The Next Development In Search

May 4th
posted in

Have you seen Wolfram Alpha?

Wolfram Alpha is a search service being released this month that, depending on who you listen to, will either change the internet forever, or provide another useful research tool.

Either way, it does hint at the possible future direction of search services.

Wolfram Alpha hasn't been launched as yet, but you can see some screen shots here. The major difference between Wolfram Alpha and existing search services is that it answers questions, as opposed to returning a list of pages.

For example, a search on "what is the GDP of France" will not only give you a straight answer, is will also bring up a page of related information, complete with graphs and charts.

Compare this with Google's "answer":

By comparison, Google is a step removed from the answer. The onus is still on the searcher to dig for it.

Will Search Engines Becoming Less Passive?

Meanwhile, Google appears to be working on a new, intelligent news distribution system.

When asked by reporter Sharon Waxman, Eric Schmidt confirmed development of a a platform “that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it". This news feature would launch in about six months.

Could this be anything more than a glorified RSS reader?

Hard to tell.

However, it may well signal a change in approach from Google being a passive search tool to taking a more active role in data aggregation and channel selection.

When Google says they will not be a content producer, I think this implies they are therefore neutral. However, in the case of Google News, we can see that Google already exerts significant editorial control over the channel, which, at very least, makes them a biased editor, as opposed to neutral.

One criticism of Google News is that it favors content from mainstream media outlets. Whilst Google have included blog search, it is pushed to the back in the form of an archive link. In this respect, Google is very much the friend of the big brand, and the status quo.

Will the new service place control back in the hands of the user? If so, does this present new opportunities for the SEO in the news traffic business?

Schmidt:

The first two news organizations to get this treatment, Schmidt said, will be the New York Times and the Washington Post.

Perhaps not, but certainly a development worth watching.

Where Is Search Heading?

Search is still primitive.

When we use a search engine, are we really looking for a list of sites, or are we looking for answers to questions?

I'd argue we want the latter, but the limits of technology deliver us the former. Wouldn't it be so much better if when we searched for something, we received an answer, and a page of credible, collated data? Much like Wolfram Alpha promises? Is that where search is heading?

In the Future Of Search, Marissa Meyer speculates about active devices that search for data before we're even aware we need it.

It would be much nicer if we had a device with great connectivity that could do searches without interruption. One far-fetched idea: how about a wearable device that does searches in the background based on the words it picks up from conversations, and then flashes relevant facts?

This notion syncs with Eric Schmidt's reported description of Google's new, as yet unreleased, news service:

But Google does have plans for a solution. In about six months, the company will roll out a system that will bring high-quality news content to users without them actively looking for it. Under this latest iteration of advanced search, users will be automatically served the kind of news that interests them just by calling up Google’s page. The latest algorithms apply ever more sophisticated filtering – based on search words, user choices, purchases, a whole host of cues – to determine what the reader is looking for without knowing they’re looking for it.

The common themes are increased levels of personalization, and a more intelligent search service.

What other developments in search will we see in the next few years?

I Wish I Knew Then What I Know Now

Apr 30th
posted in

What were the things you know now that you wished someone had told you when you started out?

Personally, I wonder whether I would have actually listened had someone told me. Some things I just had to learn by making dumb mistakes.

Sometimes twice!

But if you are starting out on the web, and you want to skip all that hassle and expense, here is my list.

Old-hands may recognize a few mistakes that they have made, too. Please share your words of wisdom in the comments.

1. Business Case Comes First

Don't start by building a website. Start by building a business case.

I wasted time on domains and activities that would never be profitable because I didn't ask and answer some fundamental questions. Web design, SEO, blogging, social media marketing, writing, networking, posting on forums - all these activities can be worthwhile, but if your aim is to make money, they only bear fruit if they support your business case.

Otherwise, they're a waste of your time.

Ask yourself:

  • How will this activity make money?
  • What are the unmet needs in the market, and am I able to fill those needs?
  • How much time/money do I need to put into this, and will it pay back more that the input cost?

2. Don't Be Cheap

Competing on price only works if you can do volume.

Competing on price is ultimately a losers game. There will always be someone else who can undercut you. There are waves of third-world SEOs/E-Commerce Operators/Marketers who can survive each day on a lot less than you can. Where do you go when they undercut your price? You follow them down, until one of you goes broke.

If you can't do enough volume to make small margins worthwhile, then focus on quality and service aspects.

What is that you do that adds more value than the other guy? Do you have something unique to offer? What can you do better than anyone else? Find out if that one thing is in demand and profitable, and do it.

There is another good reason not to compete on price. People tend to value things that are expensive.

It's a curious aspect of human psychology that if we believe something is valuable, then it is. Conversely, if you put a low price tag on something, people perceive it as being junk.

3. Give People Three Options

Say a retailer wants to sell one particular refrigerator. Does she stock only that refrigerator? No, she doesn't. What she does is she carries one low priced refrigerator, one mid-priced refrigerator (the one she sells a lot of), and one expensive refrigerator.

