SEO Question: I have noticed many more content heavy websites in Google's search results over the last year or two. Why does it seem it is getting harder for commercial sites to rank?
SEO Answer: Within the commercial realm there are more and more competing sites. Building content, at one time primarily a hobby only project, has become far more lucrative in recent years. Not only have content management systems like Movable Type and Wordpress became cheaply or freely available, but AdSense and affiliate marketing have vastly increased the number of real and fake content sites on the market over the last couple years.
Duplicate content filters have improved, and many shell product catalogs have been filtered out of Google's search results. It seems like some older sites are getting away with some rather shoddy stuff in Google, but as they get more user data and more people create quality content you can look for the search engine to shift away from that loophole.
Search algorithms prefer informational websites over commercial ones for many reasons:
they want commercial sites to buy their ads
the search ads provide commercial results. they prefer to have some informational results to help balance out the search results.
in competitive marketplaces there tends to be many more commercial sites than informational sites
if multiple merchants have similar product databases it does not drastically improve the user experience to show hollow shell pages over and over again from a wide variety of merchants
many quality informational sites link to related resources that lead searchers to more abstract answers that search engines are not yet advanced enough to answer
many informational sites are monetized using contextual ads provided by search engines. those give engines a second chance at revenue after the search
Also keep in mind that most merchant sites focus on the same small core group of keywords. Anything involved with big business can take weeks or months to do...or longer if the company is big or the content management system is highly complex.
For a content based website it takes no time at all to do keyword research using some of the keyword research tools on the market, and then quickly create pages around common customer questions, concerns and buying points. If few sites cover those topics with specific pages then it is low hanging fruit waiting to be claimed. I think it was Peter D who said the key to making money on search was to dig where other people were not digging.
Yahoo! currently offers a paid inclusion program (sidenote: which I generally recommend avoiding) which ensures sites are indexed in Yahoo!. Yahoo! charges those sites a flat rate per click for traffic Yahoo! delivers. That per click fee means that for many search queries it may make sense for them to allow many commercial sites to rank in the search results.
As the largest content site, Yahoo!'s search results also offers quick links to many of their internal content channels, which lessens their need for content from other sources. Make no mistake though, Yahoo! has the ability to try to determine how commercial a website is. See their Yahoo! Mindset tool for an example of how results can be weighted toward either commercial or informational resources.
If you look at the Mindset dial and use it to compare the default search results from Yahoo! and Google think of Google as being turned much further toward research. If Yahoo! drops their paid inclusion program you can bet that they will dial their results more toward the research angle, just like Google is.
Some commercial websites, like Amazon, offer rich interactive features that make them easy to reference (both from a webmaster perspective and a search engine perspective), but generally most commercial sites are not highly interactive and most webmasters would typically be far more inclined to link to quality content sites than overtly commercial sites.
SEO question: How do I do SEO for a small commercial website? Adding more pages will make it look more unprofessional, and so not something I really want to do?
SEO Answer: Sometimes small sites can be easier to do SEO for than big sites.
Faults of big commercial sites:
Some big sites that are product catalogs may require significant link popularity to get indexed. Also if you are dealing with thousands and thousands and thousands of pages it can be hard to make them unique enough to stay indexed as search algorithms continue to advance. Search engines are getting better at comparing pages and sites. If the only difference across most pages of your many thousand page site are a few part numbers then many pages may be considered duplicate content.
Benefits of a small site:
If a site is small that makes it easy to concentrate your internal link popularity on the most important issues, ideas, and keywords. Small hyper targeted sites also work well at being able to dominate those niche markets. You can create a site name based on the vertical and use the domain name to your advantage.
If you are trying to tackle insurance then a small site is not going to get you anywhere unless you are targeting niche types of insurance.
I tend to be a bit verbose (which is perhaps why I wrote an ebook ;) but I also do not buy that adding pages to a commercial site makes a site less professional. Web pages are just a bunch of bits, but those bits are your salesmen.
Which site would YOU trust more:
Get the lead or sale or the prospective client can screw off. If they want anything they must pay first.
Offers substantial information about the products they sell. Also builds credibility with FAQ section, answering common questions along the buying cycle with content focused on the issues that people tend to think are important before making a purchase.
If you hype it enough, have a high price point and get affiliates pushing it hard enough #1 may win, but in most markets most of the time site #2 will win.
If their site is exceptionally small then adding a few pages with about us and frequently asked questions should allow you to build credibility and target new traffic streams.
If competing sites have a huge brand that you can't afford to compete with one of the best ways to chip away at them is to create useful content, tools, and ideas that solve market problems that have not yet been solved.
If your content is great then it may garner some natural citations, but you need to build at least a few links for search engines to trust your site enough to where others will find it.
