The Domain Authority Fail

Have you gotten a proposal from an SEO firm that lists as one of the deliverable “Domain Authority Evaluation”?

If so, you should unceremoniously crumple it into a ball and shoot for the trash can. If it arrived by email, delete it.

Why do I think this is a sign that the firm is not reputable?

For one, its a term that fails to clearly explain itself. What the hell is “Domain Authority” anyway? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Backing up…

…Recently a few clients have passed along proposals they have received from Agencies or SEO Firms. There in big bullet point fashion is “Domain Authority Evaluation” or  “Domain Authority Audit” or “Domain Authority Research”.

Domain Authority was once such a simple concept that its not worth mentioning in a proposal or report. It once meant the age of your domain name and website in continuous service. “How long has your website been around?” See? Simple. A long time = “good”. Its brand-spanking new = “not great for your search rank. We’ll need to work harder to get your web pages indexed and ranking in search results.”

So its was enough to simply say in meeting “You bought your domain name in 2001, and the website has been in continuous service since 2002. That means it has solid domain authority, which means its been around long enough to have credibility with search engines, making it easier to rank in search results.” Or you would say, “I see you just bought your domain name and built a website. It probably does not have too much street-cred with the search engines. We’ll have to work harder…”

That’s the gist of it. Its not rocket science and it does not require any “research”. (and by the way, Google never-ever mentions “Domain Authority” anywhere)

Now if you are new to the business of SEO, you may have read about it at MOZ, who has redefined the term over recent years. What we once called “link authority” is now “Domain Authority” at MOZ. I’m not going into the weeds on why their definition is misleading. Read about it here https://moz.com/learn/seo/domain-authority and you decide if it should have been redefined.

Doesn’t anyone like straight-forward terminology anymore?

Well I do and I know my clients do and that’s why the term and its use in proposals is a bad sign. Too much snake oil in this business already. Lets talk (and write proposals) like business professionals and not like propeller-heads.

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Semalt Still Spamming

They aren’t giving up so I assume it works to catch the dumb fish. I (again) found “traffic” spikes in Analytics coming from auto-seo-service.com, auto-seo-service.org, autoseo-service.org, resell-seo-services.com only to find that it is our old friends at Semalt. Does this spam even work? Maybe their real purpose it to generate traffic out of your curiosity to visit one of their spam links in Analytics that forwards to their website to improve their Alexa Rank or something. I can’t imagine anyone would do business with someone who uses dirty tricks to advertise “spam advertising” – not cool! So I advise that you don’t give them the benefit of a visit.

For those who won’t visit but are curious, search a bit for other webmaster comments. What I have found (and I’m not visiting their site to see what they are pitching today) is they are reportedly a Ukrainian SEO outfit.

Since this isn’t real traffic (100% bounce rate) you can’t filter them from your analytics. You’ve got to block them at the server. If you have access to your Apache htaccess file, adding this line in mod_rewrite should do it.

RewriteCond %{HTTP_REFERER} ^.*seo-service.* [NC,OR]

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The Online Reviews Bait and Switch

Since I seem to be the only Internet Business Development adviser talking about this “racket”, the tough part is to describe what it is quickly, in an easy to understand format.

What essentially happens is

  1. A business (you?) use a reviews website to build the content that generates valuable leads. They (the 3rd party review website) get you to encourage your customers to leave reviews about your business (that gets them into search results – RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR BUSINESS LISTING). This makes sense as it generates leads/sales for your business because good reviews help convert those searchers into buyers. All Good.
  2. However, after some time – and now that there is significant value (to you) flowing through the reviews platform, they ( the owner of the platform ) switch business models on you. Now they will charge for all benefits that would flow to you ( the business ), without compensation for the content which helped them solidify their place in search results. (well, until Google changes their algorithm, which luckily is coming one day )
  3. Yes, you can choose not to pay for those leads, but your competition will BECAUSE THEY (the 3rd party reviews) ARE LOCATED RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR BUSINESS LISTING in the search results. You are now an addict and must pay!

