines, thus it has no respect for copyright. The end result is that you either actively participate in the database of content, conversation, and idea sharing, or attempt to lock out your content and ideas, only to see others claim / repackage / profit from them.
Does journalism cost too much? Too bad. Nobody is at fault. Is my price point too high? Someone in China is probably selling my ebook for $10 (or less). It is probably on some torrent websites too. Can I stop them? Probably not.
Others leverage distribution and add features to add value to your content. The shared experience becomes the content, and unless you opt out you are in the network, hoping to keep getting paid for offering up the scraps of original content, hoping to stay relevant.
Increased communication and information sharing leads to more of the same. You either submit your content to the machine, or they will grab as much as they can for free, then point off to those who are borrowing it and running ads against it.
If Google had rights to music lyrics, they would let you go from here to reading them here. But if you do not give Google rights they just link off to the top free sources sharing your lyrics. The same is true with your videos and stories...content in any format. If you do not share your stuff then whoever talks about it and represents it best online gets credit for it as though they created it.
So either you put the official video online, or someone records a concert, or people see a cover / alternate rendition. If you somehow manage to block all that then it is as though you don't exist, and you are losing marketshare to those who are being talked about.
He found that between the end of 2001 and the end of last year, the number of Internet domains expanded by more than 75%, from 2.9m to 5.1m. At the same time, however, the dominance of the most popular domains grew substantially. At the end of 2001, the top 10 websites accounted for 31% of all the pages viewed on the net. By the end of last year, the top 10 accounted for fully 40% of page views. There are more destinations online, but we eem to be visiting fewer of them.
Now that you can play music in Google's search results you have to think that consolidation is only going to get worse.
The cited research also notes that social sites are playing a role in the consolidation of traffic. Andrew Goodman recently published an article about why people would want to contribute to online communities. He noted that much of the community giving spirit is based on a common thread of a shared sense of justice in society. It then makes sense that political blogs, religious sites, deep niche sites, and things built on heavily biased/warped worldviews are typically stronger communities that are likely easier to maintain than those based on broad interests.
Add to that the following, and a clear trend emerges:
people pay more attention to and believe what resonates with them
people are more likely to share with those that resonate with them
fringe biased content is typically more remarkable than vanilla unbiased content
controversies spread far
As the big players keep taking verticals away from smaller players, back-filling their databases with partner licensed content, and personalizing results to match our worldviews, the profitable (and thus sustainable) communities will move more toward the fringe edges.
Unless there is some other change to modern relevancy algorithms, the top ranked results will be watered down vanilla content from editorially trusted sources or heavily biased content from the fringe. A mixture of various biases will also allow people to believe in whatever they thought was right before the consulted the oracle. There will be a reasonable accessible source for every lie. Thus we will think the information is of greater value, while it turns out to be low value entertainment leading to self fulfilling prophecies...but at least the ads will be targeted. :)
Google bought YouTube, but is struggling with ironing out ad revenue shares and advertising. What is the easiest way for Google to fix these issues? Integrate YouTube and Google Video directly into Google's search results.
Using what legal loopholes they may and something they call universal search, you can now listen to music videos directly from Google.com search results. This creates a marketplace that many businesses will need to be in to stay relevant, destroys a whole vertical of web spam, AND allows Google to monetize the organic search results (via YouTube). If you think video is a passing fad you bet wrong, but if you are doing it you are best off branding your videos to be associated with your domain name and uploading them to YouTube. Eli offered tips on how to make $1,000 a month re-purposing video, but now the number is more like $20,000.
Sure Google has done many YouTube users wrong, but if you need exposure, Google turned back the clock on SEO. Top ranking have never been easier. All you need to succeed is to format your content in video and upload it to YouTube.
If Google or Amazon were your bank or credit card, they'd let you know which merchants had the best prices for the same products, so you'd be a smarter shopper next time. They'd let merchants know what products were popular with people who also bought related products. They'd help merchants stock the right products by zip code. They'd let you know when you were spending more on dining out than you have set in your family budget. They'd let you know when you were approaching your credit limit, with a real-time fuel gauge, not just a "Sorry, your card has been declined."
By making search richer you have less reason to leave Google. Google started with targeted text ads, but it is even better if they can combine their targeting with trusted brands and offers while making their ads look like a useful piece of content in any format.
Google is willing to give sites like Forbes a top ranking for keywords like SEO just because they published a recent article mentioning the topic. In a world where Google is closing more holes, them opening up the organic results to news sites is a treat to public relations firms.
You can think of old media as acting like directories for new media. New media is heavily reliant on old media for understanding the structure and importance of ideas. Those who know this are willing to pay a premium for the top channels. That is why Sam Zell bought The Tribune Company, News Corp. wants to buy Dow Jones, and why Thomson is buying Reuters. I recently spoke at a well known PR firm, and on their walls they hung dozens of newspaper articles written for their clients. It is the equivalent of how an SEO might look at the top rankings they have got for their clients and their own sites.
As time passes, marketing will get more expensive, and larger businesses will continue to be able to abuse the flow of information to knock down smaller and newer competitors and competing business models while smaller players have to tell more authentic, better researched, or more emotional stories to get the same level of exposure.