Some webmasters are also afraid to link out to relevant resources. I think that most good websites link out to at least a few decent resources. Don't be afraid to link at relevant .gov or .edu pages, industry trade organizations, local chamber of commerce sites and other sites that make sense to reference.
SEO Question: I am interested in a topic, but am not sure if I should create a niche site within that topic or create a site about that topic?
SEO Answer: As long as there is a functional business model there it is almost always worth niching down a site. Having said that sometimes it makes sense to create a second site slightly broader nature as it will teach you more about how your niche fits into the broader category.
For a while a gave the advice that it might be a good idea to create a directory site one level above your category. For example:
if you did link building you could create a directory of SEO resources.
if you focused on SEO you could create a meta search engine, search rating system, or a site about search
If you focused on currency trading or currency collecting you could make a site about currency or the history of currency.
The broader sites need not be directories specifically, just informational sites you can use to help learn about your market. Other advantages of creating a site that relates to your end business are:
social networking: learn who the players in your market are. give them another way to find out who you are.
learn more about your business: if your portal becomes popular you may be able to sell ad space on it. The categories with the most interest or highest paying advertisers may be good businesses to jump in. I can't tell you how many SEO companies create sites based on ideas from blowhard prospective clients.
drive leads: The guy who owns StateCollege.com also uses that site to sell internet marketing services to local companies. You can target locally or topically.
nepotistic links: while listing other good resources you can list your site near the top of your category to help build your brand. If you keep the site fairly non commercial and make it useful (to where you often find yourself going back to it to use it) then odds are you should be able to pick up some good links.
After you get established and know what niche you want to work in it is probably best to focus in on the main site, but off the start it does not hurt to have a foot in a few different ponds until you figure out what you really want to do.
Also worth noting that it is easy to get discouraged because sometimes the only thing separating you and success is time and there is only so much that you can force it. After a year or so the logarithmic and profitable growth really kicks in though.
SEO Question: I'm researching poison or forbidden words and I've only found a few vague or older posts from 2000 in a few SEO forums. Supposedly if a site uses poison words in the title etc. it is pushed way down in the SERPs. Any idea if this is fact or fiction? I'd love a complete list of poison words, although right now I'm specifically trying to find out if sale, best, about, contact us, website, or free shipping are poison because I have a retail product site with those words in the home page title, description, and body text.
SEO Answer: Poison words were a way to deweight low quality content pages:
I have actually never put much effort into researching poison words, but I will try to give my opinion on the subject.
The initial research and information about poison words came out well before I jumped into the SEO market. This page talks about the idea of poison words:
Poison words, are words that are known to decrease your pages rankings if a search engine finds them in the title, description or in the url. They don't kill, they just bury pages in rankings.
Generally, people think of adult words first. Adult words (obscene) often put your page in an adult category where it is filtered out by various filters at search engines.
Newer non-adult Poison Words are being uncovered. These words don't throw you into a different category, then just decrease your rankings. Poison Words signal to a search engine, that this page is of low value.
Forums are Bad?
That same page goes on to cite how forum may have been a bad word around that time:
The worst of the lot would probably be the word "forum". Chat and BBS forum systems have taking body shots by all the major search engines this year. Two well know search engines now specifically look for links to BBS software makers and kill the pages in the index outright - possibly the whole domain.
Other possible poison title/url words and phrases that come to mind: UBB, BBS, Ebay, and all variations on the pa-id to surf program keywords.
Why Would Forums Have Been Bad?
As stated above, I was not around on the web during that time period, so I can only guess as to why forum would have been such a bad word.
Largely I think it would have came down to two factors:
overweighting of forums in the search results
how easy it was (and still is) to spam forums
In early 2000 there were far fewer pages on the web than there are today. Because of the textual nature of forums and how many pages forum conversations generated it would not surprise me if forums tended to make up too large of a percentage of the search results, and thus they had to offset that by deweighting forums.
Things which show either a lack of moderation of content or page contents that are not vetted by the site publisher may make search engines want to consider deweighting a page. Imagine a page with few inbound links from outside sites and 100 external links on the page, and all 100 links used the nofollow attribute. If you were an engine would you want to trust that page much? I wouldn't.
The Web Was Much Smaller:
To put it in perspective, back in early 2000 Google was still pushing people toward the Google Directory on their home page, had a link to their awards page pushing Yahoo! and did not even yet have the number of documents page count that they had for about 4 or 5 years. On June 26th of 2000 Google announced that they had 560 million full-text indexed web pages and 500 million partially indexed URLs. Right now Webmasterworld has over 2 million pages in Google's index, so you can see how a few large forum sites would be able to dominate a search index that small. Combine that with many forums being hit by internet marketers aggressively spamming them and the content seems less desirable.
