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 seemillegitimate and give them enough scale that it hopefully kicks off enough AdSense revenue that it matters to Google.
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 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...
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
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. :)
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.
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)
"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.
“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.
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.....
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 :)
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.
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.
It is unacceptable that the United States ranks 15th in the world in broadband adoption,” Mr. Obama said. “Here, in the country that invented the Internet, every child should have the chance to get online.
But many of the leading media companies may not be around to see that growth.
one day cosmetics companies will perhaps start beefing up their own Web sites — with makeup videos and click-to-buy options — just as kraftfoods.com has done with its hugely trafficked recipe site and walmart.com has done with its popular blogs by mothers. When advertisers become content providers, magazines lose ads and finally drop off newsstands.
That currency is the hyperlink, a pointer to somewhere on the internet that holds some information that someone else might find useful. Like any currency, it can be debased, and lose its value. You've heard of the dollar/yen/pound/euro exchange rate, of course (and watched in amazement as they gyrate, and yet the price of American hardware and software never alters from a $1 = £1 translation). But in the link economy, when everyone's passing around links, every person is their own central bank, determining the value of their own currency.
In an attempt to increase revenues some media sites (like CNN Money) are blending ads so aggressively that they look editorial. To me this ad looks more like editorial than an advertisement.
Many of the mainstream media sites will need to become much more like eHow.com, Mahalo.com, and About.com if they want to weather the storm...use the brand to attract readers, but have a lot of cheap backfill content monetized by affiliate ads and contextual ads to subsidize the editorial that builds the brand.
Recent Media Successes
Not all media based business models are in the hurt locker.
As many traditional media companies head toward bankruptcy they will have their staffs cut, making it easier to influence them through public relations.
Andy Hagans explained how they grew Tip'd by hiring a well known star to run the brand, partnering with leading independent editorial sites, and pushing most of the value out to the editorially featured sites. As a result of those actions it looks like Kiplinger's might syndicate the Tip'd widget, which will offer Andy's site a lot of great brand exposure. Start small and keep building momentum...using each point of growth and each partnership as validation to reach the next level.
Noise is the sound of the world refusing abstraction, insisting on differences that are never the same as every other difference. If we are indeed exiting the age of information, perhaps we are entering — have entered — the age of noise.
Blogs that just repeat information already published elsewhere are providing value that can be substituted. To put it another way, these sites are completely dispensable. They lose out when a choice has to be made due to time/attention scarcity. These sites are usually the ones that just regurgitate content released on mainstream media or other larger blogs. Their identity is virtually unrecognizable. A great logo and design won’t save them.
If you want to avoid your work becoming "the commons" in The Tragedy of the Commons what is the solution for sustained distribution and profits?
Either you need a unique lens that adds enough value that makes people want to talk about you (Jon Stewart style)
or specialization and in depth knowledge, as recommended by Vannevar Bush in his As We May Think from 1945:
There is a growing mountain of research. But there is increased evidence that we are being bogged down today as specialization extends. The investigator is staggered by the findings and conclusions of thousands of other workers—conclusions which he cannot find time to grasp, much less to remember, as they appear. Yet specialization becomes increasingly necessary for progress, and the effort to bridge between disciplines is correspondingly superficial.
Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose.
Information in one market is noise in the next. The quality level needed to get to the top is determined by the competition. Summing up a competitive online marketing strategy in a saturated field can be done with 2 bits:
Are people talking about you?
Are they talking about you more than the competition?
In the long run search engines are just counting the bits.