Search as a Wedge to Influence & Corrupt Other Markets

Search can be used as a wedge in a variety of ways. Most are perhaps poorly understood by the media and market regulators.

Woot! Check Out Our Bundling Discounts

When Google Checkout rolled out, it was free. Not only was it free, but it came with a badge that appears near AdWords ads to make the ads stand out. That boosts ad clickthrough rates, which feeds into ad quality score & acts as a discount for advertisers who used Google Checkout. If you did not use Google's bundled services you were stuck paying above market rates to compete with those who accepted Google's bundling discounts.

And there is no conspiracy theory to the above bundling. Here is a video on how quality score works & this Google Checkout page states it plain as day

And all the while Google was doing the above bundling (as they still are to this day) they were also lobbying in Australia about Paypal's dominant market position. eBay (which owns Paypal) is one of Google's 5 largest advertisers.

This Brand is Your Brand, This Brand is My Brand

Companies spend billions of Dollars every year building their trademarked brands. But if they don't pay Google for existing brand equity then Google sells access to that stream of branded traffic to competitors, even though internal Google studies have shown it causes confusion in the marketplace.

The Right to Copy

Copyright protects the value of content. To increase the cost of maintaining that value, DoubleClick and AdSense fund a lot of copy and paste publishing, even of the automated variety. Sure you can hide your content behind a paywall, but if Google is paying people to steal it and wrap it in ads how do you have legal recourse if those people live in a country which doesn't respect copyright?

You can see how LOOSE Google's AdSense standards are when it comes to things like copyright and trademarks by searching for something like "bulk PageRank checker" and seeing how many sites that violate Google's TOS multiple ways are built on cybersquatted domain names that contain the word "PageRank" in them. There are also sites dedicated to turning Youtube videos into MP3's which are monetized via AdSense.

Universal Youtube Search

Google bought Youtube and then swiftly rolled out universal search, which dramatically increased the exposure of Youtube. Only recent heat & regulatory review has caused Google to add more prominent links to competing services, nearly a half-decade later.

A Unit of Obscurity

Knol was pushed as a way to revolutionize how people share information online. But it went nowhere. Why? Google got caught with their hand in the cookie jar, so they couldn't force the market to eat it.

Scrape You Very Much

Philosophically Google believes in (and delivers regular sermons about) an open web where companies should compete on the merit of their products. And yet when Google enters a new vertical they *require* you to let them use your content against you. If you want to opt out of competing against yourself Google say that is fine, but the only way they will allow you to opt out is if you block them from indexing your content & kill your search traffic.

“Google has also advised that if we want to stop content from appearing on Google Places we would have to reduce/stop Google’s ability to scan the TripAdvisor site,” said Kaufer “Needless to say, this would have a significant impact on TripAdvisor’s ranking on natural search queries through Google and, as such, we are not blocking Google from scanning our site.”

From a public relations standpoint & a legal perspective I don't think it is a good idea for Google to deliver all-or-nothing ultimatums. Ultimately that could cause people in positions of power to view their acts as a collection which have to be justified on the whole, rather than on an individual basis.

Lucky for publishers, technology does allow them to skirt Google's suggestions. If I ran an industry-leading review site and wanted to opt out of Google's all-or-nothing scrape job scam, my approach would be to selectively post certain types of content. Some of it would be behind a registration wall, some of it would be publicly accessible in iframes, and maybe just a sliver of it is fully accessible to Google. That way Google indexes your site (and you still rank for the core industry keywords), but they can't scrape the parts you don't want them to. Of course that means losing out on some longtail search traffic (as the hidden content is invisible to search engines), but it is better than the alternatives of killing all search traffic or giving away the farm.

How Social Media Changes Everything*

Jan 31st

Bloggers as Media

Have you ever noticed that a lot of blogs want to be seen as being the same as the media? And media companies are responding by hiring bloggers. But why is emulating the media so exciting? After all, the same media is so big, bloated & redundant that it is buried in debt. How is it possible that a humor blog network built on open source software would ever need to raise $30 million?

The problem is that it is hard to stay different and operate at scale. You eventually become that you claimed to hate. If you are good at public relations you can claim to be different to build exposure, but ultimately once a site becomes large there is no incentive for creating signal. Rather the game becomes generating as much exposure as you can to sell to brand advertisers. Content can be dressed up to stand out, but at the core it is basically the same.

Bloggers can state that the hype cycle they hype shouldn't be hyped, but action speaks louder than words. We can say we don't need more Scoble hype (and the associated retractions), but rather a more filtered one. The problem is there is no incentive on the publisher front. Check out how outraged TechCrunch comment freetards were at the idea of a $4 per month premium offering from Kevin Rose.

If people don't want to pay for quality instead they pay for it by having to wade through more junk, scams & repetition.

Here are 2 posts from TechCrunch about Yahoo!. Both published on the same day. Both saying the same thing. There isn't much difference between them than what a good markov generator could do.

And, of course, there are the obligatory cat fights. Junk.

A Comfortable Spin

What's worse is that many sites exist simply to sell you a pre-existing worldview rather than a pragmatic view of the world:

The million channel words brings addressability. There is no mass any more. You can't reach everyone. Mad Men is a hit and yet it has only been seen by 2% of the people in the USA.

The mcw bring silos, angry tribes and insularity. Fox News makes a fortune by pitting people against one another. Talkingpointsmemo is custom tailored for people who are sure that the other side is wrong. You can spend your entire day consuming media and never encounter a thought you don't agree with, don't like or don't want to see.

