Brand Considerations When Choosing Domain Names

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. 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.


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 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 "" 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 worth? Would it have been near as valuable now if Aaron had called it 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, you could add a byline that describes what you do i.e " - 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.

The Importance Of Graphics In SEO

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)


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

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 :)

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What Is Better Than Free?

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

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

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, 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

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

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, 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 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?

Advertising That Resonates

In the 1960s, advertising was all about the faceless masses.

The idea was that you devise and build a product, throw it over the wall to the marketing department, who would figure out an angle, then engage in a marketing blitz. They'd try and get in front of as many eyeballs as possible, for the lowest CPM.

In the cynical, jaded 00's, advertising works on a more personal level. People are bombarded with messages, so instinctively tune most of them out. The most effective messages are those that people internalize, make personal, and pass on.

Marketing Models

Traditional marketing looked like this:

Very linear.

Modern marketing looks more like this:

Who controls the message now?

The audience.

The audience is no longer a passive recipient. The audience can pass a message on. They become a vector by which your message travels. If people don't pass your message on, chances are your message is dead.

The audience has control, because they have their hand on the remote, and on the mouse, so bombarding them or interrupting them no longer works. This is why companies try to engage people on a personal level, Google being a fine example.

Word of mouth, in other words.

Why Is Word Of Mouth King in 2009?

Word of mouth advertising is powerful because it resonates on a personal level, and it travels via established, personal networks. Those networks by-pass the mass marketing blitz, which people have long since tuned out, as those channels are low trust. They aren't trusted because they are impersonal, and politics in the 00's is all about me, me, me.

And my friends.

Word of mouth is how social media marketing is going to work. It isn't going to work using interruption or mass market techniques.

Review you message to see if it has a word of mouth quality. Is it remarkable enough for people to repeat to their friends?

Seth Godin, who I like to quote, because he puts his ideas in such a way as you want to repeat them, illustrates it like this:

First, Ten

This, in two words, is the secret of the new marketing.

Find ten people. Ten people who trust you/respect you/need you/listen to you...

Those ten people need what you have to sell, or want it. And if they love it, you win. If they love it, they'll each find you ten more people (or a hundred or a thousand or, perhaps, just three). Repeat.

If they don't love it, you need a new product. Start over.

Your idea spreads. Your business grows. Not as fast as you want, but faster than you could ever imagine.

This approach changes the posture and timing of everything you do.

You can no longer market to the anonymous masses. They're not anonymous and they're not masses. You can only market to people who are willing participants. Like this group of ten".

The thing I often find frustrating about Seth Godin is that he offers few practical examples. Perhaps his goal is to make us think.

Let's start with a checklist:

  • Is you product or service remarkable? If not, can you twist and shape it so that it is? If not, start again.
  • Who are the ten people in your niche who matter? Identify them. You need to spend your time and money being remarkable to them
  • Who are the ten people who are really resonating with your brand? Survey them. Find out why they are attracted to your service. Give them tools and reasons to spread the word

One example that springs to mind is the MLM sales launch.

These launches often target trusted industry players first, who in turn spread the message to their readers. It's celebrity endorsement. The tools are the free giveaways and marketing collateral.

Social media marketing is going to work in much the same way. In social media, people listen to people, not networks. So find out who the ten people are you need to talk to, and make your message remarkable to them. Hopefully, they'll do the rest. Handing a bottle of expensive water to Paris Hilton was no doubt a good idea.

Check out this post on developing a social network platform. Notice how he integrates outside people into the internal processes of the company.

Perhaps that's the new version of MLM.....

Differences Between Word Of Mouth And Going Viral

One of the differences between word of mouth and going viral is that in order to go viral, people need to become part of the network in order to pass the message on.

Roelof Botha, the guy behind PayPal and YouTube points out:

Many people think the word "viral" is interchangeable with "word of mouth"--implying that the product or service is so good that people are compelled to talk it up with their friends. But there's more to it than that. Google and are both great Internet companies, but they aren't viral businesses....word of mouth is when I tell you to shop on Zappos because I think the service is great," explains Botha. "It becomes viral when you have to be ‘in the system’ to use it. For example I can post a video on YouTube but then you would need to go to the site in order to see it

Where Does SEO/SEM Fit?

But hang on, I hear you say. I'm an SEO/SEM, what does this have to do with me?

You're already slicing up the niche and targeting via keywords. But if you're buying clicks, or targeting SERPs, you're wasting a valuable opportunity if people visit your site and forget you the moment they click away. Perhaps that person didn't buy or sign up now, but they might tell someone else about you if your message resonates with them. Your message could then skip from the search channel into their closed social networks - Twitter, Facebook, et al - which increases your exposure and reach.

To do this, your message needs to be remarkable on a personal level.

Does your site convey such a message? If I click on it for the first time, do I know the one unique thing you do that no one else can? The problem you solve for me? And would I tell my friends about it? And will you provide me with the means/tools to do so?

Proven Instant Automatic Wealth Attraction Secrets - Autopilot Cash

Everywhere you look on the internet, there are people who try to convince you that marketing success can be reduced to a formula.

Get rich quick ebooks are a classic example. Hand over $97, follow the guaranteed steps, and you'll get the exact results the author claims. Yes, you, too, will be able to hold up a huge, comedy check, featuring lots of zeros!

SEO forums are filled with questions that presume prescriptive answers: "what keyword density should I use?", "How many links do I need to rank #1?" "How many words should I have on a page?" "How many outbound links are too many? "

Unfortunately, a successful internet business can't be reduced to a simple, paint-by-numbers prescription. If it could, those e-books would be selling for a lot more money, and nobody would be giving away tips in forums.

