Why You Should Use Multiple Web Analytics Tools

Aug 17th

Why Analytics Are So Important

With SEO the most important thing to track is performance. Of course the bank account (& its growth rate) is a high level tracking mechanism, but it is the result of the combination of many ideas & efforts, the combination of multiple marketing strategies & traffic streams. To dig in further on what's working web analytics are your bread and butter. They don't give you aggregate data or could be data, but precisely and exactly what is happening on your sites: separating out what is working from what is not.

Without analytics you are flying blind.

Which is, of course, dangerous!

Redundancy for the Win

Most web analytics tools are either good for realtime tracking or offering granular historical data. Few tools are available at a reasonable cost and great at both. For that reason, I prefer to always use at least 2 web analytics tools.

The other major reason to use 2 tools is to have a stable baseline in case something changes. For instance, Google announced a change to how Google Analytics tracks sessions & only a few weeks ago they also changed how image search is reported, merging it in with core search. Either of those 2 changes could at first make a webmaster think that maybe they had recovered from the Panda algorithm, when the only thing that changed was an arbitrary forced change by their analytic tool provider. Many webmasters have complained about the changes, but can't force Google to change their ways with a product that is provided for free.

Did the above site recover from Panda or was it a data anomaly from Google changing web analytics? If you are using 2 tools it is far quicker to know the answer to that question.

Ok, so you like the 2 tools idea, but what tools should you use?

Primary Web Analytics


If you don't mind Google tying you to your website (or want to integrate data that is only available in Google Analytics) then Google Analytics is an easy starter choice. If you don't want to give your data & identity to Google then Clicky is a great primary analytics tool.

If you love Google's feature set but want to host your own data they still sell the Urchin software for $10,000. It offers additional features like logfile analysis, robot & spider reports, individual visitor drilldown, server errors, works on intranets, and so on.

There are many other high end providers like Omniture, but I haven't really played much with them as most of our sites tend to be affiliate sites. If you do have a complete customer loop on your site & a sign-up process then services like KISSmetrics & ClickTale further allow you to dive in on how individual users use your website.

Back-up Web Analytics

My general goals & preference with a back-up analytics tool are:

  • light weight (doesn't use significant server resources)
  • low cost
  • provide a general overview baseline to compare primary analytics against
  • offers realtime data (as some of the primary analytics tools have a delay to them & having realtime data allows you to see how, where & why your content is spreading, which can help you further engage in conversation and help to spread it further)


As for the back-up web analytics tool, I typically go with Mint because it is quick and easy & only costs a one-time fee of $30 per site. Installation takes about 5 minutes, you upload it & then it just sits there and does its job.

I have also tried Piwik & Open Web Analytics. Of those 2 I prefer OWA because it is more lightweight (Piwik may have more features, but has a lot of files). OWA also has a cool screen recording option baked into it. Be aware that if you have a high traffic website & use OWA that you may create too many MySQL connections and cause the server to be less responsive.

If you are fine with tying some of your websites together but do not want to have them tied together in Google Analytics then you can have one install of OWA or Piwik on a dedicated server & set up multiple profiles for different websites. Be aware that if you have things like screen recording turned on then you are going to be eating significant server resources!

Your Turn

What are your favorite web analytics tools?

What is Killing AOL & Yahoo!?

Aug 16th

The Big Portals Can't Grow Ad Revenues

In spite of the transitioning of print Dollars to digital dimes for print media, TV advertising remains healthy and robust. Much like the decline of print media, the flow of brand ad Dollars online is skipping over even some of the largest players, leaving them out of the growth from the shift to online media.

While Yahoo! is still a leader in many categories they are struggling to sell their ad inventory directly & are selling more of it as backfill/remnant inventory. This issue has also hit AOL pretty hard. In spite of acquiring Huffington Post & being willing to sell ads at a bogus $1000 CPM, they are still losing money and their ad revenues were only up marginally.

The Stock Market Values Big Portals at Next to Nothing

Some of the bigger portals are hoping that TV-styled web ratings will lift their ad sales, but I am skeptical & so is the market. AOL's stock was down about 50% over the past month before the recent rally (and half of what was left was cash on the books). Part of AOL's recent stock price recovery is from them announcing a stock buy back. Yahoo! is basically valued at $0 when you back out their cash on hand & investments in foreign assets.

Why Can't the Portals Grow?

Part of the lack of growth in ad budgets for the large portals comes down to hype around mobile (which is now ~ 12% of search ad clicks), Facebook & social media. The brand ad Dollars that are being spent to "look cool" are riding the new fads & trends.

Riding the social hype, now even AdWords ads have a social element to them.

Three other big issues that are impacting the portals (discussed further below) are ad retargeting, custom integrated media buys, and the mixing of traffic quality.

As a baseline to consider how significantly these trends are impacting the big portals are, consider that...

... yet their quarterly traffic was roughly flat compared to Q1 & revenue was up 32% year over year. In spite of having a search-first distribution strategy, getting hammered by Panda, and removing tons of content, Demand Media is still growing far faster than AOL or Yahoo! are. Thus it is no wonder that Yahoo! & AOL are not highly valued by the investment community.

1. Ad Retargeting

Between contextual ad targeting & ad retargeting advertisers have many options to reach their audience without paying premium ad inventory rates to show up where they are less relevant.

At first I thought ad retargeting would lift CPMs as another ad channel to compete for inventory. For smaller sites about knitting or celebrity gossip it probably does, but for "premium" media that is way overpriced, it does the opposite. At first this hit some of the sorta b-list sites but not the big portals, then over time that trend grew and it eventually even consumed the big portals.

Google took ad retargeting mainstream. At first advertisers bid artificially high for this traffic, based on its perceived value, but since these advertisers were largely only competing/bidding against themselves & these ads can appear anywhere, many have now figured out that they can significantly cut their bids & still get plenty of exposure.

Some ecommerce websites not only do ad retargeting to people who visited their website, but some go so far as to target the individual products you looked at or put in your cart. You may not notice the trend if you are shopping for things you purchase (as a reflection of our identity we generally tend to perceive the things we like as being normal & as being more widely popular than they are), but if you shop for something out of the blue then the ads that follow you are far more noticeable.

Sometimes I buy a gag gift to give away before the real gift so as to sorta mis-set expectations & see a range of responses. :)

When I was buying a 4th anniversary gift for my wife, while shopping online I joked with a friend about how ugly & over-the-top some of the Zales items were. Those items then started to follow me around the web in banner ads!