The polarization from such media & the blow-by-blow content style leads people to worry about inconsequential crap like their political ideology, where they can write based on a checklist. It makes them notice the trivial differences while remaining blinds to important things, like the systemic fraud that is supported and encouraged by both leading political parties. Arguing inconsequential details becomes increasingly addictive because the blame has to be sent to "them" rather than where is squarely belongs.

Media as a Conduit For Scams & Misinformation

Do you find it perplexing that the same media (which claims to be legitimate) has no problems running ads for total scams? Isn't it bizarre that the same media that claims to protect citizens from the evils of the marketplace tries to blend the ads for such scams in with their navigation to sell their readers down the river? Is this what you would expect of Newsweek?

Is that anything to aspire to?

Jokingly Geordie suggested how annoying he found the gallery sections on media sites with videos and pictures that seem like they are fresh off the Jerry Springer show. "WATCH: Teen beats ferret to death and eats it!" In the short run online advertising can grow quickly through tricking people, but the end result is distrust & people become less receptive.

That same media leaves the real media work to the comedians:

The problem is lack of sufficiently broad exposure to the facts here in the US. We don’t have a fourth estate, a national media in the role of providing checks and balances to government and business excesses. Instead we have media that sells product. In the late 1990s it sold tech stocks, in the early 2000s the Iraq War, from 2002 until 2007 it sold houses, and in the future it will sell whatever measures are a “necessary” price for social stability, national security, or whatever phrases are used, because things are going to get dicey once this 40 year old Rube Goldberg monetary and trade contraption comes apart when it’s hit with a Peak Cheap Oil sledgehammer in the middle of the Jon Stewart show. I mean, how healthy is the American fourth estate when all of the serious journalism here is done by comedians?

Governments often do dangerous and illegal things - which is why they fear each other. When the truth gets exposed people go to jail. Unfortunately, it is the wrong people who go to jail.

Social Media is Different*

Isn't it weird that the mark of a successful blog is that it starts to look and feel and act like bloated media organizations? Is social media any better? Or is social media mostly a bunch of lemmings following each other off the side of the mountain?

Just because there is lots of information doesn't make all of it valuable. In fact, some of it has negative value. Who are the people who login to Facebook so they can vote on Facebook about how Facebook is a waste of time & they don't use it?

As one social network crumbles the hype cycle is peaking out for the next.

Hyping a Social Network

The whole wave of online communication and publishing is that a new service promotes itself as disrupting x by making y more efficient. Most of it is simply a repeat of the recent past. Bookmarks were popular. Then they were not. Then bookmarks were popular. Now they are not. Soon they will be again. :)

The narrative of "change" gives new companies a niche or angle to get press coverage from. People ask if it is the next Google, or more! The service then go under-monetized for a couple years to feed growth and scale. The whole time the site is not monetized stories are seeded in the media about how media format x is powerful for brands even if the lead examples are nonsense.

Cashing Out

But ultimately what happens is the networks turn their navigational options into ad units and try to confuse users. Monetization is the name of the game as insiders rush to cash out.

Facebook turns user messages into ad units via sponsored stories, doing something akin to turning beacon back on without anyone caring. Even as Facebook's CEO page gets hacked, they want you to trust them with sharing as much information as possible (even if there is no benefit to you) and turning your messages into an ad unit.

If the NFL puts you in one of their commercials (without paying you or offering you free tickets) then they are simply using you as free content to sell more ads against. It is not like they are putting you in the revenue stream.

What Privacy?

How is it possible that we are told that data has value but privacy allegedly does not? Most such stores of data are built through an invasion of privacy.

Privacy has value. What happens when your account gets hacked & you start recommending some uncomfortable stuff? What happens when a stalker catches you on the way home based on one of your messages? How many such experiences will be viewed as a series of isolated events before people figure it out? Once these ads lose their novelty will there still be real businesses behind them? Or is narcissistic advertising the wave of the future even as people realize they are being spied on?

LinkedIn, the professional version of Facebook, is pushing hard on ads as well. And when they buy tools they can sell as services they often prefer to give those away to make the site more sticky and sell more ads.

Is Twitter any better? In some regards sure, but they are building a self-serve ad network and are pushing followers and retweets as ad units. Wherever there is conversation there will be advertisers. New ad units will claim to move beyond the click, but ultimately they will be measured by the people selling the ads. This ends up being a game of fakemytraffic.com/fakemyvalue.com...where networks find something that sounds appealing at first blush and then water it down.

Finding a Social Signal Amongst Sponsored Stories

These companies blend their ad units into editorial so effectively that most people can't tell them apart. If that sounds familiar, that is because it is. The key to making it work is perceived relevancy. That is easy to do when you have a large ad auction and users type their intent into a search box, but is much harder to do when people are browsing pictures of cats.

Anyone who thinks that social is a clean search signal is forgetting that people vote most for stuff that his humorous & easy to share. And people share things that they saw others shared because they felt they had to. The echo chamber effect doesn't encourage critical thought. It is mostly a bunch of +1.

The following video is sad & funny. It has been viewed widely, but it does nothing to fix a broken education system.

And there are entire categories that will never be featured honestly on social media. Sure the idea of turning Kinect into a virtual sex video game will get lots of exposure, but is anyone ever going to honestly Tweet about their favorite solutions to their genital warts problem? Is there enough context to matter? Worse yet, all these networks are turning their relevancy signals into ad units, so if a search engine was to count them heavily all the search engine would be doing is subsidizing the third party ad network. And the scammers who are pushing reverse billing fraud products on the news sites will do as much damage as they can get away with on the social sites.

