The marketing strategy, based on high rankings against keyword terms, is about gaining a steady flow of new visitors. If a site ranks better than competing sites, this steady stream of new visitors will advantage the top sites to the disadvantage of those sites beneath it.
The selling point of SEO is a strong one. The client gets a constant flow of new visitors and enjoys competitive advantage, just so long as they maintain rank.
A close partner of SEO is PPC. Like SEO, PPC delivers a stream of new visitors, and if you bid well, and have relevant advertisements, then you enjoy a competitive advantage. Unlike PPC, SEO does not cost per click, or, to be more accurate, it should cost a lot less per click once the SEOs fees are taken into account, so SEO has enjoyed a stronger selling point. Also, the organic search results typically have a higher level of trust from search engine users.
91% prefer using natural search results when looking to buy a product or service online".[Source: Tamar Search Attitudes Report, Tamar, July 2010]
Rain On The Parade
Either by coincidence or design, Google’s algorithm shifts have made SEO less of a sure proposition.
If you rank well, the upside is still there, but because the result is less certain than it used to be, and the work more involved than ever, the risk, and costs in general, have increased. The more risky SEO becomes in terms of getting results, the more Adwords looks attractive, as at least results are assured, so long as spend is sufficient.
Adwords is a brilliant system. For Google. It’s also a brilliant system for those advertisers who can find a niche that doesn’t suffer high levels of competition. The trouble is competition levels are typically high.
Because competition is high, and Adwords is an auction model, bid prices must rise. As bid prices rise, only those companies that can achieve ROI at high costs per click will be left bidding. The higher their ROI, the higher the bid prices can conceivably go. Their competitors, if they are to keep up, will do likewise.
So, the PPC advertiser focused on customer acquisition as a means of growing the company will be passing more and more of their profits to Google in the form of higher and higher click prices. If a company wants to grow by customer acquisition, via the search channel, then they’ll face higher and higher costs. It can be difficult to maintain ROI via PCC over time, which is why SEO is appealing. It’s little wonder Google has their guns pointed at SEO.
A fundamental problem with Adwords, and SEO in general, is that basing marketing success around customer acquisition alone is a poor long term strategy.
More on that point soon….
White-Hat SEO Is Dead
It’s surprising a term such as “white hat SEO” was ever taken seriously.
Any attempt to game a search engine’s algorithm, as far as the search engine is concerned, is going to be frowned upon by the search engine. What is gaming if it’s not reverse engineering the search engines ranking criteria and looking to gain a higher rank than a site would otherwise merit? Acquiring links, writing keyword-focused articles, for the purpose of gaining a higher rank in a search engine is an attempt at rank manipulation. The only thing that varies is the degree.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that, as far as marketers are concerned.
The search marketing industry line has been that so long as you avoided “bad behaviour”, your site stood a high chance of ranking well. Ask people for links. Find keywords with traffic. Publish pages focused on those topics. There used to more certainty of outcome.
If the outcome is not assured, then so long as a site is crawlable, why would you need an SEO? You just need to publish and see where Google ranks you. Unless the SEO is manipulating rank, then where is the value proposition over and above simply publishing crawlable content? Really, SEO is a polite way of saying “gaming the system”.
Those who let themselves be defined by Google can now be seen scrambling to redefine themselves. “Inbound marketers” is one term being used a lot. There’s nothing wrong with this, of course, although you’d be hard pressed to call it Search Engine Optimization. It’s PR. It’s marketing. It’s content production. The side effect of such activity might be a high ranking in the search engines (wink, wink). It’s like Fight Club. The first rule of Fight Club is…...
A few years back, we predicted that the last SEOs standing would be blackhat, and that’s turned out to be true. The term SEO has been successfully co-opted and marginalized. You can still successfully game the system with disposable domains, by aggressively targeting keywords, and buying lot of links and/or building link networks, but there’s no way that’s compliant with Google’s definitions of acceptable use. It would be very difficult to sell that to a client without full disclosure. Even with full disclosure, I’m sure it’s a hard sell.
But I digress….
Optimization In The New Environment
The blackhats will continue on as usual. They never took direction from search engines, anyway.
Many SEOs are looking to blend a number of initiatives together to take the emphasis off search. Some call it inbound. In practice, it blends marketing, content production and PR. It's a lot less about algo hacking.
For it to work well, and to get great results in search, the SEO model needs to be turned on its head. It’s still about getting people to a site, but because the cost of getting people to a site has increased, every visitor must count. For this channel to maintain value, then more focus will go on what happens after the click.
If the offer is not right, and the path to that offer isn’t right, then it’s like having people turn up for a concert when the band hasn’t rehearsed. At the point the audience turns up, they must deliver what the audience wants, or the audience isn’t coming back. The bands popularity will quickly fade.
This didn’t really matter too much in the past when it was relatively cheap to position in the SERPs. If you received a lot of slightly off-topic traffic, big deal, it’s not like it cost anything. Or much. These days, because it’s growing ever more costly to position, we’re increasingly challenged by the “growth by acquisition” problem.
