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Nov 29th

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Big Commerce SEO

Nov 17th

Over 5 years ago I had a quick chat with the folks from Interspire about their websites, including their shopping cart at the time & offered a few tips to fix some of the obvious issues I saw. This was over a half-decade ago & under a different product name & entirely informal.

Anyhow...as they later ramped up on marketing, they at some point claimed that I somehow "certified" their software, even as the version changed, their product name changed, their mode of sales changed (from primarily pushing a downloadable software product to an SAAS model), many SEO fundamentals changed over the years, and so on.

Becoming Sales Copy

In spite of all the above changes, I have not viewed/used/reviewed the product in any way in years. Yet I am still listed as having optimized it.

Not only am I a feature on the sales letter, but I am a highlighted one AND the link is nofollowed :D

After I mentioned the above to them & asked them to take my name down, I recommended them to another friend who is an SEO, but they did not work with him. I think they sort of brushed off the issue by suggesting that they endorse us & send a lot of customers our way, however one can easily see that our logo isn't on pages like this one bigcommerce.com/products-we-like.php & even if it were, that wouldn't make it correct to say I somehow certified their software.

Test Everything

Does that faux certification impact their sales? I guess so, since the "feature" is highlighted, they are great marketers who do conversion testing, and I get chat messages out of the blue like: "hello aaron. just wanted to ask if you really helped out with developing bigcommerce shopping cart?"

Just today I got "Aaron, Love your work and insights! BigCommerce touts your expertise in creating their SEO features, so I bring this question to you. Using domaintools.com all the IP addresses for any BigCommerce cart show Sydney as the location associated with the IP. Doesn't this create a search results handicap for Big Commerce users who are located outside AUS and market primarily in North America? Matt Cutts says IP location makes a difference - youtube.com/watch?v=keIzr3eWK8I What is the best solution for using BigCommerce for shops based in North America? Are carts like Volusion, which show Simi Valley CA USA IP locations better than Big Commerce's Sydney AUS IP location for North America? Kind regards, -Marc "

Asking a Second Time

I forgot about the issue for a while & then about a half-year ago I asked a second time if they would please take my name off their sales material, based on a customer complaint:

Hi Eddie
this is the second time I have asked you to remove my name from your sales material for promoting the SEO viability of your product. It mis-represents a 5 minute off the record chat into something more than that, and what is worse the product has changed greatly since then. At this point the faux recommendation is harming my reputation.

"Hey Aaron,
I was just recommending the SEOBook community to the owner of -------.com and he mentioned to me that Interspire was still using your name as someone who endorses their product. He was surprised, with the horrible SEO issues inherent in the cart. I told him you probably didn't even realize they were still using your name. Anyway, just thought you might like to know. The cart is ok with loads of customizations (maybe most others are no better), but it sucks out of the box...lots of issues with URLs, duplication, etc., etc.

Hope all is well,
David"

please do not require me to ask a third time to fix this issue
cheers
aaron

They said it would be sorted in a couple days.

Days Turn Into Months

Months later a friend sent me one of their marketing emails...there I was yet again.

Are they 100% certain that I have not worked for either of those companies? Did they bother to ask me before their promotional email went out? Of course not. I am just a blurb of sales text, inserted as needed to increase sales.

I asked in private for them to stop this multiple times. I am not the type of guy to "sick lawyers on them" or whatever, so I am hoping that this blog post will help the issue go away.

Respect is important. If you use someone's name in your marketing then you should stop using it if they ask you to.

Disclaimers

I know their company is growing like a weed & growth can be hard to manage. For all I know their software is relatively good in terms of pricing and feature set when compared against other ecommerce software, however that is only speculation as I haven't done any sort of formal SEO audit.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their stuff as an option for an ecommerce platform, but when their marketing says that I have done any sort of formal in-depth SEO work on it, that is both inaccurate and done without my consent or permission.

Google Loves Brands

Nov 15th

Sharing is caring!

Please share :)

Embed code is here.

Google Brands.

  • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
  • An exclusive interactive community forum
  • Members only videos and tools
  • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
We love our customers, but more importantly

Our customers love us!

Cloaking: Survey Says?

Nov 9th

In the below video Matt Cutts states that "there is no such thing as white hat cloaking" ...

... yet Google is testing a new ad unit where users have to fill out a survey before they can view the content.

How long until the surveys include something like:

  • did you vote in 2008
  • what presidential candidate did you vote for
  • how do you feel about issue x
  • how strongly do you feel about your opinion on x

Then after the survey: "Thanks for your feedback. Candidate y supports your views on issue x."

Advertisers then get a report like: "in Ohio, 84% of the 289,319 swing voters with an average household income between $32,400 and $67,250 think issue x is vitally important and have a 6:1 bias toward option A. They respond to it more strongly if you phrase it as "a c b" and are twice as likely to share your view if you phrase it that way. The bias is even stronger amongst women & voters under 50, where they prefer option A by a factor of 9:1."

Couple that ability to flagrantly violate their own editorial guidelines with...

... & Google is in an amazing position politically.

It is thus not surprising to see how politicians have a hard time being anything but pro-Google, as they are the new Western Union.

This isn't the first time Google experimented with cloaking either. Threadwatch had a post on Google cloaking their help files years ago & YouTube offers users a screw you screen if they are in a country where the content isn't licensed - yet they still show those cloaked pages ranking in the search results.

“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche

It is common knowledge that you shouldn't mix business and politics, however if one looks at history, many of those who gave us those sage words did precisely the opposite - and often illegally so - selling us down the river.

What is so obnoxious about Google's survey trial is that a big site that was hit by Panda was hit because they used scroll cloaking & didn't let the users get to the content right away. Googlers suggested users didn't like it & voted against it, and then roll out the same sort of "wait 1 moment please" stuff themselves as a custom beta ad unit.

And today Google just announced that they might create an algorithm which looks at ad placements on a website as a spam signal outside of Panda:

“If you have ads obscuring your content, you might want to think about it,” asking publishers to consider, “Do they see content or something else that’s distracting or annoying?”

On the one hand they tell you to optimize your ad placements & on the other they tell you that those were not optimal & are so aggressive that they are spam.

For a while there was a period of time where you could use something like "would Google do this" as a rule of thumb for gray area behavior.

In the current market that won't work.

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” ― Ansel Adams

As ad units get more interactive & Google keeps eating more verticals the line between spam vs not will keep blurring.

Perception is everything.

“We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” ― Oscar Wilde

Potential Usage & Brand Signals for Panda

Oct 31st

Google collects a lot of information on individuals & can have some level of confidence if the person is a real person or not based on things like their history of email usage, if they have a credit card on file, how they interact with other high confidence real accounts, how many people are friends with them on Google+, usage of an Android cell phone, their search history, etc.

Google doesn't need all those signals on any individual, just some blend of them.

From there they can create a lot of usage-based brand signals.

Query Volume + Click Distribution

For any keyword Google can see the search volume & the click distribution on the search results.

If a lot of people click on the top result & very few people click on the second or third result there is a strong chance the keyword is a brand. If the click distribution is spread more evenly across the search results then it is less likely to be a brand keyword.

The above was a hypothetical example, but the following image shows how lower volume branded navigational keywords can drive far more traffic than broader industry keywords. We get twice as much traffic for seobook & seo book as we do for seo.

Query Chains

When people search for a generic keyword they may (immediately or later) modify their search query to search for related keywords. In the past Microsoft offered a search funnels tool that would show common searches before & after a keyword. If someone searched for credit cards they might soon search for visa or mastercard.

Shortly after Google's Vince update, a Googler described the algorithmic change as being attributed to query chains.

High User Acceptance

Of course getting the user to click is just the first step. From there you must satisfy them. ;)

If you visit a page quickly & then jump right back to the search results Google asks users for an explicit vote against that site.

And if you visit a page for a significant period of time Google asks users for an explicit vote for that site.

