Web Manager's Guide To SEO Strategy

Apr 20th
posted in

When your boss/client asks you why your web site can't be found in Google, what are you going to say? You should prepare, because, eventually, that question will be asked.

Should you cross that bridge when you come to it? Employ an SEO specialist to "do some stuff", after launch, in order to get the site ranked? Isn't SEO just another marketing function, like buying advertising?

In this article, I'll outline why it's a bad idea to treat SEO as an add-on. I'll look at how to roll SEO, seamlessly, into your web strategy.

Strategic Considerations

These days, SEO is not a series of easily-repeated, technical steps.

You may have heard that SEO is about adding meta tags. Changing the underlying code. Making a few minor changes to content and submitting a site to a search engine. If you follow this process, your site will be found on the first page of search results.

This was true years ago ago. It isn't true now.

If that is all you do, chances are your site won't appear on the first page of results. It might not appear until page 72. If at all. The search engines have grown more sophisticated. They look at many different factors, and they don't place weight on meta-tags when determining rank.

What do they look for?

They look at a variety of factors.

One factor is the vote. In search, a link is a vote. In order to get people to vote for your site, you need a site that is link-worthy. And the voting box is rigged. A vote from a huge brand, like Microsoft, for example, is worth way more than many votes from sites few people have heard of. The search engines tend to reward popularity, as determined by other sites. If the information you're providing isn't popular enough, you won't be ranked.

In order to get these links, you need to publish pages people will link to. And not just the home page. You need links into internal pages, too. Ask yourself: what sites would you link to? What pages would you link to? Chances are, you're unlikely to link to a competitor. You're unlikely to link to someone else's e-commerce product catalogue. You'll most likely link to pages of note. Pages of reference material, pages of news, and other remarkable content that is noteworthy.

That's what everyone else does, not just in search, but in social media, too.

Another factor is the quality of your information, which we'll look at shortly.

Sound difficult to achieve?

Do You Even Need SEO?

You may not.

If you have a known brand that your existing customers will navigate directly to, you won't need to do much in the way of SEO. So long as you can be found under your brand name, you'll be rewarded. However, if you want to attract new customers, and attract customers away from competing brands, then you need to give SEO serious thought. At very least, you'll need to ensure your site is crawlable.

You can participate in the search channel without using SEO. You can buy clicks, using PPC. The downside is this can get expensive, as the incentive for Google is to force click prices ever higher via bid competition. You need to weigh the ongoing cost vs the cost of implementing an SEO strategy. Many people undertake both SEO & PPC, of course, in order to maximize a sites' visibility.

You need SEO if a long-term, cheap, visitor traffic stream is important to you. You need SEO if you seek to attract search visitors who may not have heard of your company before. You need SEO if your competitors are doing it, as they'll take your market share, given they have a presence in the channel, and you may not.

OK, I Need SEO

What is the optimal way to approach SEO?

If you've yet to launch a site, or you're planning on launching a new site, you're at a distinct advantage to those who must retrofit an SEO strategy. This is because SEO flows from strategy. It is very difficult to retrofit if the web strategy works against SEO, which can easily happen.

For example, Google tends to favor a regularly updated, well linked, reference information publishing model. One example is Wikipedia. Obviously, commercial sites aren't going to look anything like Wikipedia, however there are a few lessons to be learned. The key point is to integrate some form of detailed, text information publishing into your site, which preferably has a reference angle i.e. it's not just a page of sales copy.

Take a look at Amazon. Amazon is a product catalog, with a twist. Amazon lets users write reviews. The review text can be crawled by search engines. The existence of review text helps distinguish Amazon from other product catalogs, which to a search engines, would all look pretty much identical i.e. book name, publisher name, price, product description, etc. Search engines tend to relegate duplicate content.

So, you should include a section on your site that allows for the regular publication of unique, reference material. For example, industry news, a trade dictionary, discussion forums, blogs, feedback loops encouraging user content and comment, tutorials, user education, and so on. You might decide to split your web strategy across multiple sites. One site is the corporate umbrella site, another site is information based. Your SEO will likely have many ideas on this front, so the key is to involve them early.

Retrofitting SEO

SEO can be added after a site is launched, but it can be problematic.

