Do You Trust Me?

Aug 30th
posted in

Well, you might - if you knew what a trustworthy guy I am :)

But I know that’s nowhere good enough. I know I would need to earn it.

"Do I trust you?" is a question your web visitors are probably asking themselves right now.

Do they trust your title tag description and snippet enough to click the link? If they click the link, and land on your site, do the trust you enough to stay? Do they trust you enough to click deeper into your site? Do they trust you enough to hand over their e-mail address, or their credit card details?

If your site ranks well, but visitors don't trust it, is your search marketing campaign broken? Blowing an opportunity to form a trust relationship, which can be broken in less than a few seconds online, earns nothing but a click-back.

Webmasters need to establish trust quickly in order to get people to take the next step.

I'm Trustworthy!

All webmasters look to establish trust. We intuitively know that in order to convince someone else of something, they first need to trust us. No webmaster would want to project an air of untrustworthiness, although some mistakenly do, by overlooking a few simple steps.

If you have an existing site, or you are planning a new one, consider undertaking an audit of trust factors.

Your visitors will want to know....

1. Who Am I Dealing With?

This is especially important online, because there is little context to our interaction.

If we walk into a doctors office, we may see medical equipment, and nurses, and qualifications on the wall. It provides us with sufficient context to establish a level of trust that this person is likely a qualified doctor who knows what she is doing. The environment gives us a pretty good idea of who we are dealing with.

Not so online.

A web site, especially a website that is previously unknown to us, provides little in the way of context. Anonymity can lend an air of the mysterious, but it doesn't do much to help establish trust.

Let visitors know who they are dealing with. This doesn’t necessarily involve telling them your life story, or showing them a photo of you and the kids, although that can work well for personalized forms of marketing.

If you don’t already have them, consider adding staff photos and position details, detailed company description and history, and ensure address and contact details are prominently displayed. If you have a physical location, show it. Provide a map. The tech-savvy will likely want to see you on social networks, such as Facebook and Twitter, too.

This point is obvious, I know. Most webmasters do it. Audit your site to see if you provides visitors a clear idea of who they are dealing with.

2. Overcome Fear

There is fear in new engagements.

Not spine tingling fear. Just a low level fear of the new. Your visitors may fear your site is wasting their time. They may fear they might be ripped off. They may fear you won't deliver on the promise made explicit in your title tag and heading.

Look at ways to counter fear of the new.

The familiar carries less fear than the unfamiliar. Obviously, if you've already established a reputation, then you will already be familiar to your visitors, and therefore likely appear more trustworthy that someone a visitor doesn't know.

But search marketing is often focused on attracting the new visitor, so an established reputation may not be something we can rely on. This is why it can be good idea to leverage reputation from elsewhere.

For example, a commonly used tactic is the “As Seen In...” references used by sites such as ForSaleByOwner.com. Whilst also providing credibility by association, it is also a means of leveraging the trust in those brands with which the visitor is already familiar.

3. Will This Work For Me?

There’s more to relevance than matching a keyword. How will your solution work for your visitor? How do you know what is really relevant to them when all you have for a clue is a keyword phrase?

This is easier said than done. You need to get inside their head. You need to know their questions and objections and be able to answer them. If people feel you care about solving their problems, they are more likely to trust you.

But how?

Listening. Being clear about what problem you’re going to solve. Is it a real problem, or an imagined one? Look for opportunities to have your visitor define their problem in their own terms, using surveys, visitor tracking, market research (i.e. the language they use in forums, on blogs, Facebook, Twitter, et al)

The best sites seem to know exactly what you are thinking. They reflect you, back at you.

This can be underlined with your copy. Use “you” as opposed to “I”. Look how many times “you” has been used in this copy. This is a very effective selling technique, because your visitors really don’t care about you, they care about them.

4. Deliver

We've dealt with superficial areas, most of which can just as easily be abused by the manipulative and deceitful as used properly by the honest and trustworthy.

Trust also a process. People will judge you by your actions.

  • Tell them what you'll do.
  • Do it.
  • Tell them you've done it.

Does your website demonstrate this? One good way to show process is by using a case study. You outline the problem. Show how you planned to solve it. Then you show that you solved it. For extra points, show how happy people were with the outcome.

Offer free trials, where possible. Offer free downloads. Look for tangible ways to prove you do what you say you do.

Once a visitor has engaged your services, ensure your process is transparent, communicated and you do what you said you’d do.

5. What Will Everyone Else Think?

This is related to fear.

Will I be ridiculed for choosing your service? Made to feel stupid? There was a saying in the IT industry that “no one got fired for buying IBM”. It wasn’t that IBM was necessarily a better provider, it was that many people used them, so there was perceived strength in numbers of the tried and true.
People tend to go where other people are. Can you provide similar social validation?

Customer references are a great way to provide social validation. If the customers are from companies with which your visitor is already familiar, all the better. Faces. Lot’s of happy faces provide social validation.

Also include the number of people who use, or have used, your service.

In summary:

  • Have you let people know who they are dealing with?
  • Have you made reference to the familiar?
  • Have you addressed their needs in their own terms?
  • Have you included references and case studies?
  • Have you done what you’d said you’d do?

PS: Thanks to Seth Godin for the inspiration, off whos' post I’m riffing :)

The Social Media Ponzi Bubble Implodes

Aug 17th

The Next Google?

Facebook had their first tranche of insider lock ups expire yesterday & the stock ended off over 5%. Anyone who has ever invested for a significant period of time knows what the following graphic looks like: the collapse of a bubble.

What has caused such a poor performance for Facebook?

For starters, this couldn't have helped:

If they committed to spending big bucks with Facebook, how could they be assured a return on their investment?

Mr. Zuckerberg's response, according to one of the attendees: "That's a great question and we should probably have an answer to that, shouldn't we?"

Also harming Facebook...

The Real Next Google

Users do not want social in search, but even if they did Google can turn it on with a flick of a switch.

If you want to invest in "the next Google" at a valuation above $100 billion then the best way to do so is to buy Google.

I won't claim that Google's growth there has also passed through to online publishers. It many cases it has not, as Google has begun dominating their own results & pushing competitors below the fold.

SEO is Harder than Ever

Breaking into search with a new site is harder than ever. That is reflected in the static nature of the ecommerce market and just how many ill informed opinions there are about Google's various updates.

Unless you are already well trusted or are willing to hack websites, brute force SEO is getting much harder. Even getting a boatload of exposure like the following graph shows may have zero impact on Google rankings.

Other important trends are:

This does not mean that the opportunity of SEO has disappeared, rather that strategy becomes far more important as the market grows more challenging.

Public Relations

Social media is sold as being revolutionary, but its impact is generally more marginal. What matters is funding the baseline message that then gets syndicated across networks.

Due to the Filter Bubble (& format concision) most people won't question the depths of where they are wrong or dig deep into the background of a story, but rather syndicate the payola headline & biased research that PR professionals wanted them to see.

Out-of-context facts only need to sound good in 140 characters.

Reputation Management

Occasionally a company can be so idiotic that their Progressive(ly) incompetent behavior creates a categorical example of failing their customers. But that sort of failure only matters if it gets shared frequently on blogs & media sites off the social media platforms.

I haven't heard of anyone spending big money to try to have a Tweet rank lower, but people spend significantly trying to drive down bad search results.

Most Tweets are largely forgotten after a few days. A bad search result can create a progressive self-reinforcing problem that lives on as long as a brand does.

Social Media Platforms Begin Lockdown

It isn't just Facebook that has had problems. A number of the other social stocks have tanked.

The problem with social media is that it's performance hasn't been particularly stellar thusfar & they have only just begun to start screwing over people playing on their platforms. A big part of what caused Zynga to miss so badly on their last quarterly result was:

"Facebook made changes to their platform that favored new game discovery," he said. As a result, Zynga users "did not remain engaged and did not come back as often."

That change is in addition to gutting companies that specialized in optimizing Facebook pages & other companies which worked closely with Facebook. Further, Facebook's edgerank limits how many of your subscribers see your own message. They want you to pay once to build a following & then pay again to access the audience of followers you already built.

It is not just Facebook that is locking down their ecosystem. Twitter is headed down the same path: "I sure as hell wouldn’t build a business on Twitter, and I don’t think I’ll even build any nontrivial features on it anymore."

Many mobile start ups are also suffering from the same "saturated ecosystem" problem.

