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Amazon.com gets into small business loans

January 8th, 2013 by Chris

I just received this email:

[quote]Amazon is always looking for ways to help our sellers grow. We are excited to announce a new service: Amazon Lending by Amazon Capital Services, Inc.

Based on your Amazon selling performance you are pre-qualified for a loan up to $xx,xxx. Use these funds to purchase inventory and increase your sales on Amazon.com.

How the Amazon Lending loan works:

Register for a loan. Sign in with your Selling on Amazon Primary Account holder user id and password.
If approved, the funds will be advanced to your Amazon Seller Account within approximately five business days, and we will initiate a disbursement to your bank account on file.
Your Amazon Lending monthly payment will be automatically deducted from your Amazon Seller Account.
Go to Amazon Lending to complete your loan registration. You will need to sign in with your Selling on Amazon Primary Account holder user id and password. You may also sign into your Seller Central Account, look for the Amazon Lending offer in the right hand column of the home page and follow the links to “Learn more” and “Register.”

If you have any questions, please contact us at support@amazoncapital.com.

This offer expires on February 7, 2013. Registration for Amazon Lending is by invitation only.[/quote]

I find this interesting. As an Amazon shareholder I’m excited for the revenue potentials and it reminds me, quite frankly, of GE Capital. Amazon has gotten famous for getting really good at certain things, such as fulfillment, or Internet infrastructure and data processing, and then farming out their excess capacity. GE is famous for having really low corporate lending costs and then playing arbitrage by relending that money and making a profit on the interest rate spread. Not it seems as if Amazon is taking a page out of their own book and following GE into that same sort of thing.

On the other hand it also reminds me of relatively shady receivables lending. These companies want you to shift your credit card processing to them and then they’ll give you a loan financed by those credit card receipts, the terms are almost always horrible though and I feel as if they just prey on the desperate or the ignorant. What type of program Amazon is creating will depend on the interest rate, which I will check out and report back.

I may actually take advantage of this service. I have a manufacturing business now and while it is profitable it is capital intensive. Making a new product requires hundreds of thousands in upfront costs, and you don’t get that money back until it starts selling, enough capital to cover in between time, especially when you’re trying to do multiple products at once or otherwise expanding, can be difficult.

Update:

So, here are the terms they offered me.

12.9% APR with a 6 month repayment term, or 10.9% apr on a 4 month repayment term.

I do not think I’ll use it, I have existing lines of credit I can tap if need be at much lower interest rates. I also dislike the time limit “You must decide by February 7th.” That seems a bit like a high pressure sales tactic. This program may make sense for many sellers around the holidays, to help buy Christmas inventory, but we’re past that season now. In my opinion, at that interest rate, you need to have a lot more flexibility. I guess if you were a seller with no other access to short term credit it might make sense. I would only consider it if I exhausted my lines of credit and still needed more capital which at this point I do not think is likely.

Hit by Google Panda Update

October 12th, 2012 by Chris

I haven’t blogged in awhile here, I haven’t had anything much to blog about. Life goes on, wheels turn, the sun rises. Business and Internet wise things haven’t changed much, just been in cruise control.

Then… September 29th.

For the last year or so Google has been in overdrive with doing updates and tweaks. I’m starting to think they might simply have too many employees who feel the need to keep themselves busy. I thought they were fine before, and if they want to work on more features, how about new things, continually tweaking search results that aren’t broken seems wasteful. These changes have hit lots of other webmaster, but not me, my sites were never affected, until now.

So around September 29th two updates happened, Google’s 20th so-called “Panda” update which is supposed to be an anti-content farm update originally targeted against those big content farms who push out mile wide inch deep 300 word articles 10 times a minute, and a so-called EMD (exact match domain) update that penalizes sites with keywords in their domain that are low quality.

First, I find the EMD domain thing stupid, and I really mean stupid. It is like judging a book by its cover or a person’s character by the color of their skin. If a site is quality it should rank well, if it isn’t it shouldn’t. Second guessing your own algorithm by penalizing certain domains is just stupid. The off-page quality score system that gave birth to Google works, no need to second guess it by mere humans making arbitrary decisions on what type of site they think is good.

I do not think I was affected by the EMD though since I can see no pattern with it. I favor keyword rich domains, and always have, but I have not seem losses on exact match searches. I’m still #1 for those on the sites I check. It is other searches for those sites on content pages that I lost rankings on.

