Tag Archive | "Stay"

How to Make the Most of MozCon (and Stay Motivated Once it’s Over)

Posted by Kirsten_Barkved

Show of hands if the following scenario has ever happened to you:

You make it to a conference. You sit through three to four days of amazing content, network like a boss, fill up on coffee and donuts, and cover page after page of notes — your wrist is dangerously close to being diagnosed with carpal tunnel. The energy in the room is contagious and everyone leaves the conference with the promise of new strategies, connections, and ideas that have the possibility to transform the way you think about business.


Photo credit: Turk Photos

At least, that’s the dream. The reality? Once the conference is over, you’re back to the grind, no longer surrounded by that vibrant “we can do anything” energy that had you so inspired and hyped just days before. The buzz is now a dull hum. Your notebook is full of scribbles that you can no longer decipher, and you have a daunting to-do list to catch up on while you nurse a sugar hangover from eating three-days worth of donuts.

You’ve lost the fire. The conference motivation is gone. You, my friend, have the post-conference scaries.

With MozCon fast approaching, the excitement is building. But so is the anxiety: you know there’s going to be a ton of insightful talks and takeaways to write home about — how do you keep all that goodness going after MozCon?

We’ve all been there! And we want to make sure you’re set up for success. So myself and our Subject Matter Experts whipped up an extensive and effective guide to ensure you can put all the goodness you’ve absorbed at MozCon to work straight away. Read on to see what Britney MullerRob Bucci, Cyrus ShepardDr. Pete, and Miriam Ellis have to offer!

Get your tickets before they’re gone!

Before you head to MozCon, though, make sure you do these things first

We know this isn’t your first rodeo. But on the off chance that it is, or if you need a reminder before you set foot in MozCon, make like the Boy Scouts of America: Be prepared.

Because I’m a keener (remind me to tell you about the time I waited for 24 hours to be first in line for The Fellowship of the Ring movie) with a tendency to overprepare (remind me also to tell you about my first day of school where I packed all my favorite Nancy Drews, my best pencil crayons, a raincoat, and a pair of extra socks), I spend quite a chunk of time ensuring I have everything I need before an event. 

You don’t need to be as prepared as my eight-year-old self, but here’s a brief checklist of things to do before you pack your bags and set sail for MozCon:

  • Study the agenda — You’ve likely already glanced at who’s speaking. Take another skim to get an idea of who is speaking and what topics will fulfill an educational gap. Even if a topic isn’t related to your area of work, it’s still worthwhile to listen — who knows what you’ll uncover. 
  • Set goals for what you’d like to learn — Whatever your game plan looks like, flesh it out to flesh out. Show up ready to learn.
  • Prepare your note-taking tools — There is no such thing as too many pens, not at a conference like MozCon. You’ll be taking a ton of notes, so prepare your note-taking tools, whatever they may be — charge your laptop or tablets, pack a spare notebook and some well-inked pens, or practice your telepathy if you plan on sending takeaways to your team via your mind.
  • Subscribe to the Moz blog — We have oodles of content for you to sink your teeth into and there’s something for everyone, from basic SEO to local search to the nitty-gritty technical. Plus, we’ll be doing conference recaps after each day, so even if you couldn’t make it this year, you’ll get all the juicy details straight to your inbox when you subscribe.
  • Make connections — There is ample opportunity at MozCon to network and meet new people but it never hurts to get a lay of the digital land before you step foot in Seattle. Follow the hashtag #mozcon on Twitter to stay up to date with MozCon goers and ask important questions of our speakers, like this:

You can also join the Facebook group to find out when people are arriving and pop in on conversations to get your name and face out there. If you know of people you want to reconnect that will be attending, now is a good idea to reach out and reconnect. Set up a time to chat over a coffee or maybe make plans to sit together at our Birds of Feather table.

At the conference

It’s Day One of MozCon and you’ve successfully found the coffee. Now what?

Attend every session…

And we mean every. Single. Session. 

The great thing about MozCon is that it’s a single track session, so you don’t have to pick one talk over another. That also means, though, that the temptation can be high for skipping one or two. 

“It may be tempting to sleep in on a morning session, but so much magic happens when you aren’t there. You never know what nuggets of insight you’ll miss.” — Cyrus Shepard

“I often find I have some of my best ideas at conferences, even if they’re not related to anything the speaker is talking about. Capture those ideas, too, and add them to your action plan.” — Dr. Pete

…But don’t be afraid to mingle in-between sessions

“Take breaks if you feel like it and spend some time meeting people out in the lobby. New MozCon friends can help hold each other accountable after the conference. I’ve met some of my closest industry friends in the lobby of conferences during a session — hi, Cyrus!” — Britney Muller

Remember what you learn

There’s a lot of information to digest and chances are that your hurried note-taking isn’t going to make a ton of sense once the MozCon high is over. To make deciphering your notes easier once you’re back at the office, add three key takeaways or any follow up you want to do on the topic after each session.