You have been warned! (before you build those reviews on 3rd party websites)

Think about it another way. You build a road with your sweat, resources (or tax dollars), then once enough traffic depends on your road, the government puts a toll booth on it (not only do they not give you any of the money, they make you pay tolls as well). Kind of sucks doesn’t it? Well that is what is happening with 3rd Party Review websites.

I use the toll road business model as the best analogy because frankly, only governments allow themselves to operate this way. Everyoone else who tries it goes to jail. Today’s Internet its not much different from the salt trade on the Rhine River in middle-ages, we have the evolution of the toll station. Who controls content can extract money. (except newspapers it seems 😉 Today the “new” business model is to insert yourself between content in such a way as to extract a toll. Thus we arrive at the nefarious way the 3rd Party Review business is evolving.

My disgust lies in the bait-and-switch business model (fraudulent) that is at the heart of this “business practice”. There is a general understanding in business that you do not engage in knowingly deceptive tactics in order to enrich yourself at the expense of someone’s ignorance. Those that do are known as “black market” or “mafia”, etc. Otherwise it is understood (and usually required by law ) that you “fully disclose” what the terms of the business are – in advance.

Here is How the bait-and-switch business model Works

In the beginning, getting reviews onto these online review websites is mostly free and worth the few leads it generates. You are offered an optional membership fee that gives you some placement advantages, etc. This is essentially a modified classified-ads business model – pay for placement to generate leads. We understand that. All good so far BECAUSE HOW the business works HAS BEEN DISCLOSED.

But after some critical mass is reached, an ownership transaction takes place (re. TripAdvisor buys Viator). Someone must buy someone else as part of this bait-and-switch business model. It really does not matter who buys who, what matters is that the contract changes – the “Terms of Service” must, of course, be revised.

  1. Don’t get me wrong. I believe in real capitalism. This is not a socialist rant. Everything should not be free.
  2. No, legal eagle. Just because its says in the original terms of service that the content is owned by the platform does not jibe when the business model is SELECTIVELY changed. Selectively changing the business model while keeping other bits of the contract selectively in tact is not in the spirit of good business practices. Sorry, that practice, when done with prior intent is in fact called bait-and-switch (fraud).

Now a new business model is suddenly in effect. You were not informed this would happen because “Hey dude! Who can foresee the future?”. But now you must pay for a click, or a prospective customer, or a completed transaction. Suddenly the leads that you have been counting on are not yours unless you pay more – a lot more (like 20% to Viator). Now its no longer a classified business model where you pay for visibility, its a compulsory toll to get the leads your content generates. I’m here to tell you that the owners of these online review platforms CAN foresee the future just fine, dude!

But it gets much worse from an Internet Marketing perspective

These reviews that have been built by (you) the individual business, now cause the Third-Party Review website to achieve top rank in search results* ABOVE your website – thus capturing clicks that would not otherwise go to the reviews website had (you) the business not helped develop the reviews in the first place.

  • (Recent changes to Google SERPs puts the review websites above the listing of the individual businesses in question – always subject to change)

Nonetheless, this means even if I want to get out of this relationship, its too late! This parasite has taken over the search results using your content. There is no way to go back to a life without the parasitic Third-Party Reviews in your search results. They are getting more clicks from your target market than your website does, and they will sell those clicks to the highest bidder in your market. Forever!

  • Do It Yourself – generate reviews on your website.

Or the solution, in my opinion, is to grow your own reviews – on your website (yes and its not that difficult).

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Consumer Reviews Reconsidered

Most businesses on the Internet today work hard to get good business reviews and manage those reviews (that are not 5 stars). Some businesses very much depend on good reviews to survive.

When a review program has its own website (and most do) that’s where the problem begins.

This is a disturbing realization. I call it the “Covert Extortion Racket”. Those are fight’in words, I know. But when you take a close look at who owns the reviews and how the reviews are handled (re. wherever money is involved), I think you can see the ugly underbelly of the business reviews “industry”. Its not much different from how drug-dealers operate. It may even be free at first, but then…

So lets reiterate the basic principals of all search marketing because they are pretty simple and the discussions about reviews gets pretty convoluted.

