“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.
Now that Peter Da Vanzo has joined the site, we have another writer and can spend a bit more time on the blog. In the past some of my most popular blog posts came out of feedback from readers. What topics would you love to see us cover?
Nearly any SEO/PPC/blogging/internet marketing questions are fair game (although we won't do site reviews, or explain specifically why site X is ranking or why site Y does not rank).
From the above data (and the aggressive promotion of YouTube content after the roll out of universal search) it is fair to state that house content is favored by the Google algorithm.
Another Knol Test
Maybe we are being a bit biased and/or are rushing to judgement? Maybe a more scientific effort would compare how Knol content ranks to other content when it is essentially duplicate content? I did not want to mention that I was testing that when I created my SEO Basics Knol, but the content was essentially a duplicate of my Work.com Guide to Learning SEO (that was also syndicated to Business.com). Even Google shows this directly on the Knol page
Google Knows its Duplicate Content
Is Google the Most Authoritative Publisher?
Given that Google knows that Business.com is a many year old high authority directory and that the Business.com page with my content on it is a PageRank 5, which does Google prefer to rank? Searching for a string of text on the page I found that the Knol page ranks in the search results.
If I override some of Google's duplicate content filters (by adding &filter=0 to the search string) then I see that 2 copies of the Knol page outrank the Business.com page that was filtered out earlier.
Some may call this the Query Deserves Freshness algorithm, but one might equally decide to call it the copyright work deserves to be stolen algorithm. Google knows the content is duplicate (as proven by the notification they put on their page), and yet they prefer to rank their own house content over the originally published source.
Hijacking Your Rankings via Knol - Google Knoljacking
Where this becomes a big issue is if a person...
posts your content to Knol
and buys/rents/begs/steals/spams/borrows a couple decent inbound links
they can get you filtered out of the search results - even if your site is an authority site. Bad news for anyone publishing copyright work online.
Google Knol Undermines the Creative Commons Spirit
Some new publishers decide to license their work via Creative Commons (hoping to be paid back based on the links economy), but Google wants no part in that! All outbound links on Knol are nofollow, so even if a person wants to give you credit for your work Google makes it impossible to do so.
Google Voids YOUR Copyright
Why do I get enraged by this sort of activity? I remember when one of my sites was voted against, and Google paid someone to steal it and wrap it in AdSense. The person who stole my content outranked me for my own content because a Google engineer thought that was reasonable and fair.
www.seobook.com very famous book from Aaron Wall its really good but paying $79 its really sucks so yesterday, I think why not to share this book to my friends etc openly in text by decompling Acrobat files
Can a casual mention get it removed? Nope. Can flagging it as spam and highlighting that it is stolen copyright content get it removed? Nope. I need to file a DMCA request to get it removed. (Or maybe they will remove it out of embarrassment after I hit publish on this post...we shall see!)
When we consume media one of the biases we often overlook is our own. When NPR created their Budget Hero commentors quicky stated things like "it's too liberal" and "they used right wing think tank as a *credible* source." Such statements reveal as much or more about the reader as they do about the media.
When you know a field better than most people producing media in your space it is easy to denounce everyone who knows less than you as being full of crap. Dr. E. Garcia, a brilliant Information Retreival scientist, makes a habbit out of roasting me because I have a more practical and less academic experience in the space.
While he feels my work is not up to his standards, the work he denounces helps people gain top rankings in Google and is getting free inbound links. Even better, I syndicated some free Creative Commons licensed content on latent semantic indexing called Patterns in Unstructured Data. Dr. Garcia thinks I know nothing about the topic, but when the original source went offline I started gaining citations as the source for that work too! Am I a leading expert on academic information retreival? No. I read some of Gerard Saltan's work, but my experience are more well aligned with finding the criteria necissary to rank in Google.
Web Designer Wall recently published an SEO guide for designers. In it they stated "Most people aim for a keyword density of 2%." I am not sure where they got that stat from, but generally the document was fairly well done and I am glad they cited me as a resource. I could be envious of the exposure their article got and try to rip it to shreds, but where is the benefit? Dr. E. Garcia flaming me generally does nothing but flow PageRank my way. So be it...you know you are doing something right when people hate you. ;)
But faced with massive data, this approach to science — hypothesize, model, test — is becoming obsolete. ...
There is now a better way. Petabytes allow us to say: "Correlation is enough." We can stop looking for models. We can analyze the data without hypotheses about what it might show. We can throw the numbers into the biggest computing clusters the world has ever seen and let statistical algorithms find patterns where science cannot.
Mahalo offers virtually nothing original or of value, but it is worth more than most websites because Jason was good at making people angry. There is greater value in evoking emotions than being the person who's chain is jerked by people writing with the express intent of making you angry.
Most popular free online content contains factual errors, but it is still popular due to an affinity readers have for the author, and/or the ease of understanding what they are writing.
The more you know the easier it is for you to denounce someone who knows less than you in your field, though doing so will rarely build brand loyalty, and often attracts the wrong kinds of customers. Call this phenomena the Threadwatch effect...good for attention, but bad for monetization. This is especially true since people new to the market are willing to spend money to build their businesses, but more established market players are more ad blind and more cynical to most commercial offers.
If you are selling stuff online you are not your own target audience. Every field has far more novices than experts, and experts rarely buy because they feel they already know everything and have got burned so many times in the past.
Most online content is recycled. Local substitution is a fact of life, and probably has been for thousands of years, only now it is faster and cheaper. Unless you add pretty pictures, write for novices, and aggressively market your best content at launch someone is going to recycle it (with errors) and get credit for your work. Competing publishers can polish up posts you wrote *years* ago and be called a visionary for doing so! If you are not making your work accessible to novices then you lose.
The more mindshare you have in your space the easier it is to get weak references from people outside your space who occasionally graze upon your topic. When people who know little about your topic look at your field they care more about format than accuracy because they typically do not realize when they are reading factual errors.
From a business perspective, one of my bigger errors with this site is that I tend to write more for the cynical person who loves SEO than for people newer to the field who are more likely to buy. That is not to say that we do not have people sign up every day, but that we are only targeting the fraction of the customers that we could.
The hard part about changing is that I typically write about what interests me the most, using my own interests as a filter. Dumbing things down would be walking / swimming in uncharted territories, and I don't think I would enjoy it all that much.
Tim O'Reilly thinks the web is much bigger than search, and actually likes the Yahoo! deal. I think it is easy to overlook how Google is quietly winning marketshare in many non-search markets - and how they can easily build such positions using their brand recognition & distributed ad system. A throw away quote from Tim's post is the title of this post:
At O'Reilly, we always say "Create more value than you capture." All successful companies do this. Once they start capturing more value than they create, their market position erodes, and someone displaces them. It may take a while but it happens eventually.
Two of the easiest ways to ensure short term growth are to
undermonetize to ensure you have a better user experience worth talking about
create some content that is easy to monetize aggressively, and leave most content clean and pure while only monetizing the most profitable content
use ad units that do not look or feel like ads, and/or ads that add value to the experience