That Google is measuring the time until return the search results to determine which explicit vote to request also implies that they can use the same aggregate data to create an implicit signal.

Where this measurement can get a bit fuzzy is that Panda can create a self-reinforcing impact (good or bad).

Some examples...

Self-Reinforcing Positive Impacts

Let's say your site got a ranking boost by Panda. It will rank higher across broader industry keywords, to where people may enter your site at the category level (say shoes or Nike shoes) and then surf around your site quite a bit. This equates to a longer time on site & a better user experience.

2 more factors on this front are branded navigation & familiarity.

On some search results Google shows branded search options.

If clicking those brand & store links feeds into the Vince relevancy signal, then any brand featured there has a huge wind at their back, building further brand signals. Eventually such suggestions can work their way into Google Instant keyword suggestions as well. Even if people do not click on those particular options, the various highlights in the search results act as advertisements for the brands, which drive incremental demand and search volume for those brands.

Amazon.com is responsible for roughly 1/3 of ecommerce spend in the United States (outside of travel), so many people might go and research product options generally & then conclude those search sessions by seeing if they can buy it off Amazon.com (due to getting free shipping & the high level of user trust Amazon has). As this becomes part of search relevancy algorithms this is the online equivalent of going to your local Borders store to find something to buy & then buying it on Amazon. In the short run you save a few Dollars, but in the long run stores like Borders go out of business.

Self-Reinforcing Negative Impacts

There are 2 bad ways a business can be impacted by Panda. One is missing out on the above promotional options that a large competitor may enjoy, which over time build more brand signals for them & leave your site stranded in no man's land until it is finally clipped by Panda for lacking "quality."

A second issue is a self-reinforcing issue with Panda. On WMW a user nicknamed Walkman described it as the "size 13 shoe problem." After you have been hit by Panda you are not likely to rank for broader category level searches. However you might still rank for some really obscure longtail keyword that is uneconomic to address directly (and thus only have a glancing mention of the user's intent). Your page might say we do not carry size 13 or size 13 out of stock and your Panda-hit site ranks for "Nike Carmelo Anthony size 13." Thus the user bounces, creating a self-reinforcing negative user experience signal.

A third (non-Panda) issue that can cause poor user experience metrics is when Google mutates the search query in a way that makes the organic results irrelevant.

More on User Votes

Google has long used reviews in their ranking algorithms & even made a tweak to demote businesses with negative reviews.

The above examples of +1 votes and blocks can be used (along with the time on site & repeat visits) to gauge user satisfaction, however if they can't get enough engagement then it will be very easy for big brands to buy that signal for pennies on the Dollar, as some social signals are easily bought by brands.

Not only does Amazon directly integrate promoting your wishlist on social media ...

... but they also have done interesting promotions like a "Tweet & get" ...

Imagine if/when a new local Wal-Mart store launches offering a free $10 coupon to everyone who Tweets their savings at the checkout counter!

One big issue I have with the +1 votes & blocks is that they apply across the board. I may dislike some craptastic videos hosted on YouTube, but there is also a lot of great content there. I love eBay for vintage video games, but it does not mean I love them for books.

Likewise some of the friend of friend stuff can be a bit off.

At some point Google should make +1 votes & blocks more granular.

Near the end of this article I will also further discuss some issues with ad votes.

Repeat Visits

Does Google measure repeat visitors? Yes.

They use that user interaction to ask for an explicit vote...

...and they can use it as an implicit vote as well.

They not only track how many times you visit a page or site, but also when you last visited it.

User Location

Once it is obvious Google is counting certain types of user metrics (just like they count links) there will be a race to the bottom to provide those said signals. That race to the bottom will lead to such signals being sold by accounts that either have sketchy trust metrics associated with them (if done through automation) and/or in markets with lower living costs.

In addition to AdSense & Google Analytics, Google has huge search market share, a widely distributed toolbar and their Chrome web browser. They can track where language is used in certain ways and where a site is popular

And they can also track where the votes come from.

