The Future of Selling Media Online - Free then Pay for Popular Content

Mar 18th

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I recently mentioned the Sigur Rós Hiema video, which was featured on the YouTube homepage for a day and probably got about a million pageviews. An SEO Book reader named Satish discovered that after the video built up a lot of viral media and link exposure the video was set to private mode.

Google video, as a DRM service, failed miserably. But providing custom hosting for member videos that can only be viewed from certain sites or for a certain number of views is an easy win for YouTube if/when they decide to do so. Google already owns Checkout, so it should be easy to do after they have the right relationships in place.

I predict that if that limited syndication model is available to the masses, a future media pricing system will allow publishers to offer free video for the first X views and then the videos are turned to private / members only / payment required after they get a certain number of views. All the free views build the perceived social value, while being easy to market since the content is originally free.

Sliding Price Scales Starting at Free

Seth talked about taxing latecomers by making events expensive at the end and cheaper for the first few people. And music is priced this way on Amie Street. It is basically the concept of Piracy is Progressive Taxation flipped on its head - make it free to build awareness until people really value it, then let the irrational herd follow along for the ride.

Word of Mouth is the Best Long-term Marketing Strategy

The free then paid model encourages the creation of remarkable content and ensures artists and authors are paid a fair market value for their best work. And it offers a profound business model strategy because as markets saturate marketing gets more expensive and attention gets more scarce - the easiest way to do marketing is just make it easy to use, consume, and share - and rely on word of mouth to do the marketing. And it is far better than monetizing via advertising because it is more organic, and stems from the web's strengths. As Jakob Nielsen said:

"The basic point about the web is that it is not an advertising medium. The web is not a selling medium; it is a buying medium. It is user-controlled, so the user controls, the user experiences."

When there is an unlimited amount of competition consumers are far more likely to buy what is already well trusted amongst the community.

This Type of Technology is Easy to do

The cool thing about my current content management system set-up is I can control permissions for any article on this site. It could even be automated for certain classes of information (ie: only pages, only blog posts, only book pages, only on newsletters, only on a subdomain, sitewide, etc.) ... it is entirely flexible.

Limitations

You wouldn't want to bait and switch everything you did or you would build up some serious negative karma and some people may not be willing to link at you, but most people will not care or notice. The attention comes and goes, but the links stick. If you turned 10% to 30% of your well loved featured content into premium content I doubt it would hurt your link building much, although your rear end might get sore from your wallet filling up with cash. :)

Is Your Content Solving Symptoms or Fixing Problems?

Feb 26th

A normal business practice is to treat symptoms as problems and come up with a wide array of bogus solutions, but content that asks why actually solves problems and creates real value.

Once you look at content creation from that perspective, there are a lot of great content ideas that you will not find on many competing sites simply due to limitations tied to their business interests, or their lack of interest in providing real value to the market.

Free Stuff

Feb 25th

Chris Anderson, author of The Long Tail, announced his next book Free, in a featured Wired article.

Speaking of free stuff, Patrick Altoft created a free Wordpress plugin to track which pages on your blog get crawled most frequently. Joost De Valk has a free newsletter dedicated to Wordpress plugins.

Passion is a Prerequisite to Profitability

Feb 24th

Aaron likes to give his spiel about passion and that you need to be gunuinely interested in the topics you are promoting. I took that advice for granted and its importance finally hit me. One of the sites I'm promoting is very clean and I have very high respect for its merit. However, I was given the challenge to promote a seasonal yet very important topic for a specific audience. In addition, I was the one to write the content. That was a bit unfair due to my lack of experience in that field. It's convenient to dodge work so I outsourced the content. Besides, promotion is the real challenge. Ok, I was wrong. The final version of the outsourced material needed heavy changes and it didn't satisfy the person who originated the idea.

It Ain't 2005 Anymore

You see, with more webmasters using no-follow and the overall "stinginess" of people linking out, you really need to avoid promoting mediocre content. The stuff REALLY needs to be useful. It helps to put yourself in the shoes of the target audience. Another advantage of producing real content is passing a search engineer's hand edit. To sum it up, everyone wins when you promote good content. Content isn't enough if you have very little traffic. The PROMOTION of good content is where it's at, ladies and gentlemen with newer sites.

Ok, Back to Passion

I've been working on this project for almost a week and after a few minutes of working, my mind goes blank and wanders off. I love the site and I love the future promotional ideas in store because I TRULY BELIEVE that they are genuinely useful and will give a tremendous benefit to the site's visitors. But this current topic is something I just don't give a damn about. Promotion will be fun but writing the actual content, especially if it's about something you care less for can be EXCRUCIATING.