We want to:

1) attract as many visitors to our website as possible
2) convert those visitors into contacts (and thereafter, sales of course)

That’s really all there is to it on the surface!

Participating in review programs do not appear to benefit us in our primary objective (#1). In fact the The Review Site has great potential to divert visitors away from our website.

Specifically, by participating in the program, we help The Review Site establish a search presence in our search area. That means The Review Site will absolutely get some clicks originally destined for our website, if they were not present in the search results.

Having The Review Site appear in search results everywhere our website appears will divert visitors away from our site to theirs. That is not speculation.

Therefore look at what happens next:

a) there are plenty of competitive businesses on The Review Site which absolutely will get some of our customers, no matter how good our reviews are. Its the nature of people to look for a cheaper price, etc. Why would we want to create an environment for this situation to arise?

b) there are competitors that absolutely will get some of our visitors. There are some businesses that would consider participating a clear benefit > for attracting MORE visitors <. But an established business only stands to LOOSE visitors as far as I can tell. c) The Review Site website design does not assure that our original intended visitors will return to our website once they have visited The Review Site. I don’t see that happening with most designs.

d) play this reviews business model into the future – and this becomes even more disconcerting. What if we no longer pay for The Review Site service?

In other words, the risks out-weigh the benefits.

And better not to dance with the Devil in the first place.

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What is Wrong with 3rd Party Reviews

What isn’t wrong is a better question. There is a dangerous online service that retail business owners should take great care to avoid – 3rd Party Review Services.

I have since published another perhaps more accurate description of this issue hereThe Online Reviews Bait and Switch

On the surface it seems like a good idea and valuable service to have more and better reviews online. But in fact it is quite the opposite – this is a parasite business model. It is not designed to help your business long-term. It is designed to cost you a small sum per month, forever. And it can only get more and more expensive as time goes on. And once you enlist, there is no going back.

It is almost fair to call it a scam

On the surface these services seem to make sense. People do use Yelp (albeit mostly angry people). Consumers search for reviews to confirm the integrity of a reputable business, so it makes sense that you might use some help getting more and better reviews.

You know Yelp as a horizontal review “service”. (Yelp has had its share of troubles with its business model) But you may not be aware of all the smaller players in the many vertical retail niches. In the automotive business there are Dealerrater, Cars.com and SureCritic to name those I’ve looked at carefully.

Here is Why

These 3rd Party Review Services use your content to attain a place in search results next to your business listing. That means when someone searches for your business, they will also see the 3rd Party Review Service right below your listing. That person who was just about to click on your listing, will now click on the 3rd party service listing. Why would you want that?

These 3rd Party Review listings only give your prospective online shopper a reason to click on anything but your listing, and that is going to lower the number of visitors to your website. A certain percentage will be permanently lost no matter how good your reviews are. If you let that logic sink in, you can stop right here and see why 3rd Party Review Services can never help your conversion rates. Its a losing battle.

The 3rd Party Review Service is more damaging than that. They often duplicate your content which is well known (in SEO) to be bad for your search rank. Often in your “relationship” with the 3rd Party Review Service, you are giving them permission to use your website content. Read the fine print. NEVER allow your content to be duplicated anywhere, by anyone, no matter how good the intent.

Till Death do Us Part

Once the 3rd Party Review Service attains a competitive search rank (position next to your listing) on the search engine results pages (SERPs), they will then always drain a good percentage of your traffic awayforever more. It’ll be alimony either way. You will pay in lost visitors to your site or you will have to continue to pay the subscription fee just to get some of those visitors back. And that’s not all…

Attaining a competitive search presence can be done without your consent. These 3rd Party Review Services often just take your listing from some other database they got their hands on. But they can get there ten times faster if you help; by signing-up.

There can be Only One

All these 3rd Party Review Services will favor the highest bidder, or the business with the most/best reviews from day one. If you still want to sign up (for the leads presumably), you cannot arrive late to this party. The business with the most 5 star reviews will always get the lions-share of the “leads” and they will be hard to unseat from their top position.

