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)

BOTW Cyber Monday Coupon

Nov 29th

Only a few hours left in the discount, but its a great deal. :)

From their email:

50% Off all BOTW Products on Cyber Monday!

Don't miss out on our biggest discount of the year!

Promo Code: STUFFED50
Submit Today

Get Listed at Half the Price!

A directory listing in Best of the Web is a vote of confidence for your business website. Only today can you receive all the benefits of a BOTW listing at half the regular cost. This offer is only good for Cyber Monday, so submit now to take advantage of these savings!
Submit to the Web Directory
Submit to the UK Directory
Submit to the Blog Directory 

A 50% coupon gives you the lifetime listing for only $149, which is what the annually recurring cost normally is...so by using the coupon today you pay for a 1-year listing & it stays permanent.

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.

The Ultimate Guide to Using Bing's Webmaster Tools

Aug 1st

Bing's Webmaster Tools recently got a nice refresh and update. There is a lot you can do inside of the tools so we figured you'd want to know all about it :)

Also, we've included some free advertising coupons at the end of this guide to help get you started.

Account Dashboard

Bing's webmaster tools are fairly easy to use and the interface is quite clean. On the main account dashboard page you can select whatever site you want, in your account, and see quick stats on:

  • Clicks
  • Impressions
  • Pages Indexed
  • Pages Crawled

The percentages account for the net gain or loss from the week. For more specific site data, and more historical numbers, you would want to get into the site's dashboard which we will cover in the next section.

This initial account dashboard shows all the sites you have in your account and the associated metrics. The data is from a test site I created awhile back and kind of forgot about until they updated the tools over at Bing.

From this page you can:

  • Add sites
  • Remove Sites
  • Export data
  • Click on a site to get to its dashboard
  • See any account specific messages from Bing

A snapshot of all your sites in one place is a good way to immediately spot any recent issues with ranking, indexing, or crawling on your sites.

Once you are ready to move on into a specific site, just click on the site name under the heading "Site". When you click the site's name, you'll be brought to the site's dashboard.

Site Dashboard

Each site you have in Bing's webmaster tools has its own dashboard (not to be confused with the account dashboard). Once you get into a site's dashboard you see the data we talked about above at the top of the dashboard and then a 30 glimpse of the following metrics for the selected site:

  • Traffic summary
  • Index summary
  • Crawl summary (and a separate chart for crawl errors)

Here is what my test site's dashboard looks like:



For established sites with steady traffic (if for tracking ongoing campaigns) these 30 day snapshots are good ways for you to get a read on recent site activity and/or issues with traffic, crawling, indexing.

These types of reports can also be very helpful to watch when you are doing site re-structuring or complete site overhauls (changing CMS, url structure, and so on).

Each section has its own place within your site's webmaster tool profile. You can get more information on traffic, indexing, and crawling just by clicking the approriate link and we'll discuss each of these sections below.

Traffic Summary

Inside the Traffic Summary tab you have 2 options:

  • Traffic Summary - 6 month history of traffic and search query performance
  • Page Summary - Same as Traffic Summary except the data is broken out by page with the option to click through to the page's search query report

On this page the second chart listed is one that you can slide back and forth to shorten or lengthen the history of the data you are looking at.

The lines are color coded to show overall impressions versus clicks. Bing does present the data in a clean and easy to understand way inside of their webmaster tool reports.

The second chart on the traffic summary page shows search query performance. You'll see keywords you received traffic for as well as ones that you gained impressions (but no clicks) for:

This report is in conjunction with the first report of overall traffic/impressions from a time view. If you shorten the report this report will adjust as well.

You'll see the following data points in this report (all sortable and exportable):

  • Keyword
  • Impressions
  • Clicks
  • CTR
  • The Average Position your listing was in when the impression was gained
  • Average Position of your listing when a click was earned

This is a good way to evaluate how you might be able to increase your CTR. By showing you impressions versus clicks (the average positions) you can guesstimate on which keywords could use a bit of freshening up on the title tag and meta description front.