Domain Name

If your domain name matches your keyword that may be a brand signal. However, Google may also look at some other signals (like user engagement, repeat visits, relative CTR, etc.) as confirmation signals on this front.

URL Links

Sometimes when a spammer builds links they trap themselves by using the same anchor text too much. Whereas when a branded website pulls in organic citations the anchor text tends to be mixed up, like...

http://www.paypal.com
www.paypal.com
Pay pal.com
paypal.com
pay pal
Paypal
paypal payments
etc.

Diversity in any sense (anchor text, linking sources, pages being linked to, links built across time, etc.) is generally considered a good thing.

Other types of links might also be seen as potential brand signals. For instance, frequent exposure in trusted news sites, other trusted seed sites, or other known brand sites could pass additional karma. Some link spikes that are also associated with strong direct traffic spikes, strong referral traffic from the links, and strong brand searches might also boost the weight given to links.

Non-search Brand Data Sources

  • Google has suggested they could use user direction look up as a relevancy signal.
  • In local search Google has long used the sites they displaced in the organic results as citations (even if they were in some cases unlinked).
  • In addition to offering branded filters in their internal navigation, many merchants submitting their products to Google product search may also be giving Google signals about which brands matter.
  • Google will be able to lean into Zagat ratings for business & other data sources (Google Wallet, Google Offers, etc.) will provide additional signals to Google.

Advertising

Any type of non-search distribution you have (RSS subscribers, email newsletters, mobile applications, physical stores, membership loyalty programs, etc.) makes it easier to influence search engines.

If advertising with Google had a negative impact on search relevancy you can be sure that the relevancy algorithms would change. Whereas if there is a convenient positive spill over then Google won't complain. In fact, they will even go out of their way to advertise that spill over. Any sort of advertising you do increases brand awareness. And that leads to additional incremental brand searches (and thus brand signal)

More exposure also leads to more user experiences, which in turn leads to more opportunities for people to leave signals behind (be it links, social mentions, additional brand searches, and/or repeat visits). Here is State Farm buying *irrelevant* brand signal for pennies on the Dollar.

And of course there are all sorts of corporate advocacy ads as well.

On YouTube Google counts some ad views as organic views (thus undermining relevancy) and more recently Google has implemented the controversial policy of putting +1 buttons in display ads.


Even if those votes don't influence rank directly, they still influence user perception. And what is so bad about that is that users are only voting of the content of the ad. This basically is the equivalent of cloaking.

If the landing page doesn't match the ad (free iPad anyone???) then people are going to see their friends vouching for scams & get duped by Google.

That is worse that a press release being advertised as though it was news

You can also be certain that some clever spammers are integrating +1 buttons in display ads on other ad networks in ways that may automatically collect user clicks & so on, or have users pay for viewing their next porn video by clicking a +1 button (much like some old school email spammers used porn viewers as manual captcha breakers).

Google does offer the ability to vote against an ad as well, but if an ad looks great upfront & its the landing page that scams you then how exactly do you vote against it if you don't see the site until after you click the ad?

Affiliates: Spam is a 4 Letter Word

Oct 27th

Google Hates Affiliates

Years before Google broadly torched affiliates operating inside the AdWords channel I highlighted how much Google hated affiliates in their ecosystem.

How was I aware of that?

2 ways:

  • If you read any of Google's older guidelines that leaked over the years you would see a consistent disdain toward affiliate sites. This was also reflected in official advice at search engine conferences & whatnot.
  • A friend of mine went to Google's campus & Google offered to "optimize" their AdWords account. As soon as the word affiliate came up it was like spoiled meat. Replacing the word "affiliate" with some other idiotic made up phrase (I think it was "regional online distributor") suddenly made everything O.K. again. Other friends had similar stories.

Note that the difference between "affiliate" and "regional online distributor" is for all intents and purposes linguistic crap, however it can be the difference between life and death for an online business.

To be fair, the ready availability of feeds to quickly generate sites means that most affiliate sites will be garbage. At some point Google gets sick of fighting the same battles over and over again. Then again, most websites are garbage & only the top x% of anything is going to be great.