Possibly the worst case scenario is a brochure site, consisting of thin product information and mission statements. Links don't tend to flow to such sites, and they don't tend to be information rich. Links will most likely need to be purchased, adding to the cost, and the search engines take a dim view of this practice, so it can increase risk if pushed too hard. If your competitors are attracting links without having to buy them, then they'll always be at a competitive advantage, and be very difficult to catch as each day passes.

There are a couple of ways around this problem. Create a new section of the site devoted to publication of reference material i.e. industry news, a trade dictionary, glossary, discussion forums, blogs, tutorials, and so on.

If the site isn't suited to this approach, consider splitting your web strategy across a number of sites.

Neither are particularly elegant, but the important takeaway point is that SEO isn't something that can just be tweaked under the hood. It needs to be an integral part of your site, and these days, that means adopting some form of information publishing strategy beyond simple sales copy.

User First

The web is about putting the user first, and search is no exception.

Web content is commodity. If your site doesn't have the information the user wants, then there is nothing keeping them on your site, and no reason for them to visit in the first place. There are plenty of other sites. The site that gives the users exactly what they want, wins.

Luckily, in search, the user is already telling you what they want.

SEO's have a great way of mining this information. They can access keyword data, collected by the search engines. This data shows what terms users are looking for. You could create an entire web strategy based on this information.

For example, let's imagine a site owner sells heating systems. It would pay to know that a lot more people search for "solar heating systems" than "boiler heating systems". Obviously, interest in solar energy is increasing, so the owner may want to feature these products more prominently, and provide news on the latest developments by way of a blog. Keyword research shows a lot of people also want to know about installing heating systems, so the owner may want to provide guidance and/or a nationwide list of installers who install his product. That list of installers could be broken down into regions, which will likely attract regional search traffic. The site owner could encourage his national network of installers to link to his site, especially since he has demonstrated he is happy to send traffic their way. The site owner could also include a glossary of heating terminology, in order to cover every conceivable heating related keyword term.

Do the same with your site. Ask "what are the users really looking for?". Ask your SEO to research keyword lists to see what is really on your potential visitors minds. Provide a means to publish this information. Encourage people to link to your site by giving them a good reason to do so. Create genuinely useful content, then have your SEO and marketing teams get out there and hustle that information.

The Message Is Integrated

This is an integrated SEO strategy, based on the idea of putting the user first, giving them what they want, and encouraging them to share it.

Seth Godin wrote a book called "All Marketers Are Liars". In this book, Seth notes that, these days, marketing needs to be integrated into the product from conception. The days of bolting a pretty marketing face on to a generic box, after it comes off the factory line, are long gone.

It's the same thing with search. It should flow through your web strategy, just like usability, your message, your brand, and your language.

Love & Farming vs Exploitation: Who's Winning?

Apr 7th

Value Systems

Many broken belief systems that exist do so because of a misinformed understanding of how the world works through naive idealism, with various special interests paying to syndicate misinformation that coincides with their current business model to foster culturally constructed ignorance - agnotology.

It is not a bubble. This time is different. The internet changes everything

And then of course we had "Real estate always goes up!"

Who was behind that lie? The bankers, the mortgage brokers, the Realtors, bond raters, hedge funds, construction companies, media running real estate ads, local government tax revenues, current home owners who kept seeing their "savings" go up while doing nothing. Some of those people did not intentionally aim to be deceitful, they just believed a convenient lie that fit with their worldview.

"It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his job depends on not understanding it" - Upton Sinclair.

Fraud vs the Stuff Bankers do

And so the bubble grew until one day the fraud was so integrated into society that there was simply nobody left to sell to.

Then the bottom fell out.

The rule of law was SELECTIVELY & arbitrarily enforced against a few, even while companies that made sworn statements admitting to doing literally millions of times more damage were not penalized, but rather bailed out / promoted.

“In mid-2006, I discovered that over 60 percent of these mortgages purchased and sold were defective,” [Citibank's] Bowen testified on April 7 before the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission created by Congress. “Defective mortgages increased during 2007 to over 80 percent of production.”

The rule of law only applies to those who lack the resources needed to subvert it. Socialism for the rich, capitalism for the rest!

