Research, Scraps, Ordered Lists, & Social Structures

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.

Marketing works (and will never go away) because humans have inherent flaws, limited attention spans, and the market for something to believe in is infinite. But any structure that becomes authoritative is going to need to fire some of its top users if it is to stay relevant.

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.

Topical Expert Available, Only 12 Cents a Day

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.

What is the Difference...

Sep 2nd

Between slapping ads on cloaked content, search results, other's content, link blogging, and thin content meta journalism sites?

Which, if any, of these will be viable for years to come? Especially as all of those markets flood, and automated content generation becomes more and more useful?

Self Reinforcing Market Positions

Aug 16th

"I am the Center of the Universe" - random A list blogger.

An innocent fraud is a lie, but it's a lie that's more white than black. It's a lie that makes most everyone happy. It suits the purposes of the powerful because it masks the full extent of their power, and it suits the purposes of the powerless because it masks the full extent of their powerlessness.

Most of the people blogging about making money probably do not make that much money. Most people selling how to (insert your topic here) advice also fall in the same category. And they do it off the backs of people who link at them hoping to one day do the same. But in reality most people fail because it usually takes quite a bit of innovation, time, effort, risk, personality, or passion to break out of the mold, and many self-reinforcing institutions and social norms make it hard to succeed.

I think I have been learning enough about social networks, sociology, psychology, marketing, business models, authority structures, etc. that if SEO ever somehow lost its direct value that I would still be able to do well, but imagine the day that a field you studied for years was rendered useless. Would you instantly be able to change your model or pick another field? Would you keep pushing your ideas even after you knew they hurt more people than they helped (like the old LinksToYou link farm did)? Where do you draw the line? Or imagine that if many people you wanted to help never gained anything out of it other than the ability to help you grow more authoritative while they paid you with their time, attention, trust, link equity, and perhaps cash too.

Of course there is the hope that those things are not true, but the value and quality of advice you get from people (as well as how accessible their ideas are) is not just a function of what they know, but also market timing. Anyone who is doing well on the web right now was born it to some amazingly lucky timing to have found the web while it is still so nascent. Most people and/or business models that get to the top of a social structure have some idea how it works, and would never want to admit that their structure is overrated or their field has died. All that comfort, all that self reinforcing market position would be erased.

Why does Matt Cutts warn people about certain types of links? Google's authority is based on links representing relevancy. Without relevant links search has no ad based business model.

As the blogophere has become more rigidly hierarchical, not by design but as a natural consequence of hyperlinking patterns, filtering algorithms, aggregation engines, and subscription and syndication technologies, not to mention human nature, it has turned into a grand system of patronage operated - with the best of intentions, mind you - by a tiny, self-perpetuating elite.

Much like traditional media there are certain biases to blogging and web publishing.

  • Old sites get more exposure than new ones.

  • Controversy spreads fast.
  • Lists and types of bite sized content that offer immediate reward to an attention and time scare audience typically spread further than content which requires more attention. The attention deficit most of us live with is going to constrain the types of ideas that are profitable.
  • Better tracking and targeting, more social networks and meme trackers, cheaper and more efficient distribution, more feedback loops, and ad targeting engines that block certain words or categories are making it easier for the average publisher to know how profitable writing about an idea is before they even type the first key.
  • If my SEO for Firefox extension was SEO for IE7 it would have got about 12 links instead of a couple thousand. Is that group think linking legitimate?

It feels weird sometimes when you come across some of the self reinforcing patterns in action...like when you predict an idea will spread for a specific reason then see it happen, or see a high ranked article from someone talking about a topic they clearly demonstrate they know nothing about, or something spreading quick as correct when it was factually incorrect garbage the day it was published.

And that is another part of the reason it is so easy to rely on your established authority. The fear of being called out (some economics students hated my post on central banks) when trying to learn something new. And thinking of all the time and effort required to get back into another self reinforcing market position.

