Advocacy for Professional Consultants

A funny thing happened on the way to an SEO Mecca. The New York Times decided to fold all of the content of the International Herald Tribune into NYTimes.com as an SEO play. Gawker has the full backstory.

If you don’t feel like reading, the New York Times has been asking Google for enhanced SERPs (Search Engine Result Placements) for some time. As Google has refused special treatment, the Times decided to take the step of combining it’s moderately-strong iht.com property into the main NYTimes.com. On paper, this makes sense if they were playing to combine the strengths of both properties to enhance the value of the content in the search engines.

Many people do this, even on small scales. Through special, yet simple, configurations, systems admins can redirect one page to another and pass a code that instructs search engines to find the old content at the new location permanently or temporarily, depending on the use case and purpose. It’s a bit tricky, but also not rocket science. It happens all the time, and in fact, also happens on this site where I’ve deprecated old content pages in favor of new ones.

These are basic steps that are taken, and required, to retain the search engine value of a site. Unfortunately, as the Gawker story points out, the Times botched the process and is redirecting all of the IHT content to a single landing page, nullifying the value of all their content. (Though the argument could be made that if Times engineers jumped on the mistake quick enough, they could salvage the damage before Google updated all the results.

Assuming, however, that that is not the case, the decision to handle this in-house instead of contracting a professional SEO firm or consultant, highlights another bad business practice that is far too common – especially when a company is cash strapped, as the Times is.

Hiring an outside firm or individual to handle this stuff meticulously would have easily cost the Times a number in the five figure range. Easily. Maybe six figures, depending on the firm and the scope and complexity of the problem. Undoubtedly, this is a lot of money and one of the reasons that people try to do jobs on their own.

However, the flip side of this particular problem, understanding of course that I don’t have all the details, is that the advertising revenue being lost as a result of the search traffic that will not come to the site for a long time from Google, is unquestionably going to exceed the money they would have lost to hire a firm or reputed SEO professional.

In the advertising world, though in my opinion it is a flawed concept long-term, the most lucrative advertising for a content property like the New York Times, is CPM. CPM, is the amount of money that an advertiser is willing to pay for every thousand impression, or page view.

According to Compete.com (which is tragically wrong most of the time), the International Herald Tribune website gets approximately 4.6M page views monthly (2M unique visitors * 2.3 average pages per visit). At an extremely conservative rate of $20 CPM, the Times would lose $90,000 a month in advertising revenue. For $50,000, they could have contracted a firm to handle the SEO implications of the IHT switch.

I admit that I’m pulling numbers out of my ass here. Without a doubt, my numbers are way off any semblance of reality. The dollar figures per CPM are higher. The traffic is higher. But, my point is made.

Companies looking to play in the web space, when it’s not their primary business, should utilize contractors as much as possible. The downside of using contractors is the lack of “buy in” to the company mission, however consultants are usually more efficient and professional about getting a job done right the first time (they have other clients) than many in-house teams can do. In a down economy, as well, it’s critically important that companies are able to stay focused on their core missions.

Bonus: Despite the fact that I am making up numbers, the principle behind consultancy remains. But to lighten things up, I’ll toss the naysayers a bone.

Dilbert.com

Findability is a Legitimate Concern for Bloggers

On Saturday, I posted a review of my session at WordCamp on Search and Findability. It was hard to gauge at that time how effective the session was at the time I wrote that. Beside my normal annual attendance at WordCamp as a subject matter expert, and several sessions at different WordCamps around the country over the past few years, I was there on behalf of Lijit.

In fact, when I pitched the session on search to Matt (as a core interest of Lijit), I was firmly instructed (as I suspected I would be) that hard pitching the company was off limits. From my perspective as a member of the WordPress community, I wouldn’t have it any other way. It was the same approach that we took at b5media. The company was represented. The company was known as a WordPress shop. We shared war stories with other WordPress shops. But no one on stage at any point pitched b5. It’s non-standard, I think, for any company to pitch their wares at any *Camp.

