Tag Archive | "Just"

Keyword Not Provided, But it Just Clicks

When SEO Was Easy

When I got started on the web over 15 years ago I created an overly broad & shallow website that had little chance of making money because it was utterly undifferentiated and crappy. In spite of my best (worst?) efforts while being a complete newbie, sometimes I would go to the mailbox and see a check for a couple hundred or a couple thousand dollars come in. My old roommate & I went to Coachella & when the trip was over I returned to a bunch of mail to catch up on & realized I had made way more while not working than what I spent on that trip.

What was the secret to a total newbie making decent income by accident?

Horrible spelling.

Back then search engines were not as sophisticated with their spelling correction features & I was one of 3 or 4 people in the search index that misspelled the name of an online casino the same way many searchers did.

The high minded excuse for why I did not scale that would be claiming I knew it was a temporary trick that was somehow beneath me. The more accurate reason would be thinking in part it was a lucky fluke rather than thinking in systems. If I were clever at the time I would have created the misspeller’s guide to online gambling, though I think I was just so excited to make anything from the web that I perhaps lacked the ambition & foresight to scale things back then.

In the decade that followed I had a number of other lucky breaks like that. One time one of the original internet bubble companies that managed to stay around put up a sitewide footer link targeting the concept that one of my sites made decent money from. This was just before the great recession, before Panda existed. The concept they targeted had 3 or 4 ways to describe it. 2 of them were very profitable & if they targeted either of the most profitable versions with that page the targeting would have sort of carried over to both. They would have outranked me if they targeted the correct version, but they didn’t so their mistargeting was a huge win for me.

Search Gets Complex

Search today is much more complex. In the years since those easy-n-cheesy wins, Google has rolled out many updates which aim to feature sought after destination sites while diminishing the sites which rely one “one simple trick” to rank.

Arguably the quality of the search results has improved significantly as search has become more powerful, more feature rich & has layered in more relevancy signals.

Many quality small web publishers have went away due to some combination of increased competition, algorithmic shifts & uncertainty, and reduced monetization as more ad spend was redirected toward Google & Facebook. But the impact as felt by any given publisher is not the impact as felt by the ecosystem as a whole. Many terrible websites have also went away, while some formerly obscure though higher-quality sites rose to prominence.

There was the Vince update in 2009, which boosted the rankings of many branded websites.

Then in 2011 there was Panda as an extension of Vince, which tanked the rankings of many sites that published hundreds of thousands or millions of thin content pages while boosting the rankings of trusted branded destinations.

Then there was Penguin, which was a penalty that hit many websites which had heavily manipulated or otherwise aggressive appearing link profiles. Google felt there was a lot of noise in the link graph, which was their justification for the Penguin.

There were updates which lowered the rankings of many exact match domains. And then increased ad load in the search results along with the other above ranking shifts further lowered the ability to rank keyword-driven domain names. If your domain is generically descriptive then there is a limit to how differentiated & memorable you can make it if you are targeting the core market the keywords are aligned with.

There is a reason eBay is more popular than auction.com, Google is more popular than search.com, Yahoo is more popular than portal.com & Amazon is more popular than a store.com or a shop.com. When that winner take most impact of many online markets is coupled with the move away from using classic relevancy signals the economics shift to where is makes a lot more sense to carry the heavy overhead of establishing a strong brand.

Branded and navigational search queries could be used in the relevancy algorithm stack to confirm the quality of a site & verify (or dispute) the veracity of other signals.

Historically relevant algo shortcuts become less appealing as they become less relevant to the current ecosystem & even less aligned with the future trends of the market. Add in negative incentives for pushing on a string (penalties on top of wasting the capital outlay) and a more holistic approach certainly makes sense.

Modeling Web Users & Modeling Language

PageRank was an attempt to model the random surfer.

When Google is pervasively monitoring most users across the web they can shift to directly measuring their behaviors instead of using indirect signals.

Years ago Bill Slawski wrote about the long click in which he opened by quoting Steven Levy’s In the Plex: How Google Thinks, Works, and Shapes our Lives

“On the most basic level, Google could see how satisfied users were. To paraphrase Tolstoy, happy users were all the same. The best sign of their happiness was the “Long Click” — This occurred when someone went to a search result, ideally the top one, and did not return. That meant Google has successfully fulfilled the query.”

Of course, there’s a patent for that. In Modifying search result ranking based on implicit user feedback they state:

user reactions to particular search results or search result lists may be gauged, so that results on which users often click will receive a higher ranking. The general assumption under such an approach is that searching users are often the best judges of relevance, so that if they select a particular search result, it is likely to be relevant, or at least more relevant than the presented alternatives.

If you are a known brand you are more likely to get clicked on than a random unknown entity in the same market.

And if you are something people are specifically seeking out, they are likely to stay on your website for an extended period of time.

One aspect of the subject matter described in this specification can be embodied in a computer-implemented method that includes determining a measure of relevance for a document result within a context of a search query for which the document result is returned, the determining being based on a first number in relation to a second number, the first number corresponding to longer views of the document result, and the second number corresponding to at least shorter views of the document result; and outputting the measure of relevance to a ranking engine for ranking of search results, including the document result, for a new search corresponding to the search query. The first number can include a number of the longer views of the document result, the second number can include a total number of views of the document result, and the determining can include dividing the number of longer views by the total number of views.

