Who is going to pay to tell people that they are good enough and their lives are fine as they are? A fundamental truth of advertising is that advertising the truth usually isn't very profitable - which is why there is lead generation, affiliate programs, public relations, negative billing options, small print, bogus medical research, and so on... ;)
Ever wonder how an SEO professional can charge first world rates to do third rate, third world work and still get a top rating from a heavily advertised SEO rating website? Edward Lewis has the lowdown on Top SEOs, including TopSEOs complaints.
[edit: above links removed, as Edward sold his site at some point & then the person who bought it later sold it to TopSEOs, so the above links would have led to lead generation forms for some unsavory SEO folks.]
A big part of the problem with the affiliate business model is when people offer fake rankings / ratings and only promote whoever pays them the most. The person/company which can afford to pay the most for leads often can only afford to because there is hidden risk or hidden cost in the service, or because they don't deliver on their promises. An analogy here is those AAA rated mortgage backed securities where an S&P employee explained, "We rate every deal. It could be structured by cows and we would rate it."
The biggest brands don't pay as much per lead because they don't have to. They invest in brand and quality of customer service. The best service-based companies don't need to pay cut-rate ad prices to advertise. The best SEO companies have far more demand for their time than time to pay to hunt for customers.
I remember back in 2006 when one of the currently "top rated SEOs" did work for my wife's website (before she met me). That SEO firm did nothing but outsource overseas irrelevant reciprocal link exchanges and her website *would not rank* for any semi-competitive keywords until *after* the reciprocal links page was removed from her site. After we took down those reciprocal links and built some quality links the site started to rank. We changed the FTP details as well because that guy's services were not only not worth paying for...the reciprocal links were proved to be damaging, and we didn't want him to put them back up. And in spite of not doing any services for months (and certainly no services worth paying for), this person wanted to ensure they got paid for 12 months of "service." And they didn't want to let the contract end when it was supposed to either. They were all sales, all the time. It didn't matter that they were selling ineffective garbage.
What eventually stopped the credit card charges was when I wrote him via email "If her credit card is charged again we will be doing a reverse charge and a full writeup on the service."
He responded to that with the following:
I would watch your comments and threats my friend as you have no idea of what I am capable of or who I am - this is a small industry and if you are trying to be a an up an coming player in it this is not the way to do it by bashing your competition. A simple email professionally stating that you were unhappy with the service would have sufficed and I would have looked into to make sure Giovanna got what she paid for.
I have run 2 optimization companies and have been in this business for 12 years now. With my contacts at Google and the other main engines I can get your ebook website banned within 1-2 days if this is how you do business - with threats and slander - keep it up.
The funny thing is all I said was that if he tried charging again (past the contract) that we would reverse charges. And yet the sleazeball told me to "watch your comments and threats" and that he could use "contacts at Google and other main engines" to get my website banned.
What a jerk.
I have always had contempt for blowhards, and for pure hard-sales salesmen who put sales first and are willfully ignorant of their trade and/or who are willing to sell garbage product without any concern for the customer's welfare.
I am grateful that the above mentioned person sucked at what they did & ripped people off back then. If they were not out scamming people and actually provided a useful service then my wife wouldn't have had a reason to contact me and meet me and marry me. ;)
I let it go for over 3 years, but if they are still scamming people then that needs to stop. I figure its only right that I write this post as a fair warning. All good things must come to an end. And so should bad things. Hopefully these clowns quite scamming people. Enough is enough.
Update: 3 years later the fake ratings continue. BigMouthMedia was rated a top SEO agency by Top SEOs, even when it no longer existed as a distinct company after a merger years earlier. Top SEOs is so bogus with their ratings that they even put out a press release announcing the above rating of the above non-company!
We recently reviewed a bunch of competitive research tools, and in that spirit I thought it would be a good idea to review Alexa. It is not that Alexa is the #1 service available, but they do provide one of the better services while being free. Every few years it seems they fall behind and become a bit of a relic, and then every few years they catch up.
Recently when using Alexa I saw they added a good number of features, so I thought it would be worth doing a run down.
What Alexa is most popular for - their traffic rank, is popular because it has been around for a long time and is well referenced. I don't consider it to be a high value tool in terms of accuracy though. I think all these traffic estimation tools have a big margin for error, and its easy to read too much into the base/core number. Having mentioned that, you can try to use traffic data from Alexa, Google Website Trends / DoubleClick Ad Planner, Compete.com, and Quantcast to try to see how well they agree in terms of the traffic volume of a site or the relative volume between multiple sites in the same vertical.
In spite of my lack of faith in the Alexa rank numbers some people do put weight on it. Some investors use it. And when Markus Friend was launching PlentyOfFish he redirected Alexa users away from his site to stay below radar until his site was strong.
Pageviews Per Visit
This is a good hint at how compelling people find a particular website. Sites which are driven by arbitrage efforts typically are not very engaging, hoping to either sell something right away or get people off the site. They also offer a time on site feature which you can use to compare how sticky sites are.
This is basically a flip of the above...people who see 1 page and then are gone. You can see in the yellow area where we tested using a pop up. While the pop up did get more people to register on our site, we dropped the pop up because it was somewhat inconsistent with the rest of our marketing (our core audience of customers tends to tilt torward the expert end) and the types of people who were receptive to pop ups were not as good of a longterm fit for our site as customers.
Downstream Traffic Sources
Who are they sending traffic to? Where do their visitors go after leaving the site?
Upstream Traffic Sources
Who is sending them traffic? In many ways this can be unsurprising, but certain sites end up being more or less dependent on social media due to certain things like if they appeal to younger or older customers, what they are doing offline, if they are producing linkbait relevant to a specific audience which is heavily integrated into social media.
This can also help you locate some advertising locations, figure out how reliant they are on search, and help you see which sites in the vertical they are closely aligned with. DoubleClick Ad Planner also has a pretty awesome traffic affinity feature.
Search Traffic Percent
This shows the percentage of their traffic which comes from search engines. If it is abnormally high, that might mean the site has a search-heavy focus and needs some thickening out in terms of community participation and developing other traffic streams. If it is abnormally low, and you have similar link profiles to other sites that are higher, then it might mean that you are missing some important keywords that you should target. This is where digging in for more data with a tool like SEM Rush or Compete.com shines.
Do they have a membership area to their site? If they host it on a subdomain you can see how active they are. Having anywhere near 5% or 10% of your traffic in the private member's area is quite good if you have a well connected high traffic website. You can also see that our tools subdomain is a quite popular section of our site.
Top Search Queries
You can use this to find some of the most important keywords for a competing site. If some of your best keywords are being revealed it might make sense to publish some filler content on a popular topic that is hard to monetize so that it better shields some of your best keywords from free public viewing.
If you install the Alexa toolbar they will also show you a bit more query data and list some opportunities for that site on the paid search front.
You can see what countries a particular site is popular in.
And you can get more detailed demographic data on a per site basis.
Many sites within the same field will have fairly similar demographic targets, but even things like at work vs at home can indicate if the site is primarily targeting independent types or corporate types. When compared against the above, notice how (generally) SeoMoz has a fairly similar audience composition:
They skew a bit younger (I think sometimes my cynical nature turns off some young pople), a bit more college educated (they go to like 10x as many SEO conferences as I do), and we are perhaps a bit more popular with self employed people. And then for Search Engine Land you can see that they have a similar profile to SEO Moz, but with even more people at work and more college educated people.
