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Posts Tagged ‘Value’

How To Prevent Content Value Gouging

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What are the incentives to publish high-value content to the web?

Search engines, like Google, say they want to index quality content, but provide little incentive to create and publish it. The reality is that the publishing environment is risky, relatively poorly paid in most instances, and is constantly being undermined.

The Pact

There is little point publishing web content if the cost of publishing outweighs any profit that can be derived from it.

Many publishers, who have search engines in mind, work on an assumption that if they provide content to everyone, including Google, for free, then Google should provide traffic in return. It’s not an official deal, of course. It’s unspoken.

Rightly or wrongly, that’s the “deal” as many webmasters perceive it.

What Actually Happens

Search engines take your information and, if your information is judged sufficiently worthy that day, as the result of an ever-changing, obscure digital editorial mechanism known only to themselves, they will rank you highly, and you’ll receive traffic in return for your efforts.

That may all change tomorrow, of course.

What might also happen is that they could grab your information, amalgamate it, rank you further down the page, and use your information to keep visitors on their own properties.

Look at the case of Trip Advisor. Trip Advisor, frustrated with Google’s use of its travel and review data, filed a competition complaint against Google in 2012.

The company said: “We hope that the commission takes prompt corrective action to ensure a healthy and competitive online environment that will foster innovation across the internet.”

The commission has been investigating more than a dozen complaints against Google from rivals, including Microsoft, since November 2010, looking at claims that it discriminates against other services in its search results and manipulates them to promote its own products.

TripAdvisor’s hotel and restaurants review site competes with Google Places, which provides reviews and listings of local businesses.”We continue to see them putting Google Places results higher in the search results – higher on the page than other natural search results,” said Adam Medros, TripAdvisor’s vice president for product, in February. “What we are constantly vigilant about is that Google treats relevant content fairly.”

Similarly, newspapers have taken aim at Google and other search engines for aggregating their content, and deriving value from that aggregation, but the newspapers claim they aren’t making enough to cover the cost of producing that content in the first place:

In 2009 Rupert Murdoch called Google and other search engines “content kleptomaniacs”. Now cash-strapped newspapers want to put legal pressure on what they see as parasitical news aggregators.”

Of course, it’s not entirely the fault of search engines that newspapers are in decline. Their own aggregation model – bundling news, sport, lifestyle, classifieds topics – into one “place” has been surpassed.

Search engines often change their stance without warning, or can be cryptic about their intentions, often to the determent of content creators. For example, Google has stated they see ads as helpful, useful and informative:

In his argument, Cutts said, “We actually think our ads can be as helpful as the search results in some cases. And no, that’s not a new attitude.”

And again:

we firmly believe that ads can provide useful information

And again:

In entering the advertising market, Google tested our belief that highly relevant advertising can be as useful as search results or other forms of content

However, business models built around the ads as content idea, such as, got hammered. Google could argue these sites went too far, and that they are asserting editorial control, and that may be true, but such cases highlight the flaky and precarious nature of the search ecosystem as far as publishers are concerned. One day, what you’re doing is seemingly “good”, the next day it is “evil”. Punishment is swift and without trial.

Thom Yorke sums it up well:

In the days before we meet, he has been watching a box set of Adam Curtis’s BBC series, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace, about the implications of our digitised future, so the arguments are fresh in his head. “We were so into the net around the time of Kid A,” he says. “Really thought it might be an amazing way of connecting and communicating. And then very quickly we started having meetings where people started talking about what we did as ‘content’. They would show us letters from big media companies offering us millions in some mobile phone deal or whatever it was, and they would say all they need is some content. I was like, what is this ‘content’ which you describe? Just a filling of time and space with stuff, emotion, so you can sell it?”

Having thought they were subverting the corporate music industry with In Rainbows, he now fears they were inadvertently playing into the hands of Apple and Google and the rest. “They have to keep commodifying things to keep the share price up, but in doing so they have made all content, including music and newspapers, worthless, in order to make their billions. And this is what we want? I still think it will be undermined in some way. It doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace. The commodification of human relationships through social networks. Amazing!

