Search Results for: Links are dead

Links Are (Still) Dead

I first wrote that “Links Are Dead” in 2006, and pretty much got shouted out of the blogosphere. I kept up the mantra over the years. Looks like Google agrees with me now…

But over time, URLs have gotten more and more difficult to read and understand. As web functionality has expanded, URLs have increasingly become unintelligible strings of gibberish combining components from third-parties or being masked by link shorteners and redirect schemes. And on mobile devices there isn’t room to display much of a URL at all.

Via “Google Wants to Kill the URL” – Wired

Are Links Dead in Online and Affiliate Marketing?

gap.jpgAre links, as we know them in online and affiliate marketing, done for?

In order to answer this question, I’ve narrowed the discussion down to three areas: Leverage, Authority and Long Term Encouragements. Certainly, there are other areas and in the editing process of this post I cut a few of these out and merged them with the three categories above.

However, as online marketing continues to mature, we have to confront this question about the long term establishment of links as the primary tool for connecting advertiser to publisher or merchant to affiliate or network to partner because links, by their nature, do not offer enough flexibility and data gathering for developing trends (RSS, social web adoption, social networking, more intelligent web users, uses of the internet outside of World Wide Web).

Should you ditch the entire concept of linking in order to be progressive? No.

Am I advocating the complete replacement of links with something that can accommodate for attention data? No.

However, online (especially the affiliate) marketing should realize the importance of the need to look beyond the link.

So, here’s your Holiday Homework:

Think about and respond to the notion that links are dead, especially in relevance to affiliate marketing. I’d like to prescribe the areas of Leverage, Authority and Long Term Encouragement as the fields of discussion, but if your point is valid you can certainly travel outside those lines to make your point.

Here are some connections you should consider when thinking about the issue:

-Technorati, Techmeme


-AdSense Gaming

-Page Rank Problems (or Alexa)

-Participation from Readers/Audience

-Types of Traffic Delivered (Sustained or “Digg Effect” waves)

-Relevancy for Consumers and Individuals

-Value of “Attention Data”

Leave your comments for quick thoughts, or you can submit a longer piece similar to last week’s homework submissions on CPA Networks and Affiliate Networks. I’ll be posting some of your results next Tuesday after the Holiday and include a link to your blog or company. You can email those in, or if you prefer you can send in a voicemail (828.338.2129) on my Skype line which I’ll publish as a part of the post. The deadline is 3pm Friday Tuesday Nov 28 (thanks, Jonathan).

I suspect most of you will initially call me an idiot (I’m close) for questioning the present and future leverage and authority of links. However, put some thought into it, be creative and think of how using other means to reach users can enhance your program/network/platform/offer.

Moving beyond links

I’ve long argued that “links are dead” (going on a decade now). Some of that was hyperbolic to discuss the need for a better mechanism to derive value or information from one site to the next or from a marketing campaign.

It looks like Google might be moving beyond links as well and towards more of an “entity database” where the connections and relationships between search terms are prioritized. I can get behind that.

The idea that we can push our rankings forward through entity associations, and not just links, is incredibly powerful and versatile. Links have tried to serve this function and have done a great job, but there are a LOT of advantages for Google to move toward the entity model for weighting as well as a variety of other internal needs.

Source: Google patent on related entities and what it means for SEO – Search Engine Land

Are Affiliate Bloggers Worth Their Salt?

salt-shakerthumbnail.jpgRecently, there have been numerous discussions of hysterics, drama and link baiting by those in the affiliate marketing industry who blog. This discussion has run its course in other sectors of the online marketing and advertising spheres (think TechCrunch, TechMeme and the “echo chamber” discussion if you follow those conversations in the blogosphere).

In the spirit of FTC full disclosure: I think links are dead (that’s not hysterics and extends well outside of “affiliate” marketing), and view link baiting as pretty much worthless. The traffic you get from such antics rarely results in a conversion to reader based on the metrics and experiments I’ve run on my personal blog, so I prefer to engage people’s attention rather than their browser url. My LinkedIn profile is open to full view, so please take a look at that if you want to see where I’ve been, what I’ve done and what it might tell you about my own worldview within the context of affiliate marketing.

So, here are my questions and you’re free to add more:

  • Is there a place for blogging in the affiliate world?
  • Should it be all practical based or should there also be some speculation, theories and future thinking?
  • Is there a litmus test for who you read based on their experience in the industry?

Weekly Insight 11/17/2006

weekinsight.GIFThe podcast this week was an interesting experience. Only three of the regular cast were able to attend (Lee, Jeff and myself), so the conversation felt more personal and directed than it has in the past. There’s always a different dynamic in a conversation such as this when only a few people participate as compared to four, five or six.

Again, I think we are slowly increasing the quality of talk and Jeff has done a nice job of improving some of the audio attributes.

Of course we cover the debate over CPA networks and affiliate networks which has raged on the comments here on the site over the last week. I have to defend my policy of not regulating comments in terms of requiring subscriptions, and voice my reasons for having this site in the first place. Jeff elaborates on some of his points he was hoping to get across in the podcast, and Lee provided a couple of great points (which need to be discussed further) in terms of affiliate value and the nature of the industry as the paradigm of online marketing continues to shift.