Google's Amit Singhal is skeptical of the hype:

If there's a broad call at the company to integrate social networking features, Singhal hasn't quite heard it. He seems skeptical about whether social data can make search results significantly more relevant. If he's searching for a new kind of dishwasher, he argues, his friend's recommendations are interesting, but the cumulative opinion of experts manifested in search results is much more valuable. He notes that Google already integrates content from Twitter and says social networking data is easily manipulated. Can social context make search more relevant? "Maybe, maybe not. Social is just one signal. It's a tiny signal," he says.

If Google can't find much signal there then good luck to the folks trying to use Tweets to trade the (increasingly corrupted) stock market!

Why People Like Social Media

I think social media gives people the illusion of success through proximity. Thus people are impressed to rub shoulders with successful people, even if they are douchebags and liars to boot. There is the unsaid message that “you too can be a billionaire” that a lot of entrepreneurs and start up folks want to believe in that drives the growth of Quora. But the reality is that celebrities are whoring out their status for a quick payday, even if the advertiser value in such relationships is marginal.

Someone wants to eat my dog. Other than breathing, writing English(ish), and having a Twitter account, I probably do not have anything in common with that person. And yet there is no tool to sort that out.

That is the big problem with most social media tools: the monolithic nature.

And if you look at what brands (and even smaller advertisers) are doing, it is pretty clear that the "signal" in social isn't much of a signal. If they count that, then search engines may as well just use ad budget as the primary signal of relevancy at that point.

Why Smaller Communities Will Thrive

I am not sure where I read this quote from, but I think it went something like this "we are most similar where we are most vulgar and most unique in the ways we are sophisticated." That is precisely why a lot of the broader networks will repeatedly fail in efforts to build strong niches outside their core. It is why there is so much value in being a fast follower.

Given the interrupting noise and angst on social networks people (or at least the smart ones who are well experienced in the game of life & spend time to think deeply) eventually outgrow most of their social media habits.

Ultimately Social Media Changes Nothing

Human nature is both predictable & easily exploited. How you frame a question informs how people respond. We live in a corporate world where certain lies are expected & diseases are branded for maximum profitability.

Messaging and imagery allow piss poor product to be branded as food. The abuse of language is so thorough that even the words "shared planet" need a TM next to them.

What is Driving the "Social Revolution"?

A week ago Andy Xie wrote:

The inflation and bubbles in the developing world are not yet destabilizing because the dollar is weak and the hot money supports their currency values. Historically, inflation becomes a crisis in the developing world when the dollar turns around and appreciates. However, it is possible for inflation to create a crisis without a currency crisis. It erodes the purchasing power of the people at the bottom. Social unrest can lead to political crisis

That destabilization is now happening. What was an isolated incident in Tunisia has spread to Egypt. The same criminals that destroyed the United States economy are now blowing up other countries with rampant inflation:

The currency pegs mean that most of the inflationary pressure you're creating doesn't hit your nation, it's exported to others. That exactly how you like it, because you can claim "inflation expectations are well-anchored." Perhaps they are in your nation, but in other places they're extremely unanchored and are not only expectations, they're realized facts as the basic cost of life spirals up out of control.

This, in turn, provokes food riots in these less-well-endowed nations that you managed to dupe into participating in your outrageous scheme. After all, there's only one thing worse than a hungry man. That's a man who used to be well-fed and now he's both hungry and ****ed, along with being unemployed.

When his belly growls loudly enough, he riots. And so do his similarly-situated neighbors.

The social revolution we are seeing now is not due to social media. When Egypt shuts off the web (literally) Twitter and Facebook don't really matter. What you are seeing is not the power of online social networks, but rather smart marketers who are trying to embed their networks in media coverage of important events. You don't get mobs in the street the size of the following when the internet is unplugged if Twitter is the cause.

Mob in Egypt. CC Licensed by Al Jazeera.

Rather such mobs are caused because the lack of media doing its job to enforce a sense of outrage over the injustices caused upon societies the world over by banking criminals. If there was any sense of justice the large banks that caused this mess would have been bankrupted. But instead we base economic strategy on the theoretical economy rather than its impact on the real world.

People are just an externality for bankers to exploit.

Meanwhile, those who let bankers commit fraud the world over think Twitter makes a difference. At least it's comical.

How To Write Good

Sep 2nd

Yes, deliberate mistake :)

It grates when people write poorly, huh. When writers write well, the words almost become invisible. The focus shifts away from technical details, and onto the message.

Is there an easy way to write better blog posts? E-mails? Web copy?
Let's take a look at three guidelines for web writing.

1. If You Can Say It, You Can Write It

The Dilbert Mission Statement Generator - sadly now offline - comes up with convoluted gems this:

"Our challenge is to assertively network economically sound methods of empowerment so that we may continually negotiate performance based infrastructures"

Satire, one would hope.

However, the US Air Force uses the following mission statement:

"The mission of the United States Air Force is to deliver sovereign options for the defense of the United States of America and its global interests - to fly and fight in Air, Space, and Cyberspace"

"Deliver sovereign options"?

Who talks like this? Well, apart from the US military.

Nobody.

Good web writing is the same as good spoken language. Use short sentences, short words, simple structures and a natural, predictable flow of ideas. Avoid waffle, hyperbole and words that hide meaning. Whenever you finish a piece of writing, read it aloud. Cut or rephrase phrases that sound clunky, because they'll read clunky, too.