More Social Media Sites Launch

The economic recovery has been uneven & while the above platforms are imploding it hasn't stopped some of the founders from creating more platforms that will also compete for attention.

Why Social Media Isn't as Exciting As Claimed

All Users Are Not Created Equal

There is a difference between targeted search traffic & the stuff that people sell as "unlimited traffic for $6."

Social media can drive some conversions with coupons, but it can also make people (who would have converted anyway) expect coupons and discounts to purchase. Part of the problem with attributing anything to social media is so much of it can be attributed to activity bias. Anyone who follows you & similar business & so on is going to be more likely to convert in those areas. That they at some point in time were on a large social network doesn't mean that the social network added any value to the sequence or caused a conversion.

Even if you know exactly how influential people are it still wouldn't mean that you would be able to influence them (generally the more popular someone is the less receptive they are to pitches). And generally speaking traffic on your site is worth more than traffic from social media sites, as it is already more targeted. This is why traffic exchange systems suck...those atop the pyramid suck most the real value out of it while those lower in the system give away their visitors for scraps.

The #1 rule of online traffic is that relevancy is more important than volume.

False Sense of Closeness & Empathy (Cuts Both Ways)

Online petitions have a low cost (go nowhere & click a mouse), so even in large numbers they usually don't mean much. Whereas people who go through barriers to entries & jump over hurdles are far more committed to a goal.

With sites like Twitter there can be a wow factor in that there is a false sense of closeness, but in reality many celebrities pay others to tweet for them and sell tweets.

And every bit as fake as the "celebrity who really cares about you" there are also the enraged non-customers who try to leverage social media to level the playing field. But in most cases those were never going to be good relationships anyhow. For most people the best solution is to ignore them.

Hits Can Be Somewhat Unpredictable

In addition to the fickle here today, gone tomorrow nature of social media, the results are typically quite unpredictable. What is even more challenging is that you can optimize for relevancy or virality, but to try to guarantee one you usually have to sacrifice signifcantly on the other. That means that either you can get links & audience, or you can create some conversions, but it is quite hard to do both.

Further, popularity on such networks tends to fade quickly (unless you keep going back to the well). But at any point in time even newer networks can decide to change how they feature you & cut out whoever they want to, and the more often you keep going back to the same network the more beholden you become to it. Invariably all these social networks that start off as being somewhat open close down & control the ecosystem to boost monetization as growth slows.

Signal Creation vs Amplification

It is easy to point to success like Double Fine & Ouya as proof of the power of some of these networks, but some of that success is due to past success. Anyone who loved playing Psychonauts would love to invest in helping to create another release.

P&G can lay off some of their marketing department because their brands already have such a strong share of voice across all mediums.

And Louis CK can sell a million Dollars worth of his own downloads and a hundred thousand tickets fast because he is already well liked.

Mainstream media writers can offer tips on how to have a dead cat bounce on Twitter. That isn't so hard for the mainstream media to do given how much they dominate Twitter trends & the top shared stories on Facebook. However if you don't have an organic audience channel & a built in cumulative advantage then likely either your story will go nowhere, or even if you share something great what will end up happening is someone else with more distribution will rewrite your story and displace you as the lead source.

Social media can have value as a signal amplification tool, but if you do not already have a separate audience base (via email, RSS, or some other similar channels) then time spent on social would likely be better spent building up some of those other channels first. If you are not building off an organic audience channel then social media promotions will typically fall flat.

Dominate a Small Pond

I don't think I would have done well with SEO if I spent most of my time on the largest sites when I was new to the industry. What helped me along was joining the great crew on SearchGuild who taught me a lot in a short period of time. On smaller sites we can become a bigger fish in a small pond.

The fatal attraction with large sites is that the audience is large, but it is largely inaccessible. The largest sites are the most appealing to the least interesting people. Or, put another way, we are most alike where we are the most vulgar & the most unique where we are the most refined. This is why even when we are on the large sites we typically pay far more attention to what our friends say or do than the ads on those platforms that take thousands of impressions to generate a single click.

There is nothing wrong with spending some time on social sites for fun, but if it becomes the bulk of your publishing time & effort you are probably contributing far more than you get back. Especially when you consider that a lot of the deep insights & continuations of stories that once happened on blogs has fell by the wayside for quick temporary Tweets that disappear into nothingness. Many companies have mistakenly abandoned blogging & will have to experience the pain of starting over when some of these networks go away to appreciate the depth of the error.

Why Marketers Promote Social Media

Addiction to "the New"

If you promote things that are new that buys further coverage because you are seen as being innovative.

Twitter allowed spam & had few people employed fight it. Why? More "users" equates to a higher growth rate, which equates to a higher market valuation on subsiquent investment rounds. Twitter stated that in 2009, 11% of their tweets were spam.

During a social media ponzi bubble a whitepaper about Twitter of Facebook has sizzle because it allows you to leach off the story of that broader platform. And so long as those companies are raising money or trying to go public they want to show the maximum growth possible, so they are unlikely to crack down on forms of marketing manipulation that help growth their platform size and valuation. After they are public though & growth has slowed their approach toward controlling their platform will become much more adversarial.

Google has been public for nearly a decade now & if you speak in the language of SEO that is a term that has already been well defined through the dominant market player.

A Desire to be Seen as a Broader Service

If you are only seen as being about "SEO" then anytime Google forces drastic changes onto the market you are seen as being of limited value & thus at great risk of being washed away. This is even more risky if you are leveraging up and trying to raise funding. But if you claim to be more generalist it allows the frog to turn into a prince, as you have more "growth" opportunities in the near future.

Give it a Different Name

A lot of people try to slag off SEO for self-promotion & then say "don't do spam like the SEOs, instead do x."

And if you read off the list of items that are represented in the "x" invariably it reads like an SEO checklist.

So why do people try to redefine SEO? A number of reasons:

  • if they can create a new term that they "own" then anyone who shares it is building the value of their company
  • they can use polarizing marketing to capture attention & then differentiate themselves from what they actually do by claiming to be doing something else
  • some of the most egregious SEO spammers (eg: Jason Calacanis) never could have got away with running their projects as they were without first distancing themselves from the SEO market

The MLM Factor

In most MLM schemes step 1 is often "follow us" with step 2 being "spread our message" (or, feed us your young, get your friends to hate you, sell your soul, etc.)

This same factor is baked into social media services. Rather than going directly to money though it uses attention as an intermediary.

I am not saying that asking people to follow you is necessarily bad, but if you tell people that social media will change the world and that they should follow you for tips then of course that is a great way to get a bunch of desperate, ignorant & shameless newbs to syndicate your spin. If those people are re-defining old school SEO techniques using a new vernacular they are both the customer (buying into the re-marketing of old concepts) and the product (evangelist spreading false gospel & generating social proof of value).

The above message is never stated in the various "correlation analysis" charts that aim to prove the value of social media to SEO.

Given how easy it is to manipulate social media, even if they are not doing well it is easy for someone like Ellory Bennette to sell the image of success.

Noise vs Signal

There are loads of ways to create a core baseline social "signal" on the cheap. Newt Gingrich was called out for having some fake Twitter followers. There are boatloads of services & tools out there targeting all the social networks & free hosts: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, YouTube, Blogspot, Wordpress, Tumblr, StumbleUpon, Reddit, Digg, Pligg, and even Pinterest.

Given how Newt got "called out" for having fake followers, I wouldn't be surprised to see some marketers buying fake followers for other convenient targets to create a story to sell.

Selling a Bag of Smoke

While composing this, a spam email hit my inbox stating the following:

It's a fact: more people find out about your business on Facebook or Twitter than on search engines. Making these sites work maybe tricky for you, but it s business as usual for us. Let us improve your visibility and enhance your image. It s part of our complete Internet Marketing package. We ll be more than your friends --- we ll be your partners."

Social metrics are easily gamed. If you just want numbers not only are they sold by the social networks as ad units, but they can be had in bulk on sites like Fiverr.

Probably the best comment I have ever read about the "bag of smoke" concept was from Will Spencer:

SEO's like to sell social signals as ranking factors because social media marketing is an easy product to deliver while collecting good profit margins.

The fact that it doesn't work... doesn't seem to bother those people.

The "good guys" in the SEO business aren't the people who parrot Google's lies to a wider audience; the "good guys" in the SEO business are the guys who make their clients money.