Most people will choose the middle refrigerator, even if the features are similar across all three. The customers price expectation has been set by being able to compare low/mid/high. They tend to go for the middle, "sensible" choice. Not too cheap, not too expensive.

Always structure a deal that creates a basis for comparison. And put the choice you want the customer to take in the middle.

There is a danger in giving too many options, however. People get confused by too many choices, and when people feel confused, their perception of risk increases. When their perception of risk increases, they are more likely to back away.

4. It's Not About You, It's About Them

People don't care about you.

They just don't.

They don't care if your site runs on Linux. They don't care how much you've invested in usability. They don't care if you're the (self-proclaimed) "best".

They care about solving their own problems.

Your language must be their language. Everything you do must be geared towards identifying and solving their problem.

5. Business Is About Human Relationships

Business isn't about Lear jets. It isn't about business cards. It isn't about conferences, lunches or expense accounts.

Business is about the relationships between people.

Business is all about what you can do for someone, and what someone can do for you. If that relationship creates more value that you can do so by yourself, you've got the makings of a business that can grow.

A characteristic common to successful business people is they have large personal networks. They constantly leverage these networks. It really is about who, not what, you know.

Learn to stay in touch with old friends, learn to ask for help, give out before you get back,and understand that everyone you meet is going to know things that you do not.

6. Where Possible, Avoid Intermediaries

When I first used the internet, in 1993, you didn't need to buy domain names. You could get one just by asking for one!

What if I'd known then what I know now? What if I'd seen domain names for what they really were - undeveloped, directly accessible real estate in a gold mining town.

Learn the lesson of domain names. You should take positions where you don't rely too much on the whims of others. SEO, in itself, is a risky business model because your income is susceptible to underlying changes in the search engines sort algorithms. There is an entity between you and the customer, over which you have no control.

MLM? Forget it. You need to be the guy at the top of the chain.

PPC/SEO? Find a way to lock in those customers so you don't re-advertise to the same people.

7. Know The Power Of Compounding Interest

Eh?

What's this topic doing in a web column?

Well, what are you going to do with your web income once you get it?

This is one of those concepts that is so simple, true and fundamental to "living well" in a capitalist society it should be drummed into people the minute they start school. Money literally makes money.

What are you doing with that money you're making on the web? Are you buying stuff? What is the true cost of that thing you're buying? It's not just the price of the thing itself, it's also the opportunity cost of that money had you chosen to invest it.

If you've buying something on credit, chances are you're enslaving yourself to your future self, unless that credit is used for something that can generate further income or capital gain.

8. Invest Money Across Investment Classes

The old "don't put all your eggs in one basket" rule.

The internet can be a difficult place to make money. At times, it can be really easy. But ask anyone who has been in the game a while, and they'll tell you it is always flaky. It is flaky, in terms of generating income, because it moves and changes very quickly. Most business operations find it difficult to move and adapt very quickly and maintain the same income level.

One way to overcome this risk is to have income coming in from different asset classes.

I do this by taking a percentage of my earnings and putting it into rental property and shares. I've done this for many years now. The rental property market, compared to the internet business, is very dull and predictable. But that's a good thing. The steady rental streams cover any down weeks I have in the flaky internet game. The share market returns above all other asset classes over time.

Being dependent on one source of income can be precarious.

9. Live Within Your Means

My share broker recently gave a seminar in which he asked the question "can you take a 50% drop in house price and a 50% drop in income, and still be happy?"

If the answer is yes, you'll survive this recession with a smile on your face. Or any recession, for that matter. Boom and bust cycles are inevitable in market-driven, interventionist economies, so expect them and plan for them.

Living within your means creates a buffer zone.

Is there big income to be had by leveraging? Of course, but the current crash is showing the downside problems that can occur if you're over leveraged. When betting, try not to use your own money, but make sure you can cover that bet if it doesn't go your way.

10. Those Who Have The Most Time Are Rich

Having stuff is easy. If you can get credit, you can get stuff.

But what do people complain about not having most these days?

Invariably, the answer is time.

One of the best things about running your own internet business is that time is your own. Want to go fishing for a few hours? You don't need to ask anyone. To me, that's the most valuable thing in the world. I have stuff, but given a choice between acquiring more stuff, or having more experiences, I choose experiences. And you need to have time for that.

There's a book called "Avoid Retirement And Stay Alive". The idea is that retirement has no place in modern society. If you can make work enjoyable by balancing it against the other things you want to do, then you can live like you've got all the time in the world.

If you could tell your 18 year old self a few things, what would they be?

Brand Considerations When Choosing Domain Names

Apr 28th

Choosing a domain name for a new project can be a little daunting.

All the good names are gone. Once you find something acceptable, you'll have to be sure you can live with it for a long time. And what about the implications for SEO?

So many considerations.

Do You Want A Disposable Domain Name?

