Matt Kelly: How Can Mainstream Media Compete Online?

Dec 10th

The Media Strawman Argument: SEO is Bogus

Lots of people in desperate positions like to create a common enemy and rally against them, even if/when their position is utter non-sense.

Watching the big co. media vs Google interaction has been entertaining, largely because they claim search is an either/or game.

Matt Kelly, from the Daily Mirror, exclaimed how SEO was a dead end and how they were only able to grow by not worrying about SEO:

three months ago, we launched two new websites - and actually stripped out from Mirror.co.uk two of our core drivers of traffic; showbiz and football. Creating two new niche websites, built on very different platforms designed especially to show each off in their best light. And the hell with SEO. We we're chasing passion, here, not page impressions.

In the case of MirrorFootball, it is the ideal platform to combine our brilliant coverage of the British football with a unique collection of photographs and pages stretching back to 1903 - definitively the greatest British football archive in the world. With 3am, it is taking a unique brand and attitude of showbiz gossip and giving it the best possible platform online.

With these two new websites, I believe we have taken a very important first step - a very difficult first step - to put that sense of brand and value and character back.

How? By putting SEO in its rightful place as a tool to be used when appropriate

Brands Should Align With Interests, Not a Secret!

He claims the reason for the growth was not worrying about SEO, but nearly *any* smart & sophisticated SEO will tell you that if you have a couple sections of your site that are root drivers of traffic & repeat visits it might make sense to leverage your brand strength to create niche brands built around that passion.

Passion = readers + links + loyalty.

This is not some sort of new secret finding...it is why there are PROFITABLE magazines on water and running, and this is why passionate niche sites have done way better than many mainstream media sites IN SPITE OF Google preferring to promote the broad media oligarchy via promotion in Google News and the Google onebox.

SeoBook.com in it's original form was a blog in the bowels of another site. After our blog started gaining just a bit of traction I realized that it was worth turning into a separate brand and running with. I got on the web (commercially) in 2003, and making that shift was something I figured out...back in 2003.

Niche is the Easiest Way to Win Online

And anyone who cares and is passionate can own a niche. Maybe a small one to start, but over time it can grow. And even people with limited social skills can pull in quite a following if they can sell the illusion of success to others. On the announcement of his Open Angle Forum I told Jason Calacanas (which he didn't publish)

Nice strategy. I don't always agree with your public relations tactics, but (outside of being hypocritical) they are effective, and this launch is a good way to really start stamping a big footprint into the start up market. :)

If you own (or have interest in) the surrounding media ecosystem you can pump your own interests after investing in them. A sure way to ensure they get the right types of exposure & adequate public relations + PageRank.

You pick the market you want to play in, work at it for a few years, and you can do well enough to make a living. There are literally a million markets waiting for you (and more being built every day). And software keeps getting cheaper and more powerful. :D

Sharing Free Content Provides Social Proof of Value

I might sometimes complain about noise from freetards, but the truth is that in many verticals there is too much competition for attention for publishers to offer nothing of value and still expect people to chose you over the competition.

Any doubt or uncertainty is a tax on profits. Nobody wants to do something stupid, and sites that have a public portion show social proof of value which lowers perceived risk. And if attention follows what is publicly accessible, then it is typically better to be the person commoditizing competing business models by giving something away, than to be the one getting commoditized. ;)

Paywall + General Purpose = Fail

When general purpose / unfocused media companies put up paywalls they will just commoditize their position on the link graph. Even if you are a paying subscriber AND you chose to link to content behind a paywall, most people reading your website would rather read your accounts and link at your accounts. On a large viral network content behind paywalls doesn't typically go viral.

In addition to the glut of competition for the "news" topic, the other reasons the media suck at making a business from SEO tend to be a lack of canonical topical sections (which focus domain weight and authority against core keywords), a slow & bloated business structure, and them treating business as though it is deserved (rather than earned).

Many Media Companies *ARE* SEO Savvy

This is not to say all media companies are stupid. Much of the anti-seo talk is just a combination of misdirection & posturing for self promotion. Deep down inside Rupert Murdock understands this, which is why he invested in leading media brands like the Wall Street Journal.

It looks like Matt Kelly, who wrote the above nonsense about putting SEO in its place, just got promoted. Also not a coincidence that his company (which claims not to care about SEO) actually employs outdated SEO techniques (like keyword stuffing) on the sites which are allegedly not concerned with SEO!

Some of these companies that claim SEO is somehow bad are not only doing SEO, but are also using spammy hyped up headlines which promise steak but deliver dog food. Headlines are the new bubble. How is that any better than pulling in traffic through the use of a relevant page title?