Ignorance of Relevancy

Search engines may put out research about social networks like Twitter, but would Google count Twitter as a primary relevancy signal without owning Twitter? Color me skeptical.

Even more laughable than SEOs selling social media as the key to SEO is their open ignorance of the political nature of various relevancy signals.

  • Does Facebook sell likes? Yes. Why would Google want to subsidize a competing ad network? It isn't hard to notice Google's dislike for Facebook through their very public black PR campaigns.
  • The same sort of "why would I subsidize a competitor" issue is also in place with Twitter. They sell retweets & follows, so why would Google want to subsidize that?
  • Google counts YouTube ad views as organic views, but they own it & they only rolled out universal search *after* they acquired YouTube.

In summary...

CLARITY – Methodology for Picking the Right Agency

Jul 5th


(Image Source – my poorly built logo creator)

In my long career as an Online Marketer, I have had to often pick an agency to partner with or to carry out the different mixes of online marketing, such as SEO, Paid Search, Affiliate marketing, Email Marketing, Analytics, Social Media etc etc. Fact is, I am a rounded marketer who, although spends time on SEO the most, understands and works in most online fields. This means I am often the go to person for brands when they want to pick an agency to work with.

One such day, while in the middle of listening to an agency pitch, I felt quite a bit perplexed. The two pitches I heard were vastly different, and I wasn’t happy with either. The core problem I had with agency pitches was around the following observations:

  • They tend to be too boiler plate. Replace your business with any other and it may feel that it doesn’t matter.
  • They miss the main questions that a business may want the answers for.
  • They miss the opportunity to really sell their USP (Unique Selling Proposition)
  • If they are customised, they lose some of the generic elements necessary
  • They often leave too much room for questions, which can take the process either way.

The above is often true, even if you have issued a clear brief to your agency as to what you would expect to see, or what questions you would want answered. Any agency can follow a brief and answer it, but very few in my opinion see beyond the brief. And as an experienced agency recruiter for brands, I would like to see much more answered within the pitch than I am still seeing.

Many agencies don’t make it CLEAR what they aim to achieve, nor do they try to CLARIFY what the businesses need or want.


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomad9491/2399208582/

So I formulated the CLARITY model for briefs, which could be a frame work for answering pitches – help you answer your brief, while allowing you to demonstrate much more than the questions at hand. CLARITY, in my opinion, is an agency model that would score very highly but would also form the ethos of an agency environment that is really geared to helping their clients.

At the same time, the model has helped me pick the right agencies over and over again, and as such could be used by in house Digital marketers to form their own judgement sheets.

Although many SEObook readers are SEOs, many are in the agency environment themselves having to pitch, or in house and may have to from time to time help pick an agency. Many are like me, interested in SEO, but involved in much more online and offline marketing. As a result, I felt that sharing my model may help at least a few readers.

Warning: This is a rather long post, and could sound a bit preachy.

Defining CLARITY

The model is a mnemonic that covers the 7 elements below:

  1. Communication
  2. Learning and Development
  3. Access to Support
  4. Respectable and Responsive
  5. Intelligence both in people and processes
  6. Technology and innovation
  7. Yield Based Approach

Communication


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ventodigrecale/315084105/

When working with any outside agency, the type of communication is vital. The overall tone and approach as well as the individual team members all add to a business’s communication strategy. Some businesses like being overly formal, while others find that formal approaches are annoying and could hinder work. When picking the right agency for you, understanding how they communicate with clients and amongst themselves is extremely important to make sure that the working relationship is a healthy one.

For example, how your agency dresses and behaves in meetings is fairly important – it is a subliminal communication signal. As part of a pitch process I was involved in, one very talented SEO turned up, but was wearing ripped cuff jeans.

The Head of Ecommerce was at the meeting and was not impressed that for such a large pitch, the key person delivering was in scruffy jeans.

Result? They didn’t get the gig because the Head of Ecommerce was distracted by the fact that this person hadn’t bothered to dress appropriately.

My tips to people running a pitch:

  • Find out what the communication standards are for the business – do they favour email over phone, or vice versa?
  • How do the key stakeholders behave, dress or communicate? If they are formal in their communication, you may have to resort to matching their style, or loosen up if they are a team that prefer informal approaches.
  • Keep your presentations clear and concise, and ALWAYS identify your communication strategy, especially things like reporting regularity, formats, availability of account holders, and even down to how you would deal with a crisis situation that requires communication out of hours.
  • When presenting or pitching, make the objectives clear – many a pitch goes a bit haywire if the summary of the presentation or of the overall service isn’t clear.

Learning and Development


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/smemon/4984567320/

In the digital world, things change daily. And sometimes small changes make big difference – take the latest Penguin Algorithm update from Google. The change in the way Google is treating a majority of low quality links has caught many an agency unprepared to turn around quickly - and to my knowledge a few, if not a majority, have since drafted communication to their clients about the change and what it means for their SEO.

As part of a pitch process, identifying the potential for such large scale impacts on channels is important – but more important is to show that your team is up to the challenge. It is important to indicate that your team is an ever learning, ever developing beast, and it may be worth showing some examples where you have bucked the trend, or foresaw changes and indicate how you managed to save, support or shift your other clients strategies.

For example, knowledge of your discipline isn’t enough – you have to garner some knowledge about your potential clients industry and changes occurring within it, such as legislation.

In one pitch I was part of, we identified that the client was suffering from Voucher Code site abuse – where the voucher code sites would consistently rank for long tails of the business. Interestingly, the client hadn’t picked up on the fact that the reason that they were losing a lot of organic traffic wasn’t because they had had ranking losses – rankings were all fine. The reason they were losing their traffic was because this voucher code site was ranking immediately below the clients sites with a discount offering! Our strategy tackled that by investigating the legislation, both applied and subscribed to within the voucher code industry in the UK, and as a result managed to craft a communication brief, which would enable the client from stopping the abuse.

We won the contract, and the work we did was implemented. In the end we came to an agreement with the site in question and they stopped. Clients SEO traffic and conversions soared.

A good agency has an arsenal of resources at its disposal – indicating these as well as how you constantly add to the armoury is very important – after all, often agency relationships with clients can span years.

Access to Support


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pat-h3215/7500230750/

For any business, support is important. For any business with large budgets and complicated marketing campaigns, support is critical. Although most agencies work in a 9am to 5pm daily shift 5 days a week, many brands don’t see themselves that way. Their business online is churning round the clock, 7 days a week.

Which means a crisis, issue or even an opportunity may raise itself at the least possible convenient time. Although in a pitch these sort of issues aren’t expected by most businesses, I often find that if an agency covers it, they tend to get “bonus points” especially if they highlight likely scenarios and how they would respond to them out of hours. Although this point is a subset of communication, it is also important enough as a winning point to be isolated.

One SEO agency I hired for a holiday business proposed that during peak periods of the business refreshing site wide content, (an annual occurrence) they would send one of their content SEOs to sit with the content team to start optimising content as it gets written, and getting it to the publishing team within a very short period of time. Excellent foresight, and was one of the contributing factors to a contract that still runs 5 years on.

On the flip side, another agency pitching an email support platform worth $100,000 in fees a year to them insisted that they would prefer all the communication via email and had a very complicated tracking system that runs through to first line support, then second line and then finally to a specialist if the first two lines couldn’t solve a situation. This scared the client – sometimes you just can’t wait for three layers of conversations before actioning an urgent change - and as a result they weren’t short listed.

Respectable and Responsive


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mafleen/402792862/

It sounds obvious that you have to be both respectable and responsive to potential (and current!) clients. However what you as an agency see as being “respectable” may not be necessarily what they feel the definition of the word may be.

Respectable also implies respecting your clients intelligence. One of the key primary things I teach to agencies is that they should research their potential clients carefully. By making your pitch too simplistic may offend their intelligence and could cost you.

Take for example a UK SEO agency that was pitching to a business I was consulting a few years ago. The pitch was about SEO and how they would help the business grow its SEO. Before hand, they had a list of all the attendees, which included my name and the name of the head of Ecommerce (who would at least have a rudimentary knowledge of SEO).