Instead, my session was about findability. Findability is the concept that content can be “found” by readers. This is a common problem that many bloggers wrestle with, and many have tried a wide variety of techniques to make their blogs more findable. This is not the same as SEO, though. SEO is a subset of findability. It’s findability for machines. Findability is as much about the data structure as the content or theme structure or the device compatibility (is it mobile compatible, for instance?)

Our product at Lijit tries to address a lot of the issues of findability. Re-search provides relevant search data to readers coming from the search engines (think landing pages). It makes all the bloggers content findable by indexing not just the site, but all the other related content associated with the user.

What I found interesting, and that I did not know when I wrote my post, was that the rest of the day would reinforce the core principles of my session. Tantek Çelik expounded on Microformats. There was an SEO session. Numerous bloggers talked to me throughout the day explaining solutions that they have come up with for making a blog more findable. Solutions ranged from content practices, to theme structures to custom homegrown plugins that do various things. It was fascinating.

I realize now what I thought I realized then, but didn’t really realize until now. All bloggers are faced with the same core challenges. The challenges manifest themselves in different ways, but at the end of the day findability is on the forefront of everyones minds.

  1. All bloggers want to drive traffic. Whether the traffic is internal, a key interest of those in the SEO/SEM/Ad space, or within their sphere of influence, an interest of bloggers looking to build their personal brand.
  2. All bloggers want to provide value to readers. No blogger wants search engine traffic to go away. Everyone wants to find a way to keep that traffic and convert it into value, whether ad-driven or otherwise, for their blog
  3. Bloggers are grappling with ways to break apart from the pack. 99.999% of blogs (a totally random number) really look the same at the end of the day. I don’t mean the user interface, but I do mean the theme structure. Structures are built in expected way, and modules/widgets are expected to behave similar ways, regardless of the blog
  4. WordPress cannot solve all the problems of all the blogs. Keep in mind that WordPress is a tool, not a lifestyle. (And I’d say the same thing to social media aficionados). WordPress is evolving into something, but much of the value that bloggers can add, allowing themselves to be different or drive more traffic (see point 1 or 2), are created by smart people trying to bring a solution to a problem.
  5. At the end of the day, every bloggers wants a kickass community of readers and commenters that reinforce their worth in the world. Kathy Sierra talks about creating passionate users, and she’s talking about principles of an engaged community. Findability helps the community engage.

Doing a 9am session is hard. Everyone is still sleepy, and/or hung over, jetlagged, etc. At the end of my session, I felt like I said what I needed to say. However, by the end of the weekend, I realized that much of WordCamp reinforced exactly the concerns that I brought up to kick off the opening session. That’s encouraging to me as a WordPress user and as someone who tries to understand the dynamics of the greater community. Of course, it encourages me as a Lijit guy as I see that our product can directly address many of the challenges that I heard repeated throughout the weekend.

Technosailor.TV: Saturday Nights at 9pm

After a few weeks of messing around and getting comfortable in the video streaming game, we’ve had a lot of fun and a good deal of attention. It’s been fun. I’ve learned some things too – namely that these things can easily go over three hours if there’s no structure.

So, I’ll be streaming every Saturday from 9-11pm (eastern).

The format I’m going to play with will be:

Mixx Minutes with Special Guest Joe Fowler of Mixxingbowl.com’s Social Blend
My new favorite local company, Mixx, has some great stories. This will resemble the Diggnation show without Kevin Rose, Alex Albrecht or Digg. ;-) I’ll talk these stories over with you all as we goo, so get your webcams and uStream logins and passwords all brushed off.

Special Guest
Don’t know who this is yet – but open to suggestions. Who do you want to see? Otherwise, I’ll find someone interesting on Twitter. :-) Update: Our special guest this first week is Jonathan Dingman, an SEO guy. I’m going to skewer his SEO efforts but maybe he might have some tips for the audience.

Audience Conversations
The rest of the show will be a mish-mash of audience topics and conversations. The end of the show always gets the most fun. Last time, I pitched Andrew Hyde on a business model he stole and created VCWear from. ;-)

So, come on by on Saturday night. It’s bring your own beverages – let’s have a good time.