Back to SEO & the media ;)

As big & slow moving as the BBC is, they are already employing something many SEOs do not do - a dual title strategy. Wordtracker has an article about the AMAZING things Brent Payne is doing at the Tribune company.

Google Loves Public Relations

"The only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about." - Oscar Wilde

Google also understands the importance of being in the news and the importance of blocking news coverage of competing business interests. You can see their fondness for public relations in how...

Google's 2 solutions for fading media always seem to revolve around...

The first of those is a non-starter for any serious business enterprise. If you don't host it then it is much harder to control the business built around it (especially while leaking your intellectual property to a direct competitor).

Exploiting User Flaws for Maximum Profit Potential

Eric Schmidt is hopeful on the second:

Even better, the device knows who I am, what I like, and what I have already read. ...

Some of these stories are part of a monthly subscription package. Some, where the free preview sucks me in, cost a few pennies billed to my account. Others are available at no charge, paid for by advertising. But these ads are not static pitches for products I'd never use. Like the news I am reading, the ads are tailored just for me. Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting.

But a bet for ads that learn you and profile your faults and weaknesses is not one that Tim Berners-Lee would make. The creator of the WWW is firmly against it:

In a world where democracy is getting more participatory, it's very important that people are informed over a neutral medium so they can connect to whoever they want. Another issue that is very important is snooping. I don't want any snooping on my Internet traffic.

You can do things to ensure that my Internet runs smoothly, but when I am doing something which is perhaps very intimate: when someone looks up something to see if they have cancer, or a teenager wonders if they are homosexual or not and wants to go online to find answers, this should be private. So systems that monitor every click and build a profile of me are very damaging.

The things we do on the Internet are so intimate that they are much more valuable to others and damaging to me than having a permanent TV camera in my living room. I don't want my health premiums to go up if I look up health information; I don't want to be a suspected terrorist if I do research on chemicals, I don't want to get leaflets from gay rights groups if I look up something on sexuality.

At least we know why Eric Schmidt says "Advertisers are willing to shell out a lot of money for this targeting."

And look at those innovative new way to run advertising campaigns! Check out Health Insurers Caught Paying Facebook Gamers Virtual Currency To Oppose Reform Bill. Awesome!

Why Private Communities Work so Well

In the past I have vented email frustrations in many ways (and truth be told I am still way behind on email to this day) but I thought it would be worth sharing why forums are a way better business model than personalized emails for helping people.

I am not sure if all my thoughts and analysis are 100% spot on, but this is why I like private forums so much.

Instant Feedback on Value Perception

One of the first reasons is that you instantly have a yes/no answer on if the person values your time. If you are answering questions via email then the transition to paid support via email gets to be a bit weird...with people pushing for as much as they can possibly get for free, and you being the bad guy if you charge. By deciding to answer virtually no questions via email you help them understand that your time and your knowledge *ARE* your business model, and that if they value them they can pay for them.

Sure you can answer questions on if you might be a good fit, but anytime you here something that starts off with "have a quick question" followed by some very specific requests about their exact situation and website then that person will rarely convert....they are just trying to squeeze as much free information as they can.

Reciprocity = No Pikers Please!

A second major advantage of running a forum vs trying to help people via private email is that it filters out the pikers. Back when I would try to help people via email, I would get lots of questions like these...

Hi Aaron
I want to do something really spammy that could easily generate 6 or 7 figures of income. I want you to guarantee it will work, (and to be able to cast the blame on you if it does not).

Hi Aaron
Google just banned our site. I gave you $79. Fix it now.

Hi Aaron
I bought your book and was too lazy to read it. But since I gave you $79 I need to see at least $100,000 in returns. Map out my strategy. Oh and I have a $0 budget...as I already spent my $79.

Hi Aaron
I have a spammy direct marketing 1 page salesletter website that I need to rank #1 for "mortgage". I have no budget and am unwilling to improve the site or add value in any way possible, but this is no problem since you are an SEO.

Hi Aaron
I don't have very much money (or knowledge for that matter) but I took on some clients that I am charging a lot of money to and I need you to do the work that I am charging them a lot of money for.

Now most people wouldn't be quite as direct as the above...there would be flowery language to try to cloak the bluntness and absurdity of the proposition.

But the cool thing about our current business model is the above people have disappeared from the equation.

We can point people right to their areas of need if they are in need, and the people who would have the never-ending general stream of irrelevant questions don't exist. And the people who are reselling services (but want you to do ALL!!! the work) don't exist either.

I think the reasons for those are mainly reciprocity.