Deweighting User Interaction:
As far as deweighting pages that allow user interaction that makes sense as well. Why? Because for most sites the page and site gain authority primarily for the actions of the site owner or paid editors. If third parties can add content to a page they can influence the relevancy of that document, and thus leverage the authority of the original author without much expense. That is why search engineers pushed the nofollow attribute so hard.
Plus if pages and sites are legitimate and allow value added useful community interaction typically those sites will get more links and authority, so knocking them down a bit for allowing interactivity and third party publishing does not really hurt them - since the legitimate sites would make that right back through gaining more citations.
Turning a Page Into Spam:
I don't search as much as I would like to because I spend too much time reading and writing stuff (and not enough time researching), but on occasion I search around. I have seen totally unrelated blog posts rank #1 on Google for certain types of niche pornography because someone came by and left a comment that made that document become relevant to the uber gross porn query.
Blog Comment and RSS Spam:
In a recent post on SEO Buzz Box DaveN hinted that comments may make a page be seen as less clean, and thus give a search engine a reason to deweight it. Combine that with the vastly growing field of citation spam and it makes sense that Google would not want to promote similar content that is only differentiated by ad placement and a few third party comments.
Ebb and Flow:
So given that forums were a type of content that may have been overrepresented and undesirable I think it is worth noting that maybe right now they may be considered to be better than they once were. Perhaps contextual advertising programs and the rebound of online advertising may have gave forum owners more compensation which allow them to run better forums. Also algorithms are more link focused and most forum pages tend to score naturally poor because there are so many pages as compared to the quantity and quality of inbound links to most forums.
Search engines constantly battle with marketers for what types of sites to rank in the search results.
Sometimes you will notice Amazon and large vertical sites ranking for almost everything under the sun. At other times directories are given more weight than would seem logical.
In late 2003, around the time of the Google Update Florida directories started showing up way too much in the search results. People took advantage of the opportunity and thousands of vertically focused or general PageRank selling directories sprung up.
Since then many of those directories seem to be packing less punch in the SERPs - in direct rankings and with how much their links help other sites.
Closing Holes Opens New Ones:
So what you see is wave after wave of content type. As search engines close some holes they open up others. When WG and Oilman interviewed Matt Cutts they also spoke about how the face of spam has - at least for now - moved from blog spam sites to subdomains off established sites. Right now Google is putting too much weight on old established sites.
Blogs Getting Away With a Bit Much:
With all of the blog networks springing up right now I wouldn't be surprised if some search engineers were starting to get sick of blogs, and looking for ways to deweight some of those networks as well. That is another example of why forums may become more desirable...if blogs are so hot that everyone and their dog has 5 of them maybe the people who are looking to make a quick buck are going to be more inclined to run blogs than forums.
Poison Words No Longer Needed?
That sorta leads me into my next point. I don't think poison words in their old traditional sense are as important as they may have been.
I still think the concept of poison words has a roll, but it is likely minimal other than how much search engines can trust citations. IE: pages that flag for poison words may not pass as much outbound link authority.
The inverse rule of link quality states that the effect of a link is going to be inversely proportional to how easy it is for a competing site to gain that same link.
So if the words "add URL" and "buy PageRank" are on the page those links may not count as much as other types of links. On this page Ciml noted how guestbook pages were not passing PageRank, but then Google undid that, at least to some extent. Stop words may not be necessary to deweight low quality links though. De-weighting may occur fairly naturally via other algorithmic mechanisms that generally parallel the effect of stop words:
Far more people practice SEO today than did in 2000, so many of the loopholes that are exploited are hit faster and harder. (see The Tragedy of the Commons).
Most people selling links do it in a manner that it is painfully obvious to search engines.
Search engines collect more data and have far better technology as well. If pages are not found useful by searchers then they will eventually rank lower in the search results.
So right now - and going forward - search relevancy will be about establishing trust. How trust is established will continue to evolve. Those who have more trust will also be able to get away with more aggressive marketing. Some new sites that use the DP coop network do not do that well with it, but sites that are either old and/or have built up significant usage data via email or viral marketing seem to be able to do more with it.
Google's Informational Bias:
Also note that Google tends to be a bit biased toward sites they believe to be informational in nature. Yahoo! Mindset shows how easy it is for search engines to adjust that sort of bias. You could think of words like shopping carts and checkout as being treated as poison words, but odds are highly likely that if a merchant site provides a useful feature rich page that search engines want that content. Most merchant sites that are getting whacked in Google are likely getting whacked for having thin sites with near duplicate content on most pages or for having unnatural linkage profiles.
Many thin affiliate sites are also getting hit for having no original content and outbound affiliate links on nearly every page.
Improving Content Quality:
With all informational databases Google pushes they first push getting as much of it as possible, and then as time passes they learn to better understand it (looking ultimately at human interaction), and try to push for the creation of higher quality content. Most web based publishers will face a huge strugle with balancing content quality and content cost.
