Monthly Archives: January 2008

Writing or Buying Paid Posts

Writing paid posts

Do you blog? Do you sell paid posts or sponsored reviews? If the answer is yes and you want to get top line dollars for your blog posts then here is a little message for you.

STOP WRITING ABOUT EVERYTHING AND ANYTHING AND FOR THE LOVE OF GOD. PLEASE LINK OUT TO OTHER STUFF WHEN YOU WRITE!

I looked at a few blogs last week that offered paid reviews. There was a disturbingly typical pattern that occured over and over and over.

If you look at a typical blog post (by that I mean a blog that doesn’t do the paid post thing)  you’ll often find that a person might link out to a variety of sources. They’ll point to this domain or that domain to add weight to a point. Sometimes they might not even link out at all, sometimes they’ll write the piece as if they actually cared, they’ll inject a little passion, a little enthusiasm for their muse, they’ll write with a little panache a little style and verve, they’ll add something different to the mix, at least the good ones will.

What am I saying here? I’m saying that on the whole, a lot of the blogs out there writing for profit simply aren’t making a big enough effort! Ok, so yes, a lot of the people purchasing such posts are doing so because of the value they get for the keywords they target. It’s a big reason behind why some search engines come out so publicly against the things. They like us to believe that paid posts harm relevancy. They formulate arguments and show examples of poor quality posts that purport to review important topics and say that they harm the user experience. The odd thing about such a claim is of course that the opposite is true. People using these services do so because they have a real world product that is spot on and laser targetted to the market that they serve, the bloggers who write about their products don’t end up ranking for them in the SERPs either, the products that they write about do. I’ve written about such things in the past already but never really expounded on the topic itself but as its Sunday and Ive got an hour or so before I pick my son up, then heck, why not.

Good blogs versus bad blogs

There are good blogs and bad blogs – I’ll focus on the bad type and tell it like it is. If you have a blog and you are looking to monetise it via some kind of paid post or review route then you really have to start looking at it from the angle of a potential advertiser. You have to convince the prospective customer that what you are going to write is going to stand the tests of time.

Off putting flags from a buyer perspective

  • If your blog is plastered with badges and words that say “I SELL LINKS” in twenty five foot neon lettering then that really is not good – Do not stand on street corners shouting, hey officer of the law, I have a Bren gun under my coat and I’m going to shoot yo ass with it! Cos, you’ll just get busted.
  • If you have a blog in a particular niche, say Computing or Floristry and your home page is littered with posts about phentermine, cialis, online gambling, hotels in timbukfarkintu, then it’s going to look a little crappy, it’s going to shout out “LOW QUALITY” – By selling out to the highest bidder you’ll ultimately lower your value to advertisers. When a search engine cop stops by, they’ll instantly see your blog for what it is and kick you up the hiney. If you really must chase every vertical, then go and set up a few other blogs instead. Don’t ruin what you’ve built up over the years for that quick fast buck.
  • Do not have a one or two post blog home page where your posts stay on the home page for one or two days only – Keep your home page long, output 10 or 15 blog posts on your homepage, snippetise them and ensure that a link to your advertiser appears amongst them. Advertisers want to get maximum exposure for their money. By maximising the time that your review stays on the front page, you are increasing the attractiveness of your offering.
  • Crap crap posts. The anti paid post camp like to point to instances of low quality stuff. They love to point out how awful some of the stuff that’s out there is. It makes their whole PR job that much easier. Do yourself and the advertiser a favour. Write the post like you would any other. Say it like it means something to you, if it doesn’t then maybe you ought to consider why the hell it is you are writing about it. If you simply say ooh company x is really cool and they do this wonderful keyword product, then people are going to see through it. Be inventive, be imaginative, make an effort.
  • Don’t be an idiot. If you use a brokerage service to advertise your blog, then please please please, don’t say high quality pagerank n blog in your blog title or description. It really doesn’t help and sticks out like a plasma tv in ancient Rome. Don’t make the job of those looking to hurt you any easier that it already may be.
  • Terrible terrible english – Some people write the most awful blithering nonsense full of typographical and the most basic of grammatical errors. I appreciate that for some people, especially those in emergent economies that $10 for 20 or 30 minutes work can seem very appealing, but do know this, to some, it’s a reason not to purchase. If english isn’t your mother tongue and you know it’s a little rusty then take a little time to ask a native english speaker to run your work over once finished, it’ll pay dividends long term.
  • Nofollow – I don’t need to say much on this. If you blog and your post links are nofollow, then the level of interest in your offering will speak for itself. Nuff said.

