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.

Replacing the Media

Dec 10th

Web Growth

President elect Obama is looking to push web growth hard:

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.


The Tribune Co. filed for bankruptcy and the New York Times is expecting that 2009 digital ad revenues might be below 2008 revenues.

Advertisers Becoming the Media

As the debt laden media companies die off, some advertisers are finding it cheaper to become the media rather than advertise on it and support its bloat:

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.

Advertisers are also investing in analyzing the potential for media to go viral. When they own their own distribution channels and build a large audience, the cost of real-time testing drops to zero.

Media Unbound

Some content creators are testing technologies that allow DVD watchers to chat with friends while watching the movie, perhaps creating yet another gathering spot for fans - like Buddy TV.

As Google brings archived magazine content online it seems the form of content containers is dying, and the media is becoming more aware of the link economy:

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.

The Blend

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.

uTest has built a functional business model out of crowd sourcing by selling pay for performance bug testing.

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.

Information vs Noise

Oct 20th

If you love reading, JOHO has an interesting article about information...a bit beyond the scope of SEO, but interesting. :)

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.

Maki explains how noise appears in online publishing

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 unique information sources (both TechCrunch and The Wall Street Journal benefits from news leaks)

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.

Help Us Help You!

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).

Google Knol - Google's Latest Attack on Copyright

Knol Off to a Quick Start

One day after Knol publicly launched Wil Reynolds noticed that a Knol page was already ranking. Danny Sullivan did a further test showing that 33% of his test set of Knol pages were ranking in the first page of search results. Danny was also surprised that his Knol was ranking #28 after 1 day. After citing it on his blog now that Knol page ranks #1 in Google!

Google's House Advantage

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.

To this day someone publishes seobookopen.blogspot.com, a site dedicated to stealing and sharing an old version of my ebook. As the opening post on that blog explains

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!)

Google Pays Thieves

Google doesn't like lonely cheating housewives, unless it favors their business objectives.

Does Your Website Make People Angry?

Jul 12th

Just as it is good to invest in structural change it is good to invest in restructuring debates and reframing ideas.

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. ;)

Chris Anderson, famous for the Long Tail, recently had his long tail strategy ripped apart by the Harvard Business Review.

Chris does not mind though...he is already on to debunking the scientific method!

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.

Writing for Buyers vs Writing for Cynics

Jul 12th

6 fundamental laws for online publishing

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Create more value than you capture

Jun 15th

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

  1. 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
  • reinvest profits into building content & social relationships that get network effects on your site
    • feature your best content so it is easy to find
    • interact in the community
    • ensure your domain name and design add credibility to your content
    • create interactive or viral components that raise brand awareness even if they do not create direct revenue streams

    Content & Culture for a Dollar

    May 15th

    Amazon just created MP3 clip widgets that pay 10% payout on MP3 downloads. You can create a list of your favorites as content, while displaying ads. Those who run large communities may be able to make a decent income selling culture.

    If you are a member of our community I wrote a post about why I think Google Friend Connect is a bad idea for most web publishers.

    Andrew Johnson has a good post on why Yahoo! as a content company is a failing strategy. While Google and Amazon are expanding in many directions, Yahoo! is forced to contract due to their high editorial costs.

    Mozilla Corporation may create a service around aggregating usage data. Yet another great example of giving away something and building value around it.

    Effective & Scalable Automated Content Generation Strategies

    Apr 16th

    For years there have been a wide array of automated content creation solutions, from RSS recycling wordpress plugins, to open source content generators, to fake science paper generators, right on through to custom high end programming jobs used by financial firms like Thompson Financial.

    The downfall of most automated content solutions is the perception that because it is automated it is spammy. But that perception may have changed recently, when the NYT published an article about Philip M. Parker. Mr. Parker created a sophisticated set of algorithms which has allowed him to automatically generate over 200,000 books.

    He points out that once he has trained the computer to take data about past sales and make complex calculations to project future sales, each new book costs him about 12 cents in electricity. Since these books are print-on-demand or delivered electronically, he is ahead after the first sale, he said.

    This video explains a bit more of the process

    And when it comes down to content quality, a person who reviewed one of the books on Amazon.com, stated

    “The book is more of a template for ‘generic health researching’ than anything specific to rosacea. The information is of such a generic level that a sourcebook on the next medical topic is just a search and replace away.” ... Mr. Parker was willing to concede much of what Mr. Pascoe argued. “If you are good at the Internet, this book is useless,” he said, adding that Mr. Pascoe simply should not have bought it.

    So this is a case of self-proclaimed substandard production, and because he is first to market it is fine. But the profit margins are probably bigger than Google's. The commercial web is just over a decade old and this sort of technology already exists. Where will automated content generation be in 5 years? In 10 years?

    The best publishers are focusing on building large growing communities. Content is becoming a commodity, as content without subscribers is worthless. As failing mainstream publishers follow in Mr. Parker's footsteps, small publishers stand no chance to compete unless they have an army of brand fans.


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