The Pros & Cons Of The Affiliate Model

Aug 18th

Are you making enough money from your website?

There are a number of ways to monetize a site. Aaron covers the options in extensive detail in the "Monetization" members area , however today we'll take a close look at just one aspect of monetization, Affiliate Marketing.

What Is Affiliate Marketing

Affiliate Marketing is a marketing method whereby one business rewards another business for sending customers, visitors and/or sales.

Mostly, affiliate marketing rewards come in the form of revenue share on a sale. Site A (the affiliate) funnels visitors to Site B (the merchant). If a transaction is completed by the merchant, the affiliate receives a commission on the sale. Do this numerous times a day in a high-margin area, such as loans, and both the affiliate and the merchant can make a lot of money.

Affiliate marketing is nothing new.

In the carpet markets in Turkey, you get pestered by salesmen whos job is to tempt you off the street and across the threshold of a carpet shop. He - its invariably a he - might get paid for bringing you to the door (the online equivalent is equivalent to cost-per-click), or, if you buy a carpet he receives a commission (cost per action). Or perhaps a mixture of the two.

The benefit to the merchant is that he doesn't have to pay the full time wages of the salesman, and he only pays him on performance. The benefit to the salesman is that he doesn't have to own a shop, carry merchandise, deal with transactions, or any of the other costs associated with running a carpet shop.

Win-win.

In 2006, MarketingSherpa estimated online affiliates worldwide earned US$6.5 billion in bounty and commissions

The Players & How It Works

The Affiliate Marketing industry consists of three core players:

  • The Merchant
  • The Affiliate
  • The Prospective Customer

As the affiliate model became big business, further levels emerged, including sub-affiliates and affiliate networks. We'll take a look at the role of the networks shortly.

The Pros Of Affiliate Marketing

Easy To Set-Up - You simply need to select a program, sign-up, add the tracking code to your site, and you're good to go.

Focus On Your Core Skills - If SEO is your key skill, you can focus 100% on rankings and traffic generation. You leave all the customer handling, sales, returns, legal issues and transactions to someone else.

You'll also be amongst esteemed company. The top affiliate marketers who use SEO to generate traffic typically rank amongst the highest-skilled SEOs. They live or die based solely on their ability to rank well in highly competitive areas.

Low Startup Costs - setting up commerce delivery online can require a lot of start-up investment. The affiliate need not invest anything other than some time. If one area doesn't work out, the affiliate can quickly move onto another area. The merchant has to too many sunk costs to do likewise.

Multiple Income Streams - once you've honed your sills in one area, you can apply them to any area you choose. There is no limit to the number of merchants you can work for, so you are free to develop multiple revenue streams. Some merchants will give you ongoing revenues based on customer activities, too.

Cons Of Affiliate Marketing

Low Level Of Control - Unless you have a close relationship with your merchant, you have little control over offers.

If their competitors are offering better services and/or lower prices, you can't counter unless the merchant changes their offer in line with the market. You're also pretty much stuck with the same standard offer available to every other affiliate you're competing against, making it difficult to differentiate.

There are exceptions.

Sometimes super affiliates - those affiliates who consistently put through high sales volumes - get offered special deals. It's unlikely you'll know what these deals are unless you become a super-affiliate. Some programs allow pricing control, but mostly, you're dealing with cookie cutter offers.

Customer Base Not Locked In - The merchant keeps the customer.

Typically, you deliver the customer, the merchant pays you a one-time commission, then that customer remains theirs for all subsequent purchases. The value of the merchants business increases the more customers they have.

As an affiliate, you don't tend to have lock-in on the customer. Some affiliate deals offer you on-going revenue, however.

High Competition - One of the pros of affiliate marketing is that is is easy to sign up and get started.

This is also a negative.

If it is easy for you to sign up, then it is easy for everyone to do likewise. There are new affiliate hordes arriving each and every day. The incentive for the merchant and affiliate network is to sign on as many performing affiliates as they can, so they don't really care if you face ever increasing levels of competition.

This is why top affiliates look for private deals. More on this shortly.

PS: As I stated above, you'll be amongst esteemed company. The top affiliate marketers who use SEO to generate traffic are typically very highly-skilled SEOs. They live or die based solely on their ability to rank well in highly competitive areas. These people will also be your competitors :)

Pay On Performance - This is a great option for the merchant. They only pay when they sell something. What this does is transfer all the advertising risk to you.

