Debate Traffic Spike

During last night’s presidential debate, Mitt Romney briefly mentioned food stamps. At that moment, there were five people on my blog. Sixty seconds later, there were hundreds. Here is a snapshot of Google Real-Time Analytics (click to enlarge):

That spike was an order of magnitude larger than any spike I have ever noticed on my site. Imagine if Romney and Obama had actually discussed food stamps. Sixty seconds of that, and I would have had thousands of people.

However, this is very low-value traffic. People were just doing a quick fact check, and I only got a couple of ad-clicks. So, the whole giant spike only generated a couple of dollars in revenue. But it was fun to watch.

Business Insider Surpasses Bloomberg

Since I put up the “Top Investing Websites” page eight months ago, Bloomberg has been the #1 site, and Business Insider has been #2. However yesterday, Business Insider moved above Bloomberg. So, there’s a new sheriff in town.

This changing of the guard was not only from Business Insider improving its Alexa Rank recently, but from Bloomberg taking a nose dive. Here are the charts from my Rank-O-Matic app:

Now we will see if Business Insider can hold the high ground and widen their lead over Bloomberg.

Congratulations, Business Insider.

Facebook Click Fraud?

A month ago, I posted “Why You Can’t Make Any Money with AdWords” which discussed pay-per-click advertising fraud. Now there is a related story about Facebook ads.

Limited Run, a New York start-up company says that they found what looks like bots clicking their Facebook ads, and burning up their advertising budget. Their is no way that Facebook or Google can stop criminals from clicking on your ads. However, they can scrutinize traffic and give you refunds for fishy-looking clicks. Google AdWords does that; I don’t know about Facebook.

Google has a much larger policing problem because sites that run AdSense have an incentive to click on ads that appear on their site – at least until Google catches them. As far as I can tell, Facebook doesn’t have revenue sharing, so you can’t make any money by hiring a shady character with a bot network to click the ads that appear on your Facebook profile.

A possible motive to click Facebook ads could come from short-sellers. Right? You put on your short position, you fire up the bots, and then you sit back and wait for Facebook’s advertisers to raise a stink.

In any case, it’s Facebook’s responsibility to deliver real leads to their advertisers no matter what the bad guys are doing. And if Facebook doesn’t have a click-fraud detection system, and refund policy, in place now, they had better get one fast.

Top Investing Websites – Update for July 2012

The Top Investing Websites page has been updated. Among the top-ten sites, there was only one change: Zero Hedge moved above ADVFN to regain the #8 position that it lost back in March.

FinViz moved above Morning Star into the #13 slot, and Wall Street Cheat Sheet continued its meteoric rise to #16. However, it won’t be easy for Wall Street Cheat Sheet to continue advancing. If you look at the table, you will see that the site is at the top of the second tier. In order to break into the top tier, they will have to take out IBD, which is 6,000 ranks higher. That’s a very long way to go.

Why You Can’t Make Any Money with AdWords

Click Fraud. That’s why. Look what this kid wrote on Reddit in IAmA 17-year-old Internet marketer that makes $20,000 a month:

“…when I was 14. …I was introduced to PPC (pay-per-click), which is websites that basically pay you for clicking on advertisements and watching them for certain amount of time.”

His idea of what “PPC” is all about is the exact opposite of yours, the advertiser, right?

A click-fraud operation sets up a website with AdSense, and content that attracts your ads. Then they pay people to click on the ads. But they know that some of you are studying your server logs looking for just that sort of thing: a bunch of quick clicks from a shady looking site. So, like the kid says, the click-monkeys loiter on your site. They fill out your forms, sign up for your mailing list, download your software, install it, run it, etc.

Their job is to create a plausible-looking stream of traffic in your logs.

If I were this kid’s dad, I would take a very close look at what he is doing now. He might be too small for the FBI, but the FBI does indeed to prosecute click-fraud cases.

Spotting click-fraud sites is still possible though – even when they use well-trained click-monkeys. For example if a site with a poor Alexa rating sends you as much traffic as a quality site with a strong Alexa rating, it’s probably a click-fraud site.

I find sites like this all the time using “click-fraud finder” software of my own invention. And I block them from my AdWords campaigns.

Problem solved, right?

Wrong!

Every time I block a bogus site, another one pops up.

You see, these click-fraud gangs know that I will block their sites, so they have plenty of spares ready to go.

So, I don’t let them hurt me too much. I bid low in Google’s “display network”. I study new sites very quickly. I try to get a feel for whether or not they are operated by honest people. And I track my conversions diligently. If I make a sale after spending less than $20 advertising on a site, it’s probably legit, etc.

