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?  Competitive Web & SEO
January 25th, 2008 by john andrews

The Google Sandbox : Now Applies to Domainers

The “Google Sandbox” is a time delay imposed on new domains, preventing them from ranking in search results unless they exceed some set of criteria known only to Google. It was named by search marketers who have since debated its character as well as its existence. Many new domains show no signs of “sandboxing”, while publishers who have had to struggle to “break out of the sandbox” know that such traffic embargos are a serious business consideration. Now, Google is reportedly preparing a 5 day sandbox for newly-registered domains.

According to Jay Westerdal of Domain Roundtable, insider sources (unnamed) revealed Google is planning to impose a sandbox delay on the monetization of new domains. Domains less than 5 day sold will not be able to monetize with AdSense. Jay suggests that this will “kill” the practice of Domain Tasting, something many in the Internet industry have been wishing for, since there is really no upper limit to the scaling of domain tasting.

Domain “tasting” is the practice of registering domain names to test them for a few days, with an option to release them for a refund if you decide (for whatever reason) you don’t want to keep them. The “tasting period” is 5 days. This option is actually available to everyone, although it is not made available to everyone because many registrars choose not to offer it or simply don’t make it readily accessible. Tasting domains would be a reasonable strategy for many web publishers. Unfortunately however, it scales very well. With Google’s AdSense a large scale domain tasting effort can be very profitable. Jay reports that one active domain taster earned $3 million per month from AdSense on tasted (and never registered) domains.

By blocking AdSense revenues for domains less than 5 days post registration, Google would effectively eliminate the profitability of large-scale domain tasting. Tasting would still serve its primary purpose for domain registrants — they can still test traffic levels or re-think their commitment to a domain, and benefit from the refund option.

What is the impact on web publishers and SEOs? If other monetization platforms followed Google’s lead to effectively embargo domain tasting as a for-profit activity, large numbers of domains that are currently registered every day would remain available for registration. That increases the pool of names available to those actually needing domain names. In addition, if activity levels decreased, this would have an impact on ad inventory levels and Quality Scores (publisher payouts) across the remaining Google ad network.

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January 24th, 2008 by john andrews

Modern SEO as Competitive Webmastering

I started this blog by calling online marketing a form of competitive webmastering. While what we do changes over time, the reason we do it is to compete with other web publishers for the attention of the audience. If they do something to help themselves out rank you, you will have to address that problem and vice versa.

Not everyone likes competition, which is fine, just as not everyone likes rain and not everyone likes growing pains, yet those things (like competition) are essential ingredients of life. Just because you don’t like them, you can’t safely ignore them. I wrote “Think Like A Dirty Bastard” to remind people that they need to assume a perspective of a competitor to “see” their weaknesses. Now that SEO has matured in this age of one search engine, we don’t need to imagine the Dirty Bastards anymore. They are hard at work attacking us, and we can see they are proud of it if we read Internet Marketing web sites comments like this one:

There are two kinds of link work: offensive and defensive. Offensive involves getting high quality links pointing to your target website. Defensive involves getting good links pointing to your competitors’ sites removed. Defensive work as I practive it involves emails or snail mail letters to webmasters suggesting removal of links or pointing out that the site they are linking to might not be what they think. Also, letters to executives at search engines. Not only defensive links work good and effective practice; it is obligatory for an SEO consultant who has his or her client’s welfare in mind. The point is not to have more or better links; it is to have more and better links than the competitors.

Apparently “Crimson Girl” speaks from the heart (i’ve added the bolding here.. to emphasize the key bits). She says she has the interests of her client in mind when she does whatever it takes to either advance her client’s site or damage her competitor’s ranking. I wonder if she chose the moniker “Crimson Girl” because crimson is the color of blood? Anyway, don’t you wonder if Crimson Girl is working for your competitors?

Once Google started encouraging webmasters to report other webmasters to Google if they appeared to violate the not-very-specific Google Guidelines, I made this parody SEO SECRET postcard showing a turtle SEO taking care of a competitor turtle SEO. That was summer of 2006. It’s much worse now. Even Crimson Girl loves the way Google has partnered up with the Dirty Bastards, providing ever more avenues for “outing” fellow comrades:

Now Google gives us an opportunity to report paid links. OF COURSE we will take advantage of this. It would be irresponisble not to. Incredibly, talk among Sphinn participants brands this activity under the prejorative term “ratting” like it is immoral. It is not only moral; it is required if you are keeping your client’s best interests in mind….If you don’t report competitors who use paid links you might as well turn in your SEO card and go do something else. Rand Fishkin points out sites using paid links on his blog (that’s fair game for blogging), and astonishingly, he is criticized for doing so!