Wachovia was a strong brand. A true pioneer and market leader in the drug money game, which funneled over 1/3 TRILLION Dollars onto the hands of drug dealers. For the crime they got a slap on the wrist. there was no bonus clawbacks. There was no jailtime. There was no honest attempt at the rule of law.

Online, Just Like Offline

The same is true online. Those who exhibit desirable characteristics are promoted & those who do not fit such a frame are left to fight amongst other losers in the market.

"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." - Matt Cutts

Create an Itch

For a marketer to say what is old and steady and boring is effective is not a way to be perceived as relevant (that old coot is still stuck in '97!)

Being grounded is not a way to get positive headlines. Saying that the web is becoming just like the fraud laced offline world would be considered in poor taste. You have to sell something new...to try to push to inspire, achieve, gain hope, etc.

If you manufacture evidence that your LinkedIn votes are directly tied to better Google rankings then outsiders who are unaware of the workings of your industry may syndicate that misinformation. Even if you run a public experiment that fails it still shows you are trying new things (are cutting edge), and is a low cost branding exercise. Just like how MLM folks say you can get rich by using the same system they used to get rich. Everyone wants to sell a life worth living, even if they are not living that life, but rather sentenced to life in prison.

Pushing the Boundaries

Most profitable belief systems sell into an existing worldview but with a new hook on it. Most new marketing approaches are all about pushing the boundaries of what exists, probing to find the edges. Some people do it on the legal front, others probe on the ethical front, and yet others are just more creative & try to win by using technologies in unique ways. If you never fall off a cliff and never have any hate spewed your way then you are likely a bland marketer who hasn't done very much.

Google is in the press almost every week, aiming to stretch the boundaries on trademark, copyright, privacy, and so on.

I was lucky enough to chat with Larry one-to- one about his expectations for Google back in 2002. He laid out far-reaching views that had nothing to do with short-term revenue goals, but raised questions about how Google would anticipate the day sensors and memory became so cheap that individuals would record every moment of their lives. He wondered how Google could become like a better version of the RIAA - not just a mediator of digital music licensing - but a marketplace for fair distribution of all forms of digitized content.

Google is seen as an amazing company that does a limitless amount of good for the world. Yet the are up for anti-trust review and carry ad categories for "get rich quick." Google massages how they are viewed. Anytime something bad happens to their brand you can count on a new invention or an in-depth story of a rouge spammer getting torched by "justice."

For a company that is so good at manipulating outside rules & guidelines, they really lean hard on the arbitrary guidelines they create.

And they are willing to buy websites that violate their own guidelines. And they are not against running custom advertorials.

Foundational Marketing vs Public Relations Spin

The web is constantly shifting. Mailing lists, email newsletters, blogs, wikis, Facebook, Twitter, Color, etc. Most of the core infrastructural stuff is boring. But it is essential. If you don't understand email marketing or newsletters you can't create Groupon.

It is the new stuff with some sort of twist that earns the ink, which drives the perceived value, which earns the ink, which builds the actual value. But most people can't tell the difference between real innovation and public relations fluff. And so after a series of failures and burning millions of Dollars of capital it is time to pivot again. Anything to be seen as new and/or relevant.

If you manufacture evidence that your new strategy is better than Google then outsiders who are unaware of the workings of your industry may syndicate that misinformation. Even if you run a public experiment that fails it still shows you are trying new things (are cutting edge), and is a low cost branding exercise.

Sounds familiar, right?

History keeps repeating itself.

Algorithmic Fallout vs Spam

The perfect algorithm is something that does not exist.

Every choice has winners and losers. No matter what happens to the network & how the algorithms evolve people will find ways to exploit them. Many of Google's biggest holes were caused by Google patching old holes.

Which is precisely why Google leans so hard on public relations & shaping market behavior.

It is not the fault of the search engineer when something goes astray, but rather an evil exploitative spammer (even when Google's AdSense is the revenue engine driving the project).

Clean Your ____ Up!

