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  • 27/03/2020 MarTech Minute: Agile CDP, AnyClip free and another event goes online
    It’s nice to see martech companies giving away their products for a period to help out. The post MarTech Minute: Agile CDP, AnyClip free and another event goes online appeared first on Marketing Land.

    Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
  • 27/03/2020 Tell us: How are you pivoting during the COVID-19 crisis?
    We want to hear from our community about the creative tactics you're using to wrestle the beast of uncertainty to find small wins (for clients or staff) in these unprecedented times. The post Tell us: How are you pivoting during the COVID-19 crisis? appeared first on Marketing Land.

    Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
  • 27/03/2020 Did you know that users’ gazes follow a pinball pattern?
    Eye tracking studies uncovered a “pinball pattern” in users’ gazes. The post Did you know that users’ gazes follow a pinball pattern? appeared first on Marketing Land.

    Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
  • 27/03/2020 MarTech Minute: Acquia’s low-code rollout, Blueshift adds data dashboard
    Tools like these, and there are many of them, all help marketers be more efficient. The post MarTech Minute: Acquia’s low-code rollout, Blueshift adds data dashboard appeared first on Marketing Land.

    Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.
  • 27/03/2020 ML 20200327
    The post ML 20200327 appeared first on Marketing Land.

    Please visit Marketing Land for the full article.

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  • 17/03/2020 Revenue Quality & Leverage

    The coronavirus issue is likely to linger for some time.

    GERMANY PUBLIC HEALTH AGENCY PRESIDENT SAYS OUR ASSUMPTION IS THAT IT WILL TAKE ABOUT TWO YEARS FOR THIS PANDEMIC TO RUN ITS COURSE— Quantitative Trading (@fiquant) March 17, 2020

    Up to 70% of Germany could become infected & some countries like the UK are even considering herd immunity as a strategy:

    "I’m an epidemiologist. When I heard about Britain’s ‘herd immunity’ coronavirus plan, I thought it was satire"
    - William Hanage

    What if their models are broken?

    Many companies like WeWork or Oyo have been fast and loose chasing growth while slower growing companies have been levering up to fund share buybacks. Airlines spent 96% of free cash flow on share buybacks. The airlines seek a $50 billion bailout package.

    There are knock-on effects from Boeing to TripAdvisor to Google all the way down to travel affiliate blogger, local restaurants closing, the over-levered bus company going through bankruptcy & bondholders eating a loss on the debt.

    Companies are going to let a lot of skeletons out of the closet as literally anything and everything bad gets attributed to coronavirus. Layoffs, renegotiating contracts, pausing ad budgets, renegotiating debts, requesting bailouts, etc. The Philippine stock market was recently trading at 2012 levels & closed indefinitely.

    Brad Geddes mentioned advertisers have been aggressively pulling PPC budgets over the past week: “If you have to leave the house to engage in the service, it just seems like it’s not converting right now.”

    During the prior recession Google repriced employee options to retain talent.

    In spite of consumers being glued to the news, tier one news publishers are anticipating large ad revenue declines:

    Some of the largest advertisers, including Procter & Gamble Unilever, Apple, Microsoft, Danone, AB InBev, Burberry and Aston Martin, made cuts to sales forecasts for the year. With the outlook for the spread of the virus changing by day, many companies are caught in a spiral of uncertainty. That tends to gum up decisions, and ad spending is an easy expenditure to put on pause. The New York Times has warned that it expects advertising revenue to decline “in the mid-teens” in the current quarter as a result of coronavirus.

    More time online might mean search engines & social networks capture a greater share of overall ad spend, but if large swaths of the economy do not convert & how people live changes for an extended period of time it will take time for the new categories to create the economic engines replacing the old out-of-favor categories.

    [IMPORTANT: insert affiliate ad for cruise vacations here]

    As Google sees advertisers pause ad budgets Google will get more aggressive with keeping users on their site & displacing organic click flows with additional ad clicks on the remaining advertisers.

    When Google or Facebook see a 5% or 10% pullback other industry players might see a 30% to 50% decline as the industry pulls back broadly, focuses more resources on the core, and the big attention merchants offset their losses by clamping down on other players.

    At its peak TripAdvisor was valued at about $14 billion & it is now valued at about $2 billion.

    TripAdvisor announced layoffs. As did Expedia. As did Booking.com. As did many hotels. And airlines. etc. etc. etc.

    I am not suggesting people should be fearful or dominated by negative emotions. Rather one should live as though many other will be living that way.

    In times of elevated uncertainty, in business it is best to not be led by emotions unless they are positive ones. Spend a bit more time playing if you can afford to & work more on things you love.

    Right now we might be living through the flu pandemic of 1918 and the Great Depression of 1929 while having constant access to social media updates. And that's awful.

    Consume less but deeper. Less Twitter, less news, fewer big decisions, read more books.