Case #1, my gardening blog. Gardening is my #1 hobby, if I could quit everything else and just garden I would be happy. I would sell all my other sites at the right price, but I would keep my garden blog. I started this blog 7 years ago because I liked gardening and could easily write about it, and knew how to start blogs for obvious reasons. 100% unique content written by me (or user submissions for comments/posts). On many of my sites I use a copyright statement footer link, this site doesn’t even have that. It has been #1 for gardening blog for many years, and still is. It has also been #1 for garden blog for many years… but is no longer. Now it is like 5th. Traffic loss on Sept 29th was about 50%. This is pretty much a straight up wordpress blog, not a content farm, how could it possibly be labeled as a content farm? I hate thin short content. All the content is unique and usually at least 1000+ words (I write long posts). So if this was hit by Google’s Panda Content Farm algorithm, what are they doing over there? Honestly? I don’t even try to SEO this site, I just write good content and other blogs link to me. I can’t think of any change to make to this site to make it more white hat, it is a standard blog with unique content, isn’t that supposed to be the ideal?

Case #2, a Google maps mashup site/application I made a few years ago called Wildcrafting.net. This site was so noncommercial it didn’t have ads on it until this week. I finally stuck one ad unit on it a few days ago (after it lost the traffic). This site was an outgrowth of my survival forums (more on those later) so it does have one link to another site, but only on the homepage. It too has no footer links even. The site has some non-unique content in the form in a USDA database, but also tons of unique content submitted by users and all told the content is presented in a 100% unique way. This site still ranks well for the exact match domain term, at #3 behind the exact match .com and wikipedia. But lost 50% of its traffic or there about.

Case #3, my literature site, my oldest and highest traffic content site, 13 years old. Traffic has always fluctuated, but I did detect a drop around Sept 29th as well, it looks to be a 10 to 20% loss. For many many many years I have held the #2 search position with this site for author name keywords such as William Shakespeare or book title keywords, usually only behind Wikipedia. I don’t monitor all 300 authors or 4000 books, but on the ones I do monitor I did lose rankings. For instance for William Shakespeare I went from 2nd to 7th, Wikipedia also went from 1st to 2nd. The new 1st is a previously unknown to me site that I can’t remember ever seeing ranked before. Other authors or books I dropped as well, others I held steady. This site is so old and has been ranked well for so long it has really really really good authoritative incoming links from academic sources, newspapers, magazines, etc. I don’t think it’d seem to be related but I did remove several thousand low performing affiliate links (that were already nofollowed, by the way). We’ll see if that makes a difference. The site, publishing public domain literature, does of course have non-unique content. But I also pay writers to produce author biographies and book summaries, and book introductions are often user submitted, so it does have unique content on what I call the author or book hub pages (unique except for the many sites that steal my content, I could spend weeks on DMCA requests with this site), and those are the pages that were hit it seems.

Case #4, my second oldest site at 11 years Wilderness Survival. It has a mix of public domain and proprietary content, but the most popular stuff is all public domain, it has been #1 for wilderness survival for over a decade, lots of user submitted content too, lots of good incoming links. This site showed no traffic decline at all. Very steady. It does have a footer copyright link.

I had other sites that either held steady or lost traffic as well (such as the site you’re reading, it lost as well, I’ll admit I don’t write here much anymore, but please, this is no content farm.), but these 4 illustrate… well… nothing. The two least commercial most unique got hit the most, the two most monetized hit the least. It seems unrelated to uniqueness of content, and in truth, it seems the more unique the content the worse the hit was which is weird. I’ll do nothing to the survival site, because it is fine, apparently. For my gardening blog I’ll probably do nothing, because I can see nothing that is bad. Maybe I’ll go through the code and make sure I’m not missing anything hidden. Wildcrafting I’ll leave as is because again I see nothing that should be done. My literature site, being so huge, also could do a looking over. I already removed those (previously nofollowed) low performing affiliate links, maybe I’ll do more of that.

Ironically, the two sites with a footer copyright link lost the least traffic, so maybe I need to add an off site footer link to the other two.

Mostly, I’m hoping Google realizes this change, whatever it was, did not actually accomplish anything good and they roll it back.

Best of the Web 50% Off

April 20th, 2012 by Chris

Best of the Web is one of the few directories I will still submit to, you can pay a one time fee for your listing, and they work to keep it valuable (unlike Yahoo which ignores their own directory except when it is time to charge you a $300 annual fee).

