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  • How I Learned to Start Loving Social Media's Darkside

    I'm baaaaaaack.

    Organic Listings

    What a fun past couple years it has been in the digital marketing landscape; we've seen hummingbirds, ads displacing organic listings, phantoms, ads displacing organic listings, rank brain, and of course ads displacing organic listings. It has been such a long time since my last post that back when I was last writing for SEObook we were still believing in the timelines provided by Google employees on when Penguin was going to run next. Remember that? Oh, the memories.

    Idiot Proof SEO Concepts You Better Not Screw Up For Me

    The reason I'm back is to share a tip. Normally I don't share SEO tips because by sharing information on a tactic, I end up burning the tactic and killing whatever potential usable market value remained on its shelf life. Why share then? Because this isn't something you can kill; it involves people. And killing people is bad. To explain how it works though, I need to explain the two concepts I'm smashing together like chocolate and peanut butter.

    Keepin' it REAL.

    Chocolate

    The chocolate, aka Influencer Marketing – my definition of influencer marketing is having someone tell your story for you. Some people view influencer marketing as paying someone like Kim Kardashian $50,000 to post a picture of herself on Instagram holding a sample of your new line of kosher pickles. While that does fit under my definition as well, I consider that aspirational influencer marketing since her audience is primarily comprised of being aspiring to be Kim. Also equally valid is having Sally your foodie neighbor posting that picture in exchange for getting a free jar of those delicious pickles; in this particular case though the influence would be considered peer level influence since Sally's audience is going to be comprised largely of people that view Sally as their equal, and possibly recognize that Sally as a foodie knows her food. Personally, I am biased, but I prefer lots of peer influence campaigns than a single big budget aspirational influence campaign, but I digress. If you want to learn a lot more about differences in the campaign types, I spoke with Bronco on the ins and outs of influence.

    Peanut Butter

    The peanut butter, aka Online Reputation Management, aka ORM – while I would hope reputation management doesn't need to be specifically defined, I'll define it anyhow as changing the online landscape for the benefit of a client's (or your own) reputation. Peanut butter is a really good analogy for ORM because a lot of work gets spread around in a lot of directions, from creating hundreds of thousands of properties designed to flood the SERPs and social channels as a tail that wags the dog, to straight up negative SEO. Yeah, I said it. If negative SEO wasn't made so much more available due to Panda, Penguin, and the philosophical neative a priori shift, in ORM would not be the industry that it is today.

    So what's the tip? You can combine these two concepts for your clients, and you can do it in a variety of different ways. Let's walk through a few…

    POSITIVE/BENIGN Focus

    1. Use aspirational influence to find a blogger/writer to talk about your client or product.
    2. Use peer influence indirectly to let a more difficult to approach blogger/writer “discover” your client and write about him or her.
    3. Use aspirational influence as a means to gain links to some properties. Seriously, this works really well. Some audiences will write a series of articles on whatever certain individuals writes about.
    4. Use peer influence to change tone/meaning of a negative article to something more benign.
    5. Use peer influence to find bloggers/writers to discuss concepts that can only be disucssed by referencing you or your client.

    NEGATIVE Focus

    1. Use peer pressure influence to get material removed.
    2. Use aspirational influence to change the mind of blogger/writer (think politics – this works).
    3. Use peer influence to change links from one target to another in source material (this occurs quite a bit on Wikipedia too).
    4. THE TRUMP® CARD©: Use aspirational influence and peer influence in combination, which I call compulsion marketing, to inspire frightening movements and witchunts (coordinated DOS attacks, protests, crap link blasts, et al).

    My business partner at my influencer marketing network Intellifluence, Terry Godier, and I also refer to some of the above topics under the umbrella of dark influence. I'm sure this list isn't even close to exhaustive, mainly because I don't want to go too deep on how scary one can get. If you need to address such things, I still take on select ORM clients at Digital Heretix and can help you out or refer you to a quality professional that will. Combining concepts and tactics is often a lot more fun than trying to approach a tactic singularly; when possible, work in multiple dimensions.

    Think of a way that I missed or some cool concepts that could be paired to be more powerful? Let me know on Twitter.

    Cheers,
    Joe Sinkwitz

    Categories: 


  • Facebook's Panda Update

    So far this year publishers have lost 52% their Facebook distribution due to:

    Instant Articles may have worked for an instant, but many publishers are likely where they were before they made the Faustian bargain, except they now have less control over their content distribution and advertising while having the higher cost structure of supporting another content format.

    When Facebook announced their news feed update to fight off clickbait headlines, it sure sounded a lot like the equivalent of Google's Panda update. Glenn Gabe is one of the sharpest guys in the SEO field who regularly publishes insightful content & doesn't blindly shill for the various platform monopolies dominating the online publishing industry & he had the same view I did.