Now if you are pitching to me, you SHOULD know that I know a bit about SEO, if only you bothered to Google my name :)

Yet, in the pitch, the starting slide was an animated slide, which was a web with spiders running up and down it – explaining to us what a search engine bot was and how it crawls the web(!) apart from the fact that the animation was poor (a gif of a spider running up and down the web), they actually assumed that a multi million pound business that they were pitching to:

  • Need to see what a web spider is in a picth presentation
  • Be spoken to as if they were total amateurs

In addition, as I was in the audience I found this actually quite insulting – the fact that they hired me to be in the room meant that they were serious about a decent SEO strategy. The Head of Ecommerce had the same horrified response as I had – did the agency think we were complete idiots?

Needless to say, they lost the pitch in the first round.

Intelligence


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mukumbura/4043364183/

To be perfectly frank, expect a serious pitch to be faced with some serious questions. At the same time, you would be expected to show real intelligence in the way you present and prepare for the meeting.

Displaying intelligence isn’t showing how many clients you have, or sprouting your company’s internal strap lines. It isn’t displaying how many results you have gotten for other clients.

Intelligence is more about:

  • How well you have both, understood and answered the clients brief
  • How well you have actually understood the clients business
  • Demonstrated a working knowledge of the clients business and THEN demonstrated how your activity would help
  • Demonstrated both creative and critical thinking, and looked into trying to future proof campaigns.
  • Indicate that the right people would be working on the right portions of the campaign. Make some of those people part of the brief

The worst case scenario would be that you have a really intelligent hands on SEO prepare your presentation, and then instead either get an account manager or sales person actually present it, without the SEO present to field any questions. Often the result is a disaster – yet this a very common approach. Believe it or not, this has happened to me at least three times. Neither the account manager nor the sales person actually knew any SEO (PPC in one PPC agency pitch). Which meant though their presentation was solid, they ability to field questions intelligently was fairly limited to “We can come back to you on that”.

Technology and Innovation


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stuckincustoms/3232133635/

In the online world, when data flows (fairly) freely, technology has to be at the forefront to deal with that data, to rationalise, monetise and sanitise it. An agency coming in to pitch within the digital sphere needs to show (to me at least):

  • Usage of relevant tools and technology existent in the market
  • Development plans for new tools / or custom tools
  • An understanding of how technology available can be suited to your campaign

Similarly, an agency that doesn’t innovate is low on my “like” list. I would be willing to spend more time with one that has interesting ideas about innovating, than one that actually just rehashes ideas that exist in the market and brand them as their own.

One agency years ago insisted that they have “market leading” guides on SEO for internal staff - from content strategies to link building. When quizzed what kind of information they would share with the businesses content team for better SEO, we received a document that was clearly well set up, researched and written for the right audience. Sounds great right? Only problem was this was the SEOmoz guide that they simply wrapped up and presented to us. Seeing that I was on one of the top contributors to SEOmoz at that point ( I think I still rank in the top 10) I recognised the document and called them up on it.

Needless to say, I don’t believe they ever repeated that faux pas - and went out and had their own content written.

Similar situations exist when companies tell me of a revolutionary tool A or amazing platform Y - and in most cases they tend to be industry standards that they use and nothing out of the ordinary. Which is fine for a basic pitch – but for a stellar pitch you need to stand out.

Yield Based Approach


Image Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/cambodia4kidsorg/3290848235/

Any campaign you build has to deliver a return. It doesn’t matter what the campaign is, it has to achieve its objectives. Which means if you have to pick an agency, the agency has to demonstrate the capability to not only come up with a plan or strategy that works for you it has to demonstrate that it understands what your businesses KPIs are.

This doesn’t simply mean an uplift in sales, traffic, but a clever demonstration of how the Return On Investment would be aimed at and achieved. If an agency cannot demonstrate a clear understanding of your businesses goals, and does not take the time to understand what the ROI of the specific channel being discussed should be, then they fail in using a yield based approach.

A few years back, an SEO agency pitched to me for a UK Holiday business. They were big on numbers by their own admission, and had a clear demonstration of how much it would cost us to rank for Keywords, and in fact had a clear chart identifying the top level “Category Killer” keywords.

They then went on to demonstrate how one of their current Holiday clients achieved those rankings with their help by spending the same figures that they demonstrated. The top level Keyword was “Holidays”.

2 problems with that.

First, if they already have a client in the space that they are working with to rank for those exact keywords, then I wonder to myself if the end result would become who spends the most to retain those positions. Which in itself is fine, I have no problem with agencies who have clients in the same niches, BUT, at what point does the competition with one client against the other show a negative return? If spend is the limiting factor, I wouldn’t want a competitor in that space to have the same resources as I do in terms of SEO talent, and then be simply beaten by their capability to throw more money at the campaign. Which wouldn’t be a worry, except if the agency was so willing to tell us exactly how much it cost their other client to rank, how can I trust them not to reveal the same data to our competitor?

The second problem with this scenario was they went straight for the proverbial jugular. They want to work on the money keywords (money for them!). A UK Holiday site may gain some sales on the back of ranking for “Holidays”, but I promise you that the conversion rate would be dreadful, and probably in the third decimal percentages.

If I had to pitch that gig, I would have started at the lower rung, moving upwards towards the chain to the category keyword “UK Holidays”. The spend to rank for most those would have equated to the total that the agency wanted as its fees, but the ROI for ranking for the RIGHT keywords would have been much, much higher. And an easier sell.

So the agency failed t understand the business, and as such failed to demonstrate that they could deliver the right ROI for them.

Conclusion…

If you have stuck with me so far, congrats (and thank you!). I am genuinely hoping that agencies that pitch, take something away from this post, and people who are paid to listen to pitches, do as well. I know that these principles have been successful for a large number of agencies when pitching, despite the fact that the agency didn’t realise that they were following a successful model.

The aim isn’t to follow my thoughts flat out, but learn form a person who has been involved I both sides of a pitch process, with a decent success rate in both, picking the right agency, and being picked for a campaign.

Rishi Lakhani is a freelance Online Marketing Consultant working with a number of brands and agencies in the UK, and spends a large portion of his free time on twitter. Follow him at: https://twitter.com/rishil

SEO Success Secret - Help Your Community, Grow Your Business

Jun 21st

I was out shopping last week for a pair of speakers for my music system.  There's a street in town that sells every type of audio accessory.  Everyone goes there to buy gadgets.

When I entered the first store and asked for the component I wanted, the clerk smiled and said it wasn't in stock.  Then, she did something that surprised me at the time (but made perfect sense later, when I thought about it).  She directed me to another store a block down the road where I could find it.

No, she didn't just point me in the right direction and say, "Go there!"

She stepped out from behind the counter, and walked along with me to the small, easy-to-miss shop.  She then introduced me to the girl at the front desk and explained what I was looking for.  A few seconds of friendly banter later, she smiled and waved goodbye as she went back to her store.  And her friend helped me out.  I returned home, happily carrying the part I needed.
On the ride back, I thought about what had just transpired.

How easy it would have been for the shopgirl to merely guide me to the other place, or even just state that she didn't have the part in stock and move on to another customer.  Yet she took the time, trouble and effort to guide me - to her competitor!

As a businessman, I wondered: "How does THAT make any sense?"

Well, it does.  When you see the big picture.  And think about adding value to the entire community of audio equipment sellers.

Every customer arriving at that street was a potential buyer looking for a specific type of item.  Every store on the street sold related items.  If one didn't stock a specific piece, someone else surely had it.  By helping a customer (me) find what he wanted, even if it meant guiding him away from her own store, the brilliant businesswoman (she) was actually growing the value and brand of the ENTIRE STREET, the whole community of musical equipment stores!

That's why everyone in our town goes there to buy audio stuff.  We know we'll find it - somewhere.  Which means we'll keep going back there every time we need more of the same.

And then, I had my big 'A-ha' moment! 

It guided how I practice SEO - and share my experience with fellow consultants and specialists in my field.

"You Help Your Competitors Too Much!"

After publishing some popular SEO articles like "How much does SEO cost" and "The Ultimate List of Reasons Why You Need SEO" at Search Engine Land (one of the Web's most popular SEO destinations), I had several comments saying how I share too much information with other consultants and agencies - who are my competition.

But as the lady at the little speaker shop taught me, you are not adding "too much value" for your competitors... only to your customers!

In the short term, it might appear as if you're giving away the farm.  But this isn't charity - it's an investment.  Into your brand.  Your reputation.  Your future success. 

By helping everyone around you, you are not only helping consolidate the position of your entire industry... you are growing your influence within your peer group.