Attempts to manipulate such data may not work.

safeguards against spammers (users who generate fraudulent clicks in an attempt to boost certain search results) can be taken to help ensure that the user selection data is meaningful, even when very little data is available for a given (rare) query. These safeguards can include employing a user model that describes how a user should behave over time, and if a user doesn’t conform to this model, their click data can be disregarded. The safeguards can be designed to accomplish two main objectives: (1) ensure democracy in the votes (e.g., one single vote per cookie and/or IP for a given query-URL pair), and (2) entirely remove the information coming from cookies or IP addresses that do not look natural in their browsing behavior (e.g., abnormal distribution of click positions, click durations, clicks_per_minute/hour/day, etc.). Suspicious clicks can be removed, and the click signals for queries that appear to be spmed need not be used (e.g., queries for which the clicks feature a distribution of user agents, cookie ages, etc. that do not look normal).

And just like Google can make a matrix of documents & queries, they could also choose to put more weight on search accounts associated with topical expert users based on their historical click patterns.

Moreover, the weighting can be adjusted based on the determined type of the user both in terms of how click duration is translated into good clicks versus not-so-good clicks, and in terms of how much weight to give to the good clicks from a particular user group versus another user group. Some user’s implicit feedback may be more valuable than other users due to the details of a user’s review process. For example, a user that almost always clicks on the highest ranked result can have his good clicks assigned lower weights than a user who more often clicks results lower in the ranking first (since the second user is likely more discriminating in his assessment of what constitutes a good result). In addition, a user can be classified based on his or her query stream. Users that issue many queries on (or related to) a given topic T (e.g., queries related to law) can be presumed to have a high degree of expertise with respect to the given topic T, and their click data can be weighted accordingly for other queries by them on (or related to) the given topic T.

Google was using click data to drive their search rankings as far back as 2009. David Naylor was perhaps the first person who publicly spotted this. Google was ranking Australian websites for [tennis court hire] in the UK & Ireland, in part because that is where most of the click signal came from. That phrase was most widely searched for in Australia. In the years since Google has done a better job of geographically isolating clicks to prevent things like the problem David Naylor noticed, where almost all search results in one geographic region came from a different country.

Whenever SEOs mention using click data to search engineers, the search engineers quickly respond about how they might consider any signal but clicks would be a noisy signal. But if a signal has noise an engineer would work around the noise by finding ways to filter the noise out or combine multiple signals. To this day Google states they are still working to filter noise from the link graph: “We continued to protect the value of authoritative and relevant links as an important ranking signal for Search.”

The site with millions of inbound links, few intentional visits & those who do visit quickly click the back button (due to a heavy ad load, poor user experience, low quality content, shallow content, outdated content, or some other bait-n-switch approach)…that’s an outlier. Preventing those sorts of sites from ranking well would be another way of protecting the value of authoritative & relevant links.

Best Practices Vary Across Time & By Market + Category

Along the way, concurrent with the above sorts of updates, Google also improved their spelling auto-correct features, auto-completed search queries for many years through a featured called Google Instant (though they later undid forced query auto-completion while retaining automated search suggestions), and then they rolled out a few other algorithms that further allowed them to model language & user behavior.

Today it would be much harder to get paid above median wages explicitly for sucking at basic spelling or scaling some other individual shortcut to the moon, like pouring millions of low quality articles into a (formerly!) trusted domain.

Nearly a decade after Panda, eHow’s rankings still haven’t recovered.

Back when I got started with SEO the phrase Indian SEO company was associated with cut-rate work where people were buying exclusively based on price. Sort of like a “I got a $ 500 budget for link building, but can not under any circumstance invest more than $ 5 in any individual link.” Part of how my wife met me was she hired a hack SEO from San Diego who outsourced all the work to India and marked the price up about 100-fold while claiming it was all done in the United States. He created reciprocal links pages that got her site penalized & it didn’t rank until after she took her reciprocal links page down.

With that sort of behavior widespread (hack US firm teaching people working in an emerging market poor practices), it likely meant many SEO “best practices” which were learned in an emerging market (particularly where the web was also underdeveloped) would be more inclined to being spammy. Considering how far ahead many Western markets were on the early Internet & how India has so many languages & how most web usage in India is based on mobile devices where it is hard for users to create links, it only makes sense that Google would want to place more weight on end user data in such a market.

If you set your computer location to India Bing’s search box lists 9 different languages to choose from.

The above is not to state anything derogatory about any emerging market, but rather that various signals are stronger in some markets than others. And competition is stronger in some markets than others.

Search engines can only rank what exists.

“In a lot of Eastern European – but not just Eastern European markets – I think it is an issue for the majority of the [bream? muffled] countries, for the Arabic-speaking world, there just isn’t enough content as compared to the percentage of the Internet population that those regions represent. I don’t have up to date data, I know that a couple years ago we looked at Arabic for example and then the disparity was enormous. so if I’m not mistaken the Arabic speaking population of the world is maybe 5 to 6%, maybe more, correct me if I am wrong. But very definitely the amount of Arabic content in our index is several orders below that. So that means we do not have enough Arabic content to give to our Arabic users even if we wanted to. And you can exploit that amazingly easily and if you create a bit of content in Arabic, whatever it looks like we’re gonna go you know we don’t have anything else to serve this and it ends up being horrible. and people will say you know this works. I keyword stuffed the hell out of this page, bought some links, and there it is number one. There is nothing else to show, so yeah you’re number one. the moment somebody actually goes out and creates high quality content that’s there for the long haul, you’ll be out and that there will be one.” – Andrey Lipattsev – Search Quality Senior Strategist at Google Ireland, on Mar 23, 2016


Impacting the Economics of Publishing

Now search engines can certainly influence the economics of various types of media. At one point some otherwise credible media outlets were pitching the Demand Media IPO narrative that Demand Media was the publisher of the future & what other media outlets will look like. Years later, after heavily squeezing on the partner network & promoting programmatic advertising that reduces CPMs by the day Google is funding partnerships with multiple news publishers like McClatchy & Gatehouse to try to revive the news dead zones even Facebook is struggling with.

