I am still a fan of AdSense as a way of determining a baseline income potential for a site, but I don't see it as a long-term viable business model for most small publishers. Why?
Smart Pricing (or Maybe Dumb Publishing?)
I friend told me how much he made from AdSense a year ago, and in spite of increasing his network pageviews 200% since then his earnings this month are 10% lower than they were a year ago.
And Google still does a sloppy job policing their partner network. What happens if their editorial review costs increase. What does that do to the percent of ad income Google needs to keep to keep growing?
A Glut of Publishing:
It is getting easier and easier to publish online. The number of people writing is probably growing at a faster rate than the number (and income of) of people reading, which means you will have to be more compelling and put more effort into your content and marketing if you want to keep your pageviews up.
And Google has been placing more weight on authoritative domains, which is squeezing many small players out of ranking in the search results.
Newspaper & Magazine Archives: More Glut:
As business deals are worked out, and trusted archived content comes online, many business models based on AdSense spam will lose a large portion of their traffic to mainstream media companies that are not currently fully leveraging their archives.
If Google bought YouTube how long before they buy Olive Software or create a similar technology?
Frothy Ad Market:
I just saw a big, ugly, and obtrusive AOL ad on Amazon.com's home page. If people are buying general untargeted graphic ads on the largest retail site they must be overpaying for it.
A Lack of Competition:
Some of the executives of Yahoo!'s Publisher program recently announced they were quiting, and with Google's lead in the contextual ad space with virtually no competition, I have to take that as a bad sign for Yahoo!, and for independent publishers in general.
Google's General Arrogance:
Today many publishers noticed bright Google logos in their ad boxes inviting readers to sign up for AdSense.
Potential Text Ad Blindness:
People have learned to ignore banners and common ad locations. How long until people learn to ignore common AdSense formats, especially as the ads appear so prevalently on so many sites? What if people become more receptive to identifying ads (even in the content area)?
Not Worth It:
Add all those up and it gets a bit bleak looking to AdSense as anything more than a baseline estimate for effortless income or a backfill for unsold inventory.
What if instead of monetizing every page, niche publishers used most of their pages to keep attention and link equity flowing their way, and then just monetized targeted high value sections of their sites using well integrated affiliate offers and/or selling direct products?
SEO Question: I was thinking about buying Google AdWords and AdSense ads or placing AdSense on my site. Will doing any of these increase my link count, Google rankings, or rankings in other search engines?
Answer: PPC ads go through redirects, so they do not count toward your link popularity, but there are other ways to tie together PPC ads and organic search placement. Search engines claim there is no direct linkage between buying ads and ranking, but they only talk in ideals because it helps reinforce their worldview and help them make more money.
Buying AdWords Ads
What They Won't Tell You:
Highly commercial keywords may have the associated editorial results go through more relevancy filters and/or be editorially reviewed for relevancy more frequently. Also, because they want people to click on the AdWords ads there is a heavy informational bias on the oranic search results.
I know some people who have large ad spends that get notifications of new ad system changes ahead of time, and others who get to give direct feedback to allow them to participate in cleaning up search results and minimizing unfair competing actions in the ad systems. So that is one type of cross-over / feedback that exists, but I think that tends to be more rare, and the more important cross over / feedback that exists is an indirect one.
Just by Being Real
You can't really explain why and how everyone does what they do. Some people who find your product and enjoy it enough to leave glowing testimonials will even tell you that they don't know how they found it.
In the same way that targeted ads can lead to purchases, they can also lead to an increase in mindshare, brand, reach, usage data, and linkage data. Just by being real and being seen you are going to pick up quality signals. If you try to factor all of those into your ad buys most markets are still under-priced.
Cross Over Due to Buying AdWords:
A well thought out pay per click campaign can feed into your SEO campaign more ways than I can count. Here are a few examples.
Integrating Offline & Online:
In a TV commercial Pontiac told people to search Google, and got a ton of press.
Many companies also have strong ties between the legal and marketing departments. If buying or selling an ad gets you sued and gets you in the news the value of the news coverage can far exceed the cost of the ads and legal fees.
Small Controversial Ads:
When I was newer to the field one friend called me the original link spammer. He meant it as a compliment, and I still take it as one. In much the same way I was an aggressive link builder, I was also quite aggressive at ad buying.