What is more valuable than seeing a person putting an item in a shopping cart is seeing the actual items a person has already purchased. Amazon suggests related products on their web pages, sends personalized "you might like" email recommendations, and is leveraging their data to build a distributed ad network:

Amazon will now use its huge supply of data to pool consumers into buckets based on the products they looked at or purchased on the retailer's website. The company will help advertisers reach these consumers with targeted media, using behaviorally targeted display ads to drive them to
any URL.

There are many other technologies & business models built off of retargeting: some businesses try to rent a pixel on 3rd party websites, some analytics services respawn cookies, Akamai's CDN offers pixel-free tracking, Facebook's like button collects data even if you do not click on it, and 3rd party social media "add to" buttons collect & sell similar data.

The shift to mobile will only further improve ad retargeting. Digital receipts are becoming more popular and Eric Schmidt wants to be in your pants.

2. Integrated Media Buys


WebMD has sponsored sections where you go from information to self-quiz right into integrated custom ad channels tied directly to the disease.

Blog Sponsorship

Pay Per Post sort of took the low road in their marketing approach with getting exposure on blogs. ReviewMe (which I co-founded & sold my share in many years ago) intended to take a somewhat higher road, but perhaps didn't attract as much brand attention as we had hoped for, at least not initially.

More recently many of the online blogging communities have become custom ad networks. Want to reach moms? P&G did a deal with BlogHer & it was popular enough that there are blog posts and videos about it.


Shortly after watching a Youtube video about sugar and insulin I soon saw the following YouTube experience, with an ad over a video & another related ad unit off to the right

Taking the "be the content rather than the ad unit" one step further, YouTube has done custom ads for Nintendo, where the entire Youtube website interface reflected the game.

Tipp-Ex also had a popular viral YouTube ad.

Google's Nikesh Arora gave a speech where he mentioned that WillItBlend blends in product placements for $5,000.

3. Watering Down of Network Quality

Some of the ad networks backfill with scam "inventory" (like Yahoo! Search or Looksmart were famous for doing with "search" ads).

That mixing in of slop traffic only further drives down network pricing, but that only becomes such a big issue because of the other above changes. Part of why the fraudulent "inventory" on ad "networks" is appealing is that there is likely a far higher markup by the ad agency than there is when buying premium ad inventory.

"We just got u 34 trillion ad impressions...and these are 1/5th the cost of the other ones" sounds efficient & appealing. They can mystery meat up the margin a lot higher on the junk than they can on the premium & they can mix in enough ad retargeting into the aggregate buy so you don't know where the performance came from, but it looks ok in aggregate (so long as you don't look any deeper).

This is no different than email co-registration & incentivized leads being mixed in with quality SEO & PPC driven leads. Backfill with junk to increase volume, but mix in enough of the good stuff to keep the aggregate performance high enough to still make it worth doing, all the while arbitraging the value of existing brand strength & the additional yield from retargeting.

4. Search Engines as Stealth Web Portals

Want local? Use Google Places. Want video? Watch Google's YouTube. Looking to buy something? See the item listings in the search results. Need a stock quote? Its right in the search results.

A lot of the general purpose generic traffic that helped subsidize the large portals is now being ate by search engines like Google & Bing that are putting more data directly into the search results. This trend is even more significant than it appears on the surface when you consider investments in 3rd party companies that are arbitraging the search results (like Whaleshark Media), the inclusion of custom ad formats & lead generation funnels in the search results, and tests of vertical refinements currently being built out (in travel, deals, games and social networks like Google+).

5. The Next Big Issue? Author Identity & Retaining Talent

Services like Klout aim to create a currency out of a person's influence, which helps advertisers figure out who they should pitch.

Google's weighting on domain authority to some degree locks authors into their current jobs by making it hard for a new site to build up the initial momentum needed to become profitable. Google has implemented rel=author as a way to experiment with creating an author ranking system. If they are successful with it (and share author ratings publicly) that will give the most successful individual authors more leverage over the networks they write for, which in turn would only further weaken the big broad portals by making it easier for authors to jump ship and do their own thing.

As online advertising technology continues to advance, on the next leg down a lot of the of the big media companies will see talent flea. They saw what was coming, but couldn't change.

"They [AOL] absolutely have some core assets, but I think you would have a hard time finding someone who would describe them as a 'must buy,'" says Craig Atkinson, chief digital officer at PHD, the media-buying unit owned by Omnicom Group Inc. - source

eCommerce SEO? Google AdWords or No Soup for You

Aug 12th

Affiliates Are a Dying Breed

Being an ecommerce affiliate keeps getting harder & harder unless you have a strong brand and/or are selling things with a complex sales cycle.

Portable air conditioners is a pretty niche category, but when I look at it I simply don't see any opportunity on the SEO front unless you take on the significant risk of carrying inventory & drop hundreds of thousands to millions of Dollars on branding.

The Corporate, The Bad & The Ugly

Head keyword: note the brand navigation, the extended AdWords ads & the product search results that drive the traditional search results below the fold

Tail keywords are every bit as ugly, with Google product ads sometimes coming in inline, further driving down the organic search results.

And it is nastier when Google Instant is still extended. 10% of browsers can see a single organic search result!

Corporate, Corporate, Corporate

As ugly as that looks, not only do the larger merchants have an advantage in AdWords (getting their product ads on a CPA basis while smaller merchants have to pay on a CPC basis), Google product search (more reviews), inline search navigation options (featuring the same brands yet again), but most of the organic results (that are generally below the fold) are also the same big brands after the Panda update gave them a boost while torching their smaller competitors.

The Chicken vs Egg Problem of Scale

For online pure-plays (outside of Amazon.com, eBay & a few others) the "no opportunity anywhere" problem in search also harms the ability to be competitive on pricing because without the ability to rank you don't have the leverage over the supply chain the way that the big box stores do from winning everywhere in the SERP & having offline distribution. There is little opportunity to organically grow to scale over time unless you enter the market with some point of leverage (like going so far as creating the product right on through to marketing it to consumers), sell something totally different than what is already available in the market (and hope it doesn't get cloned), buy out an existing company that went bankrupt, and/or build significant non-search distribution channels first.

I suppose the last option on that front would be to promote your stuff on a large platform that is already doing well in Google (say eBay, Amazon, or Facebook), but doing that gives you limited control over the customer experience & forces you to keep chasing new one-off sales rather than building & deepening relationships with customers.

Killing Off Diversity

As Google collects more usage date (mobile is already 12% of search) these big box stores will have an even bigger moat between them & smaller competitors.

