Apple Search

Google, Google, Google

For well over a decade Google has dominated search to where most stories in the search sphere were about Google or something on the periphery.

In 2019 Google generated $134.81 billion in ad revenues.

When Verizon bought core Yahoo three years ago the final purchase price was $4.48 billion. That amount was to own their finance vertical, news vertical, web portal, homepage, email & web search. It also included a variety of other services like Tumblr.

Part of what keeps Google so dominant in search is their brand awareness. That is also augmented by distribution as defaults in Chrome and Android. Then when it comes to buying search distribution from other players like Mozilla Firefox, Opera or Apple’s Safari they can outbid everyone else as they are much better at monetizing tier 2 markets and emerging markets than other search companies are since they have such strong ad depth. Even if Bing gave a 100% revshare to Apple they still could not compete with Google in most markets in terms of search monetization.

Apple as a Huge Search Traffic Driver

In 2019 Google paid just under £1.2 billion in default payments for UK search traffic. Most of that went to Apple. Historically when Google broke out their search revenues by region typically the US was around 45% to 46% of search ad revenue & the UK was around 11% to 12%, so it is likely Google is spending north of $10 billion a year to be the default search provider on Apple devices:

Apple submitted that search engines do not pay Apple for the right to be set as the primary default search engine on its devices. However, our assessment is that Google does pay to be the primary default on Apple devices. The agreement between Google and Apple states that Google will be the default web search provider and the same agreement states that Google will pay Apple a specified share of search advertising revenues. We also note that Google does not pay compensation to any partners that set Google Search as a secondary option. This further suggests that Google’s payment to Apple is in return for Apple setting Google as the primary default.

Apple is glad to cash those checks & let Google handle the core algorithmic search function in the web browser, but Apple also auto-completes many searches from within the address bar via various features like website history, top hit, news, Siri suggested website, suggested sites, etc.

A Unique Voice in Search

The nice thing about Apple powering some of those search auto-complete results themselves is their results are not simply a re-hash of the Google search results so they can add a unique voice to the search marketplace where if your site isn’t doing as well in Google it could still be promoted by Apple based on other factors.

High-traffic Shortcuts

Apple users generally have plenty of disposable personal income and a tendency to dispose of much of it, so if you are an Android user it is probably worth having an Apple device to see what they are recommending for core terms in your client’s markets. If you want to see recommendations for a particular country you may need to have a specialized router targeted to that country or use a web proxy or VPN.

Most users likely conduct full search queries and click through to listings from the Google search result page, but over time the search autocomplete feature that recommends previously viewed websites and other sites likely picks up incremental share of voice.

A friend of mine from the UK runs a local site and the following shows how the Apple ecosystem drove nearly 2/3 of his website traffic.

His website is only a couple years old, so it doesn’t get a ton of traffic from other sources yet. As of now his site does not have great Google rankings, but even if it did the boost by the Apple recommendations still provides a tailwind of free distribution and awareness (for however long it lasts).

For topics covered in news or repeat navigational searches Apple likely sends a lot of direct visits via their URL auto-completion features, but they do not use the feature broadly into the tail of search across other verticals, so it is a limited set of searches that ultimately benefit from the shortcuts.

Apple Search Ranking Factors

Apple recently updated their search page offering information about Applebot:

Apple Search may take the following into account when ranking web search results:

  • Aggregated user engagement with search results
  • Relevancy and matching of search terms to webpage topics and content
  • Number and quality of links from other pages on the web
  • User location based signals (approximate data)
  • Webpage design characteristics

Search results may use the above factors with no (pre-determined) importance of ranking. Users of Search are subject to the privacy policy in Siri Suggestions, Search & Privacy.

I have seen some country-code TLDs do well in their local markets in spite of not necessarily being associated with large brands. Sites which do not rank well in Google can still end up in the mix provided the user experience is clean, the site is useful and it is easy for Apple to associate the site with a related keyword.

Panda-like Quality Updates

Markets like news change every day as the news changes, but I think Apple also does some Panda-like updates roughly quarterly where they do a broad refresh of what they recommend generally. As part of those updates sites which were once recommended can end up seeing the recommendation go away (especially if user experience declined since the initial recommendation via an ad heavy layout or similar) while other sites that have good engagement metrics get recommended on related searches.

A friend had a website they sort of forgot that was recommended by Apple. That site saw a big jump on July 9, 2018 then it slid back in early August that year, likely after the testing data showed it wasn’t as good as some other site Apple recommended. They noticed the spike in traffic & improved the site a bit. In early October it was widely recommended once again. That lasted until May of 2019 when it fell off a cliff once more. They had monetized the site with a somewhat spammy ad network & the recommendation mostly went away.

The recommendations happen as the person types and they may be different for searches where there is a space between keywords and the word is ran together. It is also worth noting Apple will typically recommend the www. version of a site over the m. version of a site for sites that offer both, so it makes sense to ensure if you used separate URLs that the www version also uses a responsive website design.

Indirect Impact on Google

While the Apple search shortcuts bypass Google search & thus do not create direct user signals to impact Google search, people who own an iPhone then search on a Windows computer at work or a Windows laptop at home might remember the site they liked from their iPhone and search for it once more, giving the site some awareness that could indirectly bleed over into impacting Google’s search rankings.

Apple could also eventually roll out their own fully featured search engine.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/apple-search
via KCG Auto Feed

Overcoming Webmaster Depression

This year is a rather easy year to be depressed. 😉

COVID-19, fearmongering media, polarized hyper-charged social media, mass unemployment, lockdowns that killed exercise routines and social connections, loss of hope / purpose / meaning, a guy who stuck a gun in the belly area of a pregnant woman overdosing on fentanyl shortly after he passed counterfeit currency, that broader background being utterly ignored so outrage could fuel widespread rioting with a man in dreadlocks kicking a man sitting in the street unconscious & other bonus random drive by shootings where actual heroes are murdered at random, cities being burned down, communist anarchy, social “justice” movements founded on the idiotic idea of improving society by ripping apart the family unit, etc.

This post is not a suicide letter, but an ode to reality of accepting today for what it is. 😀

Last year was the first year where I managed an office with a bunch of employees in it. When the office opened my email inbox had under 2,000 emails built up in it over a 16 year period of working on the web. Far from inbox zero, I am now above 20,000. I think in a Bill Gates interview about a half year ago I smiled after hearing his sort of EGT was how his email inbox was doing. I timed that office opening almost perfectly for COVID-19 so I could have all the stress and cost associated with training a team, setting up a ton of computers, creating workflow, … and then none of the benefits as the office would get shut down shortly after things began to operate smoothly. 😀

By the end of last year a was a bit (err…lot) on the fat side from working too much, too much stress, and exercising too little. My weight and the length of my fuse are reciprocals.

In the past I used to harness negative energy into a form of rage to fuel drive, but now that I am over 40 I find it much harder to live that way. I’ve already had a number of near death experiences (including one when my wife was pregnant with our only child) and think at some point living that rage-drive way is just shitty. Just say no to endless rage.

So when it was obvious this year was largely going to be dog crap, I started to look internally instead of externally & figured it made more sense to improve health & mood than to fight the gravity of the global depression we are currently living through.

Exogenous Shocks

When things change out of nowhere they can end up dramatically changing the social and economic order.

Many such changes are utterly arbitrary and orthogonal to the concepts of fairness, justice, human decency, etc.

Some parties are politically connected & shielded from actual market forces.

As a self-employed person living overseas I am certainly not one of those protected parties. That said, my family and the people who work for me look to me and hope I can help shield them from some of the crap reality served up this year.

As a rule, when exogenous shocks happen those who are not politically connected get screwed hardest.

Smaller firms tend to under-perform larger firms: “As the earnings season draws to a close, companies within the Russell 2000 stock index — the small-cap benchmark — have reported an aggregate loss of $1.1bn, compared to profits of almost $18bn a year earlier, according to data provider FactSet. Meantime, the much bigger companies within the benchmark S&P 500 index have posted a 34 per cent aggregate drop in earnings, to $233bn.”

Poorer people are more likely to lose their jobs.

Emerging markets tend to get hit harder than developed markets. Which only adds to the powder keg of instability as the food price inflation tied to falling incomes makes many people rather desperate.

etc.

As people get desperate violence increases & many governments get overthrown.

Central banks printing cash to prop up the financial markets only increases the divide further.

That increased income & wealth inequality makes “the system” only feel that much more fraudulent, which in turn acts as a powder keg to fuel more arbitrary misdirected violence.

Tesla now has a $340 billion market capitalization. They remain unprofitable outside of harvesting tax credits.

Beyond fueling increased violence, the sky high numbers for FOMO stocks also lead some people to feel like they are failures for only slightly succeeding or just getting by.

Others pile in to trashy cryptocurrencies in an attempt to catch up where they only further compound their losses.

Waiting Things Out

It is worth noting many of the jobs that are gone are gone for good.

We may very well be facing a global depression:

“The pandemic has created a massive economic contraction that will be followed by a financial crisis in many parts of the globe, as nonperforming corporate loans accumulate alongside bankruptcies. Sovereign defaults in the developing world are also poised to spike. This crisis will follow a path similar to the one the last crisis took, except worse, commensurate with the scale and scope of the collapse in global economic activity. And the crisis will hit lower-income households and countries harder than their wealthier counterparts. … In all of the worst financial crises since the mid-nineteenth century, it took an average of eight years for per capita GDP to return to the pre-crisis level. (The median was seven years.) … The last time all engines failed was in the Great Depression; the collapse this time will be similarly abrupt and steep.”

If you can’t afford to feed your family of course you have to solve that problem first. But if you are not absolutely financially desperate then this can be a good year to win in ways other than finances & only worry about money after other things are in a better place.

This is a good year to find meaning through various types of self-improvement and doing lots of small & kind things for the people around you. Yesterday was a good day to buy your wife flowers. So is today. Tomorrow is a good day to buy a friend a surprise gift.

One of the best books you can read about developing positive personal habits is Charles Duhigg’s The Power of Habit. It is 8 years old now but it is still a great read.