Today only to celebrate their 15 year anniversary, they’re offering 50% off, I’ve never seen a discount so high. I’d recommend pursuing it. Use coupon code “SINCE94″

Pinterest, SEO, and Social Media Marketing

March 3rd, 2012 by Chris

Two blog posts in a short period of time on this blog, what is up with that? I don’t try to keep a schedule with posts, I just try to post when I think I have something interesting…

Pinterest, the new social networking site that crushes Google+, LinkedIn, Twitter even, second in traffic only to Facebook, is apparently the fastest growing website in the history of the Internet.

It is basically a really cool Facebook app that perfectly leveraged Facebook’s existing userbase for rapid growth, it also currently has the Eric Cartman, Gmail, marketing system (you’re not invited) in place to, supposedly, moderate new growth, and yet it is still skyrocketing.

Pay attention people, unlike Facebook which is about people and relationships, Pinterest is about things, and places, and links, lots of links, in fact it is nothing more than a giant bookmarking service, call it Del.icio.us 2.0, but with an interface (think pretty pictures) more suitable for mobile browsing and for the soccer moms of the world. In fact, from what I heard, 90% of the users are women from rural and urban areas, probably just because of who the first adopters were. It is such a simple thing, so brilliantly executed, and so sure to make a few new billionaires, I wish I had invented it. I’m sure we all do.

I’ve already noticed a deluge of referrals coming from the service to certain sites of mine, especially my garden blog. I’m unsure how big of an impact this new massive link engine will have on SEO since much, though not all, would appear to be hard for Google’s crawlers to find, Google definitely finds some of it though, it will be an area to watch. How long will it be before “Pin It” widgets are as ubiquitous as the Facebook likes? Not long at all, considering I would think them to be more useful to site owners as the potential for viral traffic seems higher with Pinterest than with Facebook likes (since pins get more prominent placements on Pinterest boards than likes on Facebook walls).

The most interesting thing to me is that when you sign up with Pinterest they ask you for your interests and they make you auto-follow some other Pinterest users. Who are these people? Early adopters heavily active on the site. One person I was automatically following has over 2.5 million followers. These people will be the next taste makers of society, the influence they will have will be enormous, this is so much more powerful than twitter. 140 characters (of normally nonsense) cannot compete with pictures that can basically be advertisements for a brand or product. If you can put a picture of a new product in front of 5 million eyeballs, you have power, and there is certainly money to be made. In the not too distant future I predict people might just start Pinterest boards, not blogs, and try to build an audience, in fact, I bet you some people are doing that right now. Should you? Maybe.

If I were a budding Internet entrepreneur instead of already very successful (not trying to brag, just saying I don’t have the time), I would try to jump on this bandwagon. Leverage whatever audience you already have on a site or blog and try to build a definitive Pinterest board for some industry or niche. It won’t work for everything, the site revolves around pictures so topics like accounting aren’t a good fit. If you wait much longer I believe the train will have left the station, in fact it is pulling away right now. Even if you don’t get millions of followers with the influence (and thus money making potential) that goes along with that, if you got just a few thousand that would be an audience that you could leverage to promote new content or products in your niche, and remember, the site works virally.

What if you, like me, don’t think you have the time to pursue becoming an influence baron? You should still leverage this new link and traffic machine. The first thing you should do is to take (or legally buy) more photos for use in your content, and make them good photos. The more attractive a photo, the more likely it will be pinned and re-pinned. The second thing of course would be to start adding Pinterest widgets to your sites next to all the Facebook like buttons.

Goodbye, 1028, hello, something bigger

February 29th, 2012 by Chris

728+300 = 1028. This equation has caused me endless problems.

A standard screen resolution is 1028 pixels, but also the sum total horizontal room needed for the two most popular IAB ad units is 1028 pixels. If I want to maximize a website design for ad display that often involves using both 728 pixel wide leaderboards and 300 pixel wide rectangles.

So, it fits perfectly right? No, not quite. The obvious solution is to put the box ad somewhere on a left or right menu or side bar (and maybe a second one nested in a content paragraph), then to put a 728 ad above the content. But you have to account for pixels taken up by the browser scroll bar on the right side of the screen, and you need padding or spacing between page elements or it’ll look bad, so that 1028 resolution shrinks to something like, minimum, 970, and that just isn’t enough room.

So it has been a battle, trying to figure out an optimal ad layout while limiting resolution so that people on 1028 or smaller resolutions do not have to horizontal scroll.