The "big box stores only" search results also create an experience that is bland & uniform. At first glance things may look different, but it is the same type of sites again and again: a lot of the brands cross hire, have similar "politically correct" cultures & have roughly similar customer experience sets. When you buy from Walmart you are not going to get that caring email from a founder offering hands on tips & advice. Scale requires homoginization, which generally kills of personality & differentiation.

Killing Off Innovation

The problem with the "be huge or die" approach to search is that most legitimate economic innovation comes from smaller players that challenge the existing power structure. Set the barrier to entry too high and you might have less spam to fight, but you certainly will have less economic innovation & more of the would-be innovators will be stuck working dead end job at dysfunctional corporations.

Now You See it, Now You Don't

Most people can't see what they are missing out on so they won't know, but (as Tim Wu put it so eloquently in The Master Switch) the same was true for AT&T when it held back innovations like the answering machine & what ultimately came to be the WWW. What sort of price do you put on email taking a decade longer to launch? How many other disruptive changes built off of incremental improvements will never appear because they simply weren't large & corporate enough to compete on Google's web?

The web was great because it offered something different. Unfortunately you have to search using something other than Google to find it.

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Aug 10th
posted in

"When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it." - Frederic Bastiat

Business Ethics vs Sustainability

The concept of business ethics is usually a self-serving approach to marketing.

Some people would rather make money dishonestly than honestly, getting satisfaction out of screwing people over (hi Andy), but gray is a broad spectrum. To focus on "ethics" is to allow relative justifications & miss the broader issues.

Likewise, additional layers of complexity promoting more rules & incentives over wisdom ultimately destroys the skills and will to develop legitimate leadership.

Rather than adding additional layers of complexity, what we should ask is:

"Is what we are doing sustainable, or is it not?"

That which can not be sustained won't.

Eradicating Poverty Opportunity

As the world has grown richer poverty should eventually disappear, however it isn't. The public claims from the US of supporting & spreading democracy are inconsistent with blocking the ability of a Hatian to earn a livable wage. "The Obama administration pressured Haiti not to raise its minimum wage to 61 cents an hour."

How is THAT for left-leaning altruistic behavior?

While funding a large imperial army that blows trillions of Dollars on fraudulent wars (and jails those who tell the truth) the government also helps bankers grift a large % of GDP through outright malicious fraud (which is never prosecuted). To embed that much corruption into the core of a political system you can only really have "democracy" over here so long as you fund exploitation elsewhere.

However, even that system of imperialism seems to be falling apart as Dollar depreciation not only caused the overthrow of many middle east governments, but inequality is also sharply rising in the US. The "recovery" happened for the investor class as we collectively as a society throw more people under the bus daily:

The structural problems is that way to much of our productivity (and all our increased productivity in the past 3 decades) is going to the investor class. Any solution to our structural problems must, therefore, contain an element of redistributing wealth from rich to poor and middle class people.

Wearing Political Blinders?

One thing I like about SEO is it forces you to view systems & attempt to understand ecosystems. If you don't learn many valuable lessons about society the online market is so competitive that it can & will wipe you out.

Some market purists might cringe at the word "redistribution" but ultimately covering the losses of the banking class was exactly that. Except it worked counter to the free-market ideology those same bankers preach to everyone else.

I have been called right leaning & I have been called left leaning. But I see both "labels" as missing the broader point of what happens in reality. When a right wing president was in charge the bankers were allowed to commit endless crime without punishment. Based on disgust toward that fraud a left wing president was elected on the promise of hope & change. He then proceeded to screw the general public while fellatiating the banking class. He is a sell out.

Money > Human Life

One thing I question the legitimacy of is why capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than normal wages. Is a person's blood, sweat & tears worth less than compounding interest on money? There is some theory that the capital markets are more efficient if they are taxed lower & that makes the rest of society more efficient, but that theory fell flat on its face when the US government shoveled trillions of Dollars into the banks & none of the bankers went to jail (even though some of them have stated before congress that they knew 80% of their "product" was defective).

Go Long Fraud, The Government Is!

AIG was nearly bankrupted from insuring mortgage-backed securities that were misrepresented (which was, of course, yet again, fraud & thus illegal). AIG, facing bankruptcy, was not allowed access to a taxpayer-funded bailout unless it waived its rights to sue the banking criminals which destroyed their company. What dirtbag in government decided that AIG (and taxpayers) should have their rights waved so that they can funnel money into criminal banking enterprises? Does it matter that many government "regulators" were former employees of AIG's counterparties?

If a certain class of individual is inherently destabilizing, then why (other than fraud) do we keep "doubling down" on hoping that group of people will eventually change their approach (even as we shield them from the negative consequences of their own actions by making everyone else foot the bill)?

We block them off from the market feedback mechanisms we pride ourselves on pushing on everyone else. Yet if their failure causes anyone else to fail we claim that it was a combination of "free market forces" and an individuals lack of performance that is to blame for their own plight.

Sure some industries get disrupted, but when one industry goes down another rises up. Not with the banking fraud though, it is just an across-the-board kick in the nuts to almost every non-banker at the exact same time. Since our monetary system is a debt-based system, one person's savings is backed by another person's debt, thus most people are *required* to live pretty close to paycheck to paycheck. Yet it is considered totally reasonable for the Federal Reserve to destroy their store of wealth AND their ability to earn at the exact same time:

Deflation and outsourced jobs is creating a loss of purchasing power at the bottom and middle income strata. Housing wealth destruction and job stability are exacerbating this.

MEANWHILE in monetary land….inflation is being injected into the system by the Fed who lend money to rich people who then buy commodities, driving up prices, who buy bonds which lower savings rates and borrowing costs, and stocks which drives down dividend yields and increases cap gains.

That hand is *anything* but invisible. Adam Smith wouldn't call that a "free" market & anyone who does is one or more of the following

  • ignorant
  • a liar

Since those who lost trillions of Dollars through intentional malicious fraud can't accept the "free market" forces that they suggest everyone else should be subject to, the only solution is "more debt, please."

The same banking criminals who caused the mess are paid interest to loan the government its own money, so that the banks may "earn" their way out of the bankruptcies they earned through their fraudulent activities.

2 Groups of Citizens, 2 Books of Law

Some bankers were caught bid-rigging to rip off the government. Those who they committed bribery with are now in jail. The bankers once again have nobody in jail, even though they were engaged in the exact same crimes!

Those same bankers got a slap on the wrist for laundering hundreds of billions of Dollars in drug money & then commit perjury before the courts by manufacturing robosigned documents to replace the ones they had to destroy to hide their mortgage fraud.

If we are intellectually honest, how is it that a person can go to jail for using a fairly soft drug like weed when the people who push hundreds of billions of Dollars of drug money (tied to much harder drugs & global violence) go unpunished?