The only way their business model works is if others allow them to give people free access to high quality content. I don't think that poison words are necessarily needed to do that though...at least not for most natural created-for-human pages in their general search database.
Some vertical search engines may use certain words for inclusion or exclusion in their database. For example look at Edgeio or NFFC's post on Become.com.
SEO Question: Will rss feeds help my web site rankings, due to automatic updates?
SEO Answer: Some search engines may like frequently updated content, but you also want to have people link at your site or actively read the new information. Without those just adding a feed will not do much for most webmasters.
RSS in and of itself is just a tool.
Some people like to parallel RSS with email, but the key element with RSS is to realize it as a permission based subscription. People don't just mix random RSS feeds together and then subscribe to it (or at least most people do not).
They subscribe because they are genuinely interested in your topic, timeliness, personality or presentation.
The timeliness part is getting harder with meme trackers (expect many topical ones in the next year or two), everyone becoming an author, and the death of the scoop. In fact, chasing the timliness angle in competitive topics leads to the biggest downfall in the subscription model, people subscribing to me too posts - the noise they were trying to avoid. Many of the people who flocked to blogs from forums are likely getting burned out by blogs too, but much of that is topic dependant.
If an industry is hyper-saturated it is much harder to compete than if an industry has few or no legitimate voices discussing it. When I interviewed Lee Odden recently he stated that one of his niche blogs only takes a few hours of work per month and pays about $400 an hour.
Some people argue that their topic is boring and there is nothing they can write about, but typically that is just an excuse for lazy behavior. As shown in Lee's above example, being one of the few people discussing a topic equates to a larger percentage of market attention and revenue.
RSS is just another doorway to your site. It just make it easier for subscribers to know new information exists. It also helps you build social relationships and trust over time, which is important if you sell expensive products or services.
Most people subscribing to RSS feeds are tech savvy. A few people doing it are thick (as noted here), but for now they are in the minority. As the quality and diversity of content online increase and large tech companies push it more and more people will subscribe to RSS feeds.
SEO Question: Some of my clients sites have different customer types. I am afraid of pigeonholing the prospects. Should I make pages for the different customer types?
SEO Answer: If the services offered and price ranges are drastically different or people buy your products for exceptionally different reasons then it makes sense to create pages for different demographic groups.
Here are some of the advantages of creating different pages based on different demographics:
Most people will not enter your site through the home page: If people do transactional or informational searches they are far more inclined to land on an internal page than a home page. Why? Because there are many more web pages than web sites. Creating the individual pages allows you to drill down and build large quantities of traffic by being relevant for many highly targeted niche phrases.
Conversion: pages which speak to a specific audience will do much better than pages that try to appeal to everyone
Improved margins and targeting: If you participate in pay per click marketing or any other type of marketing that runs on thin margins creating a page that can convert well to a specific self selected demographic will allow you to continue to compete while some competitors are forced out of the market on margins.
More doorways: Each additional page of targeted useful content is another ticket in the search lottery. If your competitors just focus on the generic what words and you create quality targeted content around the why words you should be able to pick off some low hanging fruit.
If most of your business comes from one client type then it may make sense to set the home page to target that market segment by default.
In addition to targeting different demographics it may also make sense to create pages targeting their common questions, problems and important points along the buying cycle.
If your demographic groups and empathetic buying points are vastly different (and perhaps diametrically opposed) it may make sense to create different brands and sites to allow you to target the different demographics without risking offending or turning off other groups.
You can still use your home page to give people the gist of what sets you apart, but by focusing pages on common problems and questions consumers may have, and creating pages for different consumer types you open many additional doors to your site which are also easier to advertise and are more likely to convert.
There are a ton of fun or cool demographic tools or ideas being shared on the web. A couple examples:
SEO Question: I am accustomed to left navigation down the left side of the page. Is their any reason your blog has navigation on the right side?
SEO Answer: The original reason this site had navigation on the right hand side was that I liked the default template that had right hand navigation. The site is a slightly hacked up version of an old default MovableType template (I will post a how to hack MT post soon).
I think that for sites selling products it probably does not matter a whole bunch if they use right or left hand navigation.
The way I think of site navigation is that it should help people get where they need to go if the site does not naturally lead them along the way. It should act as a back up.
Many sites screw up by assuming that people will use the navigation. You really want to lead people toward your desired goal in the active window / content portion of the site.
Let people easily achieve their goals or follow through the site down a path that interests them by linking them to where you want them to go from within the content. Both The Big Red Fez and Don't Make Me Think are great books that stress the concept.
I originally had the mini ad for my ebook in the navigational area, and the day I started to put it in line with my content my sales tripled. In the rush to get more traffic or free leads it is easy to forget that the biggest and easiest wins usually come from boring changes back home.