After listening again, I do realize there were a few points I let Jeff off the hook when I should have stepped in and corrected or disagreed with him (I’m sure you’ll hear them). For example, as a point in our discussion on affiliate networks and his point that the networks seem to be whithering on the vine. That’s not a completely accurate statement, and I wish we could have gone deeper into defining how many things affiliate networks (such as CJ) are doing well in some respects. I’m working hard to call out people on their mis-steps and over generalizations on the podcast, but it’s a work in progress.

Oh, and I make the point again that LINKS ARE DEAD. That might be a subject discussed here on CPN in the near future.

All in all, I’d recommend this as a supplement to the week’s previous discussions on networks.

I encourage thoughts and responses in the comments section!

Weekly Insight

November 17, 2006

  • CPA vs. affiliate networks
  • Social media, podcasts & video
  • Long term views: affiliate networks
  • Sam says, “Links are dead!”
  • Lee: Pubcon review

Download the Show (mp3)

[EDIT 11/19 2:00AM: This will be my last time of participating on that podcast as well.]

CostPerNews Widget Now Available

Links are dead (more on that soon).

I’ve been promoting widgets as a promising platform for the future of affiliate marketing. So, I decided to construct a widget for Cost Per News that you can place on web pages or your desktop. Updates and podcasts that are added here will automatically be updated on your widget, so it will save you a little time if you’re a regular visitor.

Here is the file:

Let me know if you have any suggestions or usage questions.

“…let him declare what he seeth…” or Apple vs the Web


“And with iOS 9 and content blockers, what you’re seeing is Apple’s attempt to fully drive the knife into Google’s revenue platform. iOS 9 includes a refined search that auto-suggests content and that can search inside apps, pulling content away from Google and users away from the web, it allows users to block ads, and it offers publishers salvation in the form of Apple News, inside of which Apple will happily display (unblockable!) ads, and even sell them on publishers’ behalf for just a 30 percent cut.

Oh, and if you’re not happy with Apple News, you can always turn to Facebook’s Instant Articles, which will also track the shit out of you and serve unblockable ads inside of the Facebook app, but from Apple’s perspective it’s a win as long as the money’s not going to Google.”

Source: Welcome to hell: Apple vs. Google vs. Facebook and the slow death of the web | The Verge

As I get older, I keep reminding myself that, after all, you can’t go home again. When I got to college, I was exposed to Plato in the Greek and remember reading πάντα χωρεῖ καὶ οὐδὲν μένει” καὶ “δὶς ἐς τὸν αὐτὸν ποταμὸν οὐκ ἂν ἐμβαίης for the first time. My Greek isn’t what it used to be, but the translation is:

“Everything changes and nothing remains still and you cannot step twice into the same stream.”

When I think about the evolution of the web from when I started using it (1994) through all of my experience with Mosaic and Netscape and CompuServe and Prodigy and AOL to the glory days of a web without a center (post AOL crash), I look back with fondness. The web has been a constant source of challenge, fulfillment, joy, sadness, and especially income for me over these last twenty years.

In my mind’s eye, the “glory days” of the web were sometime around 2004 or so with the advent of Firefox as a capable replacement for Internet Explorer and just shortly before Facebook at the digital world. Things were exciting. GMail was new and in high demand. We all wondered what other wizard toys Google would unveil to us in their wonky way of doing such things. Web design was flush with new energy having been set free of IE, and web protocols were blooming (well, before the dark times of Flash). It felt as if the world would be transformed by this open information system. There were ads, for sure, but the ads were there to pay for the content and the experience (even the “punch the monkey” ads). We used MySpace, but no one spent all day there. It was a tool, not a roach motel. Then came Twitter in 2006 and we web nerds just knew it was the information backbone protocol we had been hoping for. Surely, Twitter would be handed over to the open source community. They had a very open API, after all.

Then came Facebook. But it wasn’t so bad at first. It was a prettier MySpace, that’s all.

Ze Frank had his shows and we all were excited about web2.0 and the promises of what new web tech like AJAX would mean for interfaces and capabilities. I was using Writely in 2004 and loved the idea of being able to use a fairly capable word processor in a browser. Then, Google bought Writely and it became Google Docs.

That’s ok, we still had our RSS feeds and the Mac fan-people had Net News Wire. FeedDemon wasn’t so bad on the desktop and we always had Bloglines and Feedgator on the web. RSS was going to transform the way we consumed content. I just knew it.

Then came Google Reader.

I’m being too nostalgic. The web was never that rosey and free and vibrant and promising as I remember. After all, I was in the web marketing business from 2003 onward. In reality, it didn’t change all that much throughout the web2.0 boom from 2006-2008 or the social media boom from 2009-2013.

However, the web marketing business is changing rapidly now in the Age of the Platform (or App). I would call it The Mobile Age, but “mobiles” is becoming a silly name for the pocket devices we carry with us at all times and perform more and more of our daily business and life through. They’re not “mobile phones” now. They are our computers.

