The eBay Syndrome

eBay has recently seen a sharp drop in traffic as they cut their affiliate stream and Google ad spend.

When you are a default category leader you no longer compete against others in your category. You compete against other categories. Google and understand that. Microsoft maybe. eBay no.

eBay could have used the last decade to create communities around buying, selling, and collecting...taking a slice of any transaction as they turn buyers to sellers or sellers to buyers.

  • They could have offered awards for collector of the month, seller of the month, buyer of the month, and done interviews with the winners.
  • They could have a section called deal hunting where they offer tips on how to find the best deals.
  • They could have a section called "good as new" where people talk where people talk about old items that are a bargain, and in some cases even better than new.
  • They could have allowed sellers and buyers to build editorial communities and collections on the eBay site. Control the conversation and control commerce.
  • What if eBay could have got you to tag just about everything you owned, and then told you roughly what it was worth (based on recent transaction data) and had you put a buy it now price on it? CueCat was a failure, but eBay has a much better platform to market such a device on.

Instead they did nothing. They lost a decade to improvements in search,, open source software, blogs, and the rest of the web.

Rather than improving their network feedback mechanism and making a deeper network, the new eBay strategy is to try to be more like Amazon, but that won't work. While eBay spent a decade alienating buyers and sellers (with no innovation, shifting fees, encouraging a market lemons, etc.), Amazon was off building user loyalty. And now Amazon is out working public relations with a holiday customer review team and extending their platform in new dimensions - offering digital downloads, the Kindle, selling utility computing, and selling their shopping platform.

Staying competitive is more of a mindset than an event. The decay happens long before it impacts revenue. And by the time it impacts revenue there isn't a lot of time to fix things.

You Can't Handle the Truth

"All Truth passes through Three Stages: First, it is Ridiculed...
Second, it is Violently Opposed...
Third, it is Accepted as being Self-Evident."
- Arthur Schopenhauer (1778-1860)

A business model that contains subtle white lies that are familiar and easy to like is often far more profitable than a business model built around attempting to change people's identities. This is precisely why so many business models are built around for Christians, for bloggers, or for charities.

As an entrepreneur it is worth considering the above quote when thinking about new business models, new platforms, new formats, and new algorithms. You could spend all your time trying to prove your vision of the truth, or modify it slightly so that others are willing to do the work for you. Your choice. :)

Start with a socially active core that identifies with what you have to offer and give them the tools to help spread your message.

Google Launches a Sweet Competitive Research & Keyword Research Tool

The Inside AdWords blog announced the beta launch of Google's Search-based Keyword Tool. To some degree the tool is a knock off, but with a number of exceptions

  • this tool is free
  • Google has more search data than does
  • this shows bid prices and search volume estimates next to keywords (like the Google Traffic Estimator)
  • this shows your current page titles and keywords
  • this shows the % of organic and paid traffic going to a URL

For any keyword, the Google Search-based Keyword Tool will show up to 800 related keywords with cost and search volume estimates. This tool also works to show you 100 keywords related to a site, and if you own a website they will show you thousands of keywords that they think you could bid on which are not already in your account. In addition they show your search share of voice (via ads and organic search results) for keywords. This data is easy to export using a handy export button.

There are a variety of cool extra filters that can be applied on this tool, including...

  • minimum or maximum search volumes
  • bid price range
  • low, medium, or high competition
  • keyword in URL
  • combining URL and keywords as filters
  • keyword + general category
  • negative keywords

Using a variety of different combinations for these filters you can see many different sets of 800 keywords even within the same subset. Export these different lists a variety of times and you can quickly build a list of thousands of high value keywords.

If you are a paying subscriber, this thread has a few more tips for how to get the most out of this tool.

Link Goodies

Here are some interesting links of note.

Danny Sullivan whinges about all the flavors of spam killing the utility of the web.

John Andrews on the absurdity of calling affiliate links spam.

Slightly Shady SEO looks at Google's user data empire.

Andrew Goodman on why you have to target a tight niche to build a community. He also highlighted that display ads might be getting the credit they deserve, using a fun analogy:

Alexander Hamilton's face is on every $10 bill, but his brand isn't doing so hot. Thomas Jefferson, meanwhile, has a strong brand, and he's only on the 2, and there are hardly any of those in circulation. What is a fair CPM rate for either gentleman to pay for this type of exposure?

Seth highlights that connecting people is the easiest way to make money online. offers SEO Book members a $50 off coupon when they submit a site to the directory.

SEO Black Hat is hosting another high level SEO conference, in Rio De Janerio.

Michael Gray roasted Google for not allowing an opt out option on SearchWiki.

At WembasterWorld Pubcon Brent D Payne mentioned that if you were covered in the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times, or any Tribune Interactive publication, but were not linked to, then you can send him a tweet on Twitter and he will try to get your link added.

Stuntdubl announced he is doing social media consulting again. He is probably amongst the top couple social media marketers.

Joost de Valk created a cool Mint Pepper to show Technorati backlinks.

Microsoft search may re-brand as Kumo. They would be better off buying

Here are some funny SEO comics.

Interviews & Meta-Me

I wrote a guest column for Search Engine Land about how using a consistent site structure helps build your SEO momentum.

I did a couple interviews recently. If interested, here is on on GottaQuirk, and another on PalatnikFactor.

I was also interviewed in the recently published book Blog Blazers. I have a couple copies of the book to give away...if you want one just comment below...first come first served :)

Baking SEO Into The Company Workflow & Culture

There is a big difference between working on your own sites, and working on sites that belong to others.

When you work on your own sites, you can execute changes quickly, and you don't need to convince anyone else of the merits of your actions. However, within an organization, SEO requires significant buy-in on a number of levels. Failure to get that buy in can severely compromise the effectiveness of the SEO, which might - rather unfairly - see the SEO out of a job.

In this article, we'll take a look at the problems the SEO who is either in-house, or working on a clients site, faces, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

Embedding SEO Into The Culture

In-house SEO is just as much about politics as it is about execution.

There will be various stakeholders, many of whom man not be be familiar with SEO. There will be people who will be openly hostile to someone else insisting they change the way they work.

No matter what, you're going to ruffle a few feathers.

The first step to achieving good SEO outcomes within an organizational structure is to get management buy-in.

Given that management have probably already hired you, this should be a relatively straightforward step. Management will want to see facts, figures and strategies that support the business case. Prepare presentations that demonstrate your proposed strategy, how it supports the business case, how long it will take to achieve, and what your measure of success will be.

Once these factors are agreed to, you'll have the backup you'll need to undertake the hard part.

Convincing The Minions

Various people need to buy into SEO in order for it to work.

Some companies locate their web team within IT, whilst others place them within marketing. Sometimes, the two business units share ownership of the strategy. The important thing to determine is who has the control, especially over aspects such as site structure, content production, and overall strategy.

Think of internal employees as customers. Also check out my article Overcoming Common SEO Objections.

Look to establish rapport with, and train, the various people who occupy these important roles.

1. The Manager

You must have buy-in from the person with the most control over the business unit responsible for web strategy. They will be able to provide the support and backup you'll need.

Managers tend to respond well to anything that helps them achieve departmental goals. These goals have probably been set by upper management.

Look for areas synergy exists. For example, marketing managers often have traffic goals, and similar visitor metric milestones. Show them how SEO will help meet those objectives.

This is why it is important to frame SEO in business terms, as opposed to just a technical process. Without management buy in, and aligned business goals, you're unlikely to get support for the technical changes you need to do.

2. The Designer

The designers are responsible for the look and feel of the site. They will probably also be responsible for site architecture. Architecture and design are two areas where you are likely to experience a lot of push-back.

There is good reason for this.

What is good for SEO might not be good for users or brand aesthetics. This area that needs to be carefully balanced. If the designers think the SEO is compromising the look, feel and operation of the site, then you're not going to get very far, no matter how good your intentions are.

If your designers are familiar with usability, and good designers will be, you're in luck. There are a lot of usability integration points that work for users, designers and SEOs. For example, breadcrumb navigation can be great for usability and SEO, as they allow for the propagation of keywords, and provide internal link structure. Be on the lookout for other areas that require little change and provide natural synergies.

Once you've built up trust, you may be able to get bigger concessions.

3. Writers & Content Producers

The writers provide the words. The content producers may provide video, pictures, and other media. You'll probably be dealing mostly with the writers.

Writers, especially if they have been writing professionally for a long time, can often be very set in their ways. Writers schooled in journalistic and copy writing techniques use methods that predate internet search engines, and often the internet itself.

Old habits die hard.

Once again, a way to get around this is to align their goals with yours. Show writers how much potential traffic there is out there and how keyword research can be used to suggest article topics and title ideas. Show them that by following a few SEO principles, they can get more readers reading their stuff.

Writers often have communications objectives i.e. to achieve wider reach and exposure, so there might be some obvious, natural synergies to be had.

Check out this tactic, used by Rudy De La Garza Jr at BankRate Inc to help convince writers to adopt SEO practices:

At Bankrate, Mr. De La Garza showed editorial employees that, for some articles, deciding on about 10 main keywords before writing could help increase their number of page views. Writers were already vying for bragging rights to the most popular articles. He told them: "You know what, guys? If we apply a few SEO tactics here, I can help you win the weekly battle," he says

4. The Developer

The developers are responsible for the technical aspects of the website. Developers need to be aware of the need for site response speed - they probably are already - and ensuring the site is crawlable. This job has been made somewhat easier, of late, given the introduction of Google Site Maps.

There might be various coding practices that can be changed in order to enhance SEO. For example, try replacing JavaScript behaviors, particularly for menus, with CSS techniques. Are there other coding aspects that could be enhanced? It might provide an opportunity for the developer to train in new technologies.

I've yet to meet a developer who didn't want to learn new ways of coding. It all adds to their CV.

Political Concerns

In any change process, there are a lot of political battles to fight. SEO is no exception.

This is where training and evangelism comes in. The more people who understand what you do, and how and why you're doing it, the easier your job will be. There is no one way of achieving this, other than to communicate as often as possible.

Using external metrics can help. Suggest that other companies are doing this, and what you're telling them is industry best practice. Create a sense of jeopardy that if they don't do it, they'll be left behind. Show people how having knowledge of SEO adds to their skill set, and thus increases their value to the employer.

Outside consultants can be very useful here. Short-term contractors usually aren't part of the political machinations of fighting for position and internal power plays, and can often be more successful at implementing change. Because their tenure is limited, they don't tend to be seen as a threat to career paths.

Ongoing SEO Best Practices

Once you've got people onside, you need to start building procedures into the work-flow itself. Amend and rewrite guidelines to make SEO part of the day to day process.

For example, when writing articles, writers should search for existing published articles, and include them in a related articles section. Have the designers build a "Related Articles" section into the template, so it becomes a natural part of the article creation process. Developers should use technologies that allow for crawling. Designers should use SEO friendly formats and templates, where possible.

In this video, Marshall Simmonds discusses, amongst other topics, how to create an in-house search team from scratch:

The best SEO is when people aren't aware they are doing SEO.

The SEO has simply become part of the furniture.

Have your Say

Have you worked as an in-house SEO? Or worked on SEO within a large organization? What challenges were you faced with? How did you overcome them?

We'd love to hear your stories in the comments.

Marketing Lessons from Google

  • Under-monetize to buy mindshare. (almost every category Google is in)
  • Offer a free version to make sure everyone who may want to has a chance to experience your product and/or service. (almost every category Google is in)
  • Offer something that forces people to keep coming back to your website. Alternatively, bundle your stuff into the browser. (the Google Toolbar is huge.)
  • Invest heavily in distribution deals and public relations. Keep making small changes and talking about how important they are so you stay in the media. Maintain that your success is because superior products even while you are buying marketshare.
  • If a business model competes with your model, try to guide the conversation and get market participants to attack each other to your own benefit (this, above all other reasons, is why it is not smart for "professional" SEOs to publicly endorse outing each other...nobody wins but Google).
  • Offer free or low cost versions of cash cows of competing services to distract them and/or force change upon them. (Google Docs)
  • Even when you have a market leading position, keep investing heavily in complimentary markets to reinforce your position as the default. Become ubiquitous. Become a verb. (mobile operating system)
  • When you tap out the potential of your product or service look for ways to make it deeper is select high value verticals. (onebox, universal search, site search)
  • When you have enough leverage and a large enough lead, change the market to put yourself at the center of it. (the Omnibox in Google Chrome)

I Missed Many Ideas...

What marketing lessons have you learned from watching Google?

Did Google Win the War on Paid Links?

Jim Boykin recently claimed to have kicked the paid links habit:

So, the best thing for my company to do, if we want to stay out of the fire, is to make sure that We Build Pages adheres to the Google Guidelines, and that means we won’t be getting any more paid links for manipulating search engines.

When I first got on the SEO scene and quickly started buying links, one of the sites I kept running into was WeBuildPages. One of my friends jokingly called me "the original link spammer" but Jim Boykin started buying links before I did and was doing it with more scale than I did. To see Jim dismiss link buying outright seems like it is either over-reaction or link buying is nearing its death.

Is Link Buying Nearing its Death?

When search click distributions may end up similar to the below graph how can one not want to push the limits?

For some keywords (and some entire business models) one or two rankings difference can be the difference between a profitable business model and a money loser. Yes real businesses should not be so reliant on Google that Google can chose to kill them, but there are a lot more people doing business with me too offers than there are creative and original people offering significant value added services from a unique approach.

Most business models are arbitrage, and Google wants to claw away as much of the easy value as they can, forcing you to spend on brand building.