Pushing for broad structural changes in a crisis through ideology which removes ordinary feedback loops often ends up creating only further injustice with the campaign “hero” looking like their polar opposite. Ideology pushed hard enough wraps around to the other side.

When things are absolutely screwed the world over it is better to focus on improving yourself and your family rather than promoting arbitrary extrajudicial justice and burning things down further.

Here are the steps I took to improve a good bit so far this year.

Coronavirus Lockdowns

When I saw a video of a guy walking down the street in Wuhan cough blood and fall over dead I immediately ordered facemasks for everyone in my extended family. I also bought facemasks and gloves into the office for workers. As it turns out gloves were largely a non-winner because using them is more likely to spread virus and bacteria, but the intent was good.

Cygnus recommended taking the supplement quercetin & so did Dr. Zev, so I do that.

When lockdowns were announced I hoarded months worth of baby formula so I know my daughter would be ok & bought her a couple birthday presents in case the lockdowns were extended repeatedly. They were, so that worked out ok.

When lockdowns ended I bought a ton of different toys for my daughter so I could share them with her and make up for the limited outside contact for the time being. I also brought my lead graphic & web designer a dual monitor computer to his house to improve his efficiency.

Any day where there is not a lockdown I try to make the most of it knowing another couple months or quarter year can disappear arbitrarily.

Making the most out of the day for me often means doing something positive on the health front & meaning front right away. Things like getting food for my daughter or going for a walk are big wins early in the day as we tend to slow down and get tired as the day drags on.

Health / Fitness

Early in the year when I could use the gym I was walking at a brisk pace for about an hour a day while reading books and listening to podcasts.

After gyms were forced to be closed I started walking outside. Initially this was often to get groceries or various baby supplies, though I continued to walk daily even when there wasn’t a real direct need just to keep mood up with all the ridiculous crap going on in the world. I used to think the Philippines was way too hot when I had to drive everywhere, but even if it is hot as hell it isn’t bad to be out in the sun and heat so long as you are only walking especially if the walk has a purpose which helps your loved ones in some way.

Walking regularly with nothing else going on can be boring as hell, of course, so to offset the boredom I bring my iPhone and have some Airpod Pro earbuds with their killer noise canceling features. When nobody is near me I sometimes pull down my face mask and jog or sprint for a while to add variety to the day. I also sometimes make people’s ears bleed by singing along in an effort to share the joy of whatever I am listening to. 😀

There are many awesome acoustic songs on YouTube. Revisiting unheard versions of songs you liked a long time ago can make the lyrics more powerful.

Some of the spoken-word song introductions are quite powerful: “everyone wants you to forget you are gonna die, because if they convince you your not gonna die you waste your time doing what they want you to do. Spend money on what they’re selling. … one day I’m gonna die, but before then I’m gonna live, live, live, the way I want to live and I hope you do too.”

Whenever I exercise I usually have caffeine as well. I view it a bit like a band aid or kick start, but I try to only use it either explicitly when walking or when intensely focusing on work.

If my back hurts from sitting at the chair too long that is a cue to get up and take a break even if it is a short one to go play with my daughter.

Sometimes I will walk two or three times throughout the day to break up the monotony.

Most my exercise is walking or jogging, but occasionally I will do a few push ups or sit ups.

In a world of gloom it is hard to look in the mirror and see a steaming pile of garbage which is not well maintained and feel good about yourself.

You know what sacrifices you have made and what the costs were, but it is easy to go down the path of resentment if outcomes are subpar and beyond your control in the short term.

If you don’t feel alive you aren’t. 😀

It’s a lifeless life, with no fixed address to give
But you’re not mine to die for anymore
so I must live


Diet

I try to eat salad, Indian food, quiche, nuts, beef jerky, and all sorts of other foods where carbohydrates are sort of only incidental and are not core to the dish.

Anything that looks/smells/feels/sounds like sugar, rice, potatoes, bread, derivatives thereof, etc. I consider to be poison / systemic inflammation / weight gain and try to skip it.

I also consider drinking calories to be a disaster as the glycemic index on things like a soda are through the roof.

If you are fat and eat a lot of carbs you are repeatedly spiking your blood sugar, then it crashes, then you are hungry again. This habit & addictive cycle works on some of the same neural pathways that hardcore drugs do.

Sometimes I still do eat a bit of peanut butter or chocolate or frozen chocolate dipped in peanut butter, though I try not to use it meal replacement style very often & try not to be “full jar now empty” Aaron.

When I wake I often wait at least 4 or 5 hours before eating my first meal. In some cases I stretch that out to 6 or 8.

Communicating

I know a lot of people are in a bad state this year, so I try to offset that at least slightly by overcommunicating.

I send my mom pictures or videos of my daughter every day as she told me those help her sleep better at night and her watch even shows her blood pressure is lower and she feels much more well rested the next morning. I have bought my daughter a ton of extra clothes to wear just so my mom gets a bit more variety in the pictures and my daughter will have a ton of memories to sort through when she is older.

Our daughter has quite a bit of energy so sometimes she makes communicating with my wife hard. Sometimes we have better luck texting back and forth if something is urgent and then discuss it in more detail over email or when our daughter is taking a nap.

A lot of people around me have recently went through hardships beyond the financial uncertainties many are facing.

  • Our web designer’s mom had a heart attack then got COVID-19 but I think she is ok now.
  • Our lead writer had a friend younger than I who after going to the hospital with COVID-19.
  • Our lead programmer’s parents recently had their house broken into with some of their sentimental jewelry stolen & he is the glue guy for the whole family.
  • One of my buddies recently broke up with his long time girlfriend.

I am sure there are a lot more similar stories that I have not been told yet. So as a rule of thumb I sort of consider that if people have historically been good its ok to give them more leeway this year & be extra kind.

Mental Health

I generally am not a fan of taking prescription drugs to solve symptoms of real problems as in many cases those can cause additional bonus problems. I get that some people need various drugs to get by and survive, though outside of caffeine I typically try not to drink much or do much of anything else that can add more instability or create more bonus issues.

The above said, I think my baseline mood (especially if I am not in great health) tends to be a bit darker than average.

The early web was quite cool and you could do things like email Tim Berners-Lee and get a response, or someone would read your site and see you mentioned Carl Sagan and shoot you an email like this one:

I wrote the first modern book on depression in 1980. It was the first book to present depression as a biochemical disease, rather than a ‘mental’ illness (whatever that is). And, I was the one who introduced Carl Sagan to television as a local TV personality in L. A., Carl was a good family friend who came to watch a taping of my PBS show, he got really intense when he realized what a medium for communication TV was, and I introduced him to the GM of the station, that’s how he got to TV. He was more of a scientist than an actor, I coached him on TV persona. He was a very intense person, and did not have a big ego; he was always open to new information, whether it came from experiences or ideas. He would have loved living now.

To solve both depression and weight gain problems, try an over-the-counter nutrient called 5HTP. The Walmarts here sell the least expensive and best pills. Take about nine a day for about nine days, you will notice you haven’t felt the urge to eat all day and you don’t have as much depression symptoms; the griffonia seed from which 5HTP is made increases serotonin in the brain.

Then a follow up after I asked about the FDA ban of L-Tryptophan:

Now something gets clearer! When tryotophan was banned because of one supposedly contaminated batch, I used every tiny bit of influence I had as a journalist, talked to every politician I could get in touch with. It was like going up against a brick wall. I wrote articles, did everything, could not understand at all why the nutrient was being banned for one bad batch in Japan and why resistance to overturning the ban was so solid. I even tried to obtain the animal version, and was told it ‘wasn’t the same,’ yet according to a chemical analysis, it was. Now I understand….

My book is “Depression, How to Recognize It, Cure It and Grow From It, Prentice Hall hardback, Simon Schuster paperback.

She also mentioned

Depression research is such big business that I feel they don’t want to find a real cure. The way the research should have gone is to study the chemical makeup of depression, then match the medication effect to different brain hormones (as well as cortisol-though it’s not a biogenic amine, it’s a definite precursor), and find accurate ways of testing which hormone or combination thereof is/are out of balance, so the correct medication can be prescribed right off the bat. So, if it’s a seratonin imbalance, the doc gives one medication, if it’s monomaine oxadase, the patient gets another, and so on. Prosac is like a huge blanket device, rather than an accurate laser beam going to the exact place it is needed.

Depression research really hasn’t progressed that much in the last 20 years, imho.

I know a big part of my improved mood was from taking 5-HTP along with Vitamin B & Vitamin C just before bed. When I take those I can fall asleep a bit quicker, sleep about an hour less, wake up feeling more refreshed, and am less hungry the following morning. If I had to guess, I would say the 5-hydroxytryptophan contributed to my recent 40 pound weight loss more than anything else did.

Anyhow, I would not recommend 5-HTP for anyone who is on SSRIs, MAO inhibitors, or many other drug classes (talk to your doctor first, etc.). But I figured a lot of people feel like crap this year so I should mention it has worked well for me.

Before writing this blog post I also recommended it to a few other people.

Our lead content writer was down after her friend died & I recommended it to her. She said she felt a difference the very next day.

Our backend developer took some after I told him about it and said his personal doom loop he was going through was better within 2 days.

I do not think it is a magic cure-all or would work for everyone, but if you are a bit down combining a bit of 5-HTP with exercise, healthy diet, sleep, etc. can help you improve your worldview and outlook a bit to get through the challenging times we are going through.

My only complaint (glass is always at least half empty :D) would be that as I have discarded that sort of rage cycle I find it easier to be distracted and harder to focus on work. If you love what you do focus comes automatic, but if you don’t then you do sometimes have to trick yourself a bit into being productive if you literally could be retired for life. But I suppose most people would say that is an absurd “problem” to complain about.

My only solution to the above is watching MJ on MJ. 😀

Ending on a Positive Note

Destruction leads to a very rough road but it also breeds creation
And earthquakes are to a girl’s guitar, they’re just another good vibration
And tidal waves couldn’t save the world from Californication

If you are reading this blog post you are almost certainly involved in some part of web development, content production, internet marketing and/or e-commerce.