You can also create a page dedicated to takeaways that you think are worthy. While I’m definitely taking notes during each session, I reserve a separate page for any ideas, theories, or strategies that I think are valuable to explore.

Make sure you’re keeping your goals in mind, too. If you had planned on learning new things at MozCon, keep your ears open for any topics that piqued your interest.

“Write down at least one topic that grabbed your interest but that you felt could be studied further and commit to doing that study at your business and publishing your findings. Don’t forget to ping the original presenter when you do, letting them know their talk inspired your further investigation.” — Miriam Ellis

“At the end of each conference day, I also like to schedule emails to myself (a few weeks out) as reminders to attempt the things I learned about that day.” — Britney Muller

Keep tabs on live tweeters

MozCon has some pretty prolific live tweeters that know just how to distill all the right takeaways into 280 characters (which, IMO, is quite a feat). Some of our past MozCon live-tweeters have included: 

You can also keep up with the conference goers by following the conference hashtag, #mozcon.

“Also, follow Cyrus Shepard on Twitter and do everything he says!” — Britney Muller

Take note of any free templates, tools, or spreadsheets

Much like parents who want nothing but the best from you (and also to sometimes show off your life successes on the family fridge), the speakers want you to excel in life after MozCon. Which is why you’re bound to find a plethora of downloadable templates and spreadsheets during their talk. Take note of any that you’d like to try back at the office. Make sure to also follow the speakers on Twitter for any updates or insider tips on how to make the most of their new resources.

Download the talks

I’m sure you already know, but on the off chance you didn’t know, you’ll be able to download all the speaker’s slide decks once their talks are over. So if there was something you missed, wanted to share with the team at home base, or needed clarification on, you can do so with one click of a button once they’re available.

After the conference

Write about it

I know the last thing you want to do right after three days of learning and writing is to go and do more writing. But Future You will be so happy that Past You did this one thing. 

The second you’re done MozCon-ing, write everything down. Get it all out of your brain and onto paper. Because otherwise, you’ll forget why you underlined a word or phrase three times or the cool new project ideas you had while chatting at dinner. You won’t mean to, obviously. It’s just one of those unfortunate facts of life. Kind of like drifting off to sleep with a really great idea for a band name — you’ll tuck it away in a pocket of your brain, certain you won’t forget about it in the morning. But you will. And the world will never know of They Might Be Little Pigeons

So, write everything down the second you can.

“I’m one of those people who takes notes like, “Cheese fritters + SEO = YES!” and am very excited about it and have no idea what it meant a week later. So: Re-copy your notes or write a summary, ASAP, while it’s still fresh in your mind— even if it’s on the flight home.” — Dr. Pete

Schedule thinking time

The first week back at the office, block out some time in your calendar to percolate over what you learned at MozCon. I can’t stress this one enough: When we get back into the real world, we dive right into our list of to-dos, at home and at work. And the longer we delay the thinking and brainstorming process, the bigger the chance we’ll lose motivation or get bogged down by more projects. 

Carve out some thinking time for yourself in your calendar the second you’re back at your desk to ask yourself some questions:

  • What really stood out for me?
  • What do I want to apply right away?
  • What is going to be effective short term vs. long term?

I like to ideate to-do lists from these questions — maybe that’s a follow-up email with the speaker or a task to read further resources from their talk. Or maybe it’s to set up a meeting with my team to try out a new strategy. The point is: if I take this time now to marinate, the better chance I have of helping out future me — and future me really appreciates that.

“It’s so easy to go from hundreds of ideas to doing nothing concrete, and as soon as you return to your desk, you’re going to be buried in emails and requests. Commit to something actionable before you open up your inbox.” — Dr. Pete

Review your action items

Now that you’ve done your big thinking, it’s time to turn those takeaways and actions items into, well, action. 

Think back to the goals you outlined before you set foot inside MozCon — did you meet any of them? How well did the topics address your questions? And how will you apply your action items? When I’m looking over my notes for any new ideas we can execute on, I like to make a table with two columns: 1) Things that we don’t do but could and 2) Things we’re currently doing but could be doing better.

Got a lot of action items and feel a tad overwhelmed? Just remember: If you apply just one action item a week, even if it’s small, that’s still fifty small changes you’ve made in one year. And they can all add up to one big change.

You’ll want to prioritize them like so:

  • Strategic initiatives to implement right away
  • Processes you can improve
  • Areas for future learning

“A week after the conference, review your “action items” — either by yourself or with your team. Prepare a presentation for the top things you learned and share with any team members that didn’t attend.” — Cyrus Shepard

“Pin yourself down to three specific to-dos for the month after the conference.” — Dr. Pete

Stay inspired

Remember that anything in life worth having (relationships, bangs, product launches, puzzles) requires more than just an idea — it takes time and work. Rather than let all that enthusiasm you had at MozCon fade away, keep the momentum going by reading and learning new things. A good place to start is by subscribing to daily industry reads that can fuel your inspiration. Here is just a sampling to get you started: 

“Having a go-to list of daily industry reads is a really good way to keep the sense of inspiration up.” — Rob Bucci

Use your connections

What good was all that networking if you don’t put it to use — especially if, like me, you’re a Level-12 Introvert?