The Cost of Branding

Most traditional businesses are lucky to have a 10% or 20% profit margin. When one company controls 70% of the search market (closer to 90% in some niches and some geographic regions) it is easy for them to exert enough influence on a business (through quality scores, hand edits, threats) to move it from having 10% profit margins to losing money.

Many regional offline brands are dying because their cost structure does not work on a network of infinite competition.

Many online brands are money losers or break even at best, with some losing hundreds of millions of dollars before coming profitable. Some of the more savvy online companies (like, Expedia, and BankRate) may break even on the brand and leverage the brand to build out profitable networks of thin websites that allow them to double or triple dip in the organic search results.

Death Grip Growing Stronger

Google's death grip on the web is only growing stronger. While the web and search are making some bulky business models (like that of the NYT) irrelevant, in response the New York Times publishes articles about how Google Seduces With Utility:

“The most powerful form of advertising is to be exceptional,” said Ranjit Mathoda, an investor and technologist who blogs at “Google has created an ecosystem that perpetuates itself by being useful.”
“We do have a philosophy that our products should speak for themselves. We tend not to make a lot of noise,” said Jeff Huber, senior vice president for engineering at Google.

Google is the front door to the web. And while Google is getting credited for "not making noise" and "being exceptional" they use their ad platform to give themselves free distribution in any vertical they want to compete.

Part of Google rising to such dominance was their aggressive bundling of their toolbar on computers through deals with OEMs and other software companies. Now that Google has a browser they want to take it one step further by doing Chrome distribution deals:

Sundar Pichai, Google Vice President, Product Management, revealed that Chrome will be ready to come out of “beta” testing by January, and that the search giant was looking at ways to make Chrome the browser of choice for the everyday user.

“We will probably do distribution deals,” he said, adding, “we could work with an OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and have them ship computers with Chrome pre-installed.”

Chrome replaces the address bar with a search box. More search volume for Google.

Do You Still Buy Links? Do Your Friends?

Knowing how good Google is at marketing and that they are still gaining marketshare, do you still buy links? How has your link building and link buying strategy changed over the past year or two?

SEO Sales Process: Overcoming Common SEO Objections

When you're pitching for SEO business, what objections do you hear most often?

Knowing what objections to expect, and how to handle them will help you win business. Here are nine common objections made by SEO clients, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

1. Search Engines Will Find Us/We Already Rank

Sure. Under what keyword terms? How much of the site are the spiders missing?

There is a big difference between arbitrary ranking in search engine listings, and ranking for focused keyword terms. Demonstrate to the client the value of appearing under a wide variety of targeted keyword terms, as opposed to this being a random process. It is like the difference between advertising where few people are looking, as opposed to appearing on a string of billboards in prominent locations.

You could do a side by side comparison between the client and a more established competitor using graphs. If they already rank for valuable terms, try to get them to track the business derived from those rankings, and show them the upside potential of increasing rank.

2. We'll Have To Redesign Our Site. That Costs Money

Quite possibly.

Try to demonstrate to the client that the potential benefits outweigh the costs. One way to price organic search traffic is to use the PPC prices as a guide. It could also be argued that organic listings have a higher trust level amongst users, making the traffic potentially even more valuable.

So how much is that poor design costing them in terms of lost opportunity?

3. SEO is Expensive

A common objection, usually made because the client can't determine the amount of work required, or the the value added.

Break down the work into separate tasks, and outline how long each task is likely to take. If the client knows your rate per hour, then they will be more able to determine if the cost is fair.

For example:

  • Industry analysis - research industry sector, marketing and sales trends.
  • Competition analysis - conduct review of competitor sites
  • Keyword research - research keyword terms
  • Site optimization, including title tags, meta tags, copy and internal linking
  • Link building/directory submission/social media promotion
  • Monitoring and reporting

Another aspect of this objection has to do with the value proposition. Again, try printing out the PPC bid prices for the same keyword traffic, and show how your work effectively undercuts that price. If you can, try and get information about how much the client spends on other channels, and do a side by side comparison of the relative merits, costs and benefits.

4. Upper management Won't Support It

Perhaps you need to be talking to the decision maker ;)

Ask what upper-managements objections would be? Sometimes this objection is legitimate, but it is often used to avoid having to tell you "no, thanks". The client cites an authority, who isn't present, implying that any further negotiations with the client will prove fruitless.

5. Why Should We Change The Way We Write Just For Search Engines?

This objection is commonly used by copywriters and journalists.

Established writers often use methodologies that don't take into account SEO. One way to get around this objection is to request a trail run on a few test pages. Once you're demonstrated that writing effective copy can result in an increase in visitors and conversions, you'll have more sway when it comes to changing the rest of the site.

Also, appeal to the copywriters vanity. If more people see their work, isn't that a good thing?

Cite "This Boring Headline Is Written for Google", an article about how The New York Times changed their writing practices to accommodate SEO.

"We're all struggling and experimenting with how news is presented in the future," said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. "And there's nothing wrong with search engine optimization as long as it doesn't interfere with news judgment. It shouldn't, and it's up to us to make sure it doesn't. But it is a tool that is part of being effective in this medium."

6. SEO Doesn't Work. It's A Scam!

Ask the client why they feel this way. Has the client had dealings with SEOs in the past? Seen some bad press?

Have case studies on hand that demonstrate how you've solved search marketing problems in the past. Also provide recommendations from previous clients who were happy with your work.

Reframe the debate in terms of problems and solutions.

7. We Have A Strong Brand, So We Don't Need SEO

This is true, so long as people only search on the brand.

But what about those searchers who are searching for generic product/service names?

I once had this objection from a well-known childrens' clothes retailer. I ran a few search reports on generic searches, such as kids t-shirt, babywear, etc, and showed the client the traffic numbers. I then showed the client that their site wasn't appearing under any of those terms.

But her competitors were.

Why choose one or the other when you could easily have both?

8. We Like Flash. It's Cool!

Run away. Run fast..... ;)

Seriously though, such objections usually come from designers who place a lot of emphasis on site appearance, or want to play with the latest toys.

In the past, I've approached this in one of two ways. If they want to keep designing in Flash, or other technologies that make crawling and linking difficult, then suggest workarounds that don't affect the design. For example, create a print-friendly version of the site. This is the part of the site that gets crawled and seen by search engines and search visitors, while the designers can still focus on their elaborate designs. Essentially, you create a site within a site.

Show them that their competitors outrank them, in part, by using different technology. Is Flash really worth that competitive disadvantage?

From Google AdWords Blog:

Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all? With that kind of unpredictable search behavior, it's extremely difficult to create a keyword list that covers all relevant queries using only exact match."

It's even harder to capture that traffic using Flash.

BTW: Check out this example. Here is the spider's view of

9. Are SEO Services Really That Important?

Compared to.....?

It's an effort vs reward question. Again, if you can demonstrate clear commercial benefits over and above the cost, then "hell yes!". Try to focus on the clients business problems, and be prepared to demonstrate how the SEO spend will solve those problems in cost effective ways.

Those are a few common objections. I'm sure you've heard others. What is important to understand is that not all objections are legitimate. Most are stalling tactics used to delay making a decision. That decision is difficult to make because the client will expose themselves to risk.

Simply by being pre-prepared for objections, you help negate that risk, and can quickly move the client towards make a decision.

Related Reading:

Interview of Greg Jarboe on PR, SEO & Video Optimization

I met Greg Jarboe at my very first SEO conference about 5 years ago and have chatted with him many times over the years. Recently we conducted an interview via email.

You are speaking at Chicago SES next month on a variety of topics from the first timers guide to SES and SEM, to an introduction to SEM, to SEO for video content. What are your favorite topics to talk about?

I'm also speaking about turning PR efforts into SEO results as well as teaching the optimizing for universal search workshop with Amanda Watlington of Searching for Profit. So, I plan to get a pair of roller skates in order to make it to all five sessions in time. It's sort of funny how all this landed on my to-do list, but I think that it's a an example of being lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. A couple of years back, SEO-PR pioneered press release optimization. It was a niche -- and it got our foot in the door. Then, we branched out -- and started optimizing video for YouTube. At that point, Amanda and I starting teaching workshops entitled "Getting found in all the right places," which covered getting found in Google News, YouTube, and other vertical search engines. Then, on May 16, 2007, Google introduced universal search -- incorporating information from a variety of previously separate sources – including videos, images, news, maps, books, and websites – into a single set of results. So, all of those niches that we had focused on in the early days had suddenly gone mainstream. This also fundamentally changed how you can best optimize content to gain "natural" or "organic" traffic -- because we no longer live in an era of 10 blue links. So, which one of these topics is my favorite? It's video search engine optimization. In fact, I'm writing a book for Sybex entitled: YouTube and Video Marketing: An Hour A Day. It's part of the series that includes Web Analytics: An Hour A Day by Avinash Kaushik. So, I'm pretty focused on video right now.

How has video changed the SEO game? Do you recommend submitting to YouTube and other third party sites, or hosting video content on your own sites?

Hosting video content on your own site was the right thing to do in 2005, when Google Video, Yahoo! Video, Singingfish and other video search engines were the leaders in online video. But, in 2006, YouTube came out of left field -- and totally changed the game. That's why Google paid $1.65 billion to acquire YouTube, a video sharing site. It had beat all the video search engines hands down. According to Hitwise, YouTube accounted for 76% of all U.S. visits to online video websites in October 2008. Google Video had less than 4%. Yahoo! Video changed its focus to Yahoo-hosted video only in February of this year. And Singingfish has ceased to exist as a separate service. So, if you host video content on your own site, you're optimizing it for less than 4% of all U.S. visits. A much smarter strategy is to submit your video to YouTube, which gets about 20 times more visits, and then embed your YouTube videos in your website or blog.

Of the Search Engine Strategy conferences in the US, Chicago has traditionally been one of the smaller conferences. For a person new to SEO how can the smaller size benefit them?

SES Chicago will attract about 2,000 attendees, which SES San Jose got more than 6,000. So, yes, it is a smaller conference. But, it's the only SEM conference in the Midwest, so most of the people you see at SES Chicago aren't ones that you'll already seen at other conferences. In fact, 87% of attendees at last year's SES Chicago were new to SES, just 13% were alumni. And 85% of the SES Chicago attendees approve or recommend purchasing decisions. So, the quality of the audience is very high. I find that means the Q&A sessions are not only lively -- they are lively at all of the SES events -- but people come away feeling that they got "their questions" answered.

When I first got started with SEO, I remember sitting at a table with your partner Jamie and you, as you guys discussed some of your tips. Since then you have become more and more well known in the search marketing space. What were some of your keys to that growth in exposure and awareness?

It takes time for new ideas to catch on. So, part of this is just persistence. But the other part is the willingness of many of our clients to share their case studies with the rest of the industry. When we started in early 2003, press release optimization was an interesting concept. Then, we were able to show that optimized press releases had generated $200 million in qualified leads for Symmetricom’s chip-scale atomic clocks, more than $2.5 million in ticket sales for Southwest Airlines, and almost 1.3 million searches for “florists” on Later, we were also able to explain how combining blog outreach with press release optimization generated a record 450,000 unique visitors to The Christian Science Monitor, more than 85,000 entries into Parents magazine’s cover kid photo contest, and a record 1,100 attendees to the Wharton Economic Summit. So, if there is a tip, I say focus on measuring business outcomes instead of traditional PR outputs, like the number of clippings. Money talks. The other stuff walks.

With universal search and authority based search relevancy algorithms it seems Google keeps placing more and more weight on public relations. Are you surprised at how far this has come over the past few years? How far do you see these fields merging?

Actually, David Dalka posted an item to his blog about a year-and-a-half ago that said, "One can’t help but notice that if Greg Jarboe had gone to Google and designed Universal Search himself he likely couldn’t have designed it (better) to play into his strength areas in news and pr related issues." But, I didn't go to Google and I didn't design Universal Search. Nevertheless, it does play to our strength in public relations. We were among the first to recognize the getting links from blogs with a lot of authority wasn't a technical skill. It required public relations skills.

When should a new site consider using public relations as an SEO strategy? What are the keys to effectively using public relations as an SEO strategy?

Before it is launched. As it is being launched. And after it is launched. As for the keys, here is what the Google Webmaster Help Center says, "It is not only the number of links you have pointing to your site that matters, but also the quality and relevance of those links. Creating good content pays off: Links are usually editorial votes given by choice, and the buzzing blogger community can be an excellent place to generate interest."

When should people consider outsourcing PR, and how much of it should be driven by internal resources?

We've trained PR departments as well as PR agencies. So, it isn't that important whether this is outsources or handled internally. It is important to start -- and then to continue updating your skills -- because learning SEO isn't like learning the multiplication tables. The search engines are constantly changing -- and Universal Search is just an example of one of the bigger changes we've since in the past five years. So, learn how to optimize press releases, then learn how to optimize blogs and RSS feeds, then learn how to optimize video for YouTube, then keep learning.

While in Chicago what dish should everyone make sure they eat?

If you don't eat some Chicago-style deep dish pizza, then you haven't been to Chicago. You were just visiting some big city in the Midwest.


Thanks Greg.

Check out SEO-PR to learn more about Greg and the intersection of public relations and search.

Google Outsourcing Their Search Algo.....To You!

Not really. But kinda.

Google have announced the release of SearchWiki, a way for you to customize search by re-ranking, deleting, adding, and commenting on search results. Don't like a result? You can vote it down. Likewise, you can vote links up if you think they deserve a higher rank.

These changes will only appear in your Google account, and won't influence the result sets as seen by others. However, it is hard to imagine that Google won't take note of such signals, especially if they see broad patterns emerging, and then feed this data through into their algorithm development.