My case is a bit special because I didn't think of this promotional idea and it was almost forced to me.

Tips You Can Use That Worked Well for Me:

  1. You need to have an AUTHENTIC interest and be a genuine believer in what you are promoting. Ok, hypothetically you own a website about traveling to Spain and you are about to promote "The Top 10 Spanish Professors in the U.S." Be honest with yourself. Are you personally interested or care about who the best Spanish professors are? Also, think about the visitors. Will they care or apply the material in real life? In contrast, Aaron and I wrote the Bloggers Guide to SEO. Are we genuinely interested in blogging and SEO? He works 7 days a week and well, it's 3 am in Calfornia and guess what I'm doing? Yes I like blogging but I'll do anything to avoid working on that project that was assigned to me :)
  2. It is important that you manage and go over every word of the content.
  3. When promoting ideas, quality succeeds quantity. You get more success promoting 2-3 well written, high-touch material than 10 mediocre ones.  

What do you guys think? Feel free to add your thoughts and ideas.

Data Visualization & Discovery

Feb 21st

I have heard of Last.fm, Pandora, and a few other similar sites, but I really think Musicovery is a cool online music tool.

Once information is online it is hard to make it disappear. Recently a US judge closed down Wiki Leaks. But that did not work out too well.

Scribd's iPaper aims to make it the YouTube of documents. Syndicating content is really easy now, but for most webmasters, in the short term, the value of inbound links is far greater than the value of spreading documents onto other sites.

IBM's Many Eyes is a cool data visualization tool.

Do You Have Remarkable Featured Content?

Feb 13th

Click costs keep rising as more advertisers enter search marketing and streamline their sales process. At the same time the value of traditional ads (not tied to search) keep dropping as more and more web users are becoming aware of advertising. One of the easiest ways to increase user satisfaction, visitor value, and make more money from your site is by featuring your best content.

Featured News

Whenever a big news story in the search space happens Danny Sullivan covers it in depth. When Microsoft offered to buy Yahoo! Danny responded by covering the news, the conference call, and even doing a follow up interview with Microsoft. With Danny owning the search news field him publishing the latest news regularly (and in depth when important events happen) that is featured content.

It is hard to become well known in a market that is already saturated with people like Danny. How do you compete in a marketplace where guys like Danny have more knowledge, experience, social connections, and mindshare? You probably can't enter the market late and just decide that you want to own the search news topic. Instead you must compete by targeting one idea at a time, and do it more comprehensively and better than anyone else in the field by creating featured content. Evoke emotional responses that associate you and your company with ideas.

Featured Content

Most successful publishing businesses offer content of various levels of depth and quality. If you are new to your field and every page on your site is just like the next, and you are cranking out many pages a day, you probably are not creating featured content.

It is hard to take marketshare or mindshare from other people in your market unless you have something worth talking about, and something people associate you with. You need to own an idea. Everyone who is well known is remembered for something.

  • Seth Godin highlights his wide array of top selling marketing books in his sidebar.
  • Hugh MacLeod frequently posts cartoons to his blog, offers his How to Be Creative Series, and gave us the Hughtrain Manifesto.
  • This site offers SEO for Firefox, The Blogger's Guide to SEO, the SEO Book Keyword Tool, 101 Link Building Tips, a glossary, many other tools, and a comparison of search engine relevancy algorithms.

Selling ads to Yourself

In a rush to monetize many businesses plaster ads all over their site, only to get marginal returns, and have many people assume they are a fly by night operation not in it for the long run. If your site is new, one of the biggest things you can do to gain momentum is to avoid aggressive ad placements on your site and find ways to advertise yourself and your best content until you build market momentum and a great business model.

I tested placing an affiliate ad on my blog's sidebar recently, and made about 1 conversion a day for the featured offer. That might sound like a quick and easy passive revenue stream, but I get a lot of traffic to this site. What would happen if I featured some of my own best content in the same position?

I recently put that question to the test by pushing my keyword tool on the sidebar of my site. Many more people are using the keyword tool, and my affiliate link to Wordtracker on the keyword tool page is converting about twice as often, offsetting any loss I had from removing the other sidebar ad.

Rather than running a broadly matching ad I am advertising some of my own featured content and introducing many more people to my keyword tool. That usage will lead to greater user trust, more links, higher rankings, and more affiliate commissions. If I had to try to buy the links I am getting naturally how much would that cost? If I had to buy traffic to my keyword tool how much would that cost? Much more than it is costing me to advertise my own featured content.