You may spend weeks or months on SEO and make no sales. This might not even be your fault. You get great rankings and traffic, but the merchant has an uncompetitive offer, or loses customers at the point of sale.

Middlemen - As the affiliate area has grown, so too have the number of middlemen.

The biggest middleman in the chain is the affiliate network. The affiliate network is the go-between linking the merchants with the affiliates. Commission Junction is one example.

The network often provides valuable reporting tools and tracking, as well as affiliate and merchant support. Of course, all this costs money and places an additional layer between the affiliate and the merchant. Whilst the network may provide benefits in terms of reporting and support, it also reduces the level of control and contact the affiliate has with the merchant.

Limited Growth Potential - Because you can't lock in your customers or adapt deals to suit changing market conditions, growth potential is limited. Like the carpet salesman, you rely on a new stream of visitors each and every day with no way to grow what you do, other than by adding sub-affiliates.

There is a solution to many of these problems, however.

Direct Partnerships

There are many affiliates making very good money following the model I have outlined above.

However, as affiliates get more and more successful, they often look to partner direct with merchants. This way, they cut out the middlemen - leaving more profit for the affiliate - and gain a closer relationship with the merchant.

Some affiliates structure the entire deal, and take a percentage of the merchants earnings over time. Whilst this approach requires upfront organization, the long term payoffs can be huge compared to the traditional network-driven affiliate model.

But how do you do it?

First, you need to look at areas where there is high returns and low levels of competition.

Make a list of merchants who have a web presence in your chosen area and have the ability to take online orders or inquiries. Approach these merchants directly. It's a good idea if you can demonstrate potential traffic levels and sales, so come armed with this information.

Look to sign up exclusively i.e. you're the only affiliate working with them. Also try to get a cut of ongoing revenue i.e. if the customers becomes a repeat customer, you receive repeat commissions. The bonus to the merchant is that you're a salesman willing to work on a commission basis. There is little risk involved for the merchant, and most will be only too happy to at least consider your proposition.

These types of deals require a high deal of trust and transparency, so it's unlikely you'll get everything you want right away. Suggest a trial run to prove your worth, then negotiate favorable terms once you've proved yourself. If the merchant turns you down at that point, then you simply go to his/her competition, with your accumulated data, and make the same offer.

This way, you should be able to build up a private label affiliate system. You can bring on your own hand-picked sub affiliates to work with you, too, and if you've selected your market correctly, you should face little or no competition. As you have a close, direct relationship with the merchant, you can work on structuring product and service offerings that remain competitive. It becomes more of a partnership that can be nurtured and made valuable over time.

Some of the biggest money-making affiliate opportunities you'll never hear about.

That's because they involve private label deals.

Hanging Out At Established Places

Aug 11th
posted in

In 2009, Google places a lot of trust in authority.

Authority, in terms of ranking, typically means "an established site with a high number of inbound links from authoritative sources".

Ranking might also have something to do with a sites popularity. And the usage patterns. And various other signals of "establishment" known only to the Google alchemists.

Whatever way you look at it, a new site is difficult to get ranked in competitive keyword areas.

So what are you to do while you're waiting for your authority signals to build?

Way, Way Off Site SEO Tactics

Consider placing content on established sites.

There are a number of reasons why you might do this, including increased exposure, the obvious back-link advantages, and the kudos that comes with appearing on a high profile site. Compare the effort of writing one killer article for a high profile site, with - say - begging other webmasters for links. The effort may be comparable, but the rewards of following the former path can be significantly higher.

Even if you get no link value from content placement, at very least you'll get your name seen. This can lead to people seeking you out, whether you rank or not. We'll look deeper into branding aspects shortly.

Piggy Back

Try putting up a page on Work.com, Squidoo, HubPages, Knol and any other established sites that allow user contribution. This also provides a testing ground to see if the keywords you have chosen are worth ranking for, before you attempt to rank for the same keywords on your own site.

Are you good with video? Make a few video's and place them on YouTube.

Win Friends And Influence People

A good, meaty reply to a popular blog post can garner you a lot of attention, particularly from the webmaster who runs the site.

Because webmasters deal with constant spam and low quality contributions, a well-considered comment from a new writer will really stand out. The webmaster may follow your link back to see where that great comment came from. You're now on their radar, which increases your likelihood of getting a mention.

Make sure you already have similarly high quality content on your own site that is link worthy. BTW, I follow every comment left on my SEOBook posts, and find it a great way to learn about what other webmasters are doing. Lurkers never appear on radars.