Consider optimizing in two areas, if you haven’t already.
1. Offer Optimization
We know that if searchers don’t find what they what, they click back. The click back presents two problems. One, you just wasted time and money getting that visitor to your site. Secondly, it’s likely that Google is measuring click-backs in order to help determine relevancy.
How do you know if your offer is relevant to users?
The time-tested way is to examine a couple of the 4ps. Product, price, position, and place. Place doesn’t matter so much, as we’re talking about the internet, although if you’ve got some local-centric product or service, then it’s a good idea to focus on it. Promotion is what SEOs do. They get people over the threshold.
However, two areas worth paying attention to are product and price. In order to optimize product, we need to ask some fundamental questions:
Does the customer want this product or service?
What needs does it satisfy? Is this obvious within a few seconds of viewing the page?
What features does it have to meet these needs? Are these explained?
Are there any features you've missed out? Have you explained all the features that meet the need?
Are you including costly features that the customer won't actually use?
How and where will the customer use it?
What does it look like? How will customers experience it?
What size(s), color(s) should it be?
What is it to be called?
How is it branded?
How is it differentiated versus your competitors?
What is the most it can cost to provide, and still be sold sufficiently profitably?
SEOs are only going to have so much control over these aspects, especially if they’re working for a client. However, it still pays to ask these questions, regardless. If the client can’t answer them, then you may be dealing with a client who has no strategic advantage over competitors. They are likely running a me-too site. Such sites are difficult to position from scratch.
Unless you're pretty aggressive, taking on me-too sites will make your life difficult in terms of SEO, so thinking about strategic advantage can be a good way to screen clients. If they have no underlying business advantage, ask yourself if you really want to be doing SEO for these people?
In terms of price:
What is the value of the product or service to the buyer?
Are there established price points for products or services in this area?
Is the customer price sensitive? Will a small decrease in price gain you extra market share? Or will a small increase be indiscernible, and so gain you extra profit margin?
What discounts should be offered to trade customers, or to other specific segments of your market?
How will your price compare with your competitors?
Again, even if you have little or no control over these aspects, then it still pays to ask the questions. You're looking for underlying business advantage that you can leverage.
Once we’ve optimized the offer, we then look at conversion.
2. Conversion Optimization
There’s the obvious conversion most search marketers know about. People arrive at a landing page. Some people buy what’s on offer, and some leave. So, total conversions/number of views x 100 equals the conversion rate.
However, when it comes to SEO, it’s not just about the conversion rate of a landing page. Unlike PPC, you don’t have precise control over the entry page. So, optimizing for conversion is about looking at every single page on which people enter your site, and optimizing each page as if it were an entry point.
What do you want people to do when they land on your page?
Have a desired action in mind for every page. It might be a sign-up. It might be to encourage a bookmark. It might be to buy something. It might be to tweet. Whatever it is, we need to make the terms of engagement, for the visitor, clear for each page - with a big, yellow highlight on the term “engagement”! Remember, Google are likely looking at bounce-back rates. So, there is a conversion rate for every single page on your site, and they’re likely all different.
Think about the shopping cart process. Is a buyer, particularly a mobile buyer, going to wade through multiple forms? Or could the sale be made in as few clicks as possible? Would integrating Paypal or Amazon payments lift your conversion rates? What’s your site speed like? The faster, the better, obviously. A lot of conversion is about streamlining things - from processes, to navigation to site speed.
At this point, a lot of people will be wondering how to measure and quantify all this. How to track track conversion funnels across a big site. It’s true, it’s difficult. It many cases, it’s pretty much impossible to get adequate sample sizes.
However, that’s not a good reason to avoid conversion optimization. You can measure it in broad terms, and get more incremental as time goes on. A change across pages, a change in paths, can lead to small changes on those pages and paths, even changes that are difficult to spot, but there is sufficient evidence that companies who employ conversion optimization can enjoy significant gains, especially if they haven't focused on these areas in the past.
While you could quantify every step of the way, and some companies certainly do, there’s probably a lot of easy wins that can be gained merely by following these two general concepts - optimizing the offer and then optimizing (streamlining) the pages and paths that lead to that offer. If something is obscure, make it obvious. If you want the visitor to do something, make sure the desired action is writ-large. If something is slow, make it faster.
Do it across every offer, page and path in your site and watch the results.
Once a training ground for novice SEOs, local search has evolved into a complex, unpredictable ecosystem dominated by Google. Corporations and mom-and-pops shops alike are fighting for their place under the Sun. It's everybody's job to make best out of local Internet marketing because its importance will continue to grow.
This guide is geared towards helping you deepen your understanding of the local search ecosystem, as well as local Internet marketing in general.
I hope that, after you finish reading this guide, you will be able to make sense of local Internet marketing, use it to grow your business or help your clients do the same.
Objectives, Goals & Measurements Are Crucial
Websites exist to accomplish objectives. Regardless of company size, business models and market, your website needs to bring you closer to accomplishing one or more business objectives. These could be:
Lowering sales resistance
Although not exciting, this is a crucial step in building a local Internet strategy. It will determine the way you set your goals, largely shape the functionality of your website, guide you in deciding what your budget should be and so on.