    Wow, just realized this is a Panda-like Facebook algo update. "posts shared from domains & Pages will appear lower" https://t.co/IurVgPeL8D— Glenn Gabe (@glenngabe) August 4, 2016

    Further cementing the "this is Panda" view was an AdAge article quoting some Facebook-reliant publishers. Glad we have already shifted our ways. Nice to see them moving in the same direction we are. etc. ... It felt like reading a Richard Rosenblatt quote in 2011 about Demand Media's strong working relationship with Google or how right after Panda their aggregate traffic level was flat.

    January 27, 2011

    Peter Kafka: Do you think that Google post was directed at you in any way?

    Richard Rosenblatt: It’s not directed at us in any way.

    P K: they wrote this post, which talks about content farms, and even though you say they weren’t talking about you, it left a lot of people scratching their heads.

    R R: Let’s just say that we know what they’re trying to do. ... He’s talking about duplicate, non-original content. Every single piece of ours is original. ... our relationship is synergistic, and it’s a great partnership.

    May 9, 2011

    Kara Swisher: What were you trying to communicate in the call, especially since investors seemed very focused on Panda?

    R R: What I also wanted to show was that third-party data sources should not be relied on. We did get affected, for sure. But I was not just being optimistic, we wanted to use that to really understand what we can do better.

    K S: Given Google’s shift in its algorithm, are you shifting your distribution, such as toward social and mobile?

    R R: If you look at where trends are going, that’s where we are going to be.

    K S: How are you changing the continued perception that Demand is a content farm?

    R R: I don’t think anyone has defined what a content farm is and I am not sure what it means either. We obviously don’t think we are a content farm and I am not sure we can counter every impact if some people think we are.

    A couple years later Richard Rosenblatt left the company.

    Since the Google Panda update eHow has removed millions of articles from their site. As a company they remain unprofitable a half-decade later & keep seeing YoY media ad revenue declines in the 30% to 40% range.

    Over-reliance on any platform allows that platform to kill you. And, in most cases, you are unlikely to be able to restore your former status until & unless you build influence via other traffic channels:

    I think in general, media companies have lost sight of building relationships with their end users that will bring them in directly, as opposed to just posting links on social networks and hoping people will click. I think publishers that do that are shooting themselves in the foot. Media companies in general are way too focused on being where our readers are, as opposed to being so necessary to our readers that they will seek us out. - Jessica Lessin, founder of TheInformation

    Recovering former status requires extra investment far above and beyond what led to the penalty. And if the core business model still has the same core problems there is no solution.

    "I feel pretty confident about the algorithm on Suite 101." - Matt Cutts

    Some big news publishers are trying to leverage video equivalents of a Narrative Science or Automated Insights (from Wochit and Wibbitz) to embed thousands of autogenerated autoplay videos in their articles daily.

    But is that a real long-term solution to turn the corner? Even if they see a short term pop in ad revenues by using some dumbed-down AI-enhanced low cost content, all that really does is teach people that they are a source of noise while increasing the number of web users who install ad blockers.

    And the whole time penalized publishers try to recover the old position of glory, the platform monopolies are boosting their AI skills in the background while they eat the playing field.

    The companies which run the primary ad networks can easily get around the ad blockers, but third party publishers can't. As the monopoly platforms broadly defund ad-based publishing, they can put users "in control" while speaking about taking the principle-based approach:

    “This isn’t motivated by inventory; it’s not an opportunity for Facebook from that perspective,” Mr. Bosworth said. “We’re doing it more for the principle of the thing. We want to help lead the discussion on this.” ... Mr. Bosworth said Facebook hasn't paid any ad-blocking software company to have its ads pass through their filters and that it doesn’t intend to.

    Google recently worked out a deal with Wikimedia to actually cite the source of the content shown in the search results:

    it hasn’t always been the easiest to see that the material came from Wikipedia while on mobile devices. At the Wikimedia Foundation, we’ve been working to change that.

    While the various platforms ride the edge on what is considered reasonable disclosure, regulatory bodies crack down on individuals participating on those platforms unless they are far more transparent than the platforms are:

    Users need to be clear when they're getting paid to promote something, and hashtags like #ad, #sp, #sponsored --common forms of identification-- are not always enough.

    The whole "eating the playing field" is a trend which is vastly under-reported, largely because almost everyone engaged in the ecosystem needs to sell they have some growth strategy.

    The reality is as the platform gets eaten it only gets harder to build a sustainable business. The mobile search interface is literally nothing but ads in most key categories. More ads. Larger ads. Nothing but ads.

    And a bit of scrape after the ads to ensure the second or third screen still shows zero organic results.

    @glenngabe those SERPs look even sexier when there are 3 or 4 AdWords above the knowledge graph. pic.twitter.com/tjdCuPBrCQ— aaron wall (@aaronwall) June 22, 2016

    And more scraping, across more categories.