Make sure all those hard-earned connections don’t go to waste. Chances are, if you saw them at MozCon, you’ll be seeing them at the same tracks and conferences, so it’d be good to set some sort of foundation

All it takes is a LinkedIn message or an email. And they’ll appreciate you following up — bonus points if you make it personal. I’ve made several follow up emails after conferences and almost all blossomed into successful working relationships thanks in large part to emails that began as though we were continuing the conversation we had at MozCon. It doesn’t have to be the same as “Hi, how’s your dog, is she still afraid of traffic cones?,” but a nice “Hi, how is life after MozCon — are you settling back into the 9-5, yet?” goes a long way.

“It’s great to collect business cards, but it’s better to form life-long relationships. If you haven’t connected with those you met at MozCon, now is the time to do so. At a minimum, email everyone you enjoyed meeting with and let them know that you can be a resource for them.” — Cyrus Shepard

Takeaways

MozCon only comes once a year — like International Pancake Day or 7-11′s Free Slurpee Day — so make sure you’re prepared so you can keep that MozCon fire burning all year round.

Grab my MozCon ticket now!

Sign up for The Moz Top 10, a semimonthly mailer updating you on the top ten hottest pieces of SEO news, tips, and rad links uncovered by the Moz team. Think of it as your exclusive digest of stuff you don’t have time to hunt down but want to read!


Moz Blog

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

11 Ways to Stay an Alert Copywriter and Content Marketer (If Taking a Nap Isn’t an Option)

Well, this week was anything but sugarcoated. We got right into it. How do you stay motivated to do great…

The post 11 Ways to Stay an Alert Copywriter and Content Marketer (If Taking a Nap Isn’t an Option) appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

Every Audience Has This in Common (Use It to Stay Hyper-Relevant)

It doesn’t matter if you create content about minimalism or motorcycles. Every audience has these three sub-groups: People who read…

The post Every Audience Has This in Common (Use It to Stay Hyper-Relevant) appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

Copyblogger Book Club: Stay Creatively Productive (Even on Crappy Days)

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but keeping your creative confidence going is hard. Our friend Austin Kleon has one…

The post Copyblogger Book Club: Stay Creatively Productive (Even on Crappy Days) appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

How to Stay Creative in a Distracted World

sp-creative-distracted-world

On this week’s episode, we’re joined by Megan Gray, a passionate — probably one of the most passionate — freelance graphic designers I know. She lives on the edge of a canyon in Orange County, California, where she runs her business, House of Grays.

In this 34-minute episode Brian Gardner, Lauren Mancke, and Megan Gray discuss:

  • Starting House of Grays in Orange County, CA
  • Designing for the people
  • Keeping focused among distraction
  • Experience gained while working in a traditional agency
  • The onboarding process of custom projects
  • Creative outlets beyond the 9 to 5
  • Following your own path instead of looking to others
  • Filtering out the noise

Listen to this Episode Now

The post How to Stay Creative in a Distracted World appeared first on Copyblogger.


Copyblogger

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

PLAs are Here to Stay: A Few Tips on How to Take Advantage

Now that the dust has settled from Google’s transition from free to paid and from the Q4 spike, many of the questions have been answered. And the answers, for the most part, are very encouraging. So how do you take advantage of product listing ads?
Search Engine Watch – Latest

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

How to Create an Agile Content Marketing Strategy (and Stay Sane Doing It)

Image of Leaping Ballerina

I’ll admit it: I spent so much time this past year creating content that I didn’t make enough time to read. And reading is important when you’re a content creator. After all …

It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it. ~ Oscar Wilde

I’m determined to change, and I started by making time to read The Business Case for Agile Content Marketing by Copyblogger’s Brian Clark.

What exactly is agile content?

It’s the type of content that responds and adapts to the needs of your audience. It’s what is taking the place of traditional advertising for businesses large and small.

It’s the kind of content we should all be creating.

Here’s my take on Brian’s advice, but don’t stop with this post. Grab the full report: The Business Case for Agile Content Marketing.

Agile content starts with research

You have to start somewhere. At first, your content ideas will be based on guesses.

You’ll have better luck if you make those very educated guesses. And the way to do that is to spend some time and energy on market research. Use your research to figure out:

  • Who you want to reach
  • What challenges they have
  • What their deeply-felt desires are
  • How they’re currently meeting those challenges and fulfilling those desires

When you have an idea about all of the above, you can plan your content to meet these needs. But don’t stop there. It’s just getting interesting at this point.

Move right along to …

Shipping your content

Here’s the tough part.

You aren’t really executing on an agile content marketing strategy until you put it out into the world and start listening to feedback.

This is the reference to staying sane in my headline. It’s cold-sweat-inducing, nerve-wracking, and scary at first. But don’t worry, it gets much easier over time.