Getting Specific With Measurement
Objectives are too broad to work with. They exist on a higher level and are something company executives/leadership need to set.
This is why we need specific goals, KPIs and targets. Without getting into too many details, goals could be defined as specific strategies geared towards accomplishing an objective.
For example, if your objective is to “grow your law firm,” a good goal derived from that would be to “generate client inquiries”. Another one would be to use the website to get client referrals.
When you have all this defined, you need to set KPIs. They are simply metrics that help you understand how are you doing against your objectives. For this imaginary law firm, a good KPI would be the number of potential client leads. After you set targets for your KPIs, you have completed your measurement framework. To learn more about measurement models, you can read this post by Avinash Kaushik.
These will be the numbers that you or your client should care about on a day to day basis.
Lifetime Customer Value And Cost Of Customer Acquisition
Regardless of size, every local business needs to know what is their average lifetime customer value and the cost of customer acquisition.
You need to know these numbers so you can set your marketing budget and be aware if you are on the path of going out of business despite acquiring lots of customers.
Lifetime customer value (LTV) is revenue you expect from a single customer during the lifetime of your business. If you are having trouble calculating this number for your or client's business, use this neat calculator made by Harvard Business School.
Customer Acquisition Cost (CAC) is the amount of money you spent to acquire a single customer. The formula is simple. Divide the sum of total costs of sales, marketing, your overhead, with the number of customers you acquired in any given period.
LTV & CAC are the magic numbers.
You can use them to sell Internet marketing services, as well as to demonstrate the value of investing heavily in Internet marketing.
Understanding and using these metrics will put you and your clients ahead of most competitors.
Stop - It's Budget Time
Now when you have your business objectives, customer acquisition costs and other KPIs defined, and their targets set, it's time to talk budgets. Budgets will determine what kind of local Internet marketing campaign you can run and how far it can essentially go.
Most companies don't have a separate Internet marketing budget. It's usually just a part of their marketing budget which can be anywhere from 2% to 20% of sales depending on a lot of factors including, but not limited to:
What does this mean to you?
If you are selling services, you will need to have as much of this data as possible.
Planning And Executing Your Campaign
Now when you know what business objectives your local Internet marketing campaign has to accomplish, your targets, and your budget - you can start developing a campaign. It's easiest to think of this process if we break our campaign planning into small, but meaningful phases:
laying the groundwork,
building a website,
taking care of your data in the local search ecosystem,
creating a great website,
setting up a review management system,
expanding on non-organic search channels
and taking care of web analytics.
Laying The Groundwork
Local search is about data. It's about aggregation and distribution of data across different platforms and technologies. It's also about accuracy and consistency.
This is the reason why you need to start with a NAP audit.
NAP stands for name, address and phone number. It's the anchor business data and should remain accurate, consistent and up to date everywhere. In order to make it consistent, you first need to identify inaccurate data.
This is easier than it sounds.
You can use Yext.com or Getlisted.org to easily and quickly check your data accuracy and consistency in the local search eco system.
Start With Data Aggregators
Data aggregators or compilers are companies that build and maintain large databases of business data. In the US, the ones you should keep an eye on are Neustar/Localeze , Infogroup (former InfoUSA) and Axciom.
Why are data aggregators important?
They are upstream data providers. This means that they provide baseline and sometimes enhanced data to search engines (including Google), local and industry directories. If your data is wrong in one of their databases, it will be wrong all over the place.
Usually, your business data goes bad for one or more of these reasons:
You changed your phone number;
You moved to another location;
Used lots of tracking numbers
Made lots of IYP advertising deals where you wanted to target multiple towns/cities
If you or your client have a data inconsistency problem, the fix will start with the aggregators:
Before you embark on a data correction campaign, have in mind that data aggregators take their data seriously. You will need to have access to the phone number on the listing you are trying to claim and verify, an email on the domain of the site associated with the business, and sometimes even scans of official documents.
Remember - after you fix your data inaccuracies with the aggregators, it's still a smart idea to claim and verify listings in major IYPs as data moves slowly from upstream data providers to
numerous local search platforms your business is listed in.
Building Citations Is Important
Simply put, citations are mentions of your business's name, address and phone number (full citation) or name and phone or address (partial citation).
Just like links in “general” organic search, citations are used to determine the relative importance or prominence of your business listing. If Google notices an abundance of consistent citations, it makes them think that your business is legitimate and important and you get rewarded with higher search visibility.
The more citations your business has, the more important it will be in Google's eyes. Oh, there is also a little matter of citation quality as not all citations are created equal. There are also different types of citations besides full and partial.
Depending on the source, citations can come from:
IYPs like YellowPages.com;
local business directories like Maine.com;
industry websites like ThomasNet.com;
event websites like Events.com;
We could group citations by how structured they are. This means that a citation on YellowBook.com is structured, but a mention on your uncle's blog is not. Google prefers the first type. The bulk of your citation building will be covered by simply making sure that your data in major data aggregators is accurate and up-to-date. However, there's more to citations than that.