There is no question the value of content is being deprecated by big aggregation companies. The overhead of creating well-researched, thoughtful content is the same whether search engines value it or not. And if they do value it, a lot of the value of that content has shifted to the networks, distributors and aggregators and away from the creators.

Facebook’s value is based entirely on the network itself. Almost all of Google’s value is based on scraping and aggregating free content and placing advertising next to it. Little of this value gets distributed back to the creator, unless they take further, deliberate steps to try and capture some back.

In such a precarious environment, what incentive does the publisher have to invest and publish to the “free” web?

Content Deals

Google lives or dies on the relevancy of the information they provide to visitors. Without a steady supply of “free” information from third parties, they don’t have a business.

Of course, this information isn’t free to create. So if search engines do not provide you profitable traffic, then why allow search engines to crawl your pages? They cost you money in terms of bandwidth and may extract, and then re-purpose, the value you created to suit their own objectives.

Google has done content-related deals in the past. They did one in France in February whereby Google agreed to help publishers develop their digital units:

Under the deal, Google agreed to set up a fund, worth 60 million euroes, or $ 80 million, over three years, to help publishers develop their digital units. The two sides also pledged to deepen business ties, using Google’s online tools, in an effort to generate more online revenue for the publishers, who have struggled to counteract dwindling print revenue.

This seems to fit with Google’s algorithmic emphasis on major web properties, seemingly as a means to sift the “noise in the channel”. Such positioning favors big, established content providers.

It may have also been a forced move as Google would have wanted to avoid a protracted battle with European regulators. Whatever the case, Google doesn’t do content deals with small publishers and it could be said they are increasingly marginalizing them due to algorithm shifts that appear to favor larger web publishers over small players.

Don’t Be Evil To Whom?

Google’s infamous catch-phrase is “Don’t Be Evil”. In the documentary Inside Google”, Eric Schmidt initially thought the phrase was a joke. Soon after, he realized they took it seriously.

The problem with such a phrase is that it implies Google is a benevolent moral actor that cares about……what? You – the webmaster?


“Don’t Be Evil” is typically used by Google in reference to users, not webmasters. In practice, it’s not even a question of morality, it’s a question of who to favor. Someone is going to lose, and if you’re a small webmaster with little clout, it’s likely to be you.

For example, Google appear to be kicking a lot of people out of Adsense, and as many webmasters are reporting, Google often act as judge, jury and executioner, without recourse. That’s a very strange way of treating business “partners”, unless partnership has some new definition of which I’m unaware.

It’s getting pretty poor when their own previously supportive ex-employees switch to damning their behavior:

But I think Google as an organization has moved on; they’re focussed now on market position, not making the world better. Which makes me sad. Google is too powerful, too arrogant, too entrenched to be worth our love. Let them defend themselves, I’d rather devote my emotional energy to the upstarts and startups. They deserve our passion.

Some may call such behavior a long way from “good” on the “good” vs “evil” spectrum.

How To Protect Value

Bottom line: if your business model involves creating valuable content, you’re going to need a strategy to protect it and claw value back from aggregators and networks in order for a content model to be sustainable.

Some argue that if you don’t like Google, then block them using robots.txt. This is one option, but there’s no doubt Google still provides some value – it’s just a matter of deciding where to draw the line on how much value to give away.

What Google offers is potential visitor attention. We need to acquire and hold enough visitor attention before we switch the visitors to desired action. An obvious way to do this, of course, is to provide free, attention grabbing content that offers some value, then lock the high value content away behind a paywall. Be careful about page length. As HubPages CEO Paul Edmonds points out:

Longer, richer pages are more expensive to create, but our data shows that as the quality of a page increases, its effective revenue decreases. There will have to be a pretty significant shift in traffic to higher quality pages to make them financially viable to create”

You should also consider giving the search engines summaries or the first section of an article, but block them from the rest.