And then you have sites which are extreme demographic outliers. Ever wonder who the customers are for those websites primarily marketed through hyped up email launch sequences by affiliates?
Well throw some of those sites into Alexa, and you will find that for many of those sites it appears the target market is: old desperate and gullible men from the US who failed at life, still don't have a good b/s meter, and want to believe there is a silver bullet they can use now to automatically generate wealth. They can't, of course, but there is a crew that will sell them that story and get rich by working over the remaining crumbs in their retirement accounts.
I am betting that part of why our age distribution is a bit more flat than most other SEO sites is because we offer free tools which are recommended to some of the audiences that buy the launch product stuff (or, that is my theory, based on some of them left their member's areas not password protected and sent a bunch of traffic at our site).
How do your demographic profiles compare to other sites in your space? Have you checked out all the features Alexa has added? What do you think of them?
And the Ask.com search results themselves are a bit rough. Some of them promote featured articles from other IAC parners
Many of them have Ask.com answers in them, which scrapes questions and answers from across the web and wraps them in ads.
And some of the search results have multiple lead generation boxes on them (without any disclosure).
A good chunk of them have Wikipedia listed, but wrapped in ads & hosted by Ask.
A few more vertical ad types and/or general purpose web services (to complement answers, news, local, lead generation, Wikipedia, FreeBases, PPC ads) and a search engine would have no need to send searchers anywhere but to advertisers and itself.
I have no doubt that Ask's search results monetize at a higher rate than Google's, but that aggressive monetization also costs them marketshare. It is a trade off every business faces: maximizing short term yield, while keeping the business healthy and growing in the market.
But Google will have to move slower on many of these fronts, because if they move too quickly they won't be able to defuse the blowback and anti-trust concerns. Given their recent user privacy snafu, and the current brand ad push where they are now trying to promote the categories they once claimed to have hate, the last thing they want to do is give people more reasons to distrust them and give regulators more reasons to give them another look. So new features launch as a limited beta test / experiment to a subset of users (and in many cases free to advertisers) to slowly release their business plans in a way that does not create too much concern. Small steps bring limited regulatory interference, and by the time concerns are voiced they can say "we have done that for years."
But as the Microsoft (or Wal-Mart) of the web, I wonder if it is a good idea for Google to make blog posts with titles like Now it's easy to switch to Google Apps from Microsoft® Exchange. The broader they spread search, the more likely they are to find their words working against them at some point. They can't claim to be agnostic while self serving ads and writing how to guides on switching away from competitors.
I must confess to being a junky for reading economics and investing sites. A person can't beat the market for a long period of time without having some skills, and so the level of discourse you find on top investing blogs blows other areas out of the water. And sometimes the comments are more quote-worthy and insightful than the blog posts. For instance, "The organisation of society is for one purpose only, to separate as much labor-value from the majority as is possible."
Cynical? Or Realistic?
Some people might look at the above quote and say "well that is cynical" but the truth of a debt based money system means that many people MUST fall behind and be impoverished by debt. How else do you explain most people having nothing saved for retirement going into our jobless recovery, while their children get to eat nearly 6 figures of debt just for being born?
It is fraudulent, but it is how "the system" is set up, and until enough people get outraged by it, it will continue:
That chart of diminishing returns is the window to understanding why humankind is trapped in a central banker debt backed money box. No money for NASA manned space flight - NASA's total budget a puny $18 billion in comparison to the $1.9 Trillion that went to service the bankers last year. One half the schools closing in Kansas City, states whose debts and budget deficits seem insurmountable all pale in comparison to how much money went to service the use of our own money system.
It doesn't have to be like that, in fact it's a ridiculous notion that the people of the United States, or any country, should pay private individuals for the use of their money system. Ridiculous!
It's difficult to see this from inside the box, so let's look at what happened to Iceland to illustrate. The central banks of the world created financial engineered products and brought them to the banks of Iceland. These products created a boom in the amount of credit. Prices of everything rose, and the people of Iceland then had no choice but to go along for the bubble ride. Then with incomes no longer able to service the bubble debt, the bubble collapsed.
To "save the day," the IMF and central bankers around the world rushed in to "rescue" the people, banks, and government of Iceland. They did this by offering loans... documents that create money simply by signing a contract of debt servitude. That contract demanded ownership of Iceland's infrastructure such as their geothermal electrical generating plants. It also demanded the future productivity of the people of Iceland in that they should work and pay high taxes for decades to pay back this "debt." Debt that they did not create or agree to service in the first place!
There were some wise people who saw through this central banker game and started a movement. They DEMANDED that the President of Iceland put the debt servitude to a vote and the people wisely said, "Central Bankers Pound Sand!"
"I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs" - Thomas Jefferson
Some people thought the current US president would be different than the most recent president. It is the populist angle he based his campaign on. But promptly after entering office he got on his knees for the banking class. "And the banks -- hard to believe in a time when we're facing a banking crisis that many of the banks created -- are still the most powerful lobby on Capitol Hill. And they frankly own the place." - Dick Durbin.
The don't worry, trust us angle doesn't hold water when the mathematical realities of failure hit us all. "Nontransparency in government programs is always associated with corruption in other countries, so I don't see why it wouldn't be here" - Gerald O'Driscoll, former vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas.
Until the bankers who looted Trillions of Dollars via mortgage fraud see jail time I don't think there is any hope for change. The system is rotten to the core, from the top down.
Moral Hazard in Context
Normally we make laws to prevent such corruption: "In the early years of the London insurance market, it was possible to buy a life insurance policy on a complete stranger. Then insurance companies noticed the high incidence of unexpected homicides among their lives assured, and the concept of insurable interest was devised, codified by the Life Assurance Act of 1774. Today, you can’t buy a life insurance policy unless you can demonstrate some loss by the assured party’s death. The business is safer that way!"
In paying banksters for losing money & relaxing accounting standards (so they can claim false profits while losing money), they are only encouraged to commit more fraud. It's moral hazard writ large.
Stolen vs Earned
Give anyone a trillion Dollars to play the market, backstop the losses on the losing half and let them keep the profits on the winning trades and they will make billions. It's so easy a monkey could do it. And yet it is considered a legitimate trade for bankers to do just that.
Most of these large financial companies are entirely parasitic in their nature, providing society with no real or lasting value - stealing whatever they earn while creating economic distortions that harmfully misallocate capital. Whatever scam they can use to steal your retirement will be deployed: "Quite bluntly, the clueless dolts who allowed [high frequency trading] to occur need to be publicly excoriated, fired from their job as exchange officials, and driven out of town on a rail. Oh, and, all the gains from this organized theft should be clawed back from all the front-running firms that stole this money — THAT’S RIGHT, ITS THEFT — one quarter cent at a time. - Barry Ritholtz"
The web shifts the flows of information and finance. The above mention folks in positions of authority don't like that much.
"In a time of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act." - George Orwell
Popularity is the inequality in supply and demand, equalized by price. The web allows for a direct connection between content creators and their audiences with little to no intermediation:
This isn’t complicated. In today’s wired world, the most important economic competition is no longer between countries or companies. The most important economic competition is actually between you and your own imagination. Because what your kids imagine, they can now act on farther, faster, cheaper than ever before — as individuals. Today, just about everything is becoming a commodity, except imagination, except the ability to spark new ideas.
become the most visited website for the week. Facebook.com recently reached the #1 ranking on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day as well as the weekend of March 6th and 7th. The market share of visits to Facebook.com increased 185% last week as compared to the same week in 2009, while visits to Google.com increased 9% during the same time frame. Together Facebook.com and Google.com accounted for 14% of all US Internet visits last week
Not sure of HitWises methodology - why aren't they comparing all Google's web functions, including Maps and Mail? - but good on Facebook! For a site that didn't exist in 2003, that is quite some achievement.