Some domains are throw-away, so the domain name doesn't matter so much. buy-viagra-online-cheapest.com might be just fine for someones 100th pharma site. We all know it's going to be blitzed eventually, anyhow ;)

For such domains, brand is never going to be a major consideration. But for most other projects, I'd recommend devoting time to brand considerations and credibility factors.

Why?

Traffic Comes From Everywhere

Obviously, traffic doesn't just originate at search engines. The way things are going, the webmasters who used to frequently link to sites will just Twitter about you instead!

Word of mouth is becoming more and more important on the web. The most popular websites today facilitate personal publishing.

In order to capitalize on this, it is helpful to have a brand name that is easy for people to remember. It should be distinctive. It should be credible. It should be something people feel comfortable passing on.

When people mention you in the context of a social network, are they going to talk about cheap-mp3-online-buy-cheapest.com? Would they feel comfortable recommending it to their friends and networks of contacts? Does it make them look good? Will they remember your domain name five minutes later? Would it be something they'll pass on?

Even those webmasters who do link out tend to be cagey about where they link. The last place they'll link to is the trashy looking domain name.

The credibility of a domain name in such an environment counts for a lot.

Brand Naming Strategy

Brand is a is a collection of experiences and associations connected with a service, a person or any other entity

What does "Google.com" mean to you? An incorrectly spelled mathematical term meaning 1 followed by 100 zeros?

I'm guessing Google means finding things, making money, technology, the future, and various other experiences. That's the power of brand. Made-up, memorable "meaningless" words become incredibly valuable and significant.

That's ok for big companies who spend a lot of money on building these associations, but what about the site owned by the little guy?

One idea is to use soft branding. Leverage off a concept that is already known, and twist it a little.

For example, an xml feed product that acts like a mail client might use the term "mail" in the brand name, because people are already familiar with the concept of mail. "Hotmail" is an example of soft branding. AfterMail is a service that retains copies of emails sent by employees and holds them in a central database. The brand name is partly unique and memorable, and partly describes the function.

Good Domain Names Appreciate

Once you have a good, brand-able domain name, it will very likely appreciate.

As time goes on, good domain names become more scarce. Add to this the associations you're building, and the domain name can become a valuable asset in it's own right. This is seldom, if ever, the case with disposable domain names.

How much is SEOBook.com worth? Would it have been near as valuable now if Aaron had called it learn-seo-online.com? Possibly, but I suspect the latter is always going to have credibility issues, not to mention the dreaded hyphens.

Exact Match

There is a lot of debate about exact match domain names. There is evidence to suggest Google weights this factor highly, but ask different SEOs and you'll likely get different answers.

SEO considerations aside, exact match has a bonus when it comes to PPC. Check out this article by Frank Schilling:

What do you suppose would happen if I advertised my URL under the key-phrase that matches the name? Well, I tried it and I found that because my URL matched the key-phrase people were searching for, I had to bid less for traffic. People were more apt to click on a link when it matched the URL.. and the power of .com just reaffirmed to Jane Public that she had found the market leader.

What has this got to do with brand? If you build a brand to the point where it becomes a searchable phrase i.e "seo book" you'll enjoy the same benefit as the guys who own the exact match names. You'll find it easier, and cheaper, to dominate both organic and PPC listings.

It's harder to do that with a watered-down generic name.

Linking Factors

If people do link to you, it's desirable to have a keyword in url. However, sometimes this conflicts with brand imperatives i.e. being memorable and distinctive.

So what do you do?

Try using a byline.

For example, if your domain name is Acme.com, you could add a byline that describes what you do i.e "Acme.com - SEO Services". People may well link the full description, or use that phrase when talking about you. The by-line becomes an integral part of your brand. This approach is especially important when trying to convince directory owners to link to you with addition keywords.

For a lot more information on domain naming strategies, check out Aaron's domain naming lesson in the members section.

  • 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!

The Importance Of Graphics In SEO

Apr 24th

The Importance Of Graphics In SEO

We get a lot of positive feedback about our flowcharts.

It pays to remember the attention grabbing, and link-grabbing, power of graphics. It can be counter-intuitive for SEOs to use images, because we spend so much time thinking about the written (key)word.

This is a hunch, but I'm guessing peoples attention spans on the web are getting shorter, especially as they become accustomed to "quick hit" sites like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, Digg, et al. Images help hook people in. Also, people scan web pages. Jakob Nielsen has long advocated breaking up copy using large headings, thus providing visual cues that help readers deal with large blocks of text.

And let's not forget easy top ten placement in Google's universal search results....

New Zealand Google Results

Or the conversion potential of placing Adsense near images...

So, rather than type a lot of words, I'll just let a series of images do the talking. At the end of the post, I'll provide some SEO tips for dealing with images.

1. A Picture Is Worth A Thousand (Really Boring) Words

US Spending Out Of Control

2. Flowchart A Process

SEO Process Flowchart

3. Outline A Strategy

PPC Process Flowchart

4. Mention Matt Cutts (Only Known To Get Mileage In SEO Circles)

Spamtastic!