But the drug money isn't enough.

Now they are trying to figure out how to steal social security funds that already withdrawn from you check into the abyss. The nationwide decline and austerity are already so obvious that the Oakland police publicly issued criminals a laundry list of crimes that they won't even bother responding to:

  • burglary
  • theft
  • embezzlement
  • grand theft
  • identity theft
  • required to register as sex or arson offender
  • dump waste or offensive matter
  • pass fictitious check
  • stolen license plate
  • extortion
  • vandalism
  • etc etc etc

If Markets Are Efficient...

There is no commodity in the world that is as commoditized as money is. Most of it doesn't even require actual printing, but is just digits on a computer screen...much like the digits I am typing right now. And yet the banking criminals have captured so much of governance that it is not uncommon to see them take 30% of corporate profits (and then shift the subsequent mirroring losses onto the public at large).

To claim that those huge profit margins (during fraud-driven bubbles) are reasonable AND that they deserved to be bailed out whenever they get things wrong is intellectually dishonest. If the taxpayer is capturing 100% of the downside risk, then why (other than fraud) are these banking criminals paid a single cent more than a person enlisted in the military?

Global Instability

Internationally we are at least as screwed up as we are domestically. Does outsourcing make the world more efficient? In many cases absolutely. But the global imbalances create unsustainable current account issues.

Can look to technology to solve the problems?

Maybe not!

Even The White Horses Have Bloody Hooves

Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the world. At the other end of that supply chain is a factory where harsh chemicals give employees nerve damage & people keep committing suicide. And as soon as those people get any aspirations at all, suddenly even the 3rd world slave wage labor is too expensive & over the next few years a million people working for Foxconn will lose their jobs to robots.

If even slave wage labor isn't competitive with robots then what does that mean for labor in countries with a higher standard of living, where the labor is far more expensive?

Eric Schmidt famously stated that laws are written by lobbyists & then Google quickly hired a dozen lobbying firms while significantly increasing their political donations. The lobbyist comment was a sneer at the system, until Google followed suit and started buying the political process. They make the same claims toward patents, yet they are investing billions of Dollars there as well.

Where Legitimate Innovation Comes From

Historically most valuable economic innovation (the legitimate kind, not the fraudulent financial engineering of the past decade) comes from individuals & smaller groups who challenge existing industries & powerful companies with creative destruction by making markets more efficient. The AT&T monopoly did a lot of great research, but anything that they thought could cannibalize their current business model did not see the light of day - sometimes for decades.

If we are moving into an ideas & technology driven economy (and that is where most of our growth will come from) then diversity should be cherished & encouraged. Unfortunately, the software patent wars lead to smaller developers being driven out of the ecosystem & innovation is slowed while the 800 pound gorillas & patent trolls engage in an arms race.

These sorts of "legislate away the future" that aim to keep existing powers at the top of the food chain are literally everywhere - from the food supply right on through to a proposed law that would harm the ability for whistleblowers to even highlight the pervasive epidemic corruption.

And Now On the Auction Block...

"US congressional parties now post prices for key slots in the lawmaking process."

The system of fraud is so unsustainable that the US got a credit downgrade. The criminal mortgage probes are fizzling out, but Fannie Mae needs more money! Those responsible for the downgrade (who committed fraud & then sold their junk to the government at above market values) are warning the US about the risk of it losing its worldwide reserve currency status. To make the bankers whole, everyone else must lose, at least up until that no longer works.

Exponential Growth in a Finite World?

We have a debt-based monetary system which requires exponential growth to prevent collapse, an oligarchy-based political system that punishes innovation & success while rewarding failure, and it exists in a finite world where we are reaching the peak production in key base-level economic inputs: like energy.

The same criminal banking organizations that forced you to eat their debts are now hoarding the physical commodities you need to live. And yet, our worldwide finance-first economy (where we put derivatives & abstractions before reality) is so dysfunctional that even the banks are engaging in massive layoffs.

The parasite ate the host & now the host has nothing left to give.

Manipulation vs Fixing The Problems

It is thus without surprise then that the government invests in manipulating the perception of reality (rather than fixing actual problems) and society has an issue with mass psychosis.

That which can not be sustained won't.

Dylan Ratigan's Mad as Hell on msnbc

Google Rips Rip Off Report From The Search Results

We live in a culture where it is far more profitable to solve symptoms than it is to solve problems. As such, the disappearance of ripoffreport.com from Google's index probably has retainer-based reputation management firms like reputation.com singing the blues.

Ed Magedson, the owner of Rip Off Report, has been charged with RICO in the past and managed to come through unscathed, but he has never tackled an opponent as media savvy or powerful as Google.

He is pretty savvy with the legal system & the media, so it will be fun to watch how he responds to this one, as his business model relies relied on top Google rankings:

Attorney: So what I've gathered from all of your testimony, Dickson, is that Ed Magedson has indirectly told you that he is responsible for making posts about companies. He will make these posts.

Mr. Woodard: Yes.

Attorney: And then he will manipulate the search engines; is that true?

Mr. Woodard: No question about the search engines. That's where the money is made.

A new take on Will it Blend: can a vampire suck blood from another vampire?

Vampires have often found it advantageous to maintain a hidden presence in humanity’s most powerful institutions. In the 1600s, it was the Catholic church, and today, as you all know, it’s Google, Fox News.

Update: adding intrigue to the situation, it looks like the site was removed due to a request inside Google Webmaster Tools, but the folks from ROR claimed they didn't make the removal request: "Ripoff Report did not intentionally request Google to delist the website, and we are still investigating what occured."

Update 2: Looks like they are back ranking in Google again. Perhaps someone found yet another loophole with Google's URL removal feature.

An Interview of Branko Rihtman (AKA: SEO Scientist)

Jul 28th

We recently interviewed Branko Rihtman. He started working in the industry in 2001, doing SEO for clients and properties in a variety of competitive niches. Over that time, he realized the importance of properly done research and experimentation and started publishing findings and experiments at http://www.seo-scientist.com.

How did you get into the SEO space?

Completely by accident. When I was done with my compulsory army service, I knew I would rather work in an internet based company than, say, dig ditches. So I went into a local internet portal and searched for “internet companies in Jerusalem”. One of the replies was from an SEO company. They offered me a job with flexible hours and a possibility of working from home. Since I was about to start university, working from home looked particularly interesting. I ended up spending 8 years in that company.

When did you know you were going to "make it" in SEO?