What does this mean for the future of search marketing?
Given the lock-in for return visits, it's unsurprising that Facebook might receive more visits than a search engine. However, the most important aspect of different channels, as far as a web marketer is concerned, is: does the traffic convert to cash at some point?
Social Media Marketing, like SEO, is a tatic. However, if the tactic don't translate into more business, then it's a waste of time. Whatever channel you use, it is important to establish KPIs - key performance indicators - that measure the effectiveness of your tactics, and directly relate to the success of you business.
For example, one of the KPIs often mentioned in SMM is volume metrics, such as number of followers, subscribers etc. If we were to relate this metric back to our business objectives, we'd ask how does having a higher number of followers, or people claiming to be followers, result in more business? How many of those followers are really engaging with you? Or are they, literally, just making up the numbers?
I've seen social media companies fudge this aspect. Some play around with the term ROI, changing the "I" from "investment" to "influence", or to "interest", and use the number of followers as evidence of the level of interest in a clients services or brand.
The bottom line is the golden KPI. It can become blurred in bigger organizations, but for the little guy, it is crucial.
Volume Metrics Can Be Deceiving
Search marketers know that the volume game can be an illusion when it comes to making money.
"Jokes" may be a very popular keyword term, but it's not making people any money because there is no commercial intent. "Second mortgages" is not a particularly popular term in terms of volume, but is lucrative as it has clear commercial intent. A high position for second mortgages in search rankings will make you money.
Conversely, how difficult would it be to get buzz around the term "second mortgages" via social media? Sure, with some inventive twisting and disguising of the true message it could be done, but really, it's pushing water uphill. The social environment isn't really suited to such a message.
Choose The Right Environment
The two channels are like apples and oranges.
Different environments work for different messages. Social media is great for generating awareness, getting people talking, and when integrated with an SEO strategy can be a great way of getting links. Primarily, it's a brand strategy. However, because it is a social environment, there is less tolerance of overt commercial activity that in direct channels.
Typical social media measurements include:
Business outcomes - can you link the campaign to specific interactions, such as sales?
Influencer Reach - how many influencers picked up on your message and spread it?
Audience Reach - how many visitors saw your message? Link this metric to...
Engagement - how many of those people who saw you message contacted you, or took a desired action?
Conversely, SEO isn't much use for building brand awareness or encouraging people to talk about your message. The environment is similar to direct marketing. It is well suited to direct response and commercial activity, as the intent of the user can be determined, and if that intent is commercial, then people welcome commercial messages.
What Is Your Business
Hanging out and being cool on Facebook isn't a business :)
Affiliate - sell other peoples stuff and take a commission
Community - leverage your community to sell something else
Subscription - sell content/training on an on-going basis
Utility - pay as you go usage
Decide which business you are in. When deciding on marketing and advertising tactics, ask yourself which environment is best suited to developing your business, then develop KPIs that support that business. You key KPI should be the bottom line - either this activity returns more money than you spend, or it doesn't.
We're very skeptical about the scale argument, as you might expect. There's a lot of aspects to this subject that are not very well understood.
So in all of this stuff, the scale arguments are pretty bogus in our view because it's not the quantity or quality of the ingredients that make a difference, it's the recipes. We think we're where we are today because we've got better recipes and we have better recipes because we spent 10 years working on search improving the performance of the algorithm.
We don't have better algorithms than anyone else. We just have more data.
And this is why you see so many hucksters hyping trash, committing fraud, scamming users, cutting corners, and working legal loopholes at launch time to try to grow marketshare *at any cost*
Build the scale and you have the cashflow and feedback mechanisms in place to test viral marketing strategies, improve conversion rates, increase real (and perceived) relevancy, and lock in users.
"In a July 19, 2005 e-mail to YouTube co-founders Chad Hurley and Jawed Karim, YouTube co-founder Steve Chen wrote: 'jawed, please stop putting stolen videos on the site. We’re going to have a tough time defending the fact that we’re not liable for the copyrighted material on the site because we didn’t put it up when one of the co-founders is blatantly stealing content from other sites and trying to get everyone to see it.'"
"Our dirty little secret... is that we actually just want to sell out quickly," said Karim at one point. In an e-mail, Chen talked about “concentrat[ing] all of our efforts in building up our numbers as aggressively as we can through whatever tactics, however evil.” - Ars Technica
Welcome to the exciting world of innovation in online media!
Without brand you have nothing.
With brand even a wounded duck full of unauthorized scraped content like YouTube or Mahalo somehow manages flight, at least for a while. Then you only need to find someone dumb enough to buy the growth story and purchase the bag of smoke before the fire emerges.
Of course people don't have to cut corners, lie, cheat, and steal to build a real business. Those are the strategies employed by people trying to sell value where none exists. You can do just fine by dominating a small niche THEN leveraging data to grow. It is not sexy. You probably can't hype it to the media. It might not lead to an 8 or 9 figure payday. But then you won't have to describe your strategy as "whatever tactics, however evil.”
There are quite a few spy tools on the market currently, some more heavily promoted than others. They come in a variety of flavors such as SEO spy tools, PPC spy tools, and some which do both.
Spy tools can be useful in an SEO and/or a PPC campaign. However, many of these tools essentially try to extrapolate scraped results which can lead to some fairly inaccurate results. Also, these tools occasionally come up with in-house metrics (of which they really don't give you much useful info about how they arrived at the data the present from these "proprietary" metrics") to help try and differentiate their offerings from their competition.
Spy Tool Reviews
There is a much more in-depth review, with examples, up in our members forum. Here, we will do overviews of some of the more popular tools on the market. Specifically, we will be taking a look at:
The idea that you are missing out on something is a core marketing tactic so even if you are comfortable with one tool chances are you've been tempted to go with another. Keep in mind, from a cost standpoint, the ROI you would take by just finding a few decent keywords to target will likely far outweigh any cost associated with these tools. Your business probably won't collapse if you pick an A minus tool versus an A plus tool and none of these tools are able to make concrete decisions for you. What these tools provide are additional data points for you to consider in your own research.
We hope you'll find these reviews useful. There are perhaps a few other services we missed given how many of these tools as there are and our primary focus on SEO. If these reviews are well received we could also review everything from Quantcast & Alexa right on through to AdGooroo, but we need to know if you would be interested in those types of reviews. If there are any other cool products or services you would like us to review just let us know.
A few disclaimers: some of these services have given us free review accounts, whereas we have paid for some of the others. And some of these tools offer affiliate programs, but all reviews were done without those 2 factors influencing the editorial. Most these reviews do not have affiliate links in them (I think SEM Rush is the only one which does have an affiliate link right now), and Aaron reviewed SEM Rush before they even had a public affiliate program.
Compete takes pricing to a different level but has some unique features as well. They have a few different pricing levels but to get all the features you need to dial it up at $499 per month. Although, some of their lower price points may provide good value depending on what you might use them for.