Ultimately as the world is reshaped you will benefit as long as you get through the current period as literally *everything* is moving online.

Given that the big platform monopolies are now getting the PR black eyes they deserve for their locked down ecosystems there is a good chance the web will be a much better place in the next half-decade.

The number of people rushing to become their own bosses is at a record level. Many will fail, but many will innovate and create new markets as they have no choice but to succeed. As more things move online, attention merchant platforms keep breaking culture into smaller and smaller chunks to fuel increasingly distorted views of reality that cater toward confirmation bias and rage.

At some point people will tire of the feed-based never-ending stream and want things they can complete. The growth of Neflix and their streaming competitors reflects the desire for something longer and more in-depth.

Some of legacy print media brands with high cost structures are now recycled selling marked-up garbage in parallel markets.

The combination of these trends will drive an increased appreciation for authenticity & the desire for human connection.

Long ago my original SEO mentor stated:

This is what I think, SEO is all about emotions, all about human interaction. People, search engineers even, try and force it into a numbers box. Numbers, math and formulas are for people not smart enough to think in concepts.

I think the best brands, the best sites have a large portion of their founders personality in them. Never be afraid to be yourself, after all there are 1/2 billion people on the www, not all of them have to agree with you. Concentrate on the ones that share your views, concentrate on making their experience the very best it can be, the rest forget them.

Or to put it another way, the best sites say – this is what we do, this is how we do it, if you don’t like it go somewhere else.

Ultimately though I think it comes down to desire and the will to win.

He later sold his business for a life changing sum, so unlike his favorite football club, I guess he had the will to win. The question remains if he will purchase the football club and “fix” them. 😀

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/managing-depression
via KCG Auto Feed

Declining Visitor Values

Late Funnel SEO Profits

Before the Panda update SEOs could easily focus almost all their energies on late funnel high-intent searches which were easy to monetize without needing to put a ton of effort into brand building or earlier funnel informational searches. This meant that SEOs could focus on phrases like [student credit cards] or [buy earbuds] or [best computer gaming headphones] or [vertical computer mouse] without needing to worry much about anything else. Make a good enough page on those topics, segment demand across options, and profit.

Due to the ability to focus content & efforts on those tiny subset high-intent commercial terms the absolute returns and CPMs from SEO investments were astronomical. Publishers could insert themselves arbitrarily just before the end of the value chain (just like Google AdWords) and extract a toll.

The Panda Shift / Eating the Info Supply Chain

Then Panda happened and sites needed to have stronger brands and/or more full funnel user experience and/or more differentiated content to be able to rank sustainably.

One over-simplified way to think of Panda and related algorithms would be: brand = rank.

Another way to look at it would be to consider the value chain of having many layers or pieces to it & Google wanting to remove as many unneeded or extra pieces from the chain as possible so that they themselves are capturing more of the value chain.

  • That thin eHow article about a topic without any useful info? Not needed.
  • The thin affiliate review which was buying Google AdSense ad impressions on that eHow article? Also not needed.
  • All that is really needed is the consumer intent, Google & then either Google as the retailer (pay with your credentials stored in your phone) or another trusted retailer.

In some cases there may be value in mid-market in-depth reviews, but increasingly the aggregate value offered by many of them is captured inside the search snippets along with reviews directly incorporated into the knowledge graph & aggregate review scores.

The ability to remove the extra layers is driven largely by:

  • the quality of the top players in the market
  • the number of quality publishers in a market (as long as there are 2 or more, whoever is not winning will be willing to give a lot of value to Google to try to play catch up against their stronger competitor)
  • the amount of usage data available in the market
  • the ad depth of the market

If your competitor is strong and they keep updating in-depth content pieces you can’t set and forget your content and stay competitive. Across time searcher intent changes. Those who change with the markets should eventually have better engagement metrics and keep winning marketshare.

Benchmarking Your Competition

You only have to be better than whatever you are competing against to win.

If you have run out of ideas from your direct competitors in an emerging market you can typically find many more layers of optimization from looking at some of the largest and most successful players inside either the United States or China.

To give an example of how user data can be clean or a messy signal consider size 13 4E New Balance shoes. If you shop for these inside the United States a site like Amazon will have shoe size filters so you can see which shoes from that brand are available in that specific size.

In some smaller emerging markets ecommerce sites largely suck. They might allow you to filter shoes by the color blue but wanting to see the shoes available in your size is a choose your own adventure game as they do not offer those sorts of size filters, so you have to click into the shoe level, find out they do not have your size, and then try again. You do that about 100 times then eventually you get frustrated and buy off eBay or Amazon from someone who ships internationally.

In the first case it is very easy for Google to see the end user flow of users typically making their purchase at one of a few places like Amazon.com, the official New Balance store, or somewhere else like that which is likely to have the end product in stock. That second experience set is much harder to structure because the user signal is much more random with a lot more pogos back to Google.

Bigger, Better Ads

Over the past couple decades Google has grown much more aggressive at monetizing their search results. A website which sees its rank fall 1 position on mobile devices can see their mobile search traffic cut in half overnight. And desktop search results are also quite ad heavy to where sometimes a user can not see a single full organic result above the fold unless they have a huge monitor.

We tend to look at the present as being somewhat static. It is a part of human nature to think things are as they always were. But the general trend of the slow bleed squeeze is a function of math and time: “The relentless pressure to maintain Google’s growth, he said, had come at a heavy cost to the company’s users. Useful search results were pushed down the page to squeeze in more advertisements, and privacy was sacrificed for online tracking tools to keep tabs on what ads people were seeing.”

Some critics have captured the broad shift in ad labeling practices, but to get a grasp of how big the shift has been look at early Google search results.

2001 Google search results with clear ad labeling and small ad units.

Look at how bright those ad units from 2001 are.

Since then ad labeling has grown less intuitive while ad size has increased dramatically.

Traffic Mix Shift

As publishers have been crowded out on commercial searches via larger ads & Google’s vertical search properties a greater share of their overall search traffic is lower value visitors including people who have little to no commercial intent, people from emerging markets with lower disposable income and

Falling Ad Rates

Since 2010 online display ad rates have fallen about 40%.

Declining online ad rates.

Any individual publisher will experience those declines in a series of non-linear step function shifts. Any of the following could happen:

  • Google Panda or another algorithm update from a different attention merchant hits your distribution hard
  • a Softbank-backed competitor jumps into your market and gains a ton of press coverage using flammable money
  • a roll-up player buys out a series of sites in the supply chain & then tries to make the numbers back out by cramming down on ad syndication partners (sometimes you have to gain enough scale to create your own network or keep rotating through ad networks to keep them honest)
  • regulatory costs hit any part of the supply chain (the California parallel to GDPR just went live this month)
  • consumer interest shifts to other markets or solutions (the mobile phone has replaced many gadgets)
  • a recession causes broad-based advertiser pullbacks

Margin Eaters

In addition to lowering ad rates for peripheral websites, there are a couple other bonus margin eaters.

Junk Sunk Costs

Monopoly platforms push publishers to adopt proprietary closed code bases in order to maintain distribution: “the trade group says Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) format was foisted on news publishers with an implied threat — their websites wouldn’t show up in search results.”

Decreased Supply Chain Visibility

Technical overhead leading to programmatic middlemen eating a huge piece of the pie: “From every £1 spent by an advertiser, about half goes to a publisher, roughly 16p to advertising platforms, 11p to other technology companies and 7 per cent to agencies. Adtech companies that took part in the study included Google’s dv360 and Ad Manager, Amazon Advertising and the Rubicon Project.”

Selection Effect

Large attention merchants control conversion tracking systems and displace organic distribution for brands by re-routing demand through a layer of ads which allows the central network to claim responsibility for conversions which would have already happened had they not existed.

Internal employees in the marketing department and external internet marketing consultants have an incentive to play along with this game because:

  • it requires low effort to arbitrage your own brand
  • at first glance it looks wildly profitable so long as you do not realize what is going on
  • those who get a percent of spend can use the phantom profits from arbitraging their own brand equity to spend more money elsewhere
  • those who get performance based bonuses get a bonus without having to perform

Both eBay and Microsoft published studies which showed how perverse selection effect is.

The selection effect bias is the inverse of customer acquisition cost. The more well known your brand is the more incentive ad networks have to arbitrage it & the more ad networks will try to take credit for any conversion which happens.

These margin eaters are a big part of the reason so many publishers are trying to desperately shift away from ad-based business models toward subscription revenues.

Hitting Every Layer

The commodification of content hits every layer from photography….

…on through to writing

…and every other layer of the editorial chain.

Profiting from content creation at scale is harder than most appreciate.

The idea that a $200 piece of content is particularly cheap comes across as ill-informed as there are many headwinds and many variables. The ability to monetize content depends on a ton of factors including: how commercial is it, how hard is it to monetize, what revshare do you go, how hard is it to rank or get distribution in front of other high intent audience sets?

If an article costs $200 it would be hard to make that back if it monetizes at anything under a $10 RPM. 20,000 visits equates to 20 units of RPM.

Some articles will not spread in spite of being high quality. Other articles take significant marketing spend to help them spread. Suddenly that $200 “successful” piece is closer to $500 when one averages in nonperformers that don’t spread & marketing expenses on ones that do. So then they either need the RPM to double or triple from there or the successful article needs to get at least 50,000 visits in order to break even.

A $10 RPM is quite high for many topics unless the ads are quite aggressively integrated into the content. The flip side of that is aggressive ad integration inhibits content spread & can cause algorithmic issues which prevent sustained rankings. Recall that in the most recent algorithm update Credit Karma saw some of their “money” credit card pages slide down the rankings due to aggressive monetization. And that happened to a big site which was purchased for over $7 billion. Smaller sites see greater levels of volatility. And nobody is investing $100,000s trying to break even many years down the road. If they were only trying to break even they’d buy bonds and ignore the concept of actively running a business of any sort.

Back in 2018 AdStage analyzed the Google display network and found the following: “In Q1 2018, advertisers spent, on average, $2.80 per thousand impressions (CPM), and $0.75 per click (CPC). The average click-through rate (CTR) on the GDN was 0.35%.”