Ummm never? I don’t think any of us ever “makes it” in SEO. Yes some people are more popular than the others and some get invited to speak at more conferences than the others but that is most certainly not a measurement of “making it”. SEOBook forum is full of people that are more succesfull and savy than the majority of SEOs out there, yet very few of them are well known in the general marketing circles. One of the things I like about SEO is that it is constantly “making” you and “breaking” you. If it wasn’t like that, we wouldn’t be constantly learning and adapting.

What is the most exciting thing that has happened to you while in the SEO field? Do you still get a rush of excitement when a new project takes off?

Getting a site into a top 5 for [mesothelioma] on Google. Kidding. One of the more appealing qualities of the SEO field is the puzzle cracking. You are constantly presented with puzzles – why did Google penalize this site, why is this site ranking above me, what are the parameters considered in the new update… For me, cracking those puzzles is the most exciting part of my work. I really have to remind myself sometimes that I should be thinking about potential profitability of these conundrums because to me a puzzle is there to be solved and that is all that matters. Once I crack it, I kinda lose interest in it so I have to make sure that 1) solving the current SEO puzzle is worth my time in terms of profitability and 2) I can get action items from possible solutions. I think the best example of these puzzles is Google overoptimization filter. I kinda developed a knack of getting sites out of it (which landed me my current job as well). Another exciting thing would be implementing extensive structural changes to large sites and seeing the positive effect in SERPs. As for new projects, I have seen so many of them die off miserably that I find it hard to get excited at the beginning. First jolts of traffic and first rankings get me excited and then I turn the engines on.

How would you compare biology to SEO?

Oh dear, this could be a whole blog post. There are several aspects that are very similar. Mainly, and this is especially true in molecular biology, we are making changes on a system that is a black box. We have a whole bunch of (presumed) parameters to tinker with and very limited list of observable outputs. So we make deductions which can, but don’t have to, be true. So if I am changing a certain ingredient in my bacterial culture and observe a change in growth rate, I cannot be sure what exactly the base cause of the increase was. Maybe the element I have added is actually poison and my bacteria are trying to multiply on reserves of food, hoping that one mutant will be able to overcome the adverse effects of the element I have added. Similarly, when we add a link pointing to a website, we don’t know whether it was that link that caused an increase in ranking or someone in Bangladesh created a valuable link that is pointing to one of the pages that is linking to our new linking page and we enjoyed some of that juice.

Another important similarity (and then I will shut up about it) is the arms race between the search engines and SEOs and SEOs among themselves. Evolutionary theory and ecological sciences are full of very important lessons that can be applied to the world of SEO. I have written on my blog in the past how some evolutionary theories can be applied to understand and foresee the relationship between Google and link buying. Another metaphor from the evolutionary theory I like to use is the Red Queen Principle – in evolution, competing organisms have to invest all their efforts in improving and adapting so they can remain at the same competitive point relatively to their enemies. Like with the Red Queen from Alice in Wonderland, they have to run their fastest to remain in the same place. The same can be said about websites competing in lucrative niches – it is not enough to get to the first spot. Your competitors are constantly aiming for that place too and you have to put in maximal efforts (linking, site speed, trimming indexing fat, QDF hunting etc.) to remain in the same place.

You are a big proponent of applying the scientific method to SEO. What parts of tests are easy to do? What parts are hard?

SEO tests can be easy from the beginning till the end if done right. The hard part is asking the question in a “testable” way. You have to keep in mind the limits of your testing system and constantly be aware about what you can measure and what you can’t. You have to make sure you have taken into the account all the possible outcomes of your test and what each of those outcomes is telling you. Otherwise you can find yourself spending valuable time, just to end up with a highly ambivalent result that is not teaching you anything about the issue you are researching. Deciding what controlling factors you are going to implement and doing it in a way that doesn’t interfere with your test can also be challenging.

What do public SEO "studies" often get wrong?

Mostly, people get the order of steps that make up the test wrong. They usually start with a pre-made conclusion and then build the test (and, I suspect, not rarely the results themselves) around it. They want to show that, for example, text surrounding the link will pass the relevancy to the target page, so they go out to prove that. That is the exact opposite of the scientific process. Now many people say that trying to approach SEO questions with a scientific process is an overkill, but science is more a state of mind then a set of tools. It exists so that minimal bias enters your decision and conclusion process, therefore people should not approach it as something that involves a lab coat and chemicals, but rather change their mindset from “what do I want the results to be” to “what the reality is”.

What percent of well-known fundamental "truths" in SEO would you describe as being wrong?

I would say that 100% of absolute, definitive statements about SEO are false. Recently, Joe Hall has written about becoming a “postmodern SEO” when realizing that every conventional truth in SEO can be 100% right and 100% wrong, depending on the context. I very much identify with this sentiment. It very much rubs me the wrong way when people in the industry come out against a certain SEO technique (and it rubs me even more when I know they were the biggest abusers of it until yesterday) or when they make a strategy X an “absolute prerogative and whoever doesn’t do X should be fired by their clients and sued for dishonest practices”. Keyword tags can be useful in some cases, rank reporting can be useful in some cases, forum signature spamming can be useful in some cases and increasing keyword density can be useful in some cases. It all depends on the context.

In the forums sometimes when I read your contributions & think "classic whitehat consultant view" and then on other entries I think "aggressive affiliate in gaming." What allowed you to develop such a diverse range?

I am very flattered that people think this when they read my ramblings or talk to me about SEO. What allowed me to develop a diverse range of experiences in SEO is not being judgemental towards SEO techniques. Continuing from the previous question, understanding that they are all tools that should be put in the right context and used responsibly, enabled me to try and see all the advantages and disadvantages of all SEO techniques and apply them accordingly. Had I taken “holier than thou” approach towards any end of the SEO spectrum, I would have been a worse SEO. I also consider myself lucky to have had an opportunity to work in a wide range of niches - from legal, ecommerce, travel and financial, all the way to porn, pharmaceutical and gaming with a lot of niches and business sizes in between those extremes. Once you look at link profiles of sites that have been ranking for years in some of those extreme industries, you understand how preposterous divisions to hats of different colours really are.

As a second part to that question, how do you decide what techniques are good for some of your own websites & which are good for client websites?

Again, it is all in the context. I make a big differentiation between our sites and clients’ sites in a way that whenever I want to use a riskier SEO technique on a client site, I make sure to educate the client to all the risks and benefits of going down that road. I make sure the client understands the possible repercussions and I try to offer a cleaner alternative. There are clients that are not interested at all in organic promotion and there are clients that enter the project knowing that the site we work on can be burnt in a matter of minutes. When it comes to our sites, it depends on the profitability of the site, obviously. Then there are sites I test stuff on that I wouldn’t click on without wearing my lab gloves.