Your writing will sound warm and human.

The human voice is especially important online. Communicating at a distance, particularly two-way communication, is relatively new to humans. To help people connect with one another more easily, it pays to write in a warm, conversational style that mimics personal conversation when conducted in close, physical proximity.

When you think about how you would say something, especially to a specific person, you choose words, expressions and structures based on that personal context. Try to imagine that person in front of you as your write.

This approach works well for all applications - from formal legal sites, to personal sites.

2. Planning

Planning what you're going to say helps you to complete any writing task more quickly and easily.

  • 1. Identify and list your goals. What is the message? What is the desired action you want your reader to take? What is the key thought you want your reader to take away?

    For example, a goal list might look like this:

    *inform people the last project went well, even though there were problems
    *highlight the good aspects about the project
    *highlight the problems
    *present ideas on how these problems can be overcome in the next project
    *get everyone revved up and excited about the next project

  • 2. Think about the audience. Who is your audience? What do you know about the person or group?
  • 3. Determine the right tone and format based on answers 1& 2
  • 4. Write quickly. Don't edit, even if your writing is a mess. Separate out your writing and editing functions.
  • 5. Draw a solid conclusion. Calls to action work well.
  • 6. Read aloud what you've written. Cut, fix and tighten. Writing comes alive in the rewrite.

Solid blog posts sound spontaneous, but they're not. They're often structured, worked and reworked.

3. Hyperbole Doesn't Work On The Web

Hyperbole means extreme exaggeration. i.e. "All the perfumes of Arabia could not sweeten this little hand". Web readers tend to gloss over the flowery and the convoluted.

On the web, people scan, so the shape of your writing - how it appears on the page - can be just as important as what you say. So think about the shape and form of your writing. Can you use bullets, headings and images to break up large blocks of text? Sometimes, the best thing to do is not write at all. Can an image convey your message? If so, use it.

Also consider context. When visitors arrive on a page, a page deep within your site, do they know what your site is about from glancing at that one page? If not, consider using chunks of content to provide context. These chunks of information can be repeated on every page of your site, and should be self explanatory. Think directory entry. Your repeat visitors will become blind to it, but your first time readers will appreciate it.

We could go on all day about web writing. However, we'd like to hear your tips. How do you approach writing on your site? Do you plan? Do you wing it? What style of writing gets the best results?

eHow.com Using Expired Domain 301 Redicts to Spam Google

Jul 27th

Perhaps part of the "interesting data" Richard Rosenblatt was talking about was link anchor text on expired domains & cybersquatting efforts that he could redirect in bulk at high earning eHow pages.

Not to fear, Demand Media is a trusted Google partner, so the algorithm and engineers are prohibited to take action against the same activity which would get your website removed from the search results.

I am not sure how long Yahoo!'s link function will work for, but below are screenshots showing the inbound links pointing at these expired domains that eHow was exploiting.

After the domains got press coverage Demand Media quickly removed the redirects & the domains are generic PPC park pages.

The domain names are registered using a proxy for cover to hide who is behind this sort of activity, but if you click on the "Buy this domain" link it leads to AcquireThisName.com, which has been highlighted as an eNom front organization:

if these domains were acquired by Enom, fair and square and not from their own customers, then why all the deception, and not just offer these domains for sale through Enom?

Is this another example of registrar abuse?

Certainly, this maybe another reason for all domainers to take a long hard look at which companies they choose to do business with.

Buying expired domain names for links is something Matt Cutts loathes. In fact, the first time he came across spam it was someone doing the exact same thing eNom was doing above - taking a well linked to domain name and leveraging that link equity for another purpose (see the very first question in the following video).

The very technique that eHow uses today is *exactly* what caused Matt to create Google's anti-spam team!

Google's blind eye and double standards toward the large MFA spam sites are becoming such a big issue that it looks to be at the core of the marketing strategy for new search engines!

Portrait of an SEO

Jul 26th

The following is a guest post by Kpaul. :)

A long time ago, on an Internet far, far away (when I wrote for fun - and for free), I did a piece called Portrait of a Blogger. The year was 2002 and blogging was just beginning to really hit the mainstream hard. If you’re not familiar with the audience at Kuro5hin.org, they’re a snooty version of slashdot readers if you can imagine such a thing. (Mentioning both of these websites is outing my age, I think. I better not mention Compuserve.) The story was published on K5 and is still available today. I was told once that it drew a lot of traffic, although Mr. Foster never would share the exact numbers with me. (I imagine he’s laughing somewhere on his yacht these days.) It’s interesting to see how many of the links are still active in that article.

In any case, I thought about that story the other day when I was lamenting the fact that I didn’t start publishing my own content on my own sites earlier. (I spent the bubble years working for corporate media on the Death Star.) I let the idea of the piece gel in my mind for a while. I knew I couldn’t do another portrait of a blogger piece. I mean, I could, but I don’t think it would do as well as the previous one did. Also floating around in my mind was an okay from the esteemed Aaron Wall to submit a guest post for SEO Book. Eventually, these two ideas crossed paths, exchanged emails, and set-up a plan to combine the old Portrait of a Blogger piece with something relevant for Aaron’s audience.