And it’s 100% necessary. After all, how will you know if your ideal customer is digging what you write if you don’t put it out there and see what happens?

Here’s a little secret: Those people you admire who have huge audiences who hang on their every word? They have a lot more to worry about than you do.

Let’s say you and a few friends decide to start a band. You start out by playing your living room, in front of a few more friends, and see what they enjoy.

You hone your set of songs, and you move up to playing at the bar down the street. You see what that audience likes, and keep working on new songs and styles based on what they respond to.

Eventually, you’re invited to perform at a college campus. Years later, (let’s pretend for the sake of this analogy) you’re playing for an entire stadium of fans.

It’s okay to start out writing for a small group. With fewer people watching, you can feel free to experiment and see what works. The stakes aren’t so high.

Embrace the process. Don’t take your content too seriously. Watch, listen, and move on to the next step.

Optimize based on feedback

Feedback comes in many forms. It can be comments, social media shares, or email open rates.

It could be people who attend your webinar, ticket buyers to your live event, or sales of your information product.

See what content your audience responds to, and build your business around it.

As Brian mentions, these first three stages are ongoing. You’ll find yourself constantly discovering new details about what your audience wants.

As new people join your audience, the needs you’re meeting will change. Welcome this change as it comes, and continue to make your best educated guesses about what they want, put it out there, and optimize based on your results.

Amplify your reach through connection

Success doesn’t happen in a vacuum.

If you really want to grow your audience, you have to be an advocate for your content. You have to be its champion.

Get out there and spread the word. Connect with others who can help send people to your pages.

Look for ways to ally yourself with people who have already developed an audience similar to the one you aspire to serve. Don’t be afraid to send an email sharing your latest post, asking if your connection’s audience might be interested in seeing it.

And when you can, attend events, and connect in person, too, because there’s nothing better than connecting face-to-face.

Spiral upward with repeat performances

The technique outlined here really starts to work when you commit to doing it over the long haul.

Research. Release. Optimize. Connect. And then, repeat.

Just like any promotional effort you put together for your business, agile content works best when it’s ongoing and consistent.

This is just a taste. If you want to see how all the parts work together, get the whole story right here.

What part of this process do you get stuck on? What have you done that’s worked really well? I’d love to hear about it in the comments …

About the Author: Want to get the best results from all that agile content you create? Studies show first-rate design increases credibility. Anyone can learn design techniques that get their content the attention it deserves: just get Pamela Wilson’s Design 101 series at Big Brand System.

Related Stories

Copyblogger

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

Microsoft’s Curious Plea to Stay with Their Browser

Browser wars are a touchy subject, especially around the folks from Microsoft who have seen their Internet Explorer dominance be eroded by the likes of Mozilla’s Firefox and the dreaded Google Chrome browser among others.

Internet Explorer 9 is the latest and greatest from Microsoft. They need to promote its existence so earlier this month this ad surfaced on YouTube. I just saw it for the first time and, from a purely marketing perspective, it’s, well, puzzling to say the least.

Being self-deprecating can be an effective technique in modern day advertising. The humorous take on any ad is one proven way to get the attention of your target and the attention needed to get your message across.

In this case, it seems like Microsoft has confused funny with disturbing. Is it a good practice to have your message of “being improved” delivered by someone who is portrayed as someone that no one would want to be around for any reason? Sure you can play the ‘crazy card’for laughs but when you are saying that maybe you have to be nuts to like Internet Explorer 9 (indirectly but it’s there) you should have a sit down with your ad agency.

What’s your take on this ad from Microsoft? It’s Friday so relax a little and take a few minutes to be heard.



Marketing Pilgrim – Internet News and Opinion

Posted in IM NewsComments Off

Why Content Farms Are Here to Stay

Much noise was made recently about Google taking a whack at so-called content farms — sites which apply industrial production techniques to the creation of content targeting the long-tail of the query distribution. This is a subject of huge interest to many Internet businesses, either because they advertise on the AdWords Content Network (and, by extension, on content farms), because they compete with content farms on particular searches, or merely because they hate seeing content farms in their search results. As luck has it, I am three for three. It pains me to say it, but content farming is here to stay. It is an economic inevitability.

The Attention Economy

Much of the Internet currently operates in an attention economy, a level or two removed from direct monetization. Facebook is worth in excess of 50 billion not just because they’re making money hand over fist — though they are — but because they have achieved a dominant position in the attention economy, and they command such huge rivers of attention that they can trade trickles of it to people for actual money.

Google is the dominant player in the attention economy — they harvest vast amounts of attention via controlling navigation on the Internet (via a commanding lead in search), they sell attention in the form of AdWords ads, and they provide a marketplace for attention with their AdSense product.

Individual publishers — from the New York Times down to the smallest hobbyist site on the Internet — are also largely in the attention economy. For a mega-brand like the New York Times, attention can be generated — they can literally make news. Disney has a repeatable industrial process which takes as input one female teenager and produces as output a cultural phenomenon with hundreds of thousands of rabid fans.