Thinking back to the content farm update (which was never called the content farm update, because it impacted a wide array of websites) the main message that came out of it is that "Google can determine content quality" and "you better increase your content quality." Webmasters who heard that message were stuck in a tough situation if they had hundreds of thousands or millions of pages indexed in Google. How exactly do you *profitably* increase the quality of millions of pages, even while your site is torched to the ground, revenues are off over 50%, and the timetable + certainty for the solution are both unknowns? In many cases it would be cheaper to start from scratch than to repair the broken mess & deal with all the known unknowns.

Based on Google's advice many webmasters decided that as part of their strategy they would improve the quality of some of their best pages & then have a look at some of their worst content sections and try to block and/or remove them from Google. That sounds pretty logical! In response to that overly-logical approach to problem solving, Matt Cutts wrote the following:

What I would not recommend is sending tons (as in, thousands or even tens of thousands) of individual url removal requests to the url removal tool. And I would definitely not recommend making lots (as in, dozens or even more) of Webmaster Central accounts just to remove your own urls. If we see that happening to a point that we consider excessive or abusive, we reserve the right to look at those requests and responding by e.g. broadening, cancelling, or narrowing the requests.

So here you are trying to comply with Google's latest algorithmic approach (after they already torched your website once) and they have to give you another "or else."

Why The SEO Consultant Will NEVER Go Away

It would be nice to know what pages Google thinks are of low quality, but they don't say. It would be nice to know what pages are indexed in Google, but even official data given in Google Webmaster Tools varies widely over time, let alone the data which is shared publicly.

Further, some sites, like forums, are hard to edit to please Google without potentially destroying the flow of the community and enraging the community. Should sites have to delete or de-index their water cooler area because of Google?

What about the pages that GoogleBot arbitrarily creates by putting keywords into search boxes and generating pages that the site owner may not even know are indexed?

The reason so many webmasters are forced to rely on external search advice is that Google's desire to not be manipulated is so strong that they frequently appear dishonest & not worthy of trust. They speak vaguely, distort, and change the numbers as needed to fit the vision. Saying "in an ideal world" doesn't make that ideal world appear. And people don't trust folks like Donald Rumsfeld - at least smart people don't.

And that is why the SEO market will never die.


As for the web, it is still teething. We are most alike in the areas where we are vulgar & we are most unique the areas in which we are refined. Ultimately what happens as Google becomes more corporate is that Google becomes a boring shopping mall.

The search world loses love & farmers. But unfortunately it was the wrong kind of farmers, as eHow lives on.

Tracking Offline Conversions for Local SEO

Mar 28th

We have certainly seen a trend over the last one to two years where Google is focusing on more personalized search and an increasing focus on providing local results. As you know, a searcher does not even have to be burdened with entering a local modifier anymore.

Google will gladly figure out, for you, whether or not your search has local intent. :)

Google's Investment into Local

Late last year Google moved one of their prized executives over to local services, Marissa Mayer. Moving Mayer, fresh off Google Instant and a variety of other high profile areas of Google's search development, to head up local is a real strong reinforcement of how much attention Google is putting on local and local result quality (or perceived quality).

If you are a business owner who operates locally, say a real estate agent or insurance agent or really any other consumer-based service, then this presents a huge opportunity for you if you can harness the targeting and tracking ability available online.

Merging Offline Marketing with Online Marketing

A lot of small businesses or larger businesses that operate locally still rely quite a bit on offline advertising. It use to be that business owners had to rely on staff nailing down exactly how a lead came to them (newspaper ad? radio ad? special discount ad? and so on).

While it is still good practice to do that, relying solely on that to help gauge the ROI of your advertising campaign introduces a good amount of slippage and is not all that accurate (especially if you sell something online).

As local businesses start to see the light with SEO and PPC campaigns versus dropping 5 figures on phonebook advertising, a big selling point as a service provider or an in-house marketing staff member will be to sell the targeting of online campaigns as well as the tracking of those results.

If your a business owner, it's equally important that you understand what's available to you as an online marketer.

Types of Offline Advertising to Track

Locally, you are essentially looking at a few different types of advertising options to work into your new found zest for tracking results:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Print
  • Billboards

Print is probably the most wide-ranging in terms of branches of advertising collateral because you can get into newspapers, magazines, flyers, brochures, banners, yellow pages, and so on.