    It is better to be more pragmatic & logic-based in determining opportunity cost & the best strategy to use than to be led by extreme fear.

    • If you have sustainable high-margin revenue treasure it.
    • If you have low-margin revenue it might quickly turn into negative margin revenues unless something changes quickly.
    • If you have low-margin revenue which is sustainable but under-performed less stable high-margin revenues you might want to put a bit more effort into those sorts of projects as they are more likely to endure.

    On a positive note, we might soon get a huge wave of innovation...

    "Take the Great Depression. Economist Alexander Field writes that “the years 1929–1941 were, in the aggregate, the most technologically progressive of any comparable period in U.S. economic history.” Productivity growth was twice as fast in the 1930s as it was in the decade prior. The 1920s were the era of leisure because people could afford to relax. The 1930s were the era of frantic problem solving because people had no other choice. The Great Depression brought unimaginable financial pain. It also brought us supermarkets, microwaves, sunscreen, jets, rockets, electron microscopes, magnetic recording, nylon, photocopying, teflon, helicopters, color TV, plexiglass, commercial aviation, most forms of plastic, synthetic rubber, laundromats, and countless other discoveries."

    The prior recession led to trends like Groupon. The McJobs recovery led to services like Uber & DoorDash. Food delivery has been trending south recently, though perhaps the stay-at-home economy will give it a boost.

    I have been amazed at how fast affiliates moved with pushing N95 face masks online over the past couple months. Seeing how fast that stuff spun up really increases the perceived value of any sustainable high-margin businesses.

    Amazon.com is hiring another 100,000 warehouse workers as people shop from home. Amazon banned new face masks and hand sanitizer listings. One guy had to donate around 18,000 cleaning products he couldn't sell.

    I could see online education becoming far more popular as people aim to retrain while stuck at home.

    What sorts of new industries will current & new technologies lead to as more people spend time working from home?

  • 08/02/2020 Subscription Fatigue

    Subscription Management

    I have active subscriptions with about a half-dozen different news & finance sites along with about a half dozen software tools, but sometimes using a VPN or web proxy across different web browsers makes logging in to all of them & clearing cookies for some paywall sites a real pain.

    If you don't subscribe to any outlets then subscribing to an aggregator like Apple News+ can make a lot of sense, but it is very easy to end up with dozens of forgotten subscriptions.

    Subscription fatigue is turning into subscription stress. Something alarming, guilt inducing about having 40+ reoccurring charges each month. Financial death by a thousand cuts.— Tom Goodwin (@tomfgoodwin) January 28, 2020

    Winner-take-most Market Stratification

    The news business is coming to resemble other tech-enabled businesses where a winner takes most. The New York Times stock, for instance, is trading at 15 year highs & they recently announced they are raising subscription prices:

    The New York Times is raising the price of its digital subscription for the first time, from $15 every four weeks to $17 — from about $195 to $221 a year.

    With a Trump re-election all but assured after the Russsia, Russia, Russia garbage, the party-line impeachment (less private equity plunderer Mitt Romney) & the ridiculous Iowa primary, many NYT readers will pledge their #NeverTrumpTwice dollars with the New York Times.

    If you think politics looks ridiculous today, wait until you see some of the China-related ads in a half-year as the 2019 novel coronavirus spreads around the world.

    Police in Central China's Wuhan arrested 8 people spreading rumors about local outbreak of unidentifiable #pneumonia. Previous online posts said it was SARS. https://t.co/oVpk4EIYM7 pic.twitter.com/JXbK9pmq8v— Global Times (@globaltimesnews) January 1, 2020

    Arresting a doctor who warned about the outbreak doesn't have good optics, particularly after hundreds of other deaths piled up from it & when he later died from from the virus.

    The optics keep getting worse.

    Somewhere in Wuhan, three unknown people are wearing protective clothing but holding guns @SolomonYue #China_is_terrorist pic.twitter.com/cq28z0sPiF— 港英漁業 (@lym104_hker) February 1, 2020

    How does a broad-based news site compete with the user generated Tweets in such a zone?

    WATCH: Chinese authorities are now WELDING DOORS SHUT to whole apartment buildings, as well as residents inside - to impose #Coronavirus quarantine. #Wuhan pic.twitter.com/feclKG90pC— AS-Source News (@ASBreakingNews) February 8, 2020

    And any widely known individual journalist who builds a large audience might get disappeared.

    Twitter recently surpassed $1 billion in quarterly revenues, but time spent on Twitter is time not spent on other news websites.

    McClatchy filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy. Outside of a few core winners, the news business online has been so brutal that even Warren Buffett is now a seller. As the economics get uglier news sites get more extreme with ad placements, user data sales, and pushing subscriptions. Some of these aggressive monetization efforts make otherwise respectable news outlets look like part of a very downmarket subset of the web.

