PPC Advertising: Information Highway Robbery?

If you do SEM for your company, you’re already familiar with the fact that you have to bid on your own company’s name in AdWords et. al., this is a common practice in keyword bidding. Has anyone sat back and thought about how inconceivably ridiculous that really is?

In essence, it’s extortion: you have a heavily-hit search engine with its own advertising program, that allows anyone and everyone with some green stuff to bid on any keyword. Bid on your competitor – bid on their domain name, bid on their misspelling, you know the drill. Most importantly, bid on your own name so that nobody else beats you to the top position for these same things. Why on earth should anyone have to pay to appear on paid search for their own name, especially if it’s trademarked?

Trademark Protection in Google AdWords (Kinda)

Recently, Google began a new policy stating that AdWords users can successfully use trademarked brands within their ad text, regardless of if they own the trademark or not. So, feel free to throw in the actual brand name of that affiliate ad copy to your eBay store. It’s good for some, but murder for others. As for my company: a good $300/day is spent advertising just on our own company name, which is unique, and, of course, trademarked. If we ever stopped doing this, our bitter rival would take over their current 2nd spot as the 1st spot in all wild card search results for our company name.

Give or take, that’s a 6-figure expenditure per year, just to advertise for our own company name. Seriously. Morality has lost to money once again.

There actually is a measure you can take to “register” your registered trademark with Google Adwords, it’s perhaps the only way to protect your trademark in AdWords. By filling out a lengthy form and including your registered trademark serials, Google will block advertisers’ abilities to use your trademarked term in the title of an AdWords ad.

A good resolve would be to look at how Facebook tackles trademark infringement. If you’re a trademark owner, you’re entitled to own that trademarked name as a Facebook Page name (Facebook.com/whatever) – nobody else can have it. When it comes to Google search results, any search for your company’s registered trademark should yield a page with no PPC ads whatsoever. That’s in an ideal world, though.

Youtube Videos and Nasty Surprises

Most internet marketers use pre-existing videos from Youtube to help spice up their affiliate marketing endeavors. There’s no doubt that a good video that demonstrates a product or a related topic is a perfect compliment to an affiliate marketing sales page. There are many videos that are purely demonstrative out there – you’d be crazy not to drop those into your page. Videos, on the other hand, can make you look like a complete fool. Here are a few examples.

  1. The video you’ve dropped on your sales page is watermarked with someone else’s URL, or has a promotion at the end of it. This is why it is SO important to watch the entire video you intend to use, BEFORE you put it on your live site. Otherwise, you’re enticing people to visit that other guy’s site. You know, the guy who went through all of that trouble to create the video in the first place, giving him more credibility than you.
  2. Youtube videos are click-able, as you know, and clicking one will take you to its respective page on Youtube. If that page has the video author’s link pointing to his or her affiliate site, you’ve just lost a sale. The instant someone moves away from your site and onto another site with a link to further information about the product as seen in the video is the point where you’ll either lose the cookie or the sale.
  3. Some Youtube videos are just malicious by their own nature. Some videos have a curse word, image or wind up having a completely different turn of events during the last few seconds — I’ve seen it a million times! Nothing will KILL your credibility more than using a video that you scanned for 5 seconds that has something really embarrassing in it.

Watch all videos from Youtube in their entirety before you use them…can’t stress that enough!

Giveaway Raffles: What If Nobody Wins?

Have you ever attended a sales demo in a store or trade show that offered you a box where you could drop in your business card or contact information for a chance to win some great product? It seems like the iPhone or MacBook are the two prizes of choice, and they sure are in high demand. Is this legit, or just a dirty trick to get more sales leads?

If you think of it this way: have you ever seen one of these companies announce who the winner was? Chances are that you’ll forget that you had entered the drawing within a half hour after doing so, anyway. The same applies to online raffles for a Wii or XBOX. What if nobody wins? What if there is no iPhone or XBOX from day one? This could all be an elaborate way to get more valuable phone numbers and email addresses. Have you ever seen one of these sites say “Congratulations to (username)” or “Congratulations to John D. for winning our (whatever) raffle” with a link pointing to that user’s profile, making it public and available for anyone to instant message them and ask “hey, did you really win that thing?”

