WSJ Article on Search Engine Optimization & Marketing

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.

RSS Already Has Filters

Apr 25th

Scott Karp mentioned that RSS has no value without a filter. RSS already has filters, but most people probably do not use them to their full potential.

  • 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.

Getting to Self Sustaining

Apr 20th

Last year one of my friends couldn't understand why I was willing to heavily invest into marketing a content site that was barely self sustaining, but any market worth being in will require some level of investment to achieve worthwhile returns. If one off marketing expenses triple your traffic then they allow you to spend more on content quality and develop the site deeper. Many people are afraid to risk anything on a new channel. If you are already spending your time working on it and are thinking about it you are already investing...but investing half way won't get you as far as pouring yourself into a project will. If you over-invest and fail in a few months at least you learn something. If you invest to slowly you might just be burning your time and money without even realizing what is going on. You only have so much time and attention, so it is best to leverage it on a few strong channels.

Some types of investment (such as large external ones or ones for poor formatting or bloated infrastructure) are bad because they force you to achieve a certain scale to be self sustaining. Seth pointed to a UK magazine named Pulp that died after its first week:

The magazine had been in development for more than a year and had been heavily trailed on TV, radio and the internet. ... Mr Styles said: "Every piece of research we did, every dummy we created and the concept in all its forms was fantastically received from first to last.

"The industry wanted it, the news trade wanted it, the market was there according to every group we asked - but come the acid test the readers were absent."

They would have been better off launching a website and pouring that print and advertising money into content creation and marketing. That would have been far cheaper and far more valuable than market testing.

The web is so easy to track that you can't spend too heavily without getting good feedback quickly.

As Google and others continue to close off easy opportunity you can't be afraid to invest if you want to see sizable returns. If you are growing rapidly and already are at self sustaining that is a great sign, because when you get more efficient or cut your development costs that cost center turns into a revenue stream. If you are starting from scratch it is hard to compete with nothing unless you are exceptionally passionate.

Effectively & Profitably Recycling Content

Many people are recycling and reformatting various ideas to promote them in lists of top 10 xyz's. The problem with formatting them as such is that one can get similar from going to Del.icio.us or StumbleUpon. If you add context to your page, and state why the top 10 things are the best your page is much more linkworthy.

Images and formatting matter if you are recycling. Link lists are not as linkworthy as they were a few years ago.

Another tip for formatting link lists: if you have a blog on your site you are better off putting your linkworthy content on the blog. Many people check trackbacks. If you talk about them from a static page you have less of a chance of them finding you. If you talk about them on your blog you have another chance for them to find you.

Fixed Business Costs, Market Passion, & Profit Potential

When creating a content based website you can't just look at how big a market is and say thats a lot of money I am gonna go get some of it. You have to evaluate the profit potential of the market, and how easy it is for you to access it.

Biotechnology Blows:

Lets say I heard that biotechnology was a fast growing field and the market can not keep up with the demand, and I wanted to ride that wave. There are multiple problems with profiting from that market though:

  • lots of authority in that market: you are going to need many links to compete in the SERPs

  • lots of passion in that market: it is going to be hard to accumulate links as fast as the best channels
  • hard to write about: you can't just pay any old work at home writer to research and write about biotechnology the way they could write about something like personal finance
  • science and government: lots of high authority sites clogging up the search results
  • ad blindness: outside of children who do not yet understand advertising, most people studying science are less likely to click ads than the average person

Bad Markets:

The above bullet points are examples of things to look out for. Some markets that are generally tough to profit from (on an ROI perspective)

  • anything related to computers and the Internet

  • insurance or anything with heavy government interests
  • fields where everyone has the same duplicate content
  • science or other fields with lots of trusted links
  • high priced commodities in fields that are heavily marginalized and in decline

Good Ways to Play Bad Markets:

Zillow does well in real estate because they have a unique way of displaying information. If you have a new format / angle / niche you can do well in even the most competitive markets.

Non-competitive Markets that are Claimed to be Competitive:

Many markets that are allegedly competitive have a bunch of thin sites all doing the same stuff.

  • The Forex market has almost no editorial, and the channels that have editorial tend to be so technical in nature that they are hard to cite.

  • How many useful original ringtone sites are there? How hard would it be for someone who had a useful ringtone site to get 50,000 visitors a day?
  • How many markets are there where half of the top results are obviously written by Indians who barely know English?

Choosing a Profitable Market:

No matter what category you are competing in, you are going to have some minimum baseline writing, design, research, link building, and marketing costs. It is likely more profitable to be an established unique site in a field of sites all offering the same thing than it is try to be a market leader in a market with low search volume and virtually no commercial intent.

