Maximizers vs Optimizers & the Hollow Middle

I get asked to review a wide array of sites being asked "what is wrong" and "why isn't this working".

Many times I think that the underlying problem is something I call cart before the horse syndrome. While you can view many data points in the competitive landscape when you view a site what you see now is not the way it has always been. Many of the most authoritative sites were created without any commercial intent, and then the site owner later fell into a business model, and as they saw profit started to maximize their profit potential.

If you start off with a lead generation form as your website and are unwilling to give anything away until people give you money or an email address then you should be looking more toward the pay per click market than at organic SEO.

There is nothing wrong with maximizing your potential profit, but if you create a site geared around converting 10% of the site visitors into paying customers right off the start you are probably going to limit your ability to gain any serious link authority and serious distribution unless your conversion rate and profits are so great that you can convince affiliates to push your product.

If you can afford heavy PPC spending by automating your sales process and maximizing your ROI that is fine, but if you want free traffic there are hidden costs to maximizing right out of the gate. It is like buying a 99 cent burger. Sure the upfront cost is next to nothing (and it seems like you are getting more for less), but as competing sites build traffic while you stagnate those invisible costs start to reveal themselves. You have to consider what search engines want and what your site visitors want. Try to create something that covers those wants and then roll commerce into it.

Seth Godin frequently stresses that getting people to PAY attention is a cost, and even if they give you no money PAYING attention is still a cost. Once you earn that it is worth a lot of money because it takes a long time to build trust. And trust is fragile. If I hadn't built up a lot of friendships and trust over the last couple years there is no way the SEO for Firefox launch would have went so well. The new links and new readers that tool brought in are probably worth far more than the tool cost to build, but it may not have spread so well (and it may not have covered its cost) if I had not worked so hard to build up my authority.

Alexa traffic stats for Seo Book.

Hitting the traffic jackpot once does not make one a marketing expert, but in spite of being on the delicious popular list and Digg homepage yesterday this site only doubled its typical traffic. A friend of mine says that it is a marathon and not a sprint, and that is the way you have to look at getting traffic, especially if you have a new site.

Back to the new sites I get asked to review. What do they need to spread messages or compete in the SERPs?

  • Set reasonable goals. Do not expect to rank for mortgage or search in one month if you have a $0 marketing budget and a site that is so bland or conversion oriented that it would never merit a single legitimate organic citation.

  • Pick a path and run with it. Be a maximizer or an optimizer, but know your path and run with it. If you are stuck mixing up in the middle you will probably do worse than a person who is working hard at either of the edges. After you are well established on either front and are beyond self sustaining then you have money to invest and room to play and test, but you need to have a clear message off the start. You don't want your site to one day say you believe on taking the hard and steady and slow and... way to the top, and then have visitors come to your site the next day to see a picture of a check for $50,000 that you allegedly made while you were on vacation last week.
  • Come up with a clear unique branding angle that makes you stand out. Make sure it is obvious what you want people to do on your site and make sure it is obvious what message you want them to spread away from your site. When it doubt it is better to be niche and unique over broad and not unique.
  • Do not chose cheapest as your branding angle unless you are a masochist.
  • Create a clean site design which reinforces your brand image. For example, if your brand is supposed to be fun and hip POO BROWN is a bad color. If your service is supposed to convey a sense of trust to businesses or people seeking health advice go lean on red and orange. I typically favor clean over going too far with a design. If you can find a good priced logo designer and spend a day learning a bit of CSS you can create a reasonably decent looking site for around $100.
  • If you are unsure of what you want to do participate in topical communities to learn about the market and what the market wants. If all of your marketing is done on your site and it is not backed up by friendships away from your site it is going to be hard to convert potential prospects if they dig further into the SERPs and can't find anything about you other than a few cheesy syndicated articles and free directory listings. The web is cool, but also make sure you find your way to relevant off the web (ie: real world) events. That is where you really solidify your friendships and get to know the people you really should know.
  • If you have down time make sure you keep learning. You should be able to learn quicker than the market leaders because you know less, are more hungry, and have less busywork filling your day if you are seriously focused on success and are new to a market. Read and experiment widely. Especially if you aim to be a consultant review that which you consume (it helps buid relationships, and most personal brands are not too deeply developed, so it also provides a cheap and easy relevant traffic source). Don't wait around for a golden day for things just to fall in place. Don't be afraid to be wrong. I have had people take the time to email me and tell me what a piece of shit I was for having incorrect information on my site only later to have them buy my product, put huge ads for it on their site, and recommend it on various community sites.
  • If you want to rank for competitive terms you have to give to get. Look to create ways to make people want to revisit your site many times and/or link to your site for having a definitive topical resource. When you create a (hopefully) definitive article it may go nowhere, but if you do a half a dozen of them well eventually one of them will take off. You are over-investing hoping that eventually one of the investments will pay big dividends. When you have a great idea make sure you tell a few friends to see if they would be willing to help you market it.
Published: July 7, 2006 by Aaron Wall in marketing