Here is a screen shot of their site profile overlay
It's kind of like a semi-analytics program view of things which includes:
Link through's to Referral and Search Analytics (discussed further down)
Data is available in 7 day, 30 day, 3 month, 6 month, 1 year, and 2 year increments.
The audience profile tab is similar to quantcast and is only available to the verified site owner (unless the site has made it's info public) and the sub-domain tab shows sub-domains associated with the main domain.
Enterprise users, where there is no standard pricing listed...also get access to category profiles and behavioral categories as shown below:
You also get the option to compare up to 5 sites at once in their site profile section
Those are the options in the profiles section. These statistics are far beyond what most traditional spy tools offer and can be very useful when comparing large sites as small sites do not fare very well with these types of data sets (this is not specific to compete, it's pretty much industry wide).
Compete's second tool set is the Analytics Tools set. Here you can search through Search Analytics (keywords) and Referral Analytics (sites referring traffic to the domain) as well as a variety of Ranked Lists.
This is pretty sweet as you can see what search engines the site's SEO campaign is doing well in, as well as possible advertising opportunities for your site.
It also will show you Destination sites (where users go after landing on the site you are reviewing.)
In addition to messing around with some of the filters you can take a peek at historical data (trends, seasonal, etc) as noted here.
Compete offers ranked lists which you can filter in a few easy steps
Compete lets you look at ranked lists via 3 steps (one from each)
Step 2 - site ranking, ranking + unique visitors, ranking + all metrics
Step 3 - top 200, 1,000, 15,000, 100,000, 500,000 domains
Compete's Search Analytics show keywords referring traffic to a site (or two) with some pretty neat metrics:
Highly Engaging Keywords - Keywords that make up 40% of the total time index and have a referral share greater than 0.01%
High Traffic Keywords - Keywords that make up the top 40% of the search referral share
Engaging Long Tail Keywords - Keywords making up the bottom 60% of search referral share, with a total time index of > .10
Enthusiast Keywords - Keywords that make up the top 40% of Average Time Index and a Search Referral Share greater than 0.01
Long Tail Keywords
Total Time Index - scale of 100 with 100 being the term where the searcher came from...that made up the highest total time spent on the site for ALL visits.
Average Time Index - scale of 100 with 100 being the term which resulted in the most average time per visit spent on the site.
You can also compare 2 sites like so:
The high price point of Compete might scare some users away, but consider that their data is not just relying on scraped Google/Yahoo/Bing results then extrapolated by some internal metrics. Compete is probably more useful to those who "compete" in really competitive markets with some sites as competition, although it can be useful to folks who may be involved in less competitive SERPS with smaller sites as competitors because they can use this data to investigate larger sites in their market, which may not be competitors but could yield helpful industry data.
iSpionage is a newer player in the spy tool market. They are much more PPC oriented than organic SEO oriented. They offer 3 tool sets:
Keyword and Domain Research
PPC Campaign Builder
Keyword and Domain Research
They index the top ten results in Google, Yahoo, and Bing (although I only saw G and Y).
They give you breakdowns of common spy tool elements such as:
Competitors and Overlapping Keywords
Keyword Specific Ads
Average Search Volume
And so on..
The one really neat thing they offer is overlapping keywords between Yahoo and Google for a particular domain. I'm not aware of another spy tool that does that.
Their database does not seem to be very deep but they are newer so that's to be expected.
The do show overlapping keywords, total keyword count, and a monthly budget under their competition tab.
Here is another spot where they compare Google and Yahoo, this time for overlapping keywords between sites.
This lets you search by domain name or keyword to get ideas for keywords to add into your campaign. You can also add your own manually after the keyword research option. Keyword Monitor will show you the following for your campaign + competition:
The impression share is not something I've noticed in most other tools and the other 4 metrics can be useful in determining which competitor might be a bit savior in the PPC game. Other metrics they will show you on the keyword level include whether or not the keyword has direct ranking affiliates, the average CPC/search volume, and total advertiser counts in Google, Yahoo, and Bing.
The tool also shows you related keywords you may wish to add to your campaign or just place on your watch list.
PPC Campaign Builder
The campaign builder allows you to search for keywords via a keyword or domain name input. The steps are as follows:
Keyword Clean Up
This is where you can weed out keywords that contain certain words, are duplicates, or have special characters. You can also choose to remove extra spaces if needed.
Here you can set up ad groups and campaigns right from within iSpionage. It also gives you the option to create one ad group per keyword if you want to get that granular
Here you can input bid prices for Broad/Phrase/Exact match bids, set up your ads, and input the url. Then you can export for use in Google, Yahoo, or Bing PPC campaigns.
They offer a coupon code for 25% off for all products. The promotional code is: EOYSALE10
This promo discount voucher will expire on 12/25/2010.
iSpionage has some promise and seems to be much more into the PPC market than the SEO market. If that's the case then they are taking on some pretty big players as many of the spy tools offer both PPC and SEO data sets. They have some unique features and it will be interesting to see how they develop their product going forward.
The countries available within a Keyword Spy account are:
No other competitor really comes close to the breadth of their country offerings.
Keyword Spy Research Account
Keyword Spy's Research account gives you access to the following data
PPC Ads (ad copy, the keyword, estimated search volume, estimated CPC, the position last seen of an ad and it's average position, total days seen/days checked. You can also see the ad url and destination url of the ad in addition to other keywords being bid on for that particular ad, as well as an estimated ROI.
PPC Keywords - showing individual keywords, ROI, search volume, CPC, total profitable ads, affiliate ads on that keyword, days seen, last/first seen
Organic Keywords - showing individual keywords, position in the SERPS, total search results, estimated CPC, and the URL
Competitors in PPC and Organic results.
The research portion does *not* include organic or PPC overlap coverage, which kind of stinks especially when you consider the price point they charge.
You get access to their Top 1000 sites and keyword reports which can be previewed here.
You can search by keyword as well. A Keyword search will show you:
PPC Ad Copies with Keyword in them
Up to 1000 related Keywords
You can filter with these metrics but you can only apply 1 filter to the results at a time. Which can be bothersome if you are doing large scale research as they limit the exported data to 50,000 keywords.
Research Account Metrics
ROI- they compute this as (Days Seen*Percentage Seen/Number of Days Seen since Last Seen). Below is a screen shot of their formula. Again, this is based on the assumption that the PPC advertiser is shrewd and on top of things. I don't particularly care for this metric. ROI to person A can be much different than ROI to person B for a variety of reasons.
First/Last Seen- Last seen is the last day KS saw the ad (they scan daily) and First Seen shows the first day KS saw the ad (I believe its back to August of 09 as of this writing).
Profitable Ads - Ads that are profitable based on their internal metrics (like ROI and such) out of total number of ads.
Affiliate Ads - Ads that are affiliate ads (based on destination url) out of total ads found.
Screen shot of PPC keyword tab showing the above mentioned metrics:
Keyword Spy's Tracking Account
The Tracking account option gives you real time tracking in Google, Yahoo, and Bing for your PPC and Organic campaigns. This can be useful in checking out your coverage and competition across all three engines. You can also benchmark your data with the competition's scraped data.
Of course, the question is do YOU want your campaigns being monitored by a spy tool that makes its money but showing advertisers their competition's organic and PPC data?? :-)
You can read about more of their tracking/alert/coverage type options here, but outside of tracking and coverage you get:
Landing Page Intelligence - shows current landing page, ad copy, and destination URL for a particular landing page.