So, without further ado, I give you a portrait of an SEO circa 2010

The SEO Newbie

Favorite software: SENuke
Favorite website: webmasterworld.com
Favorite drink: Jolt (cause that’s the stereotype and it was in Hackers the movie)
Favorite viral video: Numa Numa
Favorite rapper: 50 cent

A friend of their friend’s sister’s little brother makes money online, so it’s totally going to be possible. The SEO newbie looks forward to a life of an hour of work every week for untold riches. While more and more people are trying to make money online, many of them just don’t have what it takes to work for themselves online. While chasing the magic button - also known as the golden tip, the super duper affiliate secret, or even the extra double tip for making money online - the SEO newbie tends to get distracted from the one obvious thing that equals sucess - i.e. work. Once most SEO newbies find out making money online takes work (more and more of it as time passes and competition increases), they drop out of the game and go back to whatever it was they were doing. Before that, they’re usually found on Webmaster World gabbing about the latest “Google Dance.”

SEO Auto-Blogger

Favorite software: WordPress MU
Favorite website: Any with an RSS Feed
Favorite drink: Watered Down McDonald’s Pop (mass produced sugar water that sorta resembles soda)
Favorite viral video: Lazy Sunday (something everyone copied)
Favorite rapper: Black Eyed Peas

If one page in the SERPs is good, and ten pages in the SERPs is great and so on and so forth, what about 1 billion pages? That would be best, right? But how to write a billion pages worth of content? Enter the auto-blog. This spray and pray method of SEO is still tried by many new to the industry, but it is becoming more and more difficult to keep a site like this going for more than a few months. That’s not to say that it doesn’t exist, but there are few low level auto-bloggers who don’t end up getting burned. And yet auto-bloggers make up a large slice of the SEO landscape. This will undoubtedly change in the years ahead.

The mainstream media also plays this game :D

SEO Link Merchant

Favorite software: Yahoo! Site Explorer or any Online Link Tool
Favorite website: Any that will buy or sell a link
Favorite drink: Absynth (not legal anymore)
Favorite viral video: Star Wars Kid
Favorite rapper: Tupac

These people live and dream about links. From the value of links to anchor text to placement to link wheels, their world revolves around the power of the link. Since link selling and buying has gone into a shady black market type atmosphere over the last few years, some of these characters can be shady. A common technique is to peddle “text advertisements” for a low monthly rate to unknowing webmasters. While there are some websites and email accounts still operating in the open, there are also black hat link merchants in some very bad neighborhoods. While I probably shouldn’t mention it, there are some who see short term success using these methods. The thing is, online you want to play the long game. And for that, buying and selling links is out.

Phony SEO Guru

Favorite software: The autoresponder
Favorite website: forums.digitalpoint.com
Favorite drink: Acai Juice
Favorite viral video: That annoying frog techno thing!
Favorite rapper: Vanilla Ice

The schemes and scams are plentiful in the world of the phony guru. Yes, you too can make money by showing others how to make money. A lot of these so called gurus don’t even make money on the Internet other than peddling their ebooks and membership sites. The problem with these people is that after a person is burned by so many, they run the danger of not spending ANY money online. This can be just as bad as wasting money on worthless, phony gurus. For example, an SEO Book membership is a wise investment that will pay off in the long run. Don’t be afraid to invest money wisely after being burned by phony SEO gurus.

SEO Tail Chaser

Favorite software: The latest WSO!
Favorite website: warriorforum.com
Favorite drink: Budweiser (or something domestic and bland)
Favorite viral video: Anything their neighbor liked
Favorite rapper: Eminem

Usually found huddling around the phony gurus (which grow in numbers every month it seems as more and more people try to monetize the web), tail chasers are those people who try to copy current successful marketing methods online. If you study the whole rebill period of Internet marketing, there were a few people who started off strong (and somewhat legit), but as more and more people got into the game, the boundaries were pushed more and more. The highlight for me, I think, was seeing an elderly lady talking on a YouTube video about posting links to Google to make money. While some tail chasers may be able to make small (or even moderately large) amounts of money in a short time, they lack the skills (and vision) to replicate the success on a continual basis.

<INTERMISSION>

We interrupt this guest blog post for a shameless plug. On one of my blogs, I’ve started using D&D character alignments instead of ‘colored hats’ to tag various methods for SEO and marketing online. Okay, it’s not really unique and I doubt it catches on, but it gives more opportunities to categorize Internet marketers. We now return to our regularly scheduled guest blog post. Thanks, Aaron!

</INTERMISSION>

White Hat SEO

Favorite software: Vanilla Internet Explorer
Favorite website: mattcutts.com/blog/
Favorite drink: Water (good for you)
Favorite viral video: Anything LOL cats
Favorite rapper: DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince

When not wearing their “I Heart Matt Cutts” t-shirt or coming up with ways to make their website more unique and useful for visitors, these individuals like to volunteer at local homeless shelters and nursing homes. But seriously, these people make an effort to do things above board online. Many are still able to make a good living while doing this. Many don’t have the patience for white hat SEO, which is a shame, because it’s one of the better long term methods of success online. Think of your visitor after they get to your site more than trying to trick Google into ranking you high in the SERPs and you’re on your way to becoming a high level white hat SEO, which comes with many special abilities and powers.