July 14, 2006 - 4:05pm

Blake wrote:

: You wrote:
: "Be a maximizer or an optimizer, but know
: your path and run with it."

: I'd love some elaboration on the difference
: between these. "Maximizer" being someone
: who starts with an authority or content-heavy
: site and then monetizes it?

end quote.

Yeah. I'd love some elaboration, too. Great
question. What exactly IS the diff?

July 14, 2006 - 4:15pm

My point is that you should be consistent in your marketing message.

As I stated in the post:

You don't want your site to one day say you believe on taking the hard and steady and slow and... way to the top, and then have visitors come to your site the next day to see a picture of a check for $50,000 that you allegedly made while you were on vacation last week.

The other point was that in maximizing your short term revenue you may be sacrificing a great deal of long term revenue (especially if it is done half-heartedly or without much planning for the future).

Optimizing is about balancing many variables. For example, maybe a slightly lower conversion rate coupled with way more traffic nets you more revenue in the long run.

July 7, 2006 - 3:34pm

Aaron, congratulations on the Firefox extension traffic. That's impressive.

Posts like this one also keep me reading your blog every morning.

One question. What if you're giving away lots of free, quality content, but the search engines aren't picking it up?

It's been six months.

I've written over 60 quality articles, which is the second most within my niche. I think I deserve to be in the top 10, but I'm not.

I'd like to see a post on what to do if you're following the maximizer strategy and it's not working.

Thanks for everything!

July 7, 2006 - 4:47pm


60 articles / 6 months = 10 articles a month = 1 article every 3 days

Are you sure you are writing quality articles Jon? Thats a lot of articles to be pushing out. I find it hard to see how anyone could write 60 quality articles in any one field in that space of time.

July 7, 2006 - 7:42pm

Jon: If the search engines aren't picking them up, I am guessing other sites aren't either?

July 7, 2006 - 8:55pm

Aaron, I believe the general increase in traffic is due to a trend that I've seen over the last 6 months on your blog. I've been subscribed to your RSS feed since the beginning of this year. Your articles were consistently good, and every once in a while they were great. Over the last couple of months you have really been hitting them out the park with consistentcy. You've really stepped up your game by providing some real insight that I dont find on other blogs. That's why I finally bought your book this past week. The second SEO book I've purchased over the last 5 years.

The Firefox extension was genius, but I think you need to give your writing a good deal of credit too.

Hey! Your strategy is working. :)

July 7, 2006 - 9:37pm

Right on the money, Jim. Because the search engines don't rank me very well, I'm not getting my fair share of links, which exacerbates the problem.

When I started my site, I did a lot of directory submissions, article syndication, and premium press releases, so I have about 2000 low-quality links and about 20 natural links.

That's a horrible link profile. At the very least, I know the low-quality links aren't doing anything for me, and they just might be hurting me. Don't know.