    Users Fight Back

    Users have thus adopted to blocking ads & are also starting to ramp up blocking paywall notifications.

    Each additional layer of technological complexity is another cost center publishers have to fund, often through making the user experience of their sites worse, which in turn makes their own sites less differentiated & inferior to the copies they have left across the web (via AMP, via Facebook Instant Articles, syndication in Apple News or on various portal sites like MSN or Yahoo!).

    A Web Browser For Every Season

    Google Chrome is spyware, so I won't recommend installing that.

    Not good enough for you? Not a direct enough corollary? How about this?Also out today: https://t.co/6dUWCCEyii Google has a backdoor to track individual Chrome users by installation ID.Even GG's denial admits pieces of the same complaints y'all had about Jumpshot last week! pic.twitter.com/Km2mQfOgbJ— Rand Fishkin (@randfish) February 4, 2020

    Here Google's official guide on how to remove the spyware.

    The easiest & most basic solution which works across many sites using metered paywalls is to have multiple web browsers installed on your computer. Have a couple browsers which are used exclusively for reading news articles when they won't show up in your main browser & set those web browsers to delete cookies on close. Or open the browsers in private mode and search for the URL of the page from Google to see if that allows access.

    • If you like Firefox there are other iterations from other players like Pale Moon, Comodo IceDragon or Waterfox using their core.
    • If you like Google Chrome then Chromium is the parallel version of it without the spyware baked in. The Chromium project is also the underlying source used to build about a dozen other web browsers including: Opera, Vivaldi, Brave, Cilqz, Blisk, Comodo Dragon, SRWare Iron, Yandex Browser & many others. Even Microsoft recently switched their Edge browser to being powered by the Chromium project. The browsers based on the Chromium store allow you to install extensions from the Chrome web store.
    • Some web browsers monetize users by setting affiliate links on the home screen and/or by selling the default search engine recommendation. You can change those once and they'll typically stick with whatever settings you use.
    • For some browsers I use for regular day to day web use I set them up to continue session on restart, and I have a session manager plugin like this one for Firefox or this one for Chromium-based browsers. For browsers which are used exclusively for reading paywall blocked articles I set them up to clear cookies on restart.

    Bypassing Paywalls

    There are a couple solid web browser plugins built specifically for bypassing paywalls.

    Academic Journals

    Unpaywall is an open database of around 25,000,000 free scholarly articles. They provide extensions for Firefox and Chromium based web browsers on their website.

    News Articles

    There is also one for news publications called bypass paywalls.

    • Mozilla Firefox: To install the Firefox version go here.
    • Chrome-like web browsers: To install the Chrome version of the extension in Opera or Chromium or Microsoft Edge you can download the extension here, enter developer mode inside the extensions area of your web browser & install extension. To turn developer mode on, open up the drop down menu for the browser, click on extensions to go to the extension management area, and then slide the "Developer mode" button to the right so it is blue.

    Regional Blocking

    If you travel internationally some websites like YouTube or Twitter or news sites will have portions of their content restricted to only showing in some geographic regions. This can be especially true for new sports content and some music.

    These can be bypassed by using a VPN service like NordVPN, ExpressVPN, Witopia or IPVanish. Some VPN providers also sell pre-configured routers. If you buy a pre-configured router you can use an ethernet switch or wifi to switch back and forth between the regular router and the VPN router.

    You can also buy web proxies & enter them into the Foxy Proxy web browser extension (Firefox or Chromium-compatible) with different browsers set to default to different country locations, making it easier to see what the search results show in different countries & cities quickly.

    If you use a variety of web proxies you can configure some of them to work automatically in an open source rank tracking tool like Serposcope.

    The Future of Journalism

    I think the future of news is going to be a lot more sites like Ben Thompson's Stratechery or Jessica Lessin's TheInformation & far fewer broad/horizontal news organizations. Things are moving toward the 1,000 true fans or perhaps 100 true fans model:

    This represents a move away from the traditional donation model—in which users pay to benefit the creator—to a value model, in which users are willing to pay more for something that benefits themselves. What was traditionally dubbed “self-help” now exists under the umbrella of “wellness.” People are willing to pay more for exclusive, ROI-positive services that are constructive in their lives, whether it’s related to health, finances, education, or work. In the offline world, people are accustomed to hiring experts across verticals

    A friend of mine named Terry Godier launched a conversion-oriented email newsletter named Conversion Gold which has done quite well right out of the gate, leading him to launch IndieMailer, a community for paid newsletter creators.

    The model which seems to be working well for those sorts of news sites is...