Smaller players — Google back in the dorm room days or hobbyist sites today — largely cannot create attention on these scales, they can only harvest attention which already exists. Attention exists in the world for things independent of their own existence. People play golf. People bake cookies. People read Dan Brown novels. People receive massages. For all these things and more, people demand content: they want to improve their golf swing, they want new cookie recipes, they want new Dan Brown novels, they want massage how-to videos. And they are willing to pay with attention, a scarce commodity which can be converted into cash.

The Economics of Content Creation

Consider a hypothetical Internet with no efficient way of converting attention into money. This is not difficult to imagine: it was essentially the Internet of the dot-com bubble, where everyone wanted “eyeballs” but “eyeballs” plus banner advertising resulted in economically non-viable businesses. In this hypothetical Internet, content is mostly produced by people who have intrinsic reasons for creating it: hobbyists who want to share their passion, law professors who want to increase their professional reputation, governments who need to employ somebody and might as well employ a webmaster, and the like. This is widely viewed as a Garden of Eden scenario: the Internet, without the corrupting influence of money.

We had this Internet, and the average user experience was miserable.

Ability to publish content on the Internet was once dominated by presence of arcane technical skills (being a “webmaster”, a title which thankfully has fallen out of fashion). Webmasters were, by and large, very geeky people. They largely scratched their own itches, which (predictably) resulted in an Internet chock-full of Dungeons and Dragons character sheets, trivia about Matter-Eater Lad, and fansubbed anime episodes.

Less well-represented on the Garden of Eden Internet was content appealing to demographics which don’t intersect with geeks that often. Women, the very young, the elderly, non-English speakers, etc etc, were across a very real digital divide from the D&D players. You could still find advice on how to make an apple pie online, but if you did, it was because you got lucky and had a CS professor with quirky interests (for a CS professor, at any rate).

This started to change with the widespread adoption of content management systems, which took the level of computer skill for content creation down from “close to programming” to “close to using a word processor.” The first very popular CMSes were blogs, and there was much triumphantalist backslapping among bloggers that blogging was democratizing the Internet. You could be blogging in your pajamas and still take on the New York Times, or so the argument went.

Ability to use a word processor is more widely spread among the population than webmastering skills, but it is still a far cry from universal. Blogging caught on primarily with professional communicators: professors, journalists, and other folks who had long been using skill with the printed word and perceived authority with pre-existing audiences. Concurrent with this, there was an explosion of content creation aimed at the concerns of well-educated, middle-class American white urban professionals. Politics, financial advice, education, religion, international news: covered, covered, covered, both by established media and publishing interests moving online and by the new media (rather like the old media, except with orders of magnitude lower capital requirements). Content was now a democracy, in the same sense that America after the Revolution was a democracy: white property owners could be reasonably assured of having their interests represented.

There still existed massive demand — unharvested attention — for content outside the early adopters of the Internet. Larger scale online publishers began to go after the head of the demand distribution, and hobbyist sites continued to publish things like apple pie recipes, often with a quantum leap in presentational quality from just a few years previously. Google AdWords was one of the primary lubricants for making this happen — a hobbyist site dominating a niche like e.g. apple pies could suddenly generate non-trivial amounts of money for the site owner, largely by taking transaction costs about negotiating advertising sales out of the equation. This also allowed Google to monetize its own attention surplus better, because sending a searcher to a site with AdSense on it gives them a second chance at getting paid for a click. AdSense has generated roughly a third of Google’s revenue for the last several years.

The Industrialization Of Content Production

With technology continuing to bring down barriers to creating content and business model optimization like AdWords improving the opportunity to monetize attention, it was virtually inevitable that eventually the supply and demand curves would cross. They long since had for high-value verticals like e.g. mortgages, where huge transaction volumes, high margins, gigantic advertising spends, and liquid affiliate/lead gen markets have long subsidized huge volumes of content creation. Many quite savvy Internet users were simply unaware this had happened, since one does not search for mortgages or poker every day. The Internet is a virtually uncountable multitude of attention markets, and in many of them it was more expensive to create content than the harvestable attention could justify. Those niches continued to be underserved, in the capitalist sense of the word: people would have consumed more content for them, but that content did not exist.

Then disruptive innovation happened: basically, a number of firms figured out that the combination of algorithmically predicting attention plus outsourcing content creation could let them exploit relatively small amounts of attention, in parallel, at massive scales. This innovation caused the supply and demand curves to cross for a huge number of attention markets which had not crossed before. The result: content farming at massive, massive scale.

Consider bingo cards for elementary schoolteachers, a very niche subject that happens to pay my rent. Attention exists for it: bingo has long been used in American classrooms to review vocabulary across a variety of subjects. As teachers and parents gradually started using the Internet and using Google, their attention about bingo — a tiny, tiny sliver of the massive river of attention Google controls — became up for grabs. Some flowed to hobbyist sites like my own, some flowed to larger publishers like the NYT’s About.com unit, and some was simply poorly served. Teachers typed queries into Google and got garbage results which were not responsive.