When asked about this point, Google sounded a little cagey:

"Dupont was noncommittal about whether the company planned to build in that feedback loop, either directly as a signal to influence search rankings or indirectly as extra data that could help the company judge the relevance of its search results. But he certainly didn't rule the idea out. We don't close any doors. We constantly evaluate signals" that are incorporated into the search results algorithm. Search is adapting to the Internet as it becomes a more participatory medium. Now you have people telling us specific things about how they'd like to see their search results."

Make of that what you will.

Is this a sign Google are looking for other signals of quality? Do too many people know about the influence of inbound linking these days? Quick, vote down Wikipedia! ;) Curiously, Wikipedia's seo page already has 4 negative votes.

Seriously though, let's try an experiment. We here at love votes for link building, seo tools, and seo ;) Best review on seo for wins a free month of Aarons world-famous SEO training program.

SearchWiki could also be seen as another distribution channel and potential link source ie: the people who look at the SearchWiki are likely to be webmasters. Something to think about if you're targeting this group.

The Moral Authority of a Search Engine

John Andrews highlights the fallacy of "make good content"

If we follow this “make good content” path eventually the search engines will fail to deliver meaningful search results, either because of the excessive noise or because they enjoy such a monopoly they find market exploitation irresistably more rewarding. At that point the White Hat SEOs won’t know what to do anymore, and the creators/artists will refuse to work for the nickels offered. The web will become the cesspool Google says it already is.

So much is lost in the attention whoring that is claimed to be professional SEO that less than 1 in 100 "professionals" understand the above and are willing to think it through to its end.

Using critical thinking skills does not make one a terrorist or a black hat individual. We are not the ones promoting infidelity (as Google has done for years). - TLA Launches In Links, an Inline Link Buying Program

Just in time for the holidays, Media Whiz's Text Link Ads launched a new links product named InLinks, which puts text links inside the content of sites powered by Wordpress, MovableType, and Drupal. Rather than links sticking out like a sore thumb by putting a rail of paid links in the sidebar or footer (the old text link brokering model) this allows for a more efficient marketplace that is more likely to pass link juice and be a bit harder to detect.

Link Location Matters

Yahoo! Search's Priyank Garg highlighted that they look at link location when determining the value of links:

The irrelevant links at the bottom of a page, which will not be as valuable for a user, don’t add to the quality of the user experience, so we don’t account for those in our ranking. All of those links might still be useful for crawl discovery, but they won’t support the ranking.

As Jim Boykin would say, you want links within content linking to content.

Does Google Like This?

Matt Cutts was quick to say that this link buying program violates Google's TOS (and might be against an FTC guideline), but Shoemoney highlighted how Google is known to look the other was on such decisions when it is profitable to do so.

Every time paid links is brought up Matt Cutts brings up the FTC’s “suggestions” on bloggers disclosing things they have been compensated for. In no where in these “suggestions” does it talk about paid links. But even if it did they are just suggestions. They are not law and if Google was following the FTC’s suggestions I doubt Google Adsense/adlinks would be engaging in some of the most deceptive advertising methods I have ever seen on the internet.
  • Google promotes infidelity.
  • When Google launched their affiliate program, you could only tell that the blended inline text links were affiliate if you read a small blurb when you scrolled over them.
  • Some AdSense ad units do not even have the word ad near commenter thought people could think a blog was promoting/endorsing homosexual fitness dating because there was no disclosure.
  • This entire page is a Google advertisement with no disclaimer on it

It appears Google needs to clean up its own act before people will take that FTC comment seriously.

Should You Buy Text Links?

Quoting liberally from Bob Massa's great blog post on link buying:
Invariably I get the question, SHOULD I BUY LINKS?

Wanna know the funny thing? Most of the people who ask me that question are the people who least need to worry about the risk. The risk motivating the question being whether or not they may be penalized by google instead of the risk being about going broke.

Logic would dictate that anyone concerned about the risk of being penalized by Google, is actually worried about losing something they already have. In this case sales coming from targeted traffic generated from superior organic placements in the SERP’s. Fine, that makes sense as that is pretty much the definition of risk. Losing what you already have or at least losing a perceived opportunity that you have already made an investment in, (which was a calculated risk the minute a decision was made to put up a webpage and long before this question ever came up).

But far more often than not, when I take a look at the site belonging to the askee, I see a site that looks like a third graders ransom note and written by a Marlon Sanders school of “But Wait – There’s More” drop out with a title tag that reads, index-Mozilla Firefox.

Little traffic to speak of and certainly no sales to lose. There is VERY little visible investment in design, content or anything else. Yet they brag of the #3 spot they have for a keyword with over a million results like that is all they need for proof of their valuable contribution to the world of online commerce.
Read more of Bob's wisdom at Should You Buy Links? The Truth Shall Set You Free

How to Buy Links Safely

I spoke to some folks at Text Link Ads who said that the InLinks inventory is separate from their traditional old-school link inventory.

Is this new network on Google's radar? Absolutely, but then what did Google expect when they only penalized one link broker while letting all the others rank? In doing so, Google made their fighting paid links program much more difficult to manage.

Might they catch some publishers? Sure, especially if they are greedy, aggressive, and use little to no editorial oversight. But some will do it smartly, and for most advertisers the risk is minimal so long as you use it lightly...many of these sites are well ingrained into the web, with thousands of legitimate inbound and outbound links.

Most search traffic goes to the top few ranking results. I wouldn't use this type of linking program to try to go from #103 to the first page, but if you are ranking #8 or #12, buying a few of these links might be all you need to capture a profitable top Google ranking.

Save $100 Today

and get $100 off your order by using the code 100free. Try it out, see if you like it, see if it works for you, and cancel if you don't see the movements you were expecting.

How To Keep SEO Clients

In "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we've discussed how to get SEO clients. In this post, we'll look at how to keep them.

In most businesses, a high proportion of revenue comes from repeat business. Because it can be a costly process to acquire new clients, it makes sense to spent time nurturing the clients you already have. We'll look at ways to both structure the offering to ensure on-going revenue, and the simple things you can do to maintain and build relationships.

It's mostly comes down to doing the simple things well.

Structure The SEO Service Offering To Provide Ongoing Value

We've talked previously about SEO business models.

It can often be difficult to justify ongoing billing using a typical SEO consultant model. You go in, you fix up crawling issues, you restructure the site, you change copy, and you build links. Some SEOs may bill on-going for reporting, link building and/or competitive analysis. However, a lot of the value is created up-front, which can make it difficult to build on-going, high value relationships with existing clients. In this respect, SEO is not unlike the web design model. Minor on-going adjustments aside, the job has a clear beginning and end point.

For the relationship to build, you must create more and more value for the client on an on-going basis.

Bob Massa, one of my favorite SEO commentators, has this to say:

With little more than a glance at many of the more popular SEO hang outs, I believe it is obvious even to the uninitiated, SEO is pretty much focused on traffic generation. Things like conversions, demographics, analytics and increased website revenue generation from upselling take a distant back seat. Were it not so, topics like social media manipulation for the primary purpose of link acquisition and when PR will be updated would not dominate the interactive real estate to the extent that it does.

In this guru’s opinion, too many opportunities for genuine marketing discussions get reduced to yet one more twittershitter to be dug up and stumbled upon.

Serious discussion about honest to goodness marketing often gets buried by linkbaiting headlines that offer little more than a boost to the ego of the master baiter. Why? Because generating traffic is easy. Making money, online or off, takes education, dedication, focus, and even with those assets in place, it does little more than give one the ability to be right more often than wrong.

If you create value for the client, they will keep you. If you continue to add value, you can continue to bill. That has little to do with ranking positions, links and traffic, and everything to do with growing revenue and/or brand reach.

For example, I saw one nice piece of SEO work recently where the client remarked "I don't know what you are doing but we are getting lots of large custom order requests!". The technique was little more than placing some well-chosen keyword terms on the front page, however these words were also a strong call to action for large orders. They appeared in a prominent position. Both the SEO implementation and the business requirement were seamlessly aligned.

Think about ways to grow the the clients business when you structure your service offering.

A few models include:

  • Partnering with clients for a share of on-going revenue
  • Offering integrated marketing services - monitor keyword trends, referal trends, link search keyword to desireable action, provide custom tracking and analytics services,etc.
  • Offering lead generation services
  • Brand development and protection - monitoring competitors, monitoring the search engines for negative/positive press etc
  • Locking in clients with propriety software- Some companies muddy the waters by selling intermediary SEO services that sit between the clients site and Google. Certainly one way to get on-going revenue, but vulnerable to the whims of Google, and it could be argued not in the clients long term interests compared to improving their actual site. One great way of doing this would be to lock-in clients with propriety reporting and tools, sold on a subscription basis, that build - and demonstrate - on-going value.
  • Offering on-going competitive analysis services
  • New content production & promotion
  • Drop SEO and take up PPC bid management - kidding ;)

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these models have one thing in common. They create an ongoing value proposition.

The Soft Side

Once you've got your business model sorted out, and you're in a position to build value for the client over time, you need to nurture the relationship. Business is about people, and people need to be recognized, praised, and made to feel good. How much time do you spend nurturing the relationship you have with your existing clients?

Time Management

In order to spend more time nurturing the relationship, you're probably going to need to free up existing time! Write down your tasks and make a note of how much time you spend on each task you do. Are there any low level tasks you could delegate or out-source? Virtual assistants can take a lot of the drudge tasks off your hands, which frees you up to focus on your clients.

Here are some other tools and services worth checking out:

We've got no affiliation to these services. Honest guv' :)

Analyse How You're Spending Your Time

Are you spending your time profitably? Are you adding value to the relationship? Is it better to go to another search marketing conference, or would your time be better spent going to a confernce that relates to your clients business? How much time are you spending time researching their business area?

Word Of Mouth

Your existing customer base can also be your de-facto sales force. They can provide you with recommendations and references. If they are impressed with you, they'll talk about you to others. This both increases your revenue and cuts your sales expenses. It is much easier to close word-of-mouth recommendations than any other type of sales close. What are you doing to increase the chances of this happening?

Deliver On Promises, Let Them Know Early If You Can't

One great way to increase the chances of word-of-mouth recommendations is to under promise and over deliver. In your proposals, pull back a little from what you'll actually end up delivering. Everyone loves a vendor who is seen to go the extra mile.

Once you get the job, and find you may not be able to deliver, let clients now well in advance. Chances are, you'll get time enough to make up for it, and most clients are mature enough to realise that mistakes can happen.

Keep In Touch

It's often as simple as an email, sending a card, or making a phone call. Don't make every communication a pitch. If the client only hears from you when you're trying to sell them something, it's not much of a relationship. Try to think of ways you can contact your client without being intrusive.

Stroke The Ego

Monitor the press for mentions of your client. If you find good reviews or mentions, flick your client an e-mail. Most clients will be impressed that you're taking an interest in them.

Remind Them How Great You Are

This is a tricky one to pull off without sounding like a braggard, but the client does need to understand how much value you're providing them. Build notification into your process. Tell them what you're going to do. Do it. Tell them you've done it.

Focus On The Great Clients, Cut The Rest

Everyone likes great clients. But most clients aren't great. You'll get people who don't want to pay much, who won't pay you at all, who don't value the relationship, who miss deadlines, and who are never satisfied. Here's a great article on identifying the types of clients you don't want, and what to do about them.

Not only are these clients a pain, but they reduce the time you can spend with great clients. Make a list of your clients and rank them in order of who will provide the greatest chance of regular, high value work. Consider cutting the rest. Are they really worth your time?

Changes in Online Publishing & Advertising

Online Ad Networks in Despair

Some ad networks are late with payments and slashing rates. There have been many reports of internet ad networks dying recently, and most of them deserve to because they add no value...they are all hat no cattle.

Publishing Based Business Models in Decline

Like the death of ad networks, many publishing based business models are in decline.

The yellow page companies that were worth billions are facing bankruptcy.

An encyclopedia that costs $3,000 is covering the field of SEO, but with the speed of information online there is going to be a cap on how accurate and deep a generalist volume can be. The same is true for most web publishing business models.

Most content is a commodity, and it is hard to build a loyal PROFITABLE audience if you are in a generic vertical like news. The New York Times is running on fumes.

Some of the most successful blogs now resemble the media they claimed to replace:

Almost all of the popular blogs today are commercial ventures with teams of writers, aggressive ad-sales operations, bloated sites, and strategies of self-linking. Some are good, some are boring, but to argue that they're part of a "blogosphere" that is distinguishable from the "mainstream media" seems more and more like an act of nostalgia, if not self-delusion.

Nick Denton has sold off 1/3 of his blogging empire and claims that we are in for an ugly online advertising contraction.

Domain name owners, which hold an easy to operate passive revenue stream, have seen ad based earnings drop and have been forced to sell off large chunks of their portfolios, as mentioned by

“Historically, the domain services businesses. . . . have generated the majority of their gross profit from intermediating advertising revenue. As the advertising component of the industry has declined, industry profitability plummeted. Many service businesses that rely exclusively on advertising are no longer viable and the industry is ripe for consolidation. Going forward the company sees secondary market domain name sales becoming a much more significant component of the industry . . .”

And those who have a lot of consumer driven media inventory are not faring much better:

P&G's Ted McConnell pointed to the drumbeat of complaints about social networks being unable to monetize their sites. "I have a reaction to that as a consumer advocate and an advertiser," he said. "What in heaven's name made you think you could monetize the real estate in which somebody is breaking up with their girlfriend?"

Are Networks the Right Approach?

The web allows you to connect with people and build communities based around a shared interest. Where is the value in going with a no named ad network to sell inventory when you can change your business model from being a publisher into being a publisher & retailer? Each day the network grows more efficient. During the downturn the best voices will keep building relationships, mindshares, and marketshare - even if it is not that profitable. Once the market returns they will grow faster than those who cut spending.

