Media is all about profit margins. eHow was originally founded in 1998 & had $36 million in venture capital behind it. But the original cost structure was flawed due to high content costs. The site failed so badly that it was sold in 2004 for $100,000. The original site owners had GoogleBot blocked. Simply by unblocking GoogleBot and doing basic SEO to existing content the site had a revenue run rate of $4 million Dollars within 2 years, which allowed the site to be flipped for a 400-fold profit.
People are arguing if Demand Media is overvalued at its current valuation, and at one point the NYT was debating buying Demand Media by rolling About.com into Demand & own 49% of the combined company. But the salient point to me is that we are talking about something that was bought for only $100,000 7 years ago. Sure the opportunities today may be smaller scale and different, but if you see value where others do not then recycling something that has been discarded can be quite valuable.
The key, he said, was to keep costs low. If possible, don't pay for the intellectual content. Look for material, he urged, on which the copyright has expired. Any book published in the U.S. before 1923 was available.
He said he was in the process of turning vanloads of old books into websites. With a few hours of labor, for example, you could take a turn-of-the-century Creole cookbook and transform it into the definitive site for vintage Creole recipes. Google's AdSense program would then load the thing up with ads for shrimp and cooking pots and spices and direct people looking for shrimp recipes to your website.
How did ArticlesBase grow to that size? It and Ezinearticles were a couple of the "selected few" which lasted through the last major burn down of article directories about 3 or 4 years ago. But it seems their model has peaked after this last Google update.
Search is Political
Content farms are proving to be a political issue in search. They are beginning to replace "the evil SEO" in the eye of the press as "what creates spam." Rich Skrenta created a spam clock which stated that a million spam pages are created every hour. He then followed up by banning 20 content farms from the Blekko search results & burning spam man. ;)
Microsoft also got in on the bashing, with Harry Shum highlighting that Google was funding web pollution. When Blekko's model is based on claiming Google polluted the web with crap, Microsoft says the same thing, and there is a rash of end user complaints, there are few independent experts the media can call upon to talk about Google - unless they decide to talk to SEOs, who tend to be quite happy to highlight Google's embarrassing hypocrisy. Freelance writers may claim that marketing is what screwed up the web, but ultimately Google has nobody credible and well known to defend them at this point. The only people who can defend Google's approach are those who have a taste in the revenue stream. Hence why Google had to act against content farms.
Google stepping up their public relations smear campaigns against Bing and others is leaving Google looking either hypocritical or ignorant in many instances, like when a Google engineer lambasted an ad network without realizing Google was serving the scam ad.
At first glance StackExchange's growth looks exciting, but it has basically gone nowhere outside of the programming niche. In my opinion they are going to need to find subject matter experts to lead some of their niche sites & either pay those experts or give them equity in the sites if they want to lead in other markets. Worse yet, few people are as well educated about online schemes as programmers, so the other sites will not only lack leadership, but will also be much harder to police. Just look at the junk on Yahoo! Answers! There are Wordpress themes and open source CMS tools for QnA sites, but I would pick a tight niche early if I was going to build one as the broader sites seem to be full of spam and the niche sites struggle to cross the chasm. As of writing this, fewer than 50 Mahalo answers pages currently indexed in Google have over 100 views. It flat out failed, even with financial bribes and a PR spin man behind it.
At the organizational level, Google is essentially chaos. In search quality in particular, once you've demonstrated that you can do useful stuff on your own, you're pretty much free to work on whatever you think is important. I don't think there's even a mechanism for shifting priorities like that.
We've been working on this issue for a long time, and made some progress. These efforts started long before the recent spat of news articles. I've personally been working on it for over a year. The central issue is that it's very difficult to make changes that sacrifice "on-topic-ness" for "good-ness" that don't make the results in general worse. You can expect some big changes here very shortly though.
A good example of the importance of padding out results with junk on-topic content to aid perceived relevancy can be seen by looking at the last screenshot of a search result here. Blekko banned the farms, but without them there is not much relevant content that is precisely on-topic. (In other words, content farms may be junk, but it is hard to have the same level of perceived relevancy without them).
Google created a Chrome plugin to solicit end user feedback on content mills, but that will likely only reach tech savvy folks & the feedback is private. Google can claim to use any justification for removing sites they do not like though, just like they do with select link buying engagements. Look the other way where it is beneficial, and remove those which you personally dislike.
In a recent WSJ article Amit Singhal was quoted as saying new signals have been added to Google's relevancy algorithms:
Singhal did say that the company added numerous “signals,” or factors it would incorporate into its algorithm for ranking sites. Among those signals are “how users interact with” a site. Google has said previously that, among other things, it often measures whether users click the “back” button quickly after visiting a search result, which might indicate a lack of satisfaction with the site.
