There is a saying in the bond trading market that if you don't know who the clown in a deal is then look in the mirror because it is probably you. Business is the same way. Almost everyone gets taken for a ride at least once.
What is Ignorance?
Ignorance is often viewed as a condescending word, but it is how we are all born. It is only through learning and experience we are able to do much more than survive. Any time you enter a new market or use a new strategy you start out from behind. You are the sucker who is losing money. Rarely does the new guy win just by showing up, or just by copying someone else's existing strategy. There has to be some point of differentiation.
A Brutal Uphill Climb
The leader has more data, more connections, more links, more capital, higher visitor value, and the algorithms have another layer of karma built over the top of them as well. Matt Cutts described part of the Panda update as "we actually came up with a classifier to say, okay, IRS or Wikipedia or New York Times is over on this side, and the low-quality sites are over on this side."
Roadblocks & Pot Holes Are Everywhere
Based on those sorts of disadvantages, why would anyone want to try SEO? Well in almost any other business model similar roadblocks and pain points exist, and SEO allows one to build momentum over time without it being an all or nothing risk. The slow buildup can lead you toward success in ways you may not have anticipated. And the cost of failure is often little more than time. Plus you gain knowledge even when something fails.
I talk to lots of startups and almost none that I know of post-2008 have gained significant traction through SEO (the rare exceptions tend to be focused on content areas that were previously un-monetizable). Google keeps its ranking algorithms secret, but it is widely believed that inbound links are the preeminent ranking factor. This ends up rewarding sites that are 1) older and have built up years of inbound links 2) willing to engage in aggressive link building, or what is known as black-hat SEO.
A similar blog headline flipped around might read like "Most VC funded companies fail & founders get hosed on equity dilution, so getting funded is no longer a viable company formation strategy for startups." Of course something like that would be laughable, but it is no less absurd than saying SEO is no longer viable.
Sure coming from behind is hard, but the above misses that
many of the most profitable SEO plays are reinvesting into growth
most people who are successful with SEO do not like to attribute their success to it because doing so creates additional risks & more competition
Unique Market Approaches
Even treading water in a market where competitors are reinvesting profits & the market maker is tilting the table is quite respectable. If you want to come from behind and exactly clone someone else's business model, it won't likely be profitable. But that is why people attack markets from different perspectives. This is no different than why there are many different graphs. Chris isn't trying to beat Google in creating another link graph, but is looking at different signals.
Tectonic Shifts in Relevancy
Likewise marketing strategies can be vastly different between different companies and different projects within a company. Certain types of pages & certain types of websites rise and fall as the algorithms are adjusted to close down opportunistic loopholes. But as they make certain things harder they make other things easier. The whole content farm model was only enabled by an excessive weighting on domain authority & the introduction of rel=nofollow.
That opportunity may have fallen by the wayside. Many content mills just got hit pretty hard.
Was The Pain Really That Bad?
But for all the bluster about how it was one of the biggest changes in years, most of the content farms are only down maybe 20% to 50% in terms of traffic & revenues.
Sure that is a lot of revenue to disappear, but when you are operating at 80% net margins you can do that without it destroying your company. And this doesn't even take into account that many of these sites had a clean double over the past year. So if you grow 100% then lose 50% you are still even year on year, in spite of being penalized. Not bad in an environment where tons of businesses are going bankrupt offline.
And of course those sites getting whacked create opportunity for other folks, who build sites using different strategies.
A Cautionary Tale
About a half-decade ago a CEO of a start up contacted me & had us build a few links for them. Then they had to get their VCs approval for doing a full in-depth strategic review because it was going to cost well into 5 figures. Their VC investors didn't believe in SEO!
So that killed the project.
This company had a multi-lingual site where their leading market's content was only accessible through a drop down form where the URLs did not change. Fixing that issue to make the site crawlable would have produced more revenues in the first few months than the cost of our contract. But the VC didn't think SEO was valuable. They never got that tip. And for businesses which have network effects built in, losing $x today can easily be $10x or $20x a few years out.
Current Market Leaders Were Yesterday's Gray Area Marketers
Mr. Dixon also highlights how established TripAdvisor is, but when they were founded they were once the small dog just starting out. His article also fails to mention that TripAdvisor was Text-Link-Ads largest customer. In other words, they came from behind, took a calculated risk, and won. They backed off from the risks when the risks started to exceed the opportunity.
The entire 250+ page document is devoid of any discussion of incoming links which is the cornerstone of search engine optimization. By reading through the lines, it appears that they have two primary sources for link development for their owned and operated sites: (1) from their “undeveloped websites” and (2) from their content partner sites. Although these two initiatives alone are generally not financially profitable, they are successful approaches to maximizing the incoming link equity in their owned and operated properties.
The point is that start ups shouldn't avoid all risk, but they should pick and choose their spots. The above sites are billion Dollar enterprises because they worked in the gray area to catch up & build a lead, and then pulled away from risk after they had a strong market position.
As time passes the opportunities change, but they don't really disappear.
I’m going to tell you why an SEO Book subscription, for many small businesses, is a much better investment than just hiring a firm or a freelancer.
We, as business owners, all realize that we need an online presence and the backbone of that presence is a top-notch SEO campaign.
Whether it be straight out SEO services, or help with Google Places, or help with reputation management, most small business owners realize they need to be “there” but aren’t quite sure how to do that properly.
You’re a small business owner, so am I and so are many members of our community & industry. Our work lives as small business owners are typically filled with parts of various roles like:
customer service representative
The problem is that SEO can be an abstract thing or idea for small business owners outside of the web marketing industry to grasp, learn, and implement correctly.