“Facebook Inc. has been looking to boost its local-news offerings since a 2017 survey showed most of its users were clamoring for more. It has run into a problem: There simply isn’t enough local news in vast swaths of the country. … more than one in five newspapers have closed in the past decade and a half, leaving half the counties in the nation with just one newspaper, and 200 counties with no newspaper at all.”

As mainstream newspapers continue laying off journalists, Facebook’s news efforts are likely to continue failing unless they include direct economic incentives, as Google’s programmatic ad push broke the banner ad:

“Thanks to the convoluted machinery of Internet advertising, the advertising world went from being about content publishers and advertising context—The Times unilaterally declaring, via its ‘rate card’, that ads in the Times Style section cost $ 30 per thousand impressions—to the users themselves and the data that targets them—Zappo’s saying it wants to show this specific shoe ad to this specific user (or type of user), regardless of publisher context. Flipping the script from a historically publisher-controlled mediascape to an advertiser (and advertiser intermediary) controlled one was really Google’s doing. Facebook merely rode the now-cresting wave, borrowing outside media’s content via its own users’ sharing, while undermining media’s ability to monetize via Facebook’s own user-data-centric advertising machinery. Conventional media lost both distribution and monetization at once, a mortal blow.”

Google is offering news publishers audience development & business development tools.

Heavy Investment in Emerging Markets Quickly Evolves the Markets

As the web grows rapidly in India, they’ll have a thousand flowers bloom. In 5 years the competition in India & other emerging markets will be much tougher as those markets continue to grow rapidly. Media is much cheaper to produce in India than it is in the United States. Labor costs are lower & they never had the economic albatross that is the ACA adversely impact their economy. At some point the level of investment & increased competition will mean early techniques stop having as much efficacy. Chinese companies are aggressively investing in India.

“If you break India into a pyramid, the top 100 million (urban) consumers who think and behave more like Americans are well-served,” says Amit Jangir, who leads India investments at 01VC, a Chinese venture capital firm based in Shanghai. The early stage venture firm has invested in micro-lending firms FlashCash and SmartCoin based in India. The new target is the next 200 million to 600 million consumers, who do not have a go-to entertainment, payment or ecommerce platform yet— and there is gonna be a unicorn in each of these verticals, says Jangir, adding that it will be not be as easy for a player to win this market considering the diversity and low ticket sizes.

RankBrain

RankBrain appears to be based on using user clickpaths on head keywords to help bleed rankings across into related searches which are searched less frequently. A Googler didn’t state this specifically, but it is how they would be able to use models of searcher behavior to refine search results for keywords which are rarely searched for.

In a recent interview in Scientific American a Google engineer stated: “By design, search engines have learned to associate short queries with the targets of those searches by tracking pages that are visited as a result of the query, making the results returned both faster and more accurate than they otherwise would have been.”

Now a person might go out and try to search for something a bunch of times or pay other people to search for a topic and click a specific listing, but some of the related Google patents on using click data (which keep getting updated) mentioned how they can discount or turn off the signal if there is an unnatural spike of traffic on a specific keyword, or if there is an unnatural spike of traffic heading to a particular website or web page.

And, since Google is tracking the behavior of end users on their own website, anomalous behavior is easier to track than it is tracking something across the broader web where signals are more indirect. Google can take advantage of their wide distribution of Chrome & Android where users are regularly logged into Google & pervasively tracked to place more weight on users where they had credit card data, a long account history with regular normal search behavior, heavy Gmail users, etc.

Plus there is a huge gap between the cost of traffic & the ability to monetize it. You might have to pay someone a dime or a quarter to search for something & there is no guarantee it will work on a sustainable basis even if you paid hundreds or thousands of people to do it. Any of those experimental searchers will have no lasting value unless they influence rank, but even if they do influence rankings it might only last temporarily. If you bought a bunch of traffic into something genuine Google searchers didn’t like then even if it started to rank better temporarily the rankings would quickly fall back if the real end user searchers disliked the site relative to other sites which already rank.

This is part of the reason why so many SEO blogs mention brand, brand, brand. If people are specifically looking for you in volume & Google can see that thousands or millions of people specifically want to access your site then that can impact how you rank elsewhere.

Even looking at something inside the search results for a while (dwell time) or quickly skipping over it to have a deeper scroll depth can be a ranking signal. Some Google patents mention how they can use mouse pointer location on desktop or scroll data from the viewport on mobile devices as a quality signal.

Neural Matching

Last year Danny Sullivan mentioned how Google rolled out neural matching to better understand the intent behind a search query.

The above Tweets capture what the neural matching technology intends to do. Google also stated:

we’ve now reached the point where neural networks can help us take a major leap forward from understanding words to understanding concepts. Neural embeddings, an approach developed in the field of neural networks, allow us to transform words to fuzzier representations of the underlying concepts, and then match the concepts in the query with the concepts in the document. We call this technique neural matching.

To help people understand the difference between neural matching & RankBrain, Google told SEL: “RankBrain helps Google better relate pages to concepts. Neural matching helps Google better relate words to searches.”

There are a couple research papers on neural matching.

The first one was titled A Deep Relevance Matching Model for Ad-hoc Retrieval. It mentioned using Word2vec & here are a few quotes from the research paper

  • “Successful relevance matching requires proper handling of the exact matching signals, query term importance, and diverse matching requirements.”
  • “the interaction-focused model, which first builds local level interactions (i.e., local matching signals) between two pieces of text, and then uses deep neural networks to learn hierarchical interaction patterns for matching.”
  • “according to the diverse matching requirement, relevance matching is not position related since it could happen in any position in a long document.”
  • “Most NLP tasks concern semantic matching, i.e., identifying the semantic meaning and infer”ring the semantic relations between two pieces of text, while the ad-hoc retrieval task is mainly about relevance matching, i.e., identifying whether a document is relevant to a given query.”
  • “Since the ad-hoc retrieval task is fundamentally a ranking problem, we employ a pairwise ranking loss such as hinge loss to train our deep relevance matching model.”