Now that I know enough about CSS to be able to modify it a bit I still do not mind my navigation being on the right hand side because having a bunch of content rich postings right off the start really lends to the brand image that I give away a bunch of information and know a decent amount about the web, plus having the navigation a bit out of the way probably makes my advertising post look a bit more like content. I also think that using up nearly all of the screen real estate with a liquid design may lend to the impression that my site has more and higher quality content, although most award winning designs are not liquid designs.
The assumption that navigation should be on the left side is that way because a long time ago a few big sites did it and then most people followed suit. Having said that, sometimes it makes sense to go against the grain. If your site makes money selling contextual or affiliate ads it makes sense to place advertisements in typical content or navigation areas.
If you look at the Google heat map they show you that the best ad locations are typical content or navigation locations. So if you make your money off AdSense you may want to put your navigation in a right column and place a wide AdSense rail down the left column.
If you also want to place ads near the top of the right column I have found that using AdSense adlinks looks more like navigation and is more likely to get clicked than regular AdSense ads.
SEO Question: I was thinking about buying a link exchange software product. I was looking at ___________ and ___________ and wanted to know what one is the best?
SEO Answer: I think Arelis can be decent for harvesting email information, but many sloppy webmasters screw that up by using too much automation. You really need to try to connect to a webmaster, and since each site and each person has different motives anything that is automated or generated is crap.
For example, I recently got this gem of an email:
I'm an editor of a website ______ about watches. I looked through your site http://www.threadwatch.org and I think that it is very interesting. I have an offer for you. I'd like to send you a few of interesting, cognitive articles with unique content about structures and machinery of watches, which will be written by a group of authors. If interested, feel free to contact me. I appreciate your opinion.
Thank you in advance.
Sincerely yours, Anastasia
Notice that they didn't specifically mention link exchange, but they wanted to put link laden content on my site that was unrelated to my site.
Most of the software designed for automation leaves footprints if it generates pages, and / or is crap for other reasons.
And while it may seem like the watch example above is a rare one many authoritative sites tend to rank for terms that are a bit random in nature. For example, Matt Cutts ranks at #173 for Bacon in Google right now. If you fired off emails to the top 200 bacon resources sure enough one of those spam emails would hit Google's search quality / web spam evaluation leader, and obviously that is not a good thing.
The links that you really want do not exist on generic will-exchange-with-anyone link pages. Most of those pages are not designed for humans and are likely rather easy for most sophisticated search engines to detect.
Automation works well for some people, but if you are new to the market you probably are not going to figure out how and what to automate until you have a bit of experience. As a general rule of thumb I never automate any human interaction and avoid using software that leaves footprints, especially if that software is typically primarily used by people who aim to game search relevancy.
If you are in a competitive marketplace with a new site and the only links you can get are ones that you have to request then you eventually are going to need to mix up your methods, especially as your market becomes more hyper saturated.
SEO Question: Your mention of blogs got me thinking. Do you know of a reliable "paid to post" service that will not spam blogs but will find related/relevant blogs to post notices about the site I'm launching simultaneous with the launch?
SEO Answer: I would not recommend ideas like pay to post. There are a whole slue of reasons, but at the core of the issue is that the people who are going to be blogging and ranking for terms related to your field can probably burn you pretty bad in the search results if they dislike you. The community aspect of the web is probably the single most important marketing mechanism for the average new webmaster and it is one of the easiest things to screw up.
Here are reasons why the webmasters and site owners should work directly with bloggers and other website owners to market their sites.
People who write often tend to also read often. If the people who write often are friends then they likely will defend you or alert you when others bring up your name or brand in a negative light.
If you learn the interests of those talking about your topic it is easier for you to appeal to their interests.
Search engines want to move toward counting naturally earned organic links. Google is heading that way quicker than Yahoo! or MSN, but you can't count for them to be behind the curve forever.
Traffic from related sites should convert exceptionally well, especially if it is from people who write about you or your products in a positive light.
It may not be this way right now, but eventually sites that have few or no votes from sites within their topical community are going to struggle to get high enough in the search results to earn self reinforcing links from others outside of their community.
With how many scams there are on the net I think people tend not to trust new sites until they are repeatedly exposed to them. If the first exposure smells at all like a marketing message they you may have to pay for any further exposure.
All the above information assumes you want to build a long term brand and business. If your goals are more short term and your name is not attached to the site both low cost outsourced labor and automated somewhat sophisticated comment spam bots can market your message, although that is pretty shitty to do and not something you want to do if you are in the business for the long haul.
Here are a few legitimate ways you can get bloggers attention:
Search for what they are interested in and talking about. Create a story that is more comprehensive than anyone elses or takes a different perspective.
