March 26, 2009

Fruit Picking

Fruit picking was my first job out of high school. My friend Stuart and I wanted to go see the world. I asked my parents: "Stuart and I want to go see the world. You don't mind do you?" I'm not sure if they thought I was being serious or not. "No, that's fine. Have fun." As was (and still is) typical in my family, there was no other real discussion of the topic. They listened graciously to any information I volunteered, but steadfastly offered no advice. A kind of parenting zen. I didn't ask my parents for money, because I knew they didn't have any to spare. Stuart's family was a little better off, but they had made it clear that he was to raise his own money if he wanted to go traipsing about the planet. Luckily for us, a family friend owned a small citrus orchard and needed a couple of worthies to help bring in the harvest. So for the first half of that Summer, we went fruit picking.

You can make good money fruit picking, although it doesn't seem like it at first. We picked oranges at first. They're the easiest for beginners, because it's harder to damage the fruit. You have a ladder, and an apron with a pouch. You put the ladder against the tree, climb until the fruit is all around you, and fill the pouch. Then it's down the ladder with a full pouch, and unstrap the pouch from the bottom to let the oranges fall into a large wooden crate. Rinse and repeat from first light until it's too dark to see.

At first, you think it'll take all day to fill the wooden crate. You could easily lie down inside the crate, any way you chose. It takes half a dozen trips up and down the ladder just to cover the bottom of the crate. And, at first, it does take you until lunchtime to fill your first crate of the day, and Mr. Carmano, the grandfatherly guy who has hired you, shakes his head and wonders out loud about your prospects as a fruit picker. And Mike, who's been fruit picking for years, and has already filled four crates this morning, is smiling because it looks like there's going to be plenty of work for him this year. Because you don't get paid by the hour, you get paid by the crate. And right now, you're not even breaking minimum wage.

But soon, you start to get the rhythm of fruit picking. You angle the ladder so that you can climb and descend without using your hands. You acquire that peculiar twist-snap wrist movement that separates the fruit cleanly from the stem without wasted movement. You're surprised when the occasional orange doesn't seem to want to leave the tree. A second twist-snap does the job. Like all fruit pickers, you devise elaborate schemes for increasing the fruit holding capacity of your apron. None of them are even remotely sensible. Soon you can fill two crates before lunch, then three. Instead of wondering just how full the crate has to be to count, you add a couple of pouch-loads for good measure.

We probably could have earned more fruit picking that Summer, Stuart and I, but every time we went to the river to swim, we came back with an invitation to a party, and the flashing eyes of the local farmer's daughters were too much for us to resist. It didn't matter in the end. Those first earnings were a fortune to us, and the coming of the New Year turned both of our thoughts to the road. It wasn't long before we were on a bus, and then a plane.

March 21, 2009

Entrecard Blogs with Dofollow Top Commenter Lists

It is one of the goals of many a blogger that their blog to become a hub of community activity in areas related to the blog's topic. That readers go beyond merely reading and take action. Today, this usually means opening up the blog to various forms of reader participation. Community requires personal investment to weather the inevitable personality clashes, and what better way to foster personal investment than giving the reader a voice?

It should not be surprising that this is a difficult decision for many bloggers. Despite its public nature, a blog is often one of the few personal spaces that a blogger truly owns. A place to shelter a battered ego. Reader participation threatens even this small space. Post comments are a nice compromise to the dilemma. Comments are firmly separated from the post, but carry an obligation to be somewhat related to the post. They are an acknowledgment of the blogger. Ego affirming rather than ego threatening. It is no wonder they have become such a popular format for reader participation.

However, participation requires effort. This is a blessing and a curse. A curse because "0 comments" can itself become an ego blow. Why am I being ignored!? A blessing because new readers use the number of comments to judge whether to spend time reading - the first barrier to overcome in our ADHD world. A dozen comments says "other's thought that this post was worth reading." It is social proof of time well spent.

How then to encourage comments? The best way to encourage comments is to respond to them. Open a dialog with your readers. Let your readers know that you appreciate the time they took to make the comment. But there is still the bootstrap problem. No one will comment unless there are already comments. Mariuca's First Commenter Club is a great way to get that first comment. Why? Because you promise to link to the blog of the first commenter.

When someone links to you, you have acquired a backlink (as opposed to a forward link from your blog to someone else). Why are backlinks important? Search engines like Google use them to calculate how popular a particular site is. The more popular, the higher in the rankings, and the more traffic the search engine will send you. Backlinks are a form of voting for your blog.

But not all votes are equal. Back in 2005, Google introduced the nofollow attribute for links. If you look at the HTML for a nofollow link it will look something like this:

<a href="" rel="nofollow">Google</a>

In essence, the nofollow attribute tells Google (and most other search engines) not to count the link as a vote for the page being linked to. Why would you do that? The problem is that without the attribute, you may be automatically voting for your commenters. You can probably imagine that comment spammers took advantage of that. Once you have so many commenters that you can't effectively police the spam, it is just easier to discourage the spammers by adding nofollow to every link.

For many bloggers, it'd be nice to get to that point. When you want to encourage comments, providing automatic dofollow backlinks is an easy way to do it. Dofollow links are just links without the nofollow attribute, also called "nofollow free." This is enough for most blogs, but if you really want to rev up the number of comments, you can use a dofollow Top Commenter list. A Top Commenter list rewards the readers that comment most by providing a dofollow link to the commenter from the sidebar. That means the commenter receives a sitewide dofollow link, that is, a dofollow link from every page of the blog. For some blogs, this can mean hundreds or even thousands of dofollow backlinks. A big incentive for loyal commenters.