Make sure you highlight featured content in your sidebar to drive link equity and mindshare toward it. Your featured content is what builds trust and keeps people coming back.

Blog Homepage vs Static Home Page

For years I featured my blog on my site's homepage. But that design probably scared off thousands of visitors new to the field of SEO who thought I was writing over their heads. Late last year I changed my homepage to a page which featured my best content and guided users through my site. Before I made that change, if I stopped blogging I saw sales drop. And when I started blogging sales would pick back up.

When I arrived in the Philippines for my wedding I went a week without blogging and did not notice a drop off in sales. Your brand lovers are willing to navigate to wherever your frequently updated content is. Your homepage should be optimized to capture the hearts and minds of people new to your field.

Neurological Exploitation & Selfish Ignorance

Feb 11th

I just finished reading Nicholas Carr's The Big Switch, which is required reading for every online publisher and marketer. Here is an interview of him by Greg Jarboe about the book

In the chapter The Great Unbundling Nick talked about the demise of newspapers, news organizations, and many traditional news containers. Some of those containers offered a packaging which allowed the creation of free premium content subsidized by profitable backfill content.

The same chapter also talks about what we use to replace these intermediaries - our clickstreams, RSS subscriptions, search, and personalization algorithms. Some offline studies in communications have proved that we are more likely to listen to information that reinforces our worldviews. In addition research has shown that we become more confident, biased, and extreme when we find others who reinforce our worldviews.

Consider the following about the future of online information quality

  • overtly biased information is more remarkable: and is thus likely to gain more comments, more links, more subscribers, and is easier to remember
  • shock testing: much like overtly biased information being remarkable, headlines can easily be tested for performance with little to no cost. I have created headlines that ranked #1 on social news sites when those headlines were only marginally related to the article I was promoting.
  • quality and bias are the same to algorithms: any sign of quality that search engines often ties directly into bias. Just because something has many links does not mean it is "of quality." Ranking a bunch of left wing nutball stuff and right wing nutball stuff is a way to claim you have result diversity, but it does not create or nurture business models for creating more rational and balanced information.
  • marketers track performance: Publishing largely consists of topic selection and publication format. But with so many ways to track performance, publishers are becoming marketers and affiliates who can track the performance of content based on links, pageviews, and earnings. And they can use all that feedback to further arbitrage profit centers while giving less coverage to important topics with limited commercial viability.
  • half truth: If a lie or half-truth is more profitable than the truth someone will sell that story. One of my affiliates went so far as declaring that I am a scammer to try to sell my ebook. What more might that person do to arbitrage my brand if they did not like me? How many affiliates typically emphasize the downsides of a product (unless they are using X is a scam as their sales strategy)?
  • your truth is confirmed: with millions of people publishing information online you will find someone who confirms your facts, even if they are not true. Any person who cites a falsehood makes it easier for others to discover (and believe in) the same lie.
  • everything can be discredited: just about anyone or anything which has risen to social significance has someone talking badly about it. We all make mistakes and the web has a memory longer than our lifespans.
  • similar language usage: people who have similar biases will tend to write information and seek out information using similar words
  • the fight for timing: with so many people competing for attention being first is often more important than being correct. Just yesterday it was claimed that a record label quit and uploaded their catalog to Pirate Bay, but that news was fabricated. Even if you are wrong those links and the page views do not disappear.
  • sound bytes: with so many people creating information more information is being consumed in smaller chunks lacking in context. If it long who has time to consume it?
  • the blend: the borders between content and advertising are blurring as ads get more interactive and we learn to ignore ads that look like traditional advertisements. Organizations like the US military created video games as recruiting tools aimed at 14 year old children.
  • personalization: through the channels we subscribe to, words we search for, and sites we visit search engines make it harder to get outside of our comfort zone by showing us what we already know and believe.
  • exploitation algorithms: Large online media companies know a lot about us, and where they lack information they can mathematically model us based on our interests and habits. Scientists are studying marketing on a neurological level. Google has a patent for targeting ads directly to our psychological flaws based on things like risk tolerance during game play and offers a nearly unmarked text link as an ad unit.

Couple the above with sharply increasing wealth disparity in the US and it makes the web look like a pretty bleak tool for fostering democracy and better understanding of ourselves and each other. How interactive should ads aimed at children get? Should relevancy algorithms give us what we like even if it is false? Is it ok if ads lie? Will marketing advances make us better, or will more people be given pharmaceutical drugs to cure them of their personality?