Paint-by-numbers marketing produces a facsimile of where someone has already been, but the market has long since moved on.

Take A Holistic Approach

The way to approach internet marketing is to do so in a holistic manner.

Once you understand the underlying philosophy of various tactics and strategies, you'll be more likely to apply them successfully, and adapt them to devise new strategies.

There are underlying patterns common to the most successful sites. Once you identify and and internalize these patterns, you can easily out-maneuver any competitors who may be locked into a more inflexible, prescriptive approach.

Bad Artists Borrow, Great Artists Steal

That quote is often attributed to Pablo Picasso. What I suspect he was getting at is that bad artists copy surface techniques. Great artists, on the other hand, get inside an idea. They internalize it. Then they innovate to produce something genuinely new.

For example, many people will advise you to start a blog.

Whilst that might have been an attention-getting idea in 2001, starting a blog today isn't worth remarking upon. Blogs generated a lot of attention early on because they provided an easy way for people to become citizen journalists, and the writing style was somewhat new, at least in when compared to conventional journalism.

Blogging used the personal voice of the opinions pages, as opposed to impersonal voice to the reporting pages. Blogs also provided immediacy in the days before Google News. Twitter has now leap-frogged blogs and news outlets to provide that very function.

These days, the biggest sites on the internet use nothing but the personal voice i.e Twitter, Facebook etc - and the barriers to producing content are very low. Anyone can publish web content. So the blogging Cluetrain has long since left the station.

Instead of copying the format - the surface - try to provide the type of information people want. That's where the idea for blogs came from. That's where newspapers came from. They solved an information problem for people.

One trend right now is social networking, but this results in a shallow surface of unreliable information. There is a growing flight to quality information, which people will pay to read. Some of the best information on the web is now being locked up behind pay walls.

Ask yourself the fundamental questions. What need is your site serving? Is that need changing? Where will your sites audience be in six months or a years time?

That's where you should aim now.

The future is where Google focuses their efforts:

We started with the early-adopter crowd. That was on purpose. We wanted to build a product for people who were getting hundreds of e-mails a day, because we believe by focusing on the power user, you're designing the product the rest of the market will want in a couple years when everyone's usage habits catch up to the most active users.

Barrier To Entry

When some guru tells you "a secret" - i.e. to get into mobile ring tones - he's safe in the knowledge the area is already saturated and he has moved on.

Once you see that sort of information published in the public domain, it's too late. The horse has bolted. But he will still tell you the market is ripe and that you should sign up under his affiliate link. Even if you lose money he still profits from your efforts. You are the key ingredient of their wealth generation formula, you just don't know it yet. ;)

One good way to evaluate the worth of such prescriptions is to evaluate the barrier to entry. A barrier to entry is some condition that makes it difficult for late entrants to enter a market. An example of a barrier to entry would be, say, the start-up cost of an airline. The capital investment required is significant, which disqualifies most of us ever starting one.

On the internet, if anyone can copy a technique cheaply and easily, then it almost certainly won't work. Once a technique is out there, too many people will copy it, which dilutes the market to the point where it fast becomes uneconomic. Do you think starting a blog today and running Adsense on it will make you money? It might, but it will also require a lot of work, luck and a significant point of difference. Without those fundamentals, it will remain unread, and is highly unlikely to make money.

So look for areas that have a barrier to entry. Do you have an established brand you can leverage? Can you partner with someone who does? Can you spot a niche where none of the players are spending much? What happens if you throw some money at it? Do you have a means of grabbing attention that other people don't have?

What is your point of difference? And can you make it defensible?

Steal A Business Plan, Apply It To A Different Niche

In the financial world, investment firms often use forensic accountants to deconstruct the tactics and strategies of their competitors.

One famous example is Harry Markopolus, who worked out that Bernie Madoff was running a Ponzi scheme. Markopolus bosses wanted to learn how they could match Madoff's double-digit returns. He was assigned to deconstruct Madoff's strategy to see if he could replicate it.

If you've found a new niche, try applying a model that has already proved to be successful in another niche. Deconstruct the features, tactics and philosophies of the successful site, and either go head to head, or even better, apply those same strategies to a new niche.

For example, one characteristic common to many successful sites is that they were first movers. They were in the niche early enough to command attention simply by existing. Can you slice the niche you're in even finer in order to be seen as a first mover?

You could also try the same idea in different geographic locations. TradeMe is a New Zealand version of Ebay. New Zealand is a tiny market, but TradeMe recently sold for $700 million, mainly because it was a big fish in a small pond. The business idea was the same proven idea as Ebay, simply applied to a different regional niche.

Show Leadership & Connect People

As Seth Godin notes, what works today is leading:

Leading a (relatively) small group of people. Taking them somewhere they'd like to go. Connecting them to one another....a tiny sliver of the market is enough. Bill Niman used to run Niman Ranch, a cooperative raising meat for fancy restaurants and markets. That was already a sliver of the huge huge market for meat. He moved on to start BN, a 1000 acre farm raising goats for a subset of that subset. It's enough. It's enough if the tribe you lead knows about you and cares about you and wants to follow you.....go down the list of online success stories. The big winners are organizations that give tribes of people a platform to connect.....People want to connect. They want you to do the connecting.

If you look around the search niche, you'll find the biggest sites have very clear leadership. These sites also serve as connectors for the community. The least significant search blogs follow others and repeat information. But the audience doesn't want that. Someone who follows the followers isn't valuable to them.

You don't need to pull in a big community, you simply need to lead whatever niche you happen to be in. Look for ways you can carve out you own leadership niche, then connect people within that niche.

People want to be led. They want someone to follow.

What can you teach others? What can you help them to do? How can you connect them to each other?


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