Black Hat SEO

Favorite software: xRumer
Favorite website: Any that will take a link - willingly or not
Favorite drink: Whiskey (wine is fine but liquor is quicker)
Favorite viral video: Anything from 4chan
Favorite rapper: NWA

There are some who fall between the tail chasers and the SEO grandmasters (of all persuasions) who have the ability to recognize an opportunity and jump on it, making a bit of money along the way. The problem is that most methods used with Black Hat SEO are short term. They may have a huge payout, but the model is not sustainable unless you can stay somewhat ahead of the crowd when it comes to new things to exploit online. While some are fine with this, most at this level have the ability to come up with unique ideas on their own. When you consider that there’s about the same amount of work involved and the non-black hat techniques last longer, it makes sense to try to get beyond this stage in your SEO evolution.

Grey Hat SEO

Favorite software: A little of this and a little of that
Favorite website: wickedfire.com
Favorite drink: Coffee (some mornings with a dash of rum)
Favorite viral video: Boom Goes the Dynamite
Favorite rapper: Drake

If you mix black and white, you get grey, of course. The grey hat SEO uses both white and black hat techniques. While they’re more open than those who wear a black hat most times, they are generally more cautious than people into white hat SEO. For the most part the mix of both (good and bad) vary at any one time with grey hat SEO. Over the years, this label has morphed somewhat into a blue hat SEO, with a few key differences. Grey hat SEO, to me, means more about techniques while blue hat SEO concentrates on a mixing of web properties with different values.

Blue Hat SEO

Favorite software: A little of this and a little of that
Favorite website: wickedfire.com
Favorite drink: Coffee (some mornings with a dash of rum)
Favorite viral video: Charlie the Unicorn
Favorite rapper: Ice Cube

I’m pretty sure I know who came up with this phrase, although I’m not exactly sure of their definition of the term. To me, it follows the ‘SEO Empire’ line of thinking that was created by Eli at Blue Hat SEO. So, it would be a mix of pure white and somewhat grey (or downright black) websites in a network online. So, garbage sites at the bottom of the pyramid point up toward the money sites at the top of the pyramid. How this differs from straight grey hat SEO, I’m not sure, but it’s used by quite a few people these days. For the most part, Blue Hat SEO peoeple are well versed in the way the Internet works. And if they don’t have skills, they have someone in their network who does. There are quite a few high level blue hat SEOs currently operating online.

Article Marketer

Favorite software: Google Docs
Favorite website: ezinearticles.com
Favorite drink: Green Tea (proven weight loss, act now!)
Favorite viral video: None (text based viral only)
Favorite rapper: Mos Def (very lyrical)

When they’re not actually banging out articles for their own or other sites, they’re thinking up ideas and topics for their next round of articles. They know the value of content online. This group is split like most others into various levels of quality ranging from garbage to modern literature and everything in between. You will notice if you look closely that the more successful article marketers have higher quality content. This is no coincidence. Of course, good content is only one small piece of the puzzle, but you may want to consider outsourcing your content needs to an article marketer.

Viral SEO Ninja

Favorite software: Anything related to email
Favorite website: digg.com
Favorite drink: Tang (it’s orange, it’s different)
Favorite viral video: lonelygirl15
Favorite rapper: Kanye West (marketing magic man - good or bad)

When it comes to linkbait and causing ripples in the blogosphere, there’s nothing like the skills of a high level viral ninja. Part Charlie the Unicorn, part Star Wars Kid, and with a dash or two of LOL cats and one very, very, extremely tiny bit of 4chan, the viral ninja can mix media to send a message, get a laugh, or compel people to tell their friends about the content. As more and more people come online and try to be viral, it’s becoming more and more difficult to be unique and stand out from the millions of other people online who are vying for attention. The viral ninja understands this and is already working on three or four projects that will drown the numbers for the “Please don’t taze me” video.

SEO Grandmaster

Favorite software: LAMP
Favorite website: SEOBook.com
Favorite drink: Vitamin Water (expensive, but worth it)
Favorite viral video: Dancing baby (old school...)
Favorite rapper: Grandmaster Flash

You don’t hear from these people too much on the forums or at conferences. They don’t typically have a very active blog. They do, however, spend their time making money online - most times quite a bit of it. They apply their SEO knowledge quietly in the background, slowly building their empire piece by piece. They understand marketing and business principles and employ them. These people learned early on that wasting time online - especially at forums chasing the magic button - is not a good thing. They learned how to buckle down and apply the knowledge that everyone who’s anyone has. They know it’s all about applying the information rather than just knowing about it. While you don’t hear much from these people publicly, when they do talk quite a few people tend to listen.

Real SEO Guru

Favorite software: Firefox browser + extensions
Favorite website: Any that they own or are involved with
Favorite drink: Orange Pineapple Juice (sweet, sour, but good for you)
Favorite viral video: All Your Base Are Belong To Us (cause they do)
Favorite rapper: Jay-Z (making piles of money)

What are the lyrics from Ghetto Boys about real gangsters not talking much? Go Google it. (Sorry, Matt, it’s a verb now. You know there are secret Google parties celebrating the fact. Smile.) But yeah, real gurus aren’t all talk and no action. Real gurus of the industry don’t pitch anything and everything just to make a buck. The real gurus are few and far between, but they do exist. If you run into one, be nice to them. Unlike the SEO grandmasters, they’re more public and don’t mind interacting with the public. That said, they tend to value their time, so don’t waste it. This path has the most opportunities for people who are into SEO. (In gaming terms, it has the highest level cap.) It’s a long road, and it’s not a quest that can be undertaken alone, but if you’re serious about SEO, this is the route you want to take.

The Future of SEO?

If you’ve been around for any length of time, you know that the Internet is still constantly changing. Some of the changes are for the better and some aren’t as good, but they all are something that everyone who works online has to deal with. The SEO of last week - or even today - isn’t the same SEO that is going to be in operation over the next decade. Personally, I see the word organic being more important.