SEO is a huge market.  You're not going to claim each and every piece of the large pie.  You will never be able to reach every potential client of yours and educate them about the power of SEO in their business.  But collectively, along with all of your peers in the SEO consulting field, you can make a big impact in an area that matters most in getting the right SEO clients for yourself.

Selling SEO Is Not Technical - It Is Emotional!

Too often we see SEO experts try to sell prospective clients on "results" - more page 1 rankings, higher traffic, better keywords.  Effective SEO is about all this... and more.  It is about going higher up the Maslowian hierarchy of needs, and touching clients on an emotional level.

You're not selling the #1 position on Google (which is unstable anyway).  You're selling "safety".  You offer a secure stream of prospects for their products and services.  You're helping future proof their business.  You're showing them a way to sustain their profits.  And by doing this, you're taking an express elevator up the pyramid of their emotional needs - while your competition is laboring up the stairs!

In their groundbreaking book, Al Ries and Jack Trout talk about marketing as war.  However, your competition (or enemy) is NOT other consultants within the SEO-industry - it's your clients.  Clients buy SEO services.  The battle you wage is for their mind.  And to secure your place firmly in their mind, you must first win the contest for their heart.  As negotiation experts Roger Fisher and William Ury say in "Getting To Yes":

It is not enough to know that they see things differently.  If you want to influence them, you also need to understand empathetically the power of their point of view, and to feel the emotional force with which they believe it.

You must get into the very heart of their business.  Understand what they do, and what they need to do.  Show your prospective clients how you will add the value they need and seek.  Paint a picture of the future you are helping them craft for themselves.  Convince them that your approach and actions will make them winners.

People do not always decide and act upon facts (logically).  They act upon how they interpret what you say, and upon how that makes them feel (emotionally). 

Atmosphere, chemistry and the energy between you and your client is as important as the SEO spec or offer itself.  When you circumvent this process by thrusting facts and figures into their faces, you are destroying trust even before it has had a chance to take root and flourish.  You are becoming a "Business Prevention Unit".

How Education Marketing Helps Find Your Perfect SEO Clients

Few business managers and executives know much about SEO.  It's up to you to show them the value an optimized website will add to their business.  Blindly pitching SEO services to a company with little experience or knowledge will be a futile effort that is wasteful of time and energy.

If you spend the larger part of your marketing day running after new clients, it will suck away your most precious asset - your time.  And unless you are able to attract the right kind of client, the one who understands the strategic importance of SEO and is able to see beyond the band-aid of a SEO checklist that will win a #1 ranking on Google, all your client-hunting efforts will be wasted.  Quick sales are quick fixes; they can back fire on you.

All of that changes when you start viewing your competitors as "colleagues" or even "partners".

Look, not every client is the right one for you.  By sharing your knowledge and getting fellow consultants to follow suit, you are effectively "crowd sourcing" the process which will educate your buyers about the value of SEO in their business.  In one master stroke, you'll save yourself time, effort and money spent on 'marketing' - and even shape the future of the SEO industry.

By educating your clients, you eliminate time wasters and skeptics among your new buyers.  This helps you retain clients for longer, and gain their trust and support for your strategic initiatives to help them dominate search results.  You'll get the budget you need to implement an effective SEO blueprint without having to slash your own rates to the bone.  And you'll do it sans quick fixes - lifting your clients to a higher level, by giving them a strategic focus.

Let's make no mistake about it.  Buying SEO is difficult.  It involves making smart decisions, insight, and an understanding about the complexity.  Once the decision makers in any company or business truly understand SEO, they will shun the snake oil sales pitches of tactical SEO shysters, and even resist the temptation to 'outsource' their SEO to an in house IT team.

That means we, as SEO consultants, must do our bit to educate our market about the nuances and intricacies of our work on their behalf.  When we do this successfully, collectively, we make the pie bigger - and tastier!  It will boost your chances of being able to tack on an extra zero to the bill you present clients after your work is done.  It will stop your ideal prospects from viewing SEO as a cost, and start viewing it as an investment.

Informed Prospects Are Better Buyers

Knowledge, insight and understanding about SEO in the market often leads to more sales - and bigger sales.  Of course, bigger deals need to be rooted in a sound mastery of the technical basics.  Marketing managers, CEOs or board members of large professional companies don't spend millions on things they are doubtful about.  They research well and look for quality providers. 

But they are also people, with their own deep seated needs and desires - for safety, for security, for comfort.  And they evaluate service providers on more than just merit. 

Talking bad about your competitors is bad karma.  Saying good things about your fellow professionals while simultaneously differentiating yourself through better positioning is a win-win deal.  It profiles you as a nice person, honest and trustworthy.  When it comes to long term business relationships and lifting clients to a higher plane of strategy driven SEO, this is the "extra 1%" that can boost you ahead of everyone else... even when you are slightly behind in other elements.

Going after the big deals means you must be well prepared.  And a critical part of that preparation involves educating the buyer.  Without a strong belief in your capabilities, and confidence in the value and revenue that this investment will create, you cannot expect them to invest heavily.  All players in this game (consultants like myself, and agencies) are contributing to making the pie bigger.  By helping everyone else, we are actually helping ourselves over the long run.

Earlier this year, my company and our biggest competitor jointly won a prize called "Gulltaggen - Beste Søkstrategi" (gold/winner) in Norway.  Sharing an award for the best Search Strategy for the year with our competitor may seem odd - but in fact, it is fantastic.  Together, we can help each other in many ways.  We are two companies, both professional and staffed with smart, skilled, great people, who now have a better foundation to convince the marketplace and the people engaged in the selection process that what we do is valuable.  In concert, we can feature more success stories, more customer case studies, and symbiotically we are investing in our collective success.

So, as busy SEO consultants, what can we do to make it easier for ourselves to find quality clients, with enough time (and less stress) to complete the job and focus on results and business growth for them?  How can we stop worrying about budget overruns, or defend ourselves against competitors who make unreasonably low bids (that are unsustainable in the longer term)?

The simple answer lies in educating our buyers.  By ensuring they make better, and more qualified, buying decisions.  With insight and understanding, correct decisions will naturally follow.  It's the age-old 'chicken and egg' situation.  The chicken (SEO knowledge provided to prospective customers) will deliver the egg (your big budget client, with extra zeroes added to your bill!)

Educate Your Way To Higher SEO Budgets

There's a danger to pricing your services too cheap.  Attracting new clients through rebates and extreme discounts can get you into trouble.  While you may win a few new accounts, the razor thin margins make them less valuable over time.  Selling your SEO services at the right level is important.

Understand this... your prospective buyer is looking at the industry as a whole, and trying to make sense of it.  SEO is a team effort.  Even one bad player on the team can ruin the match.  That's why, despite SEO being one of the most cost effective forms of marketing, we are still struggling to get a secure trust-based footing in our market's mind.

Here's the reason.  Most marketing and business executives haven't learned about SEO at school.  Sure, they've read the headlines, and realize they probably need SEO.  But they don't know about the dynamics and synergies. 

If they believe a rubber boat is all they need to sail the treacherous ocean of online business tactics, then that's what they'll look to buy.  But what happens when a big wave hits?  They get hurt. 
Or if they are convinced that rowing their way all along the shore is best for them, they'll miss the chance of shooting ahead of their competition by going straight across on a freighter. 

It's up to us to fix this lacuna, and show our clients what effective SEO really is.

If just closing a sale is the sole focus of an SEO consultant, even if it means charging rock-bottom prices, then you are constrained to using the least resources so that you can afford to get the job finished. 

But what happens when external environmental changes force a change in course?  Your hands are tied!

Your client feels unsafe, uncertain and scared.  You must then give them more attention, more time.  Your resources are being strained to breaking point.  When your clients can't see the differences between your SEO efforts and traditional marketing (CPC and CPM models), and you're forced to reluctantly admit that you cannot guarantee results, they must go to the board and explain to the CEO or executives that the money spent on SEO isn't delivering any return. 

Executives risk looking stupid, and so they become stressed.  They ask difficult questions.  Interfere in minor SEO details.  Force you into a defensive stance.  And they may even slash an already inadequate budget.

You're halfway across the ocean - and have run out of steam!  You won't reach your destination, and the goods remain undelivered.

How To Navigate Stormy SEO Seas

As the captain of your SEO ship, you have no room or time for unscheduled stops at every fjord or port.  You must stick to the course you've charted. 