Page Traffic Report

The Page Traffic report shows the same charts as the Traffic Summary page with the exception of the bottom chart, which shows page level metrics. Here's a snippet from yesterday:

You can click whatever page you want and get the following keyword summary, similar to the initial chart on the Traffic Summary page but on a per page level on whatever time frame you selected (the above was a day so when you click through, that date carries into this report):

You can do the same thing here with average impression and average click position (and CTR) to evaluate pages which can use a refresh on title tags and meta descriptions for possible CTR upswings.

Another tip here would be to export the queries and see if there is potential to build out the page's category further with content targeted to specific queries.

So if a query is "chocolate truffles" and you are seeing some data for "white chocolate truffles" you might want to consider building out this section to include content specifically for those related but separate queries (if you haven't already)

Index Summary

The index summary page shows the index rate of your selected site, in Bing, over (roughly) the last 6 months.

The index summary chart is similar to the other charts in Bing's webmaster tools, which all the interactive sliding parameters that let you expand the report out over 6 months or drill down into a really tight, specific time frame.

Index Explorer

Bing's index explorer is a helpful tool that can alert you to HTTP code problems or confirm correct implementation of things like 301 directs.

The interface is easy to use:

With the index explorer you can check the following HTTP status codes that Bing has discovered over your selected time period (all time, last week, last month) and over your selected crawl range (all time, last week, last 2 weeks, last 3 weeks):

  • All HTTP codes
  • HTTP codes 200-299
  • HTTP codes 300
  • HTTP code 301
  • HTTP code 302
  • HTTP codes 400-499
  • HTTP codes 500-599
  • All other HTTP codes

You can also search for pages where the Bing bot has identified malware as being present as well as choose to show pages that you've excluded in your robots.txt file:

Below the options listed above, are where the pages that meet your filter requirements will show. It breaks the site down into categories and pages. When you hover over a page you'll see the following details:

If you click on a page you can also see a couple of additional data points:

  • Document size
  • Inbound links to the page
  • Block cache and block URL options for that particular page

Using this in conjunction with internal link checking tools like Xenu Link Sleuth (win) or Integrity (mac) can really help you get a good peek into the potential on-page technical issues of your site.

A couple of tools that give you valuable data about your on-page optimization are our Website Health Check tool (web based) and Screaming Frog's SEO Spider (mac/win).

I hope Bing adds some export functionality here, as they do in other areas of their webmaster tools, but the filtering options are solid enough to drill down into key issues for now.

Submit URLs

So this is a pretty straightforward option. Bing gives you the option to submit URLs (can be ones that are or are not in their index now) that you would like to request a recrawl or an initial crawl on.

The URL allowance is pretty limited so it's best to save these requests for more important pages on your site (their crawl section has a spot for sitemaps).

Block URLs

You can also select pages, directories, or an entire site to block from indexing and/or Bing's cache:

One area for improvement here, I think, is to be able to input or upload individual pages. As of now, you can only input 1 page per click, or select a directory to block (site.com/directory/), or block the entire site.

They do offer export functionality which is helpful when doing site audits, but a way to mass upload or input URLs would be nice (though you can tackle some of this with their URL normalization feature that will cover below).

Inbound Links

Bing will also show you the links they know about (in their index) that point to specific pages on your site.

Much like the charts above, you are presented with a historical chart which you can adjust with the slider below it (just like the Rank and Traffic stats shown prior).

Below those charts Bing will show you the pages on your site which have external inlinks and how many links they know of per page.

Once you click on a page, you'll see the linking URLs and the corresponding anchor text:

You can export page-specific links as well as the overall breakdown of pages with links and how many links those pages have. The export functions offer a nice way to get a high-level view of the overall link depth of your site.

While it's still a recommend practice to invest in a paid link research tool, supplementing your paid research by getting free link data from search engines is a no-brainer :)

Deep Links

Bing's Deep links are basically the same as Google Sitelinks. If you have been blessed by Bing, you'll see them in the Deep Links section of your site.

