Content Development - Content Quality vs Profitability

May 19th

As an SEO I think there are 3 main types of content. That which would not pass a human review, that which would pass a human review but is just ok, and content which is linkworthy. When building a site you need to consider what you are targeting. Do you want to quick spam Yahoo! and MSN? Or are you looking to create something that is more longterm in hopes of an eventual Google ranking?

Content which is crap and content which would pass a human review but is still of low quality can dominate Yahoo! or MSN, but if you want to do well in Google you need to target ultra niche terms, work from an old domain, or try to create linkworthy content.

I guess the three types of content could be broken down into 5 main types if you wanted to:

  • that which would not pass a human review

  • that which would pass a human review but may cause people to trust you less, unsubscribe from your site, and pull links
  • that which would pass a human review but is just ok
  • that which would pass a human review and is pretty good. may build a bit of trust and gain a few subscribers.
  • citation worthy content

Even if you made some articles nearly perfect, based on their niche and topic they may not be citation worth, whereas content that is targeted around linking opportunities (or intentionally biased against a product or service that is easy to hate, for example) may be more citation worthy even if the amount of effort needed to create it was minimal.

When you start a website you have to know what your targeting and what type of content to use to fulfill that goal. If you mix and match your goals and content quality you kill your efficiency and profitability.

How Good Are You at Answering Questions?

May 18th

Once you become well known in forums or write enough on your own site it may be easy to forget how well or bad you answer questions. A cool feature with Yahoo!'s Answer service is that it is large enough to have a huge userbase interested in just about any topic without you being known there. And it probably is easy to sign up for secondary usernames to start from scratch if you needed to. They show you what percent of your answers are chose as the best, which makes it easy to practice answering questions to see how clearly you are communicating without the bias built around your current social relationships. Obviously there will be some biases to the system (nepotistic behavior, spam, and biases based on score level), but if you can see past that Yahoo! Answers offers a great avenue to practice answering questions.

A friend of mine recently said in an instant message "The Dumber My Content the More Money I Make". Once you think about how much of the market is completely new to your topic it makes sense that people who aim to make content accessible and easy to understand often are far more successful than people who know more but do not express what they know well.

I think it is important to offer a few things that go above and beyond the normal day to day stuff (to create well cited industry resources), but most blog posts are probably maximally effective if the writer puts being easy to understand ahead of going in great depth.

The Value of Trust vs Objectivity in Publishing Business Models

Dan Gillmor recently posted a speech he gave at Columbia University:

I’d propose replacing the ideal of objectivity with some principles that may be easier to achieve.

The principles that collectively go beyond objectivity are thoroughness, accuracy, fairness, independence and transparency. Of course, they tend to bleed into each other, and in a several cases can even conflict or at least be somewhat orthogonal. I put this problem into the category of “Life is messy.”

Microsoft recently was said to pay hundreds of millions of dollars for a company that puts ads in video games. The military, disturbingly enough, is also creating advergames targeted at children:

Even the U.S. Defense Department has adopted the model, creating a combat games called "America's Army" to be used as a recruiting tool.

Objectivity is highly flawed due to its parroting effect.

In a world where

  • traditional publishing business models are dying (due to new information streams and the decay of inefficient monopolies)

  • in most markets it is more profitable to create highly biased or low quality content (due to increased conversion rates or search algorithm inefficiencies)
  • the cost of creating content drops daily
  • nearly anyone can create content
  • companies make hypocritical clams to misdirect the media
  • those claims spread quickly
  • information systems are as easy to manipulate as the media is
  • the price of attention increases daily (more people are fighting for it)
  • most content creators become marketers fighting for attention
  • people create fake controversies for attention
  • ads become content
  • everything is an ad

TRUST is going to be worth far more than objectivity.

Profiting From Publishing

Apr 26th

Great interview of Tim O'Reilly

I think that we’ll find in some ways that this is the real secret of the relationship between free and non-free content. There will be so much free content that it’s going to be hard to find and those who can help you find what you want will be able to charge for it – in one way or the other, whether it’s through advertising or through subscription or something else. It’s about managing to find “the best”, and “the best” is a kind of metadata.

I still think there are many overlooked creative ways to add value to the publishing value chain. More on that in about a month ;)

Changing the Perception of Content Quality of Amateur Products

I have seen some people write that they thought no ebook ever had any value, only to later see those same people say they found a video of mine (that had terrible formatting - when I get more time I will create more of these, but better), liked it, and then decided that the ebook must have value based on that.

In all honesty, in many ways, an ebook was probably not the most profitable way to format my knowledge. In the long run I could probably make more money by making that free and coming up with other miniature information products in other formats that are easier to sell and consume. I could create a new video every week for about a year straight, and always have new products to sell.

This example also shows the ease of distribution on vertical search and the importance of having oars in many lakes. While few people have watched that video so far (about 5 people a day), that has given me another channel to reach people and helps reinforce my brand. Also look at the economics of it - the distribution on Google Video is free. The only cost is time, but for a one time hour of work I get at least $1 worth of free exposure a day.