If you haven't thought much about how PR is integrated into the news, consider reading Paul Graham's The Submarine. It will make you realize how much every successful large scale business relies on some form of spam to build their brand, create demand, thicken their margins, and keep newer players out of their business.
I got thinking about that speech I gave at that PR firm. I have no idea if they will use my tips to push good ideas, or if they will use them to push inventions that reduce quality of life or kill people. When you get as much exposure as I have been lucky enough to get you just don't know what will happen with what you do...you can't see the outcome, but will probably see more of what you chose to see. I generally have a strong belief in strength of humanity, but also think capitalism is shortsighted, destructive, and sleazy. So which do I chose to see as benefiting more from my existence?
The biggest reason I do not blindly support capitalism is that I think as governments and countries age their law codes and markets get so complex that it is hard to know what is real or true, especially when people are rushed, live in debt, and the leading information agents are focused on profit, personalization, automation, promoting strong biases, and blending ads into content.
The media, like all businesses, operates with some level of collusion. If you are not in their spotlight you are at a distinct disadvantage to those who are. How do we get media coverage? Well that is another post. :)
I was just interviewed about SEO for articles by Forbes and the Wall Street Journal last week. This week Forbes, which hosts doorway mesothelioma pages, has another one titled "Should You Hire a Search Engine Consultant?" Due to Google's push of their news vertical, the Forbes article quickly ranked #4 in Google for "seo", which helps push me down another spot. Arg ;)
By the time something is widely talked about the easy ROI is already on the downward slope. Buying domains was really profitable about 5 years ago when the first web bubble burst, but some of the sharpest domainers are buying domains for 140 years revenues. If you are new to a market how can you compete with that?
And since search is almost as old as the web is, and search engines collect so much usage data it is hard to compete without a serious budget or an original marketing angle. Many of the sharpest minds in SEO have moved beyond just doing SEO, because if you only do SEO you will only make a fraction of what you would if you spent that same amount of time doing things that are becoming relatively easier for real SEOs, like folding SEO into a holistic marketing mix and creating real brands. But if one's core profession was not SEO how would there be enough time? Who has time to be a subject matter expert, provide customer service, while learning branding, marketing, monetization, etc etc etc on the side?
Worse yet, the window of opportunity for each new opportunity gets shorter and shorter. Social media is already too hyped to be of any value for most webmasters. People buy votes from top contributors and PR firms are sending out iPods for publishers to keep if they are willing to review it and associate it with a specific merchant. Everyone is buying links one way or another, and if you don't have a budget or some serious creativity you are screwed as a would be SEO.
As newspapers focus increasingly on locally relevant news, Curley said the AP is proposing changes that would allow members to subscribe to a core package of breaking news and then add other news packages. Currently, it offers broader packages of news defined mainly by the volume of news delivered -- small, medium or large.
So a near monopoly is breaking up how it sells content to other news agencies? I think that more than anything else shows the effect search and the internet are having on news agencies.
The media is addicted to search, and Google is keeping them addicted by giving them a bit more traffic. The NYT is already republishing old stories to spam Google. Eventually I wouldn't be surprised to see the AP sell chunks of stories that local papers can chose to wrap their own content around, to get past duplicate content filters.
Thomson Financial has been using automatic computer programs to generate news stories for almost six months. The machines can spit out wire-ready copy based on financial reports a mere 0.3 seconds after receiving the data.
This movement toward efficiency and recycling is the exact opposite of what the papers need to do if they want to stay relevant, but the machines are already in motion, doing everything from writing the news to trading stocks:
Quants seek to strip human emotions such as fear and greed out of investing. Today, their brand of computer-guided trading has reached levels undreamed of a decade ago. A third of all U.S. stock trades in 2006 were driven by automatic programs, or algorithms, according to Boston-based consulting firm Aite Group LLC. By 2010, that figure will reach 50 percent, according to Aite.
As established trusted authorities and rich power sources move toward automation and efficiency who could beat them? Probably Google, but then whats left to trust but robots?
The Wall Street Journal recently ran an article about SEO and SEM titled In Search of Traffic. I belive you have to be a subscriber to read the whole article, but there is a free podcast interview Kelly Spors did with me about keyword stuff available here, which I think is also available on iTunes.
Your top trusted editors in each category already are human editors / filters. As you go deeper into any category you find more duplication.
Many blog platforms allow you to subscribe to an individual category.
Yahoo! Pipes (and other similar offerings) allow you to mix feeds together.
Sites like Del.icio.us, StumbleUpon, and Google Feed Reader allow you to share items with others.
Many toolbar providers offer buttons that update with the latest news from an RSS feed.
Custom news search feeds and blog link search feeds make it easy to track keywords outside of your favorite editorial channels.
Google personalized homepage allows you to create tabs for different news. I have tabs to track SEO, domaining, marketing, general web memes, news mentions and link acquisition of sites I am currently marketing. By paying attention to the people I trust or the people who are voting for my sites I am probably making the votes count more.