A web page which garnered 20,000 pageviews and had 3 ad units on each page would get a total of 210 ad clicks given a 0.35% ad CTR. At 75 cents per click that would generate $157.50.

Suddenly a “cheap” $200 article doesn’t look so cheap. What’s more is said business would also have other costs beyond the writing. They have to pay for project management, editorial review, hosting, ad partnerships & biz dev, etc. etc. etc.

After all those other layers of overhead a $200 article would likely need to get about 50,000 pageviews to back out. And a $1,000 piece of content might need to get a quarter million or more pageviews to back out.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/declining-visitor-values
via KCG Auto Feed

How to Read Google Algorithm Updates

Links = Rank

Old Google (pre-Panda) was to some degree largely the following: links = rank.

Once you had enough links to a site you could literally pour content into a site like water and have the domain’s aggregate link authority help anything on that site rank well quickly.

As much as PageRank was hyped & important, having a diverse range of linking domains and keyword-focused anchor text were important.

Brand = Rank

After Vince then Panda a site’s brand awareness (or, rather, ranking signals that might best simulate it) were folded into the ability to rank well.

Panda considered factors beyond links & when it first rolled out it would clip anything on a particular domain or subdomain. Some sites like HubPages shifted their content into subdomains by users. And some aggressive spammers would rotate their entire site onto different subdomains repeatedly each time a Panda update happened. That allowed those sites to immediately recover from the first couple Panda updates, but eventually Google closed off that loophole.

Any signal which gets relied on eventually gets abused intentionally or unintentionally. And over time it leads to a “sameness” of the result set unless other signals are used:

Google is absolute garbage for searching anything related to a product. If I’m trying to learn something invariably I am required to search another source like Reddit through Google. For example, I became introduced to the concept of weighted blankets and was intrigued. So I Google “why use a weighted blanket” and “weighted blanket benefits”. Just by virtue of the word “weighted blanket” being in the search I got pages and pages of nothing but ads trying to sell them, and zero meaningful discourse on why I would use one

Getting More Granular

Over time as Google got more refined with Panda broad-based sites outside of the news vertical often fell on tough times unless they were dedicated to some specific media format or had a lot of user engagement metrics like a strong social network site. That is a big part of why the New York Times sold About.com for less than they paid for it & after IAC bought it they broke it down into a variety of sites like: Verywell (health), the Spruce (home decor), the Balance (personal finance), Lifewire (technology), Tripsavvy (travel) and ThoughtCo (education & self-improvement).

Penguin further clipped aggressive anchor text built on low quality links. When the Penguin update rolled out Google also rolled out an on-page spam classifier to further obfuscate the update. And the Penguin update was sandwiched by Panda updates on either side, making it hard for people to reverse engineer any signal out of weekly winners and losers lists from services that aggregate massive amounts of keyword rank tracking data.

So much of the link graph has been decimated that Google reversed their stance on nofollow to where in March 1st of this year they started treating it as a hint versus a directive for ranking purposes. Many mainstream media websites were overusing nofollow or not citing sources at all, so this additional layer of obfuscation on Google’s part will allow them to find more signal in that noise.

March 4, 2020 Algo Update

On May 4th Google rolled out another major core update.

I saw some sites which had their rankings suppressed for years see a big jump. But many things changed at once.

Wedge Issues

On some political search queries which were primarily classified as being news related Google is trying to limit political blowback by showing official sites and data scraped from official sites instead of putting news front & center.

“Google’s pretty much made it explicit that they’re not going to propagate news sites when it comes to election related queries and you scroll and you get a giant election widget in your phone and it shows you all the different data on the primary results and then you go down, you find Wikipedia, you find other like historical references, and before you even get to a single news article, it’s pretty crazy how Google’s changed the way that the SERP is intended.”

That change reflects the permanent change to the news media ecosystem brought on by the web.

YMYL

A blog post by Lily Ray from Path Interactive used Sistrix data to show many of the sites which saw high volatility were in the healthcare vertical & other your money, your life (YMYL) categories.

Aggressive Monetization

One of the more interesting pieces of feedback on the update was from Rank Ranger, where they looked at particular pages that jumped or fell hard on the update. They noticed sites that put ads or ad-like content front and center may have seen sharp falls on some of those big money pages which were aggressively monetized:

Seeing this all but cements the notion (in my mind at least) that Google did not want content unrelated to the main purpose of the page to appear above the fold to the exclusion of the page’s main content! Now for the second wrinkle in my theory…. A lot of the pages being swapped out for new ones did not use the above-indicated format where a series of “navigation boxes” dominated the page above the fold.

The above shift had a big impact on some sites which are worth serious money. Intuit paid over $7 billion to acquire Credit Karma, but their credit card affiliate pages recently slid hard.

The above sort of shift reflects Google getting more granular with their algorithms. Early Panda was all or nothing. Then it started to have different levels of impact throughout different portions of a site.

Brand was sort of a band aid or a rising tide that lifted all (branded) boats. Now we are seeing Google get more granular with their algorithms where a strong brand might not be enough if they view the monetization as being excessive. That same focus on page layout can have a more adverse impact on small niche websites.

One of my old legacy clients had a site which was primarily monetized by the Amazon affiliate program. About a month ago Amazon chopped affiliate commissions in half & then the aggressive ad placement caused search traffic to the site to get chopped in half when rankings slid on this update.

Their site has been trending down over the past couple years largely due to neglect as it was always a small side project. They recently improved some of the content about a month or so ago and that ended up leading to a bit of a boost, but then this update came. As long as that ad placement doesn’t change the declines are likely to continue.

They just recently removed that ad unit, but that meant another drop in income as until there is another big algo update they’re likely to stay at around half search traffic. So now they have a half of a half of a half. Good thing the site did not have any full time employees or they’d be among the millions of newly unemployed. That experience though really reflects how websites can be almost like debt levered companies in terms of going under virtually overnight. Who can have revenue slide around 88% and then take increase investment in the property using the remaining 12% while they wait for the site to be rescored for a quarter year or more?

“If you have been negatively impacted by a core update, you (mostly) cannot see recovery from that until another core update. In addition, you will only see recovery if you significantly improve the site over the long-term. If you haven’t done enough to improve the site overall, you might have to wait several updates to see an increase as you keep improving the site. And since core updates are typically separated by 3-4 months, that means you might need to wait a while.”

Almost nobody can afford to do that unless the site is just a side project.

Google could choose to run major updates more frequently, allowing sites to recover more quickly, but they gain economic benefit in defunding SEO investments & adding opportunity cost to aggressive SEO strategies by ensuring ranking declines on major updates last a season or more.

Choosing a Strategy vs Letting Things Come at You

They probably should have lowered their ad density when they did those other upgrades. If they had they likely would have seen rankings at worst flat or likely up as some other competing sites fell. Instead they are rolling with a half of a half of a half on the revenue front. Glenn Gabe preaches the importance of fixing all the problems you can find rather than just fixing one or two things and hoping it is enough. If you have a site which is on the edge you sort of have to consider the trade offs between various approaches to monetization.

  • monetize it lightly and hope the site does well for many years
  • monetize it slightly aggressively while using the extra income to further improve the site elsewhere and ensure you have enough to get by any lean months
  • aggressively monetize the shortly after a major ranking update if it was previously lightly monetized & then hope to sell it off a month or two later before the next major algorithm update clips it again

Outcomes will depend partly on timing and luck, but consciously choosing a strategy is likely to yield better returns than doing a bit of mix-n-match while having your head buried in the sand.

Reading the Algo Updates

You can spend 50 or 100 hours reading blog posts about the update and learn precisely nothing in the process if you do not know which authors are bullshitting and which authors are writing about the correct signals.

But how do you know who knows what they are talking about?

It is more than a bit tricky as the people who know the most often do not have any economic advantage in writing specifics about the update. If you primarily monetize your own websites, then the ignorance of the broader market is a big part of your competitive advantage.

Making things even trickier, the less you know the more likely Google would be to trust you with sending official messaging through you. If you syndicate their messaging without questioning it, you get a treat – more exclusives. If you question their messaging in a way that undermines their goals, you’d quickly become persona non grata – something cNet learned many years ago when they published Eric Schmidt’s address.

It would be unlikely you’d see the following sort of Tweet from say Blue Hat SEO or Fantomaster or such.

To be able to read the algorithms well you have to have some market sectors and keyword groups you know well. Passively collecting an archive of historical data makes the big changes stand out quickly. Everyone who depends on SEO to make a living should subscribe to an online rank tracking service or run something like Serposcope locally to track at least a dozen or two dozen keywords. If you track rankings locally it makes sense to use a set of web proxies and run the queries slowly through each so you don’t get blocked.

Once you see outliers most people miss that align with what you see in a data set, your level of confidence increases and you can spend more time trying to unravel what signals changed.

I’ve read influential industry writers mention that links were heavily discounted on this update. I have also read Tweets like this one which could potentially indicate the opposite.

If I had little to no data, I wouldn’t be able to get any signal out of that range of opinions. I’d sort of be stuck at “who knows.”

By having my own data I track I can quickly figure out which message is more inline with what I saw in my subset of data & form a more solid hypothesis.

No Single Smoking Gun

As Glenn Gabe is fond of saying, sites that tank usually have multiple major issues.

Google rolls out major updates infrequently enough that they can sandwich a couple different aspects into major updates at the same time in order to make it harder to reverse engineer updates. So it does help to read widely with an open mind and imagine what signal shifts could cause the sorts of ranking shifts you are seeing.

Sometimes site level data is more than enough to figure out what changed, but as the above Credit Karma example showed sometimes you need to get far more granular and look at page-level data to form a solid hypothesis.

As the World Changes, the Web Also Changes

About 15 years ago online dating was seen as a weird niche for recluses who perhaps typically repulsed real people in person. Now there are all sorts of niche specialty dating sites including a variety of DTF type apps. What was once weird & absurd had over time become normal.

The COVID-19 scare is going to cause lasting shifts in consumer behavior that accelerate the movement of commerce online. A decade of change will happen in a year or two across many markets.