Extending the Reach / Circulation of a Web Based Content Site & Ad Network

Mar 28th

Once you have a trusted market position advertisers will buy in even if you hurt their business model or call their products crap:

To my enormous surprise, the company that threatened to call the feds on me made another offer to advertise on CamcorderInfo.com. Because of our popularity - we have the No. 1 search listing on Google (Charts) under "camcorder reviews" - it couldn't afford to avoid us anymore. I okayed the deal, comfortable that the electronics firm was aware of our ethics policies. It has since become one of our largest clients. When I asked the executive if he ever actually called the FBI on me, he insists he did. He said the agency found me guilty of nothing except a passion to build a reliable company.

Every Ad Network is Flawed:

Once an ad network has buy in they look for ways to leverage that market position. And there is fraud involved nearly every time

  • newspapers puff up their circulation numbers

  • magazines run ads and give themselves away to boost circulation
  • a keyword that normally costs me $4 a month on Yahoo! cost me over $100 this month due to syndicated click fraud
  • look at how much of the web spam Google funds

How to Extend Your Reach Without Getting Too Dirty:

Once you establish a trusted market leading niche site you can extend your circulation by buying traffic from cheap sources. Some people will just send fake traffic generators over their own site for impression fraud, but there are many cheap sources of traffic that may provide ongoing value and look much more natural than blatantly committing circulation fraud.

  • Keep your feed rather clean so it is easy to subscribe to. The people subscribing to it will likely be the people who link to your site. Maybe put one exclusive sponsored by ad unit in your feed.

  • Create an email newsletter that recycles your best online content. Maybe run one or two ads in it, and use it to drive traffic back to your site.
  • Buy interstitial ads from AdBrite on related websites. If AdBrite is underpricing the inventory of a strong site try to buy out all their ad slots.
  • If AdSense is under-priced in your market consider buying AdSense ads on related sites to drive longtail traffic back to your site and further position yourself as the market leader. You see this sort of activity all the time with web directories, where a couple of them have ads on other web directories.
  • If you are really motivated you may want to resell ad inventory of other smaller players in your field.
  • Buy traffic from StumbleUpon.
  • If you write what is essentially a news site try to get syndicated in Google News and other related news sites.
  • If your site has a high authority score, write a few posts here and there that use analogies or other ways to pull in related traffic without looking like you are straying too far off topic. For example, one of the leading search queries for this site is Google Auctions.

  • Interview industry experts that have greater reach than you do.
  • If you have been ignoring SEO at least give the topic a cursory look, and consider buying a few trusted links by doing things like joining trade organizations.
  • Create linkbait and get it exposure on the popular social news websites. Also consider promoting your best content via Review Me buys on popular channels. (disclaimer: I have an equity stake in Review Me)
  • If you have enough time to manage it (or know someone else who can) consider adding a forum or other user generated content sections to your site. Active forums can have hundreds of thousands or millions of page views each day.
  • Have your pages refresh once every few minutes to rotate through advertisements. I believe MarketingVox does this.
  • Make sure your site design is clean, you publish quality original content, and your about us page looks trustworthy. These will make it easier for people to buy ads directly from you, and will make it easier for the media to use you as a source.

If you have a high value market position in a large competitive sector and are not making much from AdSense make your site brand ad friendly by pumping up your circulation numbers. Many of those ad buys are cheap on a CPM basis and will lead to additional recurring traffic and links. In many high value markets as your get more exposure your ad revenues increase logarithmically because you get more traffic and people are willing to pay a higher CPM rate.

Writing for Multiple Audiences

Mar 28th

Many sites tend to steer clear of controversy, but want the traffic controversy can bring. What are the solutions?

  • Accidentally put things in / leave things out of your story that make it easy to take it the wrong way. Leave an easy angle that you know people will take so that when they do you can crush them. Depending on your strategy, it may even help to leave comments off on some of these types of posts.

  • Write your own controversial comment as though it was from someone else and then let people debunk that person.
  • When you syndicate your story to a social site that is politically biased, place blame for whatever is wrong on someone. People will vote on hating or liking that person without even clicking through to the story to see if it relates to the headline.

Eye Tracking from Search to Recall

Mar 26th

There have recently been a couple eye tracking studies in the news. Jakob Nielson did a study on the effects of clean content organization:

What if you could engage users in a story for about half the time, yet have them remember about 34 percent more of the content? That’s exactly what one test showed. Spending less than two hours rewriting and reformatting a story about New York City restaurants really paid off according to this study.