It’s not only the bloggers of course, they need help from the advertisers and the brokerage services too. Whilst it’s not for me to teach snakes how to suck eggs and all that, I do nonetheless have an opinion or two on the topic built up on the back of having to work with and sift through a platform or two.

Advertisers

  • Write good adverts – Inspire your bloggers with your creatives. Think about the type of blog posts you want to see for your products or clients. Help your bloggers by giving them ideas or examples.
  • Be flexible – Give your bloggers options. Let them link out liberally, instruct them too even. Tell them to cite other sources than your own. Get them to link to wiki’s or Y! answers other companies even. You want your post to look as natural as you can get it. Get away from that bog standard approach. Be creative for your brand and your products. Deep link and vary your requirements, chase that long tail , take a long view.
  • Create more opportunities – Don’t just write one advert and be done with it. Write lots of different ones and vary your requirements. Mix it all up . By doing so you will get a whole lot more diversity. You might have to spend a little more to get what you need, but in the long term, it’ll pay.
  • Innovate -use your noodles, lower your costs and deliver more effective solutions. Consider  combining your efforts with other themed advertisers. Build relationships with  advertisers and quality bloggers, employ them directly, use them to help build new content and projects. Break out.

Brokerage services

  • Educate – Your bloggers are the lifeblood of your service. Some of you just don’t do enough to educate those who are contributing to your bottom line. If they aren’t kept abreast of changes and policies and shifts in the market place, then it’s going to affect the perception of your product. If you want the continued patronage of agencies and big spend clients then you really must step up to the plate and deliver more on this.
  • Incentivise – Reward quality posts, quietly behind the scenes. If blogger x writes above and beyond the call of duty then reward them. Just because Johnny bloggo writes 10 posts per day and earns you x profit doesn’t necessarily mean he is doing a good job. Encourage quality, weaken the arguments of those who would see you destroyed.
  • Innovate – Keep on innovating, don’t stay still. One brokerage service I know of offers a fantastic sub product that is very popular and very powerful, products like this are an immense asset in competitive webmastering, please deliver more of these.
  • Build trust in your products. Give us the option to trust in what you say, evaluate your bloggers and what they write, tell us who they are, what they do, yet controversially perhaps, do so in a way that masks their identities. Too many bloggers are getting caught up in unfriendly fire. It needn’t be so, be inventive with your platforms and deliver.

I’m sure there are more, but you get the general gist. If you want to make paid blogging attractive and want to build a quality resource then be smart about it, it’s a big cake we can all have our equal share. The internet doesn’t exist to benefit those who just happen to have found a way to make good money from it. It’s there for the little guy too. Let’s not forget that fact.

Have a great day!

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Google Like it – Promote your site in your SERPs

Here’s an interesting little thing.

This button (fig. 1b) will move the result to the top of the page and add this orange marker (fig. 1a) next to it so you can easily recognize it. The result(s) you promote will appear at the top whenever you search for the same keyword(s) in the future.

Maybe it’s old, I haven’t seen it previously. Looks like one of those personalization of SERP features  that allows you to manipulate your own returned search results.

At the moment it seems like you need a Google account to use the thing, which may be a sign that they’d like to use such signals to affect SERP outcome. Not to mention user demographics, behaviours and all that other track your movement stuff.

What I’d like to know is whether or not they will be taking such factors into account long term. If a lot of people continually push a result to the top, does this mean that it’s a great result, or does it just mean that some group of SEO’s have found a way to cut in and mimic a few natural behaviours? How many Google accounts do you have? ;)

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Why domain authority and trust is not to be trusted

Don’t trust Google to tell you the source

There’s a certain irony in the whole trustrank and authority shaboogle.Googles algo it seems, puts so much trust in certain domains that it actually hoodwinks its surfers into believing that other domains are more relevant than the original source documents themselves.

Michael Gray at Graywolf draws attention to a factor that anyone who works in SEO these days is either painfully aware of or ecstatically pleased about. If you have ‘authority and trust’ in sufficient numbers then given a little effort, you can rank for just about anything.

Michael’s piece is particularly interesting as it illustrates clearly that Google has difficulty, (despite one article clearly containing many clues as to its origin) in differentiating the origins of a particular piece. For Google I guess on that occasion it was encouraging for them that they managed to get the Forbes result to appear before the MSNBC result, yet I suspect that this wasn’t universal and that it would very much depend upon who else was referencing any article on any given day.