In many ways, for many content creators and small publishers, the Google brand, reach, and growing feedback mechanisms will make amateur or non-traditionally published content far easier to sell.

The web is also more about information than it is about shopping or selling. Google realizes the limits of content quality of free content in many verticals and they are eventually going to start pushing more people to pay for it (via micro payments, subscriptions, or other non straight ad models).

Content quality is probably the #1 limiting factor in search technology right now. The only way they are going to encourage more high quality content production is if they can create a framework that helps make it more profitable.

AdSense can only go so far until Google has a database of information products and purchase streams to recommend further products and information consumption habbits. And oddly enough, Eric Schmidt was recently talking about that.

“The quickest way to improve the quality of an ad is to have the ad instantaneously turn into a purchase that is 100 percent perfect,” [Eric Schmidt] said. “We now have a solution that we believe enables advertisers to offer a digital product on the Web so that when people click on it, through a credit-card mechanism, it is automatically taken care of.”

Why Goog is a Buy: Killer Value Per Inch / Pixel / Second

Mar 24th

Hehehe. So I know nothing about the stock market, but I recently revived the ads on a low profit site that is in a general and low profit category.

What ad unit that provided the most value per unit space? My AdSense search box. BY A LOT!

Moderate to high traffic publishers are probably screwing up if they litter their sites with ads and don't have a profit share search relationship with a major engine.

As search eats more of the web many publishing models are getting chewed up. Those who are good at monetizing usually do one or more of the following:

  • create content late in the buy cycle;

  • find uncovered niches that are easy to compete in;
  • leverage viral non commercial ideas to give their site an unfair authority advantage over competing sites;
  • are good at mixing in a few affiliate advertorials (if you can spend 12 hours creating a page that makes a few hundred a month for years on end that is a nice ROI and passive income stream);
  • use their market position to make money in other ways; or
    negotiate strong ad prices directly.

Those who lack every piece of that skill set may still make a decent living off the web by just making it easy for their visitors to search for more information.

If the next major OS and browser release gets people to view the web differently (ie: search is ALWAYS done from the browser) that may change, but for now the search box is the easiest loose money waiting to be collected by most content publishers. (Millions of dollars a day are waiting to be collected).

Also when advertisers opt out of contextual AdSense ads their ads usually still show up in publisher partner search ads, so that advertiser depth can still be rather appealing to publishers that do not fear losing their visitors (and typically the feel for the need to keep visitors misses what the web is about).

Another nice benefit of the Google search box on your site is that most people view it as a service instead of an ad, so it is an effective way of cramming another ad or two on your site without your site looking any spammier or ad cluttered. People also sense that THEY are in control when they search, so they find the ads there more acceptable. Provide search inline with content and you will be surprised at how many people use it.

Cough

The Mainstream Media Has Less Credibility than Bloggers

Feb 19th

As I read and learn more I come to appreciate just how dumb I am. And I mean that in a good way. The biggest reason I like blogs is coming across articles with simple lines like:

Hypocrisy abounds: Everyone supports the free speech they agree with.

In relationship to the US media's self censorship policies.

The problem with media censorship is that most forms of consumer driven media are largely based on mainstream media.

Telling half of the story is not honest. Having half of the story doesn't help anything other than corruption. But maybe that is what we want.

The nanny media, even more prudish since 9/11, covers our millions of eyes to protect us from our own icky deeds. In Afghanistan in 2001, while covering a war that had officially killed 12 civilians, I watched a colleague from a major television network collate footage of a B-52 bombing indiscriminately obliterating a civilian neighborhood. "If people saw what bombing looks like here on the ground," he observed as body parts and burning houses and screaming children filled the screen, "they would demand an end to it. Which is why this will never air on American television."

If you go to Alexa and Blogpulse to see how the article is spreading. You can help it spread by mentioning it on your site.

The hollowness of the whole US pro free speech stuff shows well when you notice that almost nobody is searching for it, and a dime a click is enough to be one of the top ads on the issue. It is an issue the media would rather not talk about, at least not honestly.

Conversation is Easy to Cite

Cory Doctorow covers a killer concept associated with Amazon's new author blogs:

Today there's the explosion of choice brought on by the Internet. All entertainments are approximately one click away. The search-cost of finding another artist whose music or books or movies are as interesting as yours is dropping through the floor, thanks to recommendation systems, search engines, and innumerable fan-recommendation sites like blogs and MySpaces. Your virtuosity is matched by someone else's, somewhere, and if you're to compete successfully with her, you need something more than charisma and virtuosity.

You need conversation. In practically every field of artistic endeavor, we see success stories grounded in artists who engage in some form of conversation with their audience.

It doesn't matter whether or not something is fair, it really only matters how the trends are changing and if you can adopt with how they change.

I sell a download-able ebook for $79. Is that too much to pay for a book? Maybe. It really depends on what you get out of it, but over the long haul the value is easier to justify and the sale is easier to make because there is topical engagement and conversation.