This problem leads to small businesses getting taken to the cleaners by either woefully inadequate (and expensive!) SEO firms, competing business models (like YellowPages & YellowBook) selling their version of SEO services due to the significant decrease in revenue from the phonebook model, or just plain snake oil salespeople.
There are many qualified SEO providers out there, tons actually. There's a lot of noise as well and when you don't have a clear understanding of the business it can be hard to discern one from the other.
Finding a Worthy SEO Provider
So if a small business owner is able to carefully avoid those situations and find a reputable SEO firm, chances are that the price for those services will be out of reach or just not economical from an ROI standpoint for some small businesses (unless the firm is hurting for business or it's a new firm starting out).
There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just simple economics. If a service provider can sell their services for 6 or 5 figure contracts consistently, then it doesn’t behoove their business interest to sell services for 4 or 3 figure contracts.
A Better Option
Even if we stipulate that a business can afford to hire a firm to handle their SEO campaign, where it makes sense for both the provider and the buyer, we’d like to present another option.
That option would be an SEO Book subscription :) Compared to hiring an SEO company, your SEO Book subscription:
is less expensive, resulting an in much higher ROI for your business
is more direct and hands on, you get unbiased feedback from hundreds of SEO professionals
gives the owner the ability to learn the ins and outs so they can manage things themselves
trains the business owner about the industry and best practices so they can intelligently outsource services themselves if they so choose
SeoBook Subscription Options
There are 2 types of SeoBook subscriptions, with different levels of access. The first option is for access to our (over 100) training modules and our premium SEO tool set. The cost of that option is just $69 per month.
The second option is for access to those same training modules and tools, in addition to our community forums. Our community is the cornerstone of our subscription-based membership service.
Inside the forums you have instant access to the most up-to-date, cutting edge information where you will learn from some of the best minds in SEO.
For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the option which includes everything.
How Much Would You Invest in You?
When you started your small business you probably thought (correctly) that it was a good idea to at least have a solid understanding of the key concepts related to your business prior to hiring staff to handle day to day tasks.
You probably learned how to operate and troubleshoot equipment, customer service software, the phone system, the coffee pot :) and so on. You likely know who your target market is and you know what type of message you want to convey via print and web design as well as sales copy.
Those are all things that you had to learn in order to grow your business and for your business to function properly.
You Are Your Business
By investing the time in yourself, and by extension to your business, you were able to confidently hire and train staff as well as put together a traditional marketing campaign with the help of local print vendors and maybe your local web design person.
When it comes to something like SEO, where there is no formal education or “certification” (thank goodness), you might have a tough time hiring something to do something you know very little about.
If you don’t know what works and what doesn’t how will you know if the provider is selling you a bag of smoke versus providing an actual quality service? You won’t know, and with what a good SEO campaign from a reputable provider can cost that can cause significant damage to your business.
You Are No Stranger to Hard Work
Investing time, practicing patience, and being willing to learn will reward you and your business many, many, many times over when it comes to the SEO industry. The fact is many people fail because they are lazy and unwilling to learn in addition to having a poor attitude.
You have probably perservered through that and are running a solid business so why not get even more ahead of your competition, lazy or otherwise.
Breaking Down the Costs
Most SEO campaigns can expect to see results in or around 6 months, so we’ll look at the 12 month costs because you should consider SEO (just like traditional marketing) as an ongoing effort to produce results for your business.
From experience I can tell you that a full-on SEO campaign from an experienced SEO or SEO firm for small businesses will likely start at $5,000 per month here in the states. Probably higher for a firm and that amount can flucuate depending on your needs but anything less than thousands per month is unlikely.
When I say full-on I mean the whole deal:
analytics reviews and implementation for testing, tracking, tweaking
on-page SEO (title tags, page copy, and so on)
off-page SEO, like link building
adjusting tactics based on rankings growth or decline (and competitor watching)
If you are new to the SEO space you may not know what some of that means, but you know its important (or else you wouldn't be reading this). You know that your visibility on the web is probably a crucial component of your small business’s long-term success.
Would you really want to outsource that for what it might cost you for an employee or two, without knowing exactly what it is the provider is/should be doing?
Don’t Pay 17x More Than You Need To!
So even being conservative in my estimate, you are talking about around $60k per year and that probably doesn’t include additional money you may need for getting links to your site via branding and such.
Meanwhile, you could be investing just $3,600 per *year* in yourself and your business while learning from quite a few of the thought leaders in the SEO space. Perhaps not the biggest self-promoters in the space but certainly some of the best minds.
My dad always told me to be very wary of someone constantly telling you they are the best at XYZ, usually they aren’t. The ones who are the best are doing the job everyday and doing it well, not telling YOU how great THEY are.
It’s important to keep in mind that an SEO book subscription is going to give you the tools you need, the training you need, and more importantly the knowledge you need to be successful. Have a question?
Just ask it in the community forums and we’ll answer it. In fact, many people will answer it and you’ll get wide range of tips from folks with loads of experience and success.
Now, the membership doesn’t mean that we’ll execute the plan for you but you’ll have a step by step guide on what to do, how to do it, why you’re doing it, and the tools you need to do it.
Plus, you have 24/7 access to the community forum which has hundreds of members and is quite active at all hours as we have members from all over the world.
But I Can Do it For Le$$....
There’s probably someone out there that will say “hey I can do that and do it well for like $2k a month”...ok, but even at that price point it’s $24k versus $3,600 per year!!
If you know what to do with your campaign you can easily outsource the “grunt” work for much cheaper dollars + become educated in a field that is very important now, and will be for the foreseeable future. I not only write this as an employee of SEO Book, but also as a person who was a customer for about a year before joining the site. During that time I helped get our company website squared away and learned how to automate or outsource many aspects of our business: from content, to promotion, to additional link development. And if you need help with any of that stuff, there is a requests forum where you can work with some of our members.