While your approach may be different to each marketing type, the core tracking options are basically the same. You can track in your analytics program via:

  • Separate Domains
  • Custom URL's
  • Custom Phone Numbers

The beauty of web analytics, specifically a free service like Google Analytics, is that it puts the power of tracking into the hands of a business owner at no cost outside of perhaps a custom set up and implementation by a competent webmaster. All of these tracking methods can be tracked in Google Analytics as well as other robust analytic packages (Clicky.Com as an example, is a reasonably priced product which can do this as well, save for maybe the phone tracking).

Structuring Your Campaigns

With the amount of offline advertising many businesses do, it is easy to get carried away with separate domains, custom URL's, custom phone numbers, and the like.

What I usually like to do is use a good old fashioned spreadsheet to track the specific advertisements that are running, the dates they are running, and the advertising medium they are using. I also include a column or three for the tracking method(s) used (custom URL, separate domain, special phone number).

In addition to this, Google Analytics offers annotations which you can use to note those advertising dates in your traffic graph area to help get an even better idea of the net traffic effect of a particular ad campaign.

How to Track It

Armed with your spreadsheet of ads to track and notes on how you are going to track them, you're ready to set up the technical side of things.

The tracking is designed to track the hits on your site via the methods mentioned, once they get there you'll want to get that traffic assigned to a campaign or a conversion funnel to determine how many of the people actually convert (if you are able to sell or convert the visitor online).

Custom URL's

A custom URL is going to be something like:

yoursite.com/save20 for an advert you might be offering 20% savings on
yoursite.com/summer for an advert you could offer a summer special on

You may or may not want to use redirection. You can use a redirect method if you are using something like a static site versus a CMS like Wordpress. With Wordpress, you could create those url's as specific pages and just no-index them and ensure they are not linked to internally so you keep them out of the search engine and the normal flow of navigation. This way you know any visit to that page is clearly related to that offline campaign.

A redirect would be helpful where the above is not possible and you need to use Google's URL builder to help track the campaign and not lose referral parameters on the 301.

So you could use the URL builder to get the following parameters if you were promoting a custom URL like yoursite.com/save20:


Then you can head into your .htaccess file (Apache) and insert this code:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule ^save20$ /savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave [L,R=301]

When you test, you should see those URL builder parameters on the landing page and then you know you are good to go :)

If you are worried about multiple duplicate pages getting indexed in the search results (with slightly different tracking codes) you can also leverage the rel=canonical tag on your landing page

<link rel="canonical" href="http://site.com/folder/page/"/>

Separate Domains

Some companies use separate domains to track different campaigns. The idea is the same as is the basic code implementation with exception that you apply any redirect to the domain rather than a sub-page or directory off the domain as we did in the prior example.

So you sell snapping turtles (snappingturtles.com) and maybe you sell turtle insurance so you buy turtleinsurance.com and you want to use that as a part of a large campaign to promote this new and innovative product. You could get this from the url builder:


The .htaccess on turtleinsurance.com would look like:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule .* http://www.snappingturtles.com/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=all&utm_campaign=turtleinsurance [L,R=301]

This would redirect you to the home page of your main site and you can update your .htaccess with a sub-page if you had such a page catering to that specific market.

Custom Phone Numbers

There are quite a few ways to get cheap virtual numbers these days and Phone.com is reliable service where you can get a number for roughly $4.88 per month.

I know companies that implemented custom numbers for a bunch of print ads and it was pretty eye-opening in terms of which as performed better than others and how much money is wasted on untargeted print campaigns.

There certainly is a somewhat intangible brand equity building component to offline ads but it is still interesting to see ads which carry their weight with traffic and response rates, as well as being really helpful when it comes time to reshape the budget.

Here are a couple handfuls of providers which offer phone tracking inside of Google Analytics. Most of these providers will require the purchase of a number from them to tie into a specific URL on your site or just right into the domain + help track those calls alongside the pageviews generated.

Some campaigns are wide-ranging enough to where you may want to target them with a custom number or two and a custom URL or domain. Using a spreadsheet to track these measures along with using Google Analytics annotations to gauge traffic spikes and drops offers business owners deep view into the use of their marketing dollars.