Your offer was based on the estimate of a certain number of hours to achieve specific results.  If you waste these resources on a hesitant, unsure and skeptical client, you won't be able to deliver upon your promise.  Even if you make no promises, you'll still fall short of the one-sided expectations of your client - and your contract will not be renewed.

Even if you are well paid for your effort, serving the wrong clients can set you back several steps.  In the same time, you might be working with a better qualified client, raising the bar and adding zeroes to your bills, all the while partnering with well-informed prospects who have bought in to your strategic long-term plan that can add value to their business in more than one direction.

What if you could eliminate this wasteful effort of reaching, convincing and working for "wrong" clients? 

Sharing knowledge within the community (even with non-clients) will play a major role in creating such a better future for all SEO experts.  Nobody will hate you for helping them.  It's very likely that you'll get some new friends and followers along the way, and they may even call you later with a job offer, or to seek advice, or even to order your SEO services. 

That's when you'll know that you've won the battle for their minds - and hearts!

is Head Of SEO at MediaCom Norway with over 10 years of experience. He can be found on Google+, Twitter and his Norwegian SEO blog.

"Educating" the Market

May 24th

Is outing & writing polarizing drivel hate baiting or a service to the community?

It is all a matter of perspective, isn't it?

Some people would like to claim that it is one thing when they do it & something else when somebody else does it.

Unfortunately for those who want to have their cake & eat it too, consistency matters.

Even these guys know that.

If you brand those who fall outside the guidelines or get hit by updates as scammers to be avoided, then when your company gets caught working an angle & "scamming" (based on your own past sermons) your own judgement gets cast against yourself.

Is that fair?

In a word: yes.

Any belief system that is imposed onto others, but unacceptable when imposed upon the person who states it, isn't a belief system at all. It's duplicitous hackery at best - possibly much worse.

If your own company doesn't follow your own advice, then what does that say about your value systems? How many people have had their potential held back by listening to your misinformation & making the unfortunate mistake of trusting you? What does that sort of behavior do to the reputation of the industry? Now everyone else is suspect because you pitched bogus pablum at newbies.

To speak publicly about the pitfalls of doing "blackhat" techniques and then turn around and be caught red-handed for the same just gives credibility to the naysayers claiming our industry is filled with slime balls.

If you want to be a polarizing asshat, then don't be surprised when you eat your own cooking. To expect anything less is an open expression of ignorance of the field of inbound marketing marketing.

Whitespark's Local Citation Finder Review

May 23rd

Local citations are a critical part of a local SEO campaign. In looking at David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors you can see that a majority of the top 10 factors focus on business information structure and links. Half of the top ten factors relate to items which local citations can help with:

  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
  • Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  • Quality of Inbound Links to Website
  • Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number

Making local citation building a part of your local SEO campaign has more benefits than simply "building citations". Think of all the ways it can help with both local search (see factors above) and web search in general:

  • Many of the better citation sources are actually good links (for your domain in general), from diverse domains
  • A good amount of folks searching locally are likely to use apps for searches in addition to Google (you want to make sure you are listed in as many places as possible)
  • Ensuring that your business data is structured in a similar way across the web helps with client communication and Google Places
  • Building citations naturally leads to other business enhancing activities you can offer your clients; things like helping them get their clients to leave positive reviews and provide helpful feedback to the company post-sale
  • A potential client is likely to do research on your or your client's business before they buy. Being represented, in a good way, across the web helps the company's reputation and clout with potential customers

Citation building can be tedious on multiple fronts. Finding quality citations that you do not currently have, comparing citation profiles (yours and your competitor's), and actually building the citations as well as following up on them.

Whitespark takes care of the first two, searching and comparing, quite well and provides the framework for building citations efficiently. Whitespark can also rerun your search queries to check on whether your citation has been completed or not.

Whitespark Pricing

Whitespark has 5 plans:

  • Free
  • 20$ per month - 20 searches per day, 5 projects, unlimited citations per search, comparison tool, monitoring tool, CSV export options
  • 30$ per month - 30 searches per day, 10 projects, and all the features of the 20$ plan
  • 40$ per month - 40 searches per day, 20 projects, same features as above
  • 100$ per month, 100 searches per day, unlimited projects, same features as above

I like how the pricing scales with projects and searches. The pricing is a great value for anyone doing local SEO at scale and there are options to support any size agency.

Setting Up a Project

When you first get inside the tool you'll be able to set up a search straight away. You'll be able to select the following:

  • Country (Whitespark supports over 30)
  • State/Province
  • City or Town (they pull from a database, when you start typing you'll be able to select your desired location)
  • Keyphrase (just the keyword)
  • A drop down to select your preferred search phrase
  • Project Assignment or Creation

Here, I've started a query for insurance quotes in Providence, Rhode Island

When you select state and city/town it sets the location inside of Google. However, sometimes you do need to add the state or state abbreviation to the query to get the best results (in my experience).

You have options on the final keyphrase. The dropdown, seen below, gives you the option to broaden the area, rearrange the order of the query, or create a custom query:

Once you click on that, you can add whatever query you want. In this case, based on my experience, I just added "RI" to the end of the query to help with hyper-local targeting.

Next up is the project creation (or addition). I haven't created a project to store this query in, but it's super easy to do from this page. Click on "Manage Projects" and you'll be able to create a new one:

You are then brought to the create project page. You can name your project and add your phone number (I added one for an agency ranking organically for the term) to check current citations.

*Important* - The formatting of the number is important. You should use (401) 438-8345 or 401-438-8345 as 4014388345 results in far fewer results than properly formatted numbers.

You should add the business name (yours or your client's) as the project name for more accurate citation mapping.

Now just go back and add that query to that particular project on the Search by Keyphrase Page and you are good to go. The tool will email you when the results are ready.

Ideally, you'll want to have a seed list of terms to start out with so you can check your results versus your competitions across your most important local terms. So for an insurance agency I might go with:

  • Auto Insurance Providence RI
  • Life Insurance Providence RI
  • Insurance Agent in Providence Ri

In a perfect world you'd want to do some keyword research on these terms, look at keywords your competition might be ranking for, look at the site's current analytics and PPC data (if available), and so on in order to find the best keywords to target.

Search by Phone Number

While we are waiting for those results to come back, let's talk about the search by phone number option. This is a great way of checking your own citations or that of a competitor, or even a prospective client (especially if their citations are a mess or missing).

So I added a competitor, their phone number and saved it to my project. Very simple, very straightforward. We'll let that run and circle back to it once the report is ready.

Working with the Data

It took about 3 minutes for our first query to complete :)

You can go back to your project and view all the searches assigned to it:

From here you can edit the name and phone number of the project, view the searches (I have the 1 keyword phrase search and the competitor phone number search) assigned to the project, and just view the citation opportunities for the business without the competitor information.

There are 2 components to a keywords search report. The first piece displays the top ranking (in places/maps) sites for the query. It allows you to see the total citations for each site and offers links to view specific sources for each site as well as a comparison of those sites:

You can view sources for each competitor or compare them against each other for total citation counts.

The second piece of the report are the actual citation sources. The citation sources have the following data points:

  • Site (the citation url)
  • Link to the submission page, if available
  • OC - number of times the citation source appeared in the SERP during the searches (higher counts are good indicators of domain authority)
  • Discovery - date the citation source was discovered
  • Site Type - the type of site (still in beta), could be social, directory, news, etc
  • AC - Majestic SEO's AC Rank
  • DA - SeoMoz's Domain Authority
  • Got It (checkbox) - used for when a citation is acquired
  • Useless - used when a citation source is not applicable or undesired

All columns are sortable, making it easy to manipulate the data however you'd like to spot the best opportunities.

When you view the report that includes the competition, you can click the plus sign to expand the URL of the citation source for more specific data:

You'll be able to see a spread of co-occurring citations on specific pages. This can be useful in spotting category listing opportunities on specific citation sources (for example, being listed on YellowPages.Com/Providence-RI/Homeowners-Insurance as well as your own listing).

If you have associated the search with a project, then for citations that already were acquired before the search was run, you'll see them as highlighted in green with the "got it" check box already checked:

When you check off one as "useless" it simply gets grayed out.

A cool feature here is that already acquired (citations found by Whitespark and citations checked off by you) carry across other searches in your project. At any point you can come back to the search and re-run it (after a citation building campaign is always a good time) to see the status of your citation profile.