Well obviously blogs with dofollow Top Commenter lists are interested in your comments. But, as a reader, how to find them? I'm currently enjoying participating in the Entrecard community, and I couldn't find a list of such blogs for Entrecard, so I've started one below. The list was a little tricky to put together, because many Top Commenter lists that purport to be dofollow are constructed with javascript. Why does that matter? Because the search engine robots generally don't execute javascript - they see only the javascript code, and not what it produces. Basically, Top Commenter lists built with javascript (which includes most blogger blogs) don't count.

The following list should help some Entrecarders get more comments. The sites are listed in order of current Google pagerank (PR). I stopped at PR3, but I'll go through the PR1 and PR2 sites if there is interest. Sites with a '+' sign after them also provide dofollow links from each comment.



PR4 + + + +

PR3 + + +


If you'd to be added to this list, removed from this list, or have something other than your domain name as the link text, just let me know.

March 15, 2009

Eccles to The Dollar: The Entrecard Credit Exchange Rate

Speaking of adventures, Entrecard has decided to take the plunge and attempt to establish the long promised ability to exchange Entrecard Credits (hereinafter eccles) for your local currency, presumably via PayPal. The details are still being worked out, in classic Web 2.0 fashion, via great outpourings of angst over issues both real and imaginary, but the central question "How much per eccle?" has yet to be answered. Let's see if we can't make an educated guess.

In an earlier post on PTC sites, I mentioned that clickworkers were paid an average of $0.0025 per click, and that earning $30 per month was an achievable goal - although at $1/hour, not a particularly interesting one. Now Entrecard isn't directly comparable to your typical advertiser-funded traffic exchange, it really is it's own beast, but I think these rates do set something of a floor. The very fact that Entrecard is a unique hybrid is a strong motivation to both charge superior rates and make superior payouts.

Well I just mentioned the key to unlocking the exchange rate mystery. The exchange rate is going to be advertiser funded, so the exchange rate value will depend strongly on the price Entrecard can charge for ad views, i.e., on the cost per thousand impressions, or CPM, that Entrecard can charge advertisers. So what sort of price can Entrecard charge? Social networks, as a category (Facebook, MySpace, etc), sell most of their ad inventory at a price under $0.25 CPM, or rather that was the rule of thumb for the 4th quarter of 2008. You've probably noticed that global economy has taken a hit of late, and advertising spending is no exception. With more ad inventory seeking fewer dollars, the rates have been pushed even lower. On the other hand, the megatrend of advertising budgets shifting from traditional media to the internet is still in full force. Advertisers love the demographic targeting and immediate feedback they get from the web.

So $0.20 CPM? Maybe in some categories, but I don't think that is initially achievable across the board, for a couple of reasons. First, that's the sort of rate that Adbrite is achieving with its similarly disparate network, and Adbrite has a very sophisticated pricing system that pays publishers anywhere from $0.01 - $0.20 CPM depending on the quality of their traffic (in particular, the click-through rate or CTR). Entrecard doesn't have that sophisticated pricing system in place and won't for a while yet. In addition, a good chuck of Entrecard traffic comes from in-network power droppers who are generally ad-blind. Not quality traffic, as far as advertisers are concerned. So I think $0.10 CPM is a fairer average estimate, particularly since it is difficult for new ad networks to sell 100% of their inventory for the first few quarters at least.

So then at $0.10 CPM, and the quoted 40,000,000 ad views per month, that's $4000/month, with a promised 75%, $3000/month or $100/day allocated to eccle purchase. To clear 1-2 million eccles per day from the Entrecard economy (another stated goal), an exchange rate of 10,000-20,000 eccles to the dollar is required.

Hmmm, something's gone wrong here. A power dropper can earn 600 eccles an hour in drops plus 400-600 eccles in reciprocal drops. At 10,000 eccles to the dollar, that yields just 10% of the baseline $1/hr, $30/month clickworker wage. This is comparable to, say, Adgitize, but earnings of $3/month for a 125x125 ad space is strong motivation to investigate alternative networks like Performancing Ads, Project Wonderful, CMF Ads, and so on. A common expectation for the exchange rate seems to be around 1000 eccles to the dollar, but this would require an average CPM of $1.00, which doesn't seem realistic to me - even those obnoxious pop-up ads don't pay $1.00 CPM. So even if the opening exchange rate is 1000 eccles per dollar, I can't see it being sustainable. I'll certainly be happy to be proved wrong.

Regardless of the sustainable exchange rate, these are exciting times at Entrecard, and I for one wish them the best of luck to them as they try to make the transition to a going concern.

February 28, 2009

The Next Level

Before I leave the topic of MMO blogs, I want to take a look at Caroline Middlebrook for a few reasons. One is that I just love the way she framed everything she did as a project and maintained spreadsheets documenting her detailed progress for all to see. This takes real courage, especially since several of her projects were not successful. And I think that, in the end, the trust gained by this forthrightness outweighs the always-flawed aura of infallibility that typical wannabe MMO gurus attempt to acquire. Another reason is that her blog is just the next level, not only for the MMO niche, but for any niche.

First, check out the SEO stats. The site has 28,000 backlinks. Searching through them is an education in itself. Yes there's a lot of blog commenting, and various forms of guest posting (including some interesting multi-author contributions), but Caroline's work has also attracted a bunch of natural backlinks. Make no mistake, in the end, nothing beats natural backlinks. You can post on dofollow blogs for a year, and buy links hand over fist, but a competitor who makes just one high value post that attracts natural backlinks will beat your numbers by an order of magnitude. Content really is king.

So what did Caroline do to attract all those backlinks? A great study in and of itself. In a nutshell, Caroline took advantage of the buzz around Twitter to create link bait. Now Caroline is a programmer, so you might think that some of the link bait she created is out of reach for you. But honestly, outsourcing means that we are all programmers now. You still need ideas, but outsourcing program creation is just not that much more expensive than, say, outsourcing graphic design work or article writing. Anyway, the point is that Caroline took the worthless waste of time that is Twitter, and turned it into an opportunity. Behold the power of trend surfing.