Custom Coupon Codes

If you run a coupon code through Groupon you of course know where it came from. But other channels are also becoming easier to track. Microsoft Office makes it easy to create & track custom coupon codes. There are even technologies to allow you to insert tracking details directly into coupon codes on your own website (similar to online tracking phone numbers via services like IfByPhone or Google's call tracking). Some online coupons offer sophisticated tracking options, and Google wants to get into mobile payments to offer another layer of customer tracking (including coupons).

Finding a Reputable Provider

If you are a business owner who thinks "wow this is awesome, how the heck do I do it?", well here is some advice. If the field of web analytics is mostly foreign to you I would suggest finding a certified Google Analytics provider or ask if your current web company can do this for you. Certainly there are plenty of competent people and companies that are not part of the Google Analytics partner program.

If you are interested in a Google Analytics partner you can search for them here. There is also quite a bit of information in the self-education section of Google Analytics.

I would recommend learning how to do this over a period of time so you can make minor or major changes yourself at some point. Also, it helps to establish a business relationship with someone competent and trustworthy for future tasks that may come up, which you cannot do on your own.

If you are a service provider, start implementing this for some of your local clients and you'll likely be well on your way to establishing yourself as a sought-after marketer in your area.

Almost Everything is Unprofitable

Mar 6th

Clowning Around

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.

Is SEO Really Any Different?

I think Chris Dixon is one of the smarter entrepreneurs and angle investors out there, but was disappointed to see him write a post titled SEO is no longer a viable marketing strategy for startups:

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

  • Google has grown more aggressive in monetizing their search results through increased verticalization and navigational aids
  • 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.

Not long after TripAdvisor started collecting consumer reviews, eHow was sold for $100,000. That turned out to be quite profitable for the buyers! And eHow was also known for aggressive & spammy link building against Google's guidelines. In fact, one of their largest competitors highlighted the lack of this information in their S1 filing:

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.

Small Business SEO Services

Mar 1st

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:

  • CEO
  • customer service representative
  • accountant
  • IT manager
  • marketing manager
  • janitor

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:

  • keyword research
  • competitive analysis
  • analytics reviews and implementation for testing, tracking, tweaking
  • site structure
  • 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.

Membership Format

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 find someone 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?

Shoestring Budget SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Feb 11th

Starting the Process

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:

  • Epic Direct
  • Affiliate.Com
  • Hydra Media
  • Neverblue
  • XY7

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.

Also, you can use Amazon Associates or Clickbank to find a variety of products to promote.

So far, you've spent $0.00 and you should have an idea of what you want to build a site about and ideas on what kind of products you'll be promoting (or how you will monetize the site).

Keyword Tools

There are a variety of keyword tools on the market. You can utilize a slew of Google tools for free:

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).

Link Tracking

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
  • link tracking
  • link monitoring
  • link research
  • links to target
  • domain
  • hosting
  • stuff to sell

Analytics Tools

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.

Smashing Magazine generally has some decent themes and you can pick up affordable themes from a place like ThemeForest.

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.

The Bad Ol' Days Of Search...What's Next?

Feb 11th
posted in

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.

Since 2000

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.

What's next?

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.

Trendwatching Sites - Read beyond search. Get a feel for what is coming about in a broad section of related industries. Check out Trendspotting, Google Trends, Trend Hunter, Trendwatching.com, Springwise, Pew Research Centre and Tech Crunch.

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.

BTW, Google are now into weddings.

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!

Hmmm........not typing queries, huh.

Should You Use Third Party Logins?

Jan 31st

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.

37 Signals recently announced they were retiring their support of Open ID. At the opposite end of the spectrum, eHow just announced they are requiring Facebook logins:

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.

We’re excited to introduce these updates! Get started and click on the Facebook Connect button in the upper right corner of the home page to login. We want to keep in touch, so also remember to Fan Us.

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.

Relaunches Are Harder Than Launches

Jan 29th

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.

Guaranteed Broke

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

Brutal Pain

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!!!)

Expecting Friction

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!

Status Update

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.

Focus On Adding Value

Jan 27th
posted in

Times are tough.

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.

2.Go Beyond

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.


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