How to Make Your Marketing More Integrated & Build a Community

Advertise the Advertisement

Youtube allows you to advertise Youtube videos on a CPC basis. Rob Snell created a business card that advertised his conference panel.

Get People to Talk About You

The best advertising is not what you say about yourself, but what others say about you. That is why Graywolf launched Viral Conversations, a new blog oriented ad network around reviewing physical products and real world services, marketed by giving away great content on how to keep up with the latest buzz.

Encourage Syndication

Video interviews work well (particularly when you are not as chubby as I am...I soooo need to diet, and am getting on the eliptical machine as soon as I hit publish on this post ;)

And if you can be the host of a great presentation by a guy like Seth Godin that is even better.

Let Seth talk about the importance of ideas like

  • direct communication between the person who uses the thing and makes the thing
  • amplifying consumers
  • the power of speed
  • the long tail
  • product ideas spread...not advertising ideas
  • its about focus, not size
  • be scarce or ubiquitous

And sit back collecting inbound links. :)

Be Original

Give people more data, do original research, quantify that research, write about topics that are not being covered, be quirky, be the first to report on in the news topics from the lens of your industry, bring back the past, or predict the future.

Give it Away

Copyright is losing momentum. Profits are is increasingly associated with social connection.

Rather than accumulating debt to spend on marketing try to create something that is free that you can give away. Sell food? Offer free recipes and a free online cookbook. Sell software? Give away a lite version. Looking to build a platform? Offer a strong API. Sell consulting or information? Offer with papers and/or a blog. As you gain exposure you can give away less and spend more time and effort making your customer relationship deeper and more meaningful.

Change is Constant

As an online entrepreneur you can't be afraid of change.

Yahoo! Yahoo! Yahoo!

The WSJ reported that Jerry Yang is stepping down from the Yahoo! CEO role as soon as the board can find a replacement. May the bleeding soon stop. To appreciate the agony Jerry Yang lived through watch this Web 2.0 interview of him by John Battelle

To appreciate the agony that Jerry put shareholders through, look at Yahoo!'s stock chart

How long until Microsoft buys Yahoo!?

Free Search Marketing RFP Proposal Template

In response to my post yesterday "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we had a few comments from readers wanting to see examples of proposals. Thanks for the feedback, guys. It really helps us to cover areas you find most valuable.

I looked back through some old proposals looking for examples, and here's the one that earned me the most money:

Hi (name removed),

It was great to meet up and hear about your plans for (name removed).

As discussed, this email is to confirm the scope of the project.

I will undertake search marketing for (name removed) with the aim of generating new sales leads. The KPI will be based around increasing the volume of verifiable leads per month, and demonstrating these leads came from search engine visitors.

Contract to follow.

Kind regards,


Feel free to use it ;)

The problem with templates, and why I don't recommend relying on them, is that they aren't specific. There are no magic words that will ensure clients sign on the line. If you're pitching for thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, then you need to do upfront research regarding the clients specific business problems, and that must flow through into your proposal.

The exception is if you're taking a "throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" approach, in which case you just need to swap out a few details. Personally, when I receive such proposals, I bin them, and then make a mental note not to have anything to do with that company again. If they can't be bothered, then why should I?

The "proposal" above, which was just an email, was arrived at after a working lunch. The client came to me by a word of mouth reference. This particular client was the internet marketing manager for a large, international bank.

Over lunch, I asked questions about the clients business, the problems they faced, and what they hoped to achieve. I made it clear to the client before lunch that if I didn't see an opportunity to get them more business using search marketing, then I would tell them so. No hard feelings, and at least we'd have a nice lunch.

It turned out that was the right thing to say for this particular client, as he had a dim view of search marketers - he'd engaged people in the past, and it hadn't worked out - and he was visibly relived when I started to talking about solving business problems, rather than rankings, links and tags.

In this instance, the proposal fit the client. He was already sold by the time I put something in writing, he just wanted to sign-off and get on with it.

However, template guidelines can be useful, especially if you're struggling to know what to say. Proposals are a plan for solving a problem, and they outline the terms of engagement. You need to state what the problem is, explain how you're going to solve it, and explain why you're the best person to solve that problem.

One of our readers, Hugo Guzman, from provided a great example of structure he uses, which I'll reproduce here:

1) Clear bullet points on scope of work (details, details, details)

2) Emphasis on three main facets of SEO (site-side, link building, analytics). In many cases, it's our ability to demonstrate link building or analytics proficiency that wins the business.

3) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and social media

5) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and content development

6) Emphasis on our team's ability to work directly with client stakeholders (IT/Dev, marketing, PR, and even legal for some clients)

7) Emphasis on our team's ability to take overall business goals into account (not just being SEO-centric)

8) Emphasis on ROI (explaining how you will justify their monthly spend...again it's all about the details)

9) Emphasis on the idea that SEO is ongoing and not a one-time engagement

10) Emphasis on the importance of "baking" SEO into redesigns, site migrations and even the addition of a single page of content

11) Case studies and client testimonials

12) Emphasis on our efforts to be thought leaders in the space (aka "shameless plug for my blogging efforts over the years")

That's a good a structure as any, and notice how Hugo emphasizes the need for "details, details, details". There are no short-cut to specifics, and you need to understand the clients business in order to provide them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most clients will appreciate your level of interest.

Here are a few other template ideas to get you started:

  • Clearly state the problems you will solve. Grab a sales proposal response table to help you map out and address problems. Here's a free response table template from Microsoft
  • Address the customers issues, one by one. Use the customers name frequently
  • Organize the proposal either a) exactly the way the customer has specified or b) by order of issues, from most important to the customer, to the least.
  • Try to articulate benefits, as opposed to features
  • Most customers skim proposals, so use bold headings, graphics, and break the proposal up into themes. White space is your friend.

In terms of structure, SEO proposals typically include the following:

  • Covering Letter - summarizes the main points. Briefly. If there are five other proposals sitting on the clients desk, what is going to entice the client to pick-up your one? Clue: it's about them, not you.
  • Articulate The Business Problem
  • Articulate Measures of Success/KPI
  • Outline Your Solution
  • Specify the work you will do - break it down into tasks. Don't go into cryptic detail concerning SEO minutiae. Keep it broad and general, and pitched in terms the customer will understand without resorting to a Google search.
  • Provide a time scale and budget
  • Provide case studies, recommendations, and outline of your skills and qualifications. In my experience, case studies are pure gold. Clients want to know you're solved these types of problems before, which lessens the clients risk.

There are, of course, a million ways ways to skin a cat. If people have any further suggestions and proposal examples they would like to share, please add them to the comments.

Further Reading:

Google Finance Adds AdSense Ads

Google recently added a big ugly AdSense block to Google Finance. It looks poorly integrated and noisy.

I am surprised they didn't look to take a page out of Yahoo!'s book on this front. Yahoo!'s ads offer more in the lines of branding, and they also sell custom research reports (likely on a CPA model).

Anyone who thinks Google has fully tapped out its revenue potential needs to be reminded that Google and YouTube are leading downstream destinations from Google.

Did you know that when a company ranks #1 on a Google Map with 10 results and #1 in the organic search results that the organic result only gets 60% more traffic? But there are 10 links in the onebox...which means that as a whole they probably get more traffic than the top organically ranked site does, especially on smaller browsers.

One interesting fact is that the majority of the users who got to the site via the natural link had resolution above 1024×768 and the majority of users who visited via the Onebox result had resoultion of 1024×768 or under. This makes sense because the lower the resolution of the screen the more real estate the Onebox listing gets “above the fold.”

Many of these onebox and universal search destinations (Finance, maps/local, product search, real estate, movies, travel, video, lyrics, books, and perhaps even images) can be monetized at much higher rates than whatever AdSense is yielding, and Google sees all the AdWords data, so they can tackle any new vertical they want (employment? education? healthcare? finance? ) and compete based on under-monetizing themselves in the short term, aggressive launch-time public relations, and giving themselves free traffic from the search results.

Google will take a leadership position in new markets like voice and video chat and voice search.

As long as Google does not destroy their brand, punt on user privacy, raise anti-trust concerns, or lose a major copyright battle they have lots of upside left. Google defines the new digital economy.

The Art Of The SEO Proposal

Following on from last weeks post, How To Be An SEO Service Provider, we'll now take a look at the art of the SEO proposal.

Pitching and proposal writing is a time consuming business, so ideally you want to put your efforts where they will get the most reward. Here are a few tips on how to land the best clients, and how to avoid wasting your time.

It's Not About You, It's About Them

The first rule when pitching or writing a proposal is to put yourself in your clients shoes.

What would be your concerns? What would be holding you back from handing over thousands of dollars for SEO services? You'll need to anticipate those concerns, and be able to counter them in order to win the job.

In my experience, here are the most common concerns you'll come up against:

  • Will it work?
  • Is my money better spent elsewhere?
  • How does this help me achieve my goals?
  • Am I being ripped off?
  • Will this make me look stupid?

To overcome these objections, it is a good idea to have case studies and references prepared. Use before and after scenarios which demonstrate how your skills solved a problem and added value. Here's a great one by Jill Whalen.

The killer hook is at the end:

"High rankings are great, but what do they mean to a business? We talked to Doctor Bowler from Georgetown Surgical recently, and asked him, was he getting new business from the Internet? He was getting two to four new patients a week with his old website, and he's currently getting 50 to 70 new patients a week. That's a dramatic difference: he was nearly going bankrupt and was close to shutting up shop, and now he has to hire a new surgeon".

Now, who wouldn't buy that!

Demonstrate the value of your services over and above what your service costs to provide. For example, try to show revenue increases, as Jill did. You could also show traffic increases, and value these clicks against the PPC prices for these same keyword terms.

A variety of tools, including Google Traffic Estimator, can help you estimate the value of search traffic.

References are also valuable, because clients often seek out independent verification of what you're saying. Treat every client you have as a potential future salesperson.

If you're new to the game, and don't yet have any case studies or references, then consider doing a few freebie jobs. Theses jobs are essentially a marketing spend i.e. you "spend" time, but in return you'll be able to create case studies and get the references you need.

Don't give away your services to just anyone. The bigger the names, the better. You'll be associated with success. High profile charity organizations might be a good place to start.

Neil Patel got his start by giving free SEO tips to top tech bloggers. Bloggers have a big reach and lots of link equity that can be leveraged, so helping them can work just like helping a charity.

Probably the most valuable thing you can do, in terms of landing a sale, is to make a real effort to understand the clients business. Find out who their competition is, research their market sector, and ask questions. Most business people will appreciate you going the extra mile to truly understand them, and the issues they face.

It's Not About Them, It's About You

The flip-side of the argument is "is this pitch worth your time"?

The unfortunate reality is that some clients are not clients at all. They might be competitors trying to find out your pricing structures and strategic approach. They might be tire-kickers trying to scope the market. They could be bottom feeders who want the earth, yet are only willing to pay a few hundred dollars.

You need to quickly identify these people, for the sake of both your business, and your sanity. Make sure you're only giving away detailed strategy and pricing information if you're close to the sale. To exclude bottom feeders, mention a minimum starting price early on.

In my post "How To Be An SEO Service Provider", I question if it's a good idea to use the SEO client model at all:

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth? If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? "

Unlike PPC, SEO is a strategy that requires significant client buy-in in order to work well. The reality is that the bigger the client, the less likely you are going to get your way until you've proven your worth. It's a catch 22 situation.

Test the clients expectations early and be upfront about what it's going to take. For example, who has control over the website? i.e. are you talking to the right person? How much are you going to be able to alter the website? Why do they deserve to be number one? What are they prepared to do to get there?

It's About You And The Client

The happy medium is to land a client you can work with for mutual benefit.

When I was doing SEO for clients, I wrote up an ideal client profile. If the prospective client fell outside this profile, I wouldn't take the proposal any further.

For me, the ideal SEO client:

  • Has reasonable expectations
  • Runs a profitable business
  • Does not compete in saturated markets
  • Is already ranking, but not near as well as they should
  • Has some knowledge about SEO already
  • Is a known brand

There are exceptions, of course, but clients who fit this profile were a lot easier to deal with, and a lot more profitable than the alternative.

One area I found that really makes a difference is how much the client knows about SEO. If a client has the wrong idea about SEO, then you're going to be spending a lot of your time educating both them and their design teams. This can be a long, costly unproductive process.

One way to get around this is to start with PPC.

PPC is low impact. You can use PPC to demonstrate to the client that the traffic is there, and that s/he is missing out on it. If the PPC spend is high, you can then demonstrate how you can create cost efficiencies by getting that traffic at a lower cost, using SEO. It's a good way to educate clients by showing, rather than telling.

Align Metrics With Business Goals

A lot of SEOs don't do this, and I suspect it's the prime reason the industry has earned a bad reputation.

For example, a lot of SEO is sold on the basis that the client will get an increase in rankings.

So what?

An increase in ranking is meaningless unless it translates to a desired action. Some clients will be fooled by such metrics for a while, but they are unlikely to remain so.

Eventually, they will look at their marketing spend, then look at their traffic numbers. If those referrals from search engines aren't heading up, then you're unlikely to get on-going work. If you're not getting on-going work, then you'll spend a lot of your time on the expensive sales process as you churn and burn your way through clients. Not that this isn't a valid business model, but it can be a difficult way to go about things.

Likewise, traffic can be a poor metric.

It works for a while, but unless the client is solely preoccupied with traffic numbers i.e. sites that sell advertising based on page view numbers tend to focus a lot on pure traffic volume, then you're unlikely to get long term business. The traffic needs to turn into a relationship, a sale, or an inquiry. Marketing spend, in all businesses, needs to be justified in terms of the bottom line. Everything, eventually, comes back to revenue.