Bing's official statement on Deep Links is:

These Deep Links are assigned to websites which are seen by Bing to be “authoritative” on the topic which they target. The best way to influence whether you are chosen to have Deep Links displayed for your website is to create unique, compelling content that pleases searchers. Sites receiving this feature do an excellent job of delivering what visitors want, and keep visitors coming back time and again.

URL Normalization

If your URLs encounter parameter issues that can lead to duplicate content (e-commerce sites, CMS functionality, etc) then you might want to take a look at Bing's URL normalization feature.

Google offers a similar tool called Parameter Handling (great write up on this from Vanessa Fox)

This is a section where you need to be really careful as to not unintentionally boot out relevant URLs and content from the site.

Combining this with use of the canonical tag (which Bing uses as a hint) is your best bet to ensure that there are as few duplicate content, link juice splitting issues on your site (with Bing).

Again, make sure you or your programmer(s) know what you or they are doing so you do not do more harm than good.

With Bing, you basically just add whatever parameter you want to ignore so make sure that parameter or parameters do not crossover to other areas of your site that you would rather not have Bing ignore:

You can export all your inputted parameters as well.

Crawl Summary

The Crawl Summary section shows similar charts to other category charts inside Bing's Webmaster Tools on the landing page (6 month charting with interactive timeframe filtering).

You can check total number of pages crawled as well as pages with crawl errors off the landing page for this category (no exporting unfortunately) and dig into specific sections like:

  • Crawl Settings
  • Crawl Details
  • Sitemaps

Crawl Settings

Bing let's you set up custom crawl rates on a per site basis:

You may have situations where a custom crawl rate might make sense:

  • You want the bot to visit off-peak hours rather than when customers are visiting
  • You might be running special promotions or season promotions at specific times on an e-commerce site and want to limit bandwidth usage to visitors rather than Bing's bot
  • You might be doing a live stream or interview of some sort, and are expecting large amounts of traffic
  • Maybe you are doing some heavy content promotion across the web and social media and you want to avoid having any site load issues

You can use the timeframes given to line up with your server's location to make sure you are hitting the hours correctly (base time on the chart is GMT time).

You can also allow for crawling of AJAX crawlable URLs if so you choose. They recently rolled this out and their help section is weak on this topic so it's unclear on exactly how they'll handle it (outside of #!) but it's an option nonetheless.

Crawl Details

Bing's Crawl Details page gives you an updated overview of what's covered in the Crawl Summary. This feature doesn't require you to do any filtering to find issues, you can simply see if any of your pages have notable HTTP information, might be infected with Malware, and which ones are excluded by robots.txt.

If you have any pages pop up, just click on the corresponding link to the left and a list of exportable pages will pop up.

Another helpful, exportable report for site auditing purposes.

Sitemaps (XML, Atom, RSS)

This is where you'd submit your sitemap to Bing. For XML sitemaps, double check your submission with the Sitemaps.Org protocol

For a site that's going to be a fairly static site (like this one) I'd pay more attention to proper site architecture rather than relying on a sitemap, I might even skip the sitemap unless I was using Wordpress where you could just have it auto-generate and update with new posts and such.

You can add, remove, and resubmit site maps as well as see the last date crawled, last date submitted, and URLs submitted.

Bing Webmaster Resources

Bing's recent update to their Webmaster Tools added a good amount of value to their reporting. Here are some additional resources to help you get acquainted to Bing.

Free Microsoft Advertising Coupon

While you are over at Bing, signing up for Webmaster Tools, feel free to use these Microsoft AdCenter coupons for your advertising account :)

How To Make Awesome Landing Pages for Local PPC

Jul 12th

Am I the only one who gets a warm, fuzzy feeling from a well-crafted, super-targeted landing page? Right, I didn't think so :)

Landing pages tend to suck more often than they inspire.