I caused controversy by buying names of other people in the industry as AdWords ads. I was prettymuch a total unknown when I did that, but some of the top names in the industry elevated my status by placing my name in heated discussion about what was fair and reasonable or not.
You can always consider placing controversial / risky ideas or ads against your brand or competing brands as a way to generate discussion (but of course consider legal ahead of time).
Drafting Off New Words & Industry News:
When the nigritude ultramarine SEO contest started I bid on AdWords. Some people discussing the contest mentioned that I bid on that word. If an event bubbles up to gain mainstream coverage and you make it easy to identify your name as being associated with it then you might pick up some press coverage.
Industry buzz words that are discussed often have significant mindshare, get searched for frequently, and larger / bureaucratic competitors are going to struggle to be as plugged into the market as you are or react as quickly to the changing language.
Snagging a Market Position Early:
When a friend recommended I read the TrustRank research paper in February of last year I knew it was going to become an important idea (especially because that same friend is brilliant, helped me more ways and times than I can count, and was the guy who came up with the idea of naming the Google Dances).
I read it and posted a TrustRank synopsis. In addition to trying to build a bit of linkage for that idea I also ensured that I bought that keyword on AdWords. Today I rank #1 in Google for TrustRank, and I still think I am the only person buying that keyword, which I find fascinating given how many people use that word and how saturated this market is.
Buying AdSense Ads
Buying Ads Creates Content:
If your ads are seen on forums people may ask about your product or brands. I know I have seen a number of threads on SEO forums that were started with something like I saw this SEO Book ad and I was wondering what everyone thought of it. Some people who start talking about you might not even click your ads.
Each month my brand gets millions and millions of ad impressions at an exceptionally reasonable price, especially when you factor in the indirect values.
Appealing to an Important Individual:
I have seen many people advertise on AdSense targeting one site at a time, placing the webmaster's name in the ad copy. It may seem a bit curt for some, but it is probably more likely to get the attention of and a response from a person than if you request a link from them.
Ads are another type / means of communication.
Appealing to a Group of People:
I get a ton of email relating to blogs and blogging. And in Gmail I keep seeing Pew Internet ads over and over and over again. Their ads range from Portrait of a Blogger to Who are Bloggers?
Going forward they will have added mindshare, link equity, and a report branded with that group of people. When people report on blogging or do research about blogging in the future the Pew report is likely to be referenced many times.
Selling AdSense Ads
Don't Sell Yourself Short:
Given the self reinforcing nature of links (see Filthy Linking Rich) anything that undermines your authority will cause you to get less free exposure going forward. So you really have to be careful with monetization. If you do it for maximal clickthough rate that will end up costing you a lot of trust and link equity.
Don't Monetize Too Early:
Given the lack of monetization ability of a new site with few visitors and the importance of repeat visits in building trust and mindshare you don't want to monetize a new site too aggressively unless it is an ecommerce type site. It is hard to build authority if people view your site as just enough content to wrap around the AdSense.
Spam, Footprints, & Smart Pricing:
In the past search engines may have discounted pages that had poison words on them. Search is all about math / communication / patterns.
Graywolf recently noted that landing page slippage may be an input into landing page and site quality scores for AdWords ad buyers. Google could also use AdSense account earnings or AdSense CTR data to flag sites for editorial reviews, organic search demotion, ad payout reduction, or smart pricing.
I recently got my first venture capital investment request for this blog, which, of course, I turned down. Nothing wrong with VC, of course, other than it isn't a good fit for niche publishing. I generally hate meta blogging stuff, but these 3 quotes are generally all saying the same thing from slightly different angles, which is quite important when you consider the backgrounds of the different sources.
The Economy of Abundance allows business owners to defer choices to the end users. What better way to find out what consumers want than to give them everything and see what they actually buy. That is the paradigm of abundance. Why get your news programmed by CNN.com when you can have your news bubble up from the collective wisdom of end users at Newsvine or Reddit? Why get your television programmed by CBS when you can leverage the collective wisdom of the web to find great shows like Lonelygirl15 or Ask a Ninja? No longer will the success or failure of content be dictated solely by the Economy of Scarcity (e.g. Walmart). Rather, it will be dictated by the will of the consumers, as empowered by the Economy of Abundance.