At Affiliate Summit last year Google's Frederick Vallaeys basically stated that they appreciated the work of affiliates, but as the brands have moved in the independent affiliates have largely become unneeded duplication in the AdWords ad system. To quote him verbatim, "just an unnecessary step in the sales funnel."

It is worth noting that Google doesn't consider itself "just an unnecessary step in the sales funnel" when they insert themselves as an affiliate.

Should information empires be allowed to discriminate based on nothing more than the business model of competitors?

Spam vs Not Spam

The most recently leaked Google rater document stated

Spammers create spam pages to make money. Sometimes, they make money directly, by placing moneymaking links on the spam page. Here are two types of moneymaking links:

  • Pay-Per-Click (PPC) ads: Spammers get paid each time ads are clicked on their webpages. Another term for PPC ads is “sponsored links”.
  • Thin Affiliates: Spammers make money when a transaction is completed after the user has clicked through to the merchant’s site from their webpages

PPC ads appear on many, many webpages. Some pages with PPC ads are spam, but many pages with PPC ads are not. Pages should not be assigned a Spam flag if they are created to provide information or help to users. Pages are spam if they exist only to make money and not to help users.
Sometimes, spam pages do not have moneymaking links. These spam pages are created to change search engine rankings or even to do harm to users’ computers with sneaky downloads.

So in essence, the difference between spam & not spam is if the page is helpful to users.

The rating document takes 130 pages to clearly articulate the difference between what is spam and what is not spam.

But the core ethos in categorization is if it is original & helpful it is not spam unless it is doing something deceptive.

A Minor Exception*

Google's rater guides also arbitrarily sneaked in the "what the hell, if it is affiliate, it is spam" card:

Note: Major cosmopolitan cities are preferred targets for spammers, especially hotel affiliates. Such results should be flagged as Spam, even if they are related to the query and helpful to users. For example, a hotel affiliate page with a list of Chicago hotels may be assigned a rating Relevant, but also receive a Spam flag.

Google is directly going out of its way to attack competing business models.

Even if the site is quality - any way you slice it - they still tell raters to label it as spam if it is a hotel affiliate.

Once again it is worth pointing out that the label "affiliate" is just an arbitrary label. It could just as well be a "commissioned salesperson."

An Example Market: Books

In our forums one of our members quoted a brilliant book by Karl Polanyi from 1944 which was full of gems like "A so-called self-regulating market economy may evolve into Mafia capitalism — and a Mafia political system"

I searched for that quote & guess what ranked #1?

Google Books of course.

Google's owned & operated affiliate offering in the niche.

The stolen version hosted on Google.com ranks #1...everything else is either spam, unneeded duplication in the marketplace, and/or conjecture that can float up and down as they tweak the algorithms.

To say that the book publishing industry is undergoing pains would be an understatement. But maybe in some weird way Google promoting Google helps the book industry by giving it more avenues to be seen? Maybe they are trying to help out book authors?

The structure of the book industry prevents the book author from getting anything but a small slice of the book's revenues (unless the author is well known and/or they self publish). Markets being what they are, most authors live in obscurity on the long tail. To help supplement their low cut of the revenue pie, some book authors use affiliate links to link to Amazon.com as a purchasing option on their official book websites.

Recently in our forums a member created a thread about a client site being blocked from AdWords because there was an affiliate link on the page for their own book!

Google is The Biggest Online Affiliate

So the author is not allowed to advertise his own work to give you multiple buying options & highlight options which offer her additional compensation, however...

  • Google is free to steal the copyright work & promote their looted version first
  • Google can run an affiliate network
  • Google can double dip in the AdWords auction
  • Google can give itself affiliate ad units in the SERPs (all their lead generation offers & the CPA-based product ads)
  • Google can invest in start up affiliate networks (like VigLink) that automatically inserts affiliate links without any editorial discretion from the publisher
  • Google can invest in networks of similar sites (like Whaleshark Media) that are primarily driven by affiliate links
  • Google can create paid placement affiliate-driven sites like Boutiques.com & then fold them into Google Product Search without disclosing what is happening to those affiliate placements
  • Google can become the ultimate online affiliate

And yet the word "affiliate" is a bad word.