The paper mentions how semantic matching falls down when compared against relevancy matching because:

  • semantic matching relies on similarity matching signals (some words or phrases with the same meaning might be semantically distant), compositional meanings (matching sentences more than meaning) & a global matching requirement (comparing things in their entirety instead of looking at the best matching part of a longer document); whereas,
  • relevance matching can put significant weight on exact matching signals (weighting an exact match higher than a near match), adjust weighting on query term importance (one word might or phrase in a search query might have a far higher discrimination value & might deserve far more weight than the next) & leverage diverse matching requirements (allowing relevancy matching to happen in any part of a longer document)

Here are a couple images from the above research paper

And then the second research paper is

Deep Relevancy Ranking Using Enhanced Dcoument-Query Interactions
“interaction-based models are less efficient, since one cannot index a document representation independently of the query. This is less important, though, when relevancy ranking methods rerank the top documents returned by a conventional IR engine, which is the scenario we consider here.”

That same sort of re-ranking concept is being better understood across the industry. There are ranking signals that earn some base level ranking, and then results get re-ranked based on other factors like how well a result matches the user intent.

Here are a couple images from the above research paper.

For those who hate the idea of reading research papers or patent applications, Martinibuster also wrote about the technology here. About the only part of his post I would debate is this one:

“Does this mean publishers should use more synonyms? Adding synonyms has always seemed to me to be a variation of keyword spamming. I have always considered it a naive suggestion. The purpose of Google understanding synonyms is simply to understand the context and meaning of a page. Communicating clearly and consistently is, in my opinion, more important than spamming a page with keywords and synonyms.”

I think one should always consider user experience over other factors, however a person could still use variations throughout the copy & pick up a bit more traffic without coming across as spammy. Danny Sullivan mentioned the super synonym concept was impacting 30% of search queries, so there are still a lot which may only be available to those who use a specific phrase on their page.

Martinibuster also wrote another blog post tying more research papers & patents to the above. You could probably spend a month reading all the related patents & research papers.

The above sort of language modeling & end user click feedback compliment links-based ranking signals in a way that makes it much harder to luck one’s way into any form of success by being a terrible speller or just bombing away at link manipulation without much concern toward any other aspect of the user experience or market you operate in.

Pre-penalized Shortcuts

Google was even issued a patent for predicting site quality based upon the N-grams used on the site & comparing those against the N-grams used on other established site where quality has already been scored via other methods: “The phrase model can be used to predict a site quality score for a new site; in particular, this can be done in the absence of other information. The goal is to predict a score that is comparable to the baseline site quality scores of the previously-scored sites.”

Have you considered using a PLR package to generate the shell of your site’s content? Good luck with that as some sites trying that shortcut might be pre-penalized from birth.

Navigating the Maze

When I started in SEO one of my friends had a dad who is vastly smarter than I am. He advised me that Google engineers were smarter, had more capital, had more exposure, had more data, etc etc etc … and thus SEO was ultimately going to be a malinvestment.

Back then he was at least partially wrong because influencing search was so easy.

But in the current market, 16 years later, we are near the infection point where he would finally be right.

At some point the shortcuts stop working & it makes sense to try a different approach.

The flip side of all the above changes is as the algorithms have become more complex they have went from being a headwind to people ignorant about SEO to being a tailwind to those who do not focus excessively on SEO in isolation.

If one is a dominant voice in a particular market, if they break industry news, if they have key exclusives, if they spot & name the industry trends, if their site becomes a must read & is what amounts to a habit … then they perhaps become viewed as an entity. Entity-related signals help them & those signals that are working against the people who might have lucked into a bit of success become a tailwind rather than a headwind.

If your work defines your industry, then any efforts to model entities, user behavior or the language of your industry are going to boost your work on a relative basis.

This requires sites to publish frequently enough to be a habit, or publish highly differentiated content which is strong enough that it is worth the wait.

Those which publish frequently without being particularly differentiated are almost guaranteed to eventually walk into a penalty of some sort. And each additional person who reads marginal, undifferentiated content (particularly if it has an ad-heavy layout) is one additional visitor that site is closer to eventually getting whacked. Success becomes self regulating. Any short-term success becomes self defeating if one has a highly opportunistic short-term focus.

Those who write content that only they could write are more likely to have sustained success.

SEO Book

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Not just for auto anymore: Google tests giant image search ads in new verticals.

The ads feature a carousel of images.



Please visit Search Engine Land for the full article.


Search Engine Land: News & Info About SEO, PPC, SEM, Search Engines & Search Marketing

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Howie Mandel Says ‘Deal or No Deal’ is Risk Vs. Reward, Just Like NYSE

Howie Mandel says that ‘Deal or No Deal’ is risk versus reward, just like the New York Stock Exchange. He says the decision process is the same. “That’s ultimately what the stock exchange is about,” says Mandel. “How do you divvy up your portfolio? By the same token, when there is somebody sitting on our floor what do they do?”

Mandel rang the stock exchange bell this morning in honor of “Deal or No Deal” being revived on the popular financial network CNBC. Mandel is both the star and the producer of the show.

Howie Mandel, host and executive producer of CNBC’s ‘Deal or No Deal,’ discussed on CNBC how his show and investing on the New York Stock Exchange are very similar:

Deal or No Deal – It’s Risk Vs. Reward

It’s real. That’s why I’m so thrilled to be a small part of CNBC. When we first did it in 2005 there are books on investment that have quoted, talked about, and studied what Deal or No Deal is. It’s risk versus reward. That’s ultimately what the stock exchange is about. How do you divvy up your portfolio? By the same token, when there is somebody sitting on our floor what do they do?