Note again Crimson Girl’s conviction, and her moral basis for that conviction. Wow. You have to admire that, right?

I found it oddly ironic that Sphinn, the marketing community where this conversation took place, had “voted down” Crimson Girl’s comment so it is hidden from view in the comment thread. In my view, it is by far the most interesting (and informative) comment in that lengthy thread. Do online marketers wish it werent true? Do they attempt to vote it out of existence, voting being some manifestation of denial?

After one of my comments was “voted off the page” at Sphinn the other day, I got curious and started opening up every down-voted comment I encountered, including this one from Crimson Girl. I am convinced I can learn a whole helluva lot from the comments that Sphinn marketers don’t want me to see. I know… that’s not really news, but it deserves mention at least. I will vote her back up one of these days, when I am confident my voting her up won’t be considered encouragement of her Dirty Bastard behavior. Communities can be fickle and one does need to be a little mindful at times…

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January 23rd, 2008 by john andrews

Domain Development & Liquidity: SEO will work for Equity

The domainer space is interesting and exciting for me because it is a rapidly changing market built on a disruptive concept, tightly linked to search marketing. It’s got style, including wild success stories and Big Courageous Egos, yet is actually quite simple in concept. In short, it’s beautiful. But like most things beautiful, it suffers from constant threats of destruction (that’s a video clip from Fight Club).

Recession Means Opportunity

A big recession is a gold mine for domainers. When money gets tight and people have to focus on their core jobs, they often decide to allow domains they are holding to drop, in order to save the reg fees. Of the millions of held domains out there, plenty would drop if the costs of maintaining them rose much higher than it is now. Inflation can cause that to happen, as can the tightening of budgets normally associated with a recession. So smart domainers have been building up cash reserves, getting ready to step in and buy whatever drops if the cash crunch gets serious enough.

Liquidity is a Problem

For many smaller domainers, though, liquidity was already an issue. I hear SEOs comment that “domainer’s are cheap” and “domainers are so used to paying $8 for something they won’t pay real money for consultants or contractors” but I know many domainers are already strapped for development cash, as domain parking pays very little and Google et al. actively “manages” the advertising profits shared with parked domains (very efficiently, I might add). How can a domain investor get some liquidity out of a domain portfolio, without selling domains into a downmarket, or even selling into an up market likely to go much higher?

Buying Shares in Domains

Enter domain stock markets like Fusu. Fusu hopes to provide domainers with cash for development, by creating opportunities for samll investments in domains much like the stockmarket enables large investments in industry via smaller, risk-managed investments in shares of the company. Via Fusu, you can buy shares in a domain (and the domain owner can sell shares of the domain for cash). It is a way to get some liquidity out of a domain asset, without losing control of the domain. I can’t say much good about the existing implementation of Fusu, but even that may demonstrate the sincere need for quality development resources in this domaining industry.

Partnering to Develop Domains

Another avenue to liquidity is partnering for development. There are VC-like development funds out there now, actively investing in domains by providing directed funds for team building, including web development, marketing and SEO. Some domainers have taken a direct route, offering partnerships for development in a Request For Proposal fashion. One press release I received recently for reads:

The perfect partner for will likely have the resources to execute an entire business plan around developing this domain property. All aspects of the business will be the responsibility of the partner. Domains For Media plans to consider 4-5 partner proposals in the next 30 days and make a final decision by the end of February.

That’s right. All you need to bring to the table is everything but the domain name. Interesting approach, but it speaks to the purity of domaining.

Sweat Equity as Liquidity

Over the past 12 months I have spoken with a number of people active in this domain name liquidity event, but compared to SEO, this field moves very slowly. My experience with web development and search marketing tells me many of these players will lose their shirts to their vendors at least the first few times in the asset development game. I know more than a few CEOs of web development shops who are assuming control of web businesses right now because they build up controlling equity as contracted players on development projects over the past few years. Unless carefully managed, web development teams tend to do what they are contracted to do, and not what you really need done. The market is Darwinian in that respect, as I suppose all efficient markets are.

As an SEO consultant, I am interested in these opportunities. Given my experience, I am careful selecting projects, but my high standards are very practical and defensible, and not secret. I have no interest in being someone’s monkey, so yes, if there is real sweat to be invested there needs to be more to the business plan than one big exit event. If you have a real opportunity and need a high-integrity individual to help navigate to success, drop me a note.

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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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