Organic and PPC overlap data (only between 2 sites) and quite frankly, this is much more research than tracking and should really be included in the research account IMO.
Benchmarking in PPC/Organic Listings (below is a screen shot of the organic one, they are fairly similar)
So the tracking account is really more for tracking your campaigns across the 3 big PPC engines with some nifty benchmarking and gap analysis features but I don't see it as being overly useful for smaller PPC advertisers, although the coverage options might be a good fit for those in competitive markets across Google, Yahoo, and Bing. In general, Spy Tools aren't all that great at looking into smaller sites and markets simply because the resources required to be accurate with somewhat sparse data would be overkill and far to costly. This is why I do not really feel the tracking option is going to be a good fit outside of pretty big PPC advertisers.
The Pro account combines the Research and Tracking account features (up's the overall trackable keywords, export limit, and query limit) plus gives you access to a couple new features:
This tool gives you access to look at products and ads being used by 132 affiliate networks.
You can click through on any network and be shown their offers by URL with searchable affiliate ads for those products.
Affiliate Reports gives you access to big players in the affiliate marketing space such as CJ, LinkShare, Clickbank, ShareAsale, etc. Here you can access top affiliate products and top affiliates by product id and affiliate id respectively. You can also use affiliate product and affiliates id's to search in the destination URL field to try and find additional products/ads they may be promoting.
Keyword Spy mentions something about "Anti-cloaking" technology but they do not elaborate on it. However, color me skeptical that these affiliate options are able to uncover properly cloaked links by top affiliates. So while this may be good for help in looking at potential affiliate products, as well as finding affiliates who do not cloak their links, I'm really not overly impressed with these features but they can be somewhat useful when first starting out.
Keyword Spy is a feature rich membership and they have a deep database. For me, if I had to pick just one tool I would opt for either SemRush or SpyFu as both supply solid PPC/SEO competitive intel at a much more reasonable price. Although, if I were a serious PPC player their tracking account might be quite nice (still have reservations about giving a spy tool company my campaign data though). Another great feature for Keyword Spy is their regional databases...they cover many areas missed by some of the other competitive research tools.
SpyFu is one of the more feature rich tools, but probably has the least attractive interface out there. SpyFu offers SEO and PPC spy tool options along with their own keyword research tool.
The SpyFu toolset covers US and UK markets.
SpyFu's toolset includes:
Keyword Ad History
Domain Ad History
Keyword Smart Search
A Variety of Top 100 Lists
With SpyFu Kombat you can look at overlapping and site specific keywords for up to 3 websites. For the PPC version you can also see a chart which goes back over a period of a few years showing the overall amount of keywords being bid on by all three sites. You can also rollover the chart to see keywords specific to just 2 of the sites if you feel the 3rd site may not be doing as good a job (or vice versa) as 2 of the other sites. It will also show you the PPC budgets of the sites as well as the number of organic keywords ranking in the top 50 results for said keyword.
When you click on an area of the circle chart it will show you the keywords in whatever bucket you click, to the right of the chart. You can view and download those keywords for your own use. As you can see I am on the ads tab but the options are similar when you click on the organic tab (on the top box, the organic one on the bottom shows you total organic keywords).
Switching between the organic tab and the ppc tab (as well as the overall # of organic keywords + PPC ad budget should also give you an idea of which of the bigger sites are more into the PPC or SEO side of things which can be a good barometer to look at if you happen to be concentrating on one area over the other.
SpyFu Classic is the "flagship" section so to speak. This is where you enter one domain on the home page and are presented with a TON of data including:
Daily AdWords PPC Budget
Links through to SpyFu Kombat
Average Position of Ads vs # of Advertisers
Estimated Value of Organic Traffic (estimated traffic with a variable of CPC factored in)
Paid Traffic Compared with Organic Traffic Estimates
Subdomains (useful for looking at how a site might break out parts of the main domain, perhaps a good spot to look for niche keywords???)
Top Ten Paid Keywords w/ Keyword Ad History (links through to full Keyword Ad History tool)
Total Paid Keywords
Total Organic Keywords
PPC Competitors (with a link to overlapping keywords)
Organic Competitors (with a link to overlapping keywords)
In addition to searching for a domain SpyFu let's you search by keyword as well, as shown below:
The data here can be useful, as you can see the:
Estimated PPC, Clicks, Cost Per Day, Total Advertisers...all with trend data
Top Ten Domains Advertising on the Keyword, with Domain Ad History
Additional Keywords Purchased By Relevant Domains
PPC Ad Copy with a Link to Keyword Ad History
Top Ten Organic Results with Title, Meta Description
Related Concepts (based on semantic relationships)
Keyword Ad History
Keyword Ad History will show you, via color coded bars, how often the keyword appeared in a domain's PPC campaign along with any changes in the ad copy (all of which can be exported to excel). It shows a year's worth of data up front and goes back to 2006 via the Bonus History Button.
So it's pretty straightforward, which is what I like about SpyFu Tools. No over-reliance on "in-house metrics" it's just "here's the ad history of the keyword", plain and simple. Typically, if you see a keyword being advertised on by a good PPC advertiser consistent then you can look to apply that ad copy technique to a niche market of that larger keyword. If I were advertising for "hotels in Oklahoma" I might pay attention to what ad copy has been successful, over time, for that main/core keyword "hotels".
Domain Ad History
Domain Ad History is similar to Keyword Ad History except it shows the keyword history of a particular domain:
This tool is useful in looking at keywords that have been successful for your competitors (or larger players in your niche) and which ones they tried and abandoned (which could be ones for you to avoid out of the gate). All of this assumes the domain you are researching is competent PPC advertiser.
Keyword Smart Search
The Keyword Smart Search tool in SpyFu uses semantic word relationships, publicly available keyword data, and PPC campaign data to return a list of keywords related to the keyword(s) (up to 10) you enter. As you can see, you can also filter by CPC, search volume, and you can also exclude keywords:
Here is a screen shot of the results page for Keyword Smart Search:
For me, I prefer to use the PPC keywords and the Organic keywords found in either SpyFu Classic or SpyFu Kombat. I like to use other tools for pure keyword research (Google tools, Microsoft Ad Center Intelligence, and Wordtracker). Primarily, I feel SpyFu is at its best when used as a competitive research tool versus a keyword research tool.
I find their tools pretty useful for competitive research. I don't use their Keyword Smart Search much as described above but the amount of data that they give (in a straightforward fashion) at the price points they give is quite a nice combination. SpyFu makes its way into my toolbox on just about every project.
Anywhere there is controversy you will find many marketers who will opine and try to shine the lights on themselves about how wonderful they are and how much they help everyone else and how everyone should link to them in the controversy. But when the attention dies down it turns out few marketers hold true to their promises and stick with their principals.
It is usually the unsung heroes that make a difference, not as a cheesy marketing strategy, but because they believe in doing the right thing, even if it is at great personal cost.
Not sure if you remember the hoopla about Jason Gambert (professional douchebag) trying to trademark the word SEO, but many industry professionals were up in arms about it. In spite of some of the larger companies having big-jaws-a-flapping and in house legal teams, and the industry having perhaps some of the MOST USELESS AND SELF PROMOTIONAL cash flush "non-profit" trade organizations in the entire world (cough...SEMPO...cough), Rhea Drysdale was left to spend a couple years and $17,004.33 fighting the bogus trademark.
