SEO can be automated!

rs_scsmall.jpg … partially

Loren Baker has asked a thought-provoking question: “Can SEO be automated?” Coincidentally he asks the question just a day after we released a product at TechCrunch40 with just such a goal.

It seems that the folks at Commerce360 are working to build a product similar to our RankSense. There is a fundamental difference in approach, however. We are not trying to replace the human element; we are trying to make humans work far easier and simpler. Truthfully, I don’t even think their goal of fully-automated SEO is possible. In many ways search engine optimization is plain old marketing—and marketing is driven by creativity. No machine can quite claim to be creative just yet. Read more

Success is about not giving up

boxer.jpgOne of the most important lessons in life I learned in college. My grades were high enough to qualify for honors, but I was too confident in my abilities at times. I did not study much and even failed one of my classes, which incidentally disqualified me automatically from graduating with honors. I remember how that affected me and how it affected my performance for the rest of my college career. When I realized that I might fail that same course during my “second round” at it, I grew what you might call a pessimistic attitude. At this point, I sat myself down, reflected about my attitude, and decided to turn the tables around. I made a commitment to never give up. In hindsight, I am glad I had this experience because it taught me that in order to succeed you need to fail—and to try again until you reach your goal. Read more

Why you should target the most competitive keywords

competition.jpgEverybody writing about SEO will tell you that it is not a good idea to optimize your site for the most popular keywords in your niche. What are your chances of success if you tried to rank for “internet marketing, where there are about half a million websites ranking for that term and most likely many savvy competitors?” I want to tell you why I chose to ignore such advice years ago, and how I was able to reach heights I couldn't have dream of by doing so. Of course it is also clear why the guys at the top are so eager to give such advice—nobody likes to face more competition. ;-)

I remember reading such advice five years ago when Sumantra Roy's KEI was a key ratio to identify keyword opportunities. I similarly recall an earlier period when I was still working on salary and planning to branch out on my own. I used to ask my friends and colleagues, mostly engineers, whether they thought that starting a business was a good idea. Their answer was always that they didn't think so. “Why leave the security and comfort of a paycheck every two weeks?” “Why take unnecessary risks?” After a while I realized that I was asking advice from the wrong people. How could they provide advice for something they didn't have any experience with? I decided to trust my instincts instead, and put my confidence in taking calculated risks. Read more

A disheartening business model taking advantage of the naïve

scammer1.jpgYesterday I was handed what appeared to be a bill due for payment. At first, I thought it was some domain registration fee, but the last time I checked we don't pay more than $9 dollars a year per domain. Being a busy person, as I think most business owners are, I would have probably authorized it blindly as I have more pressing matters than some $35 fee. But since it was about search engines, keywords and rankings, I stopped and scanned the document out of curiosity.

I checked it and didn't recognize the company billing me. I did recognize the domain name as one of ours that we have not yet made use of. The 'bill' was for an annual subscription costing $35 dollars. I was shocked to find out that this was a sneaky solicitation in the guise like a bill! At the very least, it seems that a cautious lawyer advised them to put a disclaimer on the 'solicitation bill'. Take a look at the image (click to enlarge).

scambill1.jpg

Now, you can argue with me that this is not a scam, as it is clear in the disclaimer/warning that it is a solicitation. Legally, it is probably not a scam, but let me ask these simple questions:

  • Why do I have a customer number if I have never done any business with them?

  • If it is a solicitation, why are they dressing it up like a bill?

  • Why can't they make it look like a normal ad in which they explain why I should pay them in the first place?

  • Which are these '14 established' search engines where I am listed, supposedly as of August 14?

  • What are the eight keywords for which they are going to provide four ranking reports a year?

I don't know you, but I don't like this type of solicitation. They say they send these bills to millions of site owners. Imagine if everyone started sending bills to all their potential clients—people that have no business with them yet, who don’t know the services or why they might need them—and appending a label saying that it is just a solicitation. That is totally ridiculous.

The reality here is that this is a numbers game. There will always be people trusting enough or busy enough that will blindly pay for services presented like this. With less than a 1% success rate they would still make a hefty sum. But what are the victims getting?

I understand that all businesses are working to make money. But what is the problem with actually delivering value in exchange for that money? Maybe I am old-fashioned or too naïve myself, but I like to put myself in the shoes of my clients and ask: “What am I getting for the money I am paying this guy?” If the answer is nothing, I think I’d better find some other business to be in. I feel most people hate to waste money and time on undeserving things.

What would you do if you got a bill/solicitation like this?

Success Means Security: How to protect your most profitable web sites from distributed denial of service attacks (an open source approach)

captain.jpgOne of the side effects of success is that you need to worry about security. You see how celebrities have to walk around with bodyguards, their homes have state of the art alarm systems, and the paparazzi is still always looking for a chink in their armor.

The same thing happens online. The more successful you are, the tighter the security of your online assets has to be. (You don't want your competitor ending up with your customer list, do you?)

It is always a good idea to install firewalls, intrusion detection systems, and to have an experienced system administrator or a competent hosting provider that regularly patches your servers with the latest service packs and security updates. Having your site simply defaced is the “best-case scenario” of what could happen when your site's security is breached. It is incredible how hackers break into sites, steal customer information worth thousands of dollars and sell it for a few hundred bucks. Personally, I place decoys in my customer databases so that I can tell when/if this valuable information has been stolen.