If you can help the client increase revenue, then you'll make yourself indispensable. Show how SEO fits into their business objectives, which is why making an effort to understand their business is so important. At that point, you can start to reorient their web strategy around SEO.

Not only does this give you more sway, but it increases the chances of future work. For example, you could turn a brochure-web strategy into a publication strategy, which then opens up more content writing opportunities. The client is not going to be able to change a thing until they talk to you first.

If you're in it for the long term, then that's where you want to be.

Further Reading

Google's Relevancy Algorithms Change by Keyword: Longtail vs Core Category Words

Changes in Search

In recent years personalization, localization, universal search, search suggestion, and specialized algorithms like query deserves freshness have altered the landscape of search. But even outside of these add-ons, Google's core relevancy algorithms are (at least to some degree) query dependent.

Competitive Keywords

When there are many matching search results for a given search query, Google places a lot of weight on core domain age & authority and on external signals of quality like link quality, link diversity, link anchor text and perhaps other signals of quality like usage data and a LocalRank boost. For competitive queries where there are many matches on page optimization is not given as much weight.

Long Tail Low Competition Keywords

For search relevancy algorithms where there are fewer matches and fewer external signals of quality available, Google must put more weight on the content of individual pages. Where there is no community to rely upon Google must trust publishers. And while each longtail ranking might have little value the nickels and quarters add up. Their limited search volume and value leads many competitors to skip over them as they do not appear in most keyword research tools.

In a recent blog post the Google AdWords team asked "Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all?"

The same post highlighted that "broad match currently accounts for over 1/3 of all clicks and conversions for advertisers, worldwide" and that Google "recently improved the search query report to provide more granular detail on which queries are triggering ads for your broad match keywords."

A Comparison

This graphic makes no attempt to be 100% correct for any given query, but was made to show an illustrative difference between competitive keywords and non-competitive keywords.

If you are starting a new site and have built little to no offsite signals of quality you can expect to rank for longtail phrases first. As your site builds authority you can compete for some of the head keywords.

Word of Mouth Marketing vs Search: When Top Google Rankings Are Worthless

As an SEO professional it is easy to over-estimate the value of top search engine rankings. After all, we sell traffic and rankings. In some cases (thin affiliate sites, for instance) good SEO is the difference between a website worth $34 dollars and $34 million dollars, but for many service based businesses top rankings have little to no value.

Top Rankings for the Wrong Keywords Can Harm Businesses

One of my clients who sold expensive physical products with high shipping costs saw that there was a lot of search volume for their keywords using words like discount and cheap as modifiers. We ranked that site for those keywords, but we regretted doing so.

That client's business almost got destroyed through the combination of...

  • having more leads than they could possible handle (causing customer service quality to drop and them to miss some good leads)
  • Chargebacks from sleazy customers that would steal the product and then claim they never got it. (As it turns out, some leads are worth less than nothing).

When you service clients shopping on price you often end up with a negative profit margin. Unfortunately, unlike during the late 90's, you can't make up for losses through high growth by selling your company's stock to suckers. :)

Rankings Do Not Sell Intangible Items or High End Services

It is a bit of a paradox, but is something that should be discussed and explained more often than it is. About 3 years ago this site stopped ranking in Google for "seo book" because Google filtered out many sites that were aggressive with anchor text. Given that this site is linked to by SEO savvy people, the odds of it getting lots of focused anchor text aligned with the brand keywords are quite high.

In spite of this site selling a how SEO ebook, sales during the month when the site was not even ranking for its own brand name were (at that time) 85% of the all time peak in sales. Imagine seeing a site selling SEO information not even ranking for its own name, and then buying SEO information from that site...that is exactly what hundreds of people did, thanks to word of mouth marketing.

If Google banned this site we would still get lots of sales because so many people talk about us and recommend us.

Brands Sell High End Services

Branded keywords convert to sales at a much higher rate than non-branded keywords.

Many of the most valuable and frequently searched keywords are branded searches. When someone searches for a brand they show they are (typically) trusting of that brand, and highly interested in related offers.

This site has over 1,000,000 inbound links and ranks for keywords like SEO. And yet if you look at our top referring keywords, most of them are brand related.

Yes Google sends us that traffic, but that demand was created through branding and word of mouth marketing. Even if Google did not exist, most of those searchers would still find their way to this website. And those are the type of people who have a high conversion rate and are loyal customers.

Word of Mouth Sells

On a few occasions this site has been recommended on top marketing blogs like Copyblogger and Seth Godin's blog. On such occasions this site usually earns far more from that mention than it does from THOUSANDS of searchers visiting the site.

Who do You Trust?

I spoke with guys like Seth Godin, Brian Clark, and Jakob Nielsen at a multi-billion dollar hedge fund's conference about a month ago. The reason they wanted to pay me to speak (and put us up in the Ritz-Carlton hotel) is because some of the companies they invested in asked them to have me come speak. During lunch at the conference I sat next to the external legal team from the hedge fund. I said to the lawyer next to me "I bet all of your business comes from word of mouth" he replied "yes. In fact our marketing budget is $0."

Compare the value of a recommendation of a company you are invested in or partnered with to what Google recommends. Google has no problem recommending search engine submission scams and in some cases even malware. They recommend...

  • whatever is popular
  • whatever is controversial
  • whatever pays them the most per click

Google can spend a lot cleaning up their marketplace, but there will always be offers that are below radar, just within the law, just outside of the law, and ones that are only legal because the law has not yet caught up with the market.

People often want to buy scams (lose 60 pounds in a month, guaranteed!!!), and Google gives them what they want.

High End SEOs Do Not Attract Ideal Clients From Ranking

Be careful who you work for! I spoke with numerous friends who run service based SEO businesses, and they all agreed that less than 1% of the people who contact them are actually worth working for.

When a client asks for an RFP they typically are not worth working with, because they are not yet sold on you and your services and are uncertain what they want. The type of person who finds your marketing company via a search engine ranking is still a shopper, not a committed buyer. They will likely buy cheap, get scammed, and then go from there.

How to Get High Value SEO Leads Actually Worth Servicing

If 99% of leads are crap, how do you access the 1% that have value? Easy...

  • Speak at conferences - I can't tell you how many clients have said they saw me speak at a conference...but almost all of the big spenders did. The people who attend these are spending thousands of dollars on learning is a much bigger jump to go from $0 to $2,000 than it is to go from $2,000 to $20,000.
  • Work for companies worth promoting & provide great service - this is a no-brainer, but as Charlie Munger says "The best source of new legal work is the work on your desk." Many of our clients have either recommended other companies hire us, or had staff move on to roles at new companies and want to hire us again.

Some SEOs speak at 20 or 30 conferences a year...existing primarily in the role of traveling salesman. They generate leads, while underwaged and underskilled people "service" the clients. Rarely do the people who know what they are doing work on the accounts, but the steady speaking engagements bring in new clients.

Search Isn't All Bad

Search rankings help build awareness, invite low risk interactions (comments, reviews, etc.) that help show social proof of value, and can be a low cost lead source. But you still have to develop a relationship and build trust to sell.

It is not that search is a poor lead is just that we trust humans more than machines, and that will probably remain true long after you and I die.

How To Be An SEO Service Provider

When we asked for questions from our readers on topics they'd like to see covered, we received a few requests on how to set up an SEO agency and position the service.

Here's my take on it:

Don't do it!

OK, I'm being facetious :) But before you run out and sell your SEO skills, let's take a look at the issues, ways to get around them, and how to position your service so you get the greatest reward for your efforts.

I'll also explain why selling your SEO services might be selling yourself short.

SEO As A Career

The news is good. According to SEMPO, pay scales for SEOs are looking healthy:

"Of those respondents with up to one year's experience, 60% reported annual salaries in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Compensation tracks strongly with experience. At the next level, two to three years experience, almost 34% reported salaries in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. At the more seasoned end of the spectrum, of those professionals with nine or more years experience, just under 40% are earning between $90,000 and $140,000 annually."

However, let's take a closer look at those numbers:

" More than 33% of the survey respondents said they managed both pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and organic search marketing efforts. Another 35% said they worked primarily in PPC; some 20% worked primarily in organic search"

Most activity in the search marketing space is not SEO. It is PPC.

The reason for this is because SEO is a long term strategy, yet a lot of marketing spend is dictated by short budget cycles. In order to land work, you must be able to demonstrate value reasonably quickly. PPC provides a way to do this. Once businesses are sold on search as a channel, then they'll consider planning for the longer term search strategies, such as SEO.

The exception is when the client is already sold on the value of SEO. This type of client, who doesn't have an existing provider, or hasn't already moved the function in house, might be hard to find.

There is no harm learning both. PPC can teach you a lot a lot about SEO - mainly in terms of keyword research - and it increases your options.

Is Running A Business Really What You Want To Do?

There is a big difference between knowing how to do SEO and selling a service to clients.

For starters, there is the level of competition. Try searching for seo providers. As you can see, the world isn't short of SEO providers! And a lot of them are competing on price.

In an industry with such a low barrier to entry, how will you stand out from the rest? You'll need to give prospective clients a good reason why your service is better than the others on offer. How do you intend to match or better the credentials of established operators? How can you differentiate your service?

Secondly, how do you propose to sell your services?

The sales cycle is a significant cost, both in terms of time and resources. You can put a lot of effort into writing proposals, attending conferences, pitching presentations, and networking. None of this is guaranteed to pay off. And if you do land the work, how much time will you have to both do the SEO work and put in the sales effort required to land the next client? Can you scale up and take on qualified people quickly if that happens?

Thirdly, do you have sufficient cash reserves to live on while you're waiting for your first client to pay up? Cash flow can kill a small business, even those businesses which have a a lot of prospective work in the pipeline. The bills wait for no man.

You get my drift. There are many other considerations before deciding to run your own business, but the takeaway point in terms of SEO is this: determine what you like doing best.

If you like doing just SEO work, consider joining an established agency. They will take care of all the other details. If you want to build your own business empire, doing so mostly involves management, sales and administration. And, if you still have some time left over, some SEO.

Pay Models

How will you be remunerated for your efforts?

Most commonly, SEOs bill by the hour, or by the job. They set performance metrics, such as rankings and/or traffic numbers, and the job is completed when those metrics are achieved. The SEO might be able to get ongoing work in the form of reporting, or by extending the scope of the SEO project. The upside is that such a deal is simple. The downside is this needs to be sold over and over again. When you run out of hours to bill, you've hit the ceiling on your earnings potential, unless you raise your rates, or take on new people.

If you are confident of your skills, and can provide real value to a company - and that means boosting their sales and being able to prove it was you who made that happen - then consider partnership deals.

For example, one high profile SEO I know operates exclusively this way. He doesn't sell his services by the hour, he looks for businesses he can partner with, he boosts their earnings by implementing a robust, long term SEO campaign, then takes a share of their profit. This provides a healthy on-going revenue stream, without having to sell the service over and over again.

This type of deal requires a great deal of trust and transparency, but it is worth doing if you are sure you can deliver value, and can find a solid, reliable partner.

Some SEOs work on a Pay On Performance basis. This is a risky strategy, unless you are certain you can deliver the desired results. All the risk lies with you, and, really, you'd need to charge in such a way that accommodates this risk. Unfortunately, the type of clients who ask for pay-on-performance SEO deals are unlikely to be generous payers.

The Future

While search engines deliver value, businesses will pay to be seen on them.

SEO sits awkwardly amongst other marketing channels. The search engines will always try to make PPC attractive, because that's how the search engines make their money.

At the same time, they'll try to negate the value proposition of SEO, because SEO competes with PPC. SEOs are only useful to search engines in that they help spread the word about search engines, and they help sites get crawled. But don't think the search engines are going to do you, or your business model, any favors.

This situation doesn't make the SEOs job impossible, but I'm sure many people would agree that offering SEO as a service is a lot harder than it once was. A few years ago, all you had to do was add a few keywords terms to the copy and titles, point a few links at a site, wait one month, run a ranking report, and voila! You're an SEO provider.

Not any more.

SEO has become a much more holistic strategy. It requires a greater level of buy in from clients, designers, programmers, and all the other people who's toes you might tread on.

But there is plenty of life in the game yet. A lot of SEOs do great business, as can be seen from the huge popularity of the conference circuit. A lot of marketing spend is moving from other channels into search. By selling your services to others, you not only have an occupation, you gain insight into how other businesses work, which is a valuable education in itself.

I'll be going into greater detail on the workings of SEO consultancy in the coming months.

Don't do it :)

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth?

If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? ;)

Further Reading:

Is Social Media Marketing A Waste Of Time?

Social media is the next big thing! No, it's the big thing! It is here, now, and it is big! Let's face it, if you're not aboard the cluetrain to social media marketing city, you're sitting on that station alone!

A pity, then, that social media traffic is so often worthless.


Let's look at the market signals. Why is it that you pay dollars per click on Google Adwords for financial keywords, yet the same keywords on social networks are priced at five cents?

This suggests to me one of two things. Either the social networks are seriously underestimating the value of their own traffic, or most of the people on social networks aren't interested in commercial messages. If they were, then the bid values would closely match those of Google Adwords.

I think the latter is the most likely scenario. Social media traffic isn't priced higher, because it isn't translating into revenue for the advertisers. This isn't happening because the intent of the users when engaged with social media is not conducive to selling stuff.

Of course, social media traffic isn't all bad. We'll look at some ways you can benefit from it. But firstly, let's compare and contrast some aspects of social media marketing and search marketing, in order to help clarify the value proposition.