Heck, let's even say someone would run a full-service SEO campaign for you at the absurdly low price point of $500/mo! (not likely, given that some quality links cost $299 per year each). Even before link development that's still approaching *double* the cost of an SEO Book subscription while giving you insight from only one person versus hundreds, no premium tools or training modules, and no access to the latest information in the field as well as you not learning SEO from independent, unbiased sources.
In our community you can not only find out what is working right now, but you can also findsomeone who can help you get the job done without paying for the markup associated with high pressure salesmen or large bureaucratic firms where 50 folks are taking home weekly paychecks for the work done by 5 people.
Discounts on SEO-Related Products
Your SEO Book subscription also comes with tons of discounts on everything from link management software, rank checking applications, SEO conferences, Pay Per Click communities like PpcBlog.Com, web directories which can help with getting exposure/links to your site, social media monitoring services, and many more solid services.
There’s literally *thousands* of dollars in discounts available to our members.
Time is Money, Money is Time
The benefit in outsourcing anything is the time saved and/or the low cost. However, there are typically significant costs (and sometimes irreparable harm) associated with outsourcing any important part of your business to unqualified providers.
Without having the knowledge of what it is you are actually hiring for, you cannot be certain what exactly you are paying for.
Save yourself a lot of money and headaches, learn from the best, and beat your competition in the search engines.
When and if the time comes to hire an SEO firm, you will be fully prepared to make the right decision for your small business. What else could you ask for?
Cash (lots of it). Work in PJ's from Home. Fame. Fake Twitter Friends. For many folks who decide to give SEO the good ol' college try those are likely some of the major reasons why they decide to dive into the industry.
Those same tenets are typically reinforced by slimy internet marketers most new entrants run across in their travels around the SEO world. They are strong selling points, no question about it, and they hit on the times we are currently living in.
Who wouldn't want to work from home, or work for themselves, or work whenever they want?
Unfortunately, by the time someone willing to do the work and learn about the business reaches a solid source of SEO information they might already have been taken for thousands of bucks by Joe Blow Internet Marketing Guru or Joe Schmo the Social Media Guru. In this economy most folks cannot afford to lose that amount upfront and either:
have enough resources to continue
have enough resources to continue + enough trust to continue
Or maybe someone really wants to get started in the industry but needs some tips on how to keep initial costs down while getting their feet wet and learning without losing their shirt.
For more on the exploits of some of the more well-known internet marketing folks, I'd suggest visiting the Salty Droid.
Run a Lean SEO Project
So to start an SEO project you need a couple of basic things (assuming you don't already have these and/or a business you are doing SEO for):
an idea of what your site is going to be about
product(s) to sell either yourself of via an affiliate program
You could also build a site about a topic or specific topics and utilize Google AdSense as a means of revenue.
You can even create your own product based on your knowledge and sell it via monthly e-newsletters, a video training series, consulting, and by sharing your knowledge via a community forum.
This model would likely be a bit more costly based on software needed, programming help you might need, etc. However, it is something you can eventually build towards as you earn revenue from other activities.
Places to Find Products
You can try applying to a variety of affiliate networks like:
Those are some of the bigger ones so you may not get accepted without a site or a referral. No worries though, you can try smaller networks like:
sidebar: Be aware many of the smaller affiliate networks are known for using their publisher data to compete directly against their publishers. Some also go so far as finding out where the publishers are buying ads to try to cut the affiliate out of the loop that way. Here is a short tip for how trustworthy an affiliate network is: if their leading offers are the types of offers that you will likely see covered by the FTC in 6 to 12 months (like the reverse billing fraud stuff for vaporware "products") then it might be worth skipping them, as any company which is built on pushing scams likely scams business partners as well.
Wordtracker is a well-known paid tool and it powers our free Keyword Tool. This can be helpful as an alternative to Google-provided data.
Many keyword tools sold by internet marketers are powered by Google, so all you are really paying for is a different UI and some (usually) useless metrics layered on by the marketer as a way to differentiate their tool from Google.
So now you've got an idea for a site, products to sell, and keywords to target. Your total cost = $0.00.
Domain Registration & Web Hosting
There are lots and lots of choices here. For the sake of simplicity let's look at some common options for both. For domain registration:
Sometimes you can find coupon codes for domain registrars simply by searching for them online. Inside our community forums members routinely share coupons they receive from domain registrars :)
Let's say you went with Moniker for your site, which at first glance offered the lowest initial price of a com as of this writing, and you opted for domain privacy for an additional cost.
Now you are up to roughly $14/year in costs.
Typically it is a good idea to keep registration and hosting separate for the sake of portability and reliability. For web hosting when first starting out you could certainly get by with hosting from reliable shared hosts like:
All these hosts are suitable for a new site that you are going to develop and grow judiciously. As traffic grows and grows you may want to upgrade to a dedicated server or a larger shared plan but for now a basic plan on these hosts is just fine.
Hostgator is a shared host you can scale up with, with respect to dedicated or virtual servers and such. So as of this writing you can snag one year's worth of hosting on their basic plan for approximately $66.72 ($5.56 per month if you prepay for a year).
So now you've got hosting, a domain, keywords to target, and products to sell for your site all for the annual cost of around $80.
Link Research Tools
There are link research tools that sell for upwards of $500 per month! Now, they might be just fine for enterprise level stuff but you can get a fair amount of data from some free tools and free accounts on paid services:
SoloSEO will give you a list of search operators you can use to find link opportunities in your niche (based on keyword entered) for free
OpenSiteExplorer.Org a intuitive link research tool with lots of features and data points. As of this writing a free trial is available and then it's $99/mo for access to SeoMoz's complete toolset.
Yahoo! Site Explorer a free tool which returns backlinks to a url, typically sorted by strongest top to bottom.