But that's not all. Another part of being "the next level" is creating your own products. The MMO world abounds with private label reports (PLR) for you to rebrand and sell as your own, and certainly rebranded PLR sales are an area of enormous opportunity, but nothing builds a brand like your own product. Caroline has multiple products, each selling over the $100 mark and is, as is right and proper, exploiting them in multiple ways. First, Caroline has affiliate programs set up for her products, and for someone with her social networking skills, those programs are going to bring in more traffic and sales than almost any other means of advertising. Second, Caroline has one of her products split up into 49 sections that she will email you for free, at the rate of one per week, just for signing up to her mailing list.

"Isn't that counterproductive," you might ask, "taking a $100+ product and essentially giving it away to all comers?" Understanding that the answer is "no", for almost any niche, is another part of being the next level. By giving away quality information, Caroline builds trust with her readers. This trust is invaluable. The oft-quoted stat is that each opt-in list subscriber, with whom you have built a trust relationship, will result in an average revenue of $1 per month for as long as they are a subscriber. This might not sound like much, but since lists of 10, 25 and 50 thousand are not uncommon, your list can easily become your bread and butter. On top of that, people who can wait 49 weeks for the information in a particular product are not sales prospects in any case. Nothing is lost. Much is gained.

There's a lot more at Caroline's blog. If nothing else, you should check out her current series on article marketing. Article marketing is a traffic generation skill that is useful in any niche. And again, outsourcing costs are such that everyone can take advantage of it - even if you just hate writing articles.

February 22, 2009

Building a brand in the make money online niche

The make money online niche is a terrible niche for newcomers looking to build revenue streams online. The niche is not only overcrowded, but there are some players with deep pockets who spend to maintain their position. The fact is, to earn from this niche, you need to have already made significant cash (we're talking 6 figures annually at least), or be a really good liar. And I mean really good. Internet marketers with any experience have some of the best bullshit detectors out there.

The reason I have so many make money online sites in my blogroll, is not so much because I want to try and emulate them, but because internet marketers are networked like no one else on Earth. Any new idea or product will turn up on at least one of those sites within 24 hours of it being made public. And the sheer variety of promotional techniques is astounding. You can learn a lot by "reading twice". First as an ordinary reader, and second as an analyst. How did I react as an ordinary reader? How would have my niche audiences have reacted? What context is the piece set in? What about position on the page? Are there new ideas here? Do they work? Any flaws? How would you do it differently? Honestly, this kind of analysis is key.

That said, let's try to see what is doing. I like Bizphere. Right away I like the name. The overlap of the morphemes "biz" and "sphere" is a clever way for newcomers to find an available .com brand. And make no mistake, these brands are valuable, and will only become more so. I also like its visual aesthetics, and I like the tone of its articles. The affiliate links are very professionally done (the WordPress GoCodes plug-in makes this easy).

The look is very clean and well organized, and some of this has to do with the chosen WordPress template (lesson number one), but Mr. Bizphere has really taken some time to make it his own. You can see the original theme here: . Today's date for the "this blog is alive" signal - regardless of when you last posted. Smart use of the Featured Categories sidebar. Images with every post. Comment luv enabled.

I'm actually rather wary of post images and other distracting graphics ( can you tell :D ), but bizphere just might have changed my mind about that. Bizphere shows that it is possible to use images to enhance the presentation of content, without becoming the main feature. Of course, I'm still clinging to the old fashioned notion that content must be text, that well written text is the best form of communication. If you've read this far, then perhaps you're one who agrees. The skills for joining the video revolution aren't that hard to master, and certainly I can envision excellent niche applications for them, but as an everyday form of communication, I don't think videos cut it. May be it's because I'm a fast reader, so that videos only slow me down.

What's your opinion on this? Will all blogs become vlogs? In 20 years, will people still read articles over 100 words?

So Bizphere has done me the most valuable service of all, and caused me to re-examine my prejudices. There's actually a lot more good stuff at Bizphere. The Featured Category freebies that are used to attract traffic (I really must start doing that here). The Free Magazines promotion (last link in the bar at the very top of the site) - what a great promotion. Bizphere probably only receives a couple of dollars for each subscription sign-up, but it is basically zero maintenance, and who isn't tempted by free magazines? Very well targeted to the Entrecard crowd as well. However, this post is already too long, so I'll stop there. You'll have to find out the rest by checking out Bizphere yourself.

February 4, 2009

Why are my Adsense earnings so low?

Sandy has just started working with Adsense, and she's quickly noticed a couple of things:
  1. Her Adsense earnings are really low
  2. The Adsense ads link to bizarre pseudo search engines
What is going on?

Well first of all Sandy, don't give up on Adsense yet. In all honesty it isn't going to be bring in the big bucks for quite a while yet, but it really is one of the best programs out there, so you're well advised to take good care of that account.

To see what is going on, let's take a look at the situation from Google's point of view. Google earns its (billions of dollars in) revenue from advertisers, so it wants to take good care of them. Whenever an advertiser pays Google for a click-through, Google wants to be sure that they are delivering a viewer who is honestly interested in the advertiser's product or service - it's up to the advertiser to take it from there. In the ideal scenario, an Adsense ad attracts one of Sandy's long time loyal readers, and they click on the ad. Loyal readers together with perhaps more casual readers interested in the topic of Sandy's blog are thought of as "natural" traffic.

There is also unnatural traffic. As you can imagine, Google is concerned about traffic, bought to a particular place with the express purpose of clicking on the ad. Things like "click exchanges" (you click my ads, I'll click yours) and robot traffic (in which another computer simulates a human browsing your blog and clicking your ads) are outright fraud: "click fraud." But the line between natural and unnatural traffic is not a sharp, and this creates a problem for Google. Traffic from "paid to click" (PTC) sites is probably towards the unnatural end of the spectrum. Where does Entrecard traffic fall?