  • The person who is a no value add vulture will presume that others are just like them, and would be afraid to mention specifics in a community (where others see it). And if they are too generic then the answers can't be as specific as they otherwise would be.
  • The person who is too lazy to study would be too embarassed to ask the same questions over and over again without listening to your answers. And those who ask for general reviews are highly receptive toward feedback. There is the community element of it, to where if a person asks you to review their same site 4 different times and they haven't done a lot of the tips from review #1 or #2 people will tell them about it.

Another such example of the type of piker (who was around in our old business model, but no longer exists today)... one guy emailed me about how broke he was and how he needed his spam hype garbage single page salesletter sites to rank and he had already paid $79 for my ebook... etc etc etc

The SAME GUY was in a book my wife read a year later as a case study of a self-made internet multi-millionaire who made his money doing info-marketing. So he was a fellow info-marketer and he wanted 10+ hours of my time for under $80.

He didn't like it very much when I told him I could use some $8 an hour help in his profession!

Answers With In Depth Context

Via email people sometimes try to quite literally write chapters to me. And OFTEN then don't even listen to my responses...so it just ends up going astray. People don't respect what they don't pay for. They usually start off with "a quick email" but after 3 or 4 hours of work on my end the perception of "quick" often changes.

With email the only way to respond to email overload is to be short (and maybe sometimes blunt). Such interactions often lead to more confusion and/or some incorrect assumptions where people feel insulted in such. The community setting of the forum prevents that issue for me. Out of close to 100,000 forum posts we have only had anyone feel insulted less than 5 times (so far as I am aware anyhow, and I read every post).

The interactive dialog ensures questions get not just answered, but understood. Further, sometimes you are good at explaining something to person B but not so good with explaining it to person C. But if person B understands you then sometimes they can do a better job of conveying the issue to person C.

Have a Lotta Help From My Friends

Since the forum is closed to the public the incentive to spam it is lessened, while the quality of membership is increased (because people pay to be there).

There have been technical topics covered in the forums where I am not the right guy to answer them - AT ALL. And, because our community is diverse and has lots of helpful members, the people asking those questions get much better answers. And since many people are there questions are typically answered far faster than a person can do via email.

And as people invest more time into participating they only want to help more. Putting people in a social setting really helps the user/abuser types self-select out of participation whereas those who realize that they get more when the give more and participate more are able to learn so much more from it and get a great bargain, creating a virtuous cycle.

A Searchable Database of Answers

Over time the forums get better at collecting questions and answers in a variety of formats...which makes its internal search become more relevant over time.

Selling an Interaction

With my old ebook model I was selling something that could be copied. With the new model there is always change happening and always new things to talk about...so it is selling more of an interaction than a static product, and people only pay as long as they find value in being a member.

Less Reliance on Search

Anytime you have recurring subscription income then you are not so reliant on using search and other forms of push marketing. Sometimes just giving a really good customer experience is enough to help market your website.

And the Negatives?

There are not a lot of negatives to private forums as far as I see it, but there are some things worth thinking about, as no business model is 100% roses.

The first big risk is not hitting a critical mass. If you do not build it out to self sustaining then anytime someone joins they feel like they made a bad decision (since there is no/low activity).

Back when I had my ebook model I remember taking a two week European vacation. While I can still travel, it is much harder for me to unplug because there is work I have to do everyday. And it is tricky balancing what to do. Shall I participate heavily in the forums, write the newsletter, work on planning out some new SEO tools, create more training modules, etc. There really is an endless array of things to be done.

In some cases maintaining account permissions can be time consuming as well...especially if you discount the time it can take and under-price services. A couple ways to get around it are to try to charge enough to limit your size such that you don't have to worry about it too much, hire on help, add a support section to your site, and try to get people to sign up for longer periods of time.

The last tricky part is managing growth. If you grow too quickly it could lower the utility and quality of your site. If you grow too slowly then you risk the site fading into an eventual obscurity. How can you grow too slowly? Every type of membership site has a growth rate (and things that influence it) along with a decay rate (and things that influence it). If you are not improving the value of your site then eventually the decay rate overtakes the growth rate. So you keep needing to try to add more value.

Some people try to make membership sites seem like a set and forget revenue stream. If they aim to offer real value that can't be any further from the truth. The tricky part then is trying to maintain or grow the earnings of the business while also trying to maintain or grow the quality of the members. It can be quite challenging because most things that inspire quick growth also lead to a higher churn rate. And if you focus too highly on customer quality you can end up missing some of the better potential customers in the beginner portion of the market. That is a big mistake because

  • the beginner piece of the market is typically the biggest market segment in most markets
  • beginners tend to be more likely to spend (it is easier to deliver perceived value to a person who is unaware of everything that is out there than to a person who knows their options quite well, and this is especially true in markets with many software products)
  • the people who are experts today were once beginners (and are likely sticking with learning from many of the people they took too when they are beginners)

2010: The Year Information Pollution Takes Off

Nov 30th

Google's relevancy algorithms have largely been driven by taking the "authority" shortcut. Have lots of other domains linking to your site? It must be good. Here is a golden ticket...your site ranks for everything.