Blekko gives backlink data as well as anchor text information for free
Majestic SEO has perhaps the largest database of links and link data on the publicly available market. Plans vary from starter packages to enterprise solutions.
Naturally, our SEO Toolbar and Seo4Firefox both link through to free data sources within Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Yahoo!. :D
You can also access Majestic's paid data as part of a subscription to Raven SEO tools (which does a lot more than link research as you'll see).
Since you are starting/running one site you can take advantage of Raven's $19/mo pricing and access a ton of helpful tools and up to 10 Majestic reports (which is plenty on a monthly basis).
As you build links and acquire links, you'll want to track the status of those links and make sure the ones you've acquired are holding up their end of the bargain (not disappearing on you). You can track link building efforts manually with Word/Excel or through a CRM or through some other method. That gets old fast. Tracking links is something you don't want to do manually (making sure the links are still pointing to your site).
Raven's toolset has both of those bases covered. With their $19/mo plan you can monitor up to 500 links and manage up to 1,000 link records (managing new opportunities, pending links, etc). Raven's toolset is 100% in the cloud so all of the heavy lifting gets done on their servers.
Advanced Link Manager is a tool that is spoken highly of by many members of our community. You can get the basic account for just $99/year and get the ability to track a ton of links from within the program (software).
Alright so let's say you decided that while Advanced Link Manager is a great piece of software, you don't need the full power just yet and you decide to hit up Raven for link tracking, monitoring, and research at $19/mo.
So your annual recurring tab is $308 and you've got the following items covered:
keywords to target
links to target
stuff to sell
You can use Google Analytics which is free, save for the cost of your data :)
Some other analytics providers you can use for free or for a low cost are:
Piwik is free and you need to install it on your server, much like Mint. Mint is $30 per site, as a one time fee. Clicky has free plan but it has ads and lacks some of their better features.
Mint doesn't have some of goal tracking and custom functionality of Clicky and Clicky can be had for $29.99/yr if you prepay. You can scale up with Clicky and place more sites in your account as you start to develop more sites and such.
I like the additional features of Clicky and I'd rock either Clicky or Mint when first starting out. You can certainly choose Google Analytics, which is feature rich and free.
As a new site, with likely no branding while trying to monetize, I'd probably wait a bit until I started handing over data to Google. This post on why Google Analytics isn't really "free" is a must read.
As a side note, Raven integrates with Google Analytics in case you decide to go with GA. So now your running an annual bill of around $338 (if you choose Clicky or Mint).
Rank Checking Tools
We offer a free rank checker tool, which is also accessible via our SEO Toolbar, via our free firefox extensions. If you are looking for ways to make graphical charts via the data you get from our rank checker you can follow the tips listed here.
Advanced Web Ranking can be purchased as a standalone program or in conjunction with Advanced Link Manager as a bundle. Both programs are solid but they do have a slight learning curve, however the functionality of the software makes the learning part worth it. The basic packages do not include customized reports but you can easily export the data. The package deal is $149.
Even though AWR/ALM are fantastic options, since we are assuming you are already paying for Raven's suite of tools (and we are being cost-conscious) we can move ahead with rank checking from either Raven and/or our free Rank Checker.
Raven's rank checking runs once per week so it's handy to have another tool to spot check once and awhile (our Rank Checker can be run at anytime). So you are still at roughly $338. :D
Building the Site
Now that you've got most of the back-office stuff set up you can get your site on the web. Wordpress.Org is free, powerful, easy to use, and used by most web marketers that I know. Sometimes free themes can be dangerous so you have to be careful when installing those types of themes.
There are also premium Wordpress themes like Thesis and StudioPress where you can get a single license and theme for around $80. These themes have solid support and strong, built in design and SEO options (which reduces your reliance on plugins to some degree, at least the basic SEO-type ones).
If you are unfamiliar with Wordpress or HTML (if you decide to build your site outside of Wordpress) then you better become familiar with them. All the tools in the world, free or paid, won't help you if you aren't willing to learn how to use them or the underlying engine that drives them.
Lynda.Com has some solid training that covers just about everything and there are free online resources you can use like:
If you go with a free theme, or one that doesn't have SEO controls built in, then you'll want to consider the All In One SEO Pack for your SEO needs.
You can also find competent, affordable Wordpress developers or designers on sites like Elance or Odesk to help design or tweak the design of your theme.
Ok so you found a nicely designed, free theme over at Smashing Magazine and you've got the All in One SEO Pack ready to go. How about logos and content?
Logos and Content
If you want an icon for your business you can look around on a site like istockphoto.com for ideas and icon sets or you can get a ready made logo from the 99 Designs Logo Store for $99, which you can customize or have customized.
It's important to note that you don't have the rights to trademark either of these (or claim them as your own) and as time goes on and you start to brand your site, it would be wise to invest in a customized logo which you own the full rights to, can trademark as a symbol of your business, etc.
You can write the content yourself or use a service like TextBroker or the aforementioned Elance or Odesk.
For site graphics (buttons, icons, etc) you can use GraphicRiver (owned by the same folks at ThemeForest.Net) for nicely designed, affordable graphics.
You could easily budget a couple hundred bucks here for a logo, some graphical pieces, and some content (and even some stock photos from istockphoto.com) and probably have what you need to get started. Assuming that, your current cost for a 12 month period would be $538.
Promoting the Site
In just about any industry you enter, there are many ways for you to promote your site for free (minus the cost of your time of course). Twitter, Facebook, online forums, blogs, and so on are all ways to reach people in your market or niche. Using the SoloSEO link tool we mentioned before, you can find all sorts of blogs and communities related to your niche (by keyword).