A few years back I spent about $35,000 to $40,000 fighting Traffic Power, and while it was painful back then, to this day I am glad I did it. But one of the things that surprised me back then was that for all the noise, few people cared enough to offer a $1 to help fight the good fight. Some friends helped in a big way...but I was still like $30,000+ in the hole and stuck dealing with a lot of stress.
Lets not leave Rhea with that feeling. ;)
Her Paypal email address is email@example.com. I just donated $566.81, and if about 29 more of us do the same, then we will help cover her legal expenses. Even if you can't donate that much, every $ helps...given the size of the industry (and the alleged concern certain individuals showed) we should easily be able to cover 100% of her legal fees. Even at the $50 or $100 level, it will still add up quickly with your help. Please shower Rhea with links too...she earned them :D
Update: Its worth adding that Jonathan Hochman collaborated early in this case with Rhea and choose a different legal strategy. He also spent about $10k fighting this battle but the court threw out his challenge on a technicality, so while many of the other industry supporters were nothing more than self promoters, Jonathan is also a good guy here.
Some people email you out of the blue accusing you of things that are not true while being rude and condescending. One person stated that they were certain I sold their email and that I am unethical and etc etc etc
My response was short and sweet
"go ___ yourself. we don't sell our user information."
To which there was a response about how I am not very professional. And the thing is, how are you supposed to respond when people falsely accuse you of criminal conduct while using your services for free AND insulting you?
Is there a professional way to respond?
Does the person who gave you no benefit of the doubt, insulted you, and wasted your time somehow deserve the benefit of the doubt? If yes, why? They certainly didn't give you any.
The way I look at business is that being short and sweet (or short and sour, in some cases) is probably one of the most professional things you can do. You only have so many hours to live and you only have so much time to service paying customers. The worst thing you could do is give someone like that the benefit of the doubt after they walked all over you, because then they might become a customer. And that type of person tends to be abusive, lazy, rude, selfish, and ignorant. Not a good customer.
If you don't enjoy what you do then its best to stop doing it. Part of ensuring work is enjoyable is filtering out those who do not fit.
So if a person says "___ off" at hello, then, if you are concerned with professionalism, reciprocating is the best thing you can possibly do. Any other course of action simply wastes time that could be spent servicing real customers - which certainly isn't very professional.
If you are selling a site which you just want to get rid of and lack passion for then there is nothing wrong with being fairly transparent and shopping it for the maximum amount you can get at an auction or such. And if you have high growth and contact an investment banker to get a bidding war going then limited transparency can help then. But if you have a high growth site in a high growth field and there is only one company trying to buy your site then transparency is the opposite of leverage. It can only work against you.
Scam Website Purchase Offers: How They Work
Over the last couple days a company made a pretty fair offer for one of our websites. He did so knowing that I wasn't going to give up our analytics data UNTIL the cash was in my bank account, and that he could infer a lot of the data from the search results. This was like the 5th time they tried buying the website and these points were made to them on every attempt.
The guy said "if that sounds good to you I will get a Letter of Intent over to you." I said sure, and in return they were like "ok now we need access to all your stats for our due diligence document to fill out the LOI."
And that is a big pain point / problem.
Data is Valuable
Data is valuable. Anyone who has the money to buy one of your best websites and has people scouring the web trying to make such deals probably has other sites in the same vertical. It is a near certainty. If you give all your data to someone *in an attempt to sell* what you may end up with is a weaker site and no buyer.
And if you know they already have other sites in the same space, well then you just shorted your own company's stock in exchange for nothing but a clown outfit.
Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?
The people who ask you to give up all your business data, and want exclusivity on a deal while they mull it over and debate it and re-price it, while pillaging your analytics data are actually telling you "we think you are an ignorant jackass and lack respect for you."
The sequence goes like: hello how about I buy that from you for $xx. Sound good? Here now give me all your data and I will give you a shady low ball offer of $y and then go buy a similar site from a more ignorant seller. We only buy at far below market rates! Don't worry. We *WILL* use your data against you!
If they make and offer they make an offer. If they want to steal you data they want to steal you data. But if they already make an offer based on their observations there is no need to grab all the data to reposition the offer - in short it is a scam.
Business Reciprocity 101
A slimy business person doesn't trust other people because they think everyone else is just as slimy as they are. So here is the test to use on such offers: tell them "sure you can have all my analytics data right after you give me all of their analytics data." If they say you are being unreasonable then tell them to look in the mirror.
We have made quick page title change suggestions on a client website that have literally immediately brought in millions of Dollars for their business (and as consultants we only got crumbs for the value add), BUT if you have a competitor who is considering buying your site they can look for the areas where you are strong that they missed and simply clone them. If their domain is far more authoritative they just took a chunk of your traffic. And you gave it to them - free of charge.
We have had competitors clone some of our strategy in some areas, but on numerous occasions they have picked the wrong keyword variations or the wrong modifiers. If you just give them the data for free there is no guesswork. They WILL use their capital to steamroll over you.
Why NDA Contracts Are Garbage
Sure some such companies claim to be professional and that their NDA has some value. But does it? Do you actually have the capital sitting around to do a legal battle with a billion Dollar company with more in-house lawyers than you have total staff? What kind of ROI would such litigation earn IF you won it? What are the odds of you winning? Can you actually prove how the used your data? How much time, effort, and stress would go into such a battle?
Why Do People Purchase Websites?
If people are coming you to buy your site they are coming to you for a reason. There is some strategic value, or some level of synergy to where they feel they can add value to your position. As an example, a big company like Yahoo! or eBay or Amazon.com or Google or BankRate or Monster.com or WebMD could...
use a purchase as a public relations opportunity to make the purchased website stronger
integrate it into their network to own more of the market and have better control over pricing
cross promote it on their network
cross promote other options in their network to that site's audience
use it as a wedge to influence markets in way they don't want connected with their core brand
expand their market breadth without diluting their brand
etc etc etc
The point being very few people buy a business based on thinking they can/will keep it exactly the same. Rarely do you buy a raw domain name based on its earnings...you buy it based on the potential for what you can develop on it, and the growth + opportunity you see in that market.
Is there risk in the growth? Absolutely. What successful investor hasn't lost money? But that risk is discounted in the price of the site...after all, the future market growth and site growth are not passed onto the seller after the site has already been sold.
Have I lost money on some website purchases? Absolutely, but on average we have come out ahead. You don't need perfect data to make a purchase so long as you have some good ideas on how to add value. You can have a few duds and come out ok so long as you have some winners and ride the winners hard.
What Data Discounts: It is Backwards Looking
Any attempt to get the exact earnings AND all the keyword data for a website for free is simply exploitative. It gives the buyer leverage while placing the seller in a vulnerable situation. It moves the purchase away from strategic value to some b/s multiples of earnings which rarely accounts for *why* the purchase is being made.
Is it a defensive purchase? Is it a purchase where there is an instant synergy and strategic value add? Do they have more data than you and do they see strong market growth in the near future?
Strategic purchases like YouTube don't sell for over a Billion dollars based on a backward multiple of earnings. When companies buy important websites they don't insult the owner with a 1, 2, 3, 4, or 5 year multiple. The S&P 500 has historically traded around a 15 or 16 multiple, so even a 6, 7, 8, 9, or 10 year multiple is not great if you have some strong strategies to increase organic search traffic, build new revenue streams, and improve conversion rates.
If a company trading at a 30x P/E multiple offers to buy your site for an 6x multiple, then they get a higher revenue cut due to their market position suddenly they have purchased your website for something like a 3x multiple... about 1/10th of what the market is valuing their enterprise at.