Whilst Michael’s piece focuses on the duplicate content issue, it got me thinking and kinda pushed me off on a tangent about the whole attribution thing. I was intrigued by this, so decided to dig a little deeper and see if the same rules applied, I suspected they didn’t but wanted to see in any case.

Google and document source attribution

Google tells us that one of the ways we can tell them that we are the originating source is by embedding a link back to our pieces within our articles.

Syndicate carefully: If you syndicate your content on other sites, Google will always show the version we think is most appropriate for users in each given search, which may or may not be the version you’d prefer. However, it is helpful to ensure that each site on which your content is syndicated includes a link back to your original article. You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to block the version on their sites with robots.txt.

This supposedly helps them to determine document source, allowing them to give a more precise SERP attribution. Besides the fact that this clearly isn’t working I had to laugh at the line You can also ask those who use your syndicated material to block the version on their sites with robots.txt. as come on guys, seriously who has the time to go around to multiples of sources and ask them to do that! Most re-distributors distribute this stuff for the very inadequacies that this article discusses! Why would they do that? Anyhow, I digress, getting back on track.

I wanted to look at other examples from Forbes to see how generally Google handled other long tail SERPs. I dug out the first post title I came across from a recent archive at Forbes and entered it in the Google search box – How to travel well on a weak dollar which showed the Forbes originator at position #5 and the MSNBC version for the query at position #1.

What is particularly interesting about this SERP is that despite the MSNBC version being littered with references back to Forbes and despite the timestamp for the originating source clearly showing that Forbes published the article 1st, Google still decide that MSNBC should be the place that users visit as the 1st choice reference for the particular piece. If this wasn’t telling enough, it also showed 3 other separate domains, all carrying the same syndicated content and decided that they too were more relevant than the source.

How can this be so? How can 4 other domains be more relevant for an article than the original source? As Michael pointed out, it’s a clear case of authority and trust pipping everything else at the post, especially when the syndication points have very well referenced link or user profiles.

Some people are lazy

My view is that in this case, what may be happening is that the domains which are referencing the article at Forbes, are themselves being re-syndicated and picked up by other bloggers and networks who in turn are looking for related stuff to write about and reference. The factors that influence their own domain trust and authority dictate that they then appear higher than the source for the given piece. Lots of bloggers are lazy when looking for a topic to write about and will often link back to the 1st point of call, rather than the originating piece. If they are using the likes of Google to research their writing, then by pushing down the original, Google are actually contributing to this phenomenon and are exacerbating the issue.

Publishers being screwed by domain authority

This clearly has massive ramifications for publishers the world over, especially those of a niche variety with lim ited comparative authority. If you happen to write a good piece and are fortunate enough for it to be picked up on and referenced, perhaps via use of your RSS feed, then the bottom line would appear to be that even if you take every step to give out that signal that you and you alone are the source article, that the fact is that given enough repetition by domains with a bigger trust score than your own, your piece will pushed further on down the SERPs. In other words, from a search perspective at least, Google will tell the world that other domains that carry your stuff are more relevant than your very own.

Of course, it isn’t easy

To be fair to Google, I guess that it is difficult to determine precisely the point in time that a document is published. The challenges are legion in that other sources can fake the last-modified header, and dynamically driven content fed via some mod_rewritten script will usually output a different timestamp for each document refresh. A domain that is spidered more frequently that one with lesser authority might show content in SERPs before the originator, again due to its authority and trust score determining that its content has more value, even if it isn’t the content originator! Yet at the same time, it surely can’t be so difficult to say that if document is referenced or points to a version of same content, then document equals the source.

Perhaps the very nature of on page textual analysis is so underdeveloped that the other ‘noise’ on a page makes it difficult to determine exact duplication. By noise I mean surrounding navigation text, imagery, page layout, other content.

A page might carry an article from a 3rd party source and might supplement it with lots of other stuff that isn’t to be found on the originating page. You can imagine how tough it might be to work all this out.

Reducing the impact

If anything, it shows us that if we do decide to distribute our content, and we want to take steps to protect ourselves from scenarios like this then besides say, adding some branding to our post titles or cutting off the article length or adding extra page titles to our feed, that until Google gets its act together there is very little we can do other than hit and hope that we don’t fall too far down the SERP.

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SEO Porn

SEO Porn – The content of this post are not in the least bit erotic, in fact  I kid you not when I aver that its contents are probably  about as elevating as a piece of dry toast in a butterless world devoid of strawberry jam!