How do you walk away? I said that Wednesday night. The guy said that on the first offer, “That’s half of what I make a year.” Would you invest half of your earnings in the stock market right now and go for it? Ultimately, there is no divine answer. What’s the big strategy on Deal or No Deal? What’s the big strategy on the New York Stock Exchange floor? Taking the big risk or playing it safe? It’s somewhere in between. But it’s also where you are in your life and what your needs are. With more risk, there is probably more reward, but can you afford to do that? What are you putting at stake for doing that?

So when people walk away, like the first episode that actually aired during Christmas, there was a young man who had a wife and a baby and he played it risking it. All the way to the end he risked it. Two cases were left of $ 5 and $ 750,000, and an offer of $ 350,000 was on the board. There was an opportunity to negotiate. He said, “No Deal” and went All In and walked out with just $ 5. How many people have done this on this New York Stock Exchange floor right here?

Trend with Media is to be Aware It’s Always Changing

The trend with media is to be aware that it’s always changing. Whether it’s with Netflix, or whether it’s with some other digital or Facebook, how people and different sectors of our population are ingesting and buying into this there is not one answer. There may be an answer right this minute. Right now people are binge-watching on Netflix. Next year it could be Facebook or YouTube or ten-minute bites. I think we have to be kind of fluid and open.

The post Howie Mandel Says ‘Deal or No Deal’ is Risk Vs. Reward, Just Like NYSE appeared first on WebProNews.


WebProNews

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Even Just on the Medical Side, There’s Big Business in Pot

There’s a big business to be built even just on the medical side of legal marijuana says legendary technology investor Geoff Lewis. Lewis was an early investor in Tilray which recently had a hugely successful IPO of which he was pleasantly surprised.

Lewis thinks the worldwide trend is toward recreational legalization of marijuana and that bodes well for Tilray. “I think quite honestly the US is behind other countries on that score,” says Lewis. “So TBD here, but around the world, the trend is very much toward recreational legalization.”

Geoff Lewis, the founder of Bedrock Capital and an early tech investor in many companies including Tilray, the global leader in legal marijuana, Lewis recently discussed the recent Tilray IPO and the future of legal pot around the world on CNBC:

I Didn’t Think the Tilray Founders Actually Used the Product

One of the reasons I invested in Tilray, via Privateer Holdings, the creators of Tilray back in 2014, was that I didn’t think the founders actually used the product. I spent a lot of time trying to diligence whether I thought the team was actually using it and they weren’t.

The reason I cared is not that I have anything societally against it, but it was illegal at the time. The company was based at the time in Washington State where it was not legal.

At this point, I do think the trend has really dramatically shifted from back when we invested in Tilray in 2014 and it’s now obviously a publicly traded company. It’s a big win and we’re really lucky to have been able to back those founders early on. But there were only a few countries in the world where there was a medically legal framework and now there are over 30 countries.

There’s Big Business to be Built on Just the Medical Side

We didn’t know the IPO was going to be as successful as it was, that was a pleasant surprise. I would say that we did believe that regulation ultimately follows what society wants. We felt back in 2014 when we made the investment that most people in most countries believe it should at least be medically legal and the regulations were very expected.

There’s big business to be built just on the medical side. I do strongly believe the trend is toward recreational legalization. This is certainly true in many of the Western European countries and South America. I think quite honestly the US is behind other countries on that score. So TBD here, but around the world, the trend is very much toward recreational legalization.

The post Even Just on the Medical Side, There’s Big Business in Pot appeared first on WebProNews.


WebProNews

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Get Copyblogger to Tell the World Just How Great You Are

Hey, writers! Whether you’re a freelancer, an employee, or you write content to support your business, you might find it…

The post Get Copyblogger to Tell the World Just How Great You Are appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

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You Don’t Have To Be A Professional Writer. Just Be Yourself.

Have you ever written a blog post and read it back only to find it sounds nothing like your style or voice? A lot of new bloggers create a frame in their mind about how they think they need to present themselves to the world. This is especially true when starting a blog is the first […]

The post You Don’t Have To Be A Professional Writer. Just Be Yourself. appeared first on Yaro.Blog.

Entrepreneurs-Journey.com by Yaro Starak

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Just How Much is Your Website Worth, Anyhow? An Easy Guide to Valuation

Posted by efgreg

We all work hard building our businesses.

We put in the sweat equity and all the tears that can come with it to build something truly great. After another day hustling at the office or typing furiously on your keyboard, you might be wondering… what is the end game here?

What are you really going for? Is there a glowing neon sign with the word “Exit” marking the path to your ultimate goal?

For the majority of businesses, the end goal is to eventually sell that business to another entrepreneur who wants to take the reins and simply enjoy the profits from the sale. Alas, most of us don’t even know what our business is worth, much less how to go about selling it — or if it’s even sellable to begin with.

That’s where Empire Flippers comes in. We’ve been brokering deals for years in the online business space, serving a quiet but hungry group of investors who are looking to acquire digital assets. The demand for profitable digital assets has been growing so much that our brokerage was able to get on the Inc. 5000 list two years in a row, both times under the 500 mark.

We can say with confidence that, yes, there is indeed an exit for your business.

By the end of this article you’re going to know more about how online businesses are valued, what buyers are looking for, and how you can get the absolute top dollar for your content website, software as a service (SaaS), or e-commerce store.

(You might have noticed I didn’t include the word “agency” in the last paragraph. Digital agencies are incredibly hard to sell; to do so, you need to have streamlined your process as much as possible. Even though having clients is great, other digital assets are far easier to sell.)

If you’ve built a digital asset you’re looking to exit from, the first question you likely have is, “This sounds fantastic, but how do I go about putting an actual price tag on what I’ve created?”

