February 21, 2008

I recently got a copy of a sitemap for a niche social networking / social media site we’re (re)building. We considered all the different modules, functions, pages, features, tasks, profiles, etc. etc. etc. etc. etc. After long hours of discovery, documentation and specs, we finally had a sitemap built out (and about 15 more detailed sitemaps as well). This is going to be no small effort by any stretch, but we really wanted to think it through to make something that broke the mold.

I had just one thought when I first saw this: Are you fucking kidding me??

Social Network Sitemap

Once a site has really grown and developed a member base that demand more features, more functions and more freedom, the answer is to give the community what it wants. But I’ve never wanted to go through sitemaps like this one, and I don’t care who I’m doing it for. This is the labor of love, that will hopefully yield something really powerful that will connect tons of like-minded.

We included on-site modules, components for all the multimedia (audio, video, etc.), widgets, group modules, profile modules and everything else we could come up with. Even though we’re being paid (handsomely) for this work, I just can’t wait to see it all come together.

February 18, 2008

Linkbait-and-SwitchAs with so many different marketing tactics, we see the technique rise, gain in popularity, become a bit more sophisticated and then give way to new innovation. We’re seeing this lifecycle with a linkbaiting technique that I’ve seen become much more popular of late. Here’s how the “Linkbait and Switch” works, and a look at the pros & cons of running this sort of play for your site(s).

It’s clear that linkbaiting for commercial sites in particularly tough verticals would be the most effective way to gain a leg up on competition. Few would argue that top diggers and social news hounds are very very very sensitive to commercial intent. Any whiff of commercialism on a piece of linkbait is likely to result in its quick burial (b/c come on, don’t you hate all those marketers on digg & propeller these days? ;) .

Make no mistake, surely there are myriad ways to linkbait for a commercial site. Even sites that are selling products (rather than b-to-b or service-oriented) can have solid blogs that get promoted from time to time. A few people have been really good at getting around the challenges and flexing their viral muscles to linkbait a commercial site anyway. Cameron, Cornwall, Russ, Todd, et al have shown plenty of skills at coming up with solid ways to virally market commercial sites. But nonetheless, it’s become harder and harder to do so. If your facebook apps aren’t burning up the members, if your stumble traffic isn’t converting (big surprise there), then you should still be able to rely on tons of great links from viral articles to boost direct search traffic.

Enter Linkbait and Switch.

  1. Setup a standalone domain/site/blog and seed it with several linkworthy articles.
  2. Launch a piece of linkbait from this standalone site.
  3. Promote it successfully (note: requires skill)
  4. Then 301 the article or the entire domain into the site you’re actually trying to promote.

First, however, I want to disclaim my position here. I’m not advocating any unethical practices or any link schemes designed to game search engine rankings. I do believe that it’s perfectly legitimate to use additional sites to convey separate messages. If you want to start a standalone blog to publish more edgy, viral content without tarnishing your corporate image, then you should be able to do that. If you want to consolidate the value of your various efforts into one domain, you should be able to do that. But I’m not in charge.

Ethics of the Bait n Switch

  • Is this shady? Perhaps.
  • Links are earned legitimately through killer content in a way that would not have happened were the piece published on a commercial site.
  • In these cases, a commercial site basically “acquires” the mini-site for its popularity. Why shouldn’t the parent site benefit?
  • Of course, to a nun, this could be considered a “scheme” (after all, the name bait and switch is categorically schemey, but it’s just so damn perfectly descriptive).

Challenges to Running Off-site Linkbait

  • More Labor. Set up a distinct blog, unique design, unique hosting, etc.
  • More Creativity. A bait-n-switch blog should have 4-5 pieces before launching a real piece of viral content
  • More time required. Rather than just publishing a piece and launching ASAP, this takes time & deliberation. The payoffs are worth it, but it’s not as easy anymore.
  • 301s should pass the value of the links, but Google does have a tool to view these (Matt called it the “Greg Boser Tool” @ Pubcon).

Benefits of running the linkbait on a separate site

  • NO Commercial Overtones!
  • More freedom. Say whatever the hell you need to say
  • Competitors will have more difficulty spotting the links after you do the 301s.
  • Successful launches may not take down your site so easily

Tips before you run away and give it a shot.

  • Clean & fresh design on the standalone blog.
  • No ads!
  • Show a history of great posts (at least 4-5 good pieces before you launch the first)
  • Pick a slick domain name. try to incorporate your primary keyphrase if possible, but it’s not necessary.

Now what do you think? Do any of you have any pointers that I’m missing here? Or is the whole thing of a questionable nature and deserving of being stricken from the playbook?

