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 bizphere.com 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: http://www.darrenhoyt.com/demo/wordpress/ . 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"). Shopping.com, 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 :)