Create something that is web based that bloggers can integrate into their blogs. Try to make it something social.
Ask some of the bloggers that you want to cover your stuff if they would have time for an interview. I have seen exceptionally new bloggers get to interview old time web gurus just by asking. Odds are you may get an I was recently interviewed by link which leads to many secondary links. You also can then offer that blogger a free version of your product as a thank you, although there are still some tact issues with how you do that.
Come up with a controversial blog advertising program. Try to involve some big names in it to where all the blogging ethics crew talk about it.
Some people tend to think that you just need enough money to get seen, but that can backfire if you offend the ego of bloggers. All you need to do is find a way to appease their egos.
Recently a few people contacted me with press releases. The emails were deleted and I sent some of the people the optional are you an idiot? replies.
One person was creating a parallel and competing channel and sent me a press release about it. When I suggested that they could buy ads they said that industry news should not need to buy ads. I told them that since they offered me nothing in return I thought they could go to hell.
You don't get much help by telling others what you expect them to do. Especially if there is no return / reward incentive in the exchange.
Occasionally a smart person comes along and doesn't ask for a link. They ask for feedback or my opinion, and in that they likely get greater value. I am not going to link to something that I think is crap, but if I think their product is no good I will tell them why. If I review it and like it then odds are pretty good I would mention it.
SEO Question: I have a little personal side project going -- selling an info product (completely unrelated to SEO; it has to do with _____ and local markets) and I loved the simpleness of your delivery of your ebook. It was straight forward and easy to follow. I want to mimic your process -- I will be using Paypal too.
Any advice or pitfalls you encountered along the way? Techinical or otherwise? Just thought I'd ask someone who has been there before. Maybe save me some time / mistakes.
SEO Answers: There are many ways to go with selling info products. We'll start off with the pieces I think are important and then maybe others will add info at the end.
First you really have to survey the market.
How to survey:
Do keyword research, looking at things like Overture price and search volume. Perhaps even set up a test Google AdWords account.
If you know the market well what were the major questions you had when you were buying information and products about your market? You can use Google AdWords to collect feedback for what issues are important to others. Tell them you have a nearly completed book that will be for sale soon and that you will give them it free for feedback on what they would like to be in the book. Alex Mendosian calls this concept the Ask Database, although it may be just as easy to set up a form box that sent mail to a Gmail account and use tagging and their email search to sort through the feedback.
You can also search industry forums, blogs, and Google Groups to see what common problems and questions people have.
Do information products, software, and service products in your market have commonly complained about issues? If so you may want to make that part of your sales angle.
Does the business model and delivery model make sense? Sometimes by changing the format something can become hyper successful or a complete failure.
Look at the Clickbank marketplace to look at the sales techniques used by many people pushing affiliate marketing heavily in your vertical, related verticals, or verticals that would appeal to similar audience profiles.
If you see one product appear in the regular search results and search ads many times that may be a hard site to compete with.
Buy competing products to see their whole sales cycle.
Look at high ranking search results for competing products names to see how deep their affiliate network is and if they have any mainstream news coverage. Also look to see what bloggers and forums say about them. How can you appeal to the various potential viral marketers of your product?
For most people it is typically going to be easier to work in an under saturated keyword market than it is to work in a hyper saturated one or create a keyword market from scratch. I did it the stubborn pig headed way and just sorta went after making my own market. It is working great now, but for about a year it was somewhat brutal.
If people seemed to be exceptionally concerned about one issue then that might be a great sub niche to focus on. Especially if that niche seems complex and / or is high margin (or if the niche seems complex to others but is still rather easy to create a fairly automated high value service in).
If there is one or few exceptionally common problems with information items in your field you may want to use that as your marketing angle.
What is the goal of Creating Your Information Product:
To help people
Build a targeted audience or subscriber list
Some ideas will help in multiple areas, but sometimes you have to make sacrifices in some of the categories to help your end goal along in other categories. Generally though if you can build a large enough targeted audience you can get any or many of the above in most fields.
Writing the Book:
Spend a day or a few days creating an outline before you write the book.
I used Word and Adobe PDF to make my ebook, although that was like a $600 or $700 spend buying those. If you want to go the cheap route OpenOffice is free. It has a program similar to Microsoft Word and a PDF creator inside of it. I distribute my ebook as a PDF.
I revised my book many times so it really is a bit hard for me to even say what the original looked like, but using short text, bulleted lists, and not trying to write at exceptionally advanced levels are good tips to live by if you are writing a how to book.
John T Reed wrote a book on how to write how to books. I think his general thesis and content are great, with the exception of his thoughts on online marketing and DRM. I reviewed his book here, and explained why I thought his views on DRM and search engine marketing were not up to par.
Do not feel you need to be stuck to a specific format. There are probably other formats that would sell as well or better, and maybe even at higher price points.