June 4, 2007

First of all, SMX has been fantastic. Danny Sullivan and the incredible team at 3rd Door deserve some huge congratulations. This is obviously going to be a great series of conferences, due in part to the elevated discourse taking place but mostly because of the care and attention that went into the great food they served at lunch.

Of the first day’s events and sessions, the Social Media Marketing panel had to be the most enjoyable (and not just because I got to chime in with Rand, Todd, Neil & Cindy). I’ve finally accepted that it’s no longer optional to hire folks that can spend their time just building social profiles and participating on these sites. Whether for Reputation Management, building a brand, building copious amounts of traffic or even to help launch your own linkbaiting efforts, powerful user accounts are requisite.

Just a small sampling of the sites worthy of time & effort:

Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, Netscape, del.icio.us, Fark
MySpace.com/name
LinkedIn.com/name
Squidoo.com/name
Amazon (creating your own blog/profile therein for reviews & such)
Others used in Controlling the Top 10 SERPs by GrayWolf.
Huge list of 130 social media sites compiled by Bill Hartzer (at WMW; subscription required)

In addition to just creating all of these profiles, one can’t forget about the time & effort needed to befriend users and ‘participate”. Digg, Reddit, Newsvine, StumbleUpon, etc. are all absolutely worthwhile profiles to have, but these “power user” accounts are invaluable. Does this mean outsourcing to teams of Indians to just sit around and hit “stumble” all day long? Is it enough to get a Fidgt account and trying to manage these from a central location? Perhaps. The answer could be part-time interns or college kids looking to make a few bucks. Granted, without knowing how to leverage these sites, the accounts are useless.

But for those who understand and appreciate the importance of reputation management and copious amounts of traffic, like I said at the outset this work is no longer optional.

What do you think? Who does your social media profile-building?

[tags]reputation management, social media marketing, social networking, viral marketing, search engine optimization[/tags]

May 25, 2007

I found a video recently that represented brilliantly what happens to a website when it’s hit with a Google penalty. It serves to explain the point: don’t misbehave. Whether or not you know you’re misbehaving is irrelevant. Look what happened to this innocent little girl while the Google breaker was just doing his thing (not being evil).

[youtube]ceNf-11-ddI[/youtube]

May 24, 2007

(Note: an alternative way of phrasing the question above would be, “How many laws is your blog breaking?”).

I came across a post today that begged discussion. The topic was “blogger law” and the post served up some useful and interesting facts of what a blogger (can and cannot) do legally. While the post had some great info of which I was unaware, there were some serious problems that just reminded me of how much I hate politicians.

Regarding the requirement of bloggers to disclose paid sponsorships (a la PPP & ReviewMe):

CONSIDER that even though the FTC’s paid review disclosure recommendation doesn’t appear to apply to links, meaning that webmasters aren’t required to “NoFollow” the paid links they give as of now, scholars at the University of Chicago Law School are currently discussing this as a future development for e-commerce law.

Now scholars are getting into the paid link game? You’ve got to be kidding me. I have NO vested interest in purchasing high-pr links, but turning the “nofollow” rule into law is absolutely ridiculous.

In addition to this gem of a tidbit, there are a number of other “laws” that just make no sense at all. Questions of whether or not “Deep Linking is Legal” are so upsetting to me that I almost had to stop reading the post (something like watching a car accident like this one or that one…you clicked, didn’t you?). The question itself led to a conclusion that bloggers should take certain steps when choosing to “deep link” to another site.

What good are these laws if they only apply to the blogosphere? In other words, how can someone apply these rules to blogs without applying them to websites in general?

All this hullabaloo about linking shenanigans are really becoming trite. Frankly, this is all the more reason to embrace social media optimization as the future, don’t you think?

March 8, 2007

Last year a few of us (maybe 10? 12 perhaps?) had a blast playing in a fairly quiet game of SEO Poker. I came in maybe 4th or 5th, but talked a ton of smack really early in the morning.

This year, QZ is back at it and has really put something cool together. I have no idea of what to expect since now that he’s got a huge community the game might get out of hand and intolerably long. But 5 G’s and tons of quality links to one of my sites is enough to get me in it to win it.

If you’re up for it, check out the SEO Poker Tournament page over at SEO Blackhat. The game is scheduled for Saturday, March 24th at 9pm GMT.

Ok, the overwhelming number of questions (and a fair share of complaints) about the month-long blogging sabbatical have come to a head. I never realized that these posts meant something to anyone other than myself. Allow me to explain and recoup.

