Thursday, January 29, 2009

New experiment in selling domain names

I've written in the past (here and here) about my attempts to sell keyword-rich, but typein-traffic-poor domains. I'm going to try again.

I'm going to sell the domain name via a reverse auction, using Twitter as the platform. Starting at 8:00 am CST tomorrow, I'll twitter the initial price of the domain on my Twitter account (you can follow me here: The initial price will be less than $100. If you want to buy the domain, just reply (publicly) to my tweet with the word "SOLD", and we'll work out the payment details (via PayPal). The first reply with the word "SOLD" will win the domain.

If the domain doesn't sell at the initial price, I'll drop the price a few hours later -- and continue dropping the price during the day.

The name I'm going to sell is: Google's AdWords keyword tool show 246,000 queries for the term "curtain rod" per month, with a clicks costing $1.33 apiece. Given that consumers are holding off on larger home improvement purchases, my guess is that they're shifting their spending to less expensive repairs and improvements around the house. (Indeed, Google's December traffic numbers for "curtain rod" show 301,000 queries, rather than the average of 246k queries.)

Generic keyword domains are great tools for ranking on the keyword in question, so you could easily tie this domain name with content from a service like and potentially develop a valuable site for a very small investment.

If you have questions about the auction or the domain, please feel free to leave a comment, or email me at: madbury at gmail.

Monday, January 26, 2009

What does a "natural" distribution of links look like?

From time to time I see articles claiming that link-building campaigns should try to acquire a "natural" distribution of inbound links. Sometimes people think you should have links from sites of different page ranks ( used to claim this). Other times people talk about the distribution of anchor text for your inbound links. (Here's a SearchEngineWatch article that claims this.)

If you're out there doing weird artificial stuff with inbound links (like buying them, or link farms) then I agree -- you should worry about having a "natural" link distribution.

However, the problem is, you and I have no idea what a "natural" link distribution looks like.

When I used to run, people would often link to the site with the link-text "Talkr" or "".

When I linked to the SearchEngineWatch a couple of paragraphs ago, it was much more natural for the anchor text to say "article" than "anchor text distribution article".

For the last few great feature articles that I've published, I've gotten a few links from very popular high-pagerank sites that made the editorial decision that it was a good story. But no links from little sites.

So what does a "natural" link distribution look like? You and I don't know. And I doubt that Google knows.

How would Google build up a corpus of websites that only had editorially chosen links, against which they could train their algorithm? (Perhaps it would be easier to build a corpus of websites that had spammy inbound links -- but the problem there is that good sides with spammy inbound links would also attract natural links, because they would tend to rise in the search results.)

Probably, there's a distribution of distributions. And it may be quite possible for Google to spot dramatically-manufactured link distributions.

But the irony is that there's a good chance that manually trying to tweak your anchor text or the PR of your inbound links results in easy-to-spot unnatural distributions like:
  • Buying links based on pagerank formulas (ie buy x PR 5 links, 2x PR4 links, 3x PR3 links, etc.)
  • Systematically varied anchor text (ie 20% says "mortgage leads", 20% says "mortgage quotes", 20% says "mortgages", 20% says "buy mortage", 20% says "")
My guess is that the easiest way to make your link distribution stand out as manufactured is to manually try to vary it.

What do you think? Am I an idiot, or is this spot-on?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

One reason fighting paid links is so difficult

I contacted a website today with a pointer to a great new article that I just published. The writer that wrote the article probably spent more than 20 hours on it. I spent another 10-15 hours, and the editor that worked on it spend 3-5. It's a 1600+ word article that nails an important commercial topic, and it's a very strong piece of work.

As part of promoting the article, I contacted a number of websites that are interested in the vertical that this article covers. One of the replies that I received said:

"We normally charge $25 to include links, but I've waived it in this case and added a link to the article to"

Has Google flagged in the past for selling links?

In my opinion, this link should pass PageRank. I think Google should think that it should pass PageRank. Yet there's simply no way (unless they're parsing Gmail messages with some very sophisticated algorithms) that they could attain a sophisticated enough understanding of my site's relationship with to correctly pass PageRank on this post, but not the ones that are sold for $25.

The reality is that there's a chance that this link will pass PageRank (ie Google hasn't penalized them for selling links in the past). Or, as I understand how Google addresses paid links, the link simply won't hurt me. I suppose the net takeaway is that I'm glad I don't have Google's job!

PPC is a Dead-End Strategy for Affiliates

Affiliates should exit the PPC market as quickly and efficiently as they can. Here's why:
  1. Barriers to entry in PPC are incredibly low. If you're working in a space that has decent payouts you either (a) have lots of competition -- which means small margins; (b) are in a really small niche -- which means a relatively small upside; and/or (c) are about to get lots of competition as other PPC affiliates test your niche and discover that it has good margins.
  2. As an affiliate, every conversion has a relatively small lifetime value. (I see this all the time in life insurance -- a single conversion might be worth hundreds of dollars over its lifetime to MetLife, but only $13 to me. There's simply no way I can compete with the 300+ life insurers (not to mention potentially thousands of insurance agents and the networks that funnel leads to them) in the PPC space.
  3. You have no long-term competitive advantage and no assets. On the technology side, let me describe the ultimate technology to you: you know on a keyword-by-keywords basis how much a click costs you, how much it's worth to you, and a pretty good estimate of how much more traffic you could get if you increased the amount you spent per click. You're able to tie those three pieces of information together programatically, so that you maximize your profits. Here's the problem -- lots of companies figured this out 3 or 4 years ago, and they're busy expanding this formula to every niche they can find. Their technology is more robust, more scalable and better designed than whatever you will throw together in the next couple of years. They've already tested and wrung advantage from the next 10 niches you think of, and they've negotiated better payouts on their conversions.
Mini strategies that might buy you a bit more time:
  • Get some of your PPC traffic to subscribe to your email list. Good idea, but it still won't save your bacon -- you'll probably lose them as a conversion in the immediate term, thereby driving up the average cost of your traffic, and running a successful email list takes actual work.
  • Hope that some of your PPC traffic will link to your site, thereby sending you more organic traffic. Yeah, not likely on the a/b tested, limited content landing page you just sent them to. Either (a) your landing page solves their problem so that you make no money from them but 1 in 1000 might link to it; or (b) your landing page convinces them that they need to buy a product to solve their problem, so they leave your page and link to the wonderful product or service that you just pointed them to.
Of course, I don't mean to sound like an idiot -- PPC is great for lots of folks. For example, the folks you're acting as an affiliate for, for example. They make a lifetime value from each conversion 10x what you make. They're reinvesting in an actual business that solves people's problems. They're getting better and better at converting their visitors, so their cost per lead probably stays relatively stable as increasing PPC competition drives up their prices. They reinvesting the money you've earned them into building a bigger affiliate network, meaning that you are less and less important to them, and are subsidizing their attempts to reduce your margins. You're just the sucker that sends them cheap conversions between now and when you're run out of business.