Time spent creating value is typically time better spent than time spent worrying about value you have yet to create.
If you intend to market heavily on affiliate networks like Clickbank and your product is internet marketing related expect lots of fraud if you do not use a DRM system. Since I do not use DRM people who buy my ebook are about 10 times as likely to ask for a refund or reverse charge their credit card if they bought through Clickbank than if they bought through Paypal.
If you plan on using Clickbank and are selling an internet marketing related product you may really want to use some DRM stuff so you can pull their right to use your tool or print your book if they ask for a refund. For $197 eBook Pro provides DRM. If you don't want to spend that much money and want to use Paypal as your shopping cart Payloadz is free off the start, and then its price scales up as you use it more.
Eventually I expect Google to create a micro payment system which ends up beating out Paypal. Google will become the default amateur video network and then extend the system out to other content formats.
If you sell a product and give it away to certain people make sure there is some taxing element to it. For example require some sort of authentication and require their email to match a qualifying website. When I did this it cut down on sleazy requests and associated fraudster hate email by over 90%. It made life way better.
Some people also try to buy feedback or require links to their site in exchange for giving their products to charities. I guess on some fronts that may work, but it is probably not something I would feel good doing, though in some markets doing a technique like that could be the difference between a highly profitable business and a venture that provided little to no returns.
You can use Payloadz to set up an affiliate program and to create temporary URLs which only make your download page available to individuals for a limited period of time.
If you are selling an information product and have no digital rights management make sure you encrypt your Paypal button so your order return location is not in the page content. When you create a payment button you also want to click the add more options button in Paypal and set your successful payment URL and cancel payment URL. If you do not set the cancel payment URL I believe visitors hitting the cancel button will be forwarded to your thank you page.
Typically most information products are used to up sell services or make up sells via affiliate links. Some ebooks, like the version of 33 Days to Online Profits I read, seem like they were primarily created to recommend as many affiliate programs as possible.
Do you want to go with a low price point (maybe even free) and try to raise your status, build an audience, and monetize that growing audience by sending them affiliate product offers or high end service offers?
Do you want to go with a high price point? If you go with a higher price point that will filter out many bad leads, but you sacrifice distribution with price. If you go with a higher price point it is recommended that you do not use affiliate links in your work or some will question the motive of your recommendations and why your price point is so high.
One Book or Many?
Many people selling ebooks and information products make far greater income than I do because they create products that rarely need updated, are hyper targeted, and sorta set and forget them after initially creating the sites.
Some people then push those sites via affiliates while others use AdWords and the like.
After you perfect the sales process with one or two it should be easy to churn out dozens more books and sites on other niche topics. If they each make around $1,000 or $2,000 a month you are making a great income.
It took me a while to start earning decent money, so it may take a few months before sales start rolling in. Make sure you are not duplicating errors in the sales process from site #1 on sites #2-12.
Give yourself time to learn from feedback from the early channels before duplicating those problems across a half dozen or dozen channels.
Marketing Your e book:
I started with absolutely zero authority or credibility, so you may not need to do all these steps, but here are the things I did.
Participate in communities discussing your topic. People who chat about your topic can also recommend your stuff. It is also where people as questions about your topic. If you are new to the market you can also learn a boatload of information by actively participating in topical forums. Forums can also create friendships that may last longer than your career does.
Write articles. I started writing articles about 4 months before I started selling my ebook. Whenever I wrote an article and syndicated it I noticed my phone started ringing and money flowed into the bank account. Cool for me. I really should get back to writing more articles!
Try to win the trust of influential voices in your industry. See if you can write an article for their site or if they would be willing to read a free review copy of your book.
If you ever get any publicity make sure you leverage it. If one of your articles is a hit, while you are popular for 15 seconds ensure the effect is lasting by trying to push other citations or ideas through. For example, while your site is hot and your name is in the news maybe that is a good time to request links from great resource sites or try to do a few link exchanges with sites you like. Of course with asking for links tact is important.
Write a topical blog. If people read your stuff daily then they can get to feel that they know and trust you. It also makes it easier to market your site in search results if your site is more than a one page sales letter. Conversation is easy to cite. I predict that many people will use a format similar to SeoBook.com to sell information products.
Writing short witty posts that invoke laughter or other emotions is great, but if you want to convert new people in your industry into buying customers writing at a lower level and doing in depth posts probably works far better than the abstract funny high level stuff. It also helps build a large keyword rich database of pages that will rank for lots of random queries related to your field and target audience.
As an example of the above, my mother thinks we write Threadwatch in some sort of code. That site is not published in a format that is good for selling to people new to the SEO market. The content on this site probably does a better job of selling market entry products.
People love pictures of people and testimonials.