I have advertised on Google’s AdWords Content Network for years, and for the last four years I’ve been essentially willing to buy as much traffic as Google cares to sell me for a range of quality below a given price. This makes my AdWords stats a proxy for who is getting traffic for bingo-related searches. (Google controls navigation on the Internet, so the presence of traffic for near-term desires like bingo cards strongly suggests that it was searched for. Check your Analytics if you don’t believe me.)

My market has massive seasonal changes in attention, so let’s look at consistent month-long slices of it, compared year-to-year. Here’s a tale of four Februaries.

  • In 2008, my AdWords spend was dominated by legacy Internet publishers like About.com, niche publishers in education, and hobbyist sites. Total spend was about $ 370, of which About captured almost $ 70 (~19%).
  • In 2009, hobbyist sites and niche publishers decline with the ascendancy of a new publisher called Kaboose, an early iteration of a content farm, focused on topics of interest to women (including, e.g., bingo). Total spend was about $ 560, of which Kaboose captured almost $ 160 (a whopping 29%), more than quintupling their performance from 2008. Or, to put it another way, more than half of increase in the size of this small attention market can be attributed to one publisher. 2009 also sees a new site in my top 10: a minor player called eHow run by an obscure firm Demand Media.
  • In 2010, spend again increases (to $ 640), and the top positions are dominated by content farms and ezinearticles, a legacy crowdsourced content farm. Kaboose loses share to new content farm entrants, and eHow has comparatively modest 50% year over year growth. Content farms now control over a third of this attention market.
  • In 2011, spend again increases (to $ 920 — nearly 50% year over year growth), and content farms dominate the attention market. eHow has improve its execution again, to the point where they singlehandedly capture $ 150 in ads, quintupling performance from a year before. (Yep, their revenue is now ten times what it was in 2009.)

The Microeconomics Of Content Farming

Why did content farming capture so much of the attention economy so quickly? Basically, once the process for creating content very responsive to a single search term was repeatable, it could be replicated down the long-tail very, very quickly, in response to market signals such as e.g. successful pages in related searches. My business has long had a page about Valentine’s Day bingo cards because I know, being a publisher in the niche, that they’re very valuable — there exists a substantial amount of attention which will be paid to Valentine’s Day bingo every February. Do you think Valentine’s Day bingo cards is a tiny niche, on Internet scales? eHow has over thirty pages targeting variants on this top — thirty slices of a fraction of a tiny niche which were worth individualized effort to target. Some representative titles:

  • Church Valentine’s Party Games
  • Make Valentine Bingo Cards
  • Classroom Valentine’s Day Party Games
  • Valentine’s Math Games
  • Christian Valentine’s Games
  • Christian Adult Valentine’s Games
  • Valentine’s Party Games For Older Kids
  • etc, etc, etc, etc

Zooming in on the performance of just one of these pages, about Valentine’s bingo for churches, I paid $ 9 for ads on it in February 2011. If we make the unreasonably pessimistic assumption that it never makes money except in February, and that the remnant image advertising is basically a wash (not true, given the amount that Groupon and online games throw around at monetizing it), this suggests that the four text ads on the page probably generated on the order of $ 30 in revenue. Google’s 68% revenue share means that Demand Media got about $ 20 in revenue from this page… in 2011 alone.

Content farms are targeting evergreen content, though: Valentine’s Day is going to happen in 2012, and there will still exist churches who want to play bingo on it. Will revenue from this page go to zero? That is highly unlikely, because this page wasn’t written in 2011 — it was written in 2010, when I paid $ 1 for ads in it (implying about $ 2 in revenue). Due to changes in the search environment and Demand Media’s increasing sophistication with leveraging internal traffic, it got nine times more valuable at no marginal cost in the course of a single year.

Content farms operate on a portfolio strategy: the pieces of content which succeed, like that page, subsidize the pieces of content which don’t. As long as the average revenue portfolio-wide exceeds cost of content production, one should expect the content farms to pour capital into content production and scale it to the moon. The portfolio strategy appears to be winning, judging by eHow’s meteoric rise in revenue and the demonstrated ability for content farms to choke out non-farming content sources. eHow alone showed my ads on five times as many pages in 2011 as in 2010.

And why wouldn’t they? The unit economics of content farming are stunningly attractive. Demand Media pays on the order of $ 10 to have the 312 words on that page written and edited. If Wall Street could design an equity which cost $ 10 and paid $ 2 per share in 2010, $ 20 per share in 2011, and an unknown but positive amount thereafter, all other investment classes would be virtually obsolete. The only problem is systemic risks.

The only thing that can reverse this is content getting more expensive to create or attention getting scarcer (or harder to monetize) for these markets.

There is more attention to monetize: It is possible that Internet use will decline in the future, but I will offer excellent odds to anyone who wishes to bet that: Kansas schoolmarms in the elementary bingo market have quite a ways to go before they catch up to the average reader of this blog in online consumption, which predicts a large aggregate increase in attention harvestable on the Internet and even larger proportional increases to the attention markets they care about.