Even if you decide to block search engines from indexing your content they still might pay others to re-purpose it:

I know a little bit about this because in January I was invited to a meeting at the A.P.’s headquarters with about two dozen other publishers, most of them from the print world, to discuss the formation of the consortium. TechCrunch has not joined at this time. Ironically, neither has the A.P., which has apparently decided to go its own way and fight the encroachments of the Web more aggressively (although, to my knowledge, it still uses Attributor’s technology). But at that meeting, which was organized by Attributor, a couple slides were shown that really brought home the point to everyone in the room. One showed a series of bar graphs estimating how much ad revenues splogs were making simply from the feeds of everyone in the room. (Note that this was just for sites taking extensive copies of articles, not simply quoting). The numbers ranged from $ 13 million (assuming a $ .25 effective CPM) to $ 51 million (assuming a $ 1.00 eCPM)

You still end up facing the cost of policing “content re-purposing” – just one of the many costs publishers face when publishing on the web, and just one more area where the network is sucking out value.

Use multiple channels so you’re not reliant on one traffic provider. You might segment your approach by providing some value to one channel, and some value to another, but not all of it to both. This is not to say models entirely reliant on Google won’t work, but if you do rely on a constant supply of new visitors via Google, and if you don’t have the luxury of having sufficient brand reputation, then consider running multiple sites that use different optimization strategies so that the inevitable algorithm changes won’t take you out entirely. It’s a mistake to think Google cares deeply about your business.

Treat every new visitor as gold. Look for ways to lock visitors in so you aren’t reliant on Google in future for a constant stream of new traffic. Encourage bookmarking, email sign-ups, memberships, rewards – whatever it takes to keep them. Encourage people to talk about you across other media, such as social media. Look for ways to turn visitors into broadcasters.

Adopt a business model that leverages off your content. Many consultants write business books. They make some money from the books, but the books mainly serve as advertisements for their services or speaking engagements. Similarly, would you be better creating a book and publishing it on Amazon than publishing too much content to the web?

Business models focused on getting Google traffic and then monetarizing that attention using advertising only works if the advertising revenue covers production cost. Some sites make a lot of money this way, but big money content sites are in the minority. Given the low return of a lot of web advertising, other webmasters opt for cheap content production. But cheap content isn’t likely to get the attention required these days, unless you happen to be Wikipedia.

Perhaps a better approach for those starting out is to focus on building brand / engagement / awarenesss / publicity / non-search distribution. As Aaron points out:

…the sorts of things that PR folks & brand managers focus on. The reason being is that if you have those things…

  • the incremental distribution helps subsidize the content creation & marketing costs
  • many of the links happen automatically (such that you don’t need to spend as much on links & if/when you massage some other stuff in, it is mixed against a broader base of stuff)
  • that incremental distribution provides leverage in terms of upstream product suppliers (eg: pricing leverage) or who you are able to partner with & how (think about co-marketing with someone or the WhiteHouse doing a presentation with … in addition to celebrity stuff & such … or think of all the ways Amazon can sell things: rentals, digital, physical, discounts via sites like Woot, higher margin high fashion on sites like Zappos, etc etc etc)
  • as Google folds usage data & new signals in, you win
  • as Google tracks users more aggressively (Android + Chrome + Kansas City ISP), you win
  • if/when/as Google eventually puts some weight on social you win
  • people are more likely to buy since they already know/trust you
  • if anyone in your industry has a mobile app that is widely used & you are the lead site in the category you could either buy them out or be that app maker to gain further distribution
  • Google engineers are less likely to curb you knowing that you have an audience of rabid fans & they are more likely to consider your view if you can mobilize that audience against “unjust editorial actions”

A lot of the most valuable content on this site is locked-up. We’d love to open this content up, but there is currently no model that sufficiently rewards publishers for doing so. This is the case across the web, and it’s the reason the most valuable content is not in Google.