I must confess that I feel terrible about not being able to blog in over a month. The lapse in writing was not for want of desire but rather for want of discretionary time. Honest. I had recently come of the opinion that blogging had grown into “work” rather than something I truly enjoyed and wanted to do on a consistent basis.

Worrying about readers, links and positioning posts overtook the pleasure of expressing pointed thoughts about the SEM/SEO industry and techniques I’ve been employing therein.

When does blogging become work?

The gorgeous middle ground in blogging is when one loves his/her work. I’m lucky enough to love my work, even when slammed with overwhelming demands on every free minute. But I felt as though blogging was “work, work”, if that makes any sense. This is nothing new, as both Financial Times (on social networking) & the WSJ (blogging becomes work) have written the trend for a couple of years now.

Stick Around.

There are several items that have been begging for attention which I will be covering shortly. From new developments on widgets (apparently now “gadgets” thanks to MSN) to important perspectives on link building, SEO and social media, posts will now return with increasing regularity.

I’ve got an all new design for the blog and a potential migration in the works as well. Thanks for the support! More to come…

*A

February 1, 2007

A fantastic debacle indeed.

I hate to kick a poor sales rep while he’s down, but this is a story about a mistake that everyone should know NOT to commit. Plus it’s really funny. Anytime a mistake becomes a problem that becomes a fiasco, it’s funny. I tried to explain it to this poor acct. manager today what actually transpired unbeknownst to him, but couldn’t do it without laughing (sensitively). Now let me explain:

RedZee SearchUnless we’re talking about arbitrage, I’d never advocate any sort of 3rd tier traffic sources. The traffic is just adware-generated garbage, rarely goes over one pageview/visitor, and just serves to dilute our attention from the traffic that really matters. In this case, his time we’re talking about RedZee Search, a noted 3rd tier search traffic provider that provides blended traffic from a number of sources (their explanation was totally baffling to me as to where they get this traffic from). I happen to have a new client with an existing arrangement with RedZee (for now), and I was in the process of giving them some tracking URLs so that I could monitor how bad this traffic really is.

It began with an innocuous customer service notice:

From: Poor Soon-to-be-Roasted Sales Rep
Sent: Monday, January 29, 2007 6:56 AM
To:
Poor Soon-to-be-Roasted Sales Rep
Subject: Please Update Contact Info

Please update the contact information for RedZee Search
Thank You,

Poor Soon-to-be-Roasted Sales Rep
Sr. Corporate Account Manager
RedZee Search Inc

DOH!But the email above wasn’t a full representation of what happened. The real email included the email addresses of around 100 “clients” in the CC field. Doh!

What could really happen though? Could it really be that big of a mistake?

Yes. The next thing that happened was that a disgruntled client emailed the entire list of clients & prospective clients with the message below. The entire thing was in bold type (because that makes it more important), so the added emphasis and titles on the links are mine:

To All Who Received The Message Below From RedZee:

I also received a copy of this request to “Update Contact Info”. I am writing to all of you to inform you of our company’s experience with RedZee. We own and/or operate approximately 50 web sites.

We paid for 2000 “clicks” as a “test run” for one web site with RedZee, which were to run until they were depleted. Our company uses a very sophisticated tracking system, which counts virtually every click (unless the visitor has their web browser set to “Block Referrer – less than .4%) and indicates the web site that referred the visitor.

We were informed that our 2000 “clicks” had all been used and that we needed to pay more money.

In reality, we received only 93 clicks. Not a single one of these “clicks” went past our landing page, the average length of the “visit” was 1.7 seconds and none resulted in a single sale (we have an pretty high average conversion ratio of 2.7%).

Luckily, we did the small “test run” before committing any large part of our advertising budget to RedZee.

After becoming suspicious, I did a little research (should have beforehand). While there are a few “planted” good reviews, most likely placed by RedZee, I found that a large number of business feel that they were “ripped off” by RedZee.

I’ve been told three times by three different RedZee employees that the amount charged would be credited back to my card that same day. It’s been 3 months since the last time I heard that and nothing has been credited (I plan to initiate a chargeback through my credit card company).

Before giving this company money, do some research by going to Google, Yahoo or any of the major search engines. You’ll find thousands of negative comments about the company and their unsavory practices, not to mention taking your money without giving you anything for it.

Here are just a few links you might want to check out:

Professional Web Services Article (URL Shortened)
http://www.searchengineguide.com/dunn/2006/0713_rd1.html
http://www.seomoz.org/blogdetail.php?ID=465
http://www.webmasterworld.com/ppc/3184419.htm

My purpose in sending this email is to keep others from being defrauded, as our company was. I hope reading this will make everyone think twice and do a little research before doing “business” with RedZee.