That curbed some types of spam (by increasing the sunk cost needed to rank a new site), but it has taken brands only a few years to adjust to that hole in the algorithm. Witness the rise of answer spam, scraper re-purposing spam, social media recycling tools, freelance articles for a nickel spam, machine spun articles that are textually unique, etc etc etc

Increasingly, the biggest role of brand in search publishing is to legitimize stuff which might otherwise seem illegitimate and give them enough scale that it hopefully kicks off enough AdSense revenue that it matters to Google.

Demand Media recently highlighted their business model in Wired magazine:

To appreciate the impact Demand is poised to have on the Web, imagine a classroom where one kid raises his hand after every question and screams out the answer. He may not be smart or even right, but he makes it difficult to hear anybody else.

The article (unlike most eHow articles) is well worth a read, but a quick summary...

  • buy up some aged well linked to sites (that were perhaps linked to when it was easier to get links with watered down content and before the web graph was as corrupted by $ as it is today)
  • create algorithms to mine their analytics data and Google's tools to estimate the earnings potential of any piece of content
  • pay freelancers crumbs to write write write based on whatever the algorithm spits out
  • run the content through a tool like Copyscape to verify it is unique
  • pay a reviewer ~ $1 to verify the article is (nearly) legible
  • keep refining and optimizing the above components based on feedback from earlier tests
  • create sister websites that are heavily cross-linked which host a second page about the highest earning topics

And in opening up their playbook to Wired, Demand Media likely created dozens of additional competitors who will aim to monetize the longtail of search via freelance articles of varying quality. Aol, headed by former Google executive Tim Armstrong, has been talking up a revolutionary media model to the media, which reads exactly like the Demand Media playbook:

The predictions, it says, are based on a wide swath of data AOL collects, from the Web searches people make on its site to the sites visited by subscribers to its Internet services.

The system is designed to track breaking news and trends and identify the best times to write about seasonal events, such as Halloween or Monday Night Football.

Based on these recommendations, the company's editorial staff, which totals about 500, will assign articles to a network of free-lancers across the country via a new Web site called Seed.com. AOL says it now works with about 3,000 free-lancers, but it is hoping to sharply increase that number through the Web site, which is open to anyone looking to submit a story. To cut costs ahead of its spinoff, AOL recently said it was cutting about a third of its total staff, or 2,500 employees.

If authors are going to get paid for performance on a freelance basis to churn out junk then they may as well spend a few months learning internet marketing, blogging, and Wordpress...if publishing is algorithm driven you don't really need to work for someone else to make a few Dollars per article. It is VERY easy to beat that, so long as you are willing to wait 3 to 6 months for your payout.

And the process of scaling automated low quality content generation is only going to make existing media channels reliant on search feel more pain. Dollars become dimes. Dimes become pennies. As traditional media companies go bankrupt companies like Demand Media and AOL will buy up the brands and fill the sites with more good content.

This not only will further harm traditional media models, but it will also pollute up the search results so much that...

  • it makes it hard to find quality information via search
  • private membership sites and paid niche content will become more popular
  • Google will either be forced to change their relevancy algorithms or make an example of a big company in the search (g)arbitrage game, or else searchers are going to have an awful experience over the next half-decade or so

I wish there was an Exchange Traded Fund which allowed me to place a bet on information pollution...until Google stops it, the profit potential will be too great for opportunistic "publishers" to ignore. It is a rare sure bet. And it is entirely up to Google to decide how big they want to let the bubble get before they deflate it.

Here is what the content revolution Tim Armstrong speaks of looks like:

Imagine 8 of the top 10 search results for every longtail query looking like THAT. And yet, it is about to become reality.

Those who know the least yell loudest. And Google is colluding with the likes of Demand Media and Aol to ENSURE every idiot has a megaphone. Ignorance is powerful.

Fox News Blasts SEO

Aug 18th

Fox News slammed SEO without even understanding what SEO is. On this slide from their Top Online Marketing Jobs to Leave You Friendless they cover SEO, and they do it with a typically Faux News sub-par form

Ever wonder why "nonsense" Web sites sometimes turn up in your search results on Google or Yahoo? That’s because search engine optimizing scammers work full-time to create thousands of other Web sites that link to the spam site. For example, the creator of spamlaw.com is hoping to dupe would-be visitors to spamlaws.com, a legitimate site that bills itself as an online security resource.

