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.
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.
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.
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?
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?
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.
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.