Entrecard is a topic all on its own but, depending on how someone chooses to participate, the traffic pattern can look a lot like PTC traffic. In particular, it can have a high "bounce rate." If someone clicks through to your site, looks for nothing else but your Entrecard widget, clicks to drop their card and, woosh, clicks on to the next site, that's a bounce. You didn't convince them to stop and read. Google is quite suspicious of such traffic and, to prevent their advertisers being harmed by torrents of non-buying customers, they "Smart Price" the Adsense account. That is, they severly limit the amount per click you, the publisher, can earn. When they do this, Google is telling you in no uncertain terms that they suspect you of buying cheap traffic from somewhere just to boost your Adsense earnings.

It isn't really personal. Google's traffic pattern analysis algorithms do this automatically. But, you should take steps to amend the situation. Adsense has been tightening its policies lately, and you don't want to be at the top of their "to be reviewed" list. In Sandy's case ...

Sandy, you should remove the Adsense boxes until you've dealt with the drop and run traffic. Does that mean you have to stop using Entrecard? Not at all. But it does mean that you can't include blogs with Adsense on them in the nightly drop-and-run free for all. (Note that if one blog is Smart Priced, then your entire Adsense account is Smart Priced until the situation is dealt with). Entrecard can also be used in a very gentle, natural way. You might even want to sign up with a second email address to pursue the more leisurely style of socialization that Entrecard facilitates. Obviously this isn't going to get you 6,000 uniques per month, but honestly, if it gets you 60 new loyal readers, you've done really well. Word of mouth really is the best advertising. Once you're back to 20-50 "natural" unique visitors per day, put the Adsense back up. Then you'll be delivering the kind of click-throughs that keep Google and its adverisers happy. (Not to mention that your earnings per click will increase 10 fold :)

What about the bizarre pseudo search engines? Actually, these guys are being a little bit naughty. Talk about an internet grey area. Since Sandy had been Smart Priced. Her clicks-throughs are very inexpensive. However, other ad networks are still paying premium prices for the click-throughs for those same Smart Priced keyphrases (e..g, "crocheted mittens" and "learn to knit")., for example, is buying Sandy's click-throughs and presenting viewers with a very bland web site that encourages them to ... well ... keep clicking. In effect, they are buying cheap clicks from Google and selling them at a higher price to a competitor network. This is known as PPC Arbitrage, and is at least frowned upon by all major ad networks. Both Google and Yahoo have declared it to be a violation of their terms of service (to sell them cheap clicks, not necessarily to buy their cheap clicks), so it is definitely not a newbie friendly area. Tread carefully if you want to be earning those Adsense dollars a couple of years from now.

Sandy, when you're ready to put Adsense back up, drop me a line and we'll go searching for some suitable keyphrases for your blogs with high per click earnings. Get ready though, we'll be writing up a dozen or so 400-500 word articles about those keyphrases and asking all the net to link to them :)

January 27, 2009

Adsense Case Study

$100 per day from Adsense after 3 months from 1 blog

That's the challenge Steve Crooks set himself in the linked thread at right at the end of December. He's obviously experienced in building this sort of site, so there's lots to learn for newbies. However, the thread itself has grown quite unwieldy, so I thought I'd extract out some the best bits and summarize them here. This should also serve to explain why I have the corresponding blog that Steve set up for this challenge on my blogroll.

You'll recall that Adsense is Google's PPC advertising program (otherwise see this post). Typical Adsense earnings are $20/month, so how is Steve going to go about raising that figure to $100/day!? There are three components to the equation:
  1. 2000 unique visitors per day
  2. 10% of whom click an ad (i.e., 10% click-through-rate or CTR)
  3. $0.50 per click paid by Adsense.
These are not unreasonable goals, but the 2000 uniques per day is challenging to achieve from free search engine traffic in just 3 months. However, even if it took you 6 or 12 months to build such a site, a steady $3000/month thereafter with only maintenance level SEO (search engine optimization) is certainly a worth pursuing.

So what's the first step? Finding a niche that can support that level of interest, i.e., some substantial multiple of 2000 searches per day on Google, and that has low enough competition so that a new site has a chance of capturing those 2000 visitors. What sort of multiple are we talking about? Well that depends on your search engine results page (SERP) ranking. The figures break down like this:
  • SERP 1, position 1: 45% of all clicks
  • SERP 1, position 2: 12% of all clicks
  • SERP 1, position 3: 8% of all clicks
  • SERP 1, positions 4-10: 6% dropping to 3% of all clicks
  • SERP 2, as a whole: less than 5% of all clicks
  • SERP 3+: you might as well be invisible
So if competition is low enough for you to achieve SERP 1, position 1 with a brand new site in 3 months then the niche only needs 4500 searches per day or 135,000 searches per month. If you can't claw your way above the middle of SERP 1, then you'll need a niche with a search volume closer to 40,000 searches per day or 1.2 million searches per month.

The second step is finding a niche where Adwords advertisers are paying some substantial multiple of $0.50 per click (you only get a percentage of what advertisers pay, and it is practically a state secret what percentage you get). You're looking for good support at the $2 per click level.

Steve chose the European Cruises for the following reasons (quoting from his post):
1. It has a CPC of $6.51 associated with it.
2. It has approximately 6600 searches per month.
3. The search volume is reasonably consistent through the year.
4. The competition is 181,000 in google.
5. I can create content for this niche.
You might notice something amiss there given our search volume requirement calculations above. 6600 searches per month isn't going to provide Steve with 2000 uniques per day. And indeed he was later called on this in the thread. Steve admitted that he'd miscalculated. The solution? Instead of 70 articles (of 500-700 words each) on the blog, the new target is 300 targeting a galaxy of keyphrases around "European Cruises." 300 is a lot of articles. Steve is now budgeting $300 to outsource some of the content creation.