Also, when you export the list it exports (2 options) the following criteria:

(Choosing Export as CSV)

  • Root Citation URL
  • SERP Appearance Count
  • AC Rank
  • Domain Authority
  • Submission URL (if available)
  • Got It and Useless check marks

If you choose "Export CSV (w/URLs) you get all of the above plus the url's of the actual citations.

Choosing the first option makes it incredible easy to hand off to a citation builder.

Darren's Pro Tips

I always like to go directly to the creator of a tool to get their thoughts and tips. Darren was gracious enough to provide his insights for us (see below):

The local citation finder has two main citation search capabilities:

  1. Search by keyword and the tool will find all the top ranking businesses, then find their citations, and present them in a big list for you.
  2. Search by phone number, and the tool will find the list of citations for that particular business. Use this to find your own citations, or a specific competitor's citations.

We use the data in three ways:

  • Use it to find places where your competitors are listed, but you're not, and then get listed in those places.
  • Use it as a competitive analysis tool to identify where the competition is getting citations. This extends beyond basic business directories as the tool will reveal competitor's citations from local blogs, newspapers, event listings, job sites, business partners, etc. Looking at their strategies will give you ideas for creative citation building tactics you can employ in your practice.
  • Use it to find citation sources focused on the city, or the industry

I think the best way to look at the tool is as competitive analysis. You run a keyword search, see who's rankings, then get a big list of all the citations they collectively have. You can click the "compare citations for this business" link to see who's listed where.

A great little hidden feature of the tool is to do a phone number search for your business, plus a keyword search, then in the Your Search Results section, check off the two searches and choose "compare" from the dropdown at the top of the table. This will show you all the places where the competition is listed and you're not.

I also like to use the tool to find hyper-local citation opportunities. Here's how:

  1. Run a LOT of KW queries on the local citation finder in the city/niche and associate them all with a project. So, for a lawyer in chicago: chicago lawyer, lawyers, attorneys, dui lawyer, robbery lawyer, criminal lawyer, etc.
  2. Go under “Your Projects” and ALL the citation sources from all the queries will be listed under “view sources”. Ctrl-f in your browser for “law”, “legal”, “chicago”, “illinois”, etc.
  3. Any niche or location related terms. Copy all the domains that match the Ctrl-f searches into a spreadsheet. These are your hyper local citations.

We found that getting listed on sites that had the city or keyword in the domain provided a big boost in the local rankings. The more you can find, the better. You'll have to pick through the list to pull out actual directories, as many of the results will be businesses with the city or keyword in the domain, but it's worth it.

Thanks to Darren for the insight and for making Local SEO a bit easier :) Give Whitespark a try for your local SEO campaigns, I think you'll like it :)

Ha! Bullets Can't Hurt ME

May 8th

Negative SEO vs Sabotage

Just about any independent SEO worth their weight who publishes a number of websites has at least once hit a snag & been filtered or penalized. A person can say "not me" but how do they operate optimally in both the short term and long term if they never operate near limits or thresholds? But now that Google has begun actively penalizing sites for unnatural link profiles & tightening these thresholds, competitors have been giving one another shoves. Some of the most widely highlighted examples of crappy SEO were not attempts at SEO, but intentional competitive sabotage.

Why Many SEO Thought Leaders Remain Ignorant About SEO

Recently there have been numerous claims that negative SEO doesn't work made by people who should know better.

Many of them don't know any better though, due to a combination of being naive, trusting public relations messaging as being the truth, and a general lack of recent experience on smaller sites.

If someone only...

  • does consulting for large corporate clients
  • works in house at a big company
  • publishes a site about SEO and doesn't build & market sites in competitive areas

... it is easy to bleat on about how negative SEO isn't generally possible except for weak sites. Sites that (allegedly) deserve to be hit & must (obviously) lack quality to be so weak.

The Risk of Labeling "Spam"

As highlighted above, some of the most frequently & widely cited spam examples were not examples of spam, but examples of competitive sabotage. Thus anyone who recommends highlighting "spam" can potentially hose businesses that did nothing wrong.

Why Many SEO Consultants Pretend Success & Cheer Brand

Most sites focused on search typically write a syndication of Google fluff public relations and/or are doing cloaked sales pieces claiming that the death of spammers is great because they and their clients keep becoming more successful. Its all fake it until you make it / fake it until you too are driven out of the ecosystem & pretend things are always getting better even when signs point the other direction. This is done for a variety of reasons:

  • not wanting to lose access to Google
  • signaling you have experience working with big brands
  • wanting to signal that you are a safe play in the marketplace

Nobody ever got fired for choosing IBM.

Marketers Sell Whatever Google Promotes

It is far easier to get paid to do nothing than it is to get paid to fight against the waves of the ocean.

So long as Google keeps feeding macro-parasites trying to kill off smaller & independent players you can expect a lot of consultants to push themselves as being a good fit for the big brands that Google is explicitly designing their algorithms around promoting. However this trend won't last forever. Many of those bigger sites are becoming ad networks & at some point Google will see that competitive threat for what it is. They will then decide "the user" would like a bit more diversity in the results & to see more smaller sites rank.

Most Businesses Must be Small

Much like wealth, business distributions follow power laws & most businesses are small in scale. Sure "build brand" is a nice cure all, but building a strong brand requires scale. Not all businesses have the margins required to build brands. And businesses take time to grow.

Quality vs Scale

Scale & quality are not the same thing. Some businesses are intentionally kept small because their owners feel scale requires compromising on quality. Remember the Olive Garden review that went viral, or what the biggest banks did to the global economy a few years ago?

Most Big Companies Start Off Small

Since going public in 1987, Fastenal has been the fastest growing public company. The company was started by a guy who was sorting bolts and nuts in his basement. Now that they are worth $13 billion they are virtually untouchable, but if 30 years ago online was a big sales channel & someone negative SEOed him his business could have been toast.

Big businesses come from small businesses, as does most innovation. However, if the underlying market is absurdly unstable that retards investment in growth and innovation in companies like Fastenal:

The Fastenal story began in November 1967 when company founder Bob Kierlin opened the very first Fastenal store in his hometown of Winona, MN. The front counter was a salvaged door, about a dozen people attended the "grand opening" weekend, and the first month's sales totaled $157.

One of the biggest failures of modern societies is the self-serving myth of too big to fail.

If SEOs believe that size of a business is the primary legitimate proxy for quality, they should either hire thousands of employees or go get a job at Wal-Mart.

How Did You Choose Your Primary Search Engine?

Apr 15th

Consumer Search Insights.

When you search, how did you pick your primary search engine?

Most people use the search engine which they believe has the best relevancy, whatever their computer came with, or what a friend recommended.

Vote All (1190) 
it has superior relevancy 30.4% (+3.0 / -2.9)
the computer had a default selected 26.8% (+2.9 / -2.7)
a friend told me about it 23.1% (+2.9 / -2.7)
I saw it on a TV ad 10.3% (+2.3 / -1.9)
it came bundled with software 9.5% (+2.3 / -1.9)

Men are more inclined to believe in superior relevancy, whereas women are more likely to use the default or what a friend recommends

Vote Men (621)  Women (569) 
it has superior relevancy 35.4% (+4.2 / -3.9) 25.5% (+4.4 / -4.0)
the computer had a default selected 21.8% (+3.7 / -3.3) 31.5% (+4.6 / -4.3)
a friend told me about it 21.3% (+3.7 / -3.3) 24.8% (+4.5 / -4.0)
I saw it on a TV ad 11.9% (+3.1 / -2.5) 8.8% (+3.5 / -2.6)
it came bundled with software 9.7% (+2.9 / -2.3) 9.3% (+3.8 / -2.8)

The youngest age group is easiest to influence with advertising or buying the default placement. 25 to 34 is more concerned about relevancy & older people are more likely to have it bundled with software than younger people are.