If they hold back some of the payout for a year then they are paying for a portion of the site out of future earnings, and the real multiple being paid is even less - maybe only 2!!!!
I opted to keep the site and put it on auto-pilot. That was about 9 years ago. Today the site makes more money in a month than what I almost sold it for back then. So maybe the sale falling through is not a bad thing.
In the search game increasing your rank by a few positions can cause a sharp increase in traffic.
Who wants to sell a site that is growing 100% every few months for some *stupid* multiple of backwards earnings? They would have to be an idiot. Certainly the public companies with a 30x P/E ratio are not trading at a 30x multiple because investors are looking backwards.
When you sell a site you must assume that they have more market data than you do. And they probably have more capital. Give them all your site specific data and you just diminish the value of your property while leaving you with no leverage.
Learning From Past Mistakes
But lots of people are stupid enough to give up the data. In the past I was one of them. A person who I mistook as a friend in our industry named a price for a partnership on one project, got as much data as he could, and then pulled out of the deal *at the price he named*!!! They claimed they lacked liquid capital, but at the same time they went on to make offers for other sites we owned (without knowing who owned them). Without even naming who the person was and only stating the above, in our forums another member guessed who it was *because the scumbag had done the exact same thing to him*
The guy was also snooping around one of my friend's sites a few years back. And so that guy asked a friend of the snooper if the snooper was legit, and the response was "we are friends, but don't trust that guy." Too bad I didn't hear that until after the guy screwed me over. But hopefully this post helps prevent you from getting screwed by fake investors and shady parties not actually interested in your properties.
Do They Eat Their Own Dog Food?
If someone tries to tell you that looting your data is part of their due diligence or purchase process send them a link to this post & tell them Aaron says hi.
Ask them how they disagree with it. And if they don't disagree with anything in this post, then tell them to give you all their business data. Fair is fair.
And if they won't share their business information with you then tell them to do the right thing...
I am sick of seeing these companies take advantage of webmasters. And it appears the problem is far worse than I anticipated. Since publishing this post we have already received some emails asking for suggestions about selling sites without handing over all of their analytics data. If you want to ping us just email firstname.lastname@example.org, and we will see if & how we can help out. :)
The landing page, in terms of SEO, went out of fashion.
Landing pages, which tended to be mass-generated, near identical pages pointing to one money page, became a target for the search engine spam filters.
However, the type of landing page we should take a closer look at is the type of landing page used in PPC - a page carefully crafted to lead a visitor to desired action. SEOs can benefit from applying the same techniques used for creating effective PPC landing pages to their organic pages. After all, we all want visitors to arrive at our pages, and take a desired action.
All Search Is About Connecting With People
Our pages may rank well, but if the visitor doesn't do something that ultimately leads to more money in our pockets, our sites won't last long.
In the past, ranking well has led to a pre-occupation with factors like keyword density i.e. repeating keyword phrases often.
However, the search engine algorithm's are no longer quite so stupid. The need to slavishly repeat keyword phrases in order to rank pales in comparison to other factors. It's no longer necessary to forsake good copy writing in order to please machine algorithms.
To make our rankings work for us, we must connect with people. This means our pages must talk their language and focus on solving their problems.
A fail in SEO is not missing out on the #1 ranking. A fail in SEO is a visitor clicking back. Do everything to avoid the back click.
Talking People's Language
People couldn't care less about you or your company.
People care about themselves.
Take a look at your pages. Do they talk about you, or do they talk about your audience? For a page to work well, it must connect with your audience, and the easiest way to do this is to talk about their wants and desires. If a page doesn't grab a visitors attention, they won't persevere, they will click back. What's a #1 ranking worth if visitors click back?
Here are a few guidelines on how to grab a visitors attention:
Title Tag Text Should Match Your First Headline Or if not matching the phrase exactly, it should be close to it in terms of topic. This reassures to the searcher they are in the right place.
A Search Is Invariably A Question Keyword terms often aren't phrased as questions, but they are all questions. When people type "buy DVD online", they're really saying "where can I buy a DVD online". Try to determine searcher intent. Decide what the visitors question is, repeat it, then answer it.
Create A Clear Call To Action - what is it you want the searcher to do next? Sign-up? Buy something? Click on Adsense? Make that action clear and obvious.
People Scan - Use big headings. Often. If you're vague about visitor intent, you can use a number of different headlines, or images, that grab people's attention in case your lead hook fails.
Use The Word "You" A Lot - it's all about them. Their problems, their sense of self, their language, their wants and needs. Relegate all the stuff about you, unless they specifically ask for it, or you're using testimonials.
Every Page On Your Site Is A Landing Page
Every page on your site has potential to pull in visitors.
Even if a page only receives one visit a month, it's still a landing page. Given that SEO strategy involves building a lot of content, it's easy to think of "junk" pages low down in your domain structure as unimportant.
However, if people land on those pages, then that's half the battle won. Those pages will be winners if they lead people to the pages you want them to see. Therefore, every page on your site should contain a clear call to action - leading visitors to the one thing you want people to do.
The Difference Between SEO Landing Pages & PPC Landing Pages
In PPC, the page must be tightly controlled, stay on message and lead a visitor to desired action. Failure to do so means blowing through money.
With SEO, we have more leeway. We can include a variety of text content on pages, as it increases the likelihood of catching long tail phrases. This casts a wider net, and at negligible cost. However, we still need to structure the page well enough so people a) won't click back and b) will take the desired action.
It's a good idea to structure a page so - rather obviously - the most important stuff comes first. Make the call to action, wherever it is placed, clear. Relegate superfluous text, which targets long tail variations, below the fold and/or into side links.
Most likely, a few pages on your domain will be doing the gruntwork. Most of your visitors will come in on your home page, or a small collection of well linked pages on your site. Pay careful attention to these pages. They should be as crafted as tightly as a PPC landing page in terms of language and call to action.
Test these pages. Are they converting? What is the abandonment rate? Whilst it can take a while to test and alter SEO pages, it's worth doing, as incremental gains on a few pages can lead to huge changes when rolled out over an entire site.
What happens if you make a heading bigger? Paragraphs shorter? Reposition page elements? Change the language and pitch? You can also test these variables using a short PPC campaign, of course, and then roll your findings into your SEO strategy. Once you've got a winning formula, you can roll it out to every page (landing) page you create.
You can learn 80% of what you need to know about SEO pretty quickly. You don't need the additional 20% in order to achieve, unless you're a masochist - otherwise known as an SEO professional :)
Most of the information you'll come across on the topic of SEO is written by, and for, a professional/enthusiast crowd. There is a massive echo chamber of opinion, constantly replenished, produced using publishing tools based on the notion of communicating something, often.
It can result in a lot of noise, and not much in the way of signal, especially when you're learning. If you're starting out, and want to focus on learning SEO, it's a good idea to tune the industry chatter out. It's more likely to confuse than help in the early stages.
2. Understand The Business Of Search
Search engines aren't your friend. At best, they tolerate SEO, but only when it aligns with company goals.
Chances are, your goals and the search engines goals will be aligned in many areas, but take their advice with a grain of salt. They don't care if your site succeeds or not, as there are plenty of other sites to index.
3. Define Goals
Before you undertake SEO, define your website goals. Do you want to make more money? Get more attention? Get more leads?
