John Andrews is a Competitive Webmaster and Search Engine Optimization Consultant in Seattle, Washington. This is John Andrews blog on issues of interest to the SEO community and competitive webmasters. Want to know more?

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October 26th, 2007 by john andrews

Social Media Marketing and Irrational Exuberance

I have some middle-aged Korean friends. The kind of Koreans that wear sharply-tailored, brass-button suits and traditional Burberry trench coats. They appreciate fashion at a level that eschews “common” trends like Louis Vuitton, in favor of hand-made unique accessories only recognized as fashionable by other, similarly-tasted and similarly traveled peers. They are extremely nationalistic, passionately despise what they collectively dislike, and passionately support what they collectively like. They are generally moderately smart, always decisive, and yet always inclusive of the opinions of their community peers. One could say they argue as friends, and act on consensus. They are generally a lot of fun to be around, but since I am not Korean myself, I have to be careful I don’t make any predictions.

One they taught me is that America will eventually become like Korea in one particular aspect: the all-or-nothing approach to challenge.

When a Korean is elected President, he is elected by a landslide vote. When a Korean President comes to the end of his term, he is disgraced and “thrown out” (or so I am told). In this way, Koreans nurture the nationalism that has kept their ethnic race alive despite historical domination by seemingly every nearby race (the Japanese, the Chinese, etc). All or nothing. No “red states” and “blue states” after a contentious election. Everybody is a winner. It seems there is also an inclination towards corruption at the end of a term, when that certainty of disgrace looms overhead, but that might just be my outsider bias ;-)

When one of my Korean friends sees another not seen in a while, they discuss whether they are currently “up or down”. This is reference to gambling, where at any moment you may be “up” (winning) or “down” (running a loss). In business, these people commit 100% and they either succeed handsomely, or fail miserably. They are rich, or poor, and neither is a permanent condition, although the former is much easier to maintain than the latter (or so I am told). Of course I generalize, and of course I am no scholar of Korean culture. But this is what I see.

Now “social media” is taking over on the web. Is Social Media the Koreanization of web traffic? Will waves of trendy “me too” traffic so overpower the individual, that Social Media is the all-or-nothing of web traffic? Who cares what the individual thinks, if the masses are flocking over there?

Digg and Slashdot have “effects”, where the sudden onslaught of referral traffic crashes web servers. Handle the traffic (“all”) or crash under the load (“none”). Viral media bursts onto the scene once a tipping point has been reached, and then becomes “old”. If it’s fresh and new, you’re “up”. If it’s “old news” you’re “down”. Headlines like “man bits dog” don’t do a fraction of the traffic that headlines like “angry man rips dog apart with his teeth” get these days. Hyperbole is the new normal. Extreme is the new black. Is search old news…? Does anyone who matters actually search anymore?

SEO has traditionally been about building momentum for free organic search referral traffic over time. Dividends… SEO pays dividends. In this “lottery” culture of all-or-nothing, where “Social Media” is the source of traffic for web sites, who cares about dividends? “You have to be in it to win it“, we are told. If it is respectable to be “up” in your high-fashion clothes and being “down” is accepted as a necessary but temporary condition to be suffered between periods of “up-ness”, who actually wants to be in the middle? Why work to earn hundreds or free search referrals per day, when I can keep shooting for tens of thousands at a time? On average, a few Diggs a year is more than a steady stream of organic search referrals. Or is it?

That’s the key. As we move towards irrational exuberance regarding Social Media, keep an eye on the metrics. It’s just traffic, folks. Same old traffic we’ve always had… it’s either quality traffic or not; profitable or not. The “up” and “down” game might be entertaining, but it’s not a sustainable lifestyle (check the quality of life, divorce, disease, and stability measures of the Korean society if you have time). Make your trade offs as you like, but don’t forget to mind your business – track the costs and the credits, and see if your social media is indeed worth the efforts and volatility risks.

Sometimes after a few glasses of soju with my Korean associates, I will hear them speak of “too much independence” over here in America’s culture. “Too much freedom“, they say. And then I ask them to explain to me why, when they are at their most “up” and able to buy whatever they desire, they seek only the most unique, hand-made products available, even though virtually no one can recognize them for their value? Why, in fact, is their own ultimate expression of their achievement an expression of independence? Of freedom to buck the expectations of their Louis Vuittton-buying peers?