1. Traffic Is Not An Asset, Traffic Is A Cost

Traffic only becomes an asset when it translates into something else. When it becomes a bookmark, a sign-up, a link, or helps establish a genuine relationship. It must also result in an increase in revenue. If it doesn't, then traffic remains an expense.

What is the value of 10,000 Diggers hitting your site to look at, say, a picture of a monkey riding a bicycle? Zero. The trouble is that a lot of marketers are watching the web scorecard - that spike in the visitor stats that shows the number of visits - and using that as a marketing metric. "Hey, I'm popular!".

Sure, with 10,000 teenagers amused by a picture of a monkey riding a bicycle. But how is that helping boost revenue?

There isn't a lot of meaning to such a relationship. It is low value.

"This is a truth of the Internet: When traffic comes to your site without focused intent, it bounces. 75% of all unfocused visitors leave within three seconds.Any site, anywhere, anytime. 75% bounce rate within three seconds. By unfocused, I mean people who visit via Digg or Stumbleupon or even a typical Google search....."I'm just looking," is no fun for most retailers. Yet they continue to pay high rent for high-traffic locations, and invest time and money in window displays. Very few retailers lament all the traffic that walks by the front door without ever walking in. A long time ago, they realized that the shoppers with focused intent are far more valuable. Smart retailers work hard to get focused people to walk in the door and to keep the riff raff walking on down the sidewalk.".

2. Uncontrolled Message

It is difficult to control the message. Released into the wild of social networks, the message can just as easily result in negative effects as positive ones.

Check out this sad experience of being dugg, from Kim at Cre8Pc:

"Since I logged off last night around midnight, 12 hours later, over 23,000 people have been to this blog. The reason is that someone dugg about the post I wrote, where I shared a resource I found useful. That post was "dugg" and the incoming traffic this blog is receiving is to that specific blog post I wrote....Diggers complained about everything from the site design of the site I wrote about, to how stupid I was to write about it at all.....Which part of this Digg activity am I supposed to be happy about, now that something I wrote has officially been slaughtered there?"

Kim wasn't trying to get on Digg as part of a marketing strategy, but it shows how unpredictable the "benefits" of social media exposure can be.

Perhaps this might explain why Digg has been left at the altar a few times? It suggests to me that it might be difficult to extract real commercial value from such environments. Part of the problem is structural. Digg is "free" and "open" and "anonymous", which leads to a tragedy of the commons.

At the risk of blowing our own horn, part of the reason our SEO community is valuable is because people have to pay for it. People have provided a signal of interest lacking on most broad social networks. There are no questions from a member named MakeEasyMoneyOnlineTodayRightNow asking how to get his adsense earnings up to $1 a day. The price of admission helps protect the community from the tragedy of the commons.

3. Branding Is Often An Excuse For Failed Marketing Campaigns

"It's a brand spend!". Marketers say that a lot.

What they often mean is "we can find no no measurable return".

Return on brand spend is very difficult to measure, and even more difficult to isolate in a channel such as online social media marketing. Did visitors remember our brand? Did it affect their future buying decisions? Was the brand association positive or negative?

Who knows?

If you're thinking of engaging a social media marketer, and they use brand building as a metric, ask them to explain how they will demonstrate an increased, favorable level of brand awareness. If they mention traffic numbers, ask them how that squares with my first point "Traffic Is Not An Asset, It Is A Cost".

To my mind, any commercial endeavor must ultimately come back to revenue.

4. Level Of Interaction

What are people doing on social networks?

On the likes of Facebook, they are engaged in social activities. They are catching up with their friends. They are playing games. Marketing messages in this context are about as welcome as an Amway salesperson at a bachelor party.

Consider the context of the message. Search marketing works well because the searcher has already signaled their intent, and that intent may well be commercial. It's like walking into a shop, and asking to buy a watch. The relationship and interaction is direct and obvious. The context of social media is more like a cocktail party. People are there to socialize, not enter into commercial interactions. They may do so, but the relationship is fuzzy and indirect.

To overcome this obstacle, look for social networks, or network groups, where the users demonstrate clear, commercial intent. Alternatively, have a clear idea of how you're going to progress "fuzzy indirect" visitors to desired action.

5. Time

Social media marketing is time consuming.

Building your social networks. Responding to "friends". Is there are measurable return for the time spent? What is the opportunity cost of that time?

For example, compare the time you need to get a commercial message on the front page of Digg, with getting a commercial message on the front page of Google. With Adwords, I can do it in seconds.

With Digg, I'd be unlikely to get a marketing message to the top, unless I'd previously developed relationships with all the right people and/or gamed the system, which, in itself, takes a lot of time. Even then, the marketing message, unless heavily disguised, will likely be despised by a community rabidly opposed to any message with an obvious commercial imperative.

Is this time well spent on either channel? Once again, a cost/benefit analysis, where the benefits are clear and measurable, will provide the answer.

6. Rampant Stupidity & Useless Distractions

I guess no-one ever went broke underestimating human stupidity, but one really has to question the marketing value of these types of approaches:

"The Coca-Cola Company will feature its Sprite brand on a new Facebook Page and will invite users to add an application to their account called "Sprite Sips." People will be able to create, configure and interact with an animated Sprite Sips character. For consumers in the United States, the experience can be enhanced by entering a PIN code found under the cap of every 20 oz. bottle of Sprite to unlock special features and accessories. The Sprite Sips character provides a means for interacting with friends on Facebook"

Facebook, which distinguished itself by being the anti-MySpace, is now determined to out-MySpace MySpace. It's a nifty system: First you get your users to entrust their personal data to you, and then you not only sell that data to advertisers but you get the users to be the vector for the ads. And what do the users get in return? An animated Sprite Sips character to interact with.

Are people going to then talk about Sprite in a way that would increase the sales of Sprite? Really?

I can barely imagine this would work for a teen audience. Such an approach has no chance with an adult audience. Keep in mind that most people who are heavily active on generalist social network sites are likely to fit in the 15-25 year old range, although there is evidence to suggest this age range might be changing. Look at it this way - how many stories about hip-replacements ever make it top the top of Reddit?

There are a lot of messages that just aren't going to work on social media. Wrong time, wrong place.

"Media buyers — the agency people who book campaigns — report that the college social network is a truly terrible target. They're mainly students, with low disposable income, of course; but, beyond that, the users appear to be too busy leaving messages for each other to show much interest in advertising. Facebook's members appear indifferent even to movie advertising aimed at their demographic. Clickthrough rates, the percentage of time users click on an ad, average 0.04% — just 400 clicks in every 1m views — according to one report seen by Valleywag."

7. Difficult To Scale

It is easy to scale up a television campaign. Buy more airtime. It is easy to scale up an Adwords campaign. Increase the number of keyword terms and/or bids. How do you scale up a social media campaign? You can't re-create viral. Viral is hit and miss. All word of mouth is hit and miss. How many people can you cost-effectively follow on Twitter?

Social media tends to pay dividends in the long-term. Social media, generally speaking, is hard to influence, but by understanding your field well and creating relationships in your niche, you can learn to create the types of content that influencers will pick up on. Like the mavens in The Tipping Point, they will spread your message for you.

Forging such meaningful relationships won't happen overnight.

Where Social Media Pays Off

Ok, I admit it. This post has been a bit of a rant :)

It's not all bad news.

Whilst not a replacement for a marketing strategy, social media can be a viable component of a wider marketing strategy. It can be used to generate buzz. It can be used to attract links. One well placed article can achieve both these ends. If that buzz, and those links, can then be translated into a valuable relationship, and perhaps better Google rankings for commercial keywords, then the social media approach may well pay dividends.

In order to do this, social media must be back-ended with content geared towards establishing a valuable relationship, rather than one-off visits.

Marketing exists for one purpose: to sell stuff. If it doesn't do that, then it isn't marketing.

The key to evaluating social media marketing, like with with all media spends, lies in tracking and cost/benefit analysis. If traffic provides you with a measurable return on investment, then the marketing spend is justified. The only traffic worth anything is that which ultimately results in revenue producing interaction.

The problem I find with social media traffic is that so little of it ever does.

Your mileage may vary.

Have Any SEO Questions? Please Ask!

We are always trying to come up with good content ideas to write about, but we would love to get your feedback on what you would like to read. Here is a Google Moderator page where you can submit SEO, marketing, link building, pay per click, domaining, search, webmaster, or blogging questions and/or topics that you would like us to write about. In addition you can vote on which topics you want us to cover. We can't write about everything, but we will try to write about many of the topics that are covered here.

SEM Rush Search Marketing Research - Review of

What is SEM Rush?

A sweet new competitive research tool by the name SEMRush has hit the market. It can be seen as a deeper extension of the SEO Digger project (adding PPC data and tracking AdWords keywords), and a competitor to services like and SpyFu (which recently launched SpyFu Kombat).

Brief Tool Overview

Competitive research tools can help you find a baseline for what to do & where to enter a market. Before spending a dime on SEO (or even buying a domain name for a project), it is always worth putting in the time to get a quick lay of the land & learn from your existing competitors.

  • Seeing which keywords are most valuable can help you figure out which areas to invest the most in.
  • Seeing where existing competitors are strong can help you find strategies worth emulating. While researching their performance, it may help you find new pockets of opportunities & keyword themes which didn't show up in your initial keyword research.
  • Seeing where competitors are weak can help you build a strategy to differentiate your approach.

Enter a competing URL in the above search box & you will quickly see where your competitors are succeeding, where they are failing & get insights on how to beat them. SEMrush offers:

  • granular data across the global Bing & Google databases, along with over 2-dozen regional localized country-specific Google databases (Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Hong Kong, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, United Kingdom, United States)
  • search volume & ad bid price estimates by keyword (which, when combined, function as an estimate of keyword value) for over 120,000,000 words
  • keyword data by site or by page across 74,000,000 domain names
  • the ability to look up related keywords
  • the ability to directly compare domains against one another to see relative strength
  • the ability to compare organic search results versus paid search ads to leverage data from one source into the other channel
  • the ability to look up sites which have a similar ranking footprint as an existing competitor to uncover new areas & opportunities
  • historical performance data, which can be helpful in determining if the site has had manual penalties or algorithmic ranking filters applied against it
  • a broad array of new features like tracking video ads, display ads, PLAs, backlinks, etc.

While their tool is a paid service, the above search box still allows you to get a great sampling of their data for free. SEMrush is easily our favorite competitive research tool. We like their tool so much we also license their data to offer our paying subscribers a competitive research tool powered by their database.

In-Depth Review

SEM Rush vs

The big value add that SEM Rush has over a tool like is that SEM Rush adds cost per click estimates (scraped from Google's Traffic Estimator tool) and estimated traffic volumes (from the Google AdWords keyword tool) near each keyword. Thus, rather than showing the traffic distribution to each site, this tool can list keyword value distribution for the sites (keyword value * estimated traffic).

Normalizing Data

Using these estimates does not provide results that are as accurate as's data licensing strategy, but if you own a site and know what it earns, you can set up a ratio to normalize the differences (at least to some extent, within the same vertical, for sites of similar size, using a similar business model).

One of our sites that earns about $5,000 a month shows a Google traffic value of close to $20,000 a month.
5,000/20,000 = 1/4 = 0.25

A similar site in the same vertical shows $10,000
$10,000 * 0.25 = $2,500

Disclaimers With Normalizing Data

It is hard to monetize traffic as well as Google does, so in virtually every competitive market your profit per visitor (after expenses) will generally be less than Google. Some reason why..

  1. In some markets people are losing money to buy marketshare, while in other markets people may overbid just to block out competition.
  2. Some merchants simply have fatter profit margins and can afford to outbid affiliates.
  3. It is hard to integrate advertising in your site anywhere near as aggressively as Google does while still creating a site that will be able to gather enough links (and other signals of quality) to take a #1 organic ranking in competitive by default there will typically be some amount of slippage.
  4. A site that offers editorial content wrapped in light ads will not convert eyeballs into cash anywhere near as well as a lead generation oriented affiliate site would.

SEM Rush Features

Keyword Values & Volumes

As mentioned above, this data is scraped from the Google Traffic Estimator and the Google Keyword Tool.

Top Search Traffic Domains

A list of the top 100 domain names that are estimated to be the highest value downstream traffic sources from Google.

You could get a similar list from's Referral Analytics by running a downstream report on, although I think that might also include traffic from some of Google's non-search properties like Reader.

Top Competitors

Here is a list of sites that rank for many of the same keywords that SEO Book ranks for

Overlapping Keywords

Here is a list of a few words where Seo Book and SEOmoz compete in the rankings

Compare AdWords to Organic Search

These are sites that rank for keywords that SEO Book is buying through AdWords

And these are sites that buy AdWords ads for keywords that this site ranks for

Once Upon a Time...

I was going to create a tool similar to this one about a year ago, until I hired a programmer that was EPIC FAIL. The guy who managed that program is no longer selling programming services - and that makes the world a better place.

I actually had 3 attempts at such a tool. I bought a GREAT domain name, spec'd out the project, then planned on doing it...

  • investor backed, who decided to back out
  • self funded, but I hired... 1.) a programmer who mid-project decided he needed to make double what I make working part-time, then 2.) the worst programmers ever.
  • combination of heavily self funded with the guidance of a bad ass VC, but I backed out due to a need to focus on this site

I spent most of this year focusing on trying to build our community and raise our editorial quality (both goals are going well, but require significant maintenance). We have had 4 strong hires in a row, so it seems like our luck has changed on that front. Recently I started working with a programmer who really clicks with me, often taking my ideas and making them way better than I intended.

If these guys had not made this tool I was going to try to take another run at something like this early next year...which brings up a good point that a friend (and wicked intelligent open source programmer) named François Planque told me. He said all he had to do was think up a good idea but not do it, and within 6 to 12 months if he had not done it, someone else would have already launched it.