The Age of the Platform was ushered in quickly by Steve Jobs and Apple. Pushing cell tower and mobile device technology with ever increasingly progressive iPhones and then iPads caused a fundamental shift in how we do computing (and marketing). I sometimes wonder if Jobs knew that he was going to go directly after the jugular of Google’s revenue business when he was on stage doing the first iPhone demo? Remember, the first iPhone did not have an app store and only included the native apps. Jobs was insistent that developers could use the Safari Mobile Browser to give users access to “app environments” through HTML 5. That didn’t last long.

Apps have changed everything on the web. They’ll continue to redefine conventions we’ve long held to be self-evident about everything from marketing to banking to security to communication. With its clever play to encourage ad blocking on Mobile Safari (still the only browser environment allowed on their omnipresent iDevices) and ultimately push users into their new News app (this blog is included in their collection… yay?), Apple is moving Safari off the main page and into one of the folders where you put the Compass, Tips, and Game Center apps (at least I do). Apple is breaking up with the web.

There’s no functionality for a browser or webkit on the new Apple TV. Can you imagine the possibilities? However, it’s not needed. We have apps.

Look Homeward, Angel.

Is this a bad thing? I don’t think we can segregate movements like this into “good” or “bad” categories. Tech is agnostic morally, and we decide to do with it what we will. For those of us who reminisce on the ideals of an open and federated web where the market decides what ad formats or sites get exposure… well, we can have our idealism and try to keep blogging (though without ads).

Twitter … Facebook … Google, Apple, or Microsoft ecosystems … I look at all of these things as negatives (personally). Lock in is never good. Reach, engagement, user bases … all those metrics I deal with daily in my job working in web marketing are important variables to consider. However, we are too eager to throw ourselves into a binary decision of being an Apple fanboy or Android fangirl without pondering what we’re exchanging in this transaction.

When I think about how the web has evolved and how it might evolve further in the future, I think of Atticus Finch teaching Scout how to read.

“What was even the point of websites, certain people will find themselves wondering. Were they just weird slow apps with nobody in them?? Why? A bunch of publications will go out of business and a bunch of others will survive the transition and a few will become app content GIANTS with news teams filing to Facebook and their very own Vine stars and thriving Snapchat channels and a Viber bureau and embedded Yakkers and hundreds of people uploading videos in every direction and brands and brands and brands and brands and brands, the end. Welcome to 201…..7?”

Source: The Next Internet is TV | The Awl

I think of how Scout comes home after the first day of First Grade and is completely disillusioned. Her teacher was surprised at Scout’s reading ability and told Scout that her father mustn’t read to her anymore because he “didn’t know how to teach.” Atticus, being the archetype and lawyer that he is, calms Scout and makes a deal with her (and keeps reading to her).

We rely so much on our own perceptions of the past experiences we have to make assumptions about the future. We project based on (presumed) lived out reality. Our brains deceive us, though. When we come home, sometimes things have changed and our memories don’t hold up to the exposure to daylight. We need Atticus to tell us that it’s going to be ok, and we do know how to read properly, and he will continue reading to us at bedtime.

In the marketing business, I walk a fine line between intuition and metrics on an hourly basis. My clients trust me, but they have their own perceptions of taste, design, and ethics that I must navigate and counsel as well. My background in religion and teaching suits me well, but I’m constantly aware of the notion of Πάντα ρει (“everything flows”) that Plato channeled through Heraclitus. Everything flows. Perceptions, marketing techniques, web technologies, app platforms.

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”

Rather than believing the teacher that tells me that I don’t know how to read properly because my father is not a real teacher, I should realize the utterly unfathomable trajectory that issues such as ad blockers, advertising, and definitions of the web present for humanity. Since the advent of hyperlinks in the early 90’s, we’ve seen the development of a technology that has changed or shifted how we do most everything from reading to producing to consuming to being treated for our over-consumption.

The web’s not dead.

Everything flows.

Now back to my marketing spreadsheets.

Link Rot

I’m extremely interested in the digital dark age we’re producing, especially when it comes to link rot…

Eight years later, the site still exists, essentially frozen in time. That provides an interesting window into the phenomenon of “link rot,” or hyperlinks that used to work but now point to dead pages. Our analysis found that 22% of the Million Dollar Homepage’s pixels now fail to load a webpage when clicked.

via The Million Dollar Homepage still exists, but 22% of it has rotted away – Quartz.

Why Are Lyrics Sites So Profitable? (And How Bob Dylan Wins)

rapgenius SEO mistake
Dumb SEO Mistake

Lyrics searches area a major deal, especially in search advertising. Do a search on Google or Bing for your favorite song with “lyrics” attached and you’ll see a number of results. Companies such as AZLyrics, Sing365, MetroLyrics, SongMeanings, Lyric Freak etc all tend to out rank even artist sites as they compete with each other for the very profitable first or second position.

Despite their shady legal status, intense competition, inability to do much in the way of paid search, and dubious marketing tactics they are thriving.

Why are there so many of these sites and why are they so profitable?