Right here is one of the problems for newbies. You're not going to invest hundreds of dollars and hundreds of hours in a scheme that you're not sure is going to work. That's what makes this case study so interesting. No matter what he achieves, it will give a good idea of what someone who is reasonably competent can actually achieve, and from there, plans can be made.

Okay, on to some of the details. There's some discussion over how important the domain name is. The general consensus is to go for a .com, even though the namespace is crowed. You want your keywords (e.g., european and cruises) in the domain name. In the proper order is preferred. If you can't get your keyphrase, try adding small words (e.g.,, Use Wordpress. Use a fairly bland theme (in the end, you want the ads to stand out). Use the All in One SEO Pack plug-in for Wordpress. Do use article categories. Don't put the ads up until your traffic is reasonable (e.g., 100 uniques per day). When you do, place the ads in banners above and below each post and on the sidebar.

Now it's time to write the articles. You should think of each article as a traffic attractor. Each article will target a specific subset of the keyphrase galaxy. Ideally, each article will become SERP 1, position 1 for at least one of its target keyphrase subset, but of course your success will vary depending on your competitors. The nice thing about a 300 article site is that you are sure to achieve this for some articles, but it is also important to keep up the average traffic per article. You're hoping at least a few go viral (e.g., front page of, permanent link from a mainstream media site), not for the traffic surge, but for the residual. It is crucial to spend time on the keyphrase research. You are not the first to write about this, so check existing forums on the topic, Yahoo answers (what do clueless people ask about your topic?), and article directories for ideas.

Once you have articles in hand, about 40% of the battle is over. But now you need to get quality backlinks to each and every article. How to do that? Welcome to the world of SEO. Basically the answer is: however you can. Social bookmarking is all the rage (,,,, etc, etc). Just be careful you don't only bookmark your own sites or you will be labeled a self promoter (the shame!) and possibly banned. Writing guest posts (with embedded backlinks) for established sites. Links from older sites can help a lot. Link exchange with established sites (find out their email from the whois page and email them with an offer they can't resist). These are some of Steve's suggestions. However SEO is a large topic, and this post is already too long, so I'll go into more detail about getting backlinks in future posts.

Steve's challenge is a long way from over. By day 24, the basic site was up and he was getting about 75 uniques daily. Can he build it to 2000 uniques by day 90? I'll certainly be following along, and I'll let you know if I see anything interesting. If you're eager for more info, you can check out Steve's challenge blog. He's even put up a forum so that you can ask him detailed questions. This is a great opportunity to basically get free coaching in this area, so go ahead and take advantage of it!

January 23, 2009

The Red Stapler Chronicles

So why is The Red Stapler Chronicles on my blogroll? Kevin has been playing with IM techniques for a couple of years now, so he is basically a step ahead of me. In reading blogs like his, I'm basically looking for the gotchas - lessons that I wouldn't like to have to learn first hand. For example, there are, at last count, over 256 ways to get yourself banned from Google Adsense. Since Adsense can provide a really nice residual income after the initial investment, this is best avoided. Their terms of service aren't always common sense, and you can believe they have all the basic click fraud schemes covered by now (don't click on yourself, for god's sake - there's a great post in there about postmodern masturbatory taboos, but I'll resist the urge ... as it were :D ).

Back to RSC, this is not a high information blog. Like so many other make money online blogs, the information comes from the context. Install the SEOBook Firefox Plug-in, and check out his SEO stats (if you are not using Firefox, then ... I'm surprised. Why aren't you using it?). About 9 months worth of traffic, 10k views, 3k backlinks, PR 0. Hmmm, he should have better than PR 0 by now - probably monetized too early. And I wouldn't advise the "make money online" in the keyword meta tag. I'm convinced Google now only uses the keyword meta tag to penalize newer sites. Could also be the Cash Crate mention (obviously, I don't care about the PR of this blog :) ) .

What about those 3k backlinks? That's not too bad, although Atniz is only 3 months older and has 51k backlinks (and PR 3). Let's see ... lots of Entrecard and make money online blogs. Quite a few dofollow blog lists. One Digg (here's his profile so you can friend him on Digg - ). One myspace. One wikipedia (nice - bet it's his number one passive referrer). And a bunch of GPT stuff. Maybe that's why the PR 0? Nothing says "internet ghetto" like low end GPT. On top of that, GPT blogs tend to be link farms.

Now check out that monetization. I don't think there is a monetization option he isn't trying out. That's why I love RSC. Look at that. It's a smorgasboard. Adsense, of course. The mindless Cash Crate thing - he must have pulled a bunch of downline sign-ups, his earnings page lists $3k for Cash Crate. Well, good downline building skills will come in handy once he really goes after the prize. Hope he built an opt-in list. No, of course he didn't. Still doesn't have more than the standard Feedburner subscribe to posts by email button. Kevin, come on, you're supposed to be 2 years ahead of me here. Maybe it's the time he wasted on GPT. Must admit, even I wasted, oh ... an hour on it :rollseyes: He's an Amazon affiliate - which has more potential than I think most people admit, although Google has recently been downranking purpose-built Amazon and eBay affiliate sites - but the only product he has listed is the Swingline red stapler, which is pretty cute, actually (Office Space reference, of course).

He's a Bluehost affiliate. Now this is actually interesting. Hostgator has been offering these ridiculous commissions on new sign-ups. Like $100 per sign-up. No kidding. But, and here is the but, apparently they are using every excuse in the book not to pay out. Well of course, $100 per sign-up wipes out first year revenue, let alone first year profit. But, because Hostgator offered these ridiculously high sign-up commissions, their competitors like Bluehost were forced to offer something comparable. If Bluehost is really paying out, it is a goldmine. No need to be a hosting services reseller, just do whatever you can to get honest-to-god hosting prospects to sign-up for Bluehost, and you'll be pulling the big bucks in no time. If they are really paying out, you should sign-up with them right now and start a Google Adwords campaign ... if they are really paying out ... and there is the catch. Perhaps Kevin knows?