Do you believe Google is intentionally tilting the search game toward brands, or do you think there are many other signals they are looking for that brands just happen to frequently score high on?

I don’t think we need to speculate about that much – they have openly said in the past that the brands are the solution to the cesspool of the internet. They are rewarding brands with SERP enhancements. They are creating algorithmic changes in which brands are apparently being treated less harshly than run-of-the-mill sites. On the other hand they are making sure to stress in their PR announcements that brands are not treated differently than anyone else. As I don’t believe they openly lie about these things, it seems to me they are just doing doublespeak and being intentionally obscure about it. I can say that I don’t discriminate against tall people on busses and I will be factually correct since no one goes over the bus line and takes out people over 180 cm tall and sends them back home. However, by making the legspace very uncomfortable for these people, I may as well kick them out of line and save everyone the trouble. So while there is probably no checkbox next to certain websites marking them as brands, the ranking algorithms can theoretically be tweaked so that the brands surface to the top of a lot of the money queries and I think that is what we are seeing here. Possible signals for this can be percentage of links with URL for anchor, certain number of searches for the brand name and others. By the way, reliance on these signals can be used to explain the relative advantage that exact match domains have for their keyword.

Both the relevancy algorithms & webmasters are in some ways reactive. I believe that frequently causes the relevancy algorithms to ebb and flow toward & away from different types of sites. Do you generally have 1 sorta go-to-market plan at any given time, or do you suggest creating multiple SEO driven strategies in parallel?

It all depends on the client responsiveness levels. If I see that the client is willing and allows us to become part of their marketing team, then we both aim for harnessing every marketing activity for SEO benefits, while also trying to diversify and reduce the dependency on any single traffic source. In cases when, for a whole lot of different reasons, we cannot establish a network of sites that will use different strategies, we try to work with a whole lot of subdomains, trusting how Google treated subdomains historically. I have to admit that in the majority of cases, the responsiveness of the deciding ranks (or the lack of thereof), together with a constantly growing list of more basic, day-to-day tasks, prevents us from making these strategic marketing decisions for the client – it is hard to talk about holistic approach to marketing when their homepage doesn’t appear on first 3 pages of the site: query or when their IT department decides to 302 every product page to homepage while they are moving servers for 3 months.

When major algorithm changes happen they destroy certain business models & eventually create other ones. How many steps ahead / how far ahead do you feel you generally are from where the algorithm is at any given time?

We are all over the board with this. Luckily (or unluckily) none of our clients were affected by Panda. I say “unluckily” because the scientist in me would want nothing more than to test different theories about Panda on an affected site. The marketer in me is stabbing the scientist in the back with a long sword for having such blasphemous thoughts. I would say that we usually “hang around” where the algorithm is at any given moment and if we stay behind, we manage to close the gap in a reasonable period of time. At least that has been the case so far. In some other cases, we have benefited from sites getting hit by algorithmic changes. This only means we are lucky, because I don’t think there is any single strategy that is 100% working all of the time in every level of niche competitiveness. Had such strategy existed, someone would have cracked it (Dave Naylor most probably), used it to their own benefit and Google would have changed the rules again, rendering the “perfect strategy” less than perfect.

How far behind that point would you put a.) the general broader SEO industry b.) SEO advice in the mainstream media?

One of the major revelations I discovered in SEOBook forum is that the public SEO community is really just a small tip of the iceberg that is this industry. There are so many skilled people working on their own sites, being affiliates or working in-house professionals that do not participate in the SEO Agora that any attempt to characterize “the general broader SEO industry” would be wrong. There is no way of judging where the industry is, other than by what they write about and talk about in social media and I don’t think that is a fair judgement. This is the industry of marketers and people do not write to dispense knowledge most of the time. Vast majority of the content put out there is created with the purpose of self-promotion and/or following some invented rule that “you must write X posts per week to keep your audience engaged”. It is very similar to the whole “Top X” lists format in which it is obvious that a significant percentage of items on the numbered list were forced in there so that the number X would be round or fit some theory of “most read top X articles”. While I do believe that someone will find value in anything, when looking across the board, there is very little you can tell about the actual knowledge of the people in this industry from what they write. I hope. I will tell you that I do see a general difference between the European and the US SEO crowd – I have seen (percentagewise) a seemingly larger amount of UK, Dutch and German SEOs that are more daring and questioning in their writing than the US SEOs. Don’t ask me why this is so, that is beyond my scope of expertise (or interest).

As for the mainstream media, living in the Middle East, I have learned to automatically distrust the mainstream media on issues much more important than SEO, therefore I usually treat mainstream SEO articles as a comic relief. Or a tragic one.

Many times when the media covers SEO they do it from the "lone ranger black hat lawbreaker" angle to drum up pageviews. Do you ever see that ending?

Nope. Nor do I ever see people in our industry not taking the bait and responding to that kind of coverage, thus contributing significantly to the mentioned drumming up of traffic. Even if the advertising industry moves away from impression-based pricing, more attention will always mean more links and that is just a different kind of opiate.

From a scientific standpoint, do you ever feel that pushing average to below-average quality sites is bad because it is information pollution (not saying that you particularly do it or do it often...but just in general), or do you view Google as being somewhat adversarial in their approach to search & thus deserving of anything they get from publishers?

I consider as below average anything Google would not allow Adsense on. Maybe someone really doesn’t know how to drink water from a glass and for that person eHow article is the best fit. On a serious note, just like with hats, I try not to be judgmental when it comes to content. If lower quality content that does not rank anywhere is used to push high quality content in very popular SERPs, I think it all levels out at the end. The bigger problem for me is rehashed, bland content, which you can see that was written according to a mold: Start with a question, present some existing views on the issue and end with asking your readers the initial question so you encourage comments. Or numbered list articles. Or using totally unrelated current events AND numbered lists in combination with a tech topic. I have just seen an article titled “5 things Amy Winehouse’s death teaches us about small business”. Spamming forums is Pulitzer worthy material compared to this garbage. Yet Google constantly ranks this crap and rewards it with a cut from their advertising revenue. And what is even worse, the crap ranks for head terms (ok maybe a bit less after Panda) while forum or comment spam does not appear in my SERPs. So who is polluting the web again?

I don’t think a scientific approach is relevant here. One thing that exists in the world of science and doesn’t in SEO is peer review. So if something gets published in a scientific journal, it was reviewed critically by the experts in that field and was deemed worthy in every possible aspect by some rigorous standards. Had this kind of system existed in the world of SEO, we wouldn’t have a below-average-quality content problem.