You may want to hold off on monetizing the site if you are using AdSense and/or affiliate products until you've earned some semblance of trust within your market. Otherwise, you risk being shunned as someone who is just looking to make money and is not adding value or whatever.
Funny thing is, most people who'd shun you are online to make money too (weird how that works) but I digress. Point is to earn some trust (and links) before you start selling stuff or clicks.
For Twitter, you can use a site like Twellow to find people and businesses by categories and markets.
Time Cost vs $ Cost
Some of these "free" options are free in terms of $ but not in time. That's the trade off and there's no real way around it. You can likely outsource quite a bit of this stuff but then you risk losing the personal touch associated with your site or business that you are trying to brand.
Think of how often you are marketed to in a given day online.....whether its in your email, on Facebook and Twitter, those creepy ads that follow you around the web, etc. If you come out of the gate ready to add value and can hold off on monetizing for a bit (and integrate it smartly when you do) then your ahead of many other people that just want to come online and SELL SELL SELL!
Hopefully you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs upfront which should help you with holding off on going commercial. We covered most aspects of getting started and ongoing tracking here, with a total 12/mo cost of less than $600!
Clearly if you are going into SEO on a shoestring budget, you don't want to compete for mega-competitive keywords but you can certainly take this approach with less competitive markets and scale up as needed.
Interesting post from Matt Cutts, talking about how Google is so much better now than it was in 2000.
But it’s a misconception that there was no spam on Google back then. Google in 2000 looked great in comparison with other engines at the time, but Google 2011 is much better than Google 2000. I know because back in October 2000 I sent 40,000+ queries to google.com and saved the results as a sort of search time capsule
40,000+ queries! I'm guessing he wasn't using the WebPositionGold Reporter! Little joke for the old-timers, there ;)
SEO's will notice Matt's yeark 2K SERP consists of some old skool domain spamming, with hyphen-loaded domains, which were de rigueur at the time.
How times change.
Whilst tempting to think the golden days of opportunity are behind us, the internet, and search, is still a baby.
Adwords, launched in 2000, and has created a multi-billion dollar industry. Adsense was launched in 2003. The affiliate market has grown in breadth and depth. Domain name acquisition, solely for the purposes of search positioning, is a more recent development. There has been a lot of opportunity for search marketers since 2000.
The Revolution Won't Be Televised
By the time most of us hear about the next big thing in internet marketing, the low hanging fruit will be gone.
The next money making opportunities in search, and internet marketing, will remain underground, because shouting new opportunities from the rooftops invites unwanted competition. A sure sign the horse has bolted is when someone launches an "all-new" get-rich-quick scheme on Clickbank. Consider that the mainstream media thinks SEO is new and exciting!
If we're going to continue to profit from internet marketing, then it helps to keep one eye on the future, rather than passively waiting for it to arrive.
How To See Around The Corner
Predicting the future is, of course, impossible.
However, by reading, watching and speculating we'll be less surprised when things do change. The only thing certain is change, and in internet marketing, the only thing certain is rapid change.
Here's a few ideas. If you've got some more, please share them in the comments.
Patent Filings - Bill looks at patents filed by Google and other search services. These often provide interesting insights into Google's future direction, although the filing of a patent is not an indicator that Google is making use of these ideas. Yet.
Product Announcements - watch out for new product announcements from companies related to your area of interest. Make use of Google News Alerts, and other automated news monitoring services.
Acquisitions & Mergers - Who is buying what and why? Figure out why Google wanted Groupon, and how Google's own search service could change as a result of launching a similar service.
There are a few red herrings, of course. Google acquired Blogger, and haven't done much with it. Recently, they've bought up companies who have developed speech synthesis, voice recognition, DRM, ebooks, and social gaming. At the time of writing, they're (still) interested in acquiring Twitter, as are Facebook.
History Repeats - history tends to work in cycles. The same things happen again, with a twist. Is Facebook that different from AOL, really? What previous tech trends may return, now that their time is right?
Not Typing Queries
Matt wrote what seemed like a throw-away line, or maybe he's just winding us up:
Wow, most queries were only a few words back then. And we had to type queries. How primitive!
There are pushes to minimize the need for passwords, but after the Gawker leak fiasco who wants to have a common shared single point of failure for passwords? Sure managing passwords sucks. But friction is a tool that helps cleanse demand & make it more pure. It is why paid communities have a higher signal to noise ratio than free for all sites. Any barriers will annoy people, but those same barriers will also prevent some people from wasting your time. If they are not willing to jump through any hoops they were never going to pull out the credit card.
We have some exciting news to share about eHow.com. Beginning in February 2011, Facebook Login will be the exclusive means for login to the site. You’ll be able to use your new or existing Facebook username and password to connect with the eHow community. We’ll also be removing eHow member profiles to help you streamline friend lists and eliminate the work of managing multiple online accounts. Additionally, we’ll be closing forums on the site. We want to hear from you directly, so moving forward, we encourage you to communicate us through the “Contact Us” section of eHow.com.
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My guess is they might be trying to diversify their traffic stream away from search & gain broader general awareness to further legitimize their site. But the big risk to them is that Facebook is an ad network. So now competing sites will be able to market at their base of freelance employees. What's worse, is that there was a rumor that Facebook might plan to launch a content mill strategy. There are plenty of ways for that third party login to backfire.
My believe is that you shouldn't force logins until you have something to offer, but that when you do you should manage the relationship directly. Does that mean you have to reply to every message? No. But it does mean that if there are ways to enhance value through how you interact with your established relationships you are not stuck under the TOS of a 3rd party website which may compete against you at some point. Sure that means some upgrades will be painful, but it means that you get to chose when you do upgrades rather than letting someone else chose when your website breaks for you.