Here’s some good practice…if you’re going to run one of these raffles, make sure you physically give the product away at the end of the day, and make it is well known and publicized. Not only will it increase confidence and interest, but it will force people to come back to see you at the end of the day, giving you double exposure. Otherwise, your company looks deceptive and crooked if the raffle is held days later at the office…if at all.

How to Be A Successful Cybersquatter

How’s that for a controversial topic? Don’t worry – the premise here is to inform you how cybersquatters do what they do, and how they get away with it. Think of it as an action item for you in your line of work, at your company!

Here are some facts about companies (especially small to mid-size companies): there’s usually nobody in the office who knows a damn thing about the brand protection elements of internet marketing.  These days, you’ll probably find a graphic designer who does minor website graphics here and there, and maybe an SEM guy who does AdWords, but nobody who really knows what the hell they’re talking about in regard to advanced brand integrity, domaining or anything of that nature.

Good cybersquatters know this. I’m also convinced at this point in time that the best cybersquatters on earth do not exist in the United States, but elsewhere. You’d be a fool to cybersquat in the US, it’s probably the most difficult country to do it and get away with it.

Corporate Weaknesses that Cybersquatters Exploit

Here are two of the biggest vulnerabilities I’ve seen in my career in small to mid-size businesses, in regard to protecting the brand name (more specifically, domain names) online:

  1. Nobody’s educated about cybersquatting: That’s right, upper management usually doesn’t understand the point of owning the .com of your brand name. They only thought about the actual company name. They don’t know that cybersquatters go for misspellings, plural versions and other variants to capitalize on type-in traffic. Oh, and they don’t know what type-in traffic means, either. They know so little about the world of cybersquatting that they wouldn’t even know to say “let’s hire a guy who knows about this stuff.”
  2. Nobody’s willing to spend thousands to sue someone over a cybersquatting case: What I’m  about to say is so true — companies tend to send cease and desist letters as empty threats that will never be acted upon. I’ve heard corporate counsel say “we’ll send the letter, but I’m not spending $15k to take someone to court over a domain name.” I’ve heard it MANY times, actually. To a bigger extreme, most small-mid size companies don’t own an international trademark and won’t even touch an international cybersquatting case with a ten foot pole.

With that being said, the two things cybersquatters have going for them are 1) misinformation, and 2) the cost and time involved in the court process, which is enough to scare most people away. In essence, cybersquatters are like great Texas Hold ‘Em players – the call the bluff of any cease & desist that comes their way. The occasional squatter sitting in his mother’s basement will cave in to a C&D, but many won’t fall for it.

The best thing any ‘web guru’ (God, I hate that term) working for a company can do is to spend a good day or so typing in domains based on their company’s name, brand names and variants, and buy all of the major .com versions right away so that they’re in the company’s possession. Don’t forget the “CompanyNameSucks.com” version, too.  If your company runs franchises, be sure to start working on an internet policy that restricts franchisees from doing certain things (like registering domains without your approval). If you don’t take these actions, a cybersquatter will.

Carelessness in Domaining Can Hurt

The worst case scenario I’ve ever seen was for a multi-national, $600 million company who didn’t even own the .net domain name to their own one-word company name. It was registered in the earlier half of the 2000’s by a cybersquatter in South Korea, who is still running a parked page on it. Given that the .com site was pulling in about 7,500 uniques per day and is a popular international brand name, there’s no doubt the .net was getting some healthy type-ins.

Here are all of the aforementioned elements coming into play that I mentioned before: 1) nobody knew/cared to do anything about it in time, 2) nobody is willing to pursue this in court, 3) it’s international, so, the Korean legal team would have to go after it, and nobody is even willing to reach out to them and request this.

Cybersquatter 1, Big Corporation 0.