    Google monopolist not satisfied with above the fold they've now claimed "page 2" cc @kaufer #byeorganic pic.twitter.com/qGXmt2Z5K5— Jeremy Stoppelman (@jeremys) August 5, 2016

    What's more, even large scaled companies in big money fields are struggling to monetize mobile users. On the most recent quarterly conference call TripAdvisor executives stated they monetize mobile users at about 30% the rate they monetize desktop or tablet users.

    What happens when the big brand advertisers stop believing in the narrative of the value of precise user tracking?

    We may soon find out:

    P&G two years ago tried targeting ads for its Febreze air freshener at pet owners and households with large families. The brand found that sales stagnated during the effort, but rose when the campaign on Facebook and elsewhere was expanded last March to include anyone over 18.
    ...
    P&G’s push to find broader reach with its advertising is also evident in the company’s recent increases in television spending. Toward the end of last year P&G began moving more money back into television, according to people familiar with the matter.

    For mobile to work well you need to be a destination & a habit. But there is tiny screen space and navigational searches are also re-routed through Google hosted content (which will, of course, get monetized).

    In fact, what would happen to an advertiser if they partnered with other advertisers to prevent brand bidding? Why that advertiser would get sued by the FTC for limiting user choice:

    The bidding agreements harm consumers, according to the complaint, by restraining competition for, and distorting the prices of, advertising in relevant online auctions, by reducing the number of relevant, useful, truthful and non-misleading advertisements, by restraining competition among online sellers of contact lenses, and in some cases, by resulting in consumers paying higher retail prices for contact lenses.

    If the above restraint of competition & market distortion is worth suing over, how exactly can Google make the mobile interface AMP exclusive without earning a similar lawsuit?

    AMP content presented in the both sections will be “de-duplicated” in order to avoid redundancies, Google says. The move is significant in that AMP results will now take up an entire phone screen, based on the example Google shows in its pitch deck.

    Are many publishers in a rush to support Google AMP after the bait-n-switch on Facebook Instant Articles?

    Categories: 


  • Brands Beat Generics

    When markets are new they are unproven, thus they often have limited investment targeting them.

    That in turn means it can be easy to win in new markets just by virtue of existing.

    It wouldn't be hard to rank well creating a blog today about the evolution of the 3D printing industry, or a how to site focused on Arduino or Raspberry Pi devices.

    Couple a bit of passion with significant effort & limited competition and winning is quite easy.

    Likewise in a small niche geographic market one can easily win with a generic, because the location acts as a market filter which limits competition.

    But as markets age and become more proven, capital rushes in, which pushes out most of the generic unbranded players.

    Back in 2011 I wrote about how Google had effectively killed the concept of category killer domains through the combination of ad displacement, vertical search & the algorithmic ranking shift moving away from relevancy toward awareness. 2 months before I wrote that post Walgreen Co. acquired Drugstore.com for about $429 million. At the time Drugstore.com was one of the top 10 biggest ecommerce pure plays.

    Thursday Walgreens Boots announced it would shut down Drugstore.com & Beauty.com:

    The company is still trying to fine tune its e-commerce strategy but clearly wants to focus more of its resources on one main site. “They want to make sure they can invest more of the equity in Walgreens.com,” said Brian Owens, a director at the consultancy Kantar Retail. “Drugstore.com and Beauty.com are distractions.”

    Big brands can sometimes get coverage of "meh" content by virtue of being associated with a big brand, but when they buy out pure-play secondary e-commerce sites those often fail to gain traction and get shuttered:

    Other retailers have picked up pure-play e-commerce sites, only to shut them down shortly thereafter. Target Corp. last year shuttered ChefsCatalog.com and Cooking.com, less than three years after buying them.

    The lack of publishing savvy among most large retailers mean there will be a water cycle of opportunity which keeps re-appearing, however as the web gets more saturated many of these opportunities are going to become increasingly niche options riding new market trends.

    If you invest in zero-sum markets there needs to be some point of differentiation to drive switching. There might be opportunity for a cooking.com or a drugstore.com targeting emerging and frontier markets where brands are under-represented online (much like launching Drugstore.com in the US back in 1999), but it is unlikely pure-play ecommerce sites will be able to win in established markets if they use generically descriptive domains which make building brand awareness and perceived differentiation next to impossible.

    Target not only shut down cooking.com, but they didn't even bother redirecting the domain name to an associated part of their website.

    It is now listed for sale.

    Many short & generic domain names are guaranteed to remain in a purgatory status.

    • The price point is typically far too high for a passionate hobbyist to buy them & attempt to turn them into something differentiated.
    • The names are too generic for a bigger company to do much with them as a secondary option
      • the search relevancy & social discovery algorithms are moving away from generic toward brand
      • retailers have to save their best ideas for their main branded site
      • the rise of cross-device tracking + ad retargeting further incentivize them to focus exclusively on a single bigger site
    Categories: 


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