Sincerely,
LW

Did the problem stop there? Nope. The email message has now become a bona fide email conversation happening among 50-100 different soon-to-be-ex clients. At least 3 different prospective clients have responded and confirmed that they’re not going to purchase any traffic from RedZee. Other existing clients now realize what a mistake they made thinking that real traffic was this easy to obtain. What could have been a totally simple, harmless email became a seething venting process for unhappy clients – essentially a PR nightmare.

Here are some fairly important tips to remember when sending customer service emails:

  • Don’t EVER make your customers’ emails visible.
  • Don’t EVER make your customers’ emails visible.
  • Don’t EVER make your customers’ emails visible.

If you’re considering using the service, do your due diligence: Ross Dunn over at SearchEngineGuide (referenced above), folks at DigitalPoint and many others have done a more than sufficient job reviewing the service. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel, but I couldn’t resist calling some attention to this email-turned-fiasco.

January 29, 2007

Chicago Bears vs. Ponies

I never wanted to know this much about the market for
secondary tickets. But after an incredible experience negotiating through different online ticket brokers for my own ticket to this year’s superbowl, I became quite intimately familiar with several different ticket brokerage websites and revenue models (i.e. price gouging out my eyes!). The industry is absolutely incredible. No price equilibrium at all. The very same ticket might go for completely different prices on different sites, with intangible factors like security, trustworthiness, reputation, etc. all playing a major part in conversion rates (it did for me).View from My Superbowl Seats

I did not buy my ticket from Stubhub (no selection), TicketsNow (huge service fees), RazorGator (pricey to begin with) or any of the more prominent ticket houses. Instead, I actually bought my ticket from a website that didn’t seem trustworthy at all. Before you judge, I say this because the site just looked far too… “affiliate”. The design wasn’t as clean as the others, but after speaking with the owner we discovered he actually owned the tickets and was able to sell them to us without a “service charge”, which went as high as 20% (price gougers!). When dealing with a ticket that ranges from $3k-$5k for upper level (where we’re sitting), that came out to be a significant savings. So forget about the design. Forget about the shanty graphics or lack of deep links to technically-sound pages full of content. Forget about the fact that I don’t even get a lanyard (a word I discovered just recently) with my purchase.

What attracted me to this site was that it had a solid link profile, a PR7 on a domain from 1998 and yet very few rankings. Some more digging showed they were spending some (probably most) of their money on red-light brokered footer & sidebar links. (funny: integrated ticket brokers paying link brokers). SCORE! Does this guy need some real link building strategy or what? Could I possibly manage to barter SEO for superbowl XLI tix? To see my Bears play after 20 years of losing miserably? No way (right?)…

But before jumping the gun, being the ever-curious search marketer that I am, I needed to know more about the state of search in this vertical. Granted, seasonal terms like “superbowl tickets” come around only annually, but here is a space that is not only broken down to local listings (concert venues), but multiple listings for team-specific, sport-specific, performer-specific, and concert type (comedy, jazz, pop/rock, country, etc.). In short, there are HUGE numbers of event types, all requiring their own deep links. This is the sort of competitive, complicated vertical that I love getting into.

I didn’t even have to pitch. I didn’t even have to mention that I work in search. The owner grabbed my email address and asked me for advice. One cursory examination of the top 10 competitors and a list of actionable suggestions later, we’ve got a meeting set up for the day after the superbowl. If all goes well, i hope to have a client that should help to pay off this ridiculous ticket price fairly soon. On the other hand, the Bears better win or else I’m going to give those guys some really bad advice… (kidding, kidding).

January 11, 2007

Over the last couple of months, the most savvy link builders within the search marketing industry have been most keenly aware of and carefully attuned to the proliferation of widgets as the next big (really big) link building medium. Here’s my take on the trend and where we might see it go.

There is plenty of merit to the notion that widget development and “widget bait” will be an incredible form of link building. After all, look at the Backlinks that popular widgets like the LinkedIn Badge (over 1.2M) and MyBlogLog (half a million) have built in just a few months (24 is a few, right?). Before you read this post, you should know that I agree with Stuntdubl, Andy and Cameron: I’ve been a believer (& widget die hard since hearing Lawrence Coburn reallly turn the heads of search marketers at WebMasterWorld). Widgets are going to be very big in 2007. But there’s more to it than just that.