I could rattle off a whole bunch of other scenarios I’ve seen: plural domains, common exact-word misspelling .com’s, .ca’s, etc. – running on parked pages, with or without a “this domain is for sale” link at the top…all of which were careless, stupid and easily avoidable issues, even in the early 2000s. However, the cybersquatters who are still benefiting to this moment are having a field day.

Many other huge corporations still sit back oblivious to their cybersquatted trademarked names, benefiting someone else’s monthly payroll. Which companies are on the ball, and which aren’t? Maybe Rolex is up on these shenanigans, but how about Invicta? Maybe John Deere knows about cybersquatting, but what about Toro?  Cybersquatters do their due diligence, even if these companies don’t.

This is why cybersquatting is still alive. Smart squatters don’t go after god-like organizations like Microsoft, Dell, or Disney; they’re going after the ones who probably have an internal weakness, or no system in place that has enough of a backbone to do anything about it. Just like the way hackers find a weakness to exploit, so do cybersquatters.  With that being said – to be a good cybersquatter, you have to be a good risk-taker. You’d have to know which companies would probably never pursue you in court. You’d be the kind of person who would let a 30 day term on a C&D letter go by, and wait for the next move (if any).

The New Facebook Viral Bandwagon

It sprang up a few times on my Facebook front page. Someone “likes” some witty statement as seen on “♥”. Erm…what the hell is ♥? Curiously I investigated, and was pretty surprised at what I found.

Since this might not make much sense to most of you, let me give you a visual:

likemythought1

 

See that little heart on the right? It’s hyperlinked, and it points to a site called LikeMyThought. I started seeing this stuff pop up a few days ago, until the little heart icon caught my eye – knowing that it was a hyperlink, I had to see what it was (mostly because I knew it was something created by some new, aspiring internet marketing genius).

When visiting the site, I was astounded to see that it was nothing but some big Facebook API-driven list of nonsense quotes, mantras and phrases that you could “like” and have appear on your Facebook feed, through Facebook connect. The quotes were ranked by “most liked,” which appeared at the top-most portion of the page.

Check this out: visit the site and hit “refresh.” A new quote appears, and the page’s <title> changes to accommodate it as well. Below it is an AdSense 335×280 ad, and a medium banner at top. That’s it. Gee, I thought AdSense banned content-less, RSS-driven or auto-generated sites? Hmm.

There’s more?!

Well, for whatever reason, I managed to see another one of these quotes appear that one of my friends “like”d. I hovered over the heart…but…it wasn’t that same site. It was another one, named LikeFever.info. It’s basically like LikeMyThought, except it looks less cluttered and fits one column. There’s another one, too…it’s called GoLikeUs.net. Oh, and Likesy, too. Ok – I’m guessing this is some kind of new trend here. How long until we see “Facebook Like Site CMS clones” popping up on marketing for-sale forums everywhere?

Dumb or not, these “like” sites are getting oodles of Facebook traffic. While they don’t seem to be ranking for anything worthwhile according to SEMrush, Alexa.com puts LikeMyThought on their map as it is currently around #87,800, with the lesser visited LikeFever at around 194,000…the latter of which has a nice stalagmite spike on its chart. LikeMyThought even has its own Facebook Page as seen here. Looks like they’re harvesting new visitors through good old social networking, rather than putting out the website and hoping for the best.

Just for the hell of it, I searched Google for “♥”, which wound up throwing back a “Your search did not match any documents” reply. Hmm, so much for the hypothesis that they were attempting to appear on Google page 1 for an ASCII character.

Viral Without A Cause

What’s the point of creating these sites? AdSense clicks? Does anyone even click them? For that matter, what’s the motivation of spending more than a few seconds on these sites? The worthiness of any site to get massive Facebook love is obvious, but what’s the resolve – a couple AdSense blocks that can’t possibly be paying more than a penny or two per click? The sites themselves don’t have any backlinks – I’ve counted around 30. However, they must have oodles of Facebook backlinks.