Q&A sites, such as Yahoo Answers, WikiAnswers, and LinkedIn Answers, often have well-ranked pages. If you provide a great answer to questions, people may follow your link back.

You'll also get a reasonable idea of the amount and quality of the traffic that a page ranking for your chosen term, receives.

Position Against The Market Leader

If you have a competing product to a product already reviewed on Amazon, it can be a good idea to provide your own lengthy review. This is an online way of positioning against the market leader.

Here's an example.

Check out this singing course. Now scroll down to the review comments. The first long review you see is by the author of a competing singing course product.

This is a cunning way to leverage the popularity of the established leader. Get your own product alongside the market leader, which will then encourage readers to draw comparisons. In this case, the first review is associated with a product that is significantly cheaper than the product it reviews, a point the writer alludes to in his opening line.

Why Brand Is Important

Some webmasters only consider the back-link possibilities of these strategies, but they're missing the big picture.

Links are, of course, important, but also aim to build brand recognition. There is little point getting in front of people if they don't remember you, so to get the most out of the above strategies, you must be consistent and memorable.

Individuals make themselves memorable by adding a personal photo. Companies make themselves memorable using brands. Brands are a way of helping consumers make associations between your products and their problems. Aaron goes into depth on branding and how to leverage brands for SEO in the members area. In short, your brand, as well as being memorable, needs to hit empathetic points with your customers. A brand must resonate.

If you can convince people that your brand is what they need, regardless of where they see it, then they will seek you out by typing your brand name into the search box. Whilst you're waiting to rank for generic keyword terms, direct your efforts into making people aware of your brand.

As an aside, when choosing a brand name, check out Aarons post on Domain Names As Natural Brands. Aaron quotes this great line from Rick Schwartz, which is killer:

NATURAL BRANDING or BUILD and CREATE BRANDING

This alone is worth the price of admission. Brad told us his story of spending millions and millions to advertise and brand with his original 3 word creative domain name. When he switched and used a fraction of those ad dollars to buy a category killer domain name, he transformed his business. The dollars he was using to brand was now freed up to do other acquisitions and grow his business in a more dramatic way. NATURAL BRANDING may be the simplest way to describe what a great domain brings to the table."

Few small operators are going to have much money to spend on brand building, which is notoriously expensive. Weigh up the cost of getting a really good, memorable generic name. You're telling people who you are and what you do at the same time.

Try not to position yourself against an existing market leader with a strong brand. Instead, define a category you can be first in, and establish your brand there. I talk more about this aspect in my post"Marketing Driven SEO Strategy".

Summary

Look for ways you can contribute to other sites in order to build awareness, links and brand recognition. Find out where your competition is mentioned and try to get mentioned in the space. Leverage the authority of existing sites.

Is Outing is a Sleazy Black Hat Marketing Strategy?

Aug 7th

Rae Hoffman nailed it:

Is your Web site and marketing strategy really the best it can be? Focusing on what everyone else does and why your organic SEO life is so unfair distracts you from doing what will benefit you most - improving YOURSELF. The best thing you can do for your Web site is to focus on IT and not spend all your time whining about your competitors.

Reporting your competitors is no more an SEO strategy than a heavyset person complaining about what good genes her skinny friend has is a weight loss technique.

Life is never about being fair. Either you focus on what matters or you do not. If people are beating you with low grade spammy stuff then either you are not very good at marketing or you are not putting your full potential into your projects. Outing others because you are not good enough to compete is simply a sleazy business practice.

See also: Why SEO outing is bad + The SEO Police

Why 99%+ of Flat Rate SEO Services Are a Scam

Aug 4th

SEO Question: Hello, How do site suchs as: ____ and _____ work with flat fees Where everyone else charges us up the wazoo.
Do you offer such a program for my business. - Thanks, Paul

Short answer: "Laws control the lesser man. Right conduct controls the greater one." - Mark Twain

Some People Provide Value, Others Steal Money

Long answer: Believe it or not, at one point in time I was an SEO client who bought a trashy scammy service. The site I was trying to market was terrible, they offered no link building solutions for it, and instead suggested I create copies of pages on the site with hidden links pointing back and forth to try to rank well for some obscure 5 word phrases that nobody searches for.

Now those people could have told me that my site was a poor website and I can improve it by doing x, y, and z. But they didn't care about the actual outcome of the work. They just wanted $149 and they got it. That was over six years ago, and they are still scamming people today.