It’s a matter of simple economics. Despite the rise of social media like Facebook or the presence of “old school” avenues such as newspapers or billboards or television spots, Google has created and maintains the easiest and (far and away) most profitable advertising channel ever developed by humans… its search index. While modern marketing and advertising agencies might try to sell you on other channels, Google search is still the money maker and can be a make it or break it for your company whether you’re making money by CPM (ad placements, impressions etc) or via CPA (visitors actually have to do something on your site like click a link or buy a product or subscribe to a service for you to make money).

Things are further complicated when you consider that there are two main ways to “advertise” on Google and it’s a fairly democratized process if you’re willing to get over the initial hurdle of learning how to work with tools that Google provides freely and in all earnestness such as Webmaster Tools or AdWords. Combine those with Google Analytics on your site, and you’re 80% of your way to being a full blown marketing agency. It’s not hard and Google intends to make these tools as pedestrian friendly as possible on purpose. If more people are spending just a few dollars a day on rankings, not only does it add to Google’s bottom line directly but it also encourages companies like mine to spend more and more (money and time and attention) to stay relevant and profitable.

It’s a fantastic growth strategy that shows no signs of slowing down while newer companies such as Twitter or Facebook still struggle to get their advertising platforms off the ground. The difference is that Google’s search advertising is a very impersonal yet highly engaging experience for both advertisers and users.

Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram etc are all using very antiquated notions of brand advertising and cost-per-impressions to lure in larger brands for initial investments while alienating users with more billboard-style advertisements. Until these social media companies figure out the magic that has made Google’s advertising such a success (with future proofing beyond anyone’s recognition as Google continues to tweak its algorithm and suck us deeper into its advertising infrastructure with great products, services, phones, wearables, cars, robots etc), they don’t stand a chance. Simply put, you can’t do cost per impression advertising with any large scale success in 2014 and beyond (and only Google and Amazon get this on the web).

Democratization is profitable.

Lyrics sites, in particular, are easy to set up and advertise. The content has already been generated and is fairly easy to obtain (legally or illegally). The long tail potential of this content to keep generating pageviews overtime is immense. Google any song you can think of and you’ll see the first four pages are completely filled with lyric sites. Add to that the understanding that if a user visits your lyric site, they’ll probably be spending anywhere from 3-5 minutes average on your site reading the lyrics or singing along to their googled song. That’s incredibly valuable in a world where the average page view on a content site is somewhere in the 1.5 second range over time (median). More time = more money in the algorithmic world of internet marketing because those people click things, buy things, sign up for things and/or go places linked on your lyrics site generating you all sorts of income channels. It’s a win-win.

One of the few artists who “get it” happens to be Bob Dylan. If you google any song by Bob Dylan, you’ll see a collection of lyrics sites but you’ll also see Whoever is in charge of Dylan’s site and licenses to his music understands this economy and has listed every single Dylan song along with full lyrics (themselves a trademark). Instead of going after lyrics sites with trademark and copyright takedown letters, Team Dylan has successfully put themselves at the top of the lyrics search. Well done, Bobby.

Lyrics sites aren’t the only type of site that fall into this category and the entire affiliate marketing industry has been riding this understanding for over a decade and shows little sign of slowing down (despite Nexus laws in states looking to charge tax on these types of transactions which does make things a little more cumbersome but not crippling).

With a little knowledge of python scripts combined with basic HTML to create a site, you could launch a lyrics site in a matter of minutes. You’re a millionaire! Congrats. Oh wait… you’ve got to get people there.

The trouble comes with the traffic question. This is a very difficult question for many businesses and the reason why I have a company. I help businesses solve this problem by figuring out the “now what” part of making money on the internet. It’s fascinating, challenging and difficult work that is part counseling, part robot engineer, part luck and a lot of statistics and higher level math logic. At least that’s what I make it out to be. Your mileage my vary depending on your time and willingness to succeed.

Generating traffic is seemingly easy. I make a great site based on great content and Google should send its fleet of robots over to properly index my lovely site and send that information back to the mothership. In no time, I’m on the front page for “Justin Bieber Fan” and I’ve got a million page views daily. Wrong. Because of the ease of construction, the fairly easy-to-stomach “costs” associated with getting reliable content (there’s a canonical version for every song’s lyric), and the continual replenishment of highly valuable and sought after information (Bieber, Beyonce, Miley, Jay-Z, Kanye etc are pretty consistent in putting out albums every 12-15 months and the labels space them out so as to not have two hit albums hitting the streets on the same week or even month), there’s little disincentive to start a lyrics site (beyond the legality and all).

Getting traffic to a lyrics site is the main hurdle to economic reward. Of course there is Twitter, Facebook etc available for getting folks to a lyrics site, but the main route of traffic flows from Google.