Maybe you’re thinking that you can just take traffic from name-brand sites? Not so fast. I have a couple of stories about that, but I don’t need to be sued by any big companies and their legal teams. Suffice it to say: trust no one. Every site is suspect until your conversion tracking proves otherwise.

A few months ago, Google said that they were tightening the requirements for new sites that wanted to run AdSense. From my perspective, it hasn’t made any difference. If you have evidence to the contrary, please post a comment.

Top Investing Websites – Update for June 2012

The Top Investing Websites page has been updated. Traffic to investing websites surges when the stock market plunges as it did in May. So, if you operate an investing site, and are pleased with the improvement in your Alexa rank over the past month, you have to keep in mind that it is your rank relative to your competitors that counts on this list.

The top-ten sites held their relative positions except for Stock Charts which dropped from #10 to #11, having been bested by NASDAQ. However, my guess is that NASDAQ is one of those sites that people go to for free charts when the market is making scary headlines in the news. So, maybe Stock Charts will be able to regain the top ten eventually.

The most-significant move amongst the top-tier was, once again, Wall Street Cheat Sheet as it continued its rapid ascent, moving from #21 up to #17.

Will Being on TV Boost Your Alexa Rank?

Seems like an easy question, right? Well, let’s take a look at a test case. In March 2012, Josh Brown of The Reformed Broker had his book “Backstage Wall Street” published, and it generated a lot of buzz in the financial media.

Suddenly, everywhere you looked, there was Josh on financial TV and radio, including CNBC’s “Fast Money” show. I imagine that Josh was promoting his book more than his website during these appearances, however I was surprised to see that his Alexa rank did not improve. Here is the chart from my Rank-O-Matic app:

This reminds me of Steve Martin’s comments about how TV appearances did nothing for him during his early career. Viewers just didn’t jump up and race to the record store to buy his comedy CD’s.

This is good news for anonymous bloggers who might be feeling like they are missing out on TV-generated web traffic.

What could one do to drive more traffic from a TV appearance? I don’t know, but maybe saying something wild like this would work: “I have a picture of a caged extraterrestrial on my website right now. Go look at it.”

Do Blog Comments Help Your Website’s Alexa Rank?

Yes, it appears that they do indeed. And we have an excellent case study to look at. On February 19, 2012, ace technologist Dave Winer shut off the comments on his blog. (See his “No Comment” post).

On that day, Mr. Winer’s Alexa rank stood at 39,669. Since then his site has dropped down to #46,655. Here is a chart from my Rank-O-Matic app. The red arrow marks the spot where the comment section was closed:

Dave Winer's Alexa Rank

I’m sure that Dave has better things to do than worry about his Alexa rank. However, back in February, he was feuding with Robert Scoble, and Scoble’s site has an Alexa Rank of 51,843. Will Dave be irked if his Alexa rank drops below Scoble’s?

In any case, having a comments section seems to be a good way to boost your Alexa rank. And letting the idiots run wild probably helps too. If you are irritated by dumb comments, and take pleasure in smiting the idiots, then you are at a disadvantage to your less-discriminating competitors – as far as your Alexa rank goes.

Note: I know Mr. Winer’s Alexa ranks because I have been building a list of top technology bloggers, and have a number of daily ranks stored in my Rank-O-Matic database. I will be publishing that list soon.

StockCharts.com Overtakes TheStreet.com

The Top Investing Websites page has been updated. Stock Charts has jumped over The Street to take the #10 spot, and is nipping at Zero Hedge’s heels. The home of perpetual Armageddon dropped another 62 ranks over the past month. Stock Charts has 700-some ranks to go to catch Zero Hedge, and that’s a lot of real-estate at this level. Godspeed, Stock Charts, godspeed.

Of course, if your site drops, it’s not always your fault. For example, if your site is down recently, one of the ranks you lost may be due to codecademy.com racing by you. The site is ranked at 5,102, and teaches newbies how to write code. That’s right; there’s a coding craze going on. Strange, but true. Who could have ever predicted such a thing? Certainly not us coders who know how not-fun it really is when you do it for a living.

The moral of the story is that you can be doing everything right on your site, but still be surpassed by new sites riding a new craze. It’s your relative ranking within your industry group that counts.

There were no other ranking changes amongst the top sites. The next most-significant change was Mish dropping to #27, having been topped by Elliott Wave International.

12 sites have been added to list this month, bringing the total to 149. Sites added are:

Bruce Krasting
Crossing Wall Street
Dragonfly Capital
Howard Lindzon
Investing With Options
Paul Kedrosky
Points and Figures
Raymond James
Stock Market Mentor
TheArmoTrader
The Stock Sage
Todd Sullivan’s Value Plays

Top Investing Websites – Update #5

The Top Investing Websites page has been updated. Twenty-seven sites have been added, bringing the total to 137 (see the list below).