Google and advertisers increasing cost of attention: Ignoring huge sources of attention of dubious worth, like ads displayed next to Facebook games, an AdSense ad displayed to someone 2 seconds after they type in a query into Google is, essentially, a search ad.

Read that again, because it is important.

This means that content farms are essentially in the search ad monetization business — i.e. the most profitable business in the history of the Internet. Search ads monetize extraordinarily well because in addition to capturing user attention they come with user intent. This makes them orders of magnitude more valuable than the old banner display networks (which users quickly become blind to), sidebar ads next to Farmville or pictures of that cute girl from chemistry class, and the like. Content farms preserve search intent because the laser targetting combination of their one-topic pages and AdSense means that the AdSense ads are guaranteed to be responsive content to the search and, give that everything else on the page was written by a content farm, the ads are the best content on the page.

Sure, farms cede a large portion of the reach of search to actual search engines, since they can’t rank for head queries, but even 5% of Google’s market cap would be nothing to sneeze at. Google has incentives to help them rather than competing with them. Meanwhile, any market with competitors will tend to drive the cost of ads up until they have expended all of their margin on the sale. For a high-margin category like software, if my competitor is willing to pay 51% of his sale price to generate one marginal sale (when you back it out to cost-per-click prices), I’m willing to bid 51%. The equilibrium outcome is that my advertising costs increase over time while my ROI decreases, but it remains profitable and I’d be a fool not to do it. Google and their publishing partners win and win big.

This Is Old News. Google Fixed Content Farming… Right?

Back in late February 2011, Google rolled out the Panda update, which was widely perceived to be aimed at content farms. What actually happened was that it separated Content Farming 1.0 from Content Farming 2.0 — earlier entrants like ezinearticles and Mahalo (and a raft of sites you’ve never heard about) lost out to better executing farms, including eHow.

For example, instead of comparing Februaries like we did earlier, let’s see the progression of Marches in the bingo niche. Largely due to the absence of Valentine’s Day, March consistently has less attention available than February: aside from an anomalous 2008 (long story with short moral: don’t bork your AdWords code), spends fell 28% in 2009 and 17% in 2010. The decline was much more pronounced in 2011, possibly attributable to Panda reshaping the attention economy landscape: it jumped to 37%.

However, the performance of individual publishers was mixed:

  1. eHow (Demand Media) declined only 18%. This looks virtually in line with historical seasonal trends (growth in 2010 was so fast they were actually flat over the interval, i.e. growing much faster than market). Their performance in March 2011 (historically a “bad” month for bingo attention) crushed their performance in February 2009 (historically a “great” month for bingo attention). One could be excused for believing eHow was not net-affected by Panda
  2. LoveToKnow got annihilated – spend decreased 71%. (The comparable decrease in 2010 was only 25%.)
  3. ezinearticles got annihilated – spend decreased 68%. (The comparable decrease in 2010 was only ~10%.)
  4. About.com was severely affected — spend decreased about 46%. (The comparable decrease in 2010 was, again, lower — only 21%.)

Summed over all the content farmers, Panda appears to have picked a winner with regards to this slice of the attention economy: eHow.

I had been wistfully hoping that when the content farms got crushed that my site, which competes with them for many queries, would pick up some of the redistributed attention. If this happened, it has been too minor to notice in my Analytics stats — my organic searches from Google look roughly in line with where I would expect them to be absent Panda. The big winner and the big losers appear to be concentrated among farmers, with fairly minor spillover to the rest of this sliver of the attention economy. This makes sense to me, in a way — I simply don’t have a page which is more responsive to the need for church Valentine’s bingo activities than eHow’s does. I believe my pages are far and away better than eHow’s — my pages about making bingo cards will actually let you make bingo cards — but reasonable people could disagree on whether that is more important than capturing all parts of the user’s intent, including the “specifically for churches” bit of it. Outside of my narrow slice of the online experience, a Big Publisher advocacy group estimates that the Panda update redistributed $ 1 billion in advertising revenue, which is nothing to sneeze at. However, with the Content Network generating over $ 20 billion in annual ad sales, $ 1 billion looks less like a fundamental shift and more like repartitioning scraps left to the losers.

Did Panda Kill Farming?

Only the economics can kill farming, and it does not appear that Panda meaningfully changes the microeconomics of content farms. If you can sell $ 40 of ads against a $ 10 page prior to Panda, and after Panda you can only sell $ 20 of ads, well, farm on. The model scales to the moon as long as the portfolio is even marginally profitable. The losing farms will also be incentivized to go back to the drawing board and reevaluate where they place their content bets: perhaps it is no longer lucrative enough for them to go after certain micro-markets, like elementary school bingo cards (or like the bottom half of elementary school bingo cards), but their more valuable markets are probably still stupidly profitable. Those will get more competitive as they redeploy their content creation resources going forward, assuming they’re capable at executing on that.