Local landing pages are even worse in many cases; with hapless advertisers throwing Google AdWords coupons away by simply sending you to their home page for every single ad :(

Why Local PPC Matters

I firmly believe that local PPC (and SEO) is still an untapped resource for those looking to make client work a part of their business portfolio.

It's quite hard enough for a local business owner, specifically one who has little experience in web marketing, to be expected to get a 75$ AdWords coupon and magically turn that into a quality PPC campaign that lasts.

Google tried that mass approach to marketing and failed. The result of that failure has brought about things like:

Google recognizes the market for helping small businesses reach customers on the web as do Groupon, Restaurant.Com, and all their clones.

Local PPC, especially when used in conjunction with local SEO, can really make significant differences at the local business level and many of those businesses need help to do it.

Landing Page Quality Matters

I really dislike hitting a generic landing page after I make a really specific query. It's kind of like going to Disney and asking where Space Mountain is, only to be told that "we have lots of attractions sir, here is a map of the entire resort".

Generally speaking, I believe most people like being led around by the nose. People typically want things yesterday so it's your job to give them exactly what they are looking for; after all, is that the point of search?

I think anyone who's worked with PPC campaigns can attest to the fact that targeted landing pages are quite high on the importance totem pole. Tailoring your landing pages to your target market matters a lot.

Solid Local PPC Landing Pages

Designing a good landing page for local queries is not hard at all. There are many different layouts you can use and you should test as many as is practicable, relative to your traffic levels, to understand which ones will work for you.

One area where local PPC is ripe for local business owners is insurance. I'm going to share a good example of a local lander below but if you are doing local PPC, before you get to the landing page design, utilize Google's address links like this advertiser did (green arrow mine)

The above can help you stand out from the crowd where you are one the few local advertisers and it helps create that local experience right from the start.

So I came across a couple of examples of good ways to tie in local content with your landing page design.

Here's one from the insurance industry targeting terms around "wisconsin car insurance" followed by some tips on why I feel it's a good example (green arrows are mine):


Why is this a good example?

  • Use of the local modifier in key spots (doesn't appear stuffed)
  • The Wisconsin Badger college football team's main color is red (not sure if that factored in but it helps to tie stuff like that in)
  • Icon of the state in the main header
  • Good use of badges to display authority in the insurance niche
  • Lack of other navigation options, focused on the offer and the benefits of using their service
  • I might have bolded "we only do business in Wisconsin" though

In the above example you see a problem with many insurance agents locally though, quite a few do not have the ability to offer live quotes so they have to use a contact form. In a web of instant gratification this is something that can be an issue.

Any good example is in another area where local customization works well, travel!:

This was for a search around the keyword "boston hotels". The imagery is great here. A couple things I would have done would have been to eliminate the left navigation and make the main content area more bullet-point oriented rather than a set of paragraphs.

Overall, they have a set up here where they can do the same approach across a bunch of different locations.

Not So Solid Local PPC Landing Pages

While searching for the above examples I also found some that were examples of being really untargeted approaches to local keywords. Here's an example of a brand just throwing out a really basic lander:

Absolutely no local customization at all. Good landing page basics though (clear CTA, clear benefits). Perhaps bigger brands don't need to, or fail to see the value in, making landing pages local-specific on local queries.

Liberty has no excuse not to either. They have local offices in every state, they could easily make their pages more local but they, for whatever reason, choose not to.

In keeping with the same theme, I found this landing page for "boston hotels" to be underwhelming at best:

It's a list of information in an otherwise coldly designed table. Perhaps this works well enough, just give people the info I suppose.

As a user, especially if I'm traveling, I'd like to see pictures, brief info about the area, why choose here over the hundreds of other providers, etc.

Quality Landing Page Foundations

Typically, I would recommend starting out with a base layout and designing the page according to your market and then layering on local criteria. If you look at examples of good landing pages the layouts themselves don't change all that much.