I think that VCâ€™s will start to wake up and realize that Ajax is a feature and not a product, at the same time how are 100-1000 or so VC funded companies going to compete with a couple of hundred thousand webmasters who have created sites wanting a piece of the action? Many of these webmasters would be perfectly happy with $100/month. But if even if 1 in a 1000 of those adsense driven sites is very successful your entire industry could be screwed. Just look at online dating.
In my talks on Web 2.0, I always end with the point that "a platform beats an application every time." We're entering the platform phase of Web 2.0, in which first generation applications are going to turn into platforms, followed by a stage in which the leaders use that platform strength to outperform their application rivals, eventually closing them out of the market. And that platform is not enforced by control over proprietary APIs, as it was in the Windows era, but by the operational infrastructure, and perhaps even more importantly, by the massive databases (with network effects creating increasing returns for the database leaders) that are at the heart of Web 2.0 platforms.
the need for venture capital goes down daily for those who can create good passion based ideas. You are not going to build a Google without some funding, but as long as you consider your cost structure from the start you do not need to try to act like Google.
Each additional passion driven amature website makes search more relevant and cuts the publishing market into more pieces. Traditional media companies had to rely on their region based monopoly market position to have a large profit margin, but given the distributed nature of the web is the traditional business financing structure going to even remain relevant in many markets?
Some people are up in arms about the idea of Wikipedia adding ads to their site. The issue is not that ads are hated. The true issue with the Wikipedia and advertising is this:
The issue is not targeting or relevancy... the issue is that some will feel it is bait and switch. That something they thought was pure and easy to believe in now suddenly is part of the real world.
The truth is that the Wikipedia has always been chuck full of ads. I am not talking about the link spam that people sneak in, or when people promote their own brands, I am talking about the mindset with which Wikipedia articles are drafted. Lets look at the search engine optimization article.
First of all, lets start with the classification and associated fields:
Even Google's guidance on hiring an SEO, which is quite biased (and self serving) in nature, probably is not as biased as the Wikipedia's classification of SEO.
Now lets compare that frame of reference to the opinion of Google's lead engineer in charge of search quality. From my interview with Matt Cutts, where I asked Is all SEO spam? His response was:
Absolutely not--I need to do a post about this on my blog sometime. Lots and lots of search engine optimization is white-hat and not spam at all.
The way Wikipedia classifies SEO is an advertisement biased against the entire field of SEO, and thus acts as an ad for search engines and pay per click marketing.
Accepted Types of Information:
I knew that directly linking to my site or directly marketing myself on Wikipedia was not going to go to far with them generally hating the field of SEO so much. On the other hand, I knew their vile hatred of the field meant that me mentioning Traffic Power and linking to articles about Traffic Power that link to my site would stay in that article forever. And they have stuck thusfar.
The Wikipedia states:
When discovered, search engines may take action against those found to be using unethical SEO methods.
Why is ethics even tied to SEO techniques? Machines can't have ethics. When their results are inaccurate that must be the fault of some external third party with low ethical standards? What is that?
"Wikipedia hasn't been a real 'wiki' where anyone can write and edit for quite a while now." A few months ago, in the wake of controversies about the quality and reliability of the free encyclopedia's content, the Wikipedian powers-that-be - its "administrators" - abandoned the work's founding ideal of being the "ULTIMATE 'open' format" and tightened the restrictions on editing. In addition to banning some contributors from the site, the administrators adopted an "official policy" of what they called, in good Orwellian fashion, "semi-protection" to prevent "vandals" (also known as people) from messing with their open encyclopedia.
There is a bias toward those who want to talk down or shine a negative light on the field of SEO while true topical experts are driven off. Google founders Sergey Brin and Lawrence Page mentioned Danny Sullivan in some of their early research, and yet Wikipedians ran him out of the topic. Danny is probably the single most authoritative voice on search.
If I know my words are probably going to get edited out of the Wikipedia where is the incentive for me to put effort into editing there when my work is much more likely to be respected and profitable if I put it on my own site?
Not only does the classification and writing within Wikipedia reinforce the worldview pushed by the most powerful associated commercial entity (Google), but the types of things that are reference worthy are "famous" SEOs, which is going to be inherently biased toward people who established strong brands many years ago.
Which of the listed famous SEOs have entered the field this decade? None of them.
I have no doubt in my mind that many people newer to the SEO market than I know far more than I do.