We’ll dive into those answers below, but first let’s talk about why you’re already in a great position just by being a reader of the Moz Blog.

Why is SEO the most valuable traffic for a digital asset?

SEO is by far the most attractive traffic source for people looking at purchasing online businesses.

The beauty of SEO is that once you’ve put in the work to achieve the rankings, they can maintain and bring in traffic for sometimes months without significant upkeep. That’s in stark contrast with pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns, such as Facebook ads, which require daily monitoring to make sure nothing strange is happening with your conversions or that you’re not overspending.

For someone who has no experience with traffic generation but wants to purchase a profitable online business, an SEO-fueled website just makes sense. They can earn while they learn. When they purchase the asset (typically a content website for people just starting out), they can play around with adding new high-quality pieces of content and learn about more complicated SEO techniques down the road.

Even someone who is a master at paid traffic loves SEO. They might buy an e-commerce store that has some real potential with Facebook ads that’s currently driving the majority of its traffic through SEO, and treat the SEO as gravy on top of the paid traffic they plan to drive toward that e-commerce store.

Whether the buyer is a newbie or a veteran, SEO as a traffic method has one of the widest appeals of any other traffic strategy. While SEO itself does not increase the value of the business in most cases, it does attract more buyers than other forms of traffic.

Now, let’s get down to what your business is worth.

How are online businesses actually valued?

How businesses are valued is such a common question we get at our brokerage that we created an automated valuation tool that gives a free estimate of your business’s value, which our audience uses with all of their different projects.

At the heart of any valuation is a fairly basic formula:

You look at your rolling 12-month net profit average and then times that by a multiple. Typically, a multiple will range between 20–50x of the 12-month average net profit for healthy, profitable online businesses. As you get closer to 50x you have to be able to show your business is growing in a BIG way month over month and that your business is truly defensible (something we’ll talk about later in this article).

You might see some brokers using a 2x or 3x EBITDA, which stands for earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortization.

When you see this formula, they’re using an annual multiple, whereas at Empire Flippers we use a monthly multiple. There’s really not much of a difference between the two formulas; it mainly depends on your preference, but if you’re brand new to buying and selling online businesses, then it’s helpful to know how different brokers price businesses.

We prefer the monthly multiple since it shows a more granular picture of the business and where it’s trending.

Just like you can influence Google SERPs with SEO knowledge, so can you manipulate this formula to give you a better valuation as long as you know what you’re looking at.

How to move the multiple needle in your favor

There are various things you can do to get a higher multiple. A lot of it comes down to just common sense and really putting yourself in the buyer’s shoes.

A useful thing to ask: “Would I ever buy my business? Why? Why not?”

This exercise can lead you to change a lot of things about your business for the better.

The two areas that most affect the multiple come down to your actual average net profit and how long the business has been around making money.

Average net profit

The higher your average net profit, the higher your multiple will tend to be because it’s a bigger cash-flowing asset. It makes sense then to look at various ways you can increase that net profit and decrease your total amount of expenses.

Every digital asset is a little different in where their expenses are coming from. For content sites, content creation costs are typically the lion’s share of expenses. As you approach the time of sale, you might want to scale back your content. In other cases, you may want to move to an agency solution where you can scale or minimize your content expenses at will rather than having in-house writers on the payroll.

There are also expenses that you might be applying to the business but aren’t really “needed” in operating the business, known as add-backs.

Add-backs

Add-backs are where you add certain expenses BACK into the net profit. These are items that you might’ve charged on the business account but aren’t really relevant to running the business.

These could be drinks, meals, or vacations put on the business account, and sometimes even business conferences. For example, going to a conference about email marketing might not be considered a “required” expense to running a health content site, whereas going to a sourcing conference like the Canton Fair would be a harder add-back to justify when it comes to running an e-commerce store.

Other things, such as SEO tools you’re using on a monthly basis, can likely be added back to the business. Most people won’t need them constantly to run and grow their business. They might subscribe for a month, get all the keyword data they need for a while, cancel, and then come back when they’re ready to do more keyword research.

Most of your expenses won’t be add-backs, but it is good to keep these in mind as they can definitely increase the ultimate sales price of your business.

When not to cut expenses

While there’s usually a lot of fat you can cut from your business, you need to be reasonable about it. Cutting some things might improve your overall net profit, but vastly decrease the attractability of your business.

One common thing we see in the e-commerce space is solopreneurs starting to package and ship all of the items themselves to their customers. The thinking goes that they’re saving money by doing it themselves. While this may be true, it’s not an attractive solution to a potential buyer.

It’s far more attractive to spend money on a third-party solution that can store and ship the product for you as orders come in. After all, many buyers are busy traveling the world while having an online business. Forcing them to settle down just so they can ship products versus hanging out on the beaches of Bali for a few months during winter is a tough ask.

When selling a business, you don’t want to worry only about expenses, but also how easy it is to plug into and start running that business for a buyer.

Even if the systems you create to do that add extra expenses, like using a third party to handle fulfillment, they’re often more than worth keeping around because they make the business look more attractive to buyers.

Length of history

The more history you can show, the more attractive your business will be, as long as it’s holding at a steady profit level or showing an upward trend.

The more your business is trending upward, the higher multiple you’re going to get.

While you can’t do much in terms of lengthening the business’s history, you can prepare yourself for the eventual sale by investing in needed items early on in your business. For example, if you know your website needs a big makeover and you’re 24 months out from selling, it’s better to do that big website redesign now instead of during the 12-month average your business will be priced on.

Showing year-over-year growth is also beneficial in getting a better multiple, because it shows your business can weather growing pains. This ability to weather business challenges is especially true in a business whose primary traffic is Google-organic. It shows that the site has done quality SEO by surviving several big updates over the course of a few years.