What is so idiotic about their example is it is a domain lander page, not even a site that has had any SEO practices done to it. Worse yet, the site consists of nothing but an ad feed from one of the search engines, so if that site is spam then so must be the search ads.

If you ever thought Fox News was real reporting then your political ideology trumps logic.

How is a slimy reporter who pushes fake news any more respectable than a marketer? The latter generally makes no claim to be unbiased, while the former prides themselves on lying through their teeth.

Worse yet, Fox has had an in-house SEO team for nearly as long as I have been in the SEO business, which is just one more layer demonstrating how shallow and worthless most of their reporting is. Faux News - worse than you thought!

I was just looking at the Fox News site (for literally 15 second) and guess what ad I saw? Yup the scammy reverse billing fraud fakevertising ads.

Who again is littering the web with scams Fox News? You are.

Update: Danny Sullivan did a follow up on this story. It turns out Fox News is using XML Sitemaps, robots.txt, meta description tags (which are all SEO tools). Further they are selling sitewide links that flow PageRank to advertiser websites. So if Fox News thinks SEO is a scam then they must hold themselves in low regard.

It would be nice to see Google ban Fox News for selling links, but they won't because...

  • Fox News is a big brand (and, allegedly, brands are how you sort out the cesspool)
  • Rupert Murdock is trying to lead publishers to do a bit of a revolt against Google (and Google does not want to give him any ammunition)
  • Google likes it when mainstream publishers write ignorant + poorly researched drivel attacking SEO because it helps lower the perceived value of quality SEO services and helps set in a market for lemons effect

Submit Your Blog to Amazon.com & Become a Kindle Publisher

May 17th

Amazon.com opened up their Kindle publishing program to all bloggers. If you prefer to read blogs on your Kindle you can subscribe to SEO Book for the Kindle at Amazon.com.

Publishers get 60 cents per month per subscriber. It is unlikely that we will get enough Kindle subscribers to notice it as an income stream (as we would need about 50,000 Kindle subscribers for it to be a decent revenue stream), but as such distribution opportunities come about on authoritative domains like Amazon.com, they create a great opportunity for filling up branded organic search results with non-negative authoritative pages. And signing up takes less than 5 minutes. :)

'Professional' Content vs Content Actually Worth Reading

Mar 23rd

Some media executives are bitching about Google ranking blogs and sites not controlled by the mainstream media. Of course Google has been tilting their algorithms in the direction of brands, and even includes trusted news partners directly in the search results for recent news items. But that is not enough to make bloated media companies profitable.

"The original source, and the source with real access, should somehow be recognized as the most important in the delivery of results."

Google subsidizes these media companies with additional exposure by

  • weighting domain authority
  • giving them first mover advantage in the search rankings (through direct inclusion of recent news results in the organic search results)
  • featuring their content (yet again) in their news search product
  • favoring informational content over commercial content

If a big business has "real access" and yet loses out to people rewriting the story, it means the original source did one (or more) of the following

  • did a pretty crummy job of reporting
  • did a pretty crummy job of SEO
  • erected barriers that made them not linkworthy
  • fought off niche brands with a generic brand that does not resonate as well with the market

Google could give these media companies almost 100% of the search traffic and many would still go bankrupt because their business models simply do not fit the web. Online ad rates are lower, most of the media infrastructure is unneeded bloat, and individuals and brands are starting to create their own media.

When I click the publish button, 10's of thousands of people will read this post. Its not your fault or my fault that big media was too lazy to create niche brands offering relevant regularly updated content.

Ironically, the quote from AdAge, begging for coverage of the original source, did not have a name on it. You can quote it, but there is no source. These clowns whine about something and are not willing to put their names behind their own words. Maybe that has something to do with why people would rather read elsewhere.

This is the same media that pushed the bogus Iraq war, laughed and joked about those errors (while people were still dying), and missed the financial terrorism occurring back home. Why again is the original source more important than those who dig a bit deeper and add further context?

If the relevancy algorithms are your enemy, then maybe your work is no longer relevant.

Maybe they can work on stuff that matters.

John Dvorak - a Good Example of Why Many Media Companies Deserve to go Bankrupt

Feb 10th

John Dvorak wrote what is perhaps one of the more ignorant articles about SEO I have seen in quite a while.

Search engine optimization (SEO) has turned into a big business, and from what I can tell it's the modern version of snake oil. The unproven nonsense spewed by so-called "SEO experts" simply doesn't work. And worse, it's screwing up the elegance of the Web.

How did John come to these results? Well he changed his URLs based on "free" advice, and he got what he paid for. People who expect the world handed to them for free are always disappointed with the results, and expect a steady paycheck for bitching about and externalizing their own character flaws & ignorance.