What else ... a bunch more GPT stuff, including outright scams. And, last but not least, the interesting Entrecard upsell . I've heard good things about it. I'd be interested to hear about your success stories with them.

All in all, a blog worth watching. Kevin is sure to move from strength to strength. He definitely has goals. It'll be worth watching how he achieves them.

January 22, 2009

OIO Publisher Discount Code

The usual price of OIO Publisher is $47. To get it for $25 click the link below and apply the given coupon code:
The offer expires: Midnight EST, January 31st, 2009.

January 21, 2009

Reciprocal Link Exchange

Jared over at is interested in a reciprocal link exchange (you link to him, and he will link to you). The links are just on an old blog post, so you probably won't get any traffic from them, but they are dofollow.

UPDATE: Jared removed the reciprocal link back to me after I made this post. This is quite unscrupulous behavior, but unfortunately all too common in the internet marketing business.

All the comments here at Zack Zoomer and the Internet Adventure are dofollow, so you can get a backlink just by commenting.

January 17, 2009

Active blogging

Home Biss is an active blogger. He generates traffic (that most precious of commodities) by posting cutting edge news. No auto-blogging here. Cell phones (including unlock software), Twitter, blogging, internet marketing, AdSense tips. Always scouting for link bait, digg bait, stumble bait - the constant race to be first with something interesting. For example, Twitter is generally regarded as the world's greatest waste of time, and without prospects for monetization. The last of the dot com follies. Nevertheless, there is something almost nostaligic in the love that Wired and the Wired crowd give it. A quiet wondering? An unexamined hope that the late nineties can be revived? Twitter utilities to manage your flock. Follow me - follow you clubs. Home Biss posts it all, because it draws a crowd. Famous because it is famous. To be forgotten after the inevitable crash.

Home Biss has page rank (PR) 3. The first rung on Jacob's ladder. Now how did he get that rank? Backlinks and traffic, but mostly backlinks. If you check out the reciprocal links section at the very bottom of the page, you'll notice that he has an exchange with a PR 5 page (a payday loan site no less!). Though the Google pagerank algorithm is the most closely held of secrets, experiment shows that a backlink from a PR 5 website is probably enough to get you PR 3 by itself. So what? What does PR 3 get you? Apparently very little in the SERPs (search engine result pages) these days, but it is still given credence as a measure of a site's ranking, it's traffic, and hence revenue generating, potential. If nothing else, it will triple your sale price on sitepoint.

Now check out that 3x3 ad block! That's some impressive monetization. feedm8 wants to be the next feedburner, but for iPhones. Some bullshit Quickbooks upsell. The traditional MMF ("work from home") site. A paid review service. (I get the feeling he gets paid for laptop reviews. They are totally mechanical. No joy at all). An honest-to-God ships-physical-products site (someone has to do it). An SEO tool, inlinks (they are the devil), good ol' text-link-ads (good luck little text-link-ads), and some hideous house-of-scam masquerading as a financial services company ("shareplanner" - yeah, they have a plan for your shares alright - I still get the chills just from having clicked through to that site).

All in all, a slick microblogger. A player with ambition. Probably makes $500 from the site in a good month. Probably January isn't shaping up to be a good month. Where does it go from here? It could be a $1000 per month site. It's all about traffic. It'll probably plateau there though ($1500 max). Worthwhile. But once it reaches the point of diminishing returns, it'll be time to switch to minimum maintenance mode and move on. Herein lies the problem: is minimum maintenance mode possible for a cutting-edge-news site? It'll take a couple of feed deals, but I think he'll be able to swing it. He's focused.

Best of luck to Home Biss.

January 9, 2009

eBay & Amazon - The shipping of physical things.

Do people make money on eBay and Yes. Can you? No, probably not.

"Why is that, Zack?" you ask. Well, I'm glad you asked. It is because of the nature of physical things. Yes, you can sell non-physical items on eBay, but eBay's pricing structure makes this a viable option only for certain niche products, which we'll discuss in other posts. So let's talk about the selling of physical items. We'll talk about eBay first.

Your basic problem is that eBay doesn't want you there. eBay wants to become the bargain basement version of Amazon. To do that, they need large wholesalers as sellers, not small (i.e., less than 7 figure) businesspeople like you and I. To discourage us, eBay has been raising fees, capping shipping and handling costs and generally changing the rules in favor of the buyer (buyers can no longer receive negative reputation, which has already raised the rate of buyer fraud). You can check out the current fees here:
To summarize, eBay (and PayPal, the now mandatory payment processor) take at least 12% of any sale under $100 and not less than 7% of any sale above $100. If you item sells for under $10, then the figure is more like 20%, and we haven't even considered shipping.

Right here is the problem. You are competing with brick-and-mortar retail stores. eBay is asking for the full retail margin and then you have to ship the product. You're not going to be able to compete on volume, because as soon as volume builds for some product, Amazon will stock it, and you may as well go fish for a new niche. So you're going to have to aim for
  1. a product with modest sales volume and to which you have local access for true wholesale rates (i.e., 20% of retail), or
  2. clones of trendy items shipped from China.
Both of these scenarios are opportunities to make money. However, both require significant effort. This is not a bad thing. There should be some barrier to entry to your niche to deter newcomers.

The first requires effort because you need to dress like a salesman, go knocking on factory doors, smile, shake hands and smooth talk a good deal. However, once established, you should be able to turn this into a steady income stream. There's also very little risk. You're not going to keep 10,000 cubic feet of inventory on hand. Just enough to make sure that shipping times are reasonable. We'll talk about drop shipping in a moment.