Can Bing or anyone else (outside of say Naver, Yandex & Baidu) challenge Google & win a significant slice of the search marketshare?

Only if Google does it for them and drops the ball completely. I don’t believe in homicide in the world of hi-tech companies (Facebook killer, Google killer, iPad killer) but I definitely believe in suicide (Myspace). The ball is constantly in Google’s court since they are the biggest kid on the playground and they have managed it fine so far. It is ironic how they have to deal with bad press on so many issues, almost making MS the underdog and a company people turn to when they want to boycott Google. Right now Google is the innovator and a trend setter in many fields beside the search (Documents, Analytics, G+, Adwords) so having all those eyeballs and improving integration of all those products into search and vice versa will make them an impossible act to follow in any foreseeable future. Which is something that was said about ancient Rome too.

A lot of SEOs are driven by gut feeling. With your focus on the scientific method, how much do you have to test something before you are confident in it? How often does your strategy revolve around gut feeling?

There are things that I know that work without everyday testing. Keywords in anchor will pass relevancy in the majority of cases and I don’t need to test that every time that I place a link somewhere. I am also aware of the exceptions to that rule (second link doesn’t count, for example) so when I see unusual or unexpected response from search engine, it gets my attention and I start testing. I also like to test extraordinary claims by people in the SEO industry, because they usually go against common knowledge and that is always informative. I will usually not let the testing process stand in the way of work. If there are several possible outcomes to the test that takes a long time to perform, I try to run with the project for as long as I can without making the decision, leaving all future direction possibilities open.

Gut feeling is something I usually use to assess trustworthiness of the people I listen to. I rely a lot (maybe more than I should) on other people’s knowledge. As I mentioned, I haven’t had the chance to test how pandalized site responds to different changes so I had to trust other people’s reports. Gut feeling is very helpful here to save time reading mile-long posts of people that I suspect do not even practice SEO on daily basis.

If a friend of yours said they wanted to get into SEO, what would you tell them to do in order to get up to speed?

To read the free guides from Google and SEOMoz. To pick a niche and create a site from scratch. To learn how to code, how to delegate, how to measure and how to hire and fire people. To read at least one SEO article every day. To read no more than one SEO article every day. To invest their first profits into SEOBook Training Section and to submit their site for review in the forum. The value they get from the advice there is going to be the best investment they made at the early stage. After their site is making money, to repeat that process in a different niche with a different strategy. Diversification is the best insurance policy in the ever changing algorithm world

If you had to start from scratch today with no money but your knowledge would you still be able to compete in 2011?

Yeah. Competing is about picking the battles you can win with what you have at the moment. There are still niches that can be monetized with relatively low effort (especially in non-english markets) and I think I would be able to monetize the knowledge I have and leverage it to create revenue in a reasonable amount of time. Luckily, I don’t have to test that claim.

If you had $50,000 to start, but lacked your current knowledge, what do you think your chances of success in SEO are?

Very low. Part of the knowledge is knowing what to spend the money on. Without prior knowledge, I would probably think that I can take on this SEO thing all by myself and $50K would be gone before I realized my mistakes. I would probably fall into the trap of buying links from some link network or torching my new site with 200,000 forum signature links all created in 2 hours

And, saving a tough one for last, in what areas of SEO (if any) do you feel science falls flat on its face?

First, I would like to reiterate: science is not a tool, it is a way of thinking and approaching problems. So under those definitions, I don’t think that science can fall flat on the face at all. I do see a problem with the abuse of the word “science” for marketing goals and a lot of those “approaches” fail because they lack the scientific way of thinking. Mostly they lack self-criticism and are so blinded by tagging their work as “science” that they will not adopt some of the humility and self doubt that is present in the majority of scientific work. The lust for hitting that Publish button, especially if there is potential financial benefit in publishing a certain kind of results, is the most unscientific drive in our industry.

There are some areas of SEO that scientific thinking should take a back seat to other approaches. One that instantly springs to mind is link building. To me, link building is the true art of marketing – recognizing what drives the potential linkers, leading them to linking to you while all along they are thinking that they came up with that decision themselves. There are some measurements involved and any testing should be planned and executed with a scientific rigour, but the creative part of it is something where science is of little use.


Thanks Branko! You can find him rambling at @neyne on Twitter or the SEOBook Forum & publishing findings and experiments at http://www.seo-scientist.com.

Currently, he is responsible for SEO R&D at Whiteweb, agency that provides SEO services to a small number of large clients in highly profitable niches. His responsibilities at Whiteweb are to gather, organize and expand the company's knowhow through research, experimentation and cooperation with other SEO professionals. In addition to being an SEO, he is currently writing his MSc thesis in environmental microbiology at HebrewU in Jerusalem.

Longer Google AdWords Ad Copy

I was just checking out the ongoing strategic meltdown in the value of the Dollar & noticed an AdWords ad with an extended headline & a 150 character ad description.

Currently I believe the above extended description is a limited beta test, but if Google starts mixing that in with Google Advisor ads & ad sitelinks there might not be a single organic result above the fold on commercial keywords.

The above image is even uglier when Google Instant is extended.

Using the 150 word ad descriptions would drive everything down one more row per ad. Adding another line to each of the AdWords ads would push the "organic" search results down another listing.

Of course one response is to operate in the tail of search, but just look at DMD to see how well that worked for them.

They are so desperate that they sent legal threats at a site flaming them. Humorously, that site also runs AdSense ads.

And that desperation is *before* Google has finalized a legal agreement on the book front & started aggressively pushing those ebooks in their search results with full force. In 12 months ebooks will be the new Youtube...a service that magically keeps growing over 10% a month "organically" in Google's search results.

Your content isn't good enough to compete, unless you post it to Youtube.

In addition to uploading spammy videos in bulk to Youtube, maybe SEOs should create a collective to invest in "an oversized monitor" in every home and on every desk. :D

Alternatively, switching the default search provider on every computer you touch to Bing doesn't seem like a bad idea.

Google Brand Bias Reinvigorates Parastic Hosting Strategy

Jul 26th

Yet another problem with Google's brand first approach to search: parasitic hosting.

The .co.cc subdomain was removed from the Google index due to excessive malware and spam. Since .co.cc wasn't a brand the spam on the domain was too much. But as Google keeps dialing up the "brand" piece of the algorithm there is a lot of stuff on sites like Facebook or even my.Opera that is really flat out junk.

And it is dominating the search results category after category. Spun text remixed together with pages uploaded by the thousand (or million, depending on your scale). Throw a couple links at the pages and watch the rankings take off!