Also as fields and language itself evolve will the large cross referenced content base that is the Wikipedia even be able to keep up with rapidly changing markets or linguistic changes?
General Factual Errors:
The SEO article on Wikipedia also states
Yahoo! and MSN Search do not automatically punish entire websites for small amounts of hidden text. Google's market share of daily searches has fallen rapidly from 75% to 56% over the past few years, as other search engines find many web pages that Google has banned and cannot display due to Google's severely limited index.
One would have to live under a rock, having no access website referral logs, the news, or financial markets to believe that Google has been drastically losing market share to competing search companies.
The ease with which people can edit the Wikipedia creates a bias toward quickly adding incorrect factoids, while discouraging true topical experts from participating, especially if their opinion is likely to get edited out if it does not conform to the flavor of the day group-think.
One simple fact that must be accepted as the basis for any intellectual work is that truth "whatever definition of that word you may subscribe to" is not democratically determined. And another is that talent, whether for soccer or for exposition, is not equally distributed across the population, while a robust confidence is one's own views apparently is. If there is a systemic bias in Wikipedia, it is to have ignored so far these inescapable facts.
I know one article is a small sample, and am not saying that I think the Wikipedia is a bad source for everything, just that in rapidly changing fields of commercial interests the Wikipedia is one of the last sources I would trust for an accurate view of the market. It is more representative of an advertisement that the most powerful sources in a market tell people that they should be thinking about.
There are still unbiased sources out there, you just have to look for them.
I responded to the thread with (roughly) the following (edited on my blog for better formatting and grammar, and I added more depth to my opinions here):
There is no such thing as an unbiased source. Unbiased = unreal.
I think as user / consumer is transferred into a market participant beyond just what they consume that we will
see our own influence (and influences) better
take better care of our attention
be more likely to find things we are passionate in
get better at judging the intent of others
generally trust most things we see less.
While on the surface it is easy to paint that lack of trust as a negative thing, I think a lack of trust toward authority (ie: questioning what you see, why you were shown it, and who placed it there) is an important component in any functional society.
The only reason that learning to not trust what you see is a negative is because there is so much fraud in the world perpetrated by power source who only retain power through the ignorance of the average citizen. Why are most articles in the mainstream media about SEO usually focused on black hat techniques? Anything that challenges any established authority system is deemed to be wrong by default, especially when evaluated by existing sources of power.
Would I have joined the military if I knew more about the military industrial complex? Not a snowball's chance in hell. Should I be quiet about them doing illegal things like destroying some of my work records prior to processing me out of the military? Not a snowball's chance in hell.
I believe consumer generated media will transfer power away from macro-parasites toward creative and passionate individuals who are driven to change the world.
I also think that anyone who communicates, even if only for themselves, is selling something...even if that potential gain is just trying to understand our own faults and why we think the way we do.
On another front, which is more ethical and legitimate? Blindly trusting an ad system that promotes products you know nothing about and is pushed to no end by the goal of achieving an efficient market. Or, writing about things you know about, and occasionally getting paid for the value of your time, feedback, and influence?
Some of my other blogs have no commercial intent to them, but they still rank for a lot of things, and I still learn a bunch from other's feedback, and I also think I learn a lot about myself by reading how I was thinking when I was doing different things.
The biggest thing that is killing off traditional publishing is the lack of personality, lack of passion, and a lack of bias (or watered down pro corporate bias) which is contained in nearly every piece of content they create.
I would rather read a passionate author than one that abides by some arbitrarily crafted ethical standards. Would a newspaper ever publish a self analysis like this? No. And if I read a person long enough I can understand their biases much greater than I can by reading random published articles. And if earning the trust of readers is harder then it will be valued more.
The big reason that people are against open networks, paid placement, free markets, paying individuals what they are worth, or anything that redistributes power is that many of the most powerful sources in the world stand to lose power if we question authority. And so they must play down the roll of or try to undermine the credibility of competing business models (or anything that threatens the ideology they sell or their business model). Nothing new there, it has been going on forever (even if the sources of power do not hold themselves to the same standards they want to hold amateurs to).