But relevancy is a personal thing. The market for something to believe in is infinite. Those who can get in early and evangelize their field will likely profit from it long after their techniques are rendered useless or their field has died. And if you are associated with an important market then your distribution and the self reinforcing nature of search will allow you to heard in other markets as well.

Google Vertical Search Canibalizing Google's Organic SERPs

Aug 14th

I searched to see if the movie An Inconvenient Truth was playing in a local theater. Google not only showed the Movie OneBox result, and offer a movie search feature, but they also rank the Google Video trailer in their search results and are caching the movies result page. Loren recently posted an in depth article showing how much Google is doing to add interactivity to and exposure for Google Video.

As Google adds features and consumer generated media to Google hosted vertical content pages many review sites and thin sites in high margin verticals will lose a good portion of their value, link equity, and traffic. A big thing that places Google ahead of most review sites is that they will not only collect and structure their own feedback, but their knowledge of language and the web graph makes it easy to access some of the best review information on other sites.

In a couple clicks I can go from reading feedback on Google to reading aggregated feedback snippets from other sites to reading some of the other best reviews on the web. For example, it takes little effort to see the official site, the contempt some sectors show the film, a more objective review, and a speech which inspired the creation of the film.

Bite ¿Byte? Sized Content

Aug 11th

Recently Google allowed you to link to an exact minute and second of video. They also give each page of a book its own URL.

Internal Article Anchors From Search Engines

Jul 12th

I recently searched for [Tippecanoe County Shrine Club] and Google ranked a huge Wikipedia page first. When will search engines start directing searchers to portions of a page instead of just to a page? How will that change affiliate, contextual, and web merchant business models?

Containers, Aggregators, and Editors

I recently got asked to write a couple articles for various websites and publications. I said no problem, but then I kept putting them off. I just handed in one today and did not get feedback yet, but I am uncertain how well it went. Yesterday I handed in one and the editor was less than impressed. Then it sorta dawned on me, that I am a bit spastic and random in nature, and without using those words that is sorta how my article was described (in a nicer way though of course).

Some people do well with containers and other people driving them, but I have been so (searching for a word here...maybe undomesticated) that it is quite hard to fill in the box or create something that is exactly how someone else wants it. I got so focused on random abstract thoughts that I am only really good at doing something if it is something I really want to do when I want to do it.

I have a PowerPoint presentation and speech to put together and am hoping I do well with it. The biggest benefit to it over the articles is that the request for it came after I put together something similar in nature but in another format.

So I guess my (semi?)relevant marketing thoughts on this post are:

  • I think the closer you are to your audience the easier it is to be successful (at least for me).

  • The more passion and interest you have in a topic the easier it is to be successful.
  • It is definitely worth focusing on what you are good at, but it is also a good thing to occasionally try different containers or formats. I suck at many containers and do well with others. Respect the container, or throw the container away and try something new ;)
  • For most people publishing format (so long as it is legible) likely the format has little to do with your personal credibility level. Everyone is different and probably has their own best way to express themselves. I don't think mine is in 1,000 world articles...at least not at this point!

What have been your most successful publishing formats? Do you think the structure of the web will drastically change media consumption habits?

Google Video Done Well

May 22nd

Looking through Google Videos many of them appear to be exceptionally bad or advertisements. While many more of them appear to be exceptionally bad advertisements. But I found one video that I thought was pretty cool.

I need to step up my game on learning about video stuff. If you had a remarkable product and could display how cool it was I don't think there would be much need to buy ads to distribute your message.

Télépopmusik's Breathe is a cool song and that is a cool video. :)

I find that video much more interesting than the announcement of Pearl Jam's recent terrible song being distributed on Google Video, but I think they need people like Pearl Jam to help find and share the good stuff.

Factors Affecting AdSense Ad Clickthrough Rate and Earnings Potential

This post topic has the ability to quickly get me steamrolled and a lot of hate, but I think advertisement clickthrough rate is something well worth considering before creating any website that is monetized via pay per click ads. I have recently launched a number of AdSense monetized sites and these are some of my early thoughts on factors affecting monetization and CTR.