Just like all of the other fads in the past including Hot Or Not, Million Dollar Homepage & others, this has the potential of being a new contender in the quest to copy (and hopefully improve) on a popular new concept. Where it goes, however, is yet to be seen.

As for me, I’ll click the “unlike” icon next  to this one (if it actually existed).

Frustrations of Username Registration

Have you ever attempted to create a group on LinkedIn? I’ve done so today, and man, was I furious. Here’s the premise: you have to fill out an ENTIRE page of information about the group. Normally, I’m not one to be lazy about the “group description” field, so I’ll take my time out to put something significant and compelling in there. Once the entire form was completed, I hit submit and got a refresh of the screen with red text saying “Group name is not available.” Great. Thanks.

So, back to the drawing board. I came up with an alternate name. That wasn’t available either. I tried another. Nope, not available. My blood pressure started to rise. I tried at least five other alternate names for my group, and not a single one of them were available.

Here in 2009, we kind of expect these things to be AJAX’ed. You know, like, type in a username and a little script to the right of the field will display a green check mark with an “Available!” indicator, or a red X signifying that the username is already taken. Why on Earth does a HUGE-mongous site like LinkedIn not have this capability? It’s frustrating, obnoxious and self-defeating for their users. What was my end result? I gave up and clicked the “close” button on my browser. I have better things to do with my time than sit there and mindlessly type in group names, which are probably all being cybersquatted and not used, anyway.

Think of your visitors when you create this functionality on your website. Always keep the “frustration factor” in mind, it’s just good business practice. Otherwise, you’ll encounter users like me who simply won’t give you the time or effort anymore.

Your Company Sucks…Dot Com

While at the office, I spoke with a Godaddy representative over the phone who later laughed at how the latest domain I purchased was a “CompanynameSucks.com” domain (he already knew why I did it). Personally, I was amazed that it was still available due to some of the other negativity I’ve seen about the company via a simple Google, Twitter or Youtube search.

Have you registered your “CompanynameSucks.com” yet? If not, you should – someone might just beat you to it! If you thought it might be illegal for anyone to ever be able to use it, just visit PayPalSucks.com to see how that is far from true. Remember – as long as they’re not impersonating or profiting off a company, but rather putting up a parody, humor or review site, it will probably fly. To add insult to injury, it just might be competing with your own site on the first page of a search result.

The extra $8 it costs to buy a domain name like this is minuscule compared to the amount of damage a “…sucks.com” domain can do – food for thought!

Things I’ve Discovered About SEO On Squidoo

With the new inception of the Squidoo trophy system, my level of interest went way up in the site. I’ve been spending the past few weeks going back to my old Squidoo lenses from years back, revitalizing them and laughing at my atrocious attempts of keyword saturation from the mid 2000s. There are a few things I’ve noticed in respect to SEO, though, and I felt as though they were important to point out.

Dumbing Down Squidoo Page Titles

This was the most dramatic thing I saw. For many of my lenses that were on their last legs, I removed my “editorial-ish” titles and made them completely generic. So, instead of something like “A Buyer’s Guide for Totally Awesome Blue Widgets,” I renamed it to “Blue Widgets” and left it at that.

It’s an awful thing to do – everything we were taught in respect to good editorialism and SEO gets thrown out the window when we do this. We are, of course, supposed to be providing “good helpful content” and not gaming the system, since SE’s know how to rank pages based on what they’re about.

However, these lenses started picking up both within Squidoo’s internal rank, and in respect to SE visibility. Especially the ones whose URLs were actually named the same exact thing as the title (in this case, /blue-widgets).  Interesting…game on. I stopped ranking for all of those extra terms that surrounded the keyword, which were for the most part, attracting worthless long-tail searches irrelevant to what my page was truly about.

A little while ago, I read a post on SEO Book mentioning that Google Caffeine has been favoring exact word domains  – possibly more than ever before. Perhaps this is why exact titles are doing better than “editorial titles?” Or, maybe short, exact title terms do better on huge multi-topic, multi-category sites like Squidoo? I’m not sure, but I’m still experimenting with them. I was always a fan of uniformity within single-page SEO: identical title & URL + a healthy (but not blatant) dose of keyword saturation.