What Makes Citations Strong?
Conventional wisdom tells us that citation strength depends mostly on the algorithmic trust that Google has in the source of the your citation. For example, if you are a manufacturer of industrial coatings, a mention on ThomasNet.com would help you significantly more than a mention on a blog from some guy that has visited your facility once.
You also want your citations to be structured, relevant and to have a link to your website for maximum benefit.
How To Build Citations?
You already started by claiming and verifying your listings with major data aggregators. Since you are very serious about local search, you will make sure to claim and verify listings with major IYPs, too.
Industry Directories Are An Excellent Source Of Citations
Industry directories such as Avvo.com for lawyers or ThomasNet.com for manufacturers are not just an excelent source of citations, but are great for your organic search visibility in the Penguin Apocalipse.
Then pay attention to daily deal and event sites. Don't forget charity websites either. If you are one of those people that are obsessed with how everything about citations works, I recommend this (the one and only) book/guide about citations by Nyagoslav Zhekov.
Make Your Website Great
While it's possible to achieve some success using just Google Places and other platforms to market a local business, it's not possible to capture all the Web has to offer.
Your website is the only web property you will fully control. You have the freedom to track and measure anything you want, and the freedom to use your website to accomplish any business objective.
Marry Keyword And Market Research
There's nothing more tragic nor costly than targeting the wrong keywords and trying to appeal to demographics that don't need your services/products.
To run a successful local Internet marketing campaign, you cannot just rely on quantitative data (keywords), you need to conduct qualitative market research. This is very important as it will reduce your risks, as well as acquisition costs if done right.
Let's start with keyword research.
Getting local keyword data has always been a challenge. Google's recent decision to withhold organic keyword data hasn't made it any easier. However, Google itself has provided us with tools to get relatively reliable keyword data for any local search campaign.
Coupled with data from SEOBook Keyword Tool, Ubersuggest, and Bing's Keyword Tool, you will have plenty of data to work with.
Of course, you shouldn't forsake the market research of the equation.
You and/or your client can survey their customers to discover how exactly they describe your business, your services/products or your geographic area. For example, you'll learn if there are any geographical nuances that you should be aware of, such as:
DFW (Dallas/Fort Worth)
OBX (Outer Banks)
Use this data against keyword research tools. If you're running AdWords, you can get an accurate idea of search volumes. To do that, click the Campaign tab, followed by the Keywords tab, then Details and then Search Terms. This data can be downloaded. The video below shows how you can get accurate search volume data if running AdWords.
Keep in mind that the quality of data using this method depends on your use of keyword matching options. This practically means that if you want to get exact match search volumes for a certain number of keywords, you have to make sure to have those keywords set as exact match.
If you're not running AdWords, Google gives you a chance to get a good representation of your local search market using the Keyword Planning Tool as described in this post.
Content And Site Architecture
Largely, your content will depend on your business objectives, brand and the results of your keyword research. The time of local brochure type sites has long passed, at least for businesses that are serious about local Internet marketing.
Local websites are no different from corporate websites when it comes to technical aspects of SEO. Performance and crawlability are very important, as well as proper optimization of titles, headings, body text etc.
However, unlike corporate websites, local sites will have more benefit from:
“localization” of testimonials - it's not only important to get testimonials, but it's crucial to make sure that your visitors know where those testimonials came from.
“localization” of galleries, as well as “before and after” photos - similar to testimonials, you can leverage social proof the most if your website visitors can see how your services/products helped their neighbours.
location pages - pages about a specific city/town where you or your client have an office or service area. Before you go on a rampage creating hundreds of these pages, don't forget that they need to add value to the users, and not just be copy/pasted from Wikipedia. The way to add value is to make them completely unique and useful to your visitors. For example, location pages can show the specific directions to one of your offices or store-fronts. You don't have the “big brand luxury” of ranking local pages that have virtually all of their content behind a paid wall.
local blogging - use your blog to connect with local news organizations, charities and industry associations, as well as local bloggers. In addition, blog about your industry; this way, you will get the best of both worlds.
adopting structured data - using schema markup, you can increase click-through rates from the SERPs and get a few other SEO benefits. You can use the Schema Creator to save time.
adopting “mobile” - everyone knows that local search is increasingly mobile. Mobile websites are not a luxury but a necessity Luckily for you or your clients you don't have to invest a lot of resources in developing a mobile site. You can use tools such as dudamobile.com or bmobilized.com to create a fully functional mobile website in hours.
Link Building For Brick And Mortar Businesses
Links are still important. They are still a foundation of high organic search visibility. They still demand your resources.
But a lot has changed - since Penguin. Building links has become a delicate endeavor even for local websites. But there is a way to triumph, all you need to do is change how you view local link building.
See link building as marketing campaigns that have links as a by-product.
What does that mean? It means that your are promoting your business as if Google doesn't exist. Link and citation building overlap to a certain extent. They do so in a way that makes good links great citations, especially if they're structured.