    • stick to a tight topic range
    • publish regularly at a somewhat decent frequency like daily or weekly, though have a strong preference to quality & originality over quantity
    • have a single author or a small core team which does most the writing and expand editorial hiring slowly
    • offer original insights & much more depth of coverage than you would typically find in the mainstream news
    • Rely on Wordpress or a low-cost CMS & billing technology partner like Substack, Memberful, sell on a marketplace like Udemy, Podia or Teachable, or if they have a bit more technical chops they can install aMember on their own server. One of the biggest mistakes I made when I opened up a membership site about a decade back was hand rolling custom code for memberhsip management. At one point we shut down the membership site for a while in order to allow us to rip out all that custom code & replace it with aMember.
    • Accept user comments on pieces or integrate a user forum using something like Discord on a subdomain or a custom Slack channel. Highlight or feature the best comments. Update readers to new features via email.
    • Invest much more into obtaining unique data & sources to deliver new insights without spending aggressively to syndicate onto other platforms using graphical content layouts which would require significant design, maintenance & updating expenses
    • Heavily differentiate your perspective from other sources
    • maintain a low technological maintenance overhead
    • low cost monthly subscription with a solid discount for annual pre-payment
    • instead of using a metered paywall, set some content to require payment to read & periodically publish full-feature free content (perhaps weekly) to keep up awareness of the offering in the broader public to help offset churn.

    Some also work across multiple formats with complimentary offerings. The Ringer has done well with podcasts & Stratechery also has the Exponent podcast.

    There are a number of other successful online-only news subscription sites like TheAthletic & Bill Bishop's Sinocism newsletter about China, but I haven't subscribed to them yet. Many people support a wide range of projects on platforms like Patreon & sites like MasterClass with an all-you-can-eat subscription will also make paying for online content far more common.

  • 19/01/2020 Favicon SEO

    Google recently copied their mobile result layout over to desktop search results. The three big pieces which changed as part of that update were

    • URLs: In many cases Google will now show breadcrumbs in the search results rather than showing the full URL. The layout no longer differentiates between HTTP and HTTPS. And the URLs shifted from an easily visible green color to a much easier to miss black.
    • Favicons: All listings now show a favicon next to them.
    • Ad labeling: ad labeling is in the same spot as favicons are for organic search results, but the ad labels are a black which sort of blends in to the URL line. Over time expect the black ad label to become a lighter color in a way that parallels how Google made ad background colors lighter over time.

    Last year, our search results on mobile gained a new look. That’s now rolling out to desktop results this week, presenting site domain names and brand icons prominently, along with a bolded “Ad” label for ads. Here’s a mockup: pic.twitter.com/aM9UAbSKtv— Google SearchLiaison (@searchliaison) January 13, 2020

    One could expect this change to boost the CTR on ads while lowering the CTR on organic search results, at least up until users get used to seeing favicons and not thinking of them as being ads.

    The Verge panned the SERP layout update. Some folks on Reddit hate this new layout as it is visually distracting, the contrast on the URLs is worse, and many people think the organic results are ads.

    Conspiracy Theory: The REAL reason icons are in SERPs is to encourage "banner blindness" for the "Ad" text. Once people see the icons over and over, they will learn to mentally ignore the top left. pic.twitter.com/LaXdZjNLK1— Rishi Lakhani (@rishil) January 17, 2020

    I suspect a lot of phishing sites will use subdomains patterned off the brand they are arbitraging coupled with bogus favicons to try to look authentic. I wouldn't reconstruct an existing site's structure based on the current search result layout, but if I were building a brand new site I might prefer to put it at the root instead of on www so the words were that much closer to the logo.

    Google provides the following guidelines for favicons

    • Both the favicon file and the home page must be crawlable by Google (that is, they cannot be blocked to Google).
    • Your favicon should be a visual representation of your website's brand, in order to help users quickly identify your site when they scan through search results.
    • Your favicon should be a multiple of 48px square, for example: 48x48px, 96x96px, 144x144px and so on. SVG files, of course, do not have a specific size. Any valid favicon format is supported. Google will rescale your image to 16x16px for use in search results, so make sure that it looks good at that resolution. Note: do not provide a 16x16px favicon.
    • The favicon URL should be stable (don’t change the URL frequently).
    • Google will not show any favicon that it deems inappropriate, including pornography or hate symbols (for example, swastikas). If this type of imagery is discovered within a favicon, Google will replace it with a default icon.

    In addition to the above, I thought it would make sense to provide a few other tips for optimizing favicons.

    • Keep your favicons consistent across sections of your site if you are trying to offer a consistent brand perception.
    • In general, less is more. 16x16 is a tiny space, so if you try to convey a lot of information inside of it, you'll likely end up creating a blob that almost nobody but you recognizes.
    • It can make sense to include the first letter from a site's name or a simplified logo widget as the favicon, but it is hard to include both in a single favicon without it looking overdone & cluttered.
    • A colored favicon on a white background generally looks better than a white icon on a colored background, as having a colored background means you are eating into some of the scarce pixel space for a border.
    • Using a square shape versus a circle gives you more surface area to work with.
    • Even if your logo has italics on it, it might make sense to avoid using italics in the favicon to make the letter look cleaner.