Vote 18-24 year-olds (289)  25-34 year-olds (309)  35-44 year-olds (151)  45-54 year-olds (186)  55-64 year-olds (167)  65+ year-olds (88) 
it has superior relevancy 30.1% (+5.5 / -5.0) 36.9% (+5.9 / -5.5) 32.4% (+7.8 / -6.9) 28.2% (+7.0 / -6.1) 27.6% (+7.7 / -6.6) 28.0% (+10.8 / -8.7)
the computer had a default selected 29.0% (+5.5 / -4.9) 23.8% (+5.4 / -4.7) 27.6% (+7.6 / -6.5) 24.2% (+6.8 / -5.7) 26.0% (+7.6 / -6.4) 26.1% (+11.3 / -8.8)
a friend told me about it 20.7% (+5.0 / -4.3) 21.1% (+5.5 / -4.6) 23.8% (+7.7 / -6.3) 24.8% (+7.0 / -5.9) 25.0% (+7.4 / -6.2) 24.6% (+11.4 / -8.7)
I saw it on a TV ad 14.2% (+4.5 / -3.6) 10.8% (+4.2 / -3.1) 10.5% (+6.0 / -4.0) 12.8% (+5.7 / -4.1) 8.3% (+5.5 / -3.4) 3.1% (+10.7 / -2.5)
it came bundled with software 6.0% (+3.4 / -2.2) 7.5% (+3.9 / -2.6) 5.8% (+5.4 / -2.9) 10.0% (+5.3 / -3.6) 13.1% (+5.8 / -4.2) 18.2% (+10.6 / -7.3)

People out west tend to be more concerned with / driven by perceived relevancy. People in the midwest rely more on word of mouth. People in the south and north east are more likely to use the default.

Vote The US Midwest (236)  The US Northeast (317)  The US South (369)  The US West (268) 
it has superior relevancy 24.4% (+6.8 / -5.7) 29.8% (+5.9 / -5.3) 29.6% (+5.3 / -4.8) 37.2% (+6.6 / -6.2)
the computer had a default selected 27.3% (+6.7 / -5.8) 29.3% (+6.0 / -5.3) 29.8% (+5.5 / -5.0) 19.8% (+5.6 / -4.7)
a friend told me about it 25.6% (+6.9 / -5.9) 18.4% (+5.4 / -4.4) 22.6% (+5.3 / -4.5) 25.0% (+6.1 / -5.3)
I saw it on a TV ad 11.5% (+5.8 / -4.0) 12.6% (+4.6 / -3.5) 9.8% (+4.4 / -3.1) 8.2% (+4.6 / -3.0)
it came bundled with software 11.2% (+6.1 / -4.1) 9.9% (+4.5 / -3.2) 8.1% (+4.3 / -2.9) 9.7% (+5.1 / -3.5)

Here is data by population density.

Vote Urban areas (612)  Rural areas (107)  Suburban areas (445) 
it has superior relevancy 29.9% (+4.2 / -3.9) 27.8% (+9.9 / -8.1) 30.4% (+5.3 / -4.8)
the computer had a default selected 27.2% (+4.4 / -4.0) 27.7% (+9.5 / -7.9) 26.5% (+5.1 / -4.5)
a friend told me about it 23.1% (+4.3 / -3.8) 25.1% (+9.6 / -7.6) 23.2% (+4.8 / -4.2)
I saw it on a TV ad 10.4% (+3.8 / -2.9) 8.7% (+8.6 / -4.5) 10.5% (+4.6 / -3.3)
it came bundled with software 9.4% (+4.0 / -2.9) 10.6% (+8.8 / -5.1) 9.3% (+4.5 / -3.1)

There doesn't appear to be any obvious correlations with age.

Vote People earning $0-24K (133)  People earning $25-49K (658)  People earning $50-74K (315)  People earning $75-99K (68)  People earning $100-149K (18) 
it has superior relevancy 32.8% (+9.1 / -7.9) 29.8% (+4.2 / -3.9) 30.9% (+6.5 / -5.8) 27.7% (+11.9 / -9.4) 32.6% (+21.2 / -15.9)
the computer had a default selected 21.7% (+8.6 / -6.7) 29.0% (+4.3 / -4.0) 22.1% (+6.0 / -5.0) 30.7% (+12.4 / -10.1) 20.9% (+22.5 / -12.6)
a friend told me about it 23.5% (+9.0 / -7.1) 24.5% (+4.1 / -3.7) 20.1% (+6.0 / -4.9) 17.2% (+12.0 / -7.7) 13.9% (+23.4 / -9.7)
I saw it on a TV ad 11.8% (+7.3 / -4.7) 8.4% (+3.5 / -2.5) 15.6% (+6.0 / -4.5) 4.2% (+13.7 / -3.3) 25.6% (+22.1 / -14.1)
it came bundled with software 10.2% (+7.7 / -4.6) 8.3% (+3.3 / -2.4) 11.4% (+5.5 / -3.9) 20.2% (+12.2 / -8.4) 7.0% (+27.3 / -5.9)

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Nov 29th

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Big Commerce SEO

Nov 17th

Over 5 years ago I had a quick chat with the folks from Interspire about their websites, including their shopping cart at the time & offered a few tips to fix some of the obvious issues I saw. This was over a half-decade ago & under a different product name & entirely informal.

Anyhow...as they later ramped up on marketing, they at some point claimed that I somehow "certified" their software, even as the version changed, their product name changed, their mode of sales changed (from primarily pushing a downloadable software product to an SAAS model), many SEO fundamentals changed over the years, and so on.

Becoming Sales Copy

In spite of all the above changes, I have not viewed/used/reviewed the product in any way in years. Yet I am still listed as having optimized it.

Not only am I a feature on the sales letter, but I am a highlighted one AND the link is nofollowed :D

After I mentioned the above to them & asked them to take my name down, I recommended them to another friend who is an SEO, but they did not work with him. I think they sort of brushed off the issue by suggesting that they endorse us & send a lot of customers our way, however one can easily see that our logo isn't on pages like this one bigcommerce.com/products-we-like.php & even if it were, that wouldn't make it correct to say I somehow certified their software.

Test Everything

Does that faux certification impact their sales? I guess so, since the "feature" is highlighted, they are great marketers who do conversion testing, and I get chat messages out of the blue like: "hello aaron. just wanted to ask if you really helped out with developing bigcommerce shopping cart?"

Just today I got "Aaron, Love your work and insights! BigCommerce touts your expertise in creating their SEO features, so I bring this question to you. Using domaintools.com all the IP addresses for any BigCommerce cart show Sydney as the location associated with the IP. Doesn't this create a search results handicap for Big Commerce users who are located outside AUS and market primarily in North America? Matt Cutts says IP location makes a difference - youtube.com/watch?v=keIzr3eWK8I What is the best solution for using BigCommerce for shops based in North America? Are carts like Volusion, which show Simi Valley CA USA IP locations better than Big Commerce's Sydney AUS IP location for North America? Kind regards, -Marc "

Asking a Second Time

I forgot about the issue for a while & then about a half-year ago I asked a second time if they would please take my name off their sales material, based on a customer complaint:

Hi Eddie
this is the second time I have asked you to remove my name from your sales material for promoting the SEO viability of your product. It mis-represents a 5 minute off the record chat into something more than that, and what is worse the product has changed greatly since then. At this point the faux recommendation is harming my reputation.

"Hey Aaron,
I was just recommending the SEOBook community to the owner of -------.com and he mentioned to me that Interspire was still using your name as someone who endorses their product. He was surprised, with the horrible SEO issues inherent in the cart. I told him you probably didn't even realize they were still using your name. Anyway, just thought you might like to know. The cart is ok with loads of customizations (maybe most others are no better), but it sucks out of the box...lots of issues with URLs, duplication, etc., etc.

Hope all is well,
David"

please do not require me to ask a third time to fix this issue
cheers
aaron

They said it would be sorted in a couple days.

Days Turn Into Months

Months later a friend sent me one of their marketing emails...there I was yet again.

Are they 100% certain that I have not worked for either of those companies? Did they bother to ask me before their promotional email went out? Of course not. I am just a blurb of sales text, inserted as needed to increase sales.

I asked in private for them to stop this multiple times. I am not the type of guy to "sick lawyers on them" or whatever, so I am hoping that this blog post will help the issue go away.

Respect is important. If you use someone's name in your marketing then you should stop using it if they ask you to.

Disclaimers

I know their company is growing like a weed & growth can be hard to manage. For all I know their software is relatively good in terms of pricing and feature set when compared against other ecommerce software, however that is only speculation as I haven't done any sort of formal SEO audit.

I wouldn't hesitate to recommend their stuff as an option for an ecommerce platform, but when their marketing says that I have done any sort of formal in-depth SEO work on it, that is both inaccurate and done without my consent or permission.

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