In-Content Keyword Saturation (Is Not Dead)

This gets me on to the next topic: keyword saturation. I went back to my old lenses, which abused the hell out of repetitive long-tail keyword terms.

I removed about 60-70% of those terms, and either replaced them with pronouns, synonyms, or alternate versions of the keyword (i.e., “time pieces” instead of “watches,” etc.) I then pinged the lens, and moved on. I did notice a few of these lenses get some new hits for relative terms. If anything else, it’s probably due to getting a pat on the head by search engines for removing keyword cram.

Diversifying Relevant Squidoo Tags

Lastly, I played around with Squidoo’s tag system. Many of my older lenses were very poorly done, and I tagged my pages with terms that were way too broad or not on target with the topic, such as tags like “best price” or “sale.”

I removed all of these, and went to Google Keyword Tool. I researched my target keyword, and added a mix of the frequent, moderate and sparsely searched for terms that best fit the term. I added these, and it gradually increased the search engine rankings of a few Squidoo lenses for long-tail terms.

Unlike your blog or website, Squidoo’s internal tag system is far more powerful than that of any of our sites because their site is so massive, and so well inter-connected. Think ‘interlinking.’ In the old days, those tags had dofollow page rank, and it was entirely possible to own a PR6 Squidoo lens (I had two). While they’re all nofollow, they still are significant for inter-Squidoo and external SEO.

My favorite aspect here is that Squidoo is like a virtual sandbox for SEO: you can really learn a lot about how search engines behave by playing around with the basic elements: title, headings, content/keyword saturation and tags. If you hadn’t given Squidoo a chance before, play around with it and report back with your discoveries!

The Quick and Easy Way to Get Blogging Ideas

There’s no excuse for having writer’s block these days. With so many places to turn, it’s easy to find a great topic to blog about on a constant basis. Use social media as a source of unlimited inspiration for your writing material! Other people doing the work for you? It’s the most simple idea you’ll kick yourself over not considering.

For instance, if you have a blog that deals with one particular topic (such as electric cars), search the internet for “electric car forum” and read up on what people are posting about. What you’ll really want to look for are the questions people are asking, and the answers and opinions that come afterward. There’s your real content: popular questions that probably don’t have web pages dedicated to them, nor a great deal of search engine competition. From here, you can easily combine a bunch of Q&A sessions into your own personal content-rich article. There’s a smart way to come up with a topic and all of its content without having to toil over any of the basic stuff!

Still not enough? There’s also Yahoo Answers – a GREAT place to search for any keyword and see what common questions people are asking. Best yet, they have answers, and you can use all of this great stuff to write unique content!

Ripoff artists and the general uninspired population turn to places like ArticlesBase, eZine Articles, PRweb and any of the other major article submission sites. There’s a lot of shame in copying other people’s stuff, no doubt about it…although, it can prove to be helpful to get industry information in lieu of writing content for your affiliate sites. Need sites and references? Find more articles on Google News or Yahoo News.

As a last measure, there’s always Youtube…a place to watch tutorials, debates, demonstrations and everything in between. Type out what you see to create the text version (that is, the version that search engines can actually see!)

Wait, there actually is one completely LAST measure. You can simply create a mash-up of different articles by copying and pasting them into one big word document, then running them through a professional “spinner” like Magic Article Rewriter to turn them into unique content with the grace of an alchemist. Disclaimer: Requirements include no shame, little patience and the desire to do things the easy way.

Old School eBay Affiliates: You’ve Got Quality Click Pricing

Today, October 1, 2009 marks the day when all long-time ePN (eBay Partner Network) affiliates officially get moved over from the previous earnings system to the new Quality Click Pricing format. One thing’s for sure, ePN is pissing everyone off with their continual changes of how affiliates get paid. Here’s the low-down on what changes have historically befallen the ePN program, and what the new QCP program is all about.