    Here are a few favicons I like & why I like them:

    • Citigroup - manages to get the word Citi in there while looking memorable & distinctive without looking overly cluttered
    • Nerdwallet - the N makes a great use of space, the colors are sharp, and it almost feels like an arrow that is pointing right
    • Inc - the bold I with a period is strong.
    • LinkedIn - very memorable using a small part of the word from their logo & good color usage.

    Some of the other memorable ones that I like include: Twitter, Amazon, eBay, Paypal, Google Play & CNBC.

    Here are a few favicons I dislike & why

    • Wikipedia - the W is hard to read.
    • USAA - they included both the logo widget and the 4 letters in a tiny space.
    • Yahoo! - they used inconsistent favicons across their sites & use italics on them. Some of the favicons have the whole word Yahoo in them while the others are the Y! in italics.

    If you do not have a favicon Google will show a dull globe next to your listing. Real Favicon Generator is a good tool for creating favicons in various sizes.

    What favicons do you really like? Which big sites do you see that are doing it wrong?

  • 08/11/2019 Brands vs Ads

    Brand, Brand, Brand

    About 7 years ago I wrote about how the search relevancy algorithms were placing heavy weighting on brand-related signals after Vince & Panda on the (half correct!) presumption that this would lead to excessive industry consolidation which in turn would force Google to turn the dials in the other direction.

    My thesis was Google would need to increasingly promote some smaller niche sites to make general web search differentiated from other web channels & minimize the market power of vertical leading providers.

    The reason my thesis was only half correct (and ultimately led to the absolutely wrong conclusion) is Google has the ability to provide the illusion of diversity while using sort of eye candy displacement efforts to shift an increasing share of searches from organic to paid results.

    Shallow Verticals With a Shill Bid

    As long as any market has at least 2 competitors in it Google can create a "me too" offering that they hard code front & center and force the other 2 players (along with other players along the value chain) to bid for marketshare. If competitors are likely to complain about the thinness of the me too offering & it being built upon scraping other websites, Google can buy out a brand like Zagat or a data supplier like ITA Software to undermine criticism until the artificially promoted vertical service has enough usage that it is nearly on par with other players in the ecosystem.

    Google need not win every market. They only need to ensure there are at least 2 competing bids left in the marketplace while dialing back SEO exposure. They can then run other services to redirect user flow and force the ad buy. They can insert their own bid as a sort of shill floor bid in their auction. If you bid below that amount they'll collect the profit through serving the customer directly, if you bid above that they'll let you buy the customer vs doing a direct booking.

    Adding Volatility to Economies of Scale

    Where this gets more than a bit tricky is if you are a supplier of third party goods & services where you buy in bulk to get preferential pricing for resale. If you buy 100 rooms a night from a particular hotel based on the presumption of prior market performance & certain channels effectively disappear you have to bid above market to sell some portion of the rooms because getting anything for them is better than leaving them unsold.

    "Well I am not in hotels, so thankfully this won't impact me" is an incomplete thought. Google Ads now offer a lead generation extension.

    Dipping a bit back into history here, but after Groupon said no to Google's acquisition offer Google promptly partnered with players 2 through n to ensure Groupon did not have a lasting competitive advantage. In the fullness of time most those companies died, LivingSocial was acquired by Groupon for nothing & Groupon is today worth less than the amount they raised in VC & IPO funding.

    Markets Naturally Evolve Toward Promoting Brands

    When a vertical is new a player can compete just by showing up. Then over time as the verticals become established consumers develop habits, brands beat out generics & the markets get consolidated down to being heavily influenced & controlled by a couple strong players.

    In the offline world of atoms there are real world costs tied to local regulations, shipping, sourcing, supply chains, inventory management, etc. The structure of the web & the lack of marginal distribution cost causes online markets to be even more consolidated than their offline analogs.

    When Travelocity outsourced their backend infrastructure to Expedia most people visiting their website were unaware of the change. After Expedia acquired the site, longtime Travelocity customers likely remained unaware. In some businesses the only significant difference in the user experience is the logo at the top of the page.

    Most large markets will ultimately consolidate down to a couple players (e.g. Booking vs Expedia) while smaller players lack the scale needed to have the economic leverage to pay Google's increasing rents.

    This sort of consolidation was happening even when the search results were mostly organic & relevancy was driven primarily by links. As Google has folded in usage data & increased ad load on the search results it becomes harder for a generically descriptive domain name to build brand-related signals.

    Re-sorting the Markets Once More

    It is not only generically descriptive sorts of sites that have faded though. Many brand investments turned out to be money losers after the search result set was displaced by more ads (& many brand-related search result pages also carry ads above the organic results).

    The ill informed might write something like this:

    Since the Motorola debacle, it was Google's largest acquisition after the $676 million purchase of ITA Software, which became Google Flights. (Uh, remember that? Does anyone use that instead of Travelocity or one of the many others? Neither do I.)