The second requires effort because you have to establish relations with a manufacturer in China, and you have to deal with customs. Chinese manufacturers are actually surprisingly reliable, although you'll need to be careful in the current economic climate, but customs is capricious at best. While average factory-floor-to-customer times are 14 days, customs can hold shipments for months without explanation or recourse. A 14 day delivery time is already pushing things these days, so any custom's trouble will kill the deal. This is lethal on eBay, where negative reviews wipe out your sales and trigger selling bans from eBay itself. So to keep your eBay store open, you need to have product in your warehouse before you list it on eBay. So you better not have misjudged how trendy an item is, or you'll be taking a loss as you desperately dump the item at any price.

So drop shipping from China is possible ... just risky. Let's back up a little. What exactly is drop shipping? That's where you take the order, send it to the factory or a first tier wholesaler (the drop shipper), the customer pays you, you pay (hopefully less) to the drop shipper, and the drop shipper ships the item to the customer. Pros: you never see the item or packing tape, just the profit margin. Cons: the customer complains to you when the shipment is late, or if they want a refund.

More cons: if you aren't dealing direct with the manufacturer, your drop shipper can go out of stock at moment, killing your eBay sale. If you aren't dealing direct with the manufacturer, your drop shipper will likely compete against you on eBay. Why wouldn't they? Even if they aren't competing with you on eBay, the shipment to your customer will likely include a catalog of the products your drop shipper offers, lowering the probability of repeat sales. If you're not dealing direct with the manufacturer, your profit margin, particularly after shipping and handling costs, will likely be non-existent.

To be plain: the cons generally outweigh the pros, unless you're lucky enough to find a manufacturer or primary supplier who will blind drop ship for you. Blind drop shippers put your name on the shipment and promise not to put a catalog in the box with the product. It looks like you are the manufacturer. Deals like this are golden.

I haven't even mentioned that, as a new seller (less than 100 sales, less than 6 months old) PayPal will automatically hold your payments for 21 days, and may suspend withdrawals from your account for 90-180 days if you are successful at selling your items. These are some pretty severe financial risks to take. You have to pay up front for the items, and you may not see any income for 6 months. To be fair, I've probably been hearing from squeaky wheels, some of whom are not above questionable activities, but these 3 and 6 month suspensions seem to be a very real risk. PayPal will eventually pay however, which is more than can be said for some of the alternate payment processors.

So just a morass of issues if you are going to try and sell more than bric-a-brac. You really just have to plan to make no money for the first 6 months, with an eye to preparing for profitable opportunities after that. Quite an investment and, to be honest, not one that is going to be yielding great returns without high effort and a good dose of luck.

Amazon is supposed to be a little better, when they graciously allow you to compete with them, but their payments have nice long delays on them as well. Again though, they do pay eventually. Many sellers have talked about success with craigslist and good old fashioned print ads, however, these options generally limit you to a local rather than national market. This may actually be beneficial if local competition isn't too fierce.

I'm not excited by physical products as a means of wealth generation. I'll likely establish an eBay and Amazon presence just in case I can take advantage of these marketplaces in the future, but right now the prospects seem too thin to make this area a focus.

For the next few posts, I'll review the blogs and links I've been adding to the right sidebar. Some of them are quite worthwhile. Others have interesting features you might not notice at first.

January 7, 2009

Affiliate Marketing

On the one hand, affiliate marketing is just another way to monetize your traffic. On the other hand, a single post can't possibly do it justice. Rather than a bland overview (apparently my specialty), I'll just try to pick out some interesting highlights.

The basic idea is to move up the food chain. With PPC advertising, someone pays you for that click-through because they think they can make money from it, i.e., convert the click to a sale. The next step is to actually make the sale and keep a percentage. Products sold through affiliate marketing channels typically have very high commissions. For example, ebooks (i.e., PDF files) for sale at prices ranging from $7 to $700, typically have a sales commission in the range 25% to 75%. If you pay $100 for 1000 clicks and convert 10% of those to a sale with an average profit of $10, you just made $900 profit. If that profit is per site per month and you have 10 sites selling different products, you just cleared $9000 for the month. Maybe $8500 after site build and hosting costs. An attractive proposition on the face of it.

What are some of the difficulties? This very much depends on the niche and on the product. If you're selling mainstream books as an Amazon affiliate at 7% commission, your difficulties beyond making the sale are likely to be few and far between. If you are selling make money fast ebooks at 75% commission, the demand for refunds is likely to be rather high. Make sure you let the guarantee period expire before starting on the kitchen renovations. The main risk, of course, is that you don't make enough sales to cover the advertising. The only real way to manage this risk is with experience, so it pays to be cautious at first. The $20 to join the members-only section of the is probably a good investment as well.

If you've decided to build a landing page with hyponotic copy and an irresistible call to action, the easiest affiliate network to join is . You'll probably want to move on fairly soon, but lots of people get their start there. The screening phone call is mostly just to check that you aren't a drooling moron or a raving lunatic. For other affiliate networks, it's generally good advice to call in person after you apply online to make sure you're accepted into the network. There are ebooks in the Warrior Special Offer (WSO) section of the that detail exactly what to say to get accepted. After that, monthly instant messaging exchanges with your affiliate manager to let them know that you are alive and interested should keep you in good standing.

If the risk is well managed, you can make large amounts of money with affiliate marketing, but you do need experience and a bank roll first. Of all the options we've looked at so far, it looks like this is the one that will get us to the $200k goal. Once you've got some money to reinvest, there are some great multiplication strategies, to keep yourself moving forward. The current recession makes it a little harder, but there are still plenty of opportunities out there. I think a key step is to become a beneficiary of globalization and outsourcing, rather than a victim. Yes indeed, a plan is coming together.

I've also spent time looking at ebay and amazon selling. Of course, it depends on what you are selling. For example, there is a big difference between selling ebooks and physical products. I'll write a little about it next post, but they tighten the rules daily to push smaller players out of the marketplace, so it isn't really looking like a good option for wealth generation.