Might there be a business model in reminding people to slow down and look at things from another angle? When things really bother and frustrate me I try to consume information from someone from an alternate perspective to give myself greater balance. But many people are stuck in debt and do not have enough time to read a 200 to 500 page book unless it offers immediate profit potential.

Books Published Online by the Chapter

Feb 11th

HarperCollins is going to post free books on the web:

Starting Monday, readers who log on to www.harpercollins.com will be able to see the entire contents of “The Witch of Portobello” by Mr. Coelho; “Mission: Cook! My Life, My Recipes and Making the Impossible Easy” by Mr. Irvine; “I Dream in Blue: Life, Death and the New York Giants” by Roger Director; “The Undecided Voter’s Guide to the Next President: Who the Candidates Are, Where They Come from and How You Can Choose” by Mark Halperin; and “Warriors: Into the Wild” the first volume in a children’s series by Erin Hunter.

Random House is going to start selling books by the chapter. Leading off with Made to Stick at $2.99 a chapter.

I am a bit skeptical of the "by the chapter" business model, but books have tens or hundreds of thousands of words in them, backed by a trusted brand with editorial control, which can rank in organic search results AND be promoted through a vertical book search. Once they get a taste of the ad revenues, book publishers are going to publish most traditional nonfiction books online in their entirety, which will create a lot of competition for traditional web publishing based businesses.

Freemium Publishing & Sustainable Business Models

Jan 21st

Here is a great speech by Chris Anderson about how reputation and attention are becoming the new economies upon which much of the internet (and potentially offline) world may be based upon.

Freemium consists of giving away value (and possibly wrapping it in ads), as a lead generator to sell premium products and services. The model minimizes consumer risk by allowing them to become familiar with and reliant on the service before paying for it.

A Startup Nation article explains why the model is so powerful:

David Beisel, principal at Masthead Venture Partners in Cambridge, Mass., says the freemium model is attractive to VCs for the same reason it’s attractive to entrepreneurs. “Giving away a free version of the service allows consumers to not just learn about it through collateral or a free trial,” he explains, “but it presents them the opportunity to fully adopt the service and incorporate it into their lives.

“Those types of customers are ones who begin to evangelize the product to others. Entrepreneurs then greatly benefit, as powerful and inexpensive word-of-mouth marketing kicks in.”

One of the things I believe is that just like services that move toward free, all forms of content (even specialized high value niche content) will follow the same path. Information that is sold as a product (not a service) will keep seeing its margins decline as self satisfying hollow chucking and local substitution (ie: wikipedia editors rewriting your content, or someone uploads it to a torrent site) drive the value of most information to nothing.

People buy the reputation, experience, story, and relationship. It is more emotional than logical, and so publishers will become interactive media artists.

Video link via Seth.

Pharmaceutical Research Information Properly Optimized

Jan 21st

The WSJ published an article about the fraudulent research sponsored by the pharmaceutical companies which push antidepressant drugs on children:

A total of 74 studies involving a dozen anti-depressants and 12,564 patients were registered with the FDA from 1987 through 2004. The FDA deemed 38 of the studies to be positive. All but one of those studies was published, the researchers said.

The other 36 were found to have negative or questionable results by the FDA. Most of those studies -- 22 out of 36 -- were not published. Of the 14 that were published, the researchers said at least 11 of those studies mischaracterized the results and presented a negative study as positive.

The NYT is publishing custom branded content to help these advertisers. And, from a few months back, here was Google's take on health marketing:

News reporters may focus on Pharma’s annual sales and its executives’ salaries while failing to share R&D costs. Or, as is often common, the media may use an isolated, heartbreaking, or sensationalist story to paint a picture of healthcare as a whole. With all the coverage, it’s a shame no one focuses on the industry’s numerous prescription programs, charity services, and philanthropy efforts.

Many of our clients face these issues; companies come to us hoping we can help them better manage their reputations through “Get the Facts” or issue management campaigns. Your brand or corporate site may already have these informational assets, but can users easily find them?

We can place text ads, video ads, and rich media ads in paid search results or in relevant websites within our ever-expanding content network. Whatever the problem, Google can act as a platform for educating the public and promoting your message.

Prozac vs Tryptophan - On June 15, 1993, the FDA Dietary Supplement Task Force published a report on the work it had been doing in the area of developing FDA policy around nutritional supplements. On page two, the report admits, “The Task Force considered various issues in its deliberations, including... what steps are necessary to ensure that the existence of dietary supplements on the market does not act as a disincentive for drug development.”

This is where the manual editing of search results gets tricky. The multi-billion dollar company rarely gets edited, but in many cases their information is much less honest than that provided by the independent PageRank 4 website

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