    The reality is brands lose value as the organic result set is displaced. To make the margins work they might desperately outsource just about everything but marketing to a competitor / partner, which will then latter acquire them for a song.

    Travelocity had roughly 3,000 people on the payroll globally as recently as a couple of years ago, but the Travelocity workforce has been whittled to around 50 employees in North America with many based in the Dallas area.

    The best relevancy algorithm in the world is trumped by preferential placement of inferior results which bypasses the algorithm. If inferior results are hard coded in placements which violate net neutrality for an extended period of time, they can starve other players in the market from the vital user data & revenues needed to reinvest into growth and differentiation.

    Value plays see their stocks crash as growth slows or goes in reverse. With the exception of startups funded by Softbank, growth plays are locked out of receiving further investment rounds as their growth rate slides.

    Startups like Hipmunk disappear. Even an Orbitz or Travelocity become bolt on acquisitions.

    The viability of TripAdvisor as a stand alone business becomes questioned, leading them to partner with Ctrip.

    TripAdvisor has one of the best link profiles of any commercially oriented website outside of perhaps Amazon.com. But ranking #1 doesn't count for much if that #1 ranking is below the fold. Or, even worse, if Google literally hides the organic search results.

    TripAdvisor shifted their business model to allow direct booking to better monetize mobile web users, but as Google has ate screen real estate and grew Google Travel into a $100 billion business other players have seen their stocks sag.

    Top of The Funnel

    Google sits at the top of the funnel & all other parts of the value chain are compliments to be commoditized.

    • Buy premium domain names? Google's SERPs test replacing domain names with words & make the words associated with the domain name gray.
    • Improve conversion rates? Your competitor almost certainly did as well, now you both can bid more & hand over an increasing economic rent to Google.
    • Invest in brand awareness? Google shows ads for competitors on your brand terms, forcing you to buy to protect the brand equity you paid to build.

    Search Metrics mentioned Hotels.com was one of the biggest losers during the recent algorithm updates: "I’m going to keep on this same theme there, and I’m not going to say overall numbers, the biggest loser, but for my loser I’m going to pick Hotels.com, because they were literally like neck and neck, like one and two with Booking, as far as how close together they were, and the last four weeks, they’ve really increased that separation."

    As Google ate the travel category the value of hotel-related domain names has fallen through the floor.

    Most of the top selling hotel-related domain names were sold about a decade ago:

    On August 8th HongKongHotels.com sold for $4,038. A decade ago that name likely would have sold for around $100,000.

    And the new buyer may have overpaid for it!

    Growing Faster Than the Market

    Google consistently grows their ad revenues 20% a year in a global economy growing at under 4%.

    There are only about 6 ways they can do that

    • growth of web usage (though many of those who are getting online today have a far lower disposable income than those who got on a decade or two ago did)
    • gain marketshare (very hard in search, given that they effectively are the market in most markets outside of a few countries like China & Russia)
    • create new inventory (new ad types on image search results, Google Maps & YouTube)
    • charge more for clicks
    • improve at targeting through better surveillance of web users (getting harder after GDPR & similar efforts from some states in the next year or two)
    • shift click streams away from organic toward paid channels (through larger ads, more interactive ad units, less appealing organic result formatting, pushing organic results below the fold, hiding organic results, etc.)

    Six of One, Half-dozen of the Other

    Wednesday both Expedia and TripAdvisor reported earnings after hours & both fell off a cliff: "Both Okerstrom and Kaufer complained that their organic, or free, links are ending up further down the page in Google search results as Google prioritizes its own travel businesses."

    Losing 20% to 25% of your market cap in a single day is an extreme move for a company worth billions of dollars.

    Thursday Google hit fresh all time highs.

    "Google’s old motto was ‘Don’t Be Evil’, but you can’t be this big and profitable and not be evil. Evil and all-time highs pretty much go hand in hand." - Howard Lindzon

    Booking held up much better than TripAdvisor & Expedia as they have a bigger footprint in Europe (where antitrust is a thing) and they have a higher reliance on paid search versus organic.

    Frozen in Fear vs Fearless

    The broader SEO industry is to some degree frozen by fear. Roughly half of SEOs claim to have not bought *ANY* links in a half-decade.

    Anonymous survey: have you (or your company) purchased backlinks - of ANY quality - for your own site, or any of your clients' sites, at any point in the past ~5 years?— Lily Ray (@lilyraynyc) October 24, 2019

    Long after most of the industry has stopped buying links some people still run the "paid links are a potential FTC violation guideline" line as though it is insightful and/or useful.