Within Google’s search platform there are two main ways to “advertise” and get eyeballs and hopefully clicks. The first is organic search. As the name suggests, this type of search and traffic is generated naturally. While not the same metaphor as organic milk or butter, organic search is generally thought of as where you naturally fit into Google’s algorithms based on content’s intentional or unintentional search engine optimization (SEO). If I create a new site for a real estate client, I have to wait a few days for that information to get properly indexed by Google’s robots that are constantly crawling the web like tiny information scavengers. I can help that out using Google’s Tools but if I’m making highly valuable (to Google) content such as a personal blog, that information will surely get indexed and put in the right place. For instance, if you Google “sam harrelson” you’ll find this blog in the top spot. I’ve done a few SEO tweaks but all of that indexing by Google is because of organic traffic. It doesn’t hurt that I’ve been linked to by the New York Times, major blogs, etc but I haven’t “paid” for any of that. Organic traffic can be your best friend if you’re doing the hard work of churning out content. Google likes to reward those who feed their machine with this soylent green of human capital.

On the other hand, there’s what we call paid search. Using paid search effectively is seemingly more intensive and difficult than just putting up blog posts and waiting for Google to send you money. That’s partly true but not the whole story as paying for search is an art in itself but no more of an art than properly doing organic search (with intention) the right way. The difference is that paid search does require money. You pay to be listed in the wonderful tiny little text ads along the side (or top) of Google search results or in YouTube results or in GMail inboxes etc that have launched a thousand companies. Those text ads are incredibly efficient and responsible for both Google’s success as well as the success (and failure) of many companies. Writing ads that fall into the strict guidelines is nothing short of an endeavor that has tested the patience and humanity of many a marketing professional. But they work. Oh boy do those text ads work.

However, they can be expensive. It’s not uncommon for a large advertiser such as Wal-Mart or Target to spend over 300 million dollars a year on various paid search campaigns. National or regional business commonly spend thousands of dollars a month on search ads within Google. Whole companies run their businesses based on these ads. For instance, back to the affiliate marketing industry, there are many companies that exist just to get traffic from these ads within Google to large retailers such as Amazon or Overstock or REI, and in-turn get a small cut of any transaction that a person makes. Those companies probably have a site but the emphasis isn’t on keeping visitors on the site as much as getting them to make what’s called a conversion (buying something or subscribing to something). Making these text ads work is one of the underpinnings of my business so I am paid to care about these details and make sure I’m keeping up with my homework as the algorithms and keys to success withing a paid search campaign are constantly evolving with Google’s brain as well as the web.

Where does all of that money go? What are businesses paying for? In a nutshell, if you do paid search you are in an auction of sorts. It’t not as much fun as a Storage Wars bidding feud, and there are no collectibles or antiques to be had. Instead, you’re bidding on words. We call them keywords, but they are effectively just a collection of letters.

It has always been fascinating to me that the most incredible and effective method of advertising ever created by humanity is based on the very simple premise of bidding on ancient technology created sometime around 4,500 years ago in a small and dusty population center by merchants looking to make sure they knew how many barrels of beer to send down the Tigris river from Sumer to Ur or Uruk.

Here’s a better explanation than I could make of how Google uses its “Adwords” platform to house the auction for these letters and words:

How does Google AdWords work? - infographic
Infographic by Pulpmedia Online Marketing

It’s neurotic and fun work. But it works and will continue to work for both advertisers, businesses and especially users. Some say search is dead, but I say it’s only evolving and will continue to be more effective than social media ads.

With this knowledge in hand, let’s go back to our lyrics site. While these sites are major spenders in Adwords and have a very competitive keyword space. It’s not uncommon for keywords such as the title to the latest Miley or Jay-Z hit to be in the hundreds of dollars. However, these ads have been controversial since Google got into the ad business 10 years ago and don’t appear in most searches because record labels and attorneys see this as Google profiting from the work of illegal (or non-copyright compliant) lyrics sites. It’s a tricky issue with many parameters.

As a result, lyrics sites resort to organic search as the main current of traffic flow. There are various SEO tactics to help them and the highest ranking sites are doing an enormous amount of behind the scenes work to make sure their lyrics to Hotel California show up above a competitor.

Another tactic to increasing their organic search placements is to get links from other sites. Sometimes these are paid for but mostly they are acquired freely. Getting links has been one of the double-edged tools that Google has long loved and hated for ranking sites properly. PageRank itself (one of the first algorithms used to index sites and named after Google co-creator Larry Page, not a reference to webpage as widely thought) is based on the recognition that who links to you matters:

Google has invented many innovations in search to improve the answers you find. The first and most well known is PageRank, named for Larry Page (Google’s co-founder and CEO). PageRank works by counting the number and quality of links to a page to determine a rough estimate of how important the website is. The underlying assumption is that more important websites are likely to receive more links from other websites.

When Google became the most used search engine sometime in the early 2000’s, it became critically important to rank well (unlike Yahoo or Alta Vista who ranked sites in a more hierarchical index format that had less recognition for inbound and outbound links). Google PageRank was a real and incredibly important development for how we process information and has quite literally changed the world (for the better in my opinion). In the early 2000’s, SEO became the hot ticket as a result of this recognition of Google’s growing power on how people find, discover, and ultimately visit sites.

Being humans, we always look for the shortest path to riches. Thus was born link building. Google now has very strict rules about swapping, buying, asking for, and trading links as they continually try to best the blackhat SEO gamers.