I view third party comment systems the same way. If the person providing the service changes business model it does not mean you are stuck paying whatever rate they want or starting over. This is one of the big advantages of owning your own domain name and using open source content management systems. You don't have to worry about a Ning pivot or a Geocities shut down. Sure this approach means you have to deal with security, but then leaving that sort of stuff to Facebook might not be great anyhow.
In the past I have highlighted how hype-driven hard launches often lead to hard landings. But what is even more challenging than launches is relaunches. Some relaunches are just flicking a switch, done mostly as a marketing gimmick. But those that are real changes are brutal, largely because you have already built up expectations in the past and have to manage expectations, even while everything is changing, and many things are not in your clear control. The more polished you become the worse you look when things go awry. :D
An Error of Confidence
In our member forums while using vBulletin 3 I became confident enough with upgrades that I did them myself even without a programmer standing by. Then I did the vBulletin 4 upgrade and it broke the templates & forced us to create a new design. vBulletin 4 has all sorts of bizarre variables in it and a lot of members were at first put off by the new design that vBulletin forced me into doing. There was almost an emotional visceral reaction amongst some members because we hate change that is forced upon us, especially if it feels arbitrary!
Based on that experience I decided that when we were going to upgrade Drupal and install a new member management software that it made sense for us to pause user accounts in case anything goes wrong. Lots has gone wrong with the update, so that turned out to be a good decision. Although at the same time it means I am spending well into 5 figures a month on upgrades and such while the site is producing no revenues.
I figured the no revenues part would encourage us to be as fast as possible, but Drupal 7 was a far more difficult change than vBulletin 4 was.
Whenever you do major upgrades will break. And it is virtually impossible to catch it all in advance. There are issues that happen with drop downs on certain browsers only when they are using certain operating systems with certain sized monitor, and all sorts of other technical fun stuff that doesn't appear until thousands of eyes have seen your website.
When you are new and obscure feedback comes in small bits and you keep getting incrementally better. But when everything changes you get hundreds of emails a day and it is nearly impossible to respond to them.
Did You Run Your Site Through a Geocities Generator?
We are trying our best to rush to fix stuff & get up to speed, but some issues that are even fine the day of an upgrade can appear crazy on day #2 due to how things interact. If we had our member's area accessible now, how would we really justify & explain end users seeing something like this...where bizarrely our designs merged:
Weird bugs like that can be difficult to troubleshoot, especially when they are intermittent. We have to fix those huge issues before we can even consider launching (and we mostly have already). But then there are other things that break in other ways that need fixed too.
A Laundry List of Issues
Post comment permalinks that add 30,000 pages of duplicate content to your site. (mostly fixed)
Updates that wipe out the ability to reply to a threaded comment on blog posts. (still need to fix)
Default sign-up page ugly & pretty version not posting to default. (still need to fix)
Users who desire our autoresponder still not getting it due to needing to test it again before having it send any emails. (still need to fix)
Integrating on-site social proof of value & activity like recent comments and member information. (still need to fix)
Redirect issues for certain login types. (mostly fixed)
Enable multiple product tiers & levels. (still need to fix)
Cookies issues based on old cookies before the CMS upgraded to the new system. (fixed for those who cleared cookies already, not for those who haven't)
Password reset emails don't send new passwords, but a one-time login link.
But some of those login links might be so long that they wrap and are broke by certain email clients.
Do you build a custom hack to try to fix that directly? or
Do you wait until you install your membership permissions management software and run everything through that? or
Do you convert your email module to send HTML emails? HTML emails which then requires a lot more testing because it might get stripped by some email clients. (Or, perhaps the email goes through, but the unsubscribe link is broken, which causes immediately a douchebag freetard to open up a support ticket with "lawsuit pending" as the title.)
That is only a partial list of items...there are literally about 100 more! And, as you can see from that last passwords issue, some corrections lead to additional issues. It is sorta like running up the side of a mountain carrying weights. :)
The challenging part of being a marketer, an SEO, and the guy who interacts with the customers is you deeply know how some things are flawed & that forces you to try to fix them as fast as possible. You can't just ignore the canonicalization issue that would be missed by most webmasters as you know the pain that leads to. :D
Even if you are pretty quick at fixing things, some will still blow for a bit. Complex systems are complex.
Not only will freetards complain, but you will get other forms of legitimate friction simply by virtue of being. Lots of eyes are on your errors. Once you have a well known website there is a lifeflow that goes through it 24 hours a day - if you are there or not. And if any of the common interactive paths are broken you will hear about it again and again and again. And again. :)
And yet, while you are trying to decide the best way to keep making things better you get emails that are condescendingly friendly. ;)
You guys have some very useful tools on this site and provide very useful seo information. Yet your site's user flow is surprisingly confounding and awkward. You guys strike me as practical internet marketers and I can't help but wonder why, if you were to upgrade anything on your site, you wouldn't have addressed your awkward user flow as opposed to spending time and money on some hipster faux web 2.0 window dressing. I know I'm not a paying customer...but I've always used this site for the keyword search tool and it has helped me drive traffic and increase eCPMs on my sites.
My guess is the type of people who use your site are not impressed by silly, day-glow,pastel makeovers and are more interested in useful seo data and information.
Nice. So they use us, make money from our work while paying us nothing, and yet they need to sling insults towards us while we publicly state that we are doing upgrades. Way to be a winner! If only everyone in the world was like them this site would disappear.
And they are completely wrong in suggesting that aesthetic doesn't matter. You can't quantify the losses without testing a different approach, but companies do not sink billions of Dollars into testing CPG packaging just for the fun of it. At a minimum a better looking site will increase trust. That leads to all sorts of other things like:
better perceived quality
lower perceived risk
higher conversion rates
being able to charge higher rates
higher visitor value
more media exposure
In many industries the winner is not who is well known within the industry, but rather who is safe and easy for outsiders to reference. Design is important for the same reason that domain names are. Either can yield an instance sense of credibility when done well & either can quickly take it away when done poorly.
