Internet Marketers are the Canaries in the Web Advertising Coalmine

The Decline of Public Forums

About a year ago I decided to close Threadwatch so I could focus more on expanding this site. The Searchguid forums and site went away, and the domain name was recently auctioned off for $8,655, and it redirects to John Scott, the owner of V7N, recently announced that he was stepping away from the site, and currently has it up for auction for $400,000 at SitePoint with a $500,000 buy it now price.

The bulk of V7N's earnings come from directory submissions, which is a business model Google kicked in the teeth many times last year. I am not sure how well those revenues will hold up. If you run an Internet advertising based business models selling ads to internet marketers targeting other internet marketers it is a rough rough business model. Outside of the newbie who has not yet got burned, we are generally aware, skeptical, and wary of advertising.

How much information pollution do you find in some of the larger public SEO forums? Will OpenID eventually protect public sites? How can public publishers add enough friction to stop spam without driving away talent?

Why You Know So Much

As internet marketers, we have a canary in the coalmine effect, where many of the trends we pick up on are later felt across the broader market. Why? Because competition is so fierce and there are so many people trying to push so many different scams each day that we get hit from every angle.

We use the web so much that we are more aware of new ad formats, new business models, etc. We profit from accidental clicks as soon as the model appears, and before the media knows we are aware of when and how it changes.

Our Competitive Advantage

The stuff that works in the internet marketing field, porn field, gaming field, or other high paying fields probably works well on the other parts of the web. But as we go, so do the rest of the web, but we typically have a 6 month to 3 year advantage over the rest of the web.

As software gets more sophisticated, spam bots get more sophisticated, membership site proliferate, people become more wary of advertising, and Google tries to keep more of the traffic on many public forums will die. Increasingly communities and web publishers will have two stores...a public one that keeps the brand represented on the web graph, and a private one which allows the owner to profit from the brand equity, trust, and user loyalty they built up.

Many traditional publishers are still shoving junk down our throats. How could we lose to that?

Published: February 20, 2008 by Aaron Wall in marketing


February 20, 2008 - 7:36am

private forums are likely the way things will be moving... if done well, "privatization" can unlink success tethered to the fickleness of google's algorithm... the goal is to get community members to type in the community site's address directly into the nav bar, avoiding google entirely... privatization can improve the quality of interaction, as you've noted, making it that much stickier... with the expansion of private forums of wmw, your experiment here... i think we should expect to see several over the next few years... this is a core aspect of the business model for the start-up that i'm working for as well... it's happening.

February 20, 2008 - 12:13pm

I used to read and post on several forums daily, including V7n, SEW, and WMW. After about 2 years of posting, it seemed that the content of the discussions was not changing enough...I was answering the same questions for the 20th time, reading the same debates.

When I was a complete newb to online marketing, the time I spent in forums was well worth it, pointing me in the right direction for study and research. As I've learned more, the forums have lost their luster. I no longer visit any of them. Though I have not participated in any private forums, I am skeptical that I will find anything there that is not already in the blog echo chamber.

Thanks for the trial membership on the training modules, I was surprised to get it considering I first bought SEO Book like 3 years ago!

February 20, 2008 - 12:26pm

Thanks for the trial membership on the training modules, I was surprised to get it considering I first bought SEO Book like 3 years ago!

I only thought it was fair to try to be as inclusive as possible.

February 21, 2008 - 5:16am

Information pollution is huge on DP, not so bad on WMW, and somewhere in between on V7N.

WMW probably has the most draconian moderating policies of any forum I've ever encountered, and it goes a long way towards enhancing the signal-to-noise ratio. But even there you have repeated questions, disinformation, and general cluelessness in the public forums. Strong moderation and a good registration captcha can only take you so far.

February 21, 2008 - 8:47am

2 years ago WMW (private forum) used to be really good but then a year ago the rot started to creep in. Now it's pretty much like a ghost town. Is there any reason for that?

February 21, 2008 - 10:56am

I think that for a large part every community goes in cycles. I remember how when blogs came about some people were writing off WMW then Brett blocked Google and made his robots.txt bot blog...brilliant marketing.

Maybe Brett is focusing on other things or building up to make another big push. He is a great marketer.

February 21, 2008 - 2:35pm

As a newbie I was fascinated by forums, but even then found them emotionally draining. I don't think many long-term offline relationships are built up in these places.

As I got more knowledgeable I began to hate forums and how they sucked time and emotion out of me. I don't think many people hang around for more than 2 or 3 years if they've got a real life.

Going back to look in at some of my old haunts I noticed that there were fewer moderators and fewer threads than I remembered. A 3 yr comparison at Alexa showed the four forums I looked at all with declining traffic numbers. Quite striking.

I don't know how accurate those comparitive figures are. Forum owners often display remarkable dogged persistence, but that's not enough. You have to be savvy as well. I don't think the current free model is holding up too well.

As for competitiveness - man, even in seemingly competitive areas there are SOO many holes. If clients are prepared to listen.

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