Many Big Organizations Sell Scammy No-Value SEO Services

Most SEO buyers are allured by the prospect of free traffic and that free price-point sets their anchoring for the price. Further their first introduction to SEO comes from non-SEO. Many web hosts, domain registrars, clueless web designers (who talk up web standards but do no actual SEO research), and sleazy telemarketers offer low priced flat rate packages that have no value. Some of the domain registrars and web hosts run on such thin margins that they would be bankrupt without selling stuff like the scammy bolt on no value SEO packages. To highlight such scams I created dollarseo.com to show how they did not work.

Which Creates a Market For Lemons Effect

John Andrews also highlighted this issue in the past, in a post about a market for lemons, comparing the market for SEO services to the used car market:

As non-selling good cars were removed from the market, masquerading “lemons” dominated, setting the tone for the used car market, and further blocking actually good used cars from appearing. In the end, the used car market becomes a market for lemons, not a used car market.

It seems SEO has the same problem. As “boiler-room” SEO firms cold-call companies and pitch ridiculously low prices for SEO contracts, based on old and incorrect SEO information readily accessible to consumers, high quality SEO firms start looking “too expensive”. Consumer research into SEO does not reveal better information, since that knowledge comprises a significant portion of the value SEO consulting, and is thus not freely published. The entire market for SEO services starts to become a market not for actual search engine optimization, but more a market for “snake oil SEO” than true SEO.

Consider the Baseline

To further put the economics of SEO in context, any great SEO should be able to profit from marketing their own websites about their own interests. If I was still interested in baseball cards (like I was in high school) I have no doubt that I could make 6 figures a year promoting a website about baseball cards. That interest faded. But any interests I have I can attempt to monetize. That sets the barrier kinda high for client services. Why would I market someone's thin affiliate site selling Viagra cheaply when if I poured the same effort into my own sites which I love I would make far more profits?

Competent SEOs Have Many Options

Because of snake oil SEO salesmen (and people who want to buy something cheap) the SEO market is very hard to extract money from in service based businesses unless...

  1. you run your own publishing business (monetized through affiliate ads, contextual ads, lead generation, direct ad sales, creating & selling your own products + services) and optimize your own websites (which we do)
  2. you sell information and/or tools that others can use to apply to learning SEO (which we do)
  3. you sell other niche services (like keyword research or link building) that help clients, but are only a piece of the overall strategy (we do not do too much of this, but sometimes do)
  4. you have very few select high end client relationships (which we do)
  5. you hire a bunch of salesmen to sell worthless trash to the bottom 80% of the consumer market. (which we do NOT do)

This site is about 90% of my labor and about 30% of our profit. But we still run it for a variety of reasons...

  • it is one of my favorite hobbies
  • income diversity
  • running this site (and interacting with hundreds of smart SEOs) helps give us more feedback on international markets and inform some of marketing strategies
  • there are a lot of ways to make money online that are somewhat dirty, but this site is pure as snow and helps thousands of families put food on their tables.

Some Markets Are Competitive & Expensive

Anyone who is selling flat rate SEO services is selling a service priced without exploring the market and learning how competitive it is. Ranking well for credit cards might be worth millions of dollars. But it might also cost that much to rank. Ranking for Salem, Oregon bus rental is far easier and can be done using less than 1% of the capital investment.

Worse yet (for the consumer of a flat rate SEO service), SEO is a winner take most market. Most people click on the first page of the search results, with most those clicks happening on the top few listings. So lets say one of the flat rate companies was surprisingly not a scam and actually gave a crap about your business. This is doubtful in most cases, but lets just consider it. Well if they under-price the flat rate and rank you on page 2 or 3 you still are not going to get very much traffic, and (in spite of them trying their best on limited resources) you still probably lost money because page 3 of the search results = fail.

Is Google Flat Rate?

And here is another way of looking at it. Google AdWords doesn't sell their keywords for a flat rate. The words live in an auction that rises and falls with consumer demand. At the same time, advertisers who are paying Google over $10,000,000,000 a year are starting to put some of that budget into organic SEO. With the average SEO employee earning roughly $80,000 a year it is hard to believe that an outsourced discount flat rate package can compete.