On some sites I’ve done a hybrid situation where I park the 728 leaderboard over BOTH the content block, and the sidebar block, and that can work. That type of layout can even squeeze into an 800 wide resolution (which we should have all left by now, if not, do so, you’ll make more money). On other sites I’ve limited myself to a 250 pixel wide box ad. Then I get these emails from Google “You know if you changed this ad from 250 pixels to 300 pixels you’d make like $100 more per day?” I think “Great, okay Google, I’d love $36,500 more per year, but you tell me how I’m supposed to fit it in?”

The solution is to kick 1028 to the curb. 85% of browsers now use a resolution higher than 1028×768. So this past week I tweaked my garden blog settings to be bigger than 1028 so I could get a beefier sidebar without losing my 728 content ads. This site finally pushed me to do this because it uses a lot of big pictures in posts, and so I wanted to keep the large post space, and because I wanted to include a few new things like recent forum posts on the sidebar (so as to draw more traffic into the forum) and it really needed a wider column.

I plan to do this same thing with some of my other sites in the future (such as the site Google keeps telling me will earn more, but its bigger, and will take some time), and I tell you what, it feels good to be unchained from 1028 limitations. I settled on a width of 1050, which allows me to fit in what I wanted to fit in. It does mean approximately 15% of my users may have to horizontal scroll, slightly, but that is okay, maybe it’ll get them to upgrade their computer.

Why Online Advertising is Awesome

September 10th, 2011 by Chris

There is much in the pedestrian media about the privacy issues of online advertising. And software vendors hawking security products have properly scared consumers about being tracked online.

Personally, I love it.

I’ve been a member of Google’s Adsense program since it launched, and my how it has changed. Specifically in recent years it has gotten very very good at behavioral tracking. I’ll often find myself shopping with purpose, or maybe just browsing an ecommerce site, then I click back to one of my sites and see ads for the site I was just on.

I know my Adsense revenue has been getting stronger and I think the reason why is other people are being as targetted as I am. Yes, it can be creepy, but it is also very useful.

For instance, we have recently decided that a one day a week nanny would be a good thing to have for our kids. So, I went on this website called SitterCity.com and started looking around. They offered a free 7 day trial but most useful features (background checks, reviews, etc) cost money. The price was $140 a year. I did not sign up, but I thought about it.

So I go and then visit one of my sites, I see an ad for SitterCity half off. So I clicked it (yes, I clicked my own ad - but only because I was really interested in it, and I have the credit card bill to prove it). Now suddenly thanks to the discount tied to the ad click through URL, the price is only $70 a year. Open wallet, remove credit card.

This is the kind of advertising that really really works, and I’m glad its showing on my site. And now I have another story to tell when I explain to people that blocking cookies and tracking on your home PC really isn’t that necessary.

This is also why online advertising will continue to grow and eat away at TV and print.

Facebook Ads: Still Ridiculously Cheap & Useful

April 30th, 2011 by Chris

If I were Google, I would be afraid.

I grow more and more enamored of Facebook’s ad platform every day. I am now probably spending 50x more money with Facebook than I do with Google. See here for my first post on Facebook’s ad platform.

On one set of keywords, for instance, I can get a CTR of 0.3%, pretty good I think. I am paying 3 cents per click. 3 cents. On this same set of keywords Google has no ads shown on searches, no one else is bidding on it, but because of quality score or perceived popularity or something they have a minimum CPC of $4. Lets see, do I want to pay 3 cents to target people who ARE interested in my products (because I’m targetting based on what they LIKE in their Facebook profile), or $4 to target people who are merely searching related keywords (possibly for a myriad of reasons)?

This is not a hard issue for me to decide.

Also, I’ve made a page on Facebook for one of the businesses I advertise, so now, when someone clicks the Facebook “Like” button on my page after visiting it through an ad (something that happens, a lot) they sign up for my page automatically, basically becoming a subscriber for anything I wish to post. This is a great marketing tool, and I dare say Facebook posts probably are read more than emails. It is also better than email because people can comment and ask questions. All told a great tool.

International ads are even cheaper, if you have a product you wish to target to non-US customers, really cheap. That is the one I’m paying 3 cents for (the same US based ad I’m paying 20 cents for, but I’ve paid as low as 6 cents for similar, but not identical, US based ads). I tell you what, it is very easy to make a positive ROI at 3 cents a click.

I also think Facebook widgets, showing how many people like your business or product or website, can add a degree of respectability to your site. These few thousand real humans like you, you can’t be all bad.