Entry cost is so low that a lot of great tools are going to get made in short order, but it is hard to win by sitting on a good idea. ;)

Outbound Linking For Fun And Profit

Linking out is a valuable marketing strategy on a number of levels.

It increases the utility of your site. People will see you as being helpful. People will see you as non-partisan i.e. not always favoring your own stuff. Webmasters may see your inbound link in their logs and follow them back to you. Links are, at the most fundamental level, a connection between people.

If you've read something about the HITS algorithm (.pdf), you may have noticed that HITS looks for, and evaluates, both authority and hub pages. i.e. pages that contain multiple links out to authority pages. HITS stands for "hypertext induced topic selection", and, like PageRank, is concerned with link graph analysis.

HITS uses two values for each page, the authority value and the hub value.

"Hubs and authorities exhibit what could be called a mutually reinforcing relationship: a good hub is a page that points to many good authorities; a good authority is a page that is pointed to by many good hubs...An authority value is computed as the sum of the scaled hub values that point to that page. A hub value is the sum of the scaled authority values of the pages it points to. Relevance of the linked pages is also considered in some implementations."

How much is HITS being used? Mike Grehan, a noted world authority on search marketing, and girly drinker of Merlot (Hi Mike! - hows NY?), had this to say after interviewing Daniel Dulitz from Google:

Simply for this reason (and these are purely my own thoughts and opinions): I believe that PageRank has always been flawed. I believe that Kleinberg's HITS algorithm (and the variations on it), being closer to subject specific, provides more relevant results. A few years ago when Teoma was launched, there were lots of comparisons made about Jon Kleinberg's HITS algorithm. What many people didn't realise was, Kleinberg's algorithm had suffered its own problems: Namely "topic drift" and "run time analysis" delays. Monica Henzinger, now head of research at Google, played a major role in developing solutions to the "topic drift" problem (curiously enough by introducing a little element of PageRank in the recipe). But the "run time analysis" problem remained. In simple terms, the results from the HITS algorithm were more relevant, but they took an eternity (in web search expectation time) to compute.

Has Google rolled hub analysis into Google? Who knows. Whilst it is generally agreed that linking out currently doesn't have direct ranking advantages, linking out provides a number of marketing benefits that can, in turn, lead to higher rankings.

Some people fear that by linking out, there is less PageRank available to spread amongst your own internal pages. Whilst this may be the case, link hoarding is unlikely to win you many friends. Unless you're running an established brand, or you buy all your links, you're going to need friends to link to you in the first place.

Let's look at ten linking out marketing strategies.

1. Hey, I'm Here!

By linking out to a site, you you announce your presence to the owner of that site. Webmasters often follow back links to see who is linking to them. Simple enough, right.

Take it a step further.

When you link out, give the person a good reason to link back to you. Think about ways to add value to their site when they link sites to yours. This could be in the form of a great review, or praise, or a quote.

2. Become A Hub

Google is the ultimate hub.

Google has made a fortune by sending people away from Google. It's counter intuitive, but it works because if you provide sufficient utility, people will bookmark you and keep coming back.

No one person has all the answers. If you provide people with answers, even if those answers aren't on your site, people will still see that you provide value. Time spent on your site may actually increase as people bounce back and forth to find more information.

You may also be perceived as an authority, in a wider sense, even if you lack the content, simply by helping people find the answers they seek.

Consistency matters. Blogs that create new posts regularly will more likely be considered hubs, at very least by their readers, whilst dead blogs - not so much.

3. The Contrarian

Is everyone in you niche saying the same thing? Try going against the grain. Stand out.

"SEO sucks! It's useless! It does not work, and everyone who practicies it is clearly an idiot!".

Contrarian, right. At very least, you should create some lively debate!

Being contraian works because, by definition, it stands out. If you link out to individuals whilst being contrarian, you invite them to counter your arguments. Often, they'll do so by commenting and linking back. Google doesn't care if a link is negative or positive. A link is a link.

4. Praise Be

People love being praised.

It's one of those simple human connections. It also invokes a feeling of reciprocation.

Do so using links.

5. Give Forward

Try to give forward well in advance of when/if you need to ask a favor, otherwise reciprocation becomes a straight swap, and may be evaluated purely in terms of relative advantage.

Build up the link karma. One step at a time.

6. Ego

People look for their names. They ego search.

They also may see their names in links if they are evaluating keywords in the link text pointing to their site. Who wouldn't be curious to see that not only is their name being mentioned, but that name is also mentioned in the link?

7. Flame

Nothing sells like controversy, especially when it becomes personal, so it can be worthwhile, in terms of link development, to flame people. Be very careful, though. You risk damaging your reputation and credibility, and you'll certainly burn bridges.

Best to only flame people who truly deserve it :)

8. Deep Research

By linking to deep, academic research, you are more likely to be perceived as an authority by association.

Always be on the lookout for obscure academic research. This type of content isn't often marketed, as commercialization was not a primary consideration. Also, this research might not show up at all, because it exists in the deep web, beyond the reach of spiders. Not only do you increase utility to your visitors, and become a valuable hub, you may also be seen in search results for queries concerning that unreachable document.

Combining multiple deep citations, and/or formatting the information for easier consumption, can help make people want to cite you.

For example, "Hey I saw your great post about x and I made this image to help me better understand the you think this is ok?"

9 Non-Typical

If you graphed the web, the link graph does not look like a group of planets, floating isolated in space. It looks like a blur of interlinked sites. Typically, a site will have a number of links pointing to it, and a number of links pointing out.

Sites that don't link out appear "exceptional" on these graphs, and probably not in a good sense. Ideally, you want to be seen as both and authority and a hub, with lots of links flowing in both directions.

10. Temporarily Extend Your Site

Linking out allows you to temporarily extend your site. You could start off with, say, a directory of resources, then look to house similar but better content on your own site later on. This way, you provide utility and start building up karma immediately, with very little effort involved.

The Open Source movement works well because it is easy for people to contribute to - so many people do! Likewise, if you do not link out, you may not become insular and disconnected. You may miss opportunities to leverage off, connect with, and build upon, the work of others.

Not linking out goes against the nature of the web, and ultimately becomes self-defeating.

Further Reading:

Lots of Marketing Goodies

PPC Stuff

My wife recently put together a PPC strategy flowchart. Check it out and please give her feedback.

Search Engine Land has a good post with interview snippets of Nick Fox about some of the recent Google AdWords changes.

Google announced they are ending the proposed partnership with Yahoo!

The FCC approved the wireless broadband whitespace plan, which in time should make for more online searchers.

SEO Stuff

Wordtracker released a new keyword tool based around keyword questions. The information is quick and easy to export. Ken McGaffin said, “This is a fun tool that is a great source of inspiration for web content writers. You need never be short of creative ideas again." And it is a cool idea - good job Wordtracker!

Majestic SEO did a major update, claiming to have crawled about 52 billion URLs and has nearly 350 billion unique URLs in their anchor index. Here is a list of their top URLs with inbound links.

They also did a comparison between their link counts and those found by Yahoo! Site Explorer and LinkScape. They claim to have more links in their database than Yahoo! is showing, but I have to wonder how they could do that economically, if they are counting more duplicates, and why they haven't bought a site design that reflects how much they must be spending on data.

A few years back search engines were in an ego based contest about who has the biggest index, and I find it a bit ironic that a couple SEO companies will likely be engaged in such a data war...but the marketplace competition should be good for all SEOs.

I recently did an interview with Patrick Altoft about link building for affiliates.

Jim Boykin started the WeBuildPages SEO blog.

In the weird department, have you heard the We Like SEO song yet?

Conversion Stuff

Conversion Rate Experts highlighted 14 cool conversion enhancing tools.

Avinash Kaushik showed how powerful Google Analytics segmentation is.

Content Stuff

The NYT is getting close to where it will be hard for them to service their debt. Who should buy them out?

Funny blog post about economic blog posts

Political Marketing

Obama won the election and gave one of his best speeches. But Seth Godin didn't even wait for the vote to happen before he deconstructed the campaigns from a marketer's perspective. XMCP also discussed the backchannel negative PR campaigns.

A Spring Clean For SEO, Even Though It's Winter

An SEO strategy is an organic process.

Your SEO campaign should change focus as your popularity grows. The SEO approach for an established site can be quite different to that of a new site, mainly because, with an established site, you can leverage the power of your inbound linking.

Google favors the already "rich". The Google algorithm reinforces the establishment. If your site has become "the establishment", you may only need to work with Google, rather than against them, and high rankings should be yours with little comparative effort.

So, how often do you revise your SEO strategy? How often do you tweak and review old content? Has your SEO strategy become a little broken over the years? Try to make an audit part of your SEO process.

A spring clean for SEO :)

Here are a few ideas on what aspects to review in an SEO audit.

1. Aggressive / Non Aggressive

Are there areas on your site where you pushed the boundaries? Did this pay off? Does it still pay off? Have you used SEO strategy that worked well in the past, but the algorithms have since changed? As a site becomes more established, aggressive strategy becomes less necessary. It can also cause credibility problems.

What do I mean by aggressive?

Let's consider SEO copywriting. Sometimes, people go overboard with their copy. They cram their copy with keywords, which can often result in a page which reads poorly. The webmaster was trying to achieve high keyword density scores, and took it a little too far. In light of the weight now given to inbound links in the algorithms, this is pretty much a redundant tactic.

Do you know how much thought we give to on-page keywords in the copy at

Very little. ranks highly, for thousands of competitive keywords, because of the number and quality of the inbound links. We write on topics that we think will interest our readers. Long term credibility outweighs any limited benefit we'd get from aggressive on-page SEO tactics.

Weigh the need for aggressive tactics vs the benefit.

2. Untrustworthy Design & Format

When someone arrives at your page from a search, does your page look credible? Does it answer the search query? Does it convince people to take a desired action?

Check your pages for the basics. Check grammar, spelling and make sure the call to action is clear.

Is it time for a fresh design?

3. Re-balance Your Linking

Where are all your links coming from? Are they all reciprocal? Are they all coming from a narrow range of sites?

Look to diversify your linking patterns. Are most of the links pointing to your home page? You should have external deep links pointing to internal pages, too.

Stuntdbl has a great post on link balancing:

Examples of Link Equation Balancing:

(or If your site has….You should:)

* 1000 IBL’s from 500 unique IP’s…
…consider buying a run of site text link with your targeted text
* 70% reciprocal link…
…only get one-way links and slowly dispose of your reciprocal links
* 10k IBL’s from 10 unique IP’s…
…get many more one-off links
* 90% deeplinks to the homepage…
…compartmentalize your site and get more deep links
* 80% identical anchor text…
…use synonymous terms and switch your anchor text

4. Duplicate Content

Duplicate content can cause you problems, because the Google algorithm disqualifies same or similar content, in order to provide a diverse set of results.

Google provides a useful checklist for reviewing and eliminating duplicate content.

5. Forming & Maintaining Alliances

Is part of your SEO strategy to form alliances? Alliances are important because they extend your marketing reach, and provide you with links. Hook up with suppliers, vendors, partners, the local chamber of commerce, etc. Networking, quite naturally, results in links.

How often are you forming new alliances? Have you neglected any old alliances?

6. You Wrote Something Remarkable, But No One Noticed

If you've got remarkable content, you deserve links and attention. But what if you've been over-looked?

This is a perennial problem, and it is difficult to solve. People are short of time, and there is a lot of content fighting for attention.

One way is to go where the action is. Part of your SEO strategy should be involving yourself in the community, and if that means posting on other peoples sites, particularly the big community sites in your niche, then that's what you do.

Provide genuine value to those sites. Rewrite your article, put a fresh spin on it, and place it on those sites, if possible. So long as you get people's attention, and they follow the links back to you, then all is well.

Sure, you lose a level of control. But the alternative is to remain invisible.

7. Adwords Experiments

Are your title tags and descriptions all they could be? Are they optimized for maximum visitor response? How would you know?

One was is to run an Adwords test. Take the title and description from your high ranking SEO pages, and run an Adwords campaign using slight variations. This way, you can explore more enticing title and description tags, without compromising your rankings. Consider changing you title and descriptions, or write new pages, if the Adwords copy provides equivilent or better results.

8. Balance Content Writing And Link Building

A successful SEO campaign needs both. You need to weigh your time between the two, depending on where you get the best results. Linking is always worthwhile, but if there's not much on your site worth linking to, then you've got a problem.

Have you noticed a pattern of linking? For example, when you produce new articles, certain sites have a habit of linking to you? Look to monitor, cultivate and nurture those relationships.

What topics have typically earned you the most links? Do you need to adjust your focus?

These tools should help:

Link Analysis Tool, BlogStormUK

This tool requires you to install it and set up a MySQL database, but lets you:

  • Uses Yahoo Site Explorer to find all pages on a site
  • Pulls in link data for every page on the site & orders results by pages with the most links
  • Allows you to drill down 2 levels deep into the link data for pages linking to the target site
  • Accepts Google sitemaps imports
  • Accepts single URL imports
  • Lets you check the rankings for any page on any search engine

Also try this one: Majestic SEO/Anchor Index Search

Anchor Index is a very big (350 bln+ unique) web based database of urls from all over the web with identified backlinks, anchor text and some flags from pages (52 bln) that were crawled, analysed, indexed and finally merged into the index that can be queried. Search for a site, and it will give you backlink counts on a per URL basis - free of charge! If you want deeper data they sell per site reports on a per credit you the anchor text of 10,000's of backlinks, whereas most other tools limit you to the top 1,000 links.

How Long Until People View Google Like Microsoft?