Among the Top-10 sites, there was only one change: ADVFN moved up from #9 to #8, surpassing Zero Hedge. Here are their Alexa Rank charts:


New sites added:
Advanced Trading
Arbor Research
Benzinga
Bulkowski
Butler Research
Chart Swing Trader
CME
Cobra’s Market View
Day Trading Radio
Elite Trader
Harmonic Trader
IBD
Market Folly
NASDAQ
NYSE
Quantifiable Edges
Real Clear Markets
Silver Seek
Small Cap Network
Star Alliance Capital
Stock Bee
Stock Markets Review
The Trader
Tischendorf Letter
Traders Day Trading
Wall St. Warrior
Y Charts

Top Investing Websites – Update #4

The Top Investing Websites page has been updated. None of the top sites have shot up, or plunged down. The stars are pretty much fixed in their firmament. However, some new stars have been added: StockCharts.com at #11, and 247wallst.com at #14. See below for the complete list of sites added.

Honorable mention this month goes to The Bonddad Blog. The site is not highly ranked, but their Alexa Rank has been advancing briskly for the past three months. It’s also a good example of how my Rank-O-Matic app is important for small, but growing, websites: if you look at Bonddad’s Alexa page, this is what you see:

A blank chart. According to Alexa, nothing important is happening there. However, the Rank-O-Matic chart begs to differ:

Bonddad.com has advanced past more than 400,000 other websites in the past three months! Not bad, right? But you wouldn’t be able to tell if you relied only on Alexa. So, how did they do it? See this Bonddad post.

As I mention in my Alexa tips, I think Banddad might be able to boost their Alexa rank even more if they didn’t let their readers get complete articles via RSS. For example, my Alexa rank is 200,000 better than Bondadd’s, but they have five times as many RSS subscribers in Google Reader as I do. But Alexa doesn’t know about those RSS readers because the Alexa plugin doesn’t get triggered via RSS – only when you actually go to the website.

It’s a matter of style, and some readers would complain if forced to click-through to the site. And of course, there is more to life than your Alexa Rank. In any case, congratulations to Bonddad, New Deal Democrat, and SilverOz.

New sites added to the Top Investing Websites page today:
24/7 Wall Street
Alan Farley
Between the Hedges
Candle Charts
Collective2
Covestor
Currensee
Elliott Wave International
ETF Trends
Investimonials
Jesse’s Café Américain
MarketRoll
Profit.ly
Profit Unity
Stock Charts
Stock Gumshoe
Stock Market Advantage
Street Talk Live
The Aleph Blog
The Art of Trading
The Kirk Report
The Market Guardian
Timothy Sykes
Trade 2 Win
Trade With Dave
Trading Markets
Wall St. Cheat Sheet
Worden

Top Investing Websites – Update #3

The list now has a permanent home on this page.

Since the last update, I have added 22 more websites. And yes, there will be more – lots more. The world crawls with investing advice. And as far as I can tell, almost all of the websites are operated by men.

It’s like in grade school: when the teacher asks a question, the girls who don’t know the answer keep their hands down. But the boys who don’t know the answer still raise their hands. “Me! Me! Me!” they shout. And when the teacher calls on one, he tries to BS her.

Nevertheless, Linda Bradford Raschke makes her debut on the list at #71. If you know of more ladies with investing websites, please post a comment.

Note to ladies: Get busy, or Newt Gingrich will berate you for being genetically inferior, take away your foods stamps, and make mop floors at an elementary school!

Websites added in this update:
The Motley Fool
Marketwatch
The Disciplined Investor
Afraid To Trade
Alpha Trends
Contrary Investor
Stock Tiger
Shark Investing
Doug Short
T3 Live
Minyanville
Market Anthropology
Stone Street Advisors
Joe Terranova
Louis Navellier
Linda Bradford Raschke
Ken Fisher
Trade Monster
Phil’s Stockworld
Morningstar
Fidelity
Graham Summers

Top Investing Websites

Below is a screenshot from my new Rank-O-Matic app showing the top investing websites by Alexa Rank (click to enlarge):

As you can see, Bloomberg is at the top of the list, which isn’t too surprising. But I was surprised to see Business Insider out-ranking CNBC.

If you look in the “Change” column of the top five websites, you will see all zeros. That’s because ranks change less frequently as you move up the hierarchy. And the big moves for sites lower down on the list aren’t terribly significant.