Join Business Associations
BBB.org has an enormus amount of algorithmic trust. It's also an excellent citation. As a bonus - displaying the BBB badge prominently on your website you will likely receive a boost in conversion rates. Similar is true with your local chamber of commerce. Would you join those if Google was not around?
You probably would.
Join Industry Associations
Every industry has associations you or your client can join. You will get similar benefits to ones one can expect from BBB. However, being a member of trade associations will add an additional layer of value to your business in form of education or certifications.
Every business should give back. Sometimes you will get a link sometimes you will not but you will always benefit from this type of community involvement.
There are plenty of industry websites and and directories in almost every industry. Sometimes these websites can refer significant traffic to you but they almost always make for a good link and a solid citation.
Events are good for business. If you organize them you should make sure that it's reflected on the web. There are plenty of websites you can submit your event to. Google is not likely to start considering organizing offline events spam any time soon.
Find Local Directories
Every state has a few good ones. It' likely that your town has an online business directory you can join. These types of links can make good citations too. They are usually easy to acquire.
It pays to a friend of your “local blogosphere”. Try to include local bloggers in your community involvement, offer to contribute content or offer giveaways.
Truly Integrate Link Building Into Your Marketing Operations
Whenever possible, make sure your vendors link to you:
If you're offering discounts to any organization, make sure it's reflected on their website.
If you're attending an industry show or an event, give a testimonial and get a link.
If you get press, remind a report to link to your website.
In local search, customer reviews are bigger than life. Consumers trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations while majority (52%) says that positive online reviews make them more likely to choose a local business. Influence reviews have on your local business go well beyond social proof. Good reviews can boost your local search visibility, while bad reviews can destroy your business.
Reviews - The Big Picture
Every organization that strives to get better at what it does should use consumer reviews to improve its business operations. Customer reviews should be treated as one of the most valuable pieces of qualitative data. You should be surveying your customers daily and use their feedback to improve your services, products, customer service etc..
This holds true for corporations, as well as mom and pops shops. It's not complicated to ask your customers about specific aspects of their experience with your business and record their answers. It's not expensive, either.
The benefits of taking reviews seriously are enormous:
More search visibility;
Less potential for online reputation management issues;
What can you do to win at review management?
Since you need to get high rating positive reviews on different websites in a way that doesn't break any guidelines and keeps you out of jail, your best bet would be to use reviews as a customer service survey tools.
This means that you should seek customer feedback systematically in order to improve your or your client's business. You can ask your most ecstatic customers to share their experiences with your services/products on major local search platforms. Remember that you cannot provide any type of incentive for this behavior.
To save time, you can use a tool such as GetfiveStarts.com. This tool will do everything described above.
Think Beyond Organic Search
Internet marketers tend to be blindly focused on organic search. It's understandable - organic traffic is relatively cheap (in most markets) and seemingly unlimited.
It's also a mistake.
Organic search channel is getting increasingly more unstable. And with that, more expensive to acquire. Since you're aware of your customer acquisition cost and have a measurement framework, it's easy to know how affordable traffic from other sources is for your business.
Paid Search Traffic
Paid search advertising works, especially if you did a good job gearing your site for conversion. You shouldn't leave your PPC budget to Google, though. Bing/Yahoo! are a more affordable source of paid traffic with similar conversion rates.
If you're planning to run a local paid campaign, don't forget to:
use negative keywords and
be fanatical about acquisition cost.
You can also read this post by PPC Hero on what you should keep in mind when running local search advertising campaigns. You can also check out this post on Search Engine Land about managing and measuring local PPC campaigns.
Internet Yellow Pages (IYPs) Sites
Sites like YellowPages.com or SuperPages.com don't have the traffic Google or even Bing get, but they do have a significant amount of traffic. They also have traffic that's at the very end of the buying cycle. This is the reason one should be serious about IYPs.
What does that mean?
It means that you should have most of the big IYP listings claimed, verified and optimized to the best of your ability. So use every element of your listing to sell your products/services. In a lot of markets, it's wise to explore advertising opportunities, as well.
If you want to take an extra step, or simply lack the time, you can sign up with a service such as Yext.com and control the major IYP listings from a single dashboard.
Keep in mind, though, that Yext.com doesn't come for free, and you will have to pay a few hundreds dollars for a year of service.
Another avenue to take would be to outsource this process. In this scenario, you will most likely pay a one-time fee for verification and optimization of a predetermined number of listings. However, if you would like to change some of your business information somewhere down the road (such as name and phone number), you will have to go through this process from the beginning.
These days, social media means a lot of things to a lot of different people. Local businesses should use social media platforms to connect with customers that love them. Empowering these customers and giving them an incentive to recommend you to their family and friends.
You should automate as much of your social media efforts as possible. You can use tools like HooteSuite or SocialOomph.
Always try to add value in your interactions and never spam your follower base.
It's amazing how many businesses miss to build their presence on classified sites like Craigslist.org. Even though Craigslist audience the type of audience that is always on the lookout for a great deal, the buying intent is very strong.