Flat Rate Dream Homes Located in _____ for Only $5,000

I am not sure who came up with this analogy. I think it was Danny Sullivan (he is always great with those), but how many contractors do flat rate home building? Probably 0 legitimate ones. Everything is important from the foundation, to the number of rooms, to the materials used, and any special requests need to be considered.

Knowing if the house is on the side of the mountain, if it needs rocks cleared away, if it is in a swamp and could sink is important. Likewise legitimate SEO consulting aims to know the direction of the market, understand the brand, evaluate domain name selection, survey the market, and assess strengths and weaknesses.

Only AFTER all that work has been done to establish a foundation then you have to establish a well researched market strategy and keyword strategy. Then you need to do push marketing and other forms of marketing to build links. You might need to build 100 or 100,000 to compete. No matter how perfect your site is optimized, you generally are not going to rank for competitive keywords until AFTER some link building has been done. On-page optimization has a glass ceiling.

Rarely, if ever, do flat rate SEO service providers build quality links. And if the do buy them, then it is generally to some prescribed generic schedule rather than a specific plan catered to your market and your website. And while the provider is stuck working within that flat rate someone else is subscribing to sites like this one, learning SEO, and aggressively reinvesting their profits to further build a competitive advantage.

It is very hard for an outsourced discount service to compete with a self-interested business owner.

In the markets worth being in, pre-defined flat rate SEO rarely gets it done.

What is a Natural Link Growth Profile?

Jul 25th

One of the common questions we get is how to build links for a new site. In our training site we offer our 12 week link building roadmap and a list of directories to submit to, but I also thought I should discuss link building in general. A good basic rule of thumb (though a bit conservative of one) is to build links in a manner where every month you build as many or more links than you built the prior month.

Graph of 3 Different Link Profiles

3 Common Link Building Strategies

  1. spiky. if the spikes are associated with news and viral marketing then that is not a big problem, but if they are sorta bought links, low quality links, etc. then this is sorta the worst way to do it.
  2. linear. not as bad as spiky...but not as good as geometric. this is where a webmaster tries to build the same number of links each month.
  3. geometric. this is where link building starts off slow, but then keeps getting better each month.
  • If a website is a real website that is generally a useful utility and did not do any viral marketing this would be the most natural profile of how to build links
  • The reason links keep building faster is that exposure breeds more exposure and if the site is genuinely useful and original some people will link to it even without you asking. This phenomenon can be described through understanding cumulative advantage and self-reinforcing authority.
  • Plus as you build a useful site and do some social networking it builds social capital that can be leveraged when doing future promotions of featured content.

Some Caveats...

  • While I try to do geometric when I can, sometimes we build links a bit spike because sometimes we do things in a rushed series or sometimes we do viral marketing.
    • The viral stuff is not harmful...if you do quality viral stuff you want big spikes of links from it because those will be very hard links for competitors to try to clone. But odds are that some of our links might only count partially when we build them in spikes and there is no viral story associated with it.
    • If we know we are going to be somewhat spiky then we try to spread it out and pace it a bit with a month to a month and a half in between each build effort (rather than do it all in the first week).
    • When launching linkbaits you can't guarantee which ones will work and which ones will not. But the key is to launch them regularly. You wouldn't want to do a couple of them that go viral in the first month, and then follow up by doing none for the next 6 months.
  • Brand new sites only get partial credit for links until their own site ages a bit and gets trusted more.
  • Older sites that are pretty well trusted with a strong foundation of links can be quite spiky with no problem at all.
    • BUT older sites that only have a few links and suddenly build a ton of links real fast can end up with ranking issues.
    • After sites are established enough they may not need to work on doing too much link building (especially if they are pulling in many organic links due to the exposure from their current rankings and/or other distribution channels like email and blogging). BUT if they do nothing and the competition keeps investing in link building then eventually they will catch up.

Link Anchor Text

It is also worth noting that you don't want to use the exact same anchor text on every link. Using a variety of related phrases (seo blog, seo blogs, search engine optimization blog, etc.) would be far better than just using the exact same anchor text over and over again.

Many Types of Links

You can be successful by primarily building 1 type of link from a class of websites, but if you can get links from a variety of types of link sources that will make your site strong and rankings stable even if one class of links gets deweighted. Todd Malicoat's Balancing the Link Equation is the canonical resource on that topic. And the more diverse your link profile is the harder it will be for a competitor to clone your work.

SEM Training: Do You Make These 14 Common SEM Errors?

