In yesterday's post about the importance of good timing (or the lack thereof), I made an assertion that deserves to be backed up:

In the rare cases where someone manages to automate real value creation, they're usually better off keeping the tools to themselves, so you won't often find them for sale.

Let me share my own experience with this.

Back in April, 2008, I unveiled a feature on one of my websites that was probably as close to black hat as I've ever gotten.

The feature was called Net Pulse News. Every hour, it would check Google's "Google Trends" list of keywords that were seeing unusual surges of queries. They tend to revolve around current events -- big news stories, the songs performed on American Idol, whatever Oprah is talking about that day, etc.

The site displayed search results for those keywords from a variety of sources (news search, blog search, YouTube, Twitter...). Shortly after first launching Net Pulse News, I set it up to display search results for the currently trending keywords on its main page, and also generate individual pages for each keyword.

"Uh, yeah. How is that not black hat?"

The reason I don't consider the site black hat is that it provided a valuable service. When searchers went to Google for information about a breaking news story, for example, they typically didn't find much. Why? Because it was breaking news. It wasn't in Google's main index yet.

People were searching in the wrong place -- the main index -- rather than the places where it already was indexed like Google News, blogs discussing the story, or even YouTube (if somebody managed to capture of a video of the event with their cell phone).

By grabbing top search engine rankings and directing people to the latest information, Net Pulse News was providing a valuable service. If you're not buying that argument, do a search on Google right now. What do you see? Depending on what you search for, you may find news search results, blog search results, YouTube videos, Twitter tweets...all the stuff Net Pulse News was displaying early in 2008.

Reader Comment:
Robert said:
My personal opinion is if people would concetrate more on learning and applying the basic methods of marketing on and offline. Meaning spend more time doing rather than looking for the "magic solution".This is a business as with any business one must...
(join the conversation below)

"Yeehaw! There's gold in them thar search resu...hey, where'd it go?"

For a while, my AdSense earnings soared. Many of my pages would quickly grab first page rankings for hot keywords and get a bunch of traffic. All was well.

Until Google delisted that section of the site. (Yes, they only delisted a that section of the site -- the rest remained in the index.)

Here's what I think happened, and what you can learn from it.

Google doesn't like auto-generated pages. Their guidelines state this clearly (which I didn't know then).

However, at the time, there were any number of sites doing almost the same thing I was doing (though I don't think any of them had video or Twitter). I couldn't find any of them in Google when I checked yesterday, but back in 2008, many of them remained listed after mine had been dumped. So I doubt it was just the automation that they didn't like.

After all, they do this kind of thing themselves with Google News, for example.

The problem, I believe, was that I talked about what I was doing, and how I was doing it. I never released the source code (though I'm sure I could have made a lot of money selling it), and I didn't encourage people to do the same thing. In fact, I discouraged it, because obviously the world didn't need 500 clone sites, all displaying the same aggregated content about the same things.

But I did post a video on YouTube (I've deleted it since) highlighting the site as an example of how RSS feeds could be used to import content to enhance the value of a webpage, and how that could help with search engine rankings.

One thing Google likes less than auto-generated webpages is people who talk about how they're auto-generating webpages. So they axed my site.

There are no "Easy Buttons"

Getting back to my quote from yesterday, the real lesson here is that when someone discovers an "Easy Button", they're not going to sell you a copy. They're not going to tell you how to do it. They're probably not going to say anything about it at all. Because if they do:

  1. ...everybody will clone it, so it will lose its value.
  2. ...the search engines (or whoever it's profiting through) will ban it, so not only will they no longer be able to use it themselves, but they won't be able to sell it anymore either (well, okay, if they're really unscrupulous, they'll keep selling it even though they know it no longer works).

The only time you'll hear about automated value creation that doesn't quickly lose its value is when it's difficult to build the system. For example, Google isn't afraid to talk publicly about Google News, because they know that it would cost a fortune to replicate. But they're sure as heck not going to release the source code to it.

Easier Buttons

You'll never be able to buy an internet marketing "Easy Button" that runs on autopilot and actually works over the long haul. But there are plenty of "Easier Buttons" -- things that automate the grunt work so that more value can be created by the humans who use them.

Look for the "Easier Buttons", and keep on working.