    Some people may be violating FTC rules by purchasing links that are not labeled as sponsored. This includes "content marketers" who publish articles with paid links on sites they curate. It's a ticking time bomb because it's illegal.— Roger Montti (@martinibuster) October 24, 2019

    Ask the people carrying Google's water what they think of the official FTC guidance on poor ad labeling in search results and you will hear the beautiful sound of crickets chirping.

    Where is the ad labeling in this unit?

    Does small gray text in the upper right corner stating "about these results" count as legitimate ad labeling?

    And then when you scroll over that gray text and click on it you get "Some of these hotel search results may be personalized based on your browsing activity and recent searches on Google, as well as travel confirmations sent to your Gmail. Hotel prices come from Google's partners."

    Ads, Scroll, Ads, Scroll, Ads...

    Zooming out a bit further on the above ad unit to look at the entire search result page, we can now see the following:

    • 4 text ad units above the map
    • huge map which segments demand by price tier, current sales, luxury, average review, geographic location
    • organic results below the above wall of ads, and the number of organic search results has been reduced from 10 to 7

    How many scrolls does one need to do to get past the above wall of ads?

    If one clicks on one of the hotel prices the follow up page is ... more ads.

    Check out how the ad label is visually overwhelmed by a bright blue pop over.

    Defund

    It is worth noting Google Chrome has a built-in ad blocking feature which allows them to strip all ads from displaying on third party websites if they follow Google's best practices layout used in the search results.

    You won't see ads on websites that have poor ad experiences, like:

    • Too many ads
    • Annoying ads with flashing graphics or autoplaying audio
    • Ad walls before you can see content

    When these ads are blocked, you'll see an "Intrusive ads blocked" message. Intrusive ads will be removed from the page.

    The following 4 are all true:

    And, as a bonus, to some paid links are a crime but Google can sponsor academic conferences for market regulators while requesting the payments not be disclosed.

    Excessive Profits = Spam

    Hotels have been at the forefront of SEO for many years. They drive massive revenues & were perhaps the only vertical ever referenced in the Google rater guidelines which explicitly stated all affiliate sites should be labeled as spam even if they are helpful to users.

    Google has won most of the profits in the travel market & so they'll need to eat other markets to continue their 20% annual growth.

    As they grow, other markets disappear.

    "It's a bug that you could rank highly in Google without buying ads, and Google is trying to fix the bug." - Googler John Rockway, January 31, 2012

    Some people who market themselves as SEO experts not only recognize this trend but even encourage this sort of behavior:

    Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market are all dominant players in the industry, and many of their house and apartment listings are duplicated across the different property portals. This represents a very real reason for Google to step in and create a more streamlined service that will help users make a more informed decision. ... The launch of Google Jobs should not have come as a surprise to anyone, and neither should its potential foray into real estate. Google will want to diversify its revenue channels as much as possible, and any market that allows it to do so will be in its sights. It is no longer a matter of if they succeed, but when.

    If nobody is serving a market that is justification for entering it. If a market has many diverse players that is justification for entering it. If a market is dominated by a few strong players that is justification for entering it. All roads lead to the pile of money. :)

    Extracting information from the ecosystem & diverting attention from other players while charging rising rents does not make the ecosystem stronger. Doing so does not help users make a more informed decision.

    Information as a Vertical

    The dominance Google has in core profitable vertical markets also exists in the news & general publishing categories. Some publishers get more traffic from Google Discover than from Google search. Publishers which try to turn off Google's programmatic ads find their display ad revenues fall off a cliff:

    "Nexstar Media Group Inc., the largest local news company in the U.S., recently tested what would happen if it stopped using Google’s technology to place ads on its websites. Over several days, the company’s video ad sales plummeted. “That’s a huge revenue hit,” said Tony Katsur, senior vice president at Nexstar. After its brief test, Nexstar switched back to Google." ... "Regulators who approved that $3.1 billion deal warned they would step in if the company tied together its offerings in anticompetitive ways. In interviews, dozens of publishing and advertising executives said Google is doing just that with an array of interwoven products."

    News is operating like many other (broken) markets. The Salt Lake Tribune converted to a nonprofit organization.

    Many local markets have been consolidated down to ownership by a couple private equity shop roll ups looking to further consolidate the market. Gatehouse Media acquired Gannett & has a $1.8 billion mountain of debt to pay off.

    McClatchy - the second largest domestic newspaper chain - may soon file for bankruptcy:

    there’s some nuance in this new drama — one of many to come from the past decade’s conversion of news companies into financial instruments stripped of civic responsibility by waves of outside money men. After all, when we talk about newspaper companies, we typically use their corporate names — Gannett, GateHouse, McClatchy, MNG, Lee. But it’s at least as appropriate to use the names of the hedge funds, private equity companies, and other investment vehicles that own and control them.

    The Washington Post - owned by Amazon's Jeff Bezos - is creating an ad tech stack which serves other publishers & brands, though they also believe a reliance on advertiser & subscription revenue is unsustainable: “We are too beholden to just advertiser and subscriber revenue, and we’re completely out of our minds if we think that’s what’s going to be what carries us through the next generation of publishing. That’s very clear.”