I don’t claim these standings are comprehensive. In fact, as I looked for investing websites, I just kept finding more and more. For all I know this isn’t even half of them. If you know of any that I missed, please post a comment and I will include them in the next update.

If you are eager for daily updates, download Rank-O-Matic, and run it each day. The app can be used to track any number of websites, which you can group into categories. If you are new to Alexa, read my page: “Alexa Rank“.

And if you want to boost your rank and traffic, SEOmoz.org is the best in the business.

Google’s Panda Algorithm Explained

Google’s “Panda” algorithm is the weapon the company has deployed to beat back the “content farms” and prevent them from filling Google’s search-result pages with raw sewage. This is critical not only to Google’s survival, but to anybody who has a business website.

The video below by SEO superstar Rand Fishkin of SEOmoz is the best explanation of Panda that I have seen.

Wistia

Lack of Demand

The stock market has been rocketing upward for over a week now, so you might be wondering how my bearish call on Demand Media (DMD) played out. Did DMD catch a break from the frothing bulls?

Not hardly. As a matter of fact, there has been a distinct lack of demand for Demand. Here is a daily candlestick chart since I made my call on April 17th:

Down over 20%. How about that?

The moral of the story is that Google is a king-maker. If you follow their guidelines, they will list you prominently on their SERPs. If you cross them, they will lop off your head.

Take a look at the “stock market advice” SERP. In the #1 position you see fool.com. Google AdWords reports that about 2,900 people do that search each month, and I’m sure that fool.com ranks very highly in a multitude of related searches. Suffice it to say that at least a thousand fresh-faced investors are landed on fool.com’s doorstep each month, compliments of the king-maker.

What’s that worth?

Google Cracks Down

You probably heard all the hoo-ha a few weeks ago about Demand Media’s (DMD) IPO. While the company has a technically impressive operation, it just might be built upon quicksand. And if you bought the stock of the company that brought us the “How to Pour a Glass of Water” page, then you just might find yourself under water soon.

“Instructions: Turn on a kitchen or bathroom faucet if you wish to drink tap water. Usually you may choose from two different temperatures of water: hot or cold.”

That quote is not a joke. That’s what Demand Media does. If you don’t know why a company would create a page explaining how to pour water, see if you can figure it out before I give you the answer below.

Initially, Demand Media dodged Google’s content-farm crackdown bullet. But now it seems that Google has reloaded with a heat-seeking missile. See the chart here.

Google’s “Panda” algorithm update is mauling content-farms like Demand’s eHow.com. And not only that, Google is encouraging the masses to rat them out. If you use Google’s Chrome browser, you can install their Personal Blocklist plugin. With one click, you can make all the eHow pages go away. And Google watches who you vote off the island. If you don’t like it, Google probably doesn’t like it either.

I don’t know if Demand Media will survive or not. What I do know is that Google will fight tooth-and-claw to protect its SERPs (search engine result pages) because that is their content. Anybody who thinks they can game the system on a sustained basis is living in a dream world.

And even if the army of idiots which is flooding the world with “how to drink water” pages were to ultimately succeed, and overrun Google, they would still perish because everybody would quit using search engines to find things.

There are laws against email spam. There are laws against idiots calling you on the phone all day. Will there one day be a law against web spam? I don’t know, but it might be the only way to save search engines in the long run.

If you are a stock-picker who does fundamental analysis, you now have another metric to evaluate: how much of the company’s revenue is derived from black-hat SEO? Because it is only a matter of time before Google comes for them.

The reason why eHow wrote a “how to pour water” page was to attract bottled-water ads from Google AdSense. Look down at the bottom of that page and you will see them, assuming that you are not running AdBlock. Profit margins on water products are high, and I wouldn’t be surprised if those advertisers are spending a lot on those ads. eHow gets paid every time somebody clicks on one. OK, the page may not attract a lot of traffic, but the whole point of a content farm is to make a million such pages so that the revenue ads up to something substantial.

And that is indeed clever. But not from Google’s perspective. In fact, when Google sees a page like that, smoke starts to come out of its ears as it reaches for the laser canon. Google always talks about their algorithms, and how an impartial robot is trying to build the best SERPs. But I guarantee you that in addition to that, the actual people at Google take it very personally.

Any algorithm can be gamed if you know how it works. When a company like Demand Media games the algos, it is a direct threat to Google’s bread and butter. Google will crush them because it has no choice.

Personally, I wouldn’t hold the stock of a company like Demand Media if you put a gun to my head. And I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it went to zero, never having turned a profit. No doubt they are very smart people, and they may figure out a way to survive. But Google only wants to list links to quality content, and if Demand has to spend more money to bring up its quality, that would certainly eat into any future profits.