If you'd like to get the most out of Craigslist and other classified sites, remember to make your ads count. You need:
Other sources of non-search traffic you should explore are local newspaper advertising, ads on big industry websites, local blogs and others.
Tracking And Web Analytics
If there's only one thing local businesses should care about, it's tracking. As we established in the beginning of this guide, everyone needs to know how much they can afford to spend in order to acquire a customer.
Proper tracking ensures that you don't make a mistake of spending too much on customer acquisition or spending anything on acquiring a wrong type of customer.
You can use a number of free or low cost web analytics solutions, including Clicky, KissMetrics, Woopra and Google Analytics.
If you're like most people and don't care if Google has access to your data, you can use Google Analytics. Take advantage of custom reporting and advanced segmentation.
In order to make the most out the traffic you get, and to get more of the traffic that is right for your business, you should create custom reports. They will enable you to know how you're doing against your targets.
To create a custom report, click the “Customization” tab in Analytics and then click the “New Custom Report” tab.
Pick your metrics first (I recommend a Unique Visitors and Conversion Rates and couple that with the geographic dimension)
Tracking Offline Conversions
This step is crucial for local businesses that want to measure performance. Fortunately, this is not as complicated as it sounds. Depending on the type of your campaign, you can use tracking phone numbers, web-only discount codes as well as campaign-specific URLs.
Avinash Kaushik has written extensively on best ways to track offline conversions. I highly recommend this post.
Tying It All Together
Focus on improving the quality of products you sell and/or services you provide. Remember that every Internet marketing campaign works better if you're able to provide a remarkable experience for your customers.
Build your brand and make your customers fall in love with your business. That would make every aspect of your marketing, especially Internet marketing, work better.
Vedran Tomic is a member of SEOBook and founder of Local Ants LLC, a local internet marketing agency.
If you service clients, it’s quite likely that you’ve faced some of the same pain points I have when trying to design a “product” out of your “service”. The words product and service in our industry tend to be interchangeable as our products are digital products.
Pricing for SEO, or any type of digital marketing service, has been written about quite a few times and there’s never been a real clear answer as to what the sweet spot is for pricing.
I actually do not believe there is a clear or semi-clear answer to pricing but what I do believe is that there is a clear path you can set for your company which makes many aspects of your business easier to automate and easier to manage. I refer to it here as “productizing” the business.
Where to Start
Some products can be priced more easily than others. If you are selling just your time (consulting) then you can do it by hour, obviously. I think the “future” of the SEO consultant has been here for awhile anyways. Many have already evolved into the broader areas of digital marketing like:
Broader Online Marketing Strategy and Execution
There are other areas like paid search, email marketing, and so on but the above covers a good chunk of what many of us having been doing on our own properties for awhile and client sites as well. As more and more of us service clients and perhaps start agencies it’s important to start from the beginning.
This will differ in analysis if you have a much larger agency, but here we are focusing on the more common freelancer and small agency. The steps I would recommend are as follows (this is in relation to pricing/products only, I’m assuming you’ve already identified your market, brand messaging, etc):
Determine a sustainable net profit. What do I want to earn as a baseline number?
Determine acceptable margins based on desired size of staff and potential cost of contractor work.
Determine the required gross revenue needed to achieve your net profit.
Why Do it This Way?
I do it this way because net margin is very important to me. I don’t want to become the Walmart of digital marketing where our margins become paper thin as volume goes up.
Here is an example of what I mean. Consider the following scenario:
I’m leaving my job as a dairy farmer here in rural Rhode Island and I want to make $1,500,000 per year.
So, you’re going to pay a little bit more assuming you are a single member LLC versus a traditional W-2 "employee" (again, keeping it very simple) because of the self-employment tax. Your CPA can go over the different options based on your business set up and such but the base calculations are the same as far as determining the core numbers go.
If you just look at just “earnings” you are missing the bigger picture. What you should want to achieve for short, mid, and long term viability are healthy margins. Here’s an example:
Jack’s SEO Shop had a net income of $1,000,000 dollars in 2011. Their overall sales were $5,000,000. In 2012 they had $1,500,000 in net income with $10,000,000 in sales.
Jill’s SEO Shop had net income of $500,000 dollars in 2011. Their overall sales were $2,000,000. In 2012 they had $1,500,000 in net income with $4,000,000 in sales.
In this case we look at a basic calculation of profit margin (net income/gross sales) and see that:
Jacks’ 2011 profit margin was 20%
Jack’s 2012 profit margin 15%
Jill’s 2011 profit margin 25%
Jill’s 2012 profit margin 38% (same net income as Jack)
Certainly 15% on 10 million isn’t something to necessarily sneeze at but I’d much rather be Jill in the current state of web marketing. A 38% profit margin does so much more for your overall viability as a company when you take into account being able to respond to competition, algorithmic changes, increased cost of quality labor, and so on.
In this example a conversation about simply “making” 1.5 million per year is quite misleading. Once we have these numbers figured out we can begin to “design” our “products and/or services” to somewhat fit a pricing model by backdooring it via preferred margins.