Google is turning into a bit of a centrally planned system, it isn’t a market driven ad auction anymore. They’re setting price controls ($4 minimum on terms where there are no advertisers ROFL), and they’re losing business because of it. Facebook is still purely market driven, if your eCPM is higher than the next guy’s, you get shown.

CRE Loaded on sale for just $1

April 1st, 2011 by Chris

You would almost think this is an April Fools joke. It isn’t.

The people are CRE Loaded have put their PRO and B2B shopping carts on sale for $1.11. That is today only. This is a ridiculously good deal. I have not written a review on CRE yet, but it is the cart I’ve used the longest, various versions since 2004. It is more or less a souped up OScommerce clone, so it has a lot of the OScommerce baggage, but very good, and for $1… buy a copy, you might want it one day. It is worth the investment.

Today only, so move fast.

Google, Jules Verne, and Me

February 8th, 2011 by Chris

This has happened to me before, but I’m unsure if I’ve blogged about it.

Do you ever wonder what Google homepage links are worth? What kind of traffic?

I have the luxury of ranking well for many, many, classic literature authors, usually top 3, often #2 only behind wikipedia (and before wikipedia went all nofollow a few years ago, I usually beat them, because they link to me heavily).

Every time Google celebrates an author’s birthday with a fancy logo, that logo is often a link to a Google search for that author’s name, which is where I come in.

Traffic spiked yesterday, and so I find out why. It was Jules Verne’s birthday, Google made a fancy logo, it was linked to their search results, and I was #2 (behind Wikipedia). As of right now, very early on Tuesday, the graphic is still up.

What did this graphic get me? 20,000 unique visitors above average for that keyword as per Google analytics. Each visitor also viewed on average over 4 pages, which is pretty above average for that site, so almost 100,000 extra page views.

This translated directly to hundreds of dollars of extra advertising revenue. Though, YTD ad performance has not yet matched the gold rush that was last November and early December.

If only Google would celebrate Jules Verne for a whole week, but I imagine it’ll be down later today.

Update: Best Day Ever

Google left the logo up all day on 2/8/11, at least it was still up when I went to bed, and it was gone this morning.

Having the logo up all day certainly helped more than it did for part of the day on 2/7. 44,500 extra unique visitors. 2.89 pages per visit (a little less than the day before). But that seems to be because they clicked more ads, so that isn’t a bad thing.

Overall, this created my best day ever for advertising revenue, and for site traffic. My previous best day ever was Black Friday, November 29th 2010. Today killed that. Absolutely killed it. Now my eCPM wasn’t the best ever, that was back around late November early December, my previous high. I can only imagine how much I would have made if I had the traffic I had yesterday with the eCPM I had during the Christmas season last year.

DMCA Form Generator

January 31st, 2011 by Chris

Google has said they are coming down hard on content farms, or places with non unique content.

Well, unfortunately, stealing content has become quite commonplace on the Internet, and you may think that your content is unique but since losers the world over are stealing it, it isn’t.

I decided to do some copyright checking today, and found dozens and dozens of places stealing my content. I sent out many DMCA notices.

This was easier because a couple years ago I made a DMCA Form Generator that I never released. Why not? Well… I couldn’t get the PHP to PDF function to work like I wanted to, but everything else worked fine except that. I decide I should just release it and disable that function for now. So…

Website Publisher DMCA Form Generator

This thing is awesome, and if you have a fax machine hooked up to your computer it will save you tons of time.

First of all, you have to be a forum member to use it, so go ahead, register, its free.

Then visit the page and there is a database of 3000+ hosting companies already in, you search for the name, if you find it, great, if not, add the host yourself (eventually, as people use it, all hosts should be covered). Then you can create a form for the host and the form is automatically populated with their contact information, a few fill in the blanks and then you sign it? How do you sign it? Well, you could print it out, sign it, and then fax or mail it, but why kill trees?

Upload an image of your signature to the site and it will be put at the bottom of all your forms, signing accomplished.

Then just print to fax, and send it to the web host for the person stealing your content. You can send a DMCA notice to any web host without touching a piece of paper.

The site will save a copy of your form in an archive as a record you have access to for whatever you might need it for.

Give it a try. No one to send it to? Go to one of your most popular articles (that you own the copyright to of course) copy a full sentence, bracket it in quotations and then search Google for that sentence. I bet you find someone somewhere with your article. If not, consider yourself lucky.

Sometime soon I am going to write a long webmaster copyright article that covers DMCA notifications and other things in more detail.

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