At times I absolutely screw things up, but mistakes usually teach me more than the things I do correctly. You have to try new things, and the more ways you allow your personality to be seen and connected with the easier it is to be successful being yourself.

Many people and companies fight the potential openness associated with some web based business models because they don't want the feedback or want to protect their rights and current business models.

My opinion is that if you consider markets as conversations and piracy a progressive taxation the way to have influence and create wealth is to spend far more time learning how to create additional value and distribution instead of focusing on how you are not getting your fair share.

The end goal is profit and satisfaction. While I am absolutely no good at many things I was stoked to see my site has been getting bookmarked in Del.icio.us almost daily recently and I got this killer feedback there:

Without a doubt the most interesting blog on search engine optimization I've found. His book is excellent, and his writing is clear and transparent. You feel like you know Aaron when you read his posts.

Of course there will be readers of various skill levels and knowledge levels. You really don't want to read too much into your own reviews because you are more likely to get feedback from the biased edges while the people in the middle sit quietly.

Recently I started posting a few Q and As to create more content for the beginer level SEOs, but I will likely need to balance that with other types of post to keep the blog interesting to more advanced readers.

My mom has recently started blogging and reading some of my sites as well, so she should keep me on the straight and narrow if I am posting things that confuse her. My mom thinks we encrypt Threadwatch, but she thinks my blog about blogging makes good sense. I believe this site is typically somewhere in between the two. As far as making marketing concepts simple and easy I think Seth does a great job of posting things beginners can understand. To some extent I think I would rather post original beginner level stuff than posting about the same thing be posted about everywhere. If you can relate other old ideas and concepts to what everyone else is talking about right now then you are at least one step ahead of the me too posting crowd I frequently find myself falling into when I am bored and uninspired.

It is rather amazing how well this blog has done because when I originally created it I did not define a specific market audience or skill level I was writing for and I still have not. It may not matter if 90% of the readers are bored by 90% of the posts so long as they can identify with the remaining ones.

Google Killing the Press? The Press Fights Back?

Nov 22nd

Slate posts a worst case scenario for Google article:

It wasn't until Knight Ridder Inc.'s largest stockholder, Private Capital Management LP, called for the newspaper chain's breakup that the creative destruction of market forces turned on Google and began its rout.

Content Optimization Changes to Content Generation

A friend of mine mentioned how the noise level in SEO forums has gone from around 95% to about 99%. I think it is largely due to a shift from content optimization to content creation (and remember that this is a site selling a book on optimization, so me saying this is not in any way to my benefit).

Here is why there is a large shift from optimization to creation

  • The ease which content can be published: It took me less than 2 hours to teach my mom Blogger, Bloglines, rss, xml, etc. She now blogs every day.

  • the ease in which content can be commented on and improved in quality
  • the casual nature in which links flow toward real content
  • the massive increase in the number of channels and quantity of information makes us more inclined to look for topical guides to navigate the information space
  • the ease with which content can be monetized has greatly increased. AdSense, Yahoo! Publisher Network, Chitika, new Amazon Product Previews, affiliate programs, link selling, direct ads, donations, (soon enough Google Wallet for microcontent), etc.
  • contextual ad programs teach the content publishers to blend links, which has the net effect of...
    • short term increase in revenues for small publishers

    • until users trust links less
    • at which point in time users will be forced to go back to primary trusted sources (ie: one of the few names they trust in the field or a general search engine like Google)
  • it is getting increasingly expensive to find quality link inventory that works in Google to promote non content sites, and margins are slimming for many of those creating sites in hyper competitive fields
  • the algorithms are getting harder for people new to the field to manipulate
  • around half of all search queries are unique. most hollow spam sites focus on the top bits whereas natural published information easily captures the longer queries / tail of search
  • duplicate content filters are aggressively killing off many product catalog and empty shell affiliate sites
  • as more real / useful content is created those duplicate content and link filtering algorithms will only get better
  • general purpose ecommerce site owners will have the following options:
    • watching search referrals decrease until their AdWords spends increases

    • thickening up their sites to offer far more than a product catalog
    • switching to publishing content sites
  • and the market dynamics for Google follow popular human behavior, even for branded terms or keyword spaces primarily created by single individuals
    • the term SEO Book had 0 advertisers and about 0 search volume when I launched this site

    • this site got fairly popular
    • SEO Book is now one of my most expensive keyword phrases

As long as it is original, topical, and structured in a non wild card replace fashion content picks up search traffic and helps build an audience.

I am not trying to say that optimization is in any way dead, just that the optimization process places far more weight on content volume and social integration than it did a year or two ago.

The efficiencies Google are adding to the market will kill off many unbranded or inefficient businesses. One of my clients has an empty shell product site and does no follow up marketing with the buyers. I can't help but think that there needs to be some major changes in that business or in 3 to 6 months we won't be able to compete on the algorithmic or ppc front without me being very aggressive.

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