There are a lot of parallels between Google AdWords and SEO, and a lot of the beginner mistakes are the same for both traffic acquisition strategies. I figured it would be worth outlining some of the most common ones to help save you money on your search engine marketing campaigns.

  1. Weak Domain Name
  2. All Search Traffic Driven to Homepage
  3. No Link Building
  4. All Links to the Homepage
  5. No Link Anchor Text Variation
  6. No Focus on Quality
  7. Lacking On Page Optimization
  8. No Site Structure
  9. Site With No Value Add
  10. Competitive Saturated Market With Inadequate Budget
  11. Picking a Market for 1
  12. Pick a Market Which Does Not Monetize
  13. Over-Aggressive Monetization From Day 1
  14. What Other Common SEM Errors do You See?

1. Weak Domain Name

Google AdWords

When I interviewed Perry Marshall about AdWords he recommended split testing URLs because the URL can and does have a major impact on your ad clickthrough rate.

Since Google factors click-through rate (CTR) into their quality scores, anything that influences CTR influences your click prices. And while competitors can and will steal your AdWords ad copy, they CAN'T steal your domain name.

SEO

There are many potential errors that can be made with domain names. Two of the more common errors are creating a domain name that is impossible to remember and creating a name that restricts expansion.

Recommendations

Some people feel the need to limit their domain name budget to $10, but it is a foolish strategy. Almost every piece of marketing you do will be influenced by your domain name. Your domain name has limited recurring costs associated with it, but can represent a huge recurring market advantage or disadvantage. Yeah for CreditCards.com, and boo for cheapest-online-apply-credit-cards-and-loans.info.

  1. If you are using Google AdWords for a new product or a non-branded product then test clickthrough rates across multiple domain names.
  2. Make sure your domain name allows you to expand as needed. This is sorta an error I made early on with this site...I had no idea how successful the site would become when I started it and did not anticipate us creating the #1 SEO training program back when I thought of selling an ebook.
  3. Avoid names that are impossible to remember. If you intend to create something that is easy to market online and offline then your domain name must pass the phone test, which typically means avoiding hyphens & numbers. This is especially true if you are trying to build a big brand.
  4. If you feel your company may expand internationally it is best to buy any matching domain extensions where you might intend to eventually do business.
  5. Exact match domain names can create a big SEO advantage if you can afford them - since some engines may give them a relevancy boost and your domain name influences the anchor text people use when they link at your website.

2. All Search Traffic Driven to Homepage

Google AdWords

1 page can only be relevant for a certain sector of search queries. In an efficient market anyone who directs all traffic to the homepage will lose a lot of money.

Every additional click you force users to make has some amount of slippage. When using Google AdWords / pay per click marketing a small change in conversion rates can be the difference between sustained profits and sustained losses.

SEO

It is sorta impossible to make a page "optimized" for hundreds or thousands of popular keywords because eventually after you add enough different keywords in the page copy it ends up reading bad and it harms conversion rates.

With SEO efforts mis-directing traffic is not as obvious as it is with AdWords because you don't have to pay for every click. But giving users an irrelevant experience still means you are throwing money away and only operating at a fraction of your potential.

Recommendations

With the prevalence of Google (and web search in general) every page of your site is the front door. We navigate via search. So map out keywords against URLs and try to offer the most relevant user experience whenever possible.

Observe how we map out core keywords, variations, and modifiers.

Some Google AdWords advertisers take perceived relevancy one step further and use the search query to help define the page content through the use of keyword insertion into their page copy and/or altering the page based on geographic information based on your computer's IP address.

3. No Link Building

Google AdWords

The equivalent of links to AdWords is keywords in your AdWords account. If you only advertise on 1 or 2 keywords you miss out on a large stream of relevant traffic.

SEO


If you build it they will come is simply not true in the search game. If it was easy to rank for competitive keywords without links then few companies would buy AdWords ads. You can't typically rank a new site until you have some level of awareness. Search engines follow people. Links are seen as votes of trust.

Recommendations

With AdWords, don't just bid on 1 keyword. Look for additional relevant variations that make sense. If you don't mind splashing out $50 you can also look at what competing sites are advertising on using SEM Rush, Keyword Spy, SpyFu, and/or KeyCompete. There are so many new tools popping up in this market segment that I have not had the time to review them all.

For SEO, download SEO for Firefox and the SEO Toolbar and look at how many links competing sites have and how many domain names those links come from. You will likely need to build some number of links in the range of what competing sites have (from a similar set of sites) to rank. Today is the perfect day to start building links. And yesterday was even better. ;)

4. All Links to the Homepage

Google AdWords

Since you are buying the links from the search engines based on keyword, this problem would be corrected by solving issue #2.