However, with the rise of blogs in the early 2000’s came the rise of the hyperlink. Getting and giving links to other blogs you read or enjoyed was common. Blog software such as MovableType, WordPress, Userland Radio etc all included easy ways to add links to what came to be known as a blogroll. Including a link to a friend or colleagues blog in your public blogroll was akin to favoriting them on Facebook or +1’ing them on Google Plus today. We all did it and it benefited us with both recognition and traffic. Google liked blogrolls because it helped them see who was connected to who and which sites were seen as more valuable than others. Very quickly, this time of link economy became much more valuable to Google than something like the number of views a site might have gotten. It’s still the reason that blogs like this can compete with major sites like the in search results.

Yet, there was an ugly underbelly of paid links and link begging from companies and marketers looking to circumvent the system. Even though Google cracked down on the practice, it continued and it’s still going strong today in a number of forums, email groups, and sites that I won’t link to here.

So it was shocking to see a somewhat reputable company (at least in Silicon Valley) resort to link begging on Facebook in order to get more organic links for the newly released Justin Bieber album…

Their business depends on their search engine ranking position SERP’s on Google. Hyperlinks connect the web and determine SERP’s. Thus, the most powerful weapon RapGenius can deploy is a series of powerful hyperlinks. You can see in Mahbod’s email that he is asking for hyperlinks from high-page rank sites personal blogs with anchor text that mentions tracks from Bieber’s most recent album.

via RapGenius Growth Hack Exposed – John Marbachs Blog.

Search Engine Land and TechCrunch has more on Rap Genius and here’s the fun Hacker News thread for your reading pleasure.

I wouldn’t call this a “growth hack” at all.

RapGenius quite literally made a stupid mistake that shows either a complete lack of understanding for how Google and marketing works or a naivety akin to my 6 year old daughter’s understanding of the internet. I cannot fathom how a company with $15 in funding from very reputable venture companies would make this sort of either blatant or unintentional mistake. Cautionary tale indeed.

In any case, this is a lucrative market that shows no sign of slowing down. Despite the shady legal status of the whole idea of a lyrics site, the inability to do much in the way of paid search, the intense competition based on democratization, and the dubious tactics of its biggest traffic generators, lyrics sites have evolved with the underbelly of the web and thrive.

Some of them just need better marketing.

Learning And the Fragility of the Web

Kevin Marks has a great post connecting the notion of necessary complexity with the state of the web and our willingness to throw all of our content (pics, music, text etc) into the hands of silos and walled garden social media networks:

Epeus’ epigone: The Antifragility of the Web: “If you’ve read Nasim Taleb’s Antifragile, you know what comes next. By shielding people from the complexities of the web, by removing the fragility of links, we’re actually making things worse. We’re creating a fragility debt. Suddenly, something changes – money runs out, a pivot is declared, an aquihire happens, and the pent-up fragility is resolved in a Black Swan moment.”

The latest Instagram debacle over who owns user generated pictures points to a rising tide of web users who want more than just partial ownership of what they create simply for the sake of sharing. We’ve had another system in place for over a decade now with blogs and feeds.

Of course, it’s much easier to slap a filter on a photo and upload it to Instagram or Facebook and reap the benefits of the likes and comments received rather than uploading an image to a hosted blog and going through the necessary hoops of making sure your friends are subscribed etc.

However, this complexity begets savvy users and people who understand the fragility of the web and its main currency (the link) and why a web that is open and not centralized around one corporation is worth protecting

It’s one reason that, as a teacher, I’m big on portfolios (blogs) written and curated by each student and interlinking with other student blogs. In some small way, I hope this learning process helps young people who are setting the stage for the next iteration of the social web to appreciate what it means to have an individual name space and participate in the democracy of the commons rather than just the fiefdom of Facebook.

I’m picking up Taleb’s Antifragile tomorrow (I’m back to reading dead tree editions of books for philosophical reasons but that’s for another post).

More Bad News for PayPerPost: FTC Getting Involved – Is Affiliate Marketing Next?


The Washington Post reports that the FTC is getting involved in the PayPerPost debacle…

The Federal Trade Commission yesterday said that companies engaging in word-of-mouth marketing, in which people are compensated to promote products to their peers, must disclose those relationships.

In a staff opinion issued yesterday, the consumer protection agency weighed in for the first time on the practice. Though no accurate figures exist on how much money advertisers spend on such marketing, it is quickly becoming a preferred method for reaching consumers who are skeptical of other forms of advertising.

Word-of-mouth marketing can take any form of peer-to-peer communication, such as a post on a Web blog, a page for a movie character, or the comments of a stranger on a bus.

In my opinion, this should be a self-regulating and self-cleaning mechanism built into the world of online marketing. We should have the ability, and the foresight, to see these types of marketing schemes for what they are… manipulation marketing.

However, considering how vocal some “marketers” are about sketchy practices such as AdSense arbitrage, splogs, and the the inability of reason and the common good to control the market for the benefit of everyone, it seems that the FTC has to get involved to reign in the craziness. Pay per content schemes, whether they be explicit or tacit are not healthy for the blogging scheme, and do not provide bloggers and individuals with a long term sustainable way to make a living.