Sometimes the people who recommend your site and give you your authority are not the same people who buy your products. Make sure they have the opportunity to review your product.
Sometimes the concepts, ideas, and content which make people authoritative are different than what they make most of their money from. Think horizontally. Are there any vertical databases or viral ideas you could create to help market your brand or site?
Make it easy for people to do what you want them to do. For a while I advertised my ebook on the sidebar of my site. The day I moved it to the content area my income tripled.
If you put serious effort into your brand do not let your name and work be bundled with others without looking hard and long at the potential side effects. I totally screwed this tip up. I wrote a mini version of my ebook for someone else so they could bundle it with their software.
They did things like market their other free guide they wrote using the colors from my site. They also wrote my ebook sales price as the suggested value of my throw in book I gave them the rights to. I got dozens of support requests from their customers and some of them said that they would have bought my book long ago but they thought they already got it. Most people probably do not send me those sort of emails, and I probably threw away about 20 to 30% of my potential income with that one time fee partnership.
Another time I sold rights to a few thousand of my ebooks to a SEO related company so they could give it as a gift to their clients at Christmas. It was a nice cash bonus for me, but that also led to others giving away my ebook and business model without asking me. So even if a deal is a great deal there might be some unexpected side effects.
I believe it is typically worth avoiding most joint ventures.
If you are not serious about being successful there is no point wasting someone elses time and envoking potential lawsuits. If you are serious about doing well most of the time the other person will undervalue what you can do.
If you are not well recognized as a trustworthy expert then the other person is also likey going to undervalue what you can do. If you are already well known then you have to ask yourself what value the other person adds that you can't buy for a one time fee instead of giving up liquidity or creating recurring expenses.
Worse yet, if you are in a category largely dependant on thin margins and the other person does next to no ongoing work and gets a cut that cut might turn shift your business away from profitable venture into the waste of time category, and a bad partnership may even take away your motivation to create and succeed.
Tracking Content Theft:
If you are pushing your name and your brand really hard I do not think you need to spend much time tracking potential content theft and distribution. If you are opinionated and publish frequently most of the market will know who you are. If others start to publish your works one of your kind readers will likely tell you about it.
If you go more of the one page salesletter site route you may want to use Copyscape, subscribe to search results related to your product, or some other method to look out for content theft.
This is not something I would call myself an expert at, but my short list of criteria in things I would look for in the name of something I was going to work exceptionally hard at would be:
something I thought I could eventually rank for (ie: if there is a huge open source software project with the same name you probably are not going to be able to outrank them)
something that is short
something that is memorable
something I can get the .com domain name for if possible
There are arguements for and against using your keywords in your domain and product name. I don't want to go too deep into that idea because that could be a long post on its own. It is something that should be considered though.
Sales Letter Writing:
Read lots of other sales letters in your field. The sales letters at sites like Marketing Tips.com are wrote to convert. Make sure you also pay attention to the tone and voice of your sales message...make it match the rest of your site if you have a content site pushing your information product.
Not something I am good at because I have not done it much yet.
It is important in many markets, especially in categories like internet marketing or if you have the one page salesletter type of site.
Sometimes it helps to be able to give them something that they can give away which is a product of some value that really pushes the value of your product you are selling.
Your price point matters as well. If your price point is too low you can't give affiliates much for their efforts.
I also set my minimum payout to be at the 2 sales level to prevent self sale discounts.
Things I could do far better:
I am good at finding and creating value but am not the best at maximizing value returned for value created. For a long time I sold my ebook for half its current price. I also do not charge recurring fees yet for updates and some of my friends have told me that is a large error.
Affiliate marketing - as noted above.
Write and syndicate more articles - as noted above.
Email marketing and list building - I really do not do it much...and that is a huge error.
Business - in spite of getting inqueries from companies worth billions (and once even hundreds of billions) of dollars I do not leverage my mindshare well enough and work with some large companies. Business in general is not me deal at this point, and I am not sure if it will ever be, for a variety of reasons.
Sales vs the Knowledge Curve:
The demand curve for search marketing is based on what was effective a while ago.
Here is a perfect example: It is well noted that keyword density is typically not that important compared to other things in the grand scheme of SEO. Yet when I recently added many tools to my SEO tool list the only tool someone requested to buy was a keyword density analysis tool, which is probably one of the least valuable tools on the page. (I later made it open source so I gave it to him free).
If I sold any of the following I would make far greater income than I do with less effort, but I probably would not be creating more value for others than I currently do:
links from high PageRank pages
link spam software
link exchange software
reciprocal link software
subscription based link network access
By the time the mass market really understands the quality links and trust concepts search may move on to being more focused on user data.
In some fields it makes sense to try to be on the cutting edge, but often sitting back a bit and profiting from the lack of knowledge in the mass market will provide far greater profit.