    Future Prospects

    We are nearing inflection points in many markets where markets that seemed somewhat disconnected from search will still end up being dominated by Google. Gmail, Android, Web Analytics, Play Store, YouTube, Maps, Waze ... are all additional points of leverage beyond the core search & ads products.

    If all roads lead to money one can't skip healthcare - now roughly 20% of the United States GDP.

    Google scrubbed many alternative health sites from the search results. Some of them may have deserved it. Others were perhaps false positives.

    Google wants to get into the healthcare market in a meaningful way. Google bought Fitbit and partnered with Ascension on a secret project gathering health information on over 50 million Americans.

    Google is investing heavily in quantum computing. Google Fiber was a nothingburger to force competing ISPs into accelerating expensive network upgrades, but beaming in internet services from satellites will allow Google to bypass local politics, local regulations & heavy network infrastructure construction costs. A startup named Kepler recently provided high-bandwidth connectivity to the Arctic. When Google launches a free ISP there will be many knock on effects causing partners to long for the day where Google was only as predatory as they are today.

    "Capitalism is an efficient system for surfacing and addressing the needs of consumers. But once it veers toward control over markets by a single entity, those benefits disappear." - Seth Godin

  • 05/11/2019 Internet Wayback Machine Adds Historical TextDiff

    The Wayback Machine has a cool new feature for looking at the historical changes of a web page.

    The color scale shows how much a page has changed since it was last cached & you can select between any two documents to see how a page has changed over time.

    You can then select between any two documents to see a side-by-side comparison of the documents.

    That quickly gives you an at-a-glance view of how they've changed their:

    • web design
    • on-page SEO strategy
    • marketing copy & sales strategy

    For sites that conduct seasonal sales & rely heavily on holiday themed ads you can also look up the new & historical ad copy used by large advertisers using tools like Moat, WhatRunsWhere & Adbeat.

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seoblackhat.com

  • 23/04/2016 What Happened with SEO Black Hat?
    It’s been 5 years since I wrote a post. I’ve been on lifecation for the last 3 and a half years (not working and living the dream). But there’s an exciting reason I’m back: A Yuuuuuge exploit that I’m going to share, but I’ll get to that in due time. First, let’s talk about the […]
  • 17/04/2016 Hello Again. World.
    Zombie SEO Black Hat and QuadsZilla about to become reanimated.
  • 05/02/2011 Google Lied about Manually Changes
    We Cannot Manually Change Results . . . But we did.
  • 03/02/2011 Clicksteam For Dummies: How The Ranking Factor Works
    Since the majority of people can’t seem to figure out how clickstream data could be used as a Search Engine Ranking Factor, without ever scraping the actual page, I’ll give you a hint.
  • 01/02/2011 Bing is Just Better
    Google is scared. They call Bing’s Results “a Cheap imitation”, but the fact is that Bing is now consistently delivering better results.

bluehatseo.com

  • 09/06/2011 Guest Post: How To Start Your First Media Buy
    This post was written by a good friend of mine and one of the best media buyers I know Max Teitelbaum. He owns WhatRunsWhere and has previously offered to write a guest post on the subject for you guys, but with all the buzz and relevancy of his new WhatRunsWhere tool I requested he write [...]
  • 12/07/2010 Open Questions: When To Never Do Article Submissions
    Got a question in my E-Commerce SEO Checklist post from Rania, who didn’t leave me a link for credit. “4. Steal your competitors articles and product reviews and do article distribution.” You recommend STEALING articles from competitors as an advanced SEO tactic?! Seriously?! How about recommending that users create their own unique content in order to increase their [...]
  • 09/07/2010 SEO Checklist for E-Commerce Sites
    Answering a question on Wickedfire here. If you own an Ecommerce site and don’t know where to begin on the SEO go through this check list. In total, it’ll cost less than $500. 1. Signup with all related forums. Put your site in the footer links and go through answering product related questions on a weekly basis. 2. [...]
  • 22/06/2010 How To Take Down A Competitors Website: Legally
    They stole your articles didn’t they? You didn’t even know until they outranked you. They jacked your $50 lander without a single thought to how you’d feel? Insensitive pricks They violated your salescopy with synonyms. Probably didn’t even use a rubber. They rank #8 and you rank #9 on EVERY KEYWORD! bastards! Listen, why don’t you just relax. Have a seat over there [...]
  • 11/11/2009 Addon Domain Spamming With Wordpress and Any Other CMS
    I got this question from Primal in regards to my post on Building Mininets Eli, I like the post and your entire site. Thanks for sharing your knowledge. One thing confuses me about this particular tactic. Where are you getting the content from? You mentioned Audioscrobbler and Youtube API but I am not focusing on a music [...]

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