A person can claim that SEO is ineffective if they are clueless about it, but if it were actually ineffective snake oil would...

  • Many of the media outlets that publicly dismiss SEO have an in house SEO team? (On multiple ocassions I have been called or emailed - the same day - with questions from an in house SEO at a publishing company that just published a piece denouncing SEO)
  • I still be writing this blog for over 5 years?
  • My income have doubled (or more) every year?
  • People have spent over $1,000,000 buying my ebook?
  • A headhunter working for Microsoft try to offer me a job paying 6 figures a year?
  • Google have hired more than 10,000 remote quality raters?
  • Google's Matt Cutts spend so much time going to SEO conferences?
  • Yahoo! have a patent for automating SEO based on their proprietary user data?

As I mentioned to Chris Crum from Web Pro News:

"It is not surprising that search engines know the value of SEO. The only thing I find surprising is them openly admitting it," Aaron Wall of SEOBook tells me. "Google always tries to shape, control, and minimize the scope of the field of SEO. And here Yahoo! is trying to expand it. Exciting stuff!"

Now SEO is constantly changing. Search engine crawlers are getting more sophisticated. Mechanical SEO is practiced by many people, and so it may not offer a sustainable competitive advantage. But SEO is not just a mechanical process as it draws upon market research, psychology, sociology, public relations, branding, advertising, and both online and offline marketing.

Outbound links show up in referral logs and act as a marketing tool. Plus they help establish & develop social relationships, such that when you have important news to share, some of those people might be willing to reference your works. There is a cumulative advantage effect.

Getting just an extra little bit of coverage on a few more channels leads to many additional citations (hey everyone is talking about this, so it must be important). For every publisher that is an original thinker there are dozens (maybe hundreds?) of followers. Many of those followers also write blogs, bookmark resources on Delicious, use Twitter, promote stories on social news sites. Some latent links come from ignorant journalists that are too lazy to do real research and just quote from whatever sources are easily accessible via a Google search.

When you get new links into key parts of your site, they not only pass PageRank, but also pass anchor text. Having inlinks from a variety of trusted domains with targeted anchor text pointing at relevant pages is MUCH more valuable than raw PageRank score.

When people link at you in editorial channels, they not only link, but in many cases leave behind an endorsement. Assuming they are writing to a relevant targeted audience then you just gained a bunch of social proof of value and reached a wider audience in a means that is much cheaper and more effective than traditional advertising.

Unlike John Dvorak, professional SEOs do not need to lie and pull sleazy tricks to get "hits"... we rank for high value keywords and turn that traffic stream into real business. His publishing strategy is so inauthentic and cheesy that he writes by number:

One Youtube comment on the above video says "What a clown. Journalist? Snake oil salesman more like." Funny, that sounds familiar.

Fresh Start For A New Year: Reduce Clutter

Jan 19th

“Practice not-doing and everything will fall into place.” - Lao Tzu

Did you take a vacation?

If you took a break, I hope you had a good one! I've just returned from a relaxing holiday - it is summer where I am, the weather is great, and life is lazy and fine.

Holidays provide a great opportunity to reflect and take a new perspective, so one thing I tried to do was to step away from the internet. I didn't take a laptop with me on holiday. Needless to say, I really missed it. After all these years, I suspect I may as well be hard-wired into the interweb.

However, out there amongst the isolated dunes, I was reminded that....

Most Stuff Doesn't Matter

Most blog posts don't matter. Most news doesn't matter. Most Tweets don't matter. Social networks don't matter. These things can quickly become a meaningless distraction.

What's worse, is that we often miss the important things going on, because there is too much irrelevant clutter fighting for our attention. When I returned, there was so much stuff l hadn't read.

But was I any worse off?

Not really. I quickly came up to speed again by selecting a few important sources, and reading those.

It didn't take me long.

With this in mind, it was time to do some weeding and make a fresh start. My feed reader had become ridiculously cluttered.

Hard To See The Wood For The Trees

How many feeds to you subscribe to? Do you have a lot of unread items?

I certainly did.

Using my RSS reader had become a chore, mainly because I'd subscribed to so many feeds over the years that I was never, in reality, going to read. All those unread items were just made me feel guilty. I needed to reduce the clutter.

So I took a chainsaw to it.

I asked myself - what are the one or two sites in any given vertical that provide me with genuine value? Could I name them without looking at them?

It was actually surprising easy, especially given the rather useful historical usage data. Once I answered this question, I kept the truly useful feeds, and deleted everything else.

My feed collection now feels very Zen. No more news re-writers or trivia about who is doing what to whom. It's simple, elegant and best of all, a lot more useful than it was before.