Not sure if this idea exists already, but it would be a cool project idea for anyone ambitious enough to do it. What about creating a social network site that leverages famous poems, speeches, and quotations, and integrated them into the web by allowing submitters to add links to famous text that existed before the web. The links could show
how the meanings of words changed over time
how static human nature is
how politicians lie and lied
how religious material changes over time
how bogus and misguided most forms of patriotism are
Part of Google's move toward trying to be the default hard drive for different types of information is such that they can add context to whatever you are doing. Some of that context will be relevant ads, but the other piece of it will be useful related ideas based on other's usage data.
I think the best way to make the wisdom of the past appealing to a wide audience would be by making it interactive and showing how it is relevant to today. Some amount of that can be automated, but given how many people are trying to interpret the meaning of lyrics and how layeredgreat writing is you would think there is a market for adding personalized or opinionated context to historical text.
I had a good idea, but hate the idea of having employees and running a company. I want to be able to travel and explore the world, so the idea required a partner. ;) I brought my idea to Andy Hagans, and he was up for running the show. The idea is to create a blog advertising platform that allows advertisers to contact related bloggers to ask if they would review their products or services. Our network is called ReviewMe, and will be launching soon!
While I got into the web as an SEO, I tend to think of myself more as a blogger and viral marketer than an SEO. Viral marketing was the idea behind ReviewMe. It took us a while to get the model and infrastructure down. Since we started working on the projects other blog ad networks launched and one even got VC funding, but I believe our model is going to be somewhat unique and offer a high value when compared to other businesses in the same space.
I think writing a lot and reading a lot about marketing put me in a unique position. After acquiring Threadwatch, while still building this site and others, I started getting pitched more and more frequently. It made me think that there could be a formal marketplace which made it more efficient to ask bloggers for reviews, and also removed some of the potential risks associated with pitching to bloggers. The last thing you want is a popular blogger calling you a spammer, because that stuff tends to rank well.
Four elements which will work nice in our network to filter out bad products and bad offers are
bloggers will disclose their relationship with the advertiser
bloggers only review things that are interested in
we encourage brutal honesty
the comment sections on popular blogs will help keep advertisers and bloggers honest
Fraudsters and advertisers with junk offers will not want to risk paying people to write reviews that may expose their business flaws. But, if you have a good product honest feedback and conversation about your business should only help you. Getting great feedback early on in a product's life-cycle can save millions of dollars in the long haul.
I also think this is a more efficient way of selling cost per influence than some of the other networks. Buy a sitewide ad in the right rail of a popular blog. Compare how much traffic that sends to the amount of traffic sent to links in the content area of the blog, and you will see that the influence is in the content area of the site, not near it.
In addition, I think the real value of blogs is the unique feedback you can get from the blogger. Do they like your idea or hate it? And why? What advice can they offer you on how to improve your business?
We are not going to try to create the largest and most efficient ad network in the world. That's Google's job. Rather than trying to squeeze a few more cents out of an ad space, our idea is to extend the value of advertising by coupling it with reviews and conversation on popular sites. Brand building is much more about conversation and community involvement than it is about targeting keywords and displaying ads.
I am still busy busy busy redrafting SEO Book and other content, but a couple recent comments made me want to make a quick post. On my post about why I thought it was alright to mention politics in work blogs Andrew Goodman came buy and left a gem of a comment
Been thinking this over. I don't often post on politics in spite of having an extensive background in political studies. Maybe that's because I learned you need to have eight chapters of literature review, history, and facts, and three chapters of case study, before you get to write the two chapters with the conclusions. It's easy to dump on obvious miserable failures -- much harder to imagine and/or implement a better or perfect world, at any level.
And given that the web encourages lousy content, having to throw away or leave unused a large amount of research is brutal if you are looking at content production on a ROI basis. To do so, you almost have to be certain that your research is going to be so outstanding that others notice it, or you have to be creating it out of passion without much regard to finance.
One of the reasons you see so many lists of items on popular blogs and social news sites is that they allow you to collect these random scraps, slap them together, format it, and GIVE THE IMPRESSION that the work is well researched and comprehensive, even if it was not. Little to no waste in the formatting, and rather than doing a lot of work that doesn't show you look like you did far more work than you did.