5. Post A "We're All Having A Laugh At A Conference" Pic (Also Helpful If It Includes Matt Cutts)

Matt Cutts Naked

6. Make A Complicated Graph That Looks Authoritative, But No One Knows What It Really Means

Seriously, WTF!

7. You Know Who This Is Without Me Saying A Word, Right?

Cool SEO Blog

8. Not Sure How That Got In There

Sexy Girl

9. Or That

Sexy Guy

10. Can't Be Bothered Typing A Post? YouTube It Instead!

Tips On SEO-ing Images

  • Use the alt attribute and be descriptive
  • Put your images somewhere authoritative - like on Picassa, Wikipedia, or Flickr, and link them back to your site, where possible
  • Put words and descriptions around your graphics to provide context and be sure to tag photos with keyword loaded data
  • Link your images and graphics to other posts on your site
  • Use the keyword as the name of the image

Why You Do Not Need To Be A Wizard To Be A Competent SEO

Apr 23rd

Somewhere, just across the Mexican border, a small cabal of search gurus meet.

They sit in a low lit, smoke filled room. The location is only known to the few, because membership of this club is exclusive. It is highly unlikely you will ever be asked to be a member.

That's just how it is.

In order to be invited, you need to bring some serious benefits to the table. But once you're a member of this club, you get to learn "the secret". The secret is the recipe for how to rank high on Google, Yahoo & MSN.

Want to be a member of this club?

Hey, who doesn't!

Many new to SEO, and some not so new, may well imagine such a club. They scour message boards and blogs for "the secret" in the hope "the secret" will be leak out somewhere.

It's a fools quest, of course.

There are only two ways to get such a secret. Work for the upper echelons of Google, Yahoo or MSN, or engage in some heavy reverse engineering. If someone did discover something by reverse engineering, are they going to post it to a blog or a forum? Would you?

Ok, I will.

Are you ready?

Hack a site to host your content, which forces redirects on end users, and then hack a few other sites to link at those hacked pages

Doesn't really help, does it.

SEO Wizadry & Why You Don't Need It

The fact is, you don't need to be a technical wizard to be a competent SEO, or to benefit from SEO.

Those who benefit most from SEO probably aren't focusing much on SEO at all, because SEO is only one part of the puzzle.

Take Wikipedia, for example. Wikipedia is top ten for countless terms, yet the SEO is simple, solid, and basic. What separates Wikipedia from the rest is that they combine basic SEO with a sound business model. They have found a way to have people create content for them for nothing, and to talk them up.

The same lesson applies to any site. Integrate good, solid SEO, just as you would integrate copywriting, design, market analysis, and other aspects essential to success on the web, and lay it on top of a sound business model.

Wikipedia's "Advanced" SEO

Want to know the "advanced" pieces of the Wikipedia SEO strategy? They encourage systematic content theft:

As I perused the wikipedia notes for editors back then, I came across a discussion about linking out. When is it proper to link out from a wikipedia article to a web page on the Internet? The answer was scary to me at the time. Wikipedia editors were told to look at the web page and consider if the information it held could be taken and rewritten as part of the wikipedia article. If it could, do that and don’t link out because that web page would have become redundant: it’s information would now be part of wikipedia. If it could not be so hijacked (my word), then yes, consider linking out to it.That early observation set my course for competing with wikipedia. I knew where they stood, and that they had a plan to disintermediate me as a web publisher.

And then they automate internal linking and slap the label of "open" on the content to make the marketing story powerful. That accumulates PageRank, which they then funnel on through to commercial Wikia pages that are growing hot on the heals of Wikipedia.

Such a system is "revolutionary" and "displays a new and glorious side of humanity" ... so long as it is not your content that they are stealing.

The "advanced" piece of the Wikipedia strategy comes down to business & marketing strategy. Creating the marketing story that make people perceive something as being better than it is, while hiding the externalities. Had they not pushed the story "Imagine a world in which every single person on the planet is given free access to the sum of all human knowledge" then they would not have been able to steal so much content, and they would not have accumulated enough link equity to make their for-profit business work.

Essential SEO Advice

Most SEO advice you'll see boils down a variation on the following:

  • Focus your efforts on keyword terms that relate to your market segment
  • Make sure a spider can crawl the content
  • Build content that people will link to
  • Actively pursue links

Of course, there are various how-to's on how to achieve those four points, and for that you should buy the book ;)

Once these aspects are covered, there is marginal return in arcane trickery for most people. Your time is almost certainly better spent focusing on business fundamentals & holistic marketing strategy, because you have a lot of control over these areas.

If the business fundamentals are wrong, SEO trickery won't help.

People may arrive on a site, but then what? Do you provide something others want? Does it cost less to provide that something that the price you can charge for it? Is your offering better than your competition?

Someone who has asked those questions and satisfactorily answered them will always be a step ahead of those who haven't.