January 3, 2009

The internet: brought to you by advertising

Ah, advertising. Now we are getting to the meat of things. There are four basic advertising revenue sharing schemes out there (i.e., revenue sharing with you, the publisher of content) :
  1. a percentage of cost per 1000 impressions (CPM),
  2. a percentage of cost per click (usually PPC - paid per click),
  3. a percentage of cost per action (CPA), and
  4. a percentage of whatever the agency can sell your ad space for.
A percentage of CPM is the oldest model (brought over from print media), but fell out of favor because of the unsatisfied feeling an advertiser gets having spent $5000 for a million impressions, but seeing 1000 hits, 10 of which convert to a sale. The advertiser would much rather pay for the hits (the advertisement click-throughs), because of the feeling of enhanced control once the viewer arrives at the advertiser's own site. Nevertheless, CPM based networks still exist, paying approximately $0.01 per 1000 impressions. Adbrite is notorious for paying even less. Some agency FAQs list payment rates of $1.00 and more per 1000 impressions, but these are typically large banners or even full page ads, and are typically limited to some low quota of impressions per 24 hours. Although somewhat cleaning up their act of late, most CPM based agencies still use pop-ups, pop-unders, and some are still delivering malware. Careful research would be required before partnering with such an agency.

A percentage of PPC is, of course, the model of the powerhouse Google, and now all its competitors such as Yahoo and MSN. The revenue sharing algorithms have become sophisticated of late, typically paying $0.01 per click, but possibly much less if traffic is deemed of low quality, and possibly much higher (e.g., $1-10 dollars and more) for high quality traffic. This allows publishers to pursue traffic strategies ranging from sheer volume to (typically) high cost but (hopefully) high quality. I should also mention demographically targeted PPC by networks like , which typically pay high quality traffic rates.

PPC incomes of $100/month are not uncommon, with $1000/month requiring significant effort and typically multiple web sites, and $10000/month achieved only by the blessed few. With the stakes high, Google's counterfraud strategies are extensive, and lifetime bans are common for minor infractions. Read Google's policies very carefully if you are wondering if your site qualifies for their Adsense program. New players should also note that approval for the Adsense program now requires a web site at least 6 months old and with its own domain (the rule changes are recent, so it isn't clear if simply purchasing such a web site qualifies).

PPC income has some very nice characteristics. It does take time to build, but once built, has a kind of momentum that allows attention to be directed elsewhere. However, the real money is to be made in CPA and sales commission income. The action in CPA is typically something like providing an email address to the advertiser. Many enticements are provided to elicit this desirable information, and publishers are paid $0.50-$2.00 per completed action. At high traffic sites, this can very quickly build into a 4 figure monthly income, if not 5 figures. is the current darling of CPA based advertising, but be sure to check and to see who is or isn't paying out this quarter.

The 4th model is uncommon, and perhaps the best example is . They used to pay a flat fee per month, but that has been superceeded by a 50% revenue sharing deal. It isn't as simple as it seems since they have a page ranking algorithm that determines what traffic on a particular page is worth and a publisher's revenue is tied to that. Plenty of space for a thumb on the scale. Still, a legitimate advertising co-op of this kind is probably inevitable at some point, so it's worth keeping an eye on.

Advertising and, in particular, PPC advertising is your basic site monetization mechanism. CPA pays better, but care must be taken to avoid driving away a hard won audience. Such care is well worth your while, however, since only affiliate marketing has higher revenue generating potential. It is to affilitate marketing that we next turn our attention.

January 2, 2009

Content Aggregators

There are four main types of content aggregator:
  1. those that sell your article for a cut (e.g., ),
  2. those that pay you up front for your article (e.g., ),
  3. those that generate ad revenue with your article, and share a percentage with you (e.g., ), and
  4. those that merely host your article for free (e.g., ).
As you progress through the types, the pay becomes less, but the rules regarding article content become less strict.

Constant Content articles typically sell for $10-$20 per 500 words (and sometimes much more), but are hand reviewed by an editor before being accepted on the site. Grammar is expected to be perfect. All claims of fact must be backed by references. Revise and resubmit instructions are common. Authors may choose from among nonexclusive, exclusive and ghostwrite licenses. Prices of $50-$100 are not uncommon for ghostwrite licenses, under which the buyer may present the article as their own work. Skilled writers can earn perhaps $40/hr in this way.

Associated Content pays an average of $3 for 500 words, although regulars can earn up to $10. The articles are human reviewed, however the reviews are much less strict mostly checking for blatant gibberish and plagiarism. People talk of submitting 10 and 15 articles per day. It seems quite possible to earn $10 and later $20 per hour with Associated Content and very ordinary writing skills.

Triond only checks that articles meet basic standards of human decency before publishing them. Authors are paid 50% of what the articles generate in ad revenue. New bloggers won't be able to beat that revenue generation without paid promotion but, with a little diligence and a reasonable niche choice, should outrank Triond and its ilk after 3-6 months.

Which brings us to free article directories. Why would you use one of these directories if you could be paid for your efforts? That in turn, brings us to the topic of search engine optimization (SEO) for your money making site. Several article directories like rank highly with search engines. Hosting articles there with links to your site can boost your site's search engine rank. Since article standards are quite loose at free directories, the article can be furthermore optimized just for this purpose rather than for human readability. It's also possible that your article will be copied verbatim to other websites, further enhancing the SEO effect.

Constant Content isn't going to make anyone rich, but for skilled writers, it could be an excellent way to pay the bills in the meantime. For most, Associated Content will likely be the better option, particularly once a good relationship has been established. Sites like Triond would be more useful if they outranked the free sites, but recent search engine algorithm adjustments have downranked them as a class. Free article directories have also been downranked, but in many cases, have made up the difference with sheer volume. We'll certainly be returning to them when we talk about traffic generation for affiliate marketing programs in later posts.