And people who are new to an industry become the experts of tomorrow, so if they trust you more off the start then you build a self-reinforcing marketing channel. Whereas if you are not trusted you have to convince people to switch away from defaults after they already made their choice. And that is hard to do if they already passed you over once & your website is ugly.
And there is also the blunt straight talk feedback: "Your Products are bullshit."
I actually prefer the latter to the former because they don't insult your intellect by wrapping the insults in a passive-aggressive flowery packaging. (OK so I said a nice thing about him, so now I can REALLY insult him!!!)
One of the online issues that I think is rarely talked about is the issue of user friction. Media plays up the benefits of success but rarely highlights the cost of it. A popular game developer launched a hugely successful game at 99 cents & was devastated by his success:
I’m angry at a small percentage of customers who actively work towards harming its success. I’m angry at the customers who send me nasty emails or reviews, threatening me with ‘telling Apple to remove it’ or rating it 1 star with a ’should be cheaper than free’ remark because after paying the ridiculously exorbitant 99c, they found it didn’t live up to expectations. The absolute worst is users who condescendingly ‘try to help’ by outlining every little thing they think is wrong with it.
The anger, the sense of entitlement, and the overriding theme that I owe them something for daring to take up any of their time is sickening.
I can see now why many companies provide rubbish support, and have a ‘give us your money then piss off’ attitude. They have no doubt learned the hard way how soul destroying taking pride in your products can be.
That is a big part of the reason I abandoned the ebook business model. I felt that if I kept the model much longer I was going to have to sacrifice the quality of the customer interaction & be more like the companies I grew to hate. Rather than living that way we move higher up and get a higher quality of customer. Another benefit of our current (or soon to be restored) model is that if people ask questions in a closed garden social setting almost nobody is comfortable acting like a troll. People generally won't write the stuff in a social setting that they would write in an email, especially if they are not fully anonymous and they know doing so is going to make them look like a jerk.
While we still have tons of things to fix, the first things we fixed were related to duplicate content (to simply avoid the pain) and some issues associated with the registration path. The ones that people are going to complain about most are generally the ones you need to fix first, because that ends up saving you time in the longrun.
But if you price too cheaply (but not at free) then it is hard to ignore any of the feedback, even when it is ugly. This is why you are better off having higher prices & only converting a small portion of your audience. The folks from MagneticCat left a good comment on the above blog post:
$0.99 is an unsustainable price point. Because, if you sell 1 million games, you make $700,000 BEFORE taxes. A nice amount of money, but you also get 1 million customers – the amount of people living in a huge city – that could potentially have some problems with your game. Maybe because their iPhone’s accelerometer is broken, or because their headphone jack is not working anymore, or because there is an actual bug in your game.
We are only at about a half-million registered users & it is hard (20+ hour work days) to keep up when anything breaks. I can't imagine what it would be like to have a million PAYING customers. I think I would be sitting in the fetal position somewhere. ;)
That said, I am excited to get our site re-launched again and miss the daily water cooler nature of our forums. And based on the emails I am getting every day, so do many of our customers. Sorry for the delay guys!
We have Drupal 7 installed on both parts of the site. We have 3 days of bug fixing left and testing our membership software (which will also take a couple days). We may try to do some of it concurrently & test our membership software Sunday or Monday & hope to have a recurring test & a cancellation test done by Tuesday evening for a soft launch to past subscribers. If that goes well then we would hope to do a full launch before the end of next week.
In times like these, clients tend to focus on the value proposition. "Throw it at the wall, see if it sticks" is not a phrase you hear a lot in recessions.
Instead, your customers will tend to have their eyes transfixed on your value proposition. "How does this spend make me better off?"
Whilst we may think search marketing services are essential, the spend on search services typically comes out of marketing budgets, and marketing budgets tend to be the first thing companies cut when things get tight.
So, they might need more convincing that usual.
If you weren't doing so already, it can be a good time to go over your proposals and pitch, and look to emphasize, and add to the value proposition you offer.
A few points to consider....
1. Address Genuine Needs
Address the need a client has, which may be different than the need they articulate.
This may seem obvious, but often people aren't quite sure exactly why they need search marketing, or they may have wrong ideas about it. Their genuine business need may be buried. You need to tease this out.
To do so, listen. Hard.
One common mistake people who are "fixers" - seos tend to be fixers - can make is that they'll go through the motions of listening, but really they're just waiting for an opportunity to launch into their solution.
A client will tell you a lot, and perhaps cover a lot of angles you hadn't thought of, if you let them talk long enough. They will like the fact you are interested in them and their problems, and it will make your eventual solution sound more considered and tailor-made.
Because it will be.
If you don't solve a genuine problem, your relationship is more likely to be a short one. Services that don't solve genuine business problems are more likely to get cut.
Look for ways you can enhance your offering.
Look to solve genuine problems in closely related fields. For example, a client may lack a content strategy. They may want to publish content regularly, but haven't got around to doing so. You could enhance your offering by incorporating this work in your offer, reasoning that it dovetails nicely with your SEO strategy, thus killing two birds with one stone.
This can also get you on-going work, if pitched right, and may involve little more than hiring the services of a copywriter.
3. Establish Feedback Mechanisms
Feedback is important.
Not only does it give you added insight into what the client is thinking, it also offers you the opportunity to demonstrate your value proposition in action.
You said you would do X, you do X, then show them you've done X. This helps build trust.
Clients will often elaborate, if given the opportunity, which can give you more ideas on how to "Go Beyond", and how to "Address Their Real Needs".