When I was new to SEO, I wish someone had told me how it really was. It would have saved me a lot of time and effort. I got sites ranking that didn't have sound business models, and they rightly failed. We've all been there, I'm sure.

So, for those new to SEO, make sure you cover the basics of both SEO and business.

Essentials Of SEO

Essentials Of Business

Beyond that, it's as complicated as you want to make it :)

What Is Better Than Free?

Apr 23rd
posted in

Have you noticed a lot of content is turning into paid content lately?

In many cases, it's because the advertising revenue model isn't working so well.

Bob Massa posted in the SEOBook forums recently:

Internet advertising in all its glorious forms we know it doesn't work. If it did, newspapers and magazines would be enjoying a season of power and control they haven't held since the early 20th century. But they are not. Instead they are dying. Same goes for the entire TV industrial complex. And keep in mind that if anyone on the planet knows advertising and how to sell it, it would be TV and print. But they are dying while trying very hard to find a way to wiggle in and salvage some face, (and revenue).

It's a good point.

If advertising is so lucrative, why are advertising driven companies, like newspapers, struggling? If this advertising worked well, then the advertising rates would surely be a lot higher than they are now.

Of course, people do make money with internet advertising. Just look at Google. But, for those without massive scale, traffic is getting more and more niche-ified and dispersed, yet conversion rates are staying around the same level - 3-4%. The task of making money out of your site becomes harder and harder. There are only so many advertisers to go around, and there is a low barrier to entry to markets, which means a steady stream of competition.

How many people are frustrated with Adsense? The Adsense model relies on sending people away from your site. Without an increasing stream of visitors prepared to click on the ads, this model is difficult to scale, especially in high value niches.

The Economist recently featured an article entitled "The End Of The Free Lunch Again":

Google’s ability to place small, targeted text advertisements next to internet-search results, and on other websites, meant that many of the business models thought to have been killed by the dotcom bust now rose from the grave. It seemed there was indeed money to be made from internet advertising, provided you could target it accurately—a problem that could be conveniently outsourced to Google. The only reason it had not worked the first time around, it was generally agreed, was a shortage of broadband connections. The pursuit of eyeballs began again, and a series of new internet stars emerged: MySpace, YouTube, Facebook and now Twitter. Each provided a free service in order to attract a large audience that would then—at some unspecified point in the future—attract large amounts of advertising revenue.

Now the bubble has burst, internet companies are again laying people off and closing their doors. It turns out not many businesses can live off advertising alone, especially in a slump.

So, if advertising isn't really working, what can you do instead?

Better Than Free

You've heard the saying "information wants to be free"?

Information may want to be free, and those consuming the information may want it to be free, but how will the publisher earn a living? If the publisher isn't paid, s/he will stop publishing and do something else. Publishing high quality material consistently takes a lot of time and effort.

But the internet makes information easy to copy and redistribute, thus driving down it's value in dollar terms.

The newspaper business is stuck in this trap. Stories can be copied. Stories are abundant. Newspapers only survived up until now because they have been able to exploit monopoly positions based on geography. The internet has blown that barrier to entry wide open.

There's a great article on The Technium which helps illustrate both the problem, and the solution. It's a great read.

When copies are super abundant, they become worthless.When copies are super abundant, stuff which can't be copied becomes scarce and valuable. When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied".

We've talked a lot on this blog about networking and building up brand. Part of the reason this strategy works in the long term is that you're building up something that cannot be copied. In so doing, you're creating a barrier to entry.

So what can't be copied?

Technium proposes adopting some of the following qualities

  • Trust - When all else is equal, you'll prefer to deal with someone you trust
  • Immediacy - many people will pay to see new release films, but little for or nothing for them six months later. Be first.
  • Personalization - customize an offering to individual preferences. It is more time consuming, but it encourages a relationship
  • Interpretation - Red Hat give Linux away but sells the support service. So is the software really "free"?
  • Authenticity - if you buy a knock off, it doesn't feel like the real thing.
  • Accessibility - could you make free products more accessible? Charge for that service. Related to nterpretation.
  • Embodiment - the music is free, the concert is expensive
  • Patronage - people WANT to pay. It lets them offer a token of their appreciation. Make it very easy to do.
  • Findability - Google works on this premise.

What aspects can you roll into your service or product? What other qualities are "better than free"?

SEO, Popularity And The Way Forward

Apr 16th

Google's Eric Schmidt identifies one of Google's core problems:

...you've got somebody who really is very trustworthy, but they're not as well-known and they compete against people who are better known, and they don't "in their view" get high enough ranking. We have not come up with a way to algorithmically handle that in a coherent way

The Google algorithm is essentially a popularity contest.

Google doesn't know what information is worthwhile and what isn't. It looks at the signals provided by others as to decide what is and isn't worthwhile. What people deem noteworthy may not be worthwhile, right or truthful, to you, of course.

We see this same problem in SEO punditry.