Still, made you look made you stare made you change your underwear perhaps…? Well, no perhaps not. Anyhow the brief point of it all is do sebastian a lemon and throw a little link his way for his SEO Porn experiment.

Google has stated via MC that it doesn’t index password protected content, I believe that Sebastian is going to look and see whether this is the case for all  engines.

Ok, thats it, no pictures, sorry. :D

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How crap content contributes to the search economy

Is that trackback link a pigs ear or a silk purse?

Did you ever look in your comments box and spot a trackback that had just your snippet and some anchor text of a site trying to rank for their target keywords? Of course you did! You probably didn’t approve it, but if you did then they got you and you are a sucker! Yet what is it with these annoying things? What is their point? Why don’t they just feck off and die a nasty somewhere?

Just this very day I received my own piece of trackback spam from a site that had been made to look like it actually added value.

The site itself had a sign up form, it talked about anti spam initiatives, it used words like community and participate, it gave account holders the option to review content requiring a sign up to view the reviews, it did lots of things that amounted to not very much. It was also butt ugly, and about as useful as a bacon sarnie at a barmitzvah. It reminded me of an old keyword stuffing project I played with some time back in 2004. Keyword after keyword after keyword supplemented with rss feeds and not very much else, and for very good reason too, but more on that later. It looked like the kind of site that you just wouldn’t really want to play in. It had no coolness factors, it wasn’t styled, it wasn’t anything really other than a big pile of texts beneath crafted titles designed to get search referals from people who knew not much better.

 

General Footprints and Red Flags

The site sending this particular trackback had obvious footprints, yet to some these might not have been so apparent. Not everyone looks at a site through cynical eyes, some just think ‘oooh a link to my blog, how cool’ and approve it, or worse still their blog is set to automatically approve such things.

Snippets snippets snippets

This is where it usually starts, you see a snippet a little like the one above in your comment moderation thing, you hop on over (usually out of curiosity) and find that chunk of your text in some long list of other chunks of text from other scraped rss feeds from other unsuspecting bloggers discussing similar things. No commentary, no context, just snippets.

Ads ads ads

You are also likely to see a huge smattering of contextual ads all over the shop, presented in a way that leaves you little option other than to either click an ad or hit your back button. Your reasons for interaction are limited by the lack of availability,followed very closely by the lack of motivation to do so – in essence you see very quickly that its a big pile of old crap.

Now to the person following this trackback, the semi or experienced blogger, the likelihood is that he’ll just hit his back button. He’d have seen the scraped snippets, muttered a little, (deciding it’s a splog )and left it at that. Just another one of those nonsense crap websites he’d be forgiven for thinking, yet in truth that would be about as far from the truth as you could get.

Splogging pays

These things, whilst limited in shelf life, really have a window of time whereby they earn people money. Some of these things do things like cloak the content to search referrals so that visitors don’t even get the sploggy content, instead just getting the adverts dressed up as links. Others put in sneaky noscroll attributes in the body tags and disable the history so that users have little other choice than to either hit the red x or click the advert to escape.

There’s a certain idealistic nonsense with the notion of so called ‘clean’ SERPs. Search engines like to wax lyrical about the integrity of their indexes, the natural search teams are big on extolling the virtues of their anti web spam mechanisms and creating the best experience for their users, whilst at the same time their revenue generation departments are continually looking at ways of getting their advertisers both clicks and eyeballs. It’s almost like there exists an agreement to continually disagree. There’s this very hot potato that is perpetually passed back and forth between the two departments, as these competing constituencies look to achieve their individual aims whilst continually frustrated by the requirements of the other.

 

Bad SERPs are Good versus Good SERPS are Bad

If we consider a notion that ‘clean’ SERPs = good user experience, and that too good a SERP = bad advertiser experience and that bad advertiser experience = low revenues, then we can begin to at least appreciate some of the reasons why sites that offer a poor user experience are allowed to thrive. We can also begin to attach legs to the idea that in lots of ways a SERP that contains an imprecise or mixed bag (think wikipedia, social media) of results that may not be as useful, might just help that user click on one of those contextual ads to the top or left of the results. Net outcome being, a dollar in the pocket of the search service.

All things to all men

I’m sure that there exists a mind or two in paid corporate search, whereby they dream of a time where every one of their top ten results is filled with a paid ad of sorts. Just think of a SERP that contained paid links for every single query! Wouldn’t that be the most phenomenal economically efficient use of it’s technology ever? Relevancy would shoot through the roof as advertisers clamoured for very specific keywords relative to their content, ad prices would rocket with SEO becoming little other than a quaint memory of some idealistic information retrieval system.