Here is where it gets tricky for Google though...Youtube is auto-generating garbage pages & getting that junk indexed in Google.

While under regulatory review for abuse of power, how exactly does Google go after Facebook for pumping Google's index with spam when Google is pumping Google's index with spam? With a lot of the spam on Facebook at least Facebook could claim they didn't know about it, whereas Google can't claim innocence on the Youtube stuff. They are intentionally poisoning the well.

There is no economic incentive for Facebook to demote the spammers as they are boosting user account stats, visits, pageviews, repeat visits, ad views, inbound link authority, brand awareness & exposure, etc. Basically anything that can juice momentum and share value is reflected in the spam. And since spammers tend to target lucrative keywords, this is a great way for Facebook to arbitrage Google's high-value search traffic at no expense. And since it pollutes Google's search results, it is no different than Google's Panda-hit sites that still rank well in Bing. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. ;)

Even if Facebook wanted to stop the spam, it isn't particularly easy to block all of it. eBay has numerous layers of data they collect about users in their marketplace, they charge for listings, & yet stuff like this sometimes slides through.

And then there are even warning listings that warn against the scams as an angle to sell information

But even some of that is suspect, as you can't really "fix" fake Flash memory to make the stick larger than it actually is. It doesn't matter what the bootleg packaging states...its what is on the inside that counts. ;)

When people can buy Facebook followers for next to nothing & generate tons of accounts on the fly there isn't much Facebook could do to stop them (even if they actually wanted to). Further, anything that makes the sign up process more cumbersome slows growth & risks a collapse in share prices. If the stock loses momentum then their ability to attract talent also drops.

Since some of these social services have turned to mass emailing their users to increase engagement, their URLs are being used to get around email spam filters

Stage 2 of this parasitic hosting problem is when the large platforms move away from turning a blind eye to the parasitic hosting & to engage in it directly themselves. In fact, some of them have already started.

According to Compete.com, Youtube referrals from Google were up over 18% in May & over 30% in July! And Facebook is beginning to follow suit.

Job Crusher Review - a New Type of Spam

Jul 21st

I was going through my inbox and noticed that someone sent my Paypal account 10 cents. I believe Paypal eats anything under a quarter, so the only reason for the payment is to try to ensure that there is a better chance of the unsolicited spam email is read.

If the payment served any purpose (other than to insult the person on the receiving end of it) they at least could have sent a few hundred or done something classier like donating money to a charity they know you like. But no, they wanted to go lowbrow with their spam.

That is where you can one day end up if you want to be a big baller like the job crusher folks...you can spam people with offensive 10 cent payments. Isn't sending someone a friggen dime sorta counter to the marketing message of allegedly being rich & wealthy? Any way you slice it, the act is, at best, classless.

If you see someone promoting Job Crusher 2 with glowing reviews endorsing it, be sure to look for affiliate links & affiliate redirects. If they are singing praises for it & using affiliate links then they might make up to $10 per click for marketing it to desperate internet marketing newbies who hate their jobs/lives so bad that they keep paying people for tips on how to get rich quick.

If you want to make serious money using the Job Crusher system the way to do so is to email newbies to internet marketing promoting it. The secret to most get rich quick systems is the buyer's ignorance. The newbies *are* the product/system.

Unfortunately, I don't hurt for money bad enough to stoop to promote it, so I just refunded their dime and asked them not to spam me again. ;)

If I sent them an invoice for the time it took to write this "no thanks spammer" blog post, do you think they would actually pay it?

The homepage copy on the Job Crusher site states

What If You Just Did 10% Of A Million Dollars?? That’s Still $100,000 Per Year!
We are sharing this because we are sick and tired of the scam-offers out there being offered and all the BS garbage pounding our community.

What if their classless hack spam marketing angle sent more than 10% of a single Dollar?

What if...

What if they just shot themselves and stopped spamming?

Well, since it is rude to say "just shoot yourself" all I can ask of the Job Crusher team is this: if you want to get rid of "all the garbage pounding" you can start by leaving my inbox alone.


The God Complex in SEO

Jul 19th

Authoritative, but Often Wrong

Trusting a powerful authority is easy. It allows us to have a quick shorthand for how things work without having to go through the pain, effort, & expense to figure things out. But it often leads to bogus solutions.

This video does a great job of explaining how nothing replaces experience in the SEO industry.

A combination of numerous parallel projects, years of trial and error experience & a deep study of analytics data is far superior to having the God complex & feeling 100% certain you are right.

Change is the only constant in SEO.

Grand Plans

Big plans often get subverted before they pan out & the more obvious something is the shorter its shelf life. By the time everyone notices a trend then jumping on it at that point probably isn't much of a competitive advantage. You might still be able to make some money for a limited time (or for a longer time if you apply it to new markets), but...

It is the contrarian investors who are taking (what is generally perceived to be) big risks who are allowed to ride a trend for years and years.

Options & Opportunities

When Panda happened a lot of theories were thrown out as to what happened & how to fix it. Anyone who only runs 1 website is working from a limited data set and a limited set of experience. They could of course decide to do everything, but there is an opportunity cost to doing anything.

Making things worse, if they have limited savings & no other revenue producing websites there are some risks they simply can't take. They can still sorta infer some stuff from looking at the search results, but those who have multiple sites where some were hit and others were not know intimately well the differences between the sites. They also have cashflow to fund additional trial and error campaigns & to double down on the pieces that are working to offset the losses.

Success Requires Failure

A lot of times people want to enter a market with a grand plan that they can follow without changing it once the map is made, but almost anyone who creates something that is successful is forced to change. Every year in the United States 10% of companies go under! And due to the increased level of competition online it likely separates winners from losers even faster than in the offline world. Those who stick to a grand plan are less able to keep up with innovation than those who have an allegiance to the data. Sometimes having a backup plan is far more important than having a grand plan.

Incremental Investing, Small & Large

Almost anything that I have done that has been successful has started ugly & improved over time. This site was an $8 domain & I couldn't even afford a $99 logo for it until I was a couple months into building it. Most of our other successes have been that way as well. If something works keep reinvesting until the margins drop. But when the margins do drop off, it is helpful to have another project you can invest in, such that you are not 1 and done.

The earliest Google research highlighted how ad-based search business models were bad & the now bankrupt Excite.com turned down buying Google for under $1 million. It turns out everyone was wrong there. One company adjusted & the other is bankrupt.

Overcoming the God Complex

We don't control Google. We can only influence variables that they have decided to count. As their business interests and business models change (along with the structure of the web) so must we.

The God complex always look a bit interesting from afar, no matter how reasonable it sounds to the true believer.


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