Telemedicine will grow quickly. Facebook is adding commerce featured directly onto their platform through partnering with Shopify. Spotify is spending big money to buy exclusives rights to distribute widely followed podcasters like Joe Rogan. Uber recently offered to acquire GrubHub. Google and Apple will continue adding financing features to their mobile devices. Movie theaters have lost much of their appeal.

Tons of offline “value” businesses ended up having no value after months of revenue disappearing while large outstanding debts accumulated interest. There is a belief that some of those brands will have strong latent brand value that carries over online, but if they were weak even when the offline stores acting like interactive billboards subsidized consumer awareness of their brands then as those stores close the consumer awareness & loyalty from in-person interactions will also dry up. A shell of a company rebuilt around the Toys R’ Us brand is unlikely to beat out Amazon’s parallel offering or a company which still runs stores offline.

Big box retailers like Target & Walmart are growing their online sales at hundreds of percent year over year.

There will be waves of bankruptcies, shifts in commercial real estate prices, more people working remotely (shifting residential real estate demand from the urban core back out into suburbs).

More and more activities will become normal online activities.

The University of California has about a half-million students & in the fall semester they are going to try to have most of those classes happen online. How much usage data does Google gain as thousands of institutions put more and more of their infrastructure and service online?

A lot of B & C level schools are going to go under as the like-vs-like comparison gets easier. Back when I ran a membership site here a college paid us to have students gain access to our membership area of the site. As online education gets normalized many unofficial trade-related sites will look more economically attractive on a relative basis.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/reading-google-algorithm-updates
via KCG Auto Feed

Easy for You

To Teach, One Must Learn

One of the benefits of writing is it forces you to structure your thoughts.

If you are doing something to pass a test rote memorization can work, but if you are trying to teach someone else and care it forces you to know with certainty what you are teaching.

When I was in nuclear power school one guy was about to flunk out and I did not want to let him so I taught him stuff for days. He passed that test and as a side effect I got my highest score I ever got on one of those tests. He eventually did flunk out, but he knew other people were rooting for him and tried to help him.

Market Your Work or Become Redundant

Going forward as more work becomes remote it is going to be easier to hire and fire people. The people who are great at sharing their work and leaving a public record of it will likely be swimming in great opportunities, whereas some equally talented people who haven’t built up a bit of personal brand equity will repeatedly get fired in spite of being amazingly talented, simply because there was a turn in the economy and management is far removed from the talent. As bad as petty office politics can be, it will likely become more arbitrary when everyone is taking credit for the work of others & people are not sitting side by side to see who actually did the work.

I am a unicorn.

Uber recently announced they were laying off thousands of employees while looking to move a lot of their core infrastructure work overseas where labor is cheaper. Lots of people will be made redundant as unicorn workers in a recession suddenly enjoy the job stability and all the perks of the gig working economy.

Design

We have a great graphic designer who is deeply passionate about his work. He can hand draw amazing art or comics and is also great at understanding illustration software, web design, web usability, etc. I have no idea why he was fired from his prior employer but am thankful he was as he has been a joy to work with.

Before COVID-19 killed office work I sat right next to our lead graphic designer and when I would watch him use Adobe Illustrator I was both in awe of him and annoyed at how easy he would make things look. He is so good at it that and endless array of features are second nature to him. When I would ask him how to do something I just saw him do frequently it would be harder for him to explain how he does it than doing it.

Programming

Our graphics designer is also a quite solid HTML designer, though strictly front end design. One day when I took an early lunch with my wife I asked him to create a WordPress theme off his HTML design and when I got back he was like … ummm. :)

I am leaving my comfort zone.

We are all wizards at some things and horrible at others. When I use Adobe Illustrator for even the most basic tasks I feel like a guy going to a breakdancing party with no cardboard and 2 left shoes.

There are a number of things that are great about programming

  • it is largely logic-based
  • people drawn toward it tend to be smart
  • people who can organize code also tend to use language directly (making finding solutions via search rather easy)

Though over time programming languages change features & some changes are not backward compatible. And as some free & open source projects accumulate dependencies they end up promoting the use of managers. Some of these may not be easy to install & configure on a remote shared server (with user permission issues) from a Windows computer. So then you install another package on your local computer and then have to research how it came with a deprecated php track_errors setting. And on and on.

One software program I installed on about a half-dozen sites many moons ago launched a new version recently & the typical quick 5 minute install turned into a half day of nothing. The experience felt a bit like a “choose your own adventure” book, where almost every choice you make leads to: start again at the beginning.

At that point a lot of the advice one keeps running into sort of presumes one has the exact same computer set up they do, so search again, solve that problem, turn on error messaging, and find the next problem to … once again start at the beginning.

That sort of experience is more than a bit humbling & very easy to run into when one goes outside their own sphere of expertise.

Losing the Beginner’s Mindset

If you do anything for an extended period of time it is easy to take many things for granted as you lose the beginner’s mindset.

One of the reasons it is important to go outside your field of expertise is to remind yourself of what that experience feels like.

I am an expert.

Anyone who has been in SEO for a decade likely does the same thing when communicating about search by presuming the same level of domain expertise and talking past people. Some aspects of programming are hard because they are complex. But when things absolutely do not work you often get the answer right away. Whereas with SEO you can be unsure of the results of a large capital and labor investment until the next time a core algorithm update happens a quarter year from now. That uncertainty acts as the barrier to entry & blocker of institutional investments which allow for sustained above average profit margins for those who make the cut, but it also means a long lag time and requiring a high level of certainty to make a big investment.

The hard part about losing the beginners mindset with SEO is sometimes the algorithms do change dramatically and you have to absolutely reinvent yourself while throwing out what you know (use keyword rich anchor text aggressively, build tons of links, exact match domains beat out brands, repeat keyword in bold on page, etc.) and start afresh as the algorithms reshuffle the playing field.

The Web Keeps Changing

While the core algorithms are shifting so too is how people use the web. Any user behaviors are shifting as search results add more features and people search on mobile devices or search using their voice. Now that user engagement is a big part of ranking, anything which impacts brand perception or user experience also impacts SEO. Social distancing will have major impacts on how people engage with search. We have already seen a rapid rise of e-commerce at the expense of offline sales & some colleges are planning on holding next year entirely online. The University of California will have roughly a half-million students attending school online next year unless students opt for something cheaper.

What Resolution?

I am horrible with Adobe Illustrator. But one of the things I have learned with that and Photoshop is that if you edit in a rather high resolution you can have many of your errors disappear to the naked eye when it is viewed at a normal resolution. The same analogy holds true for web design but in the opposite direction … if your usability is solid on a mobile device & the design looks good on a mobile device then it will probably be decent on desktop as well.

Some people also make a resolution mistake with SEO.

  • If nobody knows about a site or brand or company having perfect valid HTML, supporting progressive web apps, supporting AMP, using microformats, etc. … does not matter.
  • On the flip side, if a site is well known it can get away with doing many things sub-optimally & can perhaps improve a lot by emulating sites which are growing over time in spite of having weaker brand strength.

Free, so Good Enough?

Many open source software programs do not do usability testing or track the efforts of a somewhat average user or new user in their ability to download and install software because they figure it is free so oh well people should figure it out. That thinking is a mistake though, because each successive increase in barrier to entry limits your potential market size & eventually some old users leave for one reason or another.

Any free software project which accumulates attention and influence can be monetized in other ways (through consulting, parallel SaaS offerings, affiliate ad integration, partnering with Hot Nacho to feature some great content in a hidden div using poetic code, etc.). But if they lack reach, see slowing growth, and then increase the barrier to entry they are likely to die.

When you ask someone to pay for something you’ll know if they like it and where they think it can be improved. Relying on the free price point hides many problems and allows them to accumulate.

The ability to make things easy for absolute beginners is a big part of why WordPress is worth many multiples of what Acquia sold for. And WordPress has their VIP hosting service, Akismet, and a bunch of other revenue streams while Acquia is now owned by a private equity company.

The ability to be 0.0000001% as successful as WordPress has been without losing the beginner mindset is hard.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/easy-you
via KCG Auto Feed

New Age Cloaking

Historically cloaking was considered bad because a consumer would click expecting a particular piece of content or user experience while being delivered an experience which differed dramatically.

As publishers have become more aggressive with paywalls they’ve put their brands & user trust in the back seat in an attempt to increase revenue per visit.

user interest in news paywalls.

Below are 2 screenshots from one of the more extreme versions I have seen recently.

The first is a subscribe-now modal which shows by default when you visit the newspaper website.

The second is the page as it appears after you close the modal.

Basically all page content is cloaked other than ads and navigation.

The content is hidden – cloaked.

hidden content.

That sort of behavior would not only have a horrible impact on time on site metrics, but it would teach users not to click on their sites in the future, if users even have any recall of the publisher brand.

The sort of disdain that user experience earns will cause the publishers to lose relevancy even faster.

On the above screenshot I blurred out the logo of the brand on the initial popover, but when you look at the end article after that modal pop over you get a cloaked article with all the ads showing and the brand of the site is utterly invisible. A site which hides its brand except for when it is asking for money is unlikely to get many conversions.

Many news sites now look as awful as the ugly user created MySpace pages did back in the day. And outside of the MySpace pages that delivered malware the user experience is arguably worse.

a highly satisfied online offer, which does the needful.

Each news site which adopts this approach effectively increases user hate toward all websites adopting the approach.

It builds up. Then users eventually say screw this. And they are gone – forever.

a highly satisfied reader of online news articles.

Audiences will thus continue to migrate across from news sites to anywhere else that hosts their content like Google AMP, Facebook Instant Articles, Apple News, Twitter, Opera or Edge or Chrome mobile browser new article recommendations, MSN News, Yahoo News, etc.

Any lifetime customer value models built on assumptions around any early success with the above approach should consider churn as well as the brand impact the following experience will have on most users before going that aggressive.

hard close for the win.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/new-age-cloaking
via KCG Auto Feed

Managing Algorithimc Volatility

Upon the recently announced Google update I’ve seen some people Tweet things like

  • if you are afraid of algorithm updates, you must be a crappy SEO
  • if you are technically perfect in your SEO, updates will only help you

I read those sorts of lines and cringe.