People will always search. Bet on it.

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October 24th, 2007 by john andrews

The Politics of Search: it’s just beginning…

When a blog gets “popular”, the blogger is faced with a quandary. Continue to do what has made the blog popular, or recognize that there is now audience expectation, and accommodate it? The audience is people, and people live by politics. If you don’t accommodate the people, you can find yourself on the wrong side of a pitchfork (or tied to a stake). If you do go “politically correct”, won’t the critics sway that mob against you eventually? People is politics. No matter how much you might wish it weren’t so, politics will play an active role in any successful business or industry as it evolves.

Search is no exception. Google seemed to eschew politics for years as it grew into one of the world’s most powerful corporations. Google referenced “the algorithm” as the source of every nuance, skew, prejudice, or bias evident in the search results. Have a political complaint? Concerned about search results which seem to infer something about Judaism, abortion, creationism, white supremacy, or even left-handedness? Don’t blame Google. Blame the algorithm, and recognize that Google is trying really really hard to make it better, every single day. “Thanks for the highlight of the problem“, Google would say in response to criticism. “This helps us to make the algorithm even better!” It worked. The defenders of Google escorted Google all the way to the bank, heralding the “don’t be evil” company as a leader and innovator worthy of the massive profits it had earned.

Of course what Google was really doing was playing politics. Better than most, I might add. Sans the lobbyists and open debates, Google was working the people. Price controls? No, Google doesn’t control prices. Google measures quality, and adjusts pricing based on quality scores. People believed it, and Google controlled pricing. And now Google is controlling Internet commerce using the new Google Politics, while we all watch. Google gets hugely richer and more powerful every single day, as we watch and (if you are an SEO, you play along).

But one emerging area that might test the waters of this new political Google is domaining. Domainers control a very large amount of Internet traffic. Domainers are keen on developing that traffic, to better serve it commercially, while earning a share of the commercial profits associated with serving that market. Just as Google delivered search and then monetized it via commercialization of the traffic flowing through search, domainers have published on domains (parked pages) and are now seeking to monetize the traffic flowing through those domains. The problem is, in the current PPC marketplace, Google is managing that traffic, too.

As a search consultant, I work with companies to help them earn more search referrals (targeted traffic) from Google. I am very confident in my knowledge of what helps Google to give you free targeted traffic, and my ability to execute. I see the tangible results of my efforts every day in the traffic logs. More traffic, more conversions, and more rewards from Google for meeting the needs of the Internet searcher. But when I look at this emerging field of domain development, as defined by domainers, I see a political storm developing.

In Miami I was lucky to meet Jay Chapman of Digimedia. Jay and his company have published a site you won’t find in Google’s index: DiamondsDirect.com. If you look at it from an SEO perspective, you might classify it as a thin affiliate site or a shopping aggregator. We SEO people would expect that site to suffer from poor quality scores in Google, ranking off the first page for sure, and in need of substantial SEO work to go after the long tail terms represented by its content. We would have to do some work to keep it out of the supplemental index, because it uses a popular data feed. Since Google is not yet selling diamond jewelry, I would not expect it to be completely absent from the Google index, just off the first pages. I’m not sure how much of an arbitrage play it is, but I’m assuming that’s not a primary problem.

From a domainer perspective, DiamondsDirect.com is a rich parked page. It has supremely relevant content, quality imagery, and several layers of content behind navigation that engages the visitor and genuinely guides the visitor to appropriate jewelry choices ultimately sold up by affiliated sites. To the domainer, there is no reason at all that DiamondsDirect.com should no rank #1 for its own name “diamondsdirect”, if not for many other very closely related searches. But it doesn’t. It’s banned from Google (or at least completely absent).

Politically, where is the line that separates worthy vs. unworthy sites? The quality score approach enabled Google to effectively control who gets and doesn’t get search traffic for the money terms, without openly assigning value. But what about these rich parked pages? What happens as they get richer and richer? Certainly this site is already better than most of the “made for adsense” sites out there. We expect those to be supressed below page 10 or so, but dropped completely? here’s one that still exists out there, and ranks #1 for it’s own name. And yes, it ranks for its content as well. (if it goes away after I publish this, it was www.nr59.org).