There is a wealth of SEO information published each and every day. How does anyone know if this information is right or wrong?

Typically, if someone who is well known to the SEO tribe writes an article, and the article sounds authoritative, it will be deemed by the SEO tribe to be "quality". If you're unknown, and write the exact same article, it is likely to get buried. SEO punditry has largely become a cult of personality.

Recently, news outlets have been arguing that because they are established news outlets, they provide "quality". This self-serving circular argument appears to be what Google also believes, because it favors established media in the form of Google News.

But just look at the atrocious journalistic standards that some established news outlets provide:

For April Fool’s Day we posted a video of a fake mission where it appeared that we had lost our judgment and crashed a funeral. We fooled thousands of angry YouTube users into thinking it was real. The biggest fools of all were the CW 11 news team who reported on the funeral as if it actually happened. They didn’t do one bit of research or fact checking, they simply broadcast a YouTube video and reported it as fact

Right now, it's not about quality. It's about entrenched power structures and popularity.

On SEOBook.com, we've been writing a lot about the intersection between SEO with related fields such as marketing, PR, advertising and business strategy.

This is the way SEO is going. SEO is being integrated into other forms of promotion. Without undertaking such promotion, ranking will be that much harder, especially in crowded niches.

Ranking signals have traditionally been about links, however code tweaking and link begging is fast becoming a marginal activity. Ranking signals in the future will be about attention.

Those who command the most attention, win.

So let tie the concepts we've been discussing together into a strategy.

1. Be Popular, Or Appear To Be Popular

  • Get in front of an established audience. Offer to write for someone who has authority already, and get a link from that site. Or offer to interview them. Speak at conferences. Post detailed, informative posts to forums. Post detailed, informative posts to other people's blogs. Find out where your audience hangs out, and get in front of them any way you can. The aim is to generate awareness.
  • Once you have signs of credibility and activity make them obvious. Encourage comments and actively respond to them. Have a lot of subscribers? Put a Feedburner widget with subscriber count in your sidebar. Get mentioned in the media? Add a "as seen in" section.
  • Build a personal network. Figure out what you can do for people, and give forward. In future, it will be easier to get your stuff noticed if you can call in favors from friends.
  • Establish a cult of personality. Have an opinion, and beat it to death. No one likes wishy-washy. Objective doesn't sell. Subjective views, stated boldy - sell. Make your name synonymous with your brand. It is very difficult to counter a brand build on personality. Ask Incisive Media if Danny Sullivan can ever be replaced.

2. Create A Viral Message So People Spread The Word For You

  • Have you given people something to talk about? Give people a message they feel compelled to repeat. If that doesn't happen, the message is wrong. Rework it until you find an angle worth repeating.
  • What incentive do people have to repeat your message? Does it make them look smart? Does it earn them money? Does it increase their status? Does it enable them to help a friend? Does it enrich them?
  • How should they talk about you? Should they link to you? Should they write about you? Should they tweet you? Have you made it obvious to people what you want them to do? (By the way, if this post has proved in any way valuable to you, we would be eternally grateful to you for a link. Or a mention. Or a comment ;)

3. Carve Out Your Niche, Focus On Quality And Building Critical Mass

It might not seem like it now, but providing quality information amidst the noise is the holy grail Google, and others, are working towards.

Ultimately, Google, or any knowledge management tool, must return sufficiently high quality information in order to survive as the aggregator of choice. "Sufficient" means "better than the other guy". Google also piles on the value by giving away quality mail tools, stats tools, and more. In a competitive niche, popularity won't be enough to sustain position. The popular aggegator that provides the most quality, and the most value, wins.

Quality will be the next layer of differentiation.

  • Do the same thing as Google. How can you add value? What can you do that other guy is not doing? What can you give away that the other guy is selling? How can you be better that other guy? Figure out what your audience wants - ask them directly, if need be - and give it to them.
  • Pick your niche and own it. Niche too competitive or too broad? Keep slicing it finer (go niche within a niche - e.g. rather than take on travel, become the biggest authority on Fiji) until you find space in which you can compete. If your aim is to make money, be careful to pick a niche that is worth slicing. How do you know if a niche is worth slicing? Look at the value of AdWords bids in that niche and the volume of searches. The Search-based keyword tool is your friend.
  • Make sure anyone searching that niche knows your name. Advertise on other sites in that niche. Appear on other sites in that niche. Figure out a way to lock people into what you're doing. It might be as simple as encouraging them comment on your blog. The aim is to get them to remember you, to interact with you, to internalize your message, then to pass it on.

4. Build Brand

Brand will be so important. What is yours?

If someone mentions your niche, do they mention your site or your name? You must be synonymous with your niche, so that if Google doesn't rank you number one, people would think Google was deficient for omitting you. This is how BMW can break Google's rules and get a free pass. To not find BMW would make Google look bad. To not find cool-bmw-owners-discussion-forum.com is of no concern. Can you imagine searching for the term "seo book" and not seeing this site top ten? You'd think Google was deficient.