And the reason factiod posts do so well is not only that impression that they are a lot of hard work, but also:
they are at a low enough level that most people can understand them
people are attention starved, and the ideas are usually broken into small bits easy to digest
at least one of the ideas in the list will be easy to identify with (as an example, I once told a story of how I was an idiot and accidentally dialed 911...most people had no comment or interest. the only person who expressed interest later revealed that the did the same thing)
Right now I have roughly 50 or so draft posts saved, and whenever I want to I can finish one up or use chunks of it to help create content for another related post.
These scraps of knowledge (or factoids, if you will) are not only big on blogs and meta news sites, but also are largely what most any user generated content sites and what the Wikipedia consist of. I used to be (and maybe still am) so anti authoritarian that I view most everything that starts from bottoms up as being better than things that are top down, but in many spheres it probably does make sense to have human editors, human aggregators, and trusted topical authorities that exist somewhere in the middle.
Search isn't successful because the technology is so great, it works well because they do have human editors, and they use your and my links as signs of trust.
When you look at the Wikipedia page on SEO and read through the talk archives you will see that they ran off both Bill Slawski and Danny Sullivan. Is there another topical expert that could possibly be more qualified to talk about search than Danny Sullivan? Not that I know of.
Some of the best topical experts have no distribution because people can not understand them or identify with them. Other topical experts may be good at communicating their ideas, but still can only reach certain audiences due to the errors of authority structures. For example, imagine if everyone followed the law, would we still need police officers, or would the laws change to create the need for the job and creat some criminal class to control the remainder of the populous?
People who just reach a bit of authority often like to feel a self-aggrandizing level of importance, and use a mob mentality to express it. Self preservation and a sense of purpose are probably the two key goals to any social structure or any person heavily committed to one. The more you try to convince them they are wrong the more you get flamed to bits, even if all they are protecting are their rights to remain ignorant and feel important.
And wherever there is conflict and/or brainwashing the all knowing experts of all topical domains are not going to be able to see past their own biases and brainwashing, and I doubt people can create rule sets or software which does a good job of avoiding that. Thus anything with significant reach and a bottoms up approach is typically going to be biased toward conventional wisdom, perhaps offset with a few outside fanatical voices.
Larry Sanger, a co-founder of Wikipedia, recently announced Citizendium, which is sorta going to be like Wikipedia, but it will also have content verified by topical experts. I think I was the first donor to the project, and I would love to see it take off.
But I wonder if authority is the enemy of any social project. You want the authority because you get the distribution, but after you start to gain it you get gamed to bits and people start letting your content and software represent a large part of their identities or worldviews and it all goes to crap fast.
One of the more important reasons to try to grow out slowly and not force it too much is that you get to react many times before you get big. People who get rich fast often get poor fast. Sites that have their authority grow beyond their programming skills will have their flaws exposed so heavily that it presents a great marketing opportunity for others aiming to enter the same market.
PeterD flames ChaCha. And can you fault him? What is up with a search engine that takes forever to answer? How good can their topical experts be at $5 an hour? How can you respect a topical expert who sits at your beck and call to earn only $5 an hour? And with an earning cap at $20 an hour? If you chose to use ChaCha hopefully your questions are not related to business, entrepreneurialism, capitalism, marketing, or finance.
The biggest reasons that ChaCha will fail though are not just inefficiency, the low expert payout, and having to wait for results. I think that the model causes other (and worse) side effects.
Right now if I search and buy something bad I am likely to feel it was my fault for being a sucker...like I misused search. If a paid guide leads me astray and I take their advice then I feel they are the ones at fault. So ChaCha shifts the blame from me to the engine.
Another big problem with the pause in the search process is that wants / desires / impulse purchases are going to be far less appealing if I have more time to think about and refine my thoughts (and have to share that thought process with others), rather than just being able to say it was an impulse purchase.
One of the biggest errors I have done (likely wasting at least a couple hundred thousand dollars) was answering tens of thousands of questions via emails and doing nothing with that content. When you have the ability to recycle content or make it valuable for many people rather than just one or two the cost can be greatly subsidized by many people over time. An inefficient and ineffective model becomes practical once you can use time and small distributed demand as an advantage. Ask Dave Taylor is a great example of a smart question answering site. Over time that model pays him far more than ChaCha ever could, plus it helps him build a brand and relationships that editors at a search engine would not be able to build.
Put another way, the money is in the archives, stupid. And that is why Google is so hungry to expand their archive any way they can, even if they do not make direct revenue off it right away. This is probably far more important than most people think it is.