Imagine further, a world where every query had a page with a perfect score, or a page trying very hard to fit that perfect score and paying for the privilege too. We might even laugh and snort at such a conception as being completely ridiculous and unlikely, yet there is a reality that suggest that the continued upturn of investment in search and the web in general can only realistically lead to one outcome for both natural and PPC search. Those paying the money will cherry pick and invest in the keywords and topics that are most profitable, which will be those that are most easy to convert and monopolise and monetise.

The splog creators of today are the lazy version of the real content creators of tomorrow. Sites like Mahalo and wikipedia should be petrified by the likes of Google Knols a sure fire sign of where the minds at Google at least are seeing where the future lies. Heck, why return a wikipedic result when a knol of the same, can be plastered with contextual ads or subtle product placements.

Some might suggest that Knols has missed the boat already. A look at some of the SERPs of today reveals that there are a multitude of savvy site builders already seeing the benefits of associated keywords and themes; building traffic to serve the needs of people looking for information. Domains are skillfully leveraging their authority and trust scores to grow their content bases and SERP penetration, the traffic gained being used to get people to sign up to ideas, buy associated products, click on ads, make money. Every single day, the Internet becomes that little bit more commercial. Niches increasingly populated, hobbyists outdone by smooth sophisticated technologists doing the same, only better – web 2.0 versions of stuff already done. People like this certainly see the value and are actively advertising on knol based searches, already building preparing for the opportunites presented.

Idealism versus reality on a competitive planet

Of course it’s wrong to suggest that splogs and mashup real content creators are one and the same. They are not. Whilst they both share an equal objective of making money they are very different in one important and fundamental way in that one creates and adds value for itself and others, whilst one creates and adds value for itself alone. Therein lies the difference.

Should anything be done about companies creating real content for monetisation purposes? Isn’t it what the search engines want after all? Does it really matter that a better ‘free’ SERP damages their bottom line, or does the dichotomous nature of the factors that make up its business dictate that these are just a side effect of the business that cannot be effectively policed, not without some huge hue and cry from the publishers that benefit.

I find it a little amusing that despite all the crap, despite all the mutterings about how good content is defined as that which gives the user a better search experience and of how web spam is all evil and bad, the reality remains that these things continue to thrive, even though a responsible ad channel could reduce their raison detre in a heartbeat! Cut the ability to earn at its source and you instantly reduce the motivation to do so, right? Well perhaps not.

Impressions and clicks equals money in the bank.

Stock price is king – Despite all the words the fact is that these splog things earn them money. Forget the idea of SERP pollution, that’s just collateral damage which can be fixed with a periodic clean up; so long as the advertisers of their networks continue to see a ROI, then sites like the ones described will continue to proliferate.

What effect this will have on the whole web economy in general is up for debate. Perhaps the continual battles of the internal constituencies of the search engines themselves will help keep things in equilibrium. Perhaps it’s simply a case of one not being able to function without the other. A near perfect index, with near perfect results giving people too much choice and options would certainly lead to a diminution in click throughs to ads, whereas a SERP that went too far the other way would quickly lead to complaints and at worst lead to some altavista type meltdown of user base.

It’s a clever duck and it never stands still

What is abundantly clear is that splogs and the content that they use can be a complex moving target that is never that easy to pin down or eliminate. We can’t rely on others to deal with what is a problem for us all. We can’t dictate to the search engines that they shouldn’t allow such things to prosper as in most cases our individual voices will fall on deaf ears. It isn’t really in their interests to eliminate this stuff, and we shouldn’t be too trusting of them either. Sites labeled as thin affiliates know only too well the pain of arbitrary decisions, not to mention the individuals targeted for far lesser crimes.

As for the likes of me and you – Maybe it helps to bear in mind that we can make a difference, we can choose not to help them or make their lot easier. Look at your trackbacks critically, don’t accept them all carte blanche, take timeout to see what they are about, if you are about in forums or other blogs then think of who you are linking to and in what way, if you are a blog owner or forum operator then don’t allow these types of ‘visitors’ to use you to fuel this stuff. These people just crap on your doorstep and don’t care for the mess they leave behind. Don’t rely on nofollow to do it for you either as you never really know what power your link is giving them, be that today or a couple of years down the line!

Cheers

Postscript: I have to laugh else I’ might blub like a baby; can you believe that a mere 2 hours after writing this, 10 splogs are trackback spamming me for links, using my content and supplementing it with ads. Something tells me that RSS feed were never intended to be used in this way :D

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