In addition, Google got feedback from the hundreds of people outside the company that it hires to regularly evaluate changes. These “human raters” are asked to look at results for certain search queries and questions such as, “Would you give your credit card number to this site?” and “Would you take medical advice for your children from those sites,” Singhal said.
Evolving the Model
One interesting way to evolve the content farm model is through the use of tight editorial focus, a core handful of strong editors, and wiki software. WikiHow was launched by a former eHow owner, and when you consider how limited their relative resources are, their traffic level and perceived editorial quality are quite high. Jack Herrick has struck how-to gold twice!
Notice any content farms missing from the above list? Maybe the biggest one? Here is a list of some of eHow's closest competing sites (based on keywords, from SEM Rush). The ones in red got pummeled, the ones in yellow dropped as well & were fellow Demand Media sites, and the ones in green gained traffic.
Jason "will do anything for ink" Calacanis recently gave an about face speech claiming people need to step away from the content farm business model, and in doing so admitted that roughly everything he said about Mahalo over the past couple years was a complete lie. Surprise, surprise. The interesting bit is that the start up community - which used to fawn over his huckster PR driven ploys - no longer buys them. Jason claimed to have "pivoted" his business model again, but once again we see more garbage content. His credibility has been spent. And so have his rankings! Sistrix shows that not only is he ranking for fewer keywords, but that the graph has skewed downward to worse average positions.
After the Crash, What is Next?
The biggest content farms like Ask & eHow will still do well in the short run. Over the long run I see Google bringing the results of content farms to the attention of book publishers & then working to slowly rotate out from farmed content to published book content. Most readers do not know that most book writers are lucky if they earn $10,000 writing a 300 or 400 page tome. Publishers tell book authors that with the additional exposure they can often sell lots more other things, but unless the content is highly targeted that might not back out well for the author. But that cheap content is far better structured and far more vetted than the mill stuff is.
Over the past week I have been seeing more ebooks in the search results, though I am not entirely sure if that is just because I am searching for more rare technical stuff that simply might not be online.
But what they didn't mention is that eHow's rankings are actually up! In fact, their new distribution chart looks just like their old one, only skewed a bit to the left with higher rankings. eHow's profile is 15% better than it was before the update & the only site which gained more traffic from this update than eHow did was Youtube.
If you listen to Richard's interviews, you would never know him to be the type to redirect expired domains:
We really want to let Google speak for themselves. Whatever Matt Cutts and Google want to (say) about quality we totally support that because again that’s their corporate interest. What we said and would have said is we applaud Google removing duplicate content ... removing shallow, low quality content because it clogs the search results. Both we and Google are 100 percent focused on making the consumer happy. It’s the right thing to do and it’s good for our business.
If you syndicate Google's spin you can get away with things that a normal person can't. Which is why eHow renounced the content farm label even faster than they created it.
Article directories & topical hub sites have been online since before eHow was created. But eHow's marketing campaign was so caustic & so toxic that it literally destroyed the game for most of their competitors.
And now that Google has "fought content farms" (while managing to somehow miss eHow with TheAlgorithm) most of Demand Media's competitors are dead & Richard Rosenblatt gets to ride off into the sunset with another hundred million Dollars, as eHow is the chosen one. :D
Many of the changes we make are so subtle that very few people notice them. But in the last day or so we launched a pretty big algorithmic improvement to our ranking—a change that noticeably impacts 11.8% of our queries—and we wanted to let people know what’s going on. This update is designed to reduce rankings for low-quality sites—sites which are low-value add for users, copy content from other websites or sites that are just not very useful. At the same time, it will provide better rankings for high-quality sites—sites with original content and information such as research, in-depth reports, thoughtful analysis and so on.
Currently this update is US only, so if you are outside of the United States you may need to get a US VPN or add &gl=us to your search string's results on Google (likeso). Recent updates have had a variety of impacts and implications outside of content mills.
Google claims that they do not want to police low quality content by trying to judge intent, that doing so would not be scalable enough to solve the problem, & that they need to do it algorithmically. At the same time, Google is willing to manually torch some sites and basically destroy the associated businesses. Talk to enough SEOs and you will find stories of carnage - complete decimation.
Economics Drive Everything
Content farms are driven by economics. Make them unprofitable (rather than funding them) and the problem solves itself - just like Google AdWords does with quality scores. Sure you can show up on AdWords where you don't belong and/or with a crappy scam offer, but you are priced out of the market so losses are guaranteed. Hello $100 clicks!