Provide good content, write about what you love and the traffic will come. You don’t need high stakes SEO or short term pay per post schemes to make a dollar, or an impact, in the blogging world.

So what does this mean for affiliate marketing?

Are links dead?

MyBlogLog, Widgets and the Future of Online Marketing

The widget over to the right which displays some of the faces of visitors to this site is powered by MyBlogLog. That widget has helped me to realize some new things about the future of online marketing and the growing power that community has in ad expenditures. Viewers are able to make their presence known by a simple sign up and pic upload process, and then see who else is reading and interacting with a blog such as this.


If you click on the “View Reader Community” text at the bottom of the widget, you are taken to the Cost Per News Reader Community where (at the moment 19) readers have added themselves as a part of the community. These are the dedicated and loyal readers of the site that have also added the most comments, sent the most emails and have genuinely made this a valuable community to be a part of. Size matters not in such a community, as quality is the main metric which should be achieved. This is exactly the type of tool I was looking to find and make an active part of CostPerNews since the site was created.

For example, viewership of the site has skyrocketed since I installed the widget in early October. My analytics have also shown me that since that time the number of page views, time spent on the site, links in from other blogs and the general word of mouth about CostPerNews have all grown exponentially. Not all of the credit can be given to the MyBlogLog widget of course, but my stats point to a good correlation between implementation and site growth, activity and value to both myself and the readers.

The MyBlogLog widget has caught on in our sector of online marketing and in the online world in general. Blogs such as ReveNews and TechCrunch have implemented the widget, allowing you a brief mugshot on sites such as this which serves as a positive for both the reader and the site owner… you are given brief exposure as a reader of a similar blog to other potential business partners, and the site owner is able to qualify and quantify their readership. I’d be interested in hearing how the widget has affected those sites in terms of metrics such as page viewership and time spent on the site.

Even the folks at MyBlogLog seemed surprised at the growth of their site due to the widget…

On 30-Oct, I was surprised and happy with our widget stats. How little I knew. Now there’s 2,398 Recent Readers widgets installed (vs. 1,325 then). And, yesterday was our first million widget day. i.e. a million of our widgets were loaded into web pages. That’s a bit over 9% of the 10.2 million pages (also a record!) that we tracked through the system yesterday. It’s somewhat under 10% as a few pages have both widgets. Thank you all!

What does this have to do with affiliate marketing and online marketing? Everything. A month ago (today) I made a post titled Widgets and the Future of Affiliate Marketing in which I spelled out many of the sentiments that are resurfacing in this post:

Similarly, affiliate marketing in general (from the mom-and-pop sites up to the large loyalty sites) could see such a transformation if a 3rd party platform was made available to the industry. What would spur this metamorphosis? Limitations of scaling.

Providing a platform for delivering personalized data based on registrations in exchange for a piece of generated advertising revenue sounds very much like the model which most affiliate and CPA networks already operate under. That is no accident, because serving widgets and serving ads (particularly customized ads based on user choices and user registrations) have more in common than anyone in the affiliate marketing world has taken time to notice.

However, let’s move beyond those models which still enforce that top-down dictation model and focus on models (like widgets) that produce a back and forth between user and affiliate site. That’s where affiliate marketing shines, and that’s the promise that widgets specifically have for pushing certain parts of the industry in the right direction.

The link is dead. Content customization based on a relationship (even as simple as user registration or co-registration) and micro-systems of delivery of that content is the new black. Affiliate marketing, with its ability to make relationships, has a great opportunity to make use of widgets and widget delivery to set the larger industry standard.

In this mode of widget usage, scalability is not a detriment to affiliate marketing. Rather than adhering to that long held belief that the non-scalability of affiliate marketing is what’s holding the industry back from the major leagues, realizing that new platforms (such as widgets) provide a way for affiliates and networks to utilize the relationship factor as a positive… an incredibly profitable and long-term solution positive.

This silent revolution has already begun. It is spreading on the medium of widgets like tiny pieces of energy combining to form a tidal wave in the medium of water. Don’t discount the ability of widgets and user interaction in your affiliate and online marketing program.

Keeping with the fashion analogy, relationship is the new color for 2007. Widgets, such as the MyBlogLog Recent Readers widget, function as a platform and sounding board for realizing the increasing power of voice in the online world. Has your program, site, network or even arbitrage site (joke) tapped into the value of community empowerment?

Lorelle VanFossen has compiled a list of posts on other blogs which describe some of these quiet changes which are slowly spreading across the landscape of online marketing which serve as a great resource for further reading…

What do you think?

Widgets and the Future of Affiliate Marketing

Steve Rubel writeswidget.gif

Within a year we’re going to see blogs transforming themselves into customized start pages. This won’t happen with all blogs. It will start with high-traffic sites that zero in on popular verticals like tech and politics. As these tools become more sophisticated and easy to use, the trend will migrate down the Long Tail into other niches.