Gord Hotchkiss recently posted about how people scan search results.

We scan three to four listings at a time, which are temporarily loaded into our memory slots. From that first group of three to four listings we make a determination if any of them are relevant to the query we just launched. About 50% of the time, we make our selection from those first three or four listings and we click on one of them. If we don't find what were looking for in this first can, then we continue to scan down the page, slicing off our second consideration set of three to four listings, again loading them into our memory slots so we can compare them and make our choice.

As the business model for creating content erodes, and web entrepreneurs get better at recycling content, those who get the presentation and formatting from the search results right on through to site structure and article display will win marketshare as destination sites:

While many people want their website to be #1 (or even settle for first page) for their keywords, very few websites actually deserve it. The concept of Destination Marketing is about making your website better than the sum of its parts by combining strong SEO and strong on- and off-page marketing without compromising any of it. If your website is just another site doing the same thing that hundreds of others are and you provide no unique offerings, simply put, you don't deserve to be #1. Period.

Update: Poynter did research showing that when people pay attention online they pay more attention than they pay to similar offline pieces. Here is a video about their eye tracking study.

Preparing a Site for Sale

Mar 12th

If you are growing a site organically it might be worth it to sacrifice the short term earnings for long-term growth, but what happens when it comes time to sell a site? If you site has a strong brand or other intangible brand type assets worth far more than current earnings consider those before making any changes, and do not tarnish the site's image. If you site does not have those, and will likely sell at an auction it will probably sell for some multiple of current earnings, based on a number of factors including

  • how much work it is to keep the site earning what it is (fixed costs, in time and money)

  • general category growth (upside potential)
  • site position in the category (upside potential)
  • how aggressively it is monetized (upside potential)

Almost everything that has the word potential in it is going to be heavily discounted. Some people will not see the potential, while others will feel that they don't want to bid based on potential (because they feel that is their value add after they buy the site). Before you sell a site, make sure you spend a few months tweaking the monetization to max out your current revenue numbers. That is the base which most buy offers will be built from.

Domain Names and Defensible Traffic

Andy Hagans recently posted about his linkbait marathon strategy to rank his sites at the top of the search results. Brian Provost posted about his love for domaining. Domain names may play a big roll not only in anchor text, but also in overall domain credibility, linkability, and defensibility.

An Example of a Domain Waiting to Fall:

In spite of making over a thousand dollars a month, one of my unappealingly named domain names has cost itself significant credibility and links. Since it is an invisible cost it is hard to estimate how much it has cost, but I have a perfect example of showing how much it hurts.

One time I tried sponsoring an event and they said sure. They got my credit card details and then asked for the domain name. Once they saw the domain name they said sorry they couldn't accept my money. And this is a reputable content site in a field that is easy to like, but on a junky sounding domain name. Ouch.

Being Honest With Yourself:

If you have a quality legitimate content site, and people who typically sell reviews or links are unwilling to take your money you know it is time for a change.

Other Signs of Trust:

If people who need sponsorship are unwilling to take my money imagine how much a bad domain name suppresses my click-through rate in the search results, and how many other links it cost me. If and when relevancy moves toward an attention based metric I am screwed if my house is built on a cheesy domain name that looks spammy.

Domain Buyer's Pricing Tips:

You can sometimes capture emerging field names cheaply, but you are probably going to have to spend at least a few grand to get a good name if you are in an established field.

If you are new to domaining, and can't afford a great .com there are still a lot of great .org and .net names out there available for $1,000 to $10,000.

Is a 301 Redirect Risky?

I will eventually 301 redirect my high ranking ugly domain name to the undeveloped MyKeywords.org domain that I just spent $8,000 buying. Short term I will probably see some drop in traffic, but long-term it is going to be far less risky to create an leverage what looks like a real resource and a real brand.

If you do something like this, make sure you have enough other passive income streams to afford the risk, and keep developing links to the new domain name. Keep that old trusted domain registered and redirecting for many years into the future. If you lose it you will probably lose a large portion of your link authority.

There is No Value in Being Anonymous:

You can spend the money your site is making as a passive income source, but if you believe in what you are doing, and have money in the bank, there is no reason to use a bad domain name. It is like writing nameless.

You can get a decent design for few thousand dollars, or a design modification for a few hundred. You can get good content for $50 a page or less. You can move a CMS for a low price too. The cost of moving and re-branding a non-brand site are negligible compared to the potential upside.

If you ever decide to sell, you are not going to get much out of my-ugly-do-mainz.biz, but if you create a real brand on an undeveloped strong domain name you will be able to sell it for a premium far in excess of the domain name cost.

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