It’s not in Google because Google, and the other search engines, don’t pay.

Fair? Unfair? Is there a better way? How can content providers – particularly newcomers – grow and prosper in such an environment?


SEO Book

Building Community with Value

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Posted by Mackenzie Fogelson

Building a community around your company is hard work. Just like SEO, there are no tricks. Nothing you can buy in bulk. There really is no ‘easy’ way to do it. Even when you’re working with an agency, you can’t just put in an order for a large community at the drive thru window and expect it to happen over night. You’ve got to do the work.

Building community is about building awareness, and that involves a cohesive blend of many crucial components, including SEO, content, and social media marketing.

If you want to effectively use social media to grow your company, then you have to build a community around it. At the heart of building community is sharing and providing something of value.

What is value?

Simply put, value is something that holds worth. Something that is important to someone. Something that serves a purpose. Something that has significance to someone for one reason or another.

In the world of content and social media marketing, value can translate to a video, a photo, a blog post, a checklist, a whitepaper. With value, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so you’ve got to know what constitutes value for your audience. If you’ve got music lovers on your hands, maybe that’s the latest soundbite or leaked video. If it’s engineers, maybe it’s an infographic that beautifully lays out all the data they need to quickly digest (rather than, perhaps, a narrative or a spreadsheet).

Value is something good. But if you only remember one thing about this post, make it this:

Value is not all about you.

Focusing on the customer vs. focusing on you

People like to talk about themselves, and when you’re a company who has something to sell, it’s easy to think that the more you talk about yourself (specifically on social media), the more people will see you, hear you, and want to buy from you.

I’m thinking…not so much.

There is a HUGE difference between sharing value and self-promotion.

When you’re promoting yourself 100% of the time, the focus is, of course, on you, which means you’re basically saying that you’re the most important part of the company/customer equation. That gets old. It doesn’t leave you with a whole lot to talk about or share in the social space, leaves no room for growth, and certainly doesn’t provide much value for your customer.

When you focus on the customer and you think about what their interests are, what they need, and what they’re challenged by, suddenly the opportunities and choices for sharing value and making a connection with them are much greater.

Growing your online community with value

You can grow your online community (and transform your business) simply by focusing on your customer and sharing some value with them.

Take MailChimp for example. They have developed a plethora of resources on their website that help their customers do email marketing. Their guides cover everything from getting started with their product, to managing your list and using Google Analytics with your email marketing.

These guides don’t directly make them any money, but they are focused on the customer and provide them with value. These are the perfect things for MailChimp to share on social media. Even though they are indirectly promoting their own product, they are still focused on offering tremendous value to their customer.

Simply Business is another great example. Maybe this is an easy one for them because their sole purpose is to be a source of knowledge for UK businesses, but all Simply Business does all day long is provide a whole boat load of value: from resources on business insurance and fitness tips for business owners to the Small Business Guide to Google Analytics. All focused on the customer and all focused on providing value.

But wait, there’s more

All of this high quality content that both MailChimp and Simply Business creates is awesome, but I know first hand that this stuff takes a ton of time, energy, and a good amount of budget to generate. There is one simple, additional thing that both MailChimp and Simply Business could do that would serve their own customers and grow their community, but wouldn’t cost them a thing (except for a little bit of time).

They could leverage the communities of other companies.

What the heck does that mean? Well, Simply Business was almost on to it here:

They’re asking their community if they have anything of value to share. This is a great start, but what if Simply Business took the initiative to find for themselves the valuable content that’s out there, connected with the businesses generating it, and made this a part of their normal community management routine?

In addition to asking their customers for valuable things that they’d like to share, what if every few days Simply Business shared value from other companies that they respect, trust, and believe in?

Wouldn’t this help their customers and build community?

I’m thinking…yes.

Tap into neighboring communities with value and the 80/20 rule

Now this is where we get to the good part. You can try a new routine that will do several things:

  1. Save you from always having to originate quality content.
  2. Provide your customers with additional (and diverse) value.
  3. Cultivate and grow your online community and your relationships with other awesome people and businesses.