How realistic is it to think that anyone can create a widget to popularize their websites with backlinks? Do most commercial sites really have a chance of building and delivering widgets as a means of link building? Actually…probably not. Site owners might be able to buy space on a network of popular and widely adopted widgets (more on that later), but the inherent barrier seems just too large to build the links.

The Inherent Barrier to Link Building via Widgets: Adoption
EatShrimp Widget Widgets are more than just a marketing medium. Widgets are creations that deserve careful and deliberate planning, attention, publicity and refinement. Or at least a super entertaining angle to foster the adoption. Who’s going to put your appliance company’s “appliance parts widget” on their blog? Well…actually…it has 234 downloads. Not too shabby, depending on how many installs actually stuck after that fairly simple programming job. Surely, there has to be some sort of mass appeal to make the investment worthwhile (in terms of generating Backlinks), right? Well even though a groundbreaking “Shrimp Recipe” widget has almost 3,700 downloads, the site has less than 200 backlinks, meaning either the widget wasn’t built properly (for backlinks) or else it just wasn’t installed.

Does Your Widget Have What it Takes??

Let’s take a look at some of the most popular widgets (according to WidgetBox):

In no particular order, we’ve got:

  • And following closely behind were Pacman (my favorite) and perhaps the only one that actually lets you interact with your users, Polldaddy
  • I wanted to add more via Snipperoo, but they were just too lame. (I’m sorry but I just won’t link to a “sexy lingerie widget”—CASE IN POINT!

The Secret to Wide Adoption: Entertainment and Tools
Taking a quick look at the Sniperoo widget directory, it’s clear that widgets intended for entertainment (including games & music) and blog tools outnumber all of the rest by a margin of 4-to-1. There are 3 conclusions to draw here, if you’re trying to build links via widgets:

  1. Build links by delivering a less-than-relevant yet attractive widget. (E.G. your ecommerce site builds a “movie widget” just for the hell of it)
  2. Try to build links with a more relevant widget (MuseStorm will help in a big way), but start with an ingenious idea, invest in its development, make it incredible and push its adoption. (I mentioned this above. I called it, “careful and deliberate planning, attention, publicity and refinement”). Some of these are MBL (of course), CrazyEgg & certainly Lee Odden’s dearth of rss feed buttons (also in use at left). Update: Lee’s rss buttons generated over 40,000 backlinks and who knows how much traffic. There’s proof-positive that real widget success will take some serious insight, time & love. How many link builders out there have these qualitites? (hint: I can count them on my fingers & toes).
  3. Wait for the “next big widget” and try to advertise on it with non-javascript text links. Good luck, bud, you’ll be waiting forever.

Birth of the Widget Monetization Network
Stuntdubl wrote, “The next big widget is going to incorporate advertising”. Monetization in some capacity. There’s NO doubt about it. If MyBlogLog can sell for $10M and remain fairly innocuous and ad-light, then the floodgates are open for the pioneers of widget monetization. But don’t think this will be limited to just one widget. It would make sense for there to be a widget network monetization model, much like the one that Text-Link-Ads, AdSense or YPN delivers to publishers and advertisers. This would be the means by which we hurdle the adoption obstacle and getstraight to the dollars and cents.What impact would this have on link building? It would probably be a crushing blow. Lawrence Coburn’s analysis of the monetization of widgets gives some solid insight into the future of advertising on these things:

It’s not a stretch to imagine Bitty Browser as a clearinghouse for publishers and advertisers where Bitty matches advertisers with publishers (or allows self selection), and publishers can grab a snippet of widget code just like they can on AdSense or Amazon.

Advertising (at least branding) is already present in widgets that execute well (ChipIn is a quintessential example of this – branding, sharing, etc.). But the search for the next bigwig(dget) is really begging for monetization via either analytics (charge led by MuseStorm and Clearspring) or some other means.

Your Saving Grace: The Blogosphere Has ALL Kinds of Crazy People
After looking through some of the widgets in the galleries, I was amazed to see how many downloads there were for such strange (to me) widgets. Could the blogosphere seriously be so large that thousands of people want to offer shrimp recipes?? We learn something new every day, I suppose.

If you’re into playing the widget game, check out some of these more Notable Widget Development Resources:

  • Recent Widget Conference: (have they planned the next one yet? Check out the speakers listed on their site for a good start):

Widget galleries (you’ll need these for inspiration):

Widget Industry Pulsars:

Sooo, can any old ecommerce company develop and deliver a mean little widget for some heavy duty link building?? I don’t want to be a naysayer. In fact, I’d love for a commercial site to demonstrate widget development as an ancillary means for link building. Please drop me a line when you do give it a shot—I’m looking for case studies!

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