SEO

A variation of the above thinking. Most quality sites have useful content somewhere that people link to editorially. If all your links point at the homepage then that means you are not using anchor text from external links to boost your internal page ranks. In most markets that creates a big loss considering that some of those pages would get a lot of traffic with just a few more deep links which would yield higher rankings.

Recommendations


Search is a winner take most market. Analyze your traffic patterns, rankings, and target keywords to ensure you are promoting key pages. Look at top competing sites and keyword ranking values to gain additional insights.

Create linkworthy content that people would want to link at and push market it. The objective (vs self-interested) viewpoint here is "if you did not own your site what is unique about it that would make you want to visit it every week and/or recommend it to a friend?"

5. No Link Anchor Text Variation (or AdWords Ad Copy Variation)

Google AdWords

You shouldn't use the exact same ad copy on all of your keywords. You should segment it out by trying to understand user demand and create compelling advertising text that is relevant to the search query, relevant to the user demand, and relevant to your landing page. If you use a single generic boilerplate ad copy you are loosing a lot of money because your ad will not look as relevant as some of the top competing ads.

SEO

When people link to things naturally there tends to be some variation involved. If all your inbound links say "my keywords" then that can look suspicious...particularly if you are buying lots of links.

Recommendations

With AdWords, at a minimum you would want to use dynamic keyword insertion. But if you sell a lot of different products then you should try to find a way to match up small groups of relevant keywords against a set of ad copy. Make your core keywords stand out on their own, and be willing to be somewhat less descriptive with low search volume backfill keywords.

With SEO you should try to mix up your link anchor text when you are manually building links. If you create original compelling content that people want to link at (and push market it to the right audience) then that will also pull in natural anchor text.

6. No Focus on Quality

Google AdWords

Some advertisers are compelled to go after "cheap" clicks. But some of the more expensive keywords are expensive because they are associated with significant and valuable consumer demand.

SEO


Google algorithms estimate the probability of a new site being quality or low quality. If you start off with 2,000+ "free" directory links you align your site with sites that are often of lower quality. Similarly, if you try to promote watered down or average content then few people will be receptive to those efforts.

Recommendations

There is nothing wrong with buying cheap traffic, but make sure you track the business value you get from that traffic. If you buy "cheap" traffic from 3rd tier ad networks and/or keywords without any commercial intent those will not build your business anywhere near as well as developing a solid traffic stream from valuable industry keywords on leading search engines.

Start your link building efforts with quality links first. As your site gets more trusted you can fill in some lower quality links as well, but you don't want to do it first, and you don't want to do it in bulk.

When you decide to do push marketing for link building make sure the content you are promoting is unique, original, useful, compelling, & citation-worthy.

7. Lacking On Page Optimization

Google AdWords

Quality user experience and usability are crucial to converting well. When users come from search to your site they are switching channels. The more cues you can give them that they are in the right place (like relevant page headings + navigation) the higher your conversion rates and visitor value should be.

SEO

For really competitive queries links are crucial, but you can rank for many less competitive keywords and keyword variations without lots of links (because there is much less competition for those keywords). And even if you have lots of links, it is still typically hard to rank for keyword phrases that are not in your page copy.

Recommendations

With Google AdWords you can reach many of the stray searchers by using a combination of phrase match and broad match, and then using negative match to filter out irrelevant searches.

For every person searching for "seo" or "sem" there are probably 10 people searching for more obscure queries like "how do I promote my business on Google?" You can see how our page about link building ranks for hundreds of related keywords.

This is probably the single most powerful graphic explaination of why having lots of useful on-page content:

With SEO you can reach a lot of the searchers by using alternate word forms, alternate word orders, related phrases, and keyword modifiers in your content.

8. No Site Structure

Google AdWords

If your AdWords ad campaigns are not well organized then you are likely losing money. A strong site structure also helps ensure that your AdWords account has a strong structure, which can aid profitability.

SEO

If your site is not structured well then...

  • navigation will likely be hard or confusing
  • some of your key pages may not get much of your link authority
  • some of your unimportant pages may accumulate a lot of your link authority

Recommendations

Most successful websites have a structure in which key pages which are mapped out against user demand and search volume.