Win. Win. Aaaaand more win.

Here’s how you do it:

80% of the time, share value that you did not actually generate

That’s right. The deal with this is that if you’re spending 80% of your time on social media working to share other people’s value, you’ll end up building relationships, a more satisfied community, more fans, and bigger brand advocates. That means more supporters and more people who want to spread the word (i.e. do the work) about you (for free!).

Your quest is to find other people or companies online that you like, that may hold similar values or have a similar approach, and that produce good content. Get to know them. Read what they write. Share their stuff. Become their friend. It's not what's in it for you, it's what's in it for your customer and your community.

Even if the companies and people you are seeking out are a so-called competitor, if they align with your personal and company values (and have valuable content to share), they will appreciate you featuring their stuff, your customers will benefit from it, and they will want to become friends too (which means eventually they will return the favor). You can help each other learn and grow each other’s communities.

It’s real easy to do on Twitter:

And even more beneficial (for SEO reasons) on Google+:

But in order to do this and make it work, you’ve got to read. A lot.

Sharing value means you’ve got to be reading and learning. All the time. In addition to making friends with other companies, putting them on your radar and reading their blogs, make sure you’re following people on Twitter who are continually sharing value, or circle in people on Google+ who share good stuff. Find all of the useful information that you can get your hands on (the stuff that you know your community would love).

The benefit of this, of course, is that you will always have something useful (and valuable) to share with your community, and you will discover new niches and opportunities (i.e. other neighboring communities to tap into).

If you don’t have time to read the stuff you’re collecting during your day, use Pocket and save it for later. Then, make sure you’re setting time aside at least a couple times a week to read all the good stuff that you’re collecting so that you can then share that valuable content with your community on social media.

Bottom line, just make it part of your routine to share other people's valuable content approximately 80% of the time.

20% of the time, share stuff that you yourself created

When you’re focusing on sharing your own content, make sure it’s good. Real good. And remember, the stuff that you originate and share on your own blog and social media outlets should serve your community, not you.

And here’s a great tip that I stole from Rob Ousbey that will make an even bigger impact in your community and reach more people with your value: before you even create it, try asking for feedback. Interview your customers, survey them, ask them questions about their challenges, anxieties, and pain points. This helps you to get buy-in even before the effort is spent, and you’re ensuring that you’re developing something that really matters to them.

Then, once the content you’ve been working on is ready, show those people who provided you with feedback what you created. Now you have fostered trust because they were a part of the process. So when you go to do outreach and get the word out on social media, you’ve already got someone who is personally invested and wants to help you with outreach.

It's not that you want to avoid promoting your company or helping people understand what you do. It's that blatant self-promotion won't get you anywhere, and it certainly won't help build a community. When you are promoting yourself, make sure it's backed by value.

Always bring it back to value

No matter what, make the commitment to share value (and again, not just your own). Maybe your ratio isn’t 80% other people’s stuff and 20% your own (though that’s been the ratio that has worked best for us). Maybe it’s 60/40 or 70/30. Whatever the balance is, always share value and try (seriously, try hard, kids) not to make it all about you (at least a little bit of the time). Play around with it. Test it out and find the right mix for your customers and your community.

When in doubt, think about your customer first. How can you really be of service to them? If you can’t, refer them to someone else who can. They may not become your customer, but they will always be your fan, support your community, and refer you to their friends. That’s what cultivating community with value is all about.

Take the 80/20 challenge

People like to share. When you focus on other companies (and people) and not always on yourself, it will naturally catch on and those people and companies will start sharing your stuff. But the ‘trick’ to this whole thing is that you have to start with value.

So try it out for yourself and see what happens. Chances are, you’re going to become a lot smarter (with all of that hard core reading you're gonna do), you’re going to help others, and you’re going to grow your business (with a seriously awesome community).

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