Setting Up Your Products
Many folks in the industry have had exposure and direct experience with a number of disciplines. At the very least, a lot of us know enough about “how” to execute a particular type of service without maybe the specific knowledge of how to go in and “push the buttons”.
There’s a tendency to do all types of service but a good way to start is to look at your core competencies and determine what makes the most sense to offer as a product. If you are just starting out you can start this from a blank slate, there’s not a big difference either way.
You will run across a couple different types of costs, direct and indirect. Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity you are a freelancer or just a solo operation. In terms of selling a service you will have 2 core types of cost:
Direct (utilization of outside contractors to accomplish a task)
Indirect (your time and any other overhead like office costs, insurance, tools, marketing costs)
There’s some debate as to whether you should include the estimated cost of your marketing as part of a per project cost to accurately determine your margins. I say why not, using it only makes it more accurate in terms of hard numbers.
Perhaps you whittled down your offerings to:
Technical SEO Audits
SEO Competitive Analysis Audits
We can assume that you might have the following tools in your toolbelt:
Screaming Frog SEO Spider (roughly 158$ per year if you are in the US)
Majestic SEO subscription (roughly $588 per year for the Silver plan)
Ahrefs subscription (roughly $948 per year for the Pro subscription)
Visual Website Optimizer subscription ($588 per year for the Small Business Plan)
Raven SEO Tools for competitive research, content marketing strategy and execution, SEO audit work ($1,188 per year)
Buzzstream for outreach and additional link prospecting ($1,188 per year)
There are more tools we could add but at a baseline level you would be able to produce quality products with these tools. Total cost is $4,658 per year or $389 (rounded up, per month).
The same formula (annual and monthly amounts) would be used for any other overhead you deem necessary but for the sake of simplicity let’s say you are spending $389 per month on “stuff”.
Knowledge + Tools = Win
Tools are only 1 part of a 2 part equation. Tools without knowledge are useless. There are a variety of costs one could associate with knowledge acquisition:
Building your own test sites
Going to conferences
Participating in online membership sites
The costs for knowledge acquisition can vary from person to person. You might be at a point where all three make sense or at a level where only 1 or 2 make sense. I would recommend looking at these options relative to your skill set and determining the cost, annually, of what makes sense for you. Take that number and just add it to the example cost I gave for tools I recommended earlier.
Breaking Out a Product List
The next step would be to look at each type of service you are offering and productize it. The first 2 areas are more likely to be your time only versus your time + outside contractor help. Conversion Optimization and Content Marketing will probably incur additional costs outside of your time for things like:
Programming for interactive content
When setting up products I use this:
GI is Gross Income
Tax is GI * (whatever your total tax percentage is)
NI is Net Income
GM is Gross Margin (E2/B2)
NM is Net Margin (G2/B2)
In that example I used $150 as my hourly rate and assumed 40 hours for an audit. Now I can play around with the direct cost and price to arrive at the margins I am looking for.
One thing to keep in mind with indirect cost is usually it’s something that can be divided amongst your current projects.
So I might revisit my pricing table from time to time to revamp the indirect cost based on my current client list. In this example I assume no clients are currently onboard and no income for my own properties so this audit eats up all the indirect cost against its margins.
You can design your products however it works for you but I usually try to find some type of baseline that works for me. In the areas I assumed earlier I would try to make sub-products out of each section:
Audit based on size and scope of site (total pages, ecommerce, dynamic, etc)
Conversion Rate Optimization based on total hours for ongoing work and a few different prices for the initial audit and feedback
Content Marketing based on the scale needed broken out into different asset types for easier pricing (videos, interactive content, infographics, whitepapers, and so on
SEO Competitive Analysis based on total hours needed for ongoing work and different prices based on the scope of the initial research (or just a one-off overview)
There are so many variables to each service that it is impossible to list them here but the general ideas remain the same. Start with a market and break them out into “things” that can be sold which cover “most” of your target market.
Manage Your Workloads More Efficiently
One of the reasons I mentioned direct cost as being your hourly rate is so you can set a baseline of how many hours you want to work per month to achieve the amount you'd like to earn. Combining what you want to earn with the hours you want to work will help you work out a minimum hourly rate which you can adjust up or down, along with desired revenue, to hit your pricing sweet spot.
Using your hourly rate in conjunction with designing specific products makes it pretty easy to assign hours required to a specific product. When you assign hours to each product you can do a few things that will help in managing your workload:
When a new project is being quoted you can quickly gauge whether, based on current projects in process, you have availability for the project
If you know ahead of time you are stretched out a bit and need to bring in outside help you can add those additional costs to your proposal and get outside help ready ahead of time
If you take on projects and you find your assumed hours are over or under the amount really necessary you can adjust that for future projects
Assigning your required hours to each product you sell will help you manage your workload better and give you more fluidity during peak times. Inevitably there will be periods of peaks and valleys in the demand for your service so if you are able to manage the peaks in a less stressful and more profitable manner the valleys might not be as deep for your financially.
Other Areas Where Productizing Helps
Custom quoting everything that comes through the door is a pain point for me.