4. Look At Jobs As Partnerships
If you've ever bought services, you know that selecting a service provider can be a pain. It is time consuming, and there is risk involved. A wrong choice can lead to opportunity cost, and having to repeat the process all over again.
No one wants that. People want partnerships with their suppliers. They want someone on their side.
Once you've landed a client, try to see them as a business partner. This is certainly how they will view you if they like you. They are unlikely to go back out to the market unless they are disastisfied, so try to make their business, your business.
Take the approach that you will boost your own business by building theirs.
5. Every Job Is An Opportunity To Build Hybrid Skills & Knowledge
Let's say you have a travel client.
Learn everything you can about the travel industry. Press the client for information. Research and understand the wider industry, not just the search marketing opportunity within that industry.
One of the golden things about being a consultant is that you get to look inside people's businesses. This information is valuable and difficult to obtain by other means, yet you're getting paid to learn it. You're learning about real business issues, who's-who, and the language of the industry.
You then become more valuable to any other travel-related client as you're now "a travel guy". You can pitch convincing to them, because you speak their language, understand their problems, and you've got industry history.
I'd love to purchase a text link ad on one of your pages such as ____
The link would be going to a finance or MBA site.
My budget is $100 and can pay via PayPal. I can give you a call about the
details or email you more information, let me know.
As a marketer, you want anything you do to pass the sniff test. So if your stuff looks anything like this fake scammy crap garbage then you are not going to have much success with it. Largely because the folks who are sending out millions of emails are going to sterilize the market and turn the web cynical toward even more marketing techniques. So you need to make your marketing efforts that much more personalized, and it also helps to have a real presence in the field, that way bloggers won't dismiss you as just another scam, like they might those folks promoting the fake charity angle.
This is another reason why it also helps to create things in entirely unique formats. The gamers exploiting stuff burn out one opportunity after another, but most of their new & creative slants are simply extensions of things that worked for others. Getting out in front of the scammers on a new trend & format is far more profitable than following in their footsteps. But be aware that marketing ideas have a curve to them. An idea which starts off pure and is successful & profitable will end up coming under the eye of scammers at some point. And most forms of fraud are based around trying to look like the real thing, so eventually a format that was once profitable eventually loses its potency and you must move on.
The best forms of marketing which help you differentiate yourself from the scammers are those which build trust over time: branding, awareness, social interaction, etc. The person holding up a puppet might be able to compete with you here and there from time to time, but if you build something with depth and substance they will have a hard time competing on a sustainable basis.
Did you work hard your whole life and save for retirement? Did your retirement plans bake in living off of (now non-existent) interest? Did you fail to anticipate the government destroying the value of the currency to prop up banking criminals? Well aren't you naive! Better luck next life.
People starve. Capital doesn't care as it is greedy & shortsighted. Any "help" which is offered to the common man is only done so as a diversionary tactic:
From the point of view of the Power Elites, the anger of those still working to support a corrupt, venal status quo is best channeled against the scammers and hypocrites who suck off the Central State while complaining about their share of the swag.
That takes the heat off the Power Elites, who are busy diverting most of the national income to their own coffers. Compare the annual cost of food stamps, for instance, which is $60 billion, with the trillions diverted to bailing out the banking Elites, or the $1-$2 trillion spent on waging war in the Mideast, or the $1.6 trillion being borrowed every year to prop up the Central State's fiefdoms and Elites.
People are uncertain, so fear sells. Generally news has always had a cynical slant so that it can sell more news. Online with news there is a race to the bottom with a "pageviews now, retractions later" approach to journalism, which only amplifies that trend.
Ever read mainstream media reports on SEO? Have you noticed that 98%+ of them follow one of the following plots:
black hat SEO cartel invades the search results by hacking websites and any other nefarious means they can use to spam and scam consumers
Google puts site in purgatory, business owner goes bankrupt & his soul is headed to hell
SEO is so easy that anyone can do it. step 1: submit your site. step 2: optimize your meta tags. step 3: keyword density. ... step 12: hire a professional when this backwards looking junk advice doesn't work!
There is a need for concision to allow for minimal background research. And there is a need for a slant the story to make it spread. The problem is, if everyone is playing the same game it can't be a winning strategy very long.
The forever recession is hollowing out many large inefficient businesses. They make up for lower income by delivering lower quality in higher quantities, and corner cutting. When media does this distribution drops and the race to the bottom is on. The banks are a good example of where this eventually leads: a near collapse of society & a level of distrust which causes people to pull back and consume less. Outside of Google, who wants to hire hundreds or thousands of employees when the default choice of government is to promote the rule of banking criminals over the rule of law?
Social media...well at least you can trust your friends. Except not really. Marketers keephighlightinghow it is gamed. And those at the center of social media have exploitative aims anyhow. The WSJ reported that Facebook just had a privacy leak where app makers were selling off personally identifiable data to advertisers. Zynga's Mark Pincus, ever the hero, was amongst those exploiting his customers once again.
And, as if that wasn't bad enough, anyone looking to sell something in the online marketing space is going to be met with even more skeptical eyes because a lot of the fake scarcity ploys are being shown as what they are.
But in spite of all the above online negativity there is a silver lining.
If somebody loses then somebody else has a chance to win.
My presumption is that with the above trends in place people will become cynical toward (and less receptive to) larger companies Corporation will become a bad word in the minds of many. As some point it becomes a synonym for opportunistic short-sighted criminal.
Appearing small & closely connected with your customers will look better than being venture backed & betting the farm.
As people splinter into smaller groups the opportunity to lead increases, particularly if you lean into whatever makes you weird / unique / remarkable / crazy. While others are frozen by fear, be human side in a sea of autonomous bots. People need hope & have to trust somebody. After government's promotion of debt-based consumerism fails, people will look for deeper and more meaningful relationships to replace the junk they realize they no longer need.