Unfortunately there is a type of security attack that is extremely difficult to fight: a distributed denial of service (DDOS). On the up side, you know you are doing really well when hackers try this on you. ;) Read more

A Never-ending Battle — Protecting your content from CGI hijackers

frogsoldier1.jpgIn computer security we have several ongoing battles: the virus/spyware writers vs. the antivirus vendors, the spammers vs. the anti-spam vendors, the hackers vs. the security experts. Add to that list the search engine marketers vs. the CGI hijackers.

Dan Thies, the undisputed keyword research master, used his influence in the search engine marketing industry to bring the problem we have blogged about in the past to a wider audience. Specifically, the issue is the CGI proxy hijacking. He mentioned a couple of solutions, but as I pointed out in my comment, both solutions have weaknesses. I recommended a stronger countermeasure, similar to what is in use in the anti-spam industry at the moment. But after reflecting on my proposed solutions and others’, it is clear in my head that this is a never-ending battle. We can create defenses to current techniques and attackers will adapt and make their attacks smarter. Read more

Advanced Cloaking Technique: How to feed password-protected content to search engine spiders

goldenkey.jpgNo doubt that at some point you have done a search in Google, clicked on an attractive result, and come up with a frightening wall—the article or page in question requires a subscription! ;-) As a user, we all find this annoying, and the last thing we want to do is get a new name and password. But as a content provider, it’s an excellent business move. Premium/paid content is a fine monetization strategy for anyone with content good enough to sell.

It also brings up an interesting question for SEO. How exactly does Google index paid content?

I got this email on from my loyal reader Wing Yew:

Hamlet,

I've read your blog since the day you launched.  That said, I can
completely appreciate if you don't have time to respond to this
message or post a blog about it.  On the off chance you do know an
answer, I knew I had to ask.

Question:  How do you have google/yahoo/msn spider password protected
content?  I know that SEOMoz does it with their premium content, but
I'm not sure how.  I'm rather desperately seeking out a hard and fast
answer… and I know of no better person to whom to go.

for His reknown,

Wing Yew

Saying that I've been extremely busy lately is an understatement, but how can I say no to a loyal reader that has been following my blog from day one? Thanks for your support, Wing! Letting search engines index paid content is not only a good idea, it is also a very clever one. Read more

Keepers and Sneezers: Two signals of branding success

The power of branding

bigsneeze.jpgI talked about defensible traffic in my previous post, but ultimately all your traffic sources can disappear, leaving you only with the visitors that remember your site, the ones that do not need to follow a link or click on a Google Ad. For me, those visitors are an excellent measure of the true success of my sites. Those visitors represent the strength of my brand.

There are two clear signals that tell me how strong a brand is: direct traffic and brand searches. Direct traffic visitors are visitors that simply type the URL or domain name in their browser. These visitors know the site. Brand search visitors are usually visitors that are not Web-savvy and go everywhere by searching. At least they remember the name of the site, but they don't remember the domain extension.

Both are indications that the site name is on the mind of the visitor. They are keepers: if every other traffic method disappeared, you will still get those visitors. Read more

Flip This Web site: How to make money others are missing

houserepairs.jpgHave you seen A&E's TV show Flip This House? The idea is to buy old houses for affordable prices, remodel them, and sell them for a nice profit. In another post I recommended buying established web sites as an excellent link-building tactic. I actually mentioned that this is a practice for big leaguers because web sites with worthy traffic and links are usually expensively out of reach for most bloggers. But I neglected to mention a strategy that can be used by anyone, not only those with big budgets: find a web site with a lot of traffic, but with terrible monetization efforts.  

Sites that are already making money sell for 4 to 7 figures, but usually those sites have savvy entrepreneurs behind them that succeed in monetizing every single visitor that lands in their clutches. On the other hand, there are many sites that receive several thousand visitors per day, but make less than 3 digits a month. Why? While they have succeeded in gaining the eyeballs, they don't have a clue as to how to turn those into dollars. They don't have a monetization strategy, or else they have a very poor one.  

As the owner is not making much, he or she will usually be very happy to sell the web site for a very affordable price. And just like Flip This House, all we have to do is remodel the web site and improve its value. But instead of selling it off, we are going to keep it as a solid source of traffic, links and money. My previous post about split testing should provide you an excellent start toward dramatically improving the site’s monetization. But let me tell you about some other considerations. Read more

An Open Invitation: Conversions don't start on the landing page

invitation.jpgSome old friends found my blog and asked me a few novice questions personally. I realized that I have not talked much about traffic monetization strategies. There are excellent blogs out there that give solid advice on how to make money online. As has been my practice so far, I will not water what is already wet, but this is a topic that needs some attention. 

There is one fundamental thing I want my readers to understand. While there are many (often conflicting) opinions out there on the Web about making money—about what works and what won’t, what sells and what doesn't, which merchants or traffic sources are better—the only way to know for sure is to test it yourself.  

This has always been my way of doing things. Any new idea that comes to mind or that I learn from someone else, as long as it the basic logic test (“Does it make sense?”), I try it out. I love testing, so I am certain you won't be surprised to learn that I especially love split testing. Imagine how ecstatic I was when Google decided to release the Google Website Optimizer (GWO) for free to Adwords advertisers. Offermatica charges $10k dollars a month for a similar product. Why? Because split testing works! That is where the money is. Read more