How many content farms would Google need to manually torch to deter investment in the category? 5? Maybe 10? 20 tops? Does that really require a new algorithmic approach on a web with 10's of millions of websites?
When Google nuked a ton of article banks a few years back the damage was fairly complete and lasted a long time. When Google nuked a ton of web directories a few years back the damage was fairly complete and lasted a long time. These were done in sweeps where on day you would see 50 sites lose their toolbar PageRank & see a swan dive in traffic. Yet content farms are a sacred cow that need an innovated "algorithmic" approach.
One Bad Page? TORCHED
If they feel an outright ban would be too much, then they could even dial the sites down over time if they desired to deter them without immediately killing them. Some bloggers who didn't know any better got torched based on a single blog post:
The Forrester report discusses a recent “sponsored conversation” from Kmart, but I doubt whether mentions that even in that small test, Google found multiple bloggers that violated our quality guidelines and we took corresponding action. Those blogs are not trusted in Google’s algorithms any more.
When you look at garbage content there are hundreds of words on the page screaming "I AM EXPLOITATIVE TRASH." Yet when you look at links they are often embedded inline and there is little context to tell if the link is paid or not, and determine if the link was an organic reference or something that is paid for.
Why is it that Google is comfortable implying intent with links, but must look the other way when it comes to content?
Media is a game of numbers, and so content companies have various layers of quality they mix in to make it harder for Google to find signal from noise. Yahoo! has fairly solid content in their sports category, but then fluff it out with top 10 lists and such from Associated Content. Now Yahoo! is hoping they can offset lower quality with a higher level of personalization:
The Yahoo platform aims to draw from a user’s declared preferences, search items, social media and other sources to find and highlight the most relevant content, according to the people familiar with the matter. It will be available on Yahoo’s Web site, but is optimized to work as an app on tablets and smartphones, and especially on Google Android and Apple devices, they said.
AOL made a big splash when they bought TechCrunch for $25 million. When AOL's editorial strategy was recently leaked it highlighted how they promoted cross linking their channels to drive SEO strategy. And, since acquisition, TechCrunch has only scaled up on the volume of content they produce. In the last 2 days I have seen 2 advertorials on TechCrunch where the conflicting relationship was only mentioned *after* you read the post. One was a Google employee suggesting Wikipedia needs ads, and the other was some social commerce platform guy promoting the social commerce revolution occurring on Facebook.
Being at the heart of technology is a great source of link equity to funnel around their websites. TechCrunch.com already has over 25% as many unique linking domains as AOL.com does. One of the few areas that is more connected on the social graph than technology is politics. AOL just bought Huffington Post for $315 million. The fusion of political bias, political connections, celebrity contributors, and pushing a guy who promoted (an ultimately empty) promise of hope and change quickly gave the Huffington Post even more link equity than TechCrunch has.
Ultimately this is where Google's head in the sand approach to content farms backfired. When content farms were isolated websites full of trash Google could have nuked them without much risk. But now that their is a blended approach and content farms are part of public companies backed by politically powerful individuals, Google can't do anything about them. Their hands are tied.
Trends in Journalism
Much like the middle class has been gutted in the United States, Ireland (and pretty much everywhere that is not Iceland) by economic policies that gut the average person to promote banking criminals, we are seeing the same thing happen online to the value of any type of online journalism. As we continue to ask people to do more for less we suffer through a lower quality user experience with more half-content that leaves out the essential bits.
The silver lining there is that if you are the employer your margins may grow, but if you are an employee & are just scraping by on $10 an hour then it increases the importance of doing something on the side to lower your perceived risk & increase your influence. A few years back Marshall Kirkpatrick started out on AOL's content farms. The tips he shared to stand out would be a competitive advantage in almost any vertical outside of technology & politics:
one day Michael Arrington called and hired me at TechCrunch. "You keep beating us to stories," he told me. I was able to do that because I was getting RSS feeds from key vendors in our market delivered by IM and SMS. That's standard practice among tech bloggers now, but at the time no one else was doing it, so I was able to cover lots of news first.
Three big tips from the "becoming a well known writer front" for new writers are...
if short form junk content is the standard then it is easier to stand out by creating long form well edited content
it is easier to be a big fish in a small pond than to try to get well known in a saturated area, so it is sometimes better to start working for niche publishers that have a strong spot in a smallish niche
if you want to target the bigger communities the most important thing to them (and the thing they are most likely to talk about) are themselves
Spam reports are prioritized by looking at how much visibility a potentially spammy site has in our search results, in order to help us focus on high-impact sites in a timely manner. For instance, we’re likely to prioritize the investigation of a site that regularly ranks on the first or second page over that of a site that only gets a few search impressions per month.