Dance with the Devil

Should you stop using their service, you may no longer have control over the reviews that inevitably will accumulate on their site (forever more, at a faster pace than if they were not prominently displayed next your listing in search). As a consequence, you stand to compound the lost business should you end the relationship. Your competitor who continues with the 3rd Party will now get your prospective visitors. Its a dance with the devil in my opinion. Again, either way you go, you start this thing but it never stops.

What to do? (if you don’t want to go there)

A best practice when these parasites pop up in search next to your listing; call them and request they remove you business from their database. (they have plenty of sales people who want to hear from you) The call will do nothing of course, so be sure to get an email address for their legal counsel. This way you can follow up with something in writing, preferably from your lawyer, requesting to be removed from their database (and therefore the search results). This will take time, but eventually, legally, you can get this under control.

Why not take control?

Take more control of your Reputation Management sooner than later. You should already have some sort of campaign to increase your Google Reviews. But why not have the reviews on your website? Its very possible and not as expensive to implement as you might think.

The Long Game

Google will ultimately be the only reviews game in town. Google continues to develop their review business even if they say Google+ is going away – the reviews won’t. They have already removed most Yellow Page services from search results and I bet they intend to one day push Yelps out of business. (oops! they are back in the SERPs in a big way in 2015) At some juncture, Google will likely remove those 3rd Party services from search results along with Yelp. That will solve this problem for you, but when?

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What is Semalt? – Spam? Scam? or what?

Most webmasters, SEOs, Internet Marketing professionals (those who actually analyse their reports) are seeing this bot / referrer in their logs and in Google Analytics. They may have noticed that the traffic has 100% bounce rate. Not good. And our clients would like us to do something about it.

But not too many have answers as to what Semalt.com is. If you do a WhoIs Semalt.com lookup, you find a very secretive registration. And Semalt says “Semalt is a professional webmaster analytics tool that opens the door to new opportunities for the market monitoring”. (that perfect English grammar should be a give away – always using an unneccessary definite article)

There is an interesting blog post about blocking Semalt. Again, very opaque. This comment was especially interesting because those running Semalt could and should respond. “I would not recommend going to their website and submitting anything. I have read numerous times that this does not work and some believe they are using that as a way to confirm websites and people that have done that have found the crawling to intensify. The people running this bot have no respect for webmasters. I read on Twitter where someone had managed to redirect the semalt crawlers back to the semalt server and then the owner of the bot accused this person of launching a DDOS attack against them, when it was actually their own bots coming back at them, #semalt on twitter will bring it up.

There are many testimonoials about how Semalt is circumventing attempts to block their bot or prevent it from showing up in analytics.

Using an anonymous proxy (squid), Semalt refuses to run a request. Yet another give away that they guys may be on the “dark side”.

The spam scam site Semalt. Semalt seems to be run by Ukrainian spammers and it spams their website on countless site analytics and people will go to the site out of curiosity and some will then sign up. Their analytics are no where near as good as other analytic sites, but it’s about money at the end of the day, spamming the analytics is more effective than email spam, I think this is a bad new trend.

There is this explanantion and offer to remove your website from their crawler. Anyone who can verify that it works, a comment to that effect would be appreciated.

As others have already offered, if Semalt wants to make their value proposition clear, “we are all ears” = comments are open.

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Vendor Landing Pages and Conversion (il)Logic

il·log·i·cal

/iˈläjikəl/
Adjective
Lacking sense or clear, sound reasoning: “an illogical fear”.
Synonyms
inconsequent – irrational – illegitimate – unreasonable

A vendor sells me a service in which I (pay them) and I am supposed to direct my website traffic to their website and conversion takes place on their web page. Huh? Are you serious? The argument: their page converts better than my page. Further, I don’t get to measure conversion as it takes place, re. using my telephone number. That’s right! They don’t use a tracking number.

That sounds like a joke, but its not. Small businesses are being suckered into these relationships all the time. Don’t be a sucker. Hire us 🙂

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