I would not have mentioned a specific site here except that Frank Schilling already highlighted Digimedia’s rich parked pages on the Seven Mile blog a few days ago. Frank suggests that this is the future of the web, as more and more of the millions of parked pages develop into useful, commerce-driving “billboards” on the web. I can’t disagree, although I have my reservations. This is a political battle, and Google is very very good at politics. Those who know how I work as an SEO consultant know that I would never publicly call my pages “parked pages”, never have them on parked page domain services, and never highlight them as projects seeking search traffic. I know Google better than that, and I’m not in the business of advocating for change but rather quietly integrating with the status-quo to earn profits from free search referral traffic. If you heard my “speech” at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. Miami referencing “Google the grumpy old man”, you know what I mean. But unlike regular web publishers, domainers have leverage. Google is earning a large percentage of its PPC profits from parked pages. Google is getting a large percentage of its traffic from parked pages.

How will domainers use their leverage? How will Google respond? This is politics, folks, and it should be exciting to watch. In the mean time, duck and cover, and if you want search traffic, I’d suggest a solid stealth SEO strategy.

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October 19th, 2007 by john andrews

Search Marketers : study this list

If you are in SEO/SEM then you probably understand the historic value of a domain name from a marketing perspective. You are also probably increasingly understanding the market value of generic domains, and perhaps developed domains. But do you recognize just how fast this market is advancing?

Adam Strong over at DomainNameNews just published the Moniker silent auction results, covering the domains that were not sold or not brought to the bay at T.R.A.F.F.I.C. conference in Miami. Of course it includes the BigFamousOnes like cowboys.com for $360k, but SEO/SEM practitioners should take note of the tail of that list. One hundred and eighty nine (189) domains sold for less than $700. That’s less than the consulting fee for chasing and acquiring a domain on behalf of a client. The way Moniker runs things, many of those domains were prepared in advance for easy transfer at Moniker. One hundred and fourteen (114) of them went for less than $400. As I suggested in Paying for Privilege, the rights to a domain represent a unique privilege to publish under a brand on the Internet.

As I wrote some time ago in “Domain after market wipes out domain name consultants” (click the johnon.com listing), these auction lists and the availability “for sale” lists represent the new pool of domain names available to SEO/SEM consultants. Sure it sometimes still pays to hit the registrars with your creative brainstorming, but I rarely find that time productive anymore (who else remembers the “bug reaper dot com” commercial?).

Side note of Interest: When the Dallas Cowboys allegedly balked at actually paying their own $275k winning bid on cowboys.com after the live auction, my friend and search colleague Todd Mintz posted a note to marketing site Sphinn. I commented as follows:

This is history in the making. Not only is a test of the value of .com domains in the aftermarket, but it is a stage for all sorts of precedent in the business world where domains are concerned. If Dallas screwed up this will alter corporate behavior in the domain aftermarket.

Dallas dropped the ball at what would have been amortized as marketing expense at roughly $20k per year for 15 years, after which it would be free and probably a significant contributor to asset value. Yesterday it was $275k, today it sold for $360k, to domain investors.

Today “cowboys” is synonymous with the Dallas Cowboys. What will it mean tomorrow if it is developed online for a country western affinity theme or a Pixar animated series or a perhaps a gay affinity site? The Dallas Cowboys own “cowboys” as a brand and just missed their first shot at owning it online. I wonder how expensive that education is…

In the DomainNameNews discussion someone calling hirself “Innocent Bystander” challenged the domainers, suggesting there was no good rationalization for such a high price tag. Oops… that person was posting from an IP block owned by the Dallas Cowboys! My take is there was sincere marketing discussion over there, and they don’t get it so they made a decision to back out of their deal. We can all call it silly and dumb but we also can see the way that marketing unit is behaving… and perhaps learning as they go. Will heads roll? I especially like this follow-up comment from “MrSpartan”

“It is bad press for an organization who is based on winning and excellence to back publically back out of a winning auction bid because they did not understand the rules of the business they were conducting AND lose out to another bidder who bids more than they could have paid a day earlier. They look foolish and Stupid.”

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John Andrews is a mobile web professional and competitive search engine optimzer (SEO). He's been quietly earning top rank for websites since 1997. About John

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