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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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? Thatâ€™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.
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.
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.