Here’s why…

Fragility

Different businesses, business models, and business structures have varying degrees of fragility.

If your business is almost entirely based on serving clients then no matter what you do there is going to be a diverse range of outcomes for clients on any major update.

Let’s say 40% of your clients are utterly unaffected by an update & of those who saw any noticeable impact there was a 2:1 ratio in your favor, with twice as many clients improving as falling.

Is that a good update? Does that work well for you?

If you do nothing other than client services as your entire business model, then that update will likely suck for you even though the net client impact was positive.

Why?

Many businesses are hurting after the Covid-19 crisis. Entire categories have been gutted & many people are looking for any reason possible to pull back on budget. Some of the clients who won big on the update might end up cutting their SEO budget figuring they had already won big and that problem was already sorted.

Some of the clients that fell hard are also likely to either cut their budget or call endlessly asking for updates and stressing the hell out of your team.

Capacity Utilization Impacts Profit Margins

Your capacity utilization depends on how high you can keep your steady state load relative to what your load looks like at peaks. When there are big updates management or founders can decide to work double shifts and do other things to temporarily deal with increased loads at the peak, but that can still be stressful as hell & eat away at your mental and physical health as sleep and exercise are curtailed while diet gets worse. The stress can be immense if clients want results almost immediately & the next big algorithm update which reflects your current work may not happen for another quarter year.

How many clients want to be told that their investments went sour but the problem was they needed to double their investment while cashflow is tight and wait a season or two while holding on to hope?

Category-based Fragility

Businesses which appear to be diversified often are not.

  • Everything in hospitality was clipped by Covid-19.
  • 40% of small businesses across the United States have stopped making rent payments.
  • When restaurants massively close that’s going to hit Yelp’s business hard.
  • Auto sales are off sharply.

Likewise there can be other commonalities in sites which get hit during an update. Not only could it include business category, but it could also be business size, promotional strategies, etc.

Sustained profits either come from brand strength, creative differentiation, or systemization. Many prospective clients do not have the budget to build a strong brand nor the willingness to create something that is truly differentiated. That leaves systemization. Systemization can leave footprints which act as statistical outliers that can be easily neutralized.

Sharp changes can happen at any point in time.

For years Google was funding absolute garbage like Mahalo autogenerated spam and eHow with each month being a new record. It is very hard to say “we are doing it wrong” or “we need to change everything” when it works month after month after month.

Then an update happens and poof.

  • Was eHow decent back in the first Internet bubble? Sure. But it lost money.
  • Was it decent after it got bought out for a song and had the paywall dropped in favor of using the new Google AdSense program? Sure.
  • Was it decent the day Demand Media acquired it? Sure.
  • Was it decent on the day of the Demand Media IPO? Almost certainly not. But there was a lag between that day and getting penalized.

Panda Trivia

The first Panda update missed eHow because journalists were so outraged by the narrative associated with the pump-n-dump IPO. They feared their jobs going away and being displaced by that low level garbage, particularly as the market cap of Demand Media eclipsed the New York Times.

Journalist coverage of the pump-n-dump IPO added credence to it from an algorithmic perspective. By constantly writing hate about eHow they made eHow look like a popular brand, generating algorithmic signals that carried the site until Google created an extension which allowed journalists and other webmasters to vote against the site they had been voting for through all their outrage coverage.

Algorithms & the Very Visible Hand

And all algorithmic channels like organic search, the Facebook news feed, or Amazon’s product pages go through large shifts across time. If they don’t, they get gamed, repetitive, and lose relevance as consumer tastes change and upstarts like Tiktok emerge.

Consolidation by the Attention Merchants

Frequent product updates, cloning of upstarts, or outright acquisitions are required to maintain control of distribution:

“The startups of the Rebellion benefited tremendously from 2009 to 2012. But from 2013 on, the spoils of smartphone growth went to an entirely different group: the Empire. … A network effect to engage your users, AND preferred distribution channels to grow, AND the best resources to build products? Oh my! It’s no wonder why the Empire has captured so much smartphone value and created a dark time for the Rebellion. … Now startups are fighting for only 5% of the top spots as the Top Free Apps list is dominated by incumbents. Facebook (4 apps), Google (6 apps), and Amazon (4 apps) EACH have as many apps in the Top 100 list as all the new startups combined.”

Apple & Amazon

Emojis are popular, so those features got copied, those apps got blocked & then apps using the official emojis also got blocked from distribution. The same thing happens with products on Amazon.com in terms of getting undercut by a house brand which was funded by using the vendor’s sales data. Re-buy your brand or else.

Facebook

Before the Facebook IPO some thought buying Zynga shares was a backdoor way to invest into Facebook because gaming was such a large part of the ecosystem. That turned out to be a dumb thesis and horrible trade. At times other things trended including quizzes, videos, live videos, news, self hosted Instant Articles, etc.

Over time the general trend was edge rank of professional publishers fell as a greater share of inventory went to content from friends & advertisers. The metrics associated with the ads often overstated their contribution to sales due to bogus math and selection bias.

Internet-first publishers like CollegeHumor struggled to keep up with the changes & influencers waiting for a Facebook deal had to monetize using third parties:

“I did 1.8 billion views last year,” [Ryan Hamilton] said. “I made no money from Facebook. Not even a dollar.” … “While waiting for Facebook to invite them into a revenue-sharing program, some influencers struck deals with viral publishers such as Diply and LittleThings, which paid the creators to share links on their pages. Those publishers paid top influencers around $500 per link, often with multiple links being posted per day, according to a person who reached such deals.”

YouTube

YouTube had a Panda-like update back in 2012 to favor watch time over raw view counts. They also adjust the ranking algorithms on breaking news topics to favor large & trusted channels over conspiracy theorist content, alternative health advice, hate speech & ridiculous memes like the Tide pod challenge.

All unproven channels need to start somewhat open to gain usage, feedback & marketshare. Once they become real businesses they clamp down. Some of the clamp down can be editorial, forced by regulators, or simply anticompetitive monpolistic abuse.

Kid videos were a huge area on YouTube (perhaps still are) but that area got cleaned up after autogenerated junk videos were covered & the FTC clipped YouTube for delivering targeted ads on channels which primarily catered to children.

Dominant channels can enforce tying & bundling to wipe out competitors:

“Google’s response to the threat from AppNexus was that of a classic monopolist. They announced that YouTube would no longer allow third-party advertising technology. This was a devastating move for AppNexus and other independent ad technology companies. YouTube was (and is) the largest ad-supported video publisher, with more than 50% market share in most major markets. … Over the next few months, Google’s ad technology team went to each of our clients and told them that, regardless of how much they liked working with AppNexus, they would have to also use Google’s ad technology products to continue buying YouTube. This is the definition of bundling, and we had no recourse. Even WPP, our largest customer and largest investors, had no choice but to start using Google’s technology. AppNexus growth slowed, and we were forced to lay off 100 employees in 2016.”

Everyone Else

Every moderately large platform like eBay, Etsy, Zillow, TripAdvisor or the above sorts of companies runs into these sorts of issues with changing distribution & how they charge for distribution.

Building Anti-fragility Into Your Business Model

Growing as fast as you can until the economy craters or an algorithm clips you almost guarantees a hard fall along with an inability to deal with it.

Markets ebb and flow. And that would be true even if the above algorithmic platforms did not make large, sudden shifts.

Build Optionality Into Your Business Model

If your business primarily relies on publishing your own websites or you have a mix of a few clients and your own sites then you have a bit more optionality to your approach in dealing with updates.

Even if you only have one site and your business goes to crap maybe you at least temporarily take on a few more consulting clients or do other gig work to make ends meet.

Focus on What is Working

If you have a number of websites you can pour more resources into whatever sites reacted positively to the update while (at least temporarily) ignoring any site that was burned to a crisp.

Ignore the Dead Projects

The holding cost of many websites is close to zero unless they use proprietary and complex content management systems. Waiting out a penalty until you run out of obvious improvements on your winning sites is not a bad strategy. Plus, if you think the burned site is going to be perpetually burned to a crisp (alternative health anyone?) then you could sell links off it or generate other alternative revenue streams not directly reliant on search rankings.

Build a Cushion

If you have cash savings maybe you guy out and buy some websites or domain names from other people who are scared of the volatility or got clipped for issues you think you could easily fix.

When the tide goes out debt leverage limits your optionality. Savings gives you optionality. Having slack in your schedule also gives you optionality.

The person with a lot of experience & savings would love to see highly volatile search markets because those will wash out some of the competition, curtail investments from existing players, and make other potential competitors more hesitant to enter the market.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/managing-volatility
via KCG Auto Feed

New Version of SEO Toolbar

Our programmer recently updated our SEO toolbar to work with the most recent version of Firefox.

You can install it from here. After you install it the toolbar should automatically update on a forward basis.

It is easy to toggle on or off simply by clicking on the green or gray O. If the O is gray it is off & if it is green it is on.

The toolbar shows site & page level link data from data sources like SEMRush, Ahrefs & Majestic along with estimated Google search traffic from SEMrush and some social media metrics.

At the right edge of the toolbar there is a [Tools] menu which allows you to pull in the age of a site from the Internet Archive Wayback Machine, the IP address hosting a site & then cross links into search engine cached copies of pages and offers access to our SEO Xray on-page analyzer.

SEO today is much more complex than it was back when we first launched this toolbar as back them almost everything was just links, links, links. All metrics in isolation are somewhat useless, but being able to see estimated search traffic stats right near link data & being able to click into your favorite data sources to dig deeper into the data can help save a lot of time.

For now the toolbar is still only available on Firefox, though we could theoretically have it work on Chrome *if* at some point we trusted Google.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/new-version-seo-toolbar
via KCG Auto Feed

China Still Censoring Google, Now Globally

Google Gets Out of China

In March of 2010 Google announced they would no longer censor their search results for China:

earlier today we stopped censoring our search services—Google Search, Google News, and Google Images—on Google.cn. Users visiting Google.cn are now being redirected to Google.com.hk, where we are offering uncensored search in simplified Chinese, specifically designed for users in mainland China and delivered via our servers in Hong Kong.