The purpose of SEO is to get your site seen in the search engines. Your aim is to attract the visitors that help you achieve your goals. A high ranking for a certain keyword won't necessarily help you achieve your goals unless your site matches visitor intent.
Think about the web from a visitors point of view. What do they want to find? What content will they engage with? What will they spend their money on?
There's little point ranking well if the content you provide doesn't make you money and/or gain audience. It's getting increasingly difficult to rank pages that aren't closely aligned with the searchers intent. So, the more you understand your audience, and the more content that matches their intent, the more you'll get out of SEO.
4. Get A Credible, Well Organized Course
Like SEOBook's course for example ;)
This isn't a sales pitch. There are a number of great courses out there. Choose one or two that suit your budget and objectives, and dive in. Chances are, you will need to shell out some money, but the cost of a decent, well structured course is nothing compared to the wasted effort spent heading in the wrong direction.
In a nutshell, SEO is about about publishing content people want to engage with, and linking. You need to create content that matches visitor intent, you need to be crawlable, and you need to have inbound links. Good SEO courses will have this message at their core.
It's natural to want the secret sauce - those secret dark techniques that result in number one rankings.
Whilst this was characteristic of SEO years ago, it's less true now. These days, SEO is more a holistic, strategic process aimed at connecting with people, as opposed to a dark, technical art aimed at tricking machines.
With every change you make, every new SEO strategy you adopt, test the results. Did the change help you achieve your website goals? Did you get more traffic? Better quality traffic? If your rankings improved, did this result in more/better traffic? It can be difficult to isolate variables at the best of times, but there is no chance of doing so if you try too many techniques all at once.
Make changes one step at a time. Test and measure repeat. Become at expert at measuring SEO against your goals.
Build up your own private knowledge base of SEO in your niche. Your niche may require different strategies to other niches, which is why well-meaning advice in forums and on blogs can hinder you. You'll also become a better judge of who is offering you good advice, and who is just repeating something they heard.
Like in any consulting field, SEO is rife with competition. There is only one way to win in such an environment, and that is to set yourself apart from the crowd.
Not in a bad way, of course :)
Here are some ideas on how to construct winning proposals.
Size Isn't Everything, But It Does Count
Large proposals take a long time to do. On the upside, large proposals can look impressive, simply by virtue of their size. Clients often like to see large proposals, but they don't tend to read them.
Proposals can be a tricky balance to get right. No matter how brilliant your solution, most clients will think twice about you if you present it on a single sheet, especially if they have no prior connection with you, or aren't meeting you face-to-face. A proposal of a certain size can appear more authoritative.
What is the ideal size?
One good way of presenting a proposal is to break it into three parts. The first part is a summary, including your client-specific solution and costs. Length can vary of course, but keep it succinct. No fat.
The second part is a case study or two. Again, keep them succinct. It's highly likely that the client won't actually read beyond this point.
Finally, add background information about you, your company, your history and the SEO business, all of which should be aimed at supporting the summary page and case studies. This final part can be generic and doesn't need to be re-written for each client. Clients may only flip through this section, but tend to find it reassuring that it exists.
Contrast this approach with a proposal that is threadbare. It may be irrational, but thin proposals can feel incomplete.
Give Something Of Value Away
In your summary pages, share real information.
Share the type of information that is valuable and the sort of you'd usually charge for providing. Clients are likely to assume that if the SEO is giving a few morsels of valuable information away in the proposal, then even more valuable information will be forthcoming if they sign you. Demonstrate your mastery. If all you do is provide generic information at this point, then your proposal is less likely to stand out.
Some potential clients, of course, may pick your brain and then implement your solutions themselves. Whilst this can happen, it's unlikely. The client already knows they want SEO by the time they're at the proposal stage, and if they could have done this work themselves, they probably would have done so already.
Secondly, you can outline solutions that involve time cost to achieve. Imply that this work must be undertaken by someone who knows what they are doing. Outline the risks of not doing this work properly. The more real work, and risk, there is invlolved in implementation, the less likely a client will be willing to go the do-it-yourself route.
As we all know, there is a lot of real work involved in SEO. Make sure the client is left in no doubt on that aspect.
It's Not About You
Focus on the clients needs.
Nothing loses a potential client faster than an SEO who talks entirely about themselves and their industry. Clients don't care. Clients care about their problems and their industry. In the summary pages, restate the clients problem and propose your specific solutions. Outline time frame and costs.
This exercise is useful for a number of reasons, the main one being that you, or the client, may not know what the actual problem is!
What a client says may not be what they mean. For example, the client may say they want SEO because they're heard that's a great way to get traffic quickly. They may not say it in these words, of course. They may say they want SEO, and they want it asap.
However, if the SEO has asked enough questions, aimed at identifying the problem, the SEO may unearth unstated problems. In this case, a client wants to increase traffic quickly. A solution to such a problem might be a combination of SEO and PCC. The PPC delivers immediate traffic while the SEO strategy might take some time.
Formulate questions aimed at identifying the clients actual, as opposed to stated, problem. They may be quite different. The result is that your solution will be a good fit, which will lead to less frustration, on both sides, further down the line.
You also might discover at this point that the clients expectations are ridiculous, and you'd be better off looking for a more reasonable client. For example, I was once pitching to a large advertising company. Their clients had been asking for SEO, so all they knew is they "needed some SEO".
Problem was, as I discovered in the meeting, was that they knew nothing about the need to alter sites or web publishing approach. They had told clients they could deliver SEO as a bolt-on-service, a wave of the magic wand that miraculously delivered rankings and free traffic for life to brochure sites.
I didn't go any further with them.
Offer Guarantees (Assurance)
Guarantees are a contentious issue in SEO circles.
Many SEOs - quite rightly - point out that no one can guarantee a ranking position, which is true, but such technical nuances may unsettle a client.
Clients tend to like assurance, and a guarantee can help provide this. So rather than dismissing guarantees, look at aspects you can guarantee.
A fiend of mine, in a different industry, offers a guarantee that goes along the lines of "if you don't feel satisfied after our strategy meetings with you, even after you sign the contract, you can walk away, no questions asked, and no charge.".
That sounds like something substantial, but actually he is just restating consumer law in the country where he lives. The law is that a service must be fit for the purpose the client intended, and if it isn't, the client has a case against the provider for non-suitability of service.
My friend realized he could never afford to contest such cases, and would likely lose, as the consumer law favored the buyer. All an aggrieved client really had to do to win such a case was say the service wasn't fit for their purposes.
He was dealing with firms with deep pockets, and legal action defending against such firms would come at high cost, even if he was in the right, so he decided to restate a consumer right the client actually already had, combined with an economic reality - his inability to engage in costly legal battles - into a form of a reassuring guarantee for sales purposes.
Case Studies Are Powerful
There is no sales tool quite so powerful as a good case study. A case study is a story. People love stories. A case study is also proof of your ability.
Outline the problem. Tell your audience what the problem looked like before you started - very useful if this problem is similar to the problem the prospective client also faces - what you did to solve the problem, and the positive results of your solution.
Stories are very powerful sales tools, and a case study is a great opportunity to tell a few.
Package It Up
Consider printing and binding your proposal, and delivering it.
We receive so many emails these days that they don't make us feel very special. It doesn't feel like there is much effort gone into them. A binded proposal, on the other hand, feels substantial.
In the interests of speed, you can still send an email copy, but try doing both and seeing if you land more deals.