That's where your brand needs to be.

Hope we've been giving you some food for thought :)

The Importance Of Brand And Networking

Apr 14th
posted in

SEO used to be about tweaking code, but these days, it has more in common with traditional PR and marketing.

Those who command the most attention also get great rankings, no matter how sloppy their code, and they don't need to beg for links.

Google's Eric Schmidt recently indicated that Google may be looking to brand metrics as a means of determining search quality. That's not to say merely having any old brand will mean you rank highly, but the brand building process has synergies with the metrics Google uses to rank sites.

Let's take a look at a few ideas on how to turn this to your advantage.

Carve Out A Niche

When you start a site, you don't have much in the way of leverage. You don't have an established reputation, which can make it difficult to get attention and get links.

One effective way to get attention quickly is to carve out an existing niche.

Let me give you an example. Copyblogger is, as the name suggests, a copy writing blog. Copyblogger competes in the "blogging-about-blogging" niche, which is pretty crowded.

However, by focusing on one aspect - copy writing - and going deep, the writer received a lot of attention, and links, from the established blogs in that space because he wasn't seen as direct competition. Rather, he offered a complementary service.

If you're entering a crowded niche with a new site, this might be a good approach to take.

Personal Networking And How To Tie It Into Your Brand

SEOs talk a lot about PR as in page rank, but sometimes overlook the value of PR, as in "personal relationships".

One advantage the little guy has against the big companies is the cult of personality. A brand tied into a personality is very difficult to counter, no matter how much money the competition throws at it, because personalities are unique.

Building up a personal network makes it easier to get links, because it's easy to talk about you if people already know you. There are the obvious things you can do to build you network, such as attending , or talking at, meetings and conferences, and spending time where your potential audience hangs out on the web. The aim is make your name synonymous with your niche, and it also helps if you have a brand that contains keyword elements.

People will naturally use your keyword terms when they speak about you, both in links, and in context.

For example, when Aaron started SEOBOook.com, the search book market was pretty crowded, and very few people searched on the term "seo book".

Now, a lot of people use that search term - as both a brand search and a description - and associate it with the name Aaron Wall. Aaron pretty much owns that term for as long as he wants it.

This doesn't happen overnight, of course. Aaron did a lot of work building up the site, speaking at conferences, building a personal network, of people who would link to him and help spread the word. The pay off is that Aaron has become synonymous with the term "SEO book", and a wealth of related terms.

To see how this is happening more overtly now than in the past, check out Big Brands? Google Brand Promotion: New Search Engine Rankings Place Heavy Emphasis on Branding

Cult Of Personality

Once you've carved out your niche, and your personal brand, these effects start to snowball.

Not only will your rankings get better, you may well become a source for media. You might attain a level of celebrity in your niche. Oscar Wilde had a good quote, "the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about".

I suspect this is the direction Google will be heading. They will be using a lot more quality signals than links. They'll be looking at personal metrics, including social media metrics, like bookmarking. They'll be looking at the terms people use most when talking about a brand or person.

And if few people are mentioning that brand, it will become increasingly invisible in search engine results.

FTC To Clamp Down On Social Media Marketing

Apr 14th
posted in

Some sites like MySpace have begun policing ads:

The main reason that they killed the dating ads was that people were using copyright images as well as girls under 18 to advertise for CPA sites. It got to a point where the ad approval team couldn’t police them anymore. The dieting ads were killed cause the FTC is just starting to crack down on the fake blogs that promote the diet offers.

But the efforts might be too little too late, and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is planning to regulate online social marketing. Yes, that includes blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and other forms of social networking.

In December 2008, the FTC proposed rule changes relating to endorsements, where bloggers and other site owners may be help liable for claims made about a product or service.

For example, companies giving trial products to bloggers might constitute an endorsement. So flippant comments about the product or service in a social media context may come under the same scrutiny as print advertising. So, best be careful blogging or Twittering about the efficacy of that affiliate weight loss program ;)

Is Regulation a Bad Thing?

In this interview with Shoemoney, Seth Godin explained why he thought this regulation was good, noting that

  • there will always be someone operating sleazier than you are
  • the sleazy operators steal from everyone on the network, and increase the trust barrier that legitimate businesses must overcome

If the internet was not anonymous then you wouldn't have Google AdWords ad reps stealing your keywords from your AdWords account and bidding on your trademark. Much of the advertising & affiliate driven fraud would quickly disappear.

If these measures are approved, what will this mean for social media marketers?

1. Go Easy On The Snake Oil

If a claim is outrageous, best be careful about repeating it. Check that any claim has studies to back it up.

2. Typical Results

Not only do results have to be shown to be achievable, they must be typical. The FTC will likely investigate claims if the average consumer is likely to be mislead about results that can be achieved.