While the move was pitched as altruistic, it came only after the state put their thumb on the scales to promote domestic competitor Baidu in part by periodically blocking Google search from working.

The Value of Leaving China

By leaving China on their own accord, Google controlled the narrative for investors. They didn’t “lose” a market, they chose to not operate in a market.

If you are destined to lose due to political interference, you may as well look principled in the process. The idea of staying the course (being highly compromised while also losing) would have lowered Google’s leverage (over publishers and governments) as well as their brand value elsewhere.

Think of how long Google has kept the EU at bay in terms of their anti-competitive practices in search.

Countries like France and Australia are just now beginning to require payment to publishers from Google.

In spite of being in fifth place with about 2% search marketshare in China, one could easily argue that today Google is *still* being censored by China, except now it is global.

Official != Legitimate

Whenever there is a crisis Google has the ability to adjust their news algorithms (and rankings on other sources like YouTube) to prefer authoritative sources. If China lies but gives a direct quote that is an official response which can be reported in the media. Speculating, on the other hand, is not news, and thus is not likely to be done at scale on official sources.

The WHO parroted the official line of the Chinese Communist Party for months before sending in a team to begin investigating the virus which was quietly spreading globally in the background. This is evil (or, more charitably, ill-informed) their advice was:

Tedros said there was no need for measures that “unnecessarily interfere with international travel and trade,” and he specifically said that stopping flights and restricting Chinese travel abroad was “counter-productive” to fighting the global spread of the virus.

Evidence is Backward Looking

Promoting “consistent, evidence-based” risk control is utterly stupid because the evidence that you are dead only appears after you die.

It is not a game of 50/50 chance.

One outcome is death. And at the other end of the spectrum you spent $15 needlessly on a facemask.

How lowly must you view the value of a human life to determine a $15 spend on risk mitigation is reckless behavior?

Don’t exceed the global standards based on China’s misinformation. OR ELSE!!!

Evidence is backward looking even if the sources are not lying scum. When lying is vital to maintaining political power many people die while waiting on the true.

Can anyone who followed official anti-warnings get a refund on their death?

Better luck next life?

Evidence

While China’s CCP was lying to the world, the WHO shared appreciation for their commitment to sharing info.

Not Just China

Health officials the world over were guilty of the same sort of “evidence-based” stupidity.

Here is a video from February of NYC health commissioner Dr. Oxiris Barbot advising people to go out and take the subway and live their lives, noting that city preparedness is high, their personal risk is low, and casual contact was not a large risk.

You can see the stupidity in the circular logic here: “we also know that if it were likely to be transmitted casually we would be seeing a lot more cases.”

Yes we would!
Or soon would be.
And did.

Time shift that statement a couple months and lawmakers are asking her to be fired.

May you enjoy a happy Lunar New Year:

“We are very clear: We wish New Yorkers a Happy Lunar New Year and we encourage people to spend time with their families and go about their celebration,” Dr. Barbot said.

Later, as evidence emerged, we learn from serological studies that around 24.7% of people in New York City & 14.9% of New York state had antibodies for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

If you are a poor minority you are more likely to die as you have less of a cushion to do things like taking time off work and AVOID TAKING THE SUBWAY.

Thank you Dr. Oxiris Barbot!

Even the New York Times warned against quarantines, virtually guaranteeing the city would get one.

Protecting Yourself from Dr. Oxiris Barbot & the CCP

How many billions of dollars do people spend buying lotto tickets?

A high-quality facemask was a $15 lotto ticket that might save you from death. But buying one was ill-informed & xenophic & antisocial and and and.

Back in January I saw a video on Twitter of a guy walking down the street in Wuhan and then just fall over and die. Upon seeing that, I quickly ordered facemasks for my wife, our babysitter, my wife’s parents, my mom, and my siblings.

My mom thought I was crazy for spending hundreds buying so many masks, but it was a fairly simple calculation. Whatever China was saying was hot garbage as they were literally welding apartment complexes shut.

Ongoing Disinformation Campaign

They accosted doctors who warned of the pending pandemic, locked down millions of people, and held internal briefs about human to human transmission was happening while lying externally about it. China then pushed some garbage about how the US Army created the coronavirus which caused COVID-19, then they both claimed it was racist to state the disease came from China while also claiming it originated in Italy.

That’s the CCP – literally zero shame.

You can be against the jackbooted CCP while not hating Chinese people. I would rather be wrongly called a racist and not die of coronavirus than virtue signal my way to death via Italy’s “Hug a Chinese” day.

As a general rule of thumb, life is more important than the feelz.

My wife took a DNA test and a big part of her ethnic background is Chinese. When she and I are in the Philippines many people think she is a foreigner. When I was walking with my wife in Hong Kong years ago a local street vender started talking to her in Chinese thinking she was a local. And there’s nobody in the world I love more than her, but that does not mean she or I are planning a trip to Wuhan anytime soon or wanted to end up as statistics as a side effect of virtue signaling.

To this day China is using their ability to purchase foreign debts & infrastructure across weaker European countries to push the EU to understate the culpability of the CCP:

“Bowing to heavy pressure from Beijing, European Union officials softened their criticism of China this week in a report documenting how governments push disinformation about the coronavirus pandemic, according to documents, emails and interviews. Worried about the repercussions, European officials first delayed and then rewrote the document in ways that diluted the focus on China, a vital trading partner … China moved quickly to block the document’s release, and the European Union pulled back. The report had been on the verge of publication, until senior officials ordered revisions to soften the language.”

Maintaining The Illusion of Stability

The doom scenario for China would be one where the disease spread widely across their society while not directly impacting other economies. Currencies float and trade can eventually be re-routed if supply chains are unreliable. If a place where repeated coronavirus outbreaks happen has massive hidden debts in their shadow economy the propped up currency peg would likely fall as those debts go bad and their economy crashes. Hot money has been rushing out of China for years: their companies buying foreign companies, individuals buying foreign real estate, short domain names, Bitcoin, life insurance policies, etc.

China already faced sharp food price inflation last year as African Swine Flu killed a lot of their herd. When people can’t afford to eat they are more likely to push for political change. Hyperinflation is the reciprocal of political stability. Maintaining a stable food supply is a core requirement of staying in power.

Masks might make no difference, but if I spend a fraction of a percent of my income protecting my immediate and extended family even slightly then that is a good investment.

What is the price of a single needless death?

That is the calculation one should use when adopting simple & cheap life changes that can protect their families and society as a whole.

The mainstream media not only downplayed Covid-19 to pitch Trump as xenophobic & neurotic, but after the most important story they got entirely wrong was revealed as the disaster it was, they also warned about the wrong people hoarding much needed supplies.

If people would have rushed to buy masks in January it would have sent the market signal to make more. Virtue signaling was considered more important than life.

Instead of any attempts at truth we got communist-fed false assurances to provide the illusion of stability. Lives lack value when compared against maintaining political power:

In 1989, when Chinese citizens raised a Goddess of Democracy on Tiananmen Square, some pinned their hopes on the People’s Liberation Army: Surely the people’s army would never fire on the people. In fact, PLA soldiers proved quite adept at firing on the people. And to this day Beijing refuses to come clean about how many it killed at Tiananmen.

Communism has always been far more about Lenin than Marx—that is, about getting and holding power, rather than any economic arrangement. And it’s extraordinary how consistent the lies and violence have been across time and geography, given the many different flavors of communism.

Fake News About Fake News

As China was lying to the world, setting hundreds of thousands of people up for death & destroying the global economy, we suggested the problem was not lies from the CCP or the disease that spread globally in part due to their lies, but rather we should fight “fake news”

The rise of “fake news” – including misinformation and inaccurate advice on social media – could make disease outbreaks such as the COVID-19 coronavirus epidemic currently spreading in China worse, according to research published on Friday.

The WHO shills for the CCP:

The lengths to which the WHO went to sacrifice its scientific- and health-related mission for political considerations relating to China were at times both absurd and trivial. For example, in the Coronavirus Q&A that was first posted to its website, the WHO maintained multiple versions. The original English language version of the Q&A counseled that there were four common myths about preventing or curing a COVID-19 infection: smoking, wearing multiple masks, taking antibiotics, and traditional herbal remedies. The original Chinese version omitted ‘traditional herbal remedies’ as a myth. Then the WHO took down ‘traditional herbal remedies’ in both languages. Politics over health. Politics over science. At even the smallest, silliest level.

As the WHO praises the CCP we learn fake news is anything which counters the WHO.

And to protect people globally and fight sources of fake news Google is working with … the WHO:

WHO is also battling misinformation, working with Google to ensure that people get facts from the U.N. health agency first when they search for information about the virus. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, Tencent and TikTok have also taken steps to limit the spread of misinformation and rumors about the outbreak.

YouTube is also removing medically substantiated content about coronavirus.

Even the China Uncensored video about the CCP’s coverup has a COVID-19 learn more banner redirecting attention back to official sources.

Now there are some horrible and ridiculous official statements being made & a whole bunch of crazies spreading “eat aquarium cleaner, protect yourself from COVID-19.” I even read a story about a guy who committed suicide because he feared he had COVID-19. All that stuff is horrible, but any and all attempts to defuse those horrible issues & clean them up should come with a note about how the CCP lied broadly, extensively, and is to not be trusted in any way, shape or form.

The AP report continues…

Chinese officials are increasingly speaking out.

And so should we! At least while we still can:

Where possible, China wants to criminalize any speech … any social media … that does not follow the official party line. Where it’s not possible to criminalize that speech, China wants to ban it through the cooperative censorship of global tech and media platforms. Where it’s not possible to ban that speech, China wants to shame it into the shadows by getting us to reject it as “fake news”.

And if you don’t see that the United States is about two minutes behind China in doing the same damn thing, then you’re just not paying attention.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/china-censoring-google
via KCG Auto Feed

Increasing Time on Site

Changing User Intents

Google’s search quality rater document highlights how the intent of searches can change over time for a specific keyword.