What Is Your Desert Island List?

Your list will probably differ significantly from mine, but I thought I'd share a few sites, and try to see if there was any pattern to my choices.

One pattern was a fondness of good aggregation. By subscribing to one good aggregation site, I pretty much know what is going on in the generalist tech world, but without the need to subscribe to numerous individual blogs. One such site is Techmeme. Techmeme does a good job of harnessing the wisdom of crowds, by being selective about who is a member of that crowd.

The other thing I noticed was that I chose blogs with a distinctive personality behind them, coupled with an established reputation. For example, I read pretty much everything Danny Sullivan writes, because what he writes about is important.

Finally, there are the "official" blogs from the big companies in search - those blogs that form the horses mouth. Most of Google's blogs appear in this folder.

Do you notice any patterns to your RSS selections?

Getting Noticed In Crowded Markets

One problem with my approach is that it tends to be elitist. I'm concerned I'm going to miss upcoming writers who don't yet appear on the establishment radar.

Were you planning to start a blog this year? Have you done so, but are having problems getting noticed?

This article is a good reminder on the essential factors you need when you plan to enter a crowded market:

You can choose to sell to different people, such as small businesses; you can find new distribution channels; you can stratify the industry's price points by introducing a luxury class; or, you can redefine your selling proposition," he says, noting how Starbucks (SBUX) revolutionized the coffee shop by selling an experience rather than just a beverage.....However you choose to be different, you must be great at the basics and exceptional at your defining factor

That last part is killer. If I look at my RSS choices, they all have those defining features.

Recommended Search Reading

By no means conclusive, but I guess that's the point :)

Please share your killer sources with the SEOBook community in the comments.

  • Search Engine Land - Great editorial. Also features some of the top search writers as columnists and feature contributors
  • SEOBook - How could this not be on anyone's list! ;) Aaron writes some of the most useful SEO instruction in this vertical.
  • Google Blogoscoped - Keeping an eye on Google, so you don't have to!
  • Matt Cutts - Google's resident (Anti) Spam Engineer. Be sure to read between the lines.
  • Official Google Blog - All Google's announcements come through here.
  • Sphinn - One good way to spot new search writers, although it can tend towards industry navel gazing. Numerous gems, especially under the Greatest Hits section
  • SEO By The Sea - Bill digs out obscure search patent filings and analyzes them. Don't let the tight niche fool you - this site can provide valuable insights into the future direction of search.
  • Search Engine Journal - Always on top of all things search.
  • Top Rank Big List - When you've just gotta have it all! Top Rank Online Marketing Blog is also a great read.

How To Start Writing

Dec 18th

"Be Remarkable"

"Write great content"

Everyone says that the secret to achieving great search rankings is to produce great content. People link to great content. So you sit down to write some great content.

....but the screen remains blank.....

.....the cursor blinks.....

Nothing.

Typing is easy. Rewriting news is easy. But putting together a unique killer post that attracts attention - that's difficult!

How do you get past writers block? How do you give your ideas form? How do write with a unique voice so your articles stand out from the crowd?

Here are a few ideas.

1. Write Often

There is only one way to learn how to write well and that is to write often.

People often talk about the traffic benefits of writing a blog, but they often overlook the personal benefits. A blog gives you the opportunity to write for an audience of one. Yourself. A blog gives you the opportunity to practice the craft of writing.

Start a blog on a topic you're interested in, and set a goal of writing one post a day for the next three months. At the end of three months, you'll be a lot better writer than when you started.

2. Write Like Crazy

The obvious way of getting around the blank page problem is to simply start writing.

Write as fast as you can, even if it's gibberish. Get your half formed thoughts down on the page. Write questions. Then write the answers to those questions. Make lists. Once you start, don't stop writing for five minutes. You aim is to shut off your internal editor, because your internal editor isn't the guy who gets writing onto the page.

At the end of five minutes, you don't have a blank page anymore.

You can then flesh out the good ideas, eliminate the bad ideas, and re-order your content. This is much easier than trying to write (invent) and edit (analyze) at the same time.

3. Use Software

  • The Google Toolbar and many content management systems have spell checkers built into them.
  • Paid software programs like StyleWriter take it to the next level - offering tips on tense usage/unity (which is discussed further in #6).
  • Using keyword research tools and looking at other related content (like Wikipedia pages and for Dummies books) can help you figure out how to best structure your content, and help you find some important keyword modifiers to add to your copy.

4. Keep It Simple

Ever read an insurance brochure? Or a police incident report? They are cluttered with unnecessary verbiage, because the writer uses ten words when one will do.

"The feather covered creature is currently proceeding in a westerly direction ambulating at a regular pace to the arforementioned side of the concourse"

The chicken crossed the road, in other words.