On the flipside, a trending downward business is going to get a much worse multiple, likely in the 12–18x range. A business in decline can still be sold, though. There are specific buyers that only want distressed assets because they can get them at deep discounts and often have the skill sets needed to fix the site.

You just have to be willing to take a lower sales price due to the decline, and since a buyer pool on distressed assets is smaller, you’ll likely have a longer sales cycle before you find someone willing to acquire the asset.

Other factors that lead to a higher multiple

While profit and length of history are the two main factors, there are a bunch of smaller factors that can add up to a significant increase in your multiple and ultimate valuation price.

You’ll have a fair amount of control with a lot of these, so they’re worth maximizing as much as possible in the 12–24 month window where you are preparing your online business for sale.

1. Minimize critical points of failure

Critical points of failure are anything in your business that has the power to be a total deal breaker. It’s not rare to sell a business that has one or two critical points, but even so you want to try to minimize this as much as possible.

An example of a critical point of failure could be where all of your website traffic is purely Google-organic. If the site gets penalized by a Google algorithm update, it could kill all of your traffic and revenue overnight.

Likewise, if you’re an Amazon affiliate and Amazon suddenly changes their Terms of Service, you could get banned for reasons you don’t understand or even have time to react to, ending up with a highly trafficked site that makes zero money.

In the e-commerce space, we see situations where the entrepreneur only has one supplier that can make their product. What happens if that supplier wants to jack up the prices or suddenly goes out of business completely?

It’s worth your while to diversify your traffic sources, have multiple monetization strategies for a content site, or investigate having backup or even competing suppliers for your e-commerce products.

Every business has some kind of weakness; your job is to minimize those weaknesses as much as possible to get the most value out of your business from a potential buyer.

2. High amounts of traffic

Higher traffic tends to correlate with higher revenue, which ultimately should increase your net profit. That all goes without saying; however, high traffic also can be an added bonus to your multiple on top of helping create a solid net profit.

Many buyers look for businesses they can optimize to the extreme at every point of the marketing funnel. When you have a high amount of traffic, you give them a lot of room to play with different conversion rate optimization factors like increasing email options, creating or crafting a better abandoned cart sequence, and changing the various calls to action on the site.

While many sellers might be fantastic at driving traffic, they might not exactly be the biggest pro at copywriting or CRO in general; this is where a big opportunity lies for the right buyer who might be able to increase conversions with their own copywriting or CRO skill.

3. Email subscribers

It’s almost a cliche in the Internet marketing space to say “the money is in the list.” Email has often been one of the biggest drivers of revenue for companies, but there’s a weird paradigm we’ve discovered after selling hundreds of online businesses.

Telling someone they should use an email list is pretty similar to telling someone to go to the gym: they agree it’s useful and they should do it, but often they do nothing about it. Then there are those who do build an email list because they understand its power, but then never do anything useful with it.

This results in email lists being a hit-or-miss on whether they actually add any value to your business’s final valuation.

If you can prove the email list is adding value to your business, then your email list CAN improve your overall multiple. If you use good email automation sequences to up-sell your traffic and routinely email the list with new offers and pieces of high-quality content, then your email list has real value associated with it, which will reflect on your final valuation.

4. Social media following

Social media has become more and more important as time goes on, but it can also be an incredibly fickle beast.

It’s best to think of your social media following as a “soft” email list. The reach of your social media following compared to your email list will tend to be lower, especially as social organic reach keeps declining on bigger social platforms like Facebook. In addition, you don’t own the platform that following is built off of, meaning it can be taken away from you anytime for reasons outside of your control.

Plus, it’s just too easy to fake followers and likes.

However, if you can wade through all that and prove that your social following and social media promotion are driving real traffic and sales to your business, it will definitely help in increasing your multiple.

5. How many product offerings you have

Earning everything from a single product is somewhat risky.

What happens if that product goes out of style? Or gets discontinued?

Whether you’re running an e-commerce store or a content site monetizing through affiliate links, you want to have several different product offerings.

When you have several products earning good money through your website, then a buyer will find the business ultimately more attractive and value it more because you won’t be hurt in a big way if one of the “flavors of the month” disappears on you.

6. Hours required

Remember, the majority of buyers are not looking at acquiring a job. They want a leveraged cash-flowing investment they can ideally scale up.

While there’s nothing wrong with working 40–50+ hours per week on a business that is really special, it will narrow your overall buyer pool and make the business less attractive. The truth is, most of the digital assets we’re creating don’t really require this amount of work from the owner.

What we typically see is that there are a lot of areas for improvement that the seller can use to minimize their weekly hour allotment to the business. We recommend that everyone looking to sell their business first consider how they can minimize their actual involvement.

The three most effective ways to cut down on your time spent are:

  • Systemization: Automating as much of your business as possible
  • Developing a team: The biggest wins we see here tend to be in content creation, customer service, general operations, and hiring a marketing agency to do the majority of the heavy lifting for you. While these add costs that drive down the average net profit, they also make your business far more attractive.
  • Creating standard operating procedures (SOPs): SOPs should outline the entire process of a specific function of the business and should be good enough that if you handed them off to someone, they could do the job 80 percent as well as you.

You should always be in a position where you’re working ON your business and not IN.

7. Dig a deeper moat

At Empire Flippers, we’re always asking people if they built a deep enough moat around their business. A deep moat means your business is harder to copy. A copycat can’t just go buy a domain and some hosting and copy your business in an afternoon.

A drop-shipping store that can be copied in a single day is not going to be nearly as attractive as one that has built up a real following and a community around their brand, even if they sell the same products.

This fact becomes more and more important as your business valuation goes into the multiple six-figure and seven-figure valuation ranges because buyers are looking to buy a real brand at this point, not just a niche site.