Conrad King
July 7, 2006 - 9:42pm

I blieve you cannot be a fence walker and succed at much of anything. If all someone is after is conversion then PPC is going to be the only route to go. I stumbled across this site while looking for something else entirely and after reading some of Aarons stuff was impressed enough to purchase his book. I have not read every post here but I do not recall seeing any where you have waffled on your opinion and that is one thing that keeps me returning, that and the fact that you write about what you know and for the most part seem to enjoy doing. And you are not pushing a bunch of other **** all the time.

July 7, 2006 - 9:44pm

Err, the last comment was directed at Andrew, actually.

Jim: I wrote those 60 articles in about two months, and yes, it's possible. I've gotten over 200 unsolicited e-mails from the visitors that do find me, complementing the articles. So I don't think quality is an issue.


July 8, 2006 - 12:36am

What if you're giving away lots of free, quality content, but the search engines aren't picking it up?

In competitive areas search engines follow people and relationships.

Do you know many of the key players in your market? If so why not get them to link at your site?


I really do not like the concept of deserve as it relates to SEO.

The fact is low quality garbage ranks all the time. And good stuff remains hidden. The machines are imperfect. Are you building the relationships necessary to overcome that inefficiency in the marketplace?

Right on the money, Jim. Because the search engines don't rank me very well, I'm not getting my fair share of links, which exacerbates the problem.

In some cases the self reinforcing aspect is hard to compete with, but that is only true if you are strictly following the path of others. Aren't there unique new and interesting things you could do that would be able to hit new markets or interest some of the more important players in your market?

July 8, 2006 - 3:44am

Thanks for the insightful questions, Aaron. After six months of frustration, it's easy to get caught up in a "can't" mentality. And that's counterproductive. You can always do "unique, new and interesting things" to grab people's attention.

I'm sure you're also tired of people insisting that their market is different -- that it's harder, stingy, elitist, or whatever.

In the end, it's nothing but whining... and whining isn't part of the search engine ranking algorithm. :-)

July 8, 2006 - 4:07am

While typically it is poorly done, whining can work, but it has to be a well formed intent driven whine... perhaps one that looks more like a critique or looks as though it is telling portions of the target audience to fuck off (pardon the french there hehehe).

Then when someone reads that they will insist that they are not the ones that are screwed up, that they are somehow different, and that they would be pleased to work with you (or they may take offense to it and critique you on their site - in that case it is good old natural link baiting).

Make sure it is a well formatted and well thought out whine though before you do it (ie: consider where to seed it, when to do it, how aggressive to make it, who it targets, how they may react, and who may come to your aid if things get out of hand) and do not do the whining / complaining angle too often unless that is a core element of the brand perception you are trying to build. Boy who cried wolf, etc.

July 8, 2006 - 4:15am

That's a rather in-depth, analysis. Does it come from personal experience? :-)

In any case, it worked for me. You gave me the push I needed.

July 8, 2006 - 6:04am

You wrote:
"Be a maximizer or an optimizer, but know your path and run with it."

I'd love some elaboration on the difference between these. "Maximizer" being someone who starts with an authority or content-heavy site and then monetizes it?

July 8, 2006 - 8:08am

Well that is the point, most maximizers are so focused on conversion that they are afraid to build any serious value without including an affiliate link or some cheesy buy now or the world will end warning.

Most all of their content pages result in you reading a "buy my garbage software or die an ineffienct sad and lonely death." result.

July 9, 2006 - 9:31am

Jon, another thing that might help if you are pretty confident that your articles are solid and that visitors are likely to provide additional links, diggs, etc is to budget a bit of 'seed' money for PPC on less competitive long tail terms or advertising on demographically related sites.

John Doe
July 9, 2006 - 5:07pm

Dear Jon,

If your refering to your realestate blog, I visited your blog. In my rant:

1. If you going to make a business out of your blog or make your blog an extension of your business, you might want to make your storefront a little more appealing. Consider a better custom blog design template. Go to or and refer to the web blogger design list. From my understanding aaron has spent $2000 on his blog design. So, expect to spend $1k-2k for a nice blog design and a nice logo.