Some local elements you can include are:

  • Local imagery
  • Locations and hours
  • Integrated map with directions
  • Proximity to local landmarks (good for things like hotels, bed and breakfasts, etc)
  • Local phone number and contact information
  • Membership in any local group (rotary club logo, Better Business Bureau, chamber of commerce logo, logos of local charities or events you are involved with, etc)

As discussed before, design should also speak to your audience (more tech savvy or less tech savvy, age, gender, market, and so on).

Consider these 2 examples of landing pages for online invoicing. This is a market where design should be fresh, modern, "web X.X" if you will (like market leader Freshbooks).

Here's a win for good landing page design:

I really like the free sign up bar at the bottom. Your call to action is always available if you have to scroll or not. Good use of headlines, solid list of benefits, and super-easy sign up.

Compare that to something like Quickbooks which requires quite a bit of info to get started:

Then you have another example of, usually, what not to do. Too many navigation options here, run on paragraphs, lack of bullet points, outdated design for this market in my opinion:

So the layouts don't change drastically and I'd recommend coming up with a layout first, a base design, and base copy. Then you can easily turn any landing page into a targeted, local page pretty quickly with small design and copy tweaks.

Landing Page Resources

A few places I have bookmarked for landing page references are:

A couple of tools to help you with cranking out solid landing pages would be:

  • Unbounce (hosted)
  • Premise (Wordpress plugin from Copyblogger which comes with a ton of custom graphics and built in copywriting advice + tips)

It's not that difficult to create awesome, locally targeted landing pages. It's a really simple process:

  • Check out the resources linked to above and make a swipe file of nicely designed landing pages (design and layout)
  • Incorporate the base layout and copy layout (headings, graphics, CTA's, etc) into a wireframe
  • Minimize distractions (focus on getting the clicker to complete the desired task)
  • Get the UI and graphics in order
  • Think about all the ways you can sprinkle in a local feel to the page, like we talked about above (colors, locations, hours, local connections, imagery, and so on)
  • Add in the local components to your base page

What are some of your best practices when putting together landing pages for local PPC campaigns or landing page tips in general?

Niche Hunting

Jun 30th
posted in

If you're the type of SEO who builds and markets a variety of sites, there's something very satisfying about spotting an area that few people occupy, and making it your own!

There are various software programs available that help you find niches, often based on finding keyword terms with high traffic and low, or no, PPC bids. These tools can be very useful for keyword list building, however finding great niches requires a little more analysis to establish viability.

Let's take a look at a few ideas on how to weed out the most lucrative possibilities.

1. Choose An Area Of Interest

It's not necessary to pick an area you're interested in, but there are strong reasons to do so.

If you're passionate about something, you're more likely to go the extra mile, especially when the going gets tough. Any endevour involves a period of struggle where it's difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and often the only thing that keeps us going is sheer force of will. If you're interested in what you're doing, it's easier to ride out this period.

This doesn't mean you must pick an area you already know. You could pick an entirely new area that you'd like to learn more about. Make a list of areas that appeal to you. Think about business transactions and purchases you have been involved with, and see if any hold appeal in terms of interest, as if your aim is take make money, it's important that any niche you choose has a commercial imperative.

2. Solve A Problem

Make a list of areas you're interested in, or would be interested in learning about. Next to each topic or keyword term, outline a burning problem that needs to be solved associated with that topic. For example, the term "fishing" may be associated with the problem "how can I compare fishing vacations easily?".

It is more likely you will find a lucrative niche if you attempt to solve a real problem for people. Be careful to avoid imagined problems. For example, we might find that there are no rasberry-flavored beer available, which may well be an untapped niche, but a lack of raspberry-flavored beer isn't a real problem for people.

Then again...

3. How Much Do you Know?

Once you have a list of topics you're interested in, along with associated problems that need solving, ask yourself how much you know about each area.

Obviously, you'll save time if you already know a lot about an area, and it's unlikely you'll be able to exploit a niche if you don't know much about it. It's never a great position to be in where the customers know a lot more about a product or service than you do!