The word affiliate is arbitrarily tarnished in the same way that SEO is.

Use another label & if you do the exact same thing it is clean. Craigslist or eBay are not affiliates as they are marketplaces. Wal-Mart & Amazon.com might do drop shipping & have some affiliate promotions on their sites, but they are retailers.

These arbitrary label differences make a big difference to the stability of an online business.

Machine Learning vs a Small Business Killing Machine

Google can claim that they use artificial intelligence and machine learning and are unbiased, but their ranking systems need training sets. And if upon this alleged independent rating affiliates come up as "spam" then how can an affiliate build a sustainable business model?

I know what you are thinking: "Well, Aaron, they can stop being affiliates and move up the value chain."

The problem with that is that as an affiliate I can compare a lot of products in a condensed space, but if I accept payments for products then I likely need to have a page for each product. The issue there is that if you do not have a strong brand and you have lots of pages on your site there is a great chance that the Panda algorithm will torch your website.

At the same time, if you try to go big & thick you have to worry about competing against Google as they buy out vital pieces of the supply chain, create their own affiliate partnerships, steal your content & outrank you with their copy of it, and launch their own affiliate channels & affiliate stores on their websites.

Brand Sites Become Affiliates

One of the things Google mentioned to identify thin affiliates from other merchants is this:

Check to see if the address of the image is the same as the address of the page or if it is the address of a “real” merchant?

Small businesses are getting squeezed out of the search results by Panda. Affiliates are getting torched for not being a "real" merchant.

What is "real"?

At the same time, some of the biggest branded websites that Google promotes are now BECOMING AFFILIATES:

The new items on the website will mostly get to consumers through third-party sellers, which means B&N won’t have to carry the expense of inventory. The bookseller will just take a sales commission of 8% to 15% on each item.

What's worse, when brands come under review for spamming, Google says that they already ranked #1 so there is no reason to penalize them. Which is precisely why you can now buy rugs on Barnes & Noble. And it is precisely why you can find dating offers, education offers, jobs, and automotive sections on Excite.com. There is no SEO risk in brand extension for large brands that can do no wrong.

Google puts weight on domain names then suggests that domains can be a spam tool. So in a sense, if you invest in whatever Google trusts and are small you are a spammer. Whereas if you invest in whatever Google trusts and are large you deserve the benefit of the doubt & further promotion.

Sometimes the only difference between the brand and spammer labels is that the brands spam harder.

Brand + Money = Not Spam

For those with money, brand is another SEO tool to buy, and Google will proudly run the affiliate program for your duplicated site if you buy a bankrupt brand & slap a product feed on it.

Google literally ties their relevancy signals to their ad units. Recall that:

So if you have brand & money you can just flat out buy the "relevancy" signals. Yet if you try to create similar signals without paying Google & without owning a billion Dollar brand you are shunned & labeled as a spammer.

This subjective circular nonsense is getting a bit out of hand.

In summary, we are not SEOs and we are not affiliates.

We are a brand & we will buy retargeting AdWords ads + up our AdWords budget appropriately.

If we rebrand to remove "SEO" from the domain name can we please be added to Google's whitelist? ;)

SEM Rush Review & Free Trial SEMRush Coupons

Oct 20th

SEM Rush has long been one of my favorite SEO tools. We wrote a review of SEM Rush years ago. They were best of breed back then & they have only added more features since, including competitive research data for many local versions of Google outside of the core US results: UK, Russia, Germany, France, Spain, Italy, Brazil.

Recently they let me know that they started offering a free 2-week trial to new users. try SEM Rush for free.