Back in very early days of the eBay affiliate program, one could have made a full-time career out of selling used cars on eBay and making tremendous commissions. That practice was nipped in the bud with the inception of eBay Autos, bringing forth a new tier of virtually worthless commission scales for things like used cars, car parts and the like. Changes kept happening throughout the early 2000s, making that “percentage of a percentage of the seller’s fee to eBay” dwindle affiliate commissions.

Then, in August of ‘08, the ACRU or “Active Confirmed Registered User” value-based payment system came out. Instead of receiving your cool $20 per eBay user sign-up, you received anywhere between $1 and $50 (more likely the former) per sign-up, per ePN’s new algorithm that auto-ranked each sign-up with a quality rating. This rating determined how “worthy” that new eBay member was, based on their likelihood to continue coming back to eBay and purchasing more things in the future. It’s a ridiculous and irrational system that punishes affiliates for the behavior of other human beings. Either that, or it was a very poor way to punish the entire affiliate community for the select few cheaters who’ve created false accounts on different IP addresses. Reminds me a lot of when the entire gym class was given early morning detention because an asshole jock was fooling around in class, and the teacher wanted to make an example of him.

Later that same month, ePN got ban-happy and started cutting dozens of affiliates from the program with no rhyme or reason. In looking at the old forum posts, it was apparent that both high-earning affiliates and low-performing ones alike were cut. One guy was making nearly 6-figures per year on ePN and got the ban stick, while a newbie just learning the ropes got it, too. Those who didn’t were left shaking in their boots, overwhelmed with feelings of paranoia and wondering if the ePN Grim Reaper would be coming for them, soon…even though they were playing by the book.

On September 1, 2009, ePN announced that all new ePN members would now be transitioned over to a new “Quality Click Pricing” payment method, and all veterans would be transitioned on October 1st. Quality Click Pricing basically starts everything over at square one. Your traditional EPC (earnings per click) chart will disappear, and a QCP metric chart will take its place. It was then stated that the EPC system was somewhat of a beta test to see how affiliate sales have worked, solely for the reason of eventually transitioning to QCP. on Not only that,  but ACRU scores will also be removed entirely and will not be available for your statistical review.

What does this mean for you? It means that you better damn well be considered “quality” in ePN’s eyes, or you will be in for a heart breaker of a year in your affiliate routine. Rather than receiving commission like you always did, you’ll now be receiving payoffs on a per-click basis. According to the “How will this affect me?” writeup, you’ll receive the same commission as always. If you’re a high performer, you’ll get more – otherwise, you’ll be earning less. What’s a high performer or a low performer, though? ePN has enimgified (yes, that’s a word I made up just for this situation) their system so much that Einstein wouldn’t even be able to make it out. A blog post noting tips for success with QCP mentions that it’s all about being very drilled down and focused in terms of driving traffic. This might be a serious issue for those of you with “broad” product categories. Even during the EPC era of this program, ePN stated that anyone who had an EPC of .03 or less set off the red flag for a possible banning. At least you knew if you were in trouble with the EPC chart. That’s now gone, making the ePN program even more opaque than ever before.

How will the EPC program work out in the long run? This month will be the true test. Needless to say, marketing forums across the internet are buzzing with fear and grief. Keep in mind, there are people who use ePN as their full time revenue source. This goes to show that it is NEVER a good strategy to rely on just one affiliate program – you truly never know when something drastic will happen, or when they’ll simply die off.

Over the past year, ePN has done nothing short of making a complete jackass of themselves, instilling fear in their affiliate community, and becoming a PR nightmare that has spun out of control. Bannings still happen every day, without reason – and it’s nearly impossible to get back in once you’re banned…much like getting banned from Google AdSense. It also doesn’t help when your plea for a reason doesn’t even get answered by the team, especially since you get a generic “Dear John” letter when it happens.

ePN: where the strategy is “if it ain’t broke, fix it, then disassemble it, then put it back together, fix it, and re-paint it. Then lay off a percentage of your constituents. Then go back to fixing the system that ain’t broke once more. “