Post-quoting you have things like contracts that have to get signed, billing that has to get set up, and task processes that have to get accomplished.
When you have specific products you are selling, it becomes much easier to automate:
Proposal templates that get sent out
New client onboarding into a CRM/PM system
Tasks that need to be completed and assigned
Setting up classes and jobs in Quickbooks to track financials per client or per job
It can be a pretty lengthy process but making your services into products really helps your business in a number of areas
"Content is king" is one of those “truthy” things some marketers preach. However, in most businesses the bottom line is king, attention is queen, and content can be used as a means to get both, but it depends.
The problem is that content is easy to produce. Machines can produce content. They can tirelessly churn out screeds of content every second. Even if they didn’t, billions of people on the internet are perfectly capable of adding to the monolithic content pile at similar rates.
Low barriers to content production and distribution mean the internet has turned a lot of content into near worthless commodity. Getting and maintaining attention is the tricky part, and once a business has that, then the benefits can flow through to the bottom line.
Some content is valuable, of course. Producing valuable content can earn attention. The content that gets the most attention is typically something for which an audience has a strong need, yet can’t easily get elsewhere, and is published in a place they're likely to see. Or someone they know is likely to see. An article on title tags will likely get buried. An article on the secret code to cracking Google's Hummingbird algorithms will likely crash your server.
Up until the point everyone else has worked out how to crack them, too, of course.
What Content Does The User Want?
Content can become King if the audience bestows favor upon it. Content producers need to figure out what content the audience wants. Perversely, Google have chosen to make this task even more difficult than it was before by withholding keyword data. Between Google’s supposed “privacy” drive, Hummingbird supposedly using semantic analysis, and Penguin/Panda supposedly using engagement metrics, page level and path level optimization are worth focusing upon going forward.
If you haven’t done one for a while, now is probably a good time to take stock and undertake a content audit.
You Have Valuable Historical Information
If you’ve got historical keyword data, archive it now. It will give you an advantage over those who follow you from this point on. Going forward, it will be much more expensive to acquire this data.
Run an audit on your existing content. What content works best? What type of content is it? Video? Text? What’s the content about? What keywords did people use to find it previously? Match content against your historical keyword data.
If keywords can no longer suggest content demand, then how do we know what the visitor wants in terms of content? We must seek to understand the audience at a deeper level. Take a more fuzzy approach.
Watch Activity Signals
Analytics can get pretty addictive and many tools let you watch what visitors do in real time. Monitor engagement levels on your pages. What is a user doing on that page? Are they reading? Contributing? Clicking back and forward looking for something else?
Ensure pages with high engagement are featured prominently in your information architecture. Relegate or fix low-engagement pages. Segment out your content so you know which is the most popular, in terms of landings, and link that information back to ranking reports. This way, you can approximate keywords and stay focused on the content users find most relevant and engaging. Segment out your audience, too. Different visitors respond to different things. Do you know which group favours what? What do older people go for? What do younger people go for? Here are a few ideas on how to segment users.
User behavior is getting increasingly complex. It takes multiple visits to purchase, from multiple channels/influences. Hence the addition of user segmentation allows us to focus on people. (For these exact reasons multi-channel funnels analysis and attribution modeling are so important!)
At the moment in web analytics solutions, people are defined by the first party cookie stored on their browser. Less than ideal, but 100x better then what we had previously. Over-time as we all expand to Universal Analytics perhaps we will have more options to track the same person, after explicitly asking for permission, across browsers, channels and devices
If Google won’t give you keywords, build your own keyword database. Think about ways you can encourage people to use your in-site search. Watch the content they search for and consume the most. Another way of looking at site search is to provide navigation links that emphasize different keywords terms. For example, you could place these high up on your page, with each offering a different option relating to related keyword terms. Take a note of which keyword terms visitors favour over others.
In the good old days, people dutifully used site navigation at the left, right, or top of a website. But, two websites have fundamentally altered how we navigate the web: Amazon, because the site is so big, sells so many things, and is so complicated that many of us go directly to the site search box on arrival. And Google, which has trained us to show up, type what we want, and hit the search button. Now when people show up at a website, many of them ignore our lovingly crafted navigational elements and jump to the site search box. The increased use of site search as a core navigation method makes it very important to understand the data that site search generates
Where does attention flow from? Social media? A mention is great, but if no attention flows over that link to your content, then it might be a misleading metric. Are people sharing your content? What topics and content gets shared the most?
Again, this comes back to understanding the audience, both what they’re talking about and what actions they take as a result. In “Digital Marketing Analytics: Making Sense Of Consumer Data”the authors recommend creating a “learning agenda”. Rather than just looking for mentions and volume of mentions, focus on specific brand or service attributes. Think about the specific questions you want answered by visitors as if they those visitors were sitting in front of you.
For example, how are consumers reacting to prices in your niche? What are their complaints? What do they wish would happen? Are people talking negatively about something? Are they talking positively about something? Who are the new competitors in this space?
Those are pretty rich signals. We can then link this back to content by addressing those issues within our content.