From the Official Google blog 9 months ago

Could Microsoft now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with the PC? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Microsoft has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies -- and then leverage its dominance into new, adjacent markets.

I expected a bit more class from Google. That would be like Microsoft publishing this

Could Google now attempt to exert the same sort of inappropriate and illegal influence over the Internet that it did with ignoring copyright and establishing a virtual monopoly on text links? While the Internet rewards competitive innovation, Google has frequently sought to establish proprietary monopolies -- pushing the rel nofollow tag, telling people broking ads similar to Google's ads that they must mark paid links in a human readable way, then banning or demoting webmasters for following that advice, and paying criminals to steal their content and wrap it in Google ads.

It is interesting to note how much Google has changed in the past couple years: buying products like FeedBurner and taking the leading position in the feed reader market, buying YouTube and owning the video market.

And their network effects are starting to show up in their ad network / approach to their ad network:

Google is finally getting to the size where they are starting to get market blowback from governments...

Google bought Russian ad network Begun, but the Russian Federal Antimonopoly Service banned the purchase.

Today Google announced they were backing out of the proposed ad partnership with Yahoo!

However, after four months of review, including discussions of various possible changes to the agreement, it's clear that government regulators and some advertisers continue to have concerns about the agreement. Pressing ahead risked not only a protracted legal battle but also damage to relationships with valued partners. That wouldn't have been in the long-term interests of Google or our users, so we have decided to end the agreement.

The Advantages Of Being Small

One of the reasons SEO is such a killer marketing strategy is that a small business can compete with, and often outmaneuver, a big business.

Compare the costs of a SEO campaign vs any other marketing channel. Television? Radio? Print? How much would it cost to get worldwide exposure using any of those channels?

We're all sold on search marketing. However, there are other advantages that the small business enjoys. In this post, we'll look at a few of those advantages, are see if there are any natural synergies with search.

First, let's consider boats.

Given a choice between being in a speed boat or being in a supertanker, which would you choose? In a storm, I'd probably rather be on the supertanker, as it can weather the waves better. However, the supertanker has a number of disadvantages. It can take a long time to maneuver, it requires a big crew to sail it, it is sluggish, it is expensive and monolithic.

The speed boat, on the other hand, can zig and zag, change direction at will, only requires one person to operate, uses a lot less fuel, and it's fast.

The small business is like the speed boat. The small business can do things the big business cannot. Speed and agility are the key weapons of the small business.

So that's the shipping metaphor beaten to death. Now let's look at the specific advantages of the small business, and marry these to search marketing strategies.

1. Exploit The Niche

A small business can focus on a very narrow area and make a profit. Big business often cannot do this, as a big business requires larger markets in order to provide enough return to cover overheads. Focus on narrow, well-defined areas in which you perform well. Ignore everything else.

Once you've identified and established your niche, it makes your SEO task a lot easier. Do you really need to rank for those competitive terms? Possibly not. You only need rank for those terms that relate directly to your narrow niche.

But what if your niche is competitive? Try narrowing your niche further, or change the niche.

For example, real estate is a competitive area. Real estate is Los Angeles is a competitive area. But the level of competition in small, well defined geographical areas is much diminished. Sure, there is less traffic, but if you're a small business, with a well-defined geographical market, how much traffic do you really need to turn a buck?

2. Strategic Partnerships

A small business can easily align with other business. Big business can be slow to do this, often due to legal issues and long sign-off procedures.

If a strategic partnership makes sense for your business, also consider the benefits in terms of SEO. If you align with an established company, ask for a write-up and a link. Announce the partnership by issuing a press release. Make it easy for your partner to talk about you, and they'll do your link marketing for you. Outsourcing can achieve much the same thing. If appropriate, have those to whom you outsource link back to you.

3. Reduce Overheads

A small business, especially an internet small business, can run on next to nothing. You need a computer. You need an internet connection. You need some time and effort.

In a down market economy, big companies spend a lot of time and effort slashing costs. The small business usually runs lean anyway, so whilst the big business is pre-occupied with restructuring and layoffs, you can focus on developing new territory.

One of the first cuts companies make in a down market is to cut marketing spend. This is often a mistake, as I outline in Eight Reasons Why Now May Be The Right Time To Invest In Your Site. What you're not spending on maintaining overhead, you can dedicate to the strategies that earn you money. There is some indication that we can expect the price of PPC to come down over the next year as some big companies, who often run PPC strategies aimed more at building brand awareness than return per click, reduce their marketing spend.

4. Bootstrap

Bootstrapping means a self-generating or self-sustaining process.

In terms of business, that means that growth is funded from - and remains in line with - revenue. Possibly one of the most successful recent examples of bootstrapping is the Wikipedia Foundation.

Take a look at Wikipedia's recent financial report.

Wikipedia have few employees. Many of those employees were brought in relatively recently, and only as the project scaled up. The Wikipedia Foundation reports $3.5 million in costs, and has a turnover of over $7 million.

A bootstrapping approach to SEO/SEM might be to focus on revenue. Pay only for those clicks that make you money, and quickly cut the losers. Once you know which keywords make you money, THEN start your SEO campaign, focusing only on these terms. Repeat and scale up.

5. Direct & Personal

A small business can offer expertise, direct to the customer. The customer can talk directly to the person who makes all the decisions. Try doing this with a big business. A customer might get no further than a lowly paid graduate. There can be a lot of value to the client in dealing with a small operation.

Get personal. People are tired of anonymous, faceless companies. The small business can easily make a service more personal. Small means the founder deals with a far greater percentage of the customer interactions. Small means the founder is close to the decisions that matter and can make them quickly. When a visitor arrives via a search, impress upon the visitor they are dealing with a small company. Some small companies like to give the impression they are much bigger than they really are, but this is often a mistake. The customer is going to find out soon enough, so the initial impression will smack of dishonesty.

In your title tag and ad copy, emphasis the advantages of being small. Personal service, direct accountability, and availability. The people who want to deal with a big business will have gone elsewhere, anyway.

Say it once. Say it loud! I'm small, and I'm proud!

Except if you're a guy on a date...

6. Adaptation

A small business, like the speedboat, can change direction in an instant. You could be doing something totally different tomorrow than you do today. A big business cannot do this.

Always be on the lookout for new markets, and the tide of change in existing markets. Make trend-spotting a regular activity. Use keyword tools and other research methods to give you insights into new and developing markets.

7. Make Staying Small A Strategy

Decide which clients make you the most money, and cut the rest. In other words, deliberately stay small.

I've heard of a number of companies doing this, and here's one example:

"Incredible Foods quickly landed one of the biggest accounts of all: Starbucks. "They were opening new stores in northeast Ohio and Pennsylvania in 1998 and wanted me to distribute a single product, a crumb cake," says Christy.But as Starbucks locations multiplied, Christy's workload ballooned. Revenues reached $3.4 million in 2005, but soaring overhead wiped out Christy's profits.

That year, Christy decided to cut the cord. The (Starbucks) account generated 48% of Incredible Foods' annual revenues, but Christy believed that he could run a stronger company without Starbucks. So he shrank the staff from 13 to six, eliminated one of his two offices, and focused his marketing attention on local customers who closed deals with a handshake, generally without resorting to squadrons of lawyers and accountants.It paid off. Last year Incredible Foods posted an 11% increase in profits on revenues of $2.2 million, and Christy expects a 22% revenue increase this year".

Staying small can actually be more profitable. And a lot more fun. Check out Seth Godin's book "Small Is The New Big".

8. Design & Strategic Flexibility

This is a big one.

Anyone who has ever worked on an established corporate site will know the difficulty involved in reorienting the site towards SEO. There are meetings. There are conflicts with various stakeholders. Designers will be reluctant to change their ways. Copywriters will be reluctant to change their ways. Management may fail to grasp the benefits of SEO. In such situations, it is easy to lose focus, and compromise the SEO strategy.

It happens all the time.

Then, there is the small business. If there are few - or only one - of you, then it is much easier for you to incorporate good SEO. Not only can you compete with the big business, you can thrash them.

Use your speedboat to maximum strategic advantage.

The SEO Flow Chart

In the past I made an online marketing mindmap that was fairly well received, and I am nearly caught up with work stuff, so I figured it was time to start playing with flowcharts. This flowchart describes the basic SEO process.

Perhaps a bit is lost in simplification, but I think this does a great job of conveying a lot of information in a limited space...a future version might expand the box about building quality signals into a flow chart of its own (and even that could have more sub-flowcharts built from marketing is sorta like fractals).

Some of the boxes are clickable, like the dance like a monkey box. :)



Let me know what you think of the above, and if you want a downloadable version here is a PDF version and here is a gif image. If you have a copy of SmartDraw (free to try, $199 to buy) then you could even edit the flowchart, perhaps to make the current one better, or to use this one as a template for making flowcharts for other industries.

If you find yourself running out of things to write about on your blog, mixing up the format helps give you a new take and fresh voice. And it is more fun playing with flowchart software than it is writing the 917,432nd post titled Learn All About Digg.

Google Universal Search on Steroids?

Another Google Glitch

I nuked a recent post about sites potentially getting filtered because it become somewhat irrelevant and speculative considering Matt Cutts stated the following in a Webmaster World thread today:

I don't consider those rankings indicative of anything coming in the future. Some data went into the index without all of our quality signals incorporated, and it should be mostly back to normal and continuing to get back to normal over the course of the day.

Google glitches often reveal engineer intent, and based on that, is a !!! fascinating data center right now.

The Index That Never Was

That data set does look a bit incomplete, with...

  • some sites not ranking for their own brands (or other phrases that were aggressively used in anchor text)
  • lots of internal tag pages ranking from authority sites like or Amazon
  • a bunch of international sites ranking in the global search results (no noticeable local bias)
  • authority sites like media sites and listing sites like Craigslist or ranking for core industry phrases with a simple internal page job listing
  • sites with a lot of usage data (possibly through brand awareness and related searches driven by advertising and/or affiliate traffic?) getting a bit more of a ranking boost than they would not have seen based on the PageRank model.

Universal Search Gets Big

Probably even more important than that ranking reshuffle is the appearance of universal search...everywhere, with the volume at #11 (or maybe 12?)! Just take a look at this search for credit cards...if you are not an AdWords advertiser, are not in universal search verticals (like news and video), and are not wikipedia, then you don't have many organic search results that you can rank for on the first page.

Other search results I looked at had a similar bias toward universal search - with heavy promotion of Google shopping results, Google books, videos, etc.

Having seen the above search results, consider that as time passes and we learn to trust search more we generally tend to click on the top few results, and then look at these click distribution stats from the AOL data from a couple years ago:

Overall Percent of Clicks

Relative Click Volume

  1. 42.13%, 2,075,765 clicks
  2. 11.90%, 586,100 clicks
  3. 8.50%, 418,643 clicks
  4. 6.06%, 298,532 clicks
  5. 4.92%, 242,169 clicks
  6. 4.05%, 199,541 clicks
  7. 3.41%, 168,080 clicks
  8. 3.01%, 148,489 clicks
  9. 2.85%, 140,356 clicks
  10. 2.99%, 147,551 clicks
  1. 3.5x less
  2. 4.9x less
  3. 6.9x less
  4. 8.5x less
  5. 10.4x less
  6. 12.3x less
  7. 14.0x less
  8. 14.8x less
  9. 14.1x less

1st page totals: 89.82%, 4,425,226 clicks
2nd page totals: 10.18%, 501,397 clicks

Will a #1 Google ranking still be worth a lot of money? Absolutely, but the gap between winners and losers will grow much larger. If you were planning on getting a bit of traffic by ranking #5 or #6 in the organic results, that listing may end up on page 2 of the search results...yielding virtually no traffic.

The Business of Search Result Page Changes

Why would Google consider making such a large shift?

  • they keep making the web more interactive hoping to eventually replace (or at least heavily augment) offline media distribution via television and other outlets (their real competition is not so much Microsoft or Yahoo!, but other information dissemination devices)
  • if they send traffic to editorial partners they help subsidize those businesses, and get the businesses addicted to Google traffic...thus yielding significant control over to Google
  • if they chop up traffic streams they make spamming less profitable and kill the incentive to spam
  • if they promote verticals where they host information (books, video, local/maps, Google shopping) they get a second chance to monetize searchers who did not click on AdWords ads

Searchers Get Trained, Publishers (Frogs) Slowly Get Boiled

Universal search is a relevancy strategy, but it is also a business and profit strategy. There will be a role back on the above search results, but in time the search results will start looking more and more like the above. The shift will happen slowly, such that the publishers don't realize they are being boiled. *

* While the frog analogy has been debunked, it is still a memorable analogy, which is easy to use to describe gradual change.

New Ad Units & AdWords Expansion

As Giovanna noted on PPC blog, Google Checkout is spreading, and AdWords is becoming richer and more interactive. Some of the other universal search products (particularly local search, book search, music search, and shopping search) will present Google with more revenue options.

Strategies to Prepare for Universal Search on Steroids

  • If your site is fairly close to what it takes to be considered in some of Google's verticals - like Google news, then consider upping your game a bit and submitting an inclusion request.
  • Try to make some video content. Not good for everyone, but most sites could use some, and the competitive bar with video is much lower than it is with text - though I wouldn't expect it to stay that way for more than a couple years.
  • If you have some top rankings that are bouncing around consider focusing on promoting that content again - when stratification occurs you are going to be better off focusing on owning a few ideas rather than being average to slightly above average at many. Top ranked sites also benefit from self-reinforcing rankings. Read up on cumulative advantage if you have not yet done so.
  • Usage data (and/or brand searches) may become a big part of future algorithms. Get ready for that by reading about BrowseRank then invest in advertising, branding, and user experience.