Demand Media, on the other hand, is grinning like the cat that just caught the canary. Not only is their core business proposition virtually unaffected, in spite of the worst nightmare of their business model (Google coming down on it like the fist of an angry god) coming true, their unit economics down the tail just got radically better. Going forward, they can expect less competition in the less lucrative markets, allowing them to capture larger fragments of the attention available in those markets, and proportionally higher revenues.

The Future: Outfarming The Farmers?

A frequent theme of dystopian science fiction is that man-machine hybrids outcompete the human race. Algorithmic/freelancer hybrids, like content farms, are pretty much there, for a large and increasing portion of the content tail. This is going to get exacerbated by changes in content production and consumption, such as the rise of video (which has orders of magnitude higher production costs than text) and decline of hobbyist content creation. In 2006, my business had significant competition for keywords from individual teachers’ sites, where Mrs. Smith decided (back in 1996) to put up a web page to try out this new Internet thing on her computer. In 2021, there will be many less sites created by Mrs. Smiths, because Mrs. Smith in 2011 now has an iPad to watch her Khan Academy videos on, and the iPad is virtually useless for creating websites. I’m already seeing anecdotal behavioral changes in my customers (“Say, how do I hook a printer up to an iPad so I can make my cards from there? I hate turning on the computer — I think it has a virus or something, and it is slow.”), and ordinarily they’re quite behind the curve.

Additionally, while Mrs. Smith had sufficient dedication to the niche to target the most common activities, she never made more than 5 or so pages about bingo. I have about a thousand bingo activities, created with focused application of custom software by freelancers. The content farms are making me look practically lazy with their scale of publication.

This suggests an obvious route for improvement for me: if it is stupidly profitable for me to pay $ 200 to Google so that it can pay $ 130 to eHow so that it can pay $ 50 to freelance writers to create 5 pages, why don’t I just take the $ 200 and pay freelance writers to write those same 5 pages… and then 15 more? The only thing which has stopped me from doing it so far is concern about polluting the Internet. But the economic attraction of doing it is undeniable. If the choice is a user getting their bingo content from an anonymous freelancer at eHow working through their queue of 400 articles for the week or getting it from someone who is only employed to write bingo articles, shouldn’t they get it from me?

This dilemma, repeated a thousand times across a thousand markets, is going to create the Internet of 2020. Break out your straw hats, folks: we are all going to be farming or, at best, a step removed from farming by paying intermediaries (Google and the farms) to do our farming for us. The main distinction is going to be between successful execution of farming strategies (like eHow) and poor execution of farming strategies (like their competitors who recently got whacked).

Demand Media is already shopping out their business model as a service: since newspapers and other legacy publishers are a) dying but b) scare Google (because they can cause Google to have bad PR, which might result in government regulation, which is Google’s sole competitive risk), Demand Media would love newspapers to be the front man for their farmed content. That, or parallel arrangements, is going to be almost irresistible to anyone with sufficient signals of trust to rank for arbitrary longtail content in their niche. I mean, “Create a repeatable process to create content of a known level of quality, throw money at the process to scale it, then sell ads against the result” is the entire newspaper business model! Content farming just takes out the sucky bits like “own a multi-billion-dollar distribution network for dead trees” and “write articles which are relevant to a few hundred people at an amortized cost of over $ 1,000 per article.” (It is an open secret that the most lucrative ads in a newspaper aren’t around the news, but are in sections like Style and Travel. It does not take Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism to write articles on this season’s hottest shade of fuchsia or compelling reasons to go to Cancun. “Real” news has always been a loss leader to sell advertising against their other content. If they can create ten times as much fluff at a tenth of the cost, why not? And if they can… do they need the “real” news in the first place?)

Can Google just tighten the screws with another Son of Panda update? That is unlikely to work unless they repeal the laws of economics: farming happens on every topic for which the supply and demand curve crosses. Slashing content farm’s ability to rank across the board by 40% just makes a fraction of the content space monetarily unattractive to them, but the content space is virtually infinite and the ability to monetize attention is increasing all the time. If Groupon will pay for remnant inventory on a page about How To Pick Your Nose, who will compete for that attention except a content farm?

Is that the Internet I want? Probably not. But then again, I’m privileged — as a geek, my interests in content will always be well represented on the Internet, even without monetary incentives to create it. People will go to StackOverflow to answer my questions before I’ve even asked them, they’ll create Starcraft XII walk-through videos, they’ll even write software, all without seeing a penny for it. The experience for less privileged folks, though, demonstrably sucked at the dawn of the Internet, and it is not obvious to me that removing most of the growth in content responsive to their needs is a net win for them. We might see an Internet where the content-rich win and everybody else gets farming.

Like I said… dystopian sci-fi.

Patrick McKenzie runs a small software business. When not blogging or taking over the worldwide printable bingo cards market, he is working on his new venture, Appointment Reminder.

Categories: 

SEO Book.com

Posted in IM NewsComments Off


Advert