Set up a free account on their website & enter the promotional code "89MW-YR43-HFNJ-K94M"

For full disclosure, SEM Rush has been an SEO Book partner for years, as we have licensed their API to use in our competitive research tool. They also have an affiliate program & we are paid if you become a paying customer, however we do not get paid for recommending their free trial & their free trial doesn't even require giving them a credit card, so it literally is a no-risk free trial.

What is SEM Rush?

SEM Rush is a competitive research tool which helps you spy on how competing sites are performing in search. The big value add that SEM Rush has over a tool like Compete.com is that SEM Rush offers CPC estimates (from Google's Traffic Estimator tool) & estimated traffic volumes (from the Google AdWords keyword tool) near each keyword. Thus, rather than showing the traffic distribution to each site, this tool can list keyword value distribution for the sites (keyword value * estimated traffic).

As Google has started blocking showing some referral data the value of using these 3rd party tools has increased.

Normalizing Data

Using these estimates generally does not provide overall traffic totals that are as accurate as Compete.com's data licensing strategy, but if you own a site and know what it earns, you can set up a ratio to normalize the differences (at least to some extent, within the same vertical, for sites of similar size, using a similar business model).

One of our sites that earns about $5,000 a month shows a Google traffic value of close to $20,000 a month.
5,000/20,000 = 1/4 = 0.25

A similar site in the same vertical shows $10,000
$10,000 * 0.25 = $2,500

A couple big advantages over Compete.com and services like QuantCast for SEM Rush are that:

  • they focus exclusively on estimating search traffic
  • you get click volume estimates and click value estimates right next to each other
  • they help you spot valuable up-and-coming keywords where you might not yet get much traffic because you rank on page 2 or 3

Disclaimers With Normalizing Data

It is hard to monetize traffic as well as Google does, so in virtually every competitive market your profit per visitor (after expenses) will generally be less than Google. Some reason why..

  1. In some markets people are losing money to buy marketshare, while in other markets people may overbid just to block out competition.
  2. Some merchants simply have fatter profit margins and can afford to outbid affiliates.
  3. It is hard to integrate advertising in your site anywhere near as aggressively as Google does while still creating a site that will be able to gather enough links (and other signals of quality) to take a #1 organic ranking in competitive markets...so by default there will typically be some amount of slippage.
  4. A site that offers editorial content wrapped in light ads will not convert eyeballs into cash anywhere near as well as a lead generation oriented affiliate site would.

SEM Rush Features

Keyword Values & Volumes

As mentioned above, this data is scraped from the Google Traffic Estimator and the Google Keyword Tool. More recently Google combined their search-based keyword tool features into their regular keyword tool & this data has become much harder to scrape (unless you are already sitting on a lot of it like SEM Rush is).

Top Search Traffic Domains

A list of the top 100 domain names that are estimated to be the highest value downstream traffic sources from Google.

You could get a similar list from Compete.com's Referral Analytics by running a downstream report on Google.com, although I think that might also include traffic from some of Google's non-search properties like Reader. Since SEM Rush looks at both traffic volume and traffic value it gives you a better idea of the potential profits in any market than looking at raw traffic stats alone would.

Top Competitors

Here is a list of sites that rank for many of the same keywords that SEO Book ranks for

Most competitors are quite obvious, however sometimes they will highlight competitors that you didn't realize, and in some cases those competitors are also working in other fertile keyword themes that you may have missed.

Overlapping Keywords

Here is a list of a few words where Seo Book and SEOmoz compete in the rankings

These sorts of charts are great for trying to show clients how site x performs against site y in order to help allocate more resources.

Compare AdWords to Organic Search

These are sites that rank for keywords that SEO Book is buying through AdWords

And these are sites that buy AdWords ads for keywords that this site ranks for

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Google Aggressively Enters Make Money Online Niche

Oct 17th

Even if you are in a seedy vertical that you think Google wouldn't touch with a 10 foot pole, Google may still be gunning for you!

Recall that when Google bought DoubleClick, Larry Page wanted to keep running the Performics SEO & SEM shop:

Google would spin Performics out of DoubleClick, and sell it to holding firm Publicis. Only one major force inside of Google hated the plan. Guess who? Larry Page.