This can be tricky, as most testimonials in the internet marketing space are essentially nepotistic or bought (particularly for "all-in-on" Earth shattering courses costing $1,997). Perry Marshall highlighted how hard it is to find out the "average" when your customers have little incentive to tell you something is working (and if they actually put in any effort when it is not).

3. Affiliates Beware Of Being Thrown Under A Bus

The FTC are likely to focus on endorsements by third parties.

Often, parent companies may be unwilling to make certain claims, but are more than happy for their affiliates to do so. This, of course, transfers risk to the affiliate.

Make sure both your stories are in sync.

4. Disclose

If you're being compensated for something, whether by money or materials, it's best to say so.

Meanwhile, the FDA is also tightening regulation, and this will have an impact on search advertising:

Last week the U.S. Food and Drug Administration wagged its finger at more than a dozen pharmaceutical companies over their use of paid search advertising.In one day, the agency sent an unheard-of 14 warning letters to pharmaceutical companies regarding their use of search ads on behalf of more than 40 drugs. The list of brands mentioned included such top sellers as Lexapro (an antidepressant) and Plavix (a blood thinner). GlaxoSmithKline, Sanofi-Aventis, Merck, and Eli Lilly were among those to receive letters.

Industry observer Mark Senak said it looked like the FDA was trying to clean up pharmaceutical search engine marketing by playing "whack the mole" rather than issuing some regulatory guidance. But an FDA spokesperson said the agency found "a plethora of violations across all classes of drugs," and noted the FDA's policy is to enforce the same standards in all media.

The common thread is that enforcement bodies are looking to apply the same standards found in print to online media.

In A Down Economy, Add Value

Apr 8th
posted in

When an economy is booming, companies can risk being sub-optimal.

They can get away waste and inefficiency. They can get away with providing less value, because customers aren't as focused on the bottom line as they are when cash is tight.

In a down economy, it is less likely people will be prepared to pay too much for things they don't really need.

So now we're in a down economy, how will things change? What can the webmaster do to adapt to these changes?

Here are a couple of interesting articles:

One on Gapingvoid.com, which predicts a return to value. Another on UnlockTheGame, where a 96 year-old ex-business woman talks about what happened during the last depression.

.... I remember seeing bankers standing in their fancy suits at street corners selling apples......there are millionaires made in good times and in bad times.so the lesson there is the "times" have nothing to do with it.......If you're going to read the news, it's important to read it separating yourself from it. .....Read between the lines and look for the silver lining, because behind every negative news story is a turnaround success story waiting to happen.

While the Gaping Void article makes a number of broad assumptions, the important points of those two articles are that things are going to change, and where there is change, there is opportunity.

So where is the opportunity going to come from?

The Gaping Void article points out:

It was quite a disconnect for me to hear the guys on CNN yapping endlessly on about THE RECESSION, in contrast to all the groovy cats I met at SXSW, who told me how their businesses were booming. It was like two alternate universes colliding. Which one was the real one?"

Been hearing those stories a lot lately? So have I.

It is probable that traditional marketing money (i.e. television, radio, print) is shifting to internet channels, because the internet is seen as providing better value. Also, people may use their cars less often, and shop on the internet to save money. Bad for brick n mortar retailers, good for internet stores.

The UnlockTheGame article talked about surviving the last depression by adding value i.e. selling a freezer stock full of meat.

A good approach in a down economy, especially for the little guy who seldom does enough volume to compete on price alone, is to think about ways to add value.

It is good we're in the internet game :)

How To Add Value

1.Re-Focus On User Needs

What do users really need? As money gets tight, people focus more on their needs than their wants. If you're selling a "want", can you twist it round into being perceived as a need?

For example, one of the first areas to get cut from corporate budgets during a downturn is marketing spend. But a company still needs to talk to consumers. If you sell internet advertising, you could address this need by comparing various channels i.e internet vs tv/radio/print.

Frame your message in terms of results and benefits. In a down economy, positioning is often a lot less important than the bottom line.

2. Segment Your Market

Typically, the wider your market, the more average your service or product. By being all things to all people, chances are you aren't delivering excellent value to some.

If customers are more driven by excellent value because cash is short, the generic products and services may miss out to a competitor more focused on a segments needs. Look for ways to segment your existing market.

3. Improve

Can you be more timely? More convenient? More accurate? Can your offering be customized? Can it be made more usable?

What more can you do for people?

4. Seek Feedback

Your users and customers know what their needs are. Do you make it easy for them to tell you? Ever asked them about it? How do you currently evaluate their needs?

5. Partner

Are there opportunities you see, but can't act on because you don't have the resources? Does someone else have those resources? Are there opportunities to partner up to create more value?

How about within your own company? Is every member of your team focused on providing customer value? Make every team member a partner in the adding value process.

6. Assess The Value Of Existing Relationships

It might seem like a strange time to cut customers, but the customers that aren't making much money present a huge opportunity cost to provide real value to someone else. Assess which customers make you the most money and focus on their needs. What extra value can you create for them?

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.