Here are a few actions you can take to deepen this moat:

  • Niche down and own the market with your brand (a woodworking website might focus specifically on benches, for example, where you’re hiring expert artisans to write content on the subject).
  • Source your products and make them unique, rather than another “me too” product.
  • Negotiate special terms with your affiliate managers or suppliers. If you’ve been sending profitable traffic to an affiliate offer, often you can just email the affiliate manager asking for a pay bump and they’ll gladly give it. Likewise, if you’re doing good business for a drop-shipping supplier, they might be open to doing an exclusivity agreement with you. Make sure all of these special terms are transferable to the buyer, though.

The harder it is to copy what you’ve built, the higher the multiple you’ll get.

But why would you EVER sell your online business in the first place?

You’re now well-equipped with knowledge on how to increase your business’s ultimate value, but why would you actually sell it?

The reasons are vast and numerous — too many to list in this post. However, there are a few common reasons you might resonate with.

Here are a few business reasons why people sell their businesses:

  • Starting a new business or wanting to focus on other current projects
  • Seeking to use the capital to leverage themselves into a more competitive (and lucrative) space
  • Having lost any interest in running the business and want to sell the asset off before it starts reflecting their lack of interest through declining revenue
  • Wanting to cash out of the business to invest in offline investments like real estate, stocks, bonds, etc.

Just as there are a ton of business reasons to sell, there are also a ton of personal reasons why people sell their business:

  • Getting a divorce
  • Purchasing a home for their family (selling one digital asset can be a hefty down payment for a home, or even cover the entirety of the home)
  • Having medical issues
  • Other reasons: We had one seller on our marketplace whose reason for selling his business was to get enough money to adopt a child.

When you can collect 20–50 months of your net profit upfront, you can do a lot of things that just weren’t options before.

When you have a multiple six-figure or even seven-figure war chest, you can often outspend the competition, invest in infrastructure and teams you couldn’t before, and in general jumpstart your next project or business idea far faster without ever having to worry about if a Google update is going tank your earnings or some other unforeseen market change.

That begs the question…

When should you sell?

Honestly, it depends.

The answer to this question is more of an art than a science.

As a rule of thumb, you should ask yourself if you’re excited by the kind of money you’ll get from the successful sale of your online business.

You can use our valuation tool to get a ballpark estimate or do some back-of-the-napkin math of what you’re likely to receive for the business using the basic multiple formula I outlined. I prefer to always be on the conservative side with my estimations, so your napkin math might be taking your 12-month average net profit with a multiple of 25x.

Does that number raise your eyebrows? Is it even interesting?

If it is, then you might want to start asking yourself if you really are ready to part with your business to focus on other things. Remember, you should always set a MINIMUM sales price that you’d be willing to walk away from the business with, something that would still make you happy if you went through with it.

Most of us Internet marketers are always working on multiple projects at once. Sadly, some projects just don’t get the love they deserve or used to get from us.

Instead of letting those projects just die off in the background, consider selling your online business instead to a very hungry market of investors starting to flood our digital realm.

Selling a business, even if it’s a side project that you’re winding down, is always going to be an intimate process. When you’re ready to pull the trigger, we’ll be there to help you every step of the way.

Have you thought about selling your online business, or gone through a sale in the past? Let us know your advice, questions, or anecdotes in the comments.

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Microsoft Announces Huge Price Cut for Azure Cloud Services, Now Just $100 Per Month

Microsoft Azure customers were pleasantly surprised today. The cloud computing company just announced that it has substantially dropped the price for its Azure Standard support to just $ 100 per month, making it the most affordable support package among the big three cloud computing firms.

The price slash of the Azure Standard support, which was previously priced at $ 300 per month, was announced in a post via Microsoft Azure’s website. Despite the drop, however, the company promised an even faster initial response time of 1 hour, which was previously set at 2 hours, for critical cases. The company also promised the continuation of the current package’s feature of unlimited 24/7 technical and billing support for the client’s entire organization.

The price cut is being offered to eligible Azure customers. These are customers who purchased the Azure Standard support package directly from the Azure.com site under the Microsoft Online Subscription Agreement (MOSA).

However, the $ 100 per month offer is not applicable to all regions. For still unspecified reasons, customers based in Germany are apparently not included in the price cut.

Azure’s drastic price reduction for its Standard support could start a price war among the big three players in the cloud computing industry. It is possible that competitors Amazon Web Services (AWS), as well as Google Cloud Platform, might be forced to introduce price cuts of their own to make the pricing of their services even more competitive.

At $ 100 per month, the AWS Business plan costs as much as the new Azure Standard support. However, that is only the starting price because clients usually end up paying more for additional charges based on their monthly usage fees.

Meanwhile, Google is charging a higher monthly rate for its standard support at the moment. Basic support costs $ 150 per month and its response time for business critical issues is even slower at 4 hours compared to 1 hour for Azure customers.

[Featured image via Microsoft]

The post Microsoft Announces Huge Price Cut for Azure Cloud Services, Now Just $ 100 Per Month appeared first on WebProNews.


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Customers as Value-Creating Partners, Not Just Value-Extraction Targets

How do customers add value? Everything from providing feedback, to word-of-mouth marketing, to being early adopters for new products. However, I would argue that customers must first be satisfied before they are willing to engage in any of these activities.
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Keys to Greatness (or Just Getting More Great Stuff Done)

This week, we have lots of pragmatic advice for you on how to be a happier, more productive person. Because you’re good enough, you’re smart enough, and gosh darn it, this joke has now been permanently rendered un-funny. On Monday, Morgan Dix (he happens to be one of our Certified Content Marketers) revealed what meditation
Read More…

The post Keys to Greatness (or Just Getting More Great Stuff Done) appeared first on Copyblogger.


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