According to our source, Larry tried to sell the rest of Google's executive team on keeping Performics. "He wanted to see how those things work. He wanted to experiment."

A search engine selling SEO services? Yep.

And now they are aggressively entering the make money online niche. Both Prizes.org & YouTube are in the top 3 ad slots for "make money online"

And I am seeing some of those across portions of the content/display network as well. I just saw this in Gmail today.

How does this align with the Google AdWords TOS?

To protect the value and diversity of the ads running on Google, we don't generally permit advertisers to manage multiple accounts featuring the same business or keywords except in certain limited exceptions. Furthermore, Google doesn't permit multiple ads from the same or an affiliated company or person to appear on the same results page. We've found that pages with multiple text ads from the same company provide less relevant results and a lower quality experience for users. Over time, multiple ads from the same source also reduce overall advertiser performance and lower their return on investment.

Google doesn't allow advertisers or affiliates to have any of the following:

  • Ads across multiple accounts for the same or similar businesses
  • Ads across multiple accounts triggered by the same or similar keywords

Well, as it turns out, the Google AdWords TOS doesn't actually apply to Google.

Search is a zero sum game.

Google is just getting started with breakfast. I am afraid to see what the last meal looks like!

Mutated Search Queries

Oct 15th

Google has recently began refining search queries far more aggressively. In the past they would refine search queries if they thought there was a misspelling, but new refinements have taken to changing keywords that are spelled correctly to align them with more common (and thus profitable) keywords.

As one example, the search result [weight loss estimator] is now highly influenced by [weight loss calculator]. The below chart compares the old weight loss estimator SERP, the current weight loss estimator SERP & the current weight loss calculator SERP. Click on the image for a larger view.

Google keyword mutation.

There are 2 serious issues with this change

  • disclosure: in the past refinement disclosures appeared at the top of the search results, but now it often ends up at the bottom
  • awful errors: a couple months after I was born my wife was born in Manila. When I was doing some searches about visiting & things like that, sometimes Google would take the word "Manila" out of the search query. (My guess is because the word "Manila" is also a type of envelope?)

Here is an example of an "awful error" in action. Let's say while traveling you find a great gift & want to send it to extended family. Search for [shipping from las vegas to manila] and you get the following

The search results contain irrelevant garbage like an Urban Spoon page for Las Vegas delivery restaurants.

How USELESS is that?

And now, with disclosure of changes at the bottom of the search results, there isn't even a strong & clean signal to let end users tell Google "hey you are screwing this up badly."

In some ways I am inspired by Google's willingness to test and tweak, but in others I wonder if their new model for search is to care less about testing and hope that SEOs will highlight where Google is punting it bad. In that case, they just roped me into offering free advice. ;)

Panda 2.5...and Youtube Wins Again

On September 28th, Google rolled out Panda 2.5. Yet again Youtube is the #1 site on the leader board, while even some branded sites like MotorTrend were clipped, and sites that had past recovered from Panda (like Daniweb) were hit once more. In the zero sum game of search, Google's Android.com joins YouTube on the leader board.

It doesn't matter what "signals" Google chooses to use when Google also gets to score themselves however they like. And even if Google were not trying to bias the promotion of their own content then any signals they do collect on Google properties will be over-represented by regular Google users.

Google can put out something fairly average, promote it, then iterate to improve it as they collect end user data. Publishers as big as MotorTrend can't have that business model though. And smaller publishers simply get effectively removed from the web when something like Panda or a hand penalty hits them. Worse yet, upon "review" search engineers may choose to review an older version of the site rather than the current site!

With that level of uncertainty, how do you aggressively invest in improving your website?

Over a half-year after Panda launched there are few case studies of recoveries & worse yet, some of the few sites that recovered just relapsed!

If you look at search using a pragmatic & holistic view, then this year the only thing that really changed with "content" farms is you can now insert the word video for content & almost all that video is hosted on Youtube.

To highlight the absurdity, I created another XtraNormal video. :)

References for the above video:

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