Good writing conveys meaning. Great writing does the same, but uses fewer words.

There's a great Mark Twain quote about simplicity: "I didn't have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead".

Anyone can be verbose.

Great writing is also about about rewriting. It's about honing down to the essentials. Use short words. Use short sentences. Use active verbs.

5. The Hook

If you've read this far, you've already passed the most important sentence in this article.

The most important sentence is the first sentence. If you don't hook people in the first sentence, then they won't read the second. The second most important sentence is the second sentence. That sentence gets people to the third sentence. And so on.

How long does the hook need to be?

Sometimes, it can be one sentence. Sometimes a paragraph. Sometimes the entire first page. Entice the reader. Make the first sentence a bit mysterious. Invoke an emotion. Appeal to their curiosity. Pose a question. Give the reader a concrete reason to keep reading. What benefit is there to the reader in reading through to the end?

6. Maintain Unity

Lack of unity can confuse readers. Decide on one unity, and stick to it.

For example, you might choose to write in the past tense. "We went to the beach last week". Or you might choose to wrote in the present. "I'm sitting in the car looking out over the bay". But don't mix the two tenses.

The type of unity you use will depend on the type of article you're writing. You've probably seen those long sales letters that convey a personal story about how the writer overcame some problem, and you can too if you buy their e-book? Those sales letters wouldn't work nearly as well if the writer switches mode, from the personal to the impersonal, half way through.

7. The Audience

In "On Writing Well", William Zinsser advises:

"....a question will occur to you: "Who am I writing for?" It's a fundamental question, and it has a fundamental answer: You are writing for yourself. Don't try to visualize the great mass audience. There is no such audience. Every reader is a different person".

This is not to say that you shouldn't consider the audience. In terms of the craft of writing, you need to provide structure and be interesting enough so people keep reading. But don't worry about whether your readers agree with you, or like what you say, or like how you're saying it.

Each reader is an individual, and they're going to respond to different things. Don't compromise your writing for the imagined, singular "audience".

8. Your Written Voice

Only you sound like you. No one writes like you. That is your in-built, unique point of difference.

One way to find your voice is to read your writing aloud. What bits sound wrong? What bits sound pretentious or condescending? What bits just don't sound like you. Eliminate them. Readers want to "hear" a distinctive voice that rings true.

A lot of blogs are starting to sound like mainstream media reporting, and that is a shame. The writers have forgotten what made blogs an attractive alternative in the first place - the use of the personalized voice.

9. Make One Point

Your article should have one overall point. Not two points, or five points, but one point. What do you want to convince people of? What is the one thing you want them to take away?

You don't need to have the last word on a given topic. It's not possible. You've probably seen examples of link bait entitled "The Ultimate Guide To...."

But they never are the ultimate. It isn't possible.

Instead, decide on the one point you want people to take away, and write towards that point. Once you've made that point, stop writing.

The point of this article is to encourage people to get writing :)

Further Reading:

Editorial Integrity & Publisher Control of Ads

Dec 14th

Chris Brogan and John Andrews both wrote great posts about how you do not lose your editorial integrity just because you exercise editorial control of your ads.

Lets look at the flip side of the equation. Most networks do not want full transparency because it would harm their profit potential. Google claims to want to police the cesspool that is the web, and yet it shows ads for black hat SEO and deceptive ads that contain misleading prices which hide the true cost of a transaction. Automation promotes whatever makes the most per impression. In many cases that means promoting fraud (legal, or otherwise).

In time web users may become blind of most text ads the same way they became banner blind. And then publishers will have to fight harder to make a living. Free buys distribution, but it doesn't put food on the table. Our other sites (which take much less time and effort than this site) earn way more money. If this site didn't have a revenue engine on it, do you think I would have worked 70 hours a week on it for over 5 years? I don't.

My point is not that ad networks are bad, but if bloggers and independent webmasters want to make a living online we are going to need to get better at mixing ads and editorial...and one of the lowest risk and highest value ways to do that is to promote the things we really believe in - either create your own product or promote affiliate offers for products that save you time and money.

People that promote garbage should be policed by their peers, like Jerry West did to The Arbitrage Conspiracy:

Don’t Buy The Arbitrage Conspiracy

Don’t get sucked into the hype. It isn’t real. I was there and I walked out after 40 minutes because the material was very basic. I even talked to many people (other solid CPA marketers) who stayed for the entire presentation and they said there wasn’t anything new, it was all recycled material from past systems.

People promoting hyped up junk should be rightfully flamed, but we shouldn't consider it a crime to share good relevant offers. What would be a crime is if many of the best sites went offline because they didn't pay for themselves.

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