Are there Any Ads? Are the Ads Relevant? Is There Any Search Volume?
If you search for Google and nobody is advertising for your targeted industry or phrase sets the opportunities to make money are going to be rather limited. The same holds true if the traffic volume is low or the bid prices are dirt. The Google Traffic Estimator Tool makes it pretty easy to get an estimate of the bid prices and AdWords click volume while the Google Keyword Tool lets you check the depth of competition quickly. You can also use Shawn's Google AdSense Sandbox to see how compelling and relevant ad offers are for a specific topic.

Signs of Desperation, Ignorance, or Stupidity
I am sure this category might get me a bit of heat, but I own one website that was getting about 400 pageviews a day about a specific topic. Adding a single page catering to some ignorant people in that vertical (one could assume a certain level of ignorance by their search queries - sorry but I can't give that term away) added 50 pageviews a day and doubled the ad clicks and earnings for the site.

Dumb or naive people are less likely to realize they are clicking paid ads when they land on your page.

What are some common signs of intelligence or lack of intelligence? Or signs of naiveness?

  • topics for kids - they clearly are going to be operating on limited business experience and limited financial and business understanding, and thus may click click click without thinking anything of it. I have a site that caters to a broad field, but the page most focused on kid friendly searches has a 50% ad clickthrough rate, whereas the next best page is coming in at 18%, and the site averages around 10%.

  • searching for things that do not exist - these are going to be easier to rank for than their official alternatives. These searches may be an indication of intelligence or lack of intelligence depending on vertical and query. From my limited experience, more frequently they will likely indicate a lack of intelligence, but it really depends on the reason WHY the market has yet to fill the demand.
  • misspellings and misuse of language - I am a bad speller so I offer no hate here, but on average most misspelled queries come from people who are below average on the intelligence scale
  • poor credit or lack of financial planning - sure we all go through ruts, but the average person looking for a payday loan is going to be less intelligent than the average person looking for a mortgage loan
  • general topic - the average person searching for scientific information is going to be smarter than the average person searching for a personality on Fox News or American Idol.
  • demographics - old and young people may not be clued into how the web works. Some other demographics may be more or less clued in. Many search queries may do a great deal to identify the gender, age group, or ethnicity of the searcher.
  • traffic source - On average the average Google user is going to be smarter than the average MSN Search user, who is going to be smarter than the average free spyware download search accelerator searcher.
  • query length and syntax - advanced search queries and specific long tail searches are most likely going to be from smarter searchers or searchers closer to purchasing.

Searches That Signify the Desire for Advertisements
Targeted buying searches and comparison searches may be searchers that are looking for just a bit more info before converting, perhaps through one of your ads.

Ad Integration
The more ads look like content the more they get clicked on. Default blue is a beautiful link color. Some people do well by placing images near their AdSense ads.

Quality and Quantity of Ad Alternatives
Content that is of amazing quality that solves the visitor's problems may make the ads look less appealing, although if it allows you to become the industry standard resource that additional distribution can more than pay for the added cost of creating real quality content.

If a page is a resource link list or has many alternative paths to leave the site outside of an ad click many people will take those paths.

Are the top SERPs dominated by real resources?
If the top results are quality informational PR7 .edu pages best of luck on the rankings front. You are going to need it ;)

If the top sites are cloaked pages or other sites that do not look like real resources it is easier to get your listing clicked on by crafting a quality page title and meta description.

Does Your Site Have Enough Authority?
As recently posted by Quadzilla, if you have authority it seems you can extend it out cross topic. If you lack link authority and age related trust it is an uphill battle to compete in Google.

How Much Commitment is Required to Buy?
Buying a home is a much more extensive and expensive process than buying a treadmill.

How Web Friendly is Your Product Offering?
Ads for physical books, heavy commodities or things like diamonds (which perhaps require some amount of trust to purchase) are going to go for far less than they are worth when compared to ads for items that fit the web nearly perfectly (take software or ebooks as examples).

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