If you need to learn a little tech skills, then learn that first before blogging.

2. What is your market, I mean realestate is huge, and your sub logo states investments. When I think of realestate investments, I think of REITS, not flipping. Narrow your market down, way down until you find your niche.

3. Do not waste your money on press releases. Press releases are for corporations and governments. Take advantage of the internet, network, events, free PR.


4. Set up a a photo section. Photos of you at events, a nice picture of you with TRUMP and his many wives.

5. PODCASTS, consider having 1 big interview a month with a major realtor.

6. You need a better and more accurate title.

7. Hire a seo when you find your niche and title, then head towards for free quotes or better yet, aaron.

8. The most important thing that you should consider, is this blog a tool for you to generate ad revenue or is this blog a tool for you to generate business offline.

Aaron has leveraged his blog to promote his book and consulting business, no real ad revenue.

I hope my rant helps you on your quest Jon, otherwise, sorry for the rant.

PS. Aaron, I was actually considering buying your book for bed night reading, search is not my industry, but I was thinking of how freakin fast the seo industry changes day by day.

You might consider a business model where if someone buys your book, they can also access your updated notes on a daily basis online, for a fee of $20 a year or something, but I guess the model would not work since your notes seem to be free in your on your website. Nevermind, I am just ranting galore. Keep up the good work.

July 9, 2006 - 5:19pm

Hi John

Great post...other than I wouldn't recommend using Elance for SEO on a main site that my personal brand was strongly attached to.

I tend to format the stuff I think about as being free just because I don't want to start maximizing to the point of losing out on what I enjoy doing. ie: if my income dropped in half or by 75% I would still want to blog and stuff. If I start putting information in too many formats then it starts to get tough on determining where to draw the line.

I might end up rolling some sort of a newsletter type thing into my ebook (it sorta already is like that although I tend to only do an update every month or every other month or so because I don't want to hit people with messages so often that they think I am spamming them - if I charged a recurring fee of some sort for that it might encourage people to anticipate and value the updates more, which would lend to a position where I wouldn't feel like I am spamming if I sent out updates more frequently).

July 10, 2006 - 5:27am

Hi everyone!

Sorry to interrupt but I am just interested with the exchange of ideas here. You see I am also experiencing the same crisis as Jon :(

I am in constant update with my site, backing it up with an equally updated blog, but still my commission checks say $0.00 :((

John Doe
July 10, 2006 - 8:21am

Dear Aaron,

1.) I can understand what you mean on the updates and I will look into your newsletter some more, but what I was trying to convey was that I wanted someone to hold my hand through all the seo updates in your book.

So, if I had purchased your book, maybe you would update it every month with each update indicating in detail the differences from your book. A way to hold my hand through the process and I would be happy to pay another full subscription price, instead of waiting to read the book a year later on all the new updates.

The reason behind it is the same, seo is changing every day, so to have a book that is updated every month, highlighting the changes would be very awesome, but I do understand your reservations with maintaining the current model. The reason for my persistency is because you seem like the leader in SEO on earth.

2.) I was unable to locate this on your blog, but do you have feeds setup for comments or specific blog posts?

Sorry for the continued rants, thanks again for such a great SEO BLOG.

John Doe
July 10, 2006 - 8:22am

Dear Agent,

I reviewed you blog/website and I will email you my suggestions.

July 10, 2006 - 8:38am

My book already provides those update emails currently.

John Doe
July 10, 2006 - 8:42am

Dear Aaron,

Excellent, sorry for the lengthy posts, and thanks again.

July 10, 2006 - 9:49am

Hello John!

I got your email. Thank you very much. I have also included there some important points for each of the very nice points you gave.

One thing I learned however from your email, although it's not directly stated, is that no matter how low is the service charge when the quality of work suffers, nothing will really come your way. Fortunately, with us, we value every penny that is being paid to us so despite of our low charge we don't sacrifice our output.

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