By organic SEO, I mean not mass produced, not a trick, not a scam, not a scheme, but an actual relationship between publishers and website visitors. The sites that are able to build communities around themselves are going to be the ones that survive, I think. And there is no method of SEO known to man that can create a community - a real one - out of thin air. That said, SEO can be useful to help draw people to a website that is worthy of a community forming around it.

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The above was a guest post from K. Paul Mallasch, who runs kpaul media, which publishes local news communities like Anderson Free Press as well as many niche websites. You can contact him at kpaul.mallasch@gmail.com

A disclaimer from Aaron: I thought it was fun, but I loath rap music (especially that from asshats like Kanye West), and I realize that being a publisher in the SEO space is way more profitable than being labeled as an SEO guru. I also didn't put the last picture in because he used me...and I felt that would have been a wee bit egotistical for me to publish a guest post highlighting me like that. ;)

But the post is still a lot of fun & I am sure you can associate with at least 1 or more of the above profiles. If not then you haven't been in the SEO space very long yet! ;)

Google As Publisher...

Jul 11th

They might prefer to use different labels (so as to minimize fear in the marketplace & slow down regulators), and they might claim that aggregate statistics control the investments & thus they are not really publishers, but they plan on skimming a big piece off of the top of many big markets.

AdWords was just the start!

Videos, maps & product search...look how Google self-deals in each while managing to call it a value added feature (or some such).

If Google collects data, hosts data, sorts data, recommends personalized consumption habits, and then makes small investments in new content from proven past performers (and then give them a bit of stealth promotion on their network)...how is it possible for Google to lose money? (Outside of lawsuits)?

Google can claim they are "democratizing" media while showing a string of successful partnerships based on investing using real time data that nobody else as access to. Meanwhile if you are a publisher they are gutting your business model through paying people to snag your content and wrap it in their ads, while they also redirect user attention to the companies and acts they have invested in.

"One day we had a conversation where we figured we could just try and predict the stock market... and then we decided it was illegal. So we stopped doing that." - Eric Schmidt, Google CEO

Note that there was no moral debate on the table. Their only internal limitation to setting up a hedge fund and swaying the markets to increase the profits of their trades would be that they thought it was illegal.

How much of the online ecosystem can Google consume before publishers promote other views of the web?

One way to fight this sort of strategy is Yahoo!'s sell or outsource everything but the logo strategy. It increases short term margins, but in the longrun it makes one that much more vulnerable. Google can always buy the partner of choice and then ride off the free promotion & validation that the acquisition gained from earlier partnerships. Sure adding more noise to a noisy market can bring in eyeballs, but fleeting ones. Death by a thousand compromises.

The other is to work in markets too small for Google to be interested in. Or to define & create a new vertical, like Zynga did. Even with as shady as Zynga's founder is, longterm that company is in a better position than Yahoo! is.

LiveStrong OR SpamStrong? You Decide!

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  • You have to look strong. Start with a nice manly high & tight haircut livestrong.com/business_barber/
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  • You have to bulk up. Not steroids! Feed the search engines their own search results. livestrong.com/business-don-and-tennas-hair-place_563-326-2277/

I think Google is getting the message on what the search results would look like in a couple years if they let the above continue.

Sure they own the search category, but if they let the rot set in too much then people will shift to other modes of discovery. Google realizes that search may splinter - its why they bought Youtube, why the offer a mobile operating system, etc.

Google may not be 100% responsible for the above trend. But they will be 100% responsible for cleaning it up.

I won't be surprised to see a lot more of this in the near future. Such a shame, as Jason is such a great guy. :(

TV is the New Mobile

When Google enters a field sometimes they do so quietly, but when they decide they want to own something there is nothing quiet about their approach. They are not content to pick one niche and one model (the way that Netflix does):

Google keeps fighting on multiple fronts. Like boxing a glacier, over time they just wear the market down.

Google wants to turn Youtube watchers into mindless drones who are spared the expense of thought:

“If too much of your brain is occupied with the process of choosing, it takes you out of the experience of watching,” explains James Black, a NowMov co-founder. ... “We’re looking at how to push users into passive-consumption mode, a lean-back experience,” Mr. Davidson says.

They want Youtube to be like television, because the TV ad market is far larger than the web ad market, and they already own search. They are desperately searching for new markets for avenues to grow.

Google spent $106 million buying On2, and then open sourced their V8 video codec:

It’s the “first one is free” approach that a drug dealer uses, and it’s not a “free” play, it’s a “we are the new railroad” play. For one-tenth the amount they paid for that crappy old codec, they could have paid Firefox’s licensing fees in perpetuity, if being a sugar daddy is what they want. They don’t want it. This is a “in your face, Apple” play, and a monopoly play.

And in addition to owning Youtube, tons of dark fiber, and their video codec, Google announced their Google TV effort. The person who controls the set top box has the market data.

Mark Cuban highlights the gaming that will occur in manipulating the rankings

The success of Google TV will come down to one thing….PageRank. Can you imagine the white hat and black hat SEO battles that will take place as video content providers try to get to the top of the TV Search Listings on Google TV ? Like Google said, there are 4 billion TVs and growing and the US TV Ad market is $70 BILLION. There is a lot at stake if Google TV takes off. How Google does its PageRank for this product will have a bigger impact on the success of the product in the TV market than anything else it does.

but if Google is passively monitoring the network they are far better than a guide. It becomes easy for them to see when their recommendations were not relevant & adjust. And if a network screws them multiple times they can always provide a dampening factor in their rankings.