A generic search for [iPhone] is likely to be related to the most recent model. A search for [President Bush] likely was related to the 41st president until his son was elected & then it was most likely to be related to 43.

Faster Ranking Shifts

About 17 years ago when Google was young they did monthly updates where most of any ranking signal shift that would happen would get folded into the rankings. The web today is much faster in terms of the rate of change, amount of news consumption, increasing political polarization, social media channels that amplify outrage and how quickly any cultural snippet can be taken out of context.

Yesterday President Trump had some interesting stuff to say about bleach. In spite of there being an anime series by the same name, news coverage of the presser has driven great interest in the topic.

And that interest is already folded into the organic search results through Google News insertion, Twitter tweet insertion, and the query deserves freshness (QDF) algorithm driving insertion of news stories in other organic search ranking slots.

If a lot of people are searching for something and many trusted news organizations are publishing information about a topic then there is little risk in folding fresh information into the result set.

Temporary Versus Permanent Change

When the intent of a keyword changes sometimes the change is transitory & sometimes it is not.

One of the most common ad-driven business models online is to take something that was once paid, make it free, and then layer ads or some other premium features on top to monetize a different part of the value chain. TripAdvisor democratized hotel reviews. Zillow made foreclosure information easily accessible for free, etc.

The success of remote working & communication services like Skype, Zoom, Basecamp, Slack, Trello, and the ongoing remote work experiment the world is going through will permanently change some consumer behaviors & how businesses operate.

A Pew survey mentioned 43% of Americans stated someone in their house recently lost their job, had their hours reduced, and/or took pay cuts. Hundreds of thousands of people are applying to work in Amazon’s grueling fulfillment centers.

To many of these people a lone wolf online job would be a dream come true.

If you had a two hour daily commute and were just as efficient working at home most days would you be in a rush to head back to the office?

How many former fulltime employees are going to become freelancers building their own small businesses they work on directly while augmenting it with platform work on other services like Uber, Lyft, DoorDash, Upwork, Fiverr, 99 Designs, or even influencer platforms like Intellifluence?

If big publishers are getting disintermediated by monopoly platforms & ad networks are offering crumbs of crumbs there’s no harm in selling custom ads directly or having your early publishing efforts subsidized through custom side deals as you build market awareness and invest into building other products and services to sell.

WordPress keeps adding more features. Many technology services like Shopify, Stripe & Twilio are making most parts of the tech stack outside of marketing cheaper & easier to scale.

As technology improves, we spend more time online, more activities happen online, and more work becomes remote. All this leads to the distinction between online and offline losing meaning other than perhaps in terms of cost structure & likelihood of bankruptcy.

Before Panda / After Panda


Before the Panda update each additional page which was created was another lotto ticket and a chance to win. If users had a crappy user experience on a page or site maybe you didn’t make the sale, but if the goal of the page was to have the content so crappy that ads were more appealing that could lead to fantastic monetization while it lasted.

That strategy worked well for eHow, fueling the pump-n-dump Demand Media IPO.

Demand Media had to analyze eHow and pay to delete over a million articles which they deemed to have a negative economic value in the post-Panda world.

After the Panda update having many thin pages laying around and creating more thin pages was layering risk on top of risk. It made sense to shift to a smaller, tighter, deeper & more differentiated publishing model.

Entropy & Decay

The web goes through a constant state of reinvention.

Old YouTube Flash embeds break.

HTTP content calls in sites that were upgraded to HTTPS break.

Software which is not updated has security exploits.

If you have a large website and do not regularly update where you are linking to your site is almost certainly linking to porn and malware sites somewhere.

As users shifted to mobile websites that ignored mobile interfaces became relatively less appealing.

Changing web browser behaviors can break website logins and how data is shared across websites dependent on third party services.

Competition improves.

Algorithms change.

Ads eat a growing share of real estate on dominant platforms while organic reach slides.

Everything on the web is constantly dying as competition improves, technology changes and language gets redefined.

Staying Relevant

Even if a change in user intent is transitory, in some cases it can make sense to re-work a page to address a sudden surge of interest to improve time on site, user engagement metrics & make the content on your page more citation-worthy. If news writers are still chasing a trend then having an in-depth background piece of content with more depth gives them something they may want to link at.

Since the Covid-19 implosion of the global economy came into effect I’ve seen two different clients have a sort of sudden surge in traffic which would make little to no sense unless one considered currently spreading news stories.

News coverage creates interest in topics, shapes perspectives of topics, and creates demand for solutions.

If you read the right people on Twitter sometimes you can be days, weeks or even months ahead of the broader news narrative. Some people are great at spotting the second, third and fourth order effects of changes. You can spot stories bubbling up and participate in the trends.

An Accelerating Rate of Change

When the web was slower & easier you could find an affiliate niche and succeed in it sometimes for years before solid competition would arrive. One of the things I was most floored about this year from a marketing perspective was how quickly spammers ramped up a full court press amplifying the fear the news media was pitching. I think I get something like a hundred spam emails a day pitching facemasks and other COVID-19 solutions. I probably see 50+ other daily ads from services like Outbrain & similar.

The web moves so much faster that the SEC is already taking COVID-19 related actions against dozens of companies. Google banned advertising protective masks and recently announced they are rolling out advertiser ID verification to increase transparency.

If Google is looking at their advertisers with a greater degree of suspicion even into an economic downturn when Expedia is pulling $4 billion from their ad budget & Amazon is cutting back on their Google ad budget and Google decides to freeze hiring then it makes far more sense to keep reinvesting into improving any page which is getting a solid stream of organic search traffic.

Company Town

After Amazon cut their Google ad budget in March Google decided to expand Google Shopping to include free listings. When any of the platforms is losing badly they can afford to subsidize that area and operate it at a loss to try to gain marketshare while making the dominant player in that category look more extreme.

When a player is dominant in a category they can squeeze down on partners. Amazon once again cut affiliate payouts and the Wall Street Journal published an article citing 20 current and former Amazon insiders who stated Amazon uses third party merchant sales data to determine which products to clone:

Amazon employees accessed documents and data about a bestselling car-trunk organizer sold by a third-party vendor. The information included total sales, how much the vendor paid Amazon for marketing and shipping, and how much Amazon made on each sale. Amazon’s private-label arm later introduced its own car-trunk organizers. … Amazon’s private-label business encompasses more than 45 brands with some 243,000 products, from AmazonBasics batteries to Stone & Beam furniture. Amazon says those brands account for 1% of its $158 billion in annual retail sales, not counting Amazon’s devices such as its Echo speakers, Kindle e-readers and Ring doorbell cameras.

Amazon does not even need to sell their private label products to shift their economics. As Amazon clones products they force the branded ad buy for a company to show up for their own branded terms, taking another bite out of the partner: “Fortem spends as much as $60,000 a month on Amazon advertisements for its items to come up at the top of searches, said Mr. Maslakou.”

Amazon has grown so dominant they’ve not only cut their affiliate & search advertising while hiring hundreds of thousands of employees, but they’ve also dramatically slowed down shipping times while pulling back on their on-site people also purchase promotions to get users to order less.

While they are growing stronger department stores and other legacy retailers are careening toward bankruptcy.

Multiple Ways to Improve

If you have a page which is ranking that gets a sudden spike in traffic it makes a lot of sense to consider current news & try to consider if the intent of the searcher has changed. If it has, address it as best you can in the most relevant way possible, even if the change is temporary, then consider switching back to the old version of the page or reorganizing your content if/when/as the trend has passed.

One of the pages mentioned above was a pre-Panda “me too” type page which was suddenly flooded with thousands of user visitors. A quality inbound link can easily cost $100 to multiples of that. If a page is already getting thousands of visitors, why not invest a couple hundred dollars into dramatically improving it, knowing that some of those drive by users will likely eventually share it? Make the page an in-depth guide with great graphics and some of those 10,000’s of visitors will eventually link to it, as they were already interested in the topic, the page already gets a great stream of traffic, and the content quality is solid.

Last week a client had a big spike from a news topic that changed the intent of a keyword. Their time on site from those visitors was under a minute. After the page was re-created to reflect changing consumer intent their time on site jumped to over 3 minutes for users entering that page. Those users had a far lower bounce rate, a far better user experience, are going to be more likely to trust the site enough to seek it out again, and this sends a signal to Google that the site is still maintained & relevant to the modern search market.

There are many ways to chase the traffic stream

  • create new content on new pages
  • gut the old page & publish entirely new content
  • re-arrange the old page while publishing new relevant breaking news at the top

In general I think the third option is often the best approach because you are aligning the page which already sees the traffic stream with the content they are looking for, while also ensuring any users from the prior intent can still access what they are looking for.

If the trend is huge, or the change in intent is permanent then you could also move the old content to a legacy URL archived page while making the high-traffic page focus on the spiking news topic.

The above advice applies to pages which rank for keywords that change in intent, but it can also apply to any web page which has a strong flow of user traffic. Keep improving the things people see most because improvements there have the biggest returns. How can you make a page deeper, better, more differentiated from the rest of the web?

Does Usage Data Matter?

Objectively, if people visit your website and do not find what they were looking for they are going to click the back button and be done with you.

Outdated content that has become irrelevant due to changing user tastes is only marginally better than outright spam.

While Google suggests they largely do not use bounce rate or user data in their rankings, they have also claimed end user data was the best way they could determine if the user was satisfied with a particular search result. Five years ago Bill Slawski wrote a blog post about long clicks which quoted Steven Levy’s In The Plex book:

“On the most basic level, Google could see how satisfied users were. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy users were all the same. The best sign of their happiness was the “Long Click” — This occurred when someone went to a search result, ideally the top one, and did not return. That meant Google has successfully fulfilled the query.”

Think of how many people use the Chrome web browser or have Android tracking devices on them all hours of the day. There is no way Google would be able to track those billions of users every single day without finding a whole lot of signal in the noise.

Categories: 

from SEO Book http://www.seobook.com/increasing-time-site
via KCG Auto Feed