4. What Type Of Operation Suits You?

You'll likely make your money in one of five ways: advertising (i.e. adsense), affiliate, selling services, selling information, or selling product.

You may combine them, too, of course. Each has pros and cons, in terms of what suits your circumstances. Do you have room to hold stock? Do you enjoy direct contact with customers? Do you want full control, or are you happy to hand over fulfillment to a third-party?

Does the niche have appropriate suppliers that match the type of operation your wish to run?

5. Does The Niche Have Online Potential?

It may sound obvious, but not everything is suited for selling over the internet. Gas, for example.

There may be a good reason the niche you've spotted hasn't been tapped. Perhaps it just doesn't work on the internet. This is why it's important to test market before you dive in deep. Try setting up PPC campaigns that lead to a site designed to collect, say, e-mail sign-ups. This will help you gauge the level of interest, to a degree, without the cost of gearing up the back end.

Cut the losers early, run with the winners.

6. Who Are Your Customers?

Demographic reports, market reports and data can make for interesting reading. Check out free reports from research companies, such as Nielsen.

When it comes to online commerce, one important aspect to consider is the access your demographic has to credit or debit cards. The children's/youth market, for example. Or people with poor/no credit.

In some international markets, credit card use isn't as widespread as in the US.

7. Do Visitors Have Commercial Intent?

As you probably know, there are three types of searches: navigational, informational, and transational.

Unless you're looking for a hobby niche, and whilst there is some cross-over between the search types, you'll likely focus on areas where the intent is to transact - to perform a web-mediated activity, and that that activity has commercial intent.

Clues regarding search type are hinted at in the keyword phrase, such as "buy x", "where can I order y", are transactional, whereas "Microsoft" is likely navigational. There are many less overt permeations, too of course, however the point is to hone in on keywords that hint at commercial endevour.

8. Estimate How Much The Niche Is Worth

Get a rough guide of how much a niche might be worth. This will give you a feel for how much you can spend carving it out, or whether your time may be better spent on a more lucrative niche instead.

It's a good idea to look up the Adwords bids and traffic volumes. The higher the bids, the more lucrative an area tends to be, however if your niche is genuinely undiscovered, then it's likely to have traffic volume, but little bidder competition, as few other advertisers have spotted it.

Again, you can test market a niche using PPC and a basic website, where the aim is to see how many people click through from an advertisement, and perhaps show a level of buying interest. Once you have some idea of traffic, you can guess at a likely conversion rate - common industry guesstimates are around 3-8% - and then run your numbers. Conversion rates can be a lot higher if what you offer is in high demand, and in short supply, of course.

Sometimes, the figure you end up with might be too low for you to make any money, but it's good to know that now, rather than commit a lot of time and resources to an unworkable niche.

9. Market Trends

Is the market you plan to enter rising or falling? You can make money in either market, of course, but people tend to want to enter either fast rising new markets, or markets where demand is fairly steady, as opposed to diminishing.

Check out trend tools, such as Google Trends, Trendistic, and Microsoft Ad Intelligence.

Also,resources such as Trendspotting and TrendHuter.

10. What Are Your Competitors Doing?

If you're lucky enough to have found a niche with no competitors, well done. However, it is likely you'll have at least some competitors. It pays to know what they're doing, so you can emulate them, and go one better, or blow them out of the water by offering something they are not.

Look to see who is advertising via PPC, and who is doing SEO in your niche. How agressive are they? What approach are they taking? Can you make better offers that they make? Can you modify the niche slightly so you've not competing directly with them? Your customers will compare offers, so make sure your offer is competitive.

Check out competitive intelligence tools, such as Spy Fu, KeywordSpy and SEMRush

Pages






    Email Address
    Pick a Username
    Yes, please send me "7 Days to SEO Success" mini-course (a $57 value) for free.

    Learn More

    We value your privacy. We will not rent or sell your email address.