If successful their TV efforts can tear down the walls between different types of content:

Google will do what it does, and that’s insinuate itself between information and the user. And the fretting will be minimal. As for the impact of Google TV, this has the potential to challenge the TV hegemony. By blurring the lines between TV and the Internet, Google TV has the potential to destroy classifications of content. No more “TV shows,” just “content.” No more “Web videos,” just “content.” And, once the distinctions are completely undermined, then direct distribution via the Internet becomes more viable. Google TV could replace Big TV as the aggregator, then it just becomes a matter of who offers the fattest pipes.

Once Google has the aggregate usage data they can use it any way they like. The concept applies to any market. Economies of scale advantages breed more economies of scale. Apple and Amazon want to have proprietary ebook formats? Fine. Google will assist publishers in creating the default common e-book format.

It is not just regular algorithm updates that can whack your traffic. A couple years out these additional content formats will be a big issue for many web publishers because if Google gets a significant sample size & market leverage in any of these parallel markets then some of these other content formats will start bleeding into the search results. And that (along with market competition) can quickly drive margins into negative territory for many publishing business models.

Google Still Busy Killing Off the Link Graph, One Link at a Time

May 28th

Now that big media practices keyword stuffing, engage in link selling, are invested in SEO start ups, and are selling SEO services perhaps they won't publish ill-informed pablum when writing about SEO. :D

Don't hold your breath waiting on that, but...

Now that newspapers are looking to sell SEO services, Google is rumored to be out and about asking them to remove links:

We understand that newspapers are currently being contacted by Google and being asked to remove links (especially those placed after the articles have been written – ie comment links and links that are placed for payment in articles weeks or months after it had gone live). As a company, we have been aware that placing links in articles once they have picked up PR is not an uncommon practice in the industry, and we also knew that it would probably come to no good which is why we stayed well away. However, we do have some legitimate links on these sites that were placed as part of a press release or an interview and these are slowly being removed through no fault of our own. So much for all the hard work eh?

Google is warning newspapers from linking out and is warning webmasters not to do guest posts. It turns out that any and every link is a bad link in their warped mental model of the web. :D

The random surfer must be quite inebriated. And lost.

As Google controls more traffic and the value of a #1 ranking increases Google continues to filter filter filter the web graph.

The good news is that as Google's view of reality is increasingly warped & their guidelines reflect reality less and less they create a greater opportunity for some competing company to come along and build something better. And for any professional SEO who reads between the lines there is value in Google misleading the rest of the herd.

About a decade ago Sergey Brin stated they didn't believe in spam. A decade later they don't believe in the media and don't believe in links. What happened?

And So The Margins Race Toward Zero

May 19th


Yahoo! & Associated Content @ Yahoo! Video

The backfill content business model has had a great run over the past 5 years, but with today's announcement of Yahoo! acquiring Associated Content, it certainly feels like it is getting toward the beginning of the end for that model for most folks.

  • Demand Media has grown eHow aggressively & struck partnerships with the likes of USA Today, and has recently been in the news about looking to do an ~ $1.5 billion IPO. If you look at Richard Rosenblatt's past sales you will see that he is quite good at selling right at the top.
  • Former Googler Tim Armstrong rebuilt Aol around their internal SEED platform which targets content at longtail arbitrage opportunities & leverages their premium Google ad feed.
  • Associated Content struck deals with companies like Thomson Reuters, Cox Newspapers, Hachette Filipacchi and USA Today. And they just landed a $90 million payday in the sale to Yahoo!

Yahoo! still has north of 10% search marketshare and can probe new & trending content ideas in real-time, while also using their huge distribution to market the new features. The fast data and instant distribution likely double the value of the business model for them. Take average content, tie it to a trusted brand, and immediately give it huge distribution and you have a winning formula. Assuming Yahoo! does a good job of integration this is probably one of their better acquisitions.

About a year ago a friend told me he bought some Yahoo! stock and I told him I thought he was nuts, but if I saw signs of decent integration of this content then I think they just increased their longevity of their company probably by a decade or more. And the part of this model which works great is that they view this content not as a replacement for their premium content, but as a backfill for the keywords they would like to target which don't have enough demand to pay for premium content creation. Some of the smarter independent webmasters have long understood that part of publishing profitably online means having featured content which loses money but builds awareness, and a second bucket of content which leverages that reputation to profit. That understanding is where the term "linkbait" came from, but now the big companies are playing the same game.

Here is a list of Aol properties, and as soon as they show strong profit growth you can bet they will use their stock to purchase more sites

You could put up similar network maps for the likes of Expedia, BankRate, Yahoo! subdomains, Monster.com, etc. etc. etc.

If Google continues to keep the algorithm fairly similar over the next couple years (ie: overall domain authority = relevancy panacea) it is pretty obvious what is going to happen to a lot of online categories. They will get watered down search by search as these publishing companies reinvest profits into creating a second, third, or fifth site in profitable categories.

If many people are using the same approach that will often create opportunities for other approaches. The good news for the average webmaster is that as the bland one size fits all approach (based on domain authority) gains momentum is that it will likely force Google to adjust. And it will make people become more loyal to great sites when they find them. As such general purpose sites grow I almost think it adds value to sites which look a bit unpolished and look like they are created from am amateur hobbyist. Thoughts? What say you?

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