As I have mentioned before, you can easily transform your default home page into a one-stop-shop that covers most of your basic needs. So why can’t a blogger provide the same service to people who share a common passion on a topic?

Similarly, affiliate marketing in general (from the mom-and-pop sites up to the large loyalty sites) could see such a transformation if a 3rd party platform was made available to the industry. What would spur this metamorphosis? Limitations of scaling.

Rubel points out that one of th reasons this transformation has not occurred en masse in the blogosphere (particularly high traffic niche blogs) is because of the lack of infrastructure. Widgets require registrations (how about co-registrations??) and the ability to cope with large amounts of demand for personalized data. Simply put, most affiliates (and affiliate networks) don’t have the tech infrastructure for such an undertaking. Rubel suggests that in the next year, 3rd Parties will see this deficit and

“will handle the back end processing in exchange for a piece of the generated advertising revenue. This is a great next step for AdSense.”

Take this one step further into the realm of affiliate marketing. Providing a platform for delivering personalized data based on registrations in exchange for a piece of generated advertising revenue sounds very much like the model which most affiliate and CPA networks already operate under. That is no accident, because serving widgets and serving ads (particularly customized ads based on user choices and user registrations) have more in common than anyone in the affiliate marketing world has taken time to notice.

With the introduction of attention and more venture capital into the CPA network space, companies with familiarity of API’s and widget technology are also bringing new tools into the industry. Could the utilization of widgets enter with these newcomers?

The idea of building or morphing a high traffic affiliate site (especially think of loyalty sites such as uPromise, eBates, FatWallet or BizRate) into a widgetized one stop shop beyond the context of just hyperlinks into the realm of customized and portable content is not hard to imagine. Would this be profitable? Yes. Would this encourage user interaction? I definitely think so.

Transforming an affiliate site into a widget building blocks site requires one central thing besides the technology: relationship. Relationship is something (in theory) affiliate marketing is capable of producing across a wide variety of diaspora channels. And this producing of relationship engenders a community receptive to certain forms of communication. Of course, email marketing was effective before we killed it, and RSS has been called by many the next great hope.

However, let’s move beyond those models which still enforce that top-down dictation model and focus on models (like widgets) that produce a back and forth between user and affiliate site. That’s where affiliate marketing shines, and that’s the promise that widgets specifically have for pushing certain parts of the industry in the right direction.

For example, the new email company Gigya shows how utilizing widgets to communicate ideas, data and micro-entertainment might work in practice. Using Gigya’s interface, users can embed widgets containing music, videos, games and even their MySpace layout into an email. The person who receives the email will be able to play back the video, song or whatever has been embedded if they can view HTML email. Imagine an affiliate site or loyalty site pushing company or user generated content in such a format.

Jeff Molander makes the following lucid and well thought out insights about affiliate marketing’s scalability in the context of the relationship paradigm…

Why the freak-out by traditional affiliate managers and executives as Google enters the space? One word: Scale. It’s a word that, to many, is not comfortable in a realm that is dominated by relationships (those nasty little things that don’t scale!). The concepts of transparent (you know who, what, how, when you’re dealing with) advertising and opaque (you have less of an idea) are central as the former offers less scale, the latter more. As time goes on (competition for advertisers heats up) making performance-based ad buying frictionless is becoming more important. Hence, “traditional” (relationship-oriented, transparent, high maintenance) affiliate programs become more focused (coupon and loyalty shopping sites) and receive less attention (as they require more people power to scale).

The link is dead. Content customization based on a relationship (even as simple as user registration or co-registration) and micro-systems of delivery of that content is the new black. Affiliate marketing, with its ability to make relationships, has a great opportunity to make use of widgets and widget delivery to set the larger industry standard.

In this mode of widget usage, scalability is not a detriment to affiliate marketing. Rather than adhering to that long held belief that the non-scalability of affiliate marketing is what’s holding the industry back from the major leagues, realizing that new platforms (such as widgets) provide a way for affiliates and networks to utilize the relationship factor as a positive… an incredibly profitable and long-term solution positive.

MediaWhiz Buys Text Link Ads

mwprivlogo.gifBig week for MediaWhiz. Last night in NYC to celebrate ad:tech, MediaWhiz threw a poker tournament. Today, it was announced that they’ve acquired Text Link Ads.

Was this a good buy for MediaWhiz? Where are they looking to move with this buy?

Text Link Ads doesn’t use “no follows” for their links, which has given the platform a good deal of suspicion and has given rise to some debate about its long term health as a model.

Isn’t the link dead in terms of long term value to the market?

New Yorks’ Media Whiz advertising firm has acquired Cincinati’s Text Link Ads. The deal was announced this morning, but the financial details aren’t being disclosed.

Text Link Ads typically sells small text ads for a fixed monthly rate, not pay per click. They advertise on blogs extensively (disclosure: including this one). The company recently released a product called “Feedvertising” that allows publishers to easily place ads from Text Link Ads, ads the publisher sells themselves directly or other messages into their RSS feeds. We use this service to promote other sites in the Crunch network. I hope that this product continues to flourish post acquisition.

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