Given the widely echoed complaints on content farms, it seems Google has a different approach on content farms, especially considering that the top farms are seen by millions of searchers every month.
If end users can determine when links are paid (with limited context) then why not trust their input on judging the quality of the content as well? The Google Toolbar has a PageRank meter for assessing link authority. Why not add a meter for publisher reputation & content quality? I can hear people saying "people will use it to harm competitors" but I have also seen websites torched in Google because a competitor went on a link buying spree on behalf of their fellow webmaster. At least if someone gives you a bad rating for great content then the content still has a chance to defend its own quality.
With link stuff there is a final opinion and that is it. Not only are particular techniques of varying levels of risk, but THE prescribed analysis of intent depends on who is doing it!
How is this different to what a Content Farm does? So, if Content Farm pages are undesirable, so too is SEO content?
Low Quality Content?
Perhaps people take issue with low-quality content.
The problem with arguments about quality is that such arguments are subjective. Is Wikipedia quality? How about the Huffington Post? Wikipedia is full of inaccuracies, and the Huffington Post is not above fixating on trivia, like what - or who - Charlie Sheen did in the weekend. These exact same criticisms are often leveled against Content Farms.
One could argue that those two sources at least attempt to provide a high degree of quality, most of time. However, quality is in the eye of the beholder. eHow may not be to everyone's taste, but it isn't true to say eHow is all worthless, to all people, all of the time. Perhaps some people don't want to wade through the dense academia of Wikipedia. They simply want someone to tell them what that weird spot is on their cat's mouth.
How One Content Farm Describes Other Content Farms
What is a Content Farm, anyway? Is a magazine a Content Farm? Wikipedia's own definition of a Content Farm displays the same level of trite fluff often found on eHow:
"The articles in content farms are written by human beings but may not be written by a specialist in the area" The same could be said of many newspapers, websites and magazines. So what?
"Content farms are criticized for providing relatively low quality content as they maximize profit by producing just "good enough" rather than best possible quality articles". If that criteria was applied to all publishers, most would disappear overnight.
"A typical content writer is a female with children that contrasts with sites expecting voluntary unpaid contribution for the sake of idea....." . Seriously, WTF?
Economics Drive EVERYTHING
Now, I'm not saying I like the fact that Google searches often return fluff content. But that problem is a direct result of the economics of the web. It's difficult to publish "quality" web content that provides a return to the writer, so it shouldn't come as any surprise that publishers either drive down the cost of production, erect pay-walls, or simply never publish in the first place.
Who Hates Content Farms?
Criticism regarding Content Farms appears to be coming from two camps.
One camp consists of professional journalists and established publishers. This is hardly surprising, as the Content Farms are undermining their publishing model. If the reader doesn't care much about standards, then it's difficult to charge a premium for them.
The other camp is SEOs, which is odd, given that Demand Media appears to be built around an applied SEO model. Perhaps some people just don't like the competition.
I guess the important aspect, as far as SEOs are concerned, is how Google defines a Content Farm, and what they intend to do about them.
"As “pure webspam” has decreased over time, attention has shifted instead to “content farms,” which are sites with shallow or low-quality content. In 2010, we launched two major algorithmic changes focused on low-quality sites. Nonetheless, we hear the feedback from the web loud and clear: people are asking for even stronger action on content farms and sites that consist primarily of spammy or low-quality content."
Matt's definition of spam has been reasonably consistent over the years, and is detailed on Google's Webmaster Guidelines. The interesting bit is Google's definition of "low-quality content". Well, it would be if they would tell us, but they don't.
Six of One, a Half Dozen of the Other
Put it this way. Any algorithm that takes out Demand Media content is going to take out a lot of SEO content, too. SEO copy-writing? What is that? That's what Demand Media do. As I outlined in the first paragraph, a lot of SEO content in not that different, and any algorithm that targets Demand Media's content isn't going to see any difference. Keyword traffic stream identical to title tag? Yep. A couple of hundred words? Yep. SEO format? Yep. Repeats keywords and keyword phrases a few times? Yep. Contributes to the betterment of mankind? Nope.
SEO's need to be careful what they wish for.
Barry reports Google hasn't rolled out their Content Farm algo, if indeed there is such a thing: "After we spoke with Matt Cutts today, we learned that the new algorithm that went live last week is related to blocking low quality content scraper sites and not content farms".
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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?
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?
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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!
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.”
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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! ;)
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?
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.