  • Create separate AdWords campaigns based on goals. Perhaps you can have campaigns for brand related searches, seasonal offers, public relations, campaigns that are based on ROI metrics, and even backfill campaigns like misspellings.
  • Some content management systems (CMS) have major errors with duplicate content and site structure issues. A review of that topic is beyond the scope of this article, but search for the name of the CMS and SEO prior to implementing it to verify there are no serious issues and/or that there are easy fixes on the market.
  • Set up site categories and sub-categories that are aligned against the keywords people use to search for your products and services.
  • If you blog (or publish content regularly) reference older related materials when relevant.
  • If your content is in a database you can use automated contextual links to help fix some site structural issues and redistribute PageRank down toward lower pages in your site structure.

9. Site With No Value Add

Google AdWords

If your site does not add much value it can be quite hard to sustain profit margins in the AdWords market. Affiliates routinely copy the work of each other and drive up click prices, which kills profit margins.

SEO

My very first profitable website was a no value add website that I got some spammy links for. The site did make thousands of dollars in affiliate commissions (a gift from God at the time), but that income was only made ***because*** I was a bad speller and misspelled some casino brand names back before search engines integrated spell correcting aggressivley. Such a site would simply go nowhere today.

Google often considers sites without value add to be unneeded duplication and/or spam. If you ever get a chance to read some of the Google Remote Quality Rater Documents you can see what Google believes is associated with "value add."

Recommendations

  • In competitive AdWords markets competing businesses are forced to keep improving their business processes and efficiencies to be able to afford increasing bids from competing businesses.
  • If you have a lower lifetime customer value than competing businesses you may eventually be driven out of the market.
  • With some seedy affiliate offers in many cases the only people with sustained profit margins are basically those who are surprisingly sleazier than the rest of the market or those who are barely breaking even themselves, but are using their blog to build a downstream of followers that they get commissions from.
  • Some (perhaps most?) affiliate networks ***will*** shave your commissions AND steal your keyword list if you send them the data.
  • If you don't have a value add and want to play catch up in a competitive SEO market you need to have some sort of competitive advantage (be it nepotism, domain name, market experience, etc.).
  • Making paid things freely available, creating useful software or tools, and having deeper & better editorial are 3 great ways to add value and win marketshare.

10. Competitive Saturated Market With Inadequate Budget

Google AdWords

In some markets it is hard to compete buying traffic without having a strong brand. If Geico pays Google $30 a click, but only pays affiliates $10 per lead then there is no way an affiliate can compete against Geico on the core industry keywords like auto insurance.

SEO

Want to rank for hotels and insurance? Me too. But I am uncertain if I have the resources to do it from scratch in a lasting manner given the algorithmic trends promoting well branded business and how corporations are increasing their SEO budgets.

Recommendations

  • Have big ideas, but set reasonable goals, and measure progress.
  • Do the math in advanced to estimate how much you can afford to pay for a click.
  • Pick and chose your spots in the Google AdWords market. If after you do significant testing and optimization a word is still losing money consider dropping it.
  • Try to pick a market position you feel you can dominate. The #20 result for "insurance" produces traffic worth ~ $0. The #2 or #3 result for "pet insurance" yields much more.
  • Make at least 1 incremental improvement to your web business everyday.
  • Aggressively re-invest early profits into growing your website and building a moat.

11. Picking a Market for 1

Google AdWords & SEO

If there is no demand for an idea then it is quite hard to create demand through search engine marketing. Search engine marketing works best when it captures existing demand.

Recommendations

  • Keyword research tools can give you estimates of search volume.
  • Since AdWords is so much quicker and easier to test than building a full site and implementing an SEO campaign, you can use AdWords to test market demand and interest for an offer before spending money building and marketing a full website.
  • It can be good to be out front of trends (as one of the easiest ways to win a market is to be the first person in it), but just as easily you can go after an established high money market with your own original spin or angle.

12. Pick a Market Which Does Not Monetize

Google AdWords

If similar competing business models have much higher visitor value you may have to change your business model to compete. Some low earning business models might simply be precluded from participating in the AdWords market in a meaningful way.

SEO

There is nothing wrong with building a site about a topic you are passionate about and interested in without knowing how well it will monetize, but if you are trying to build a business you should pick something with a high enough visitor value to create enough profit potential to make it worth the time and money investment.

Recommendations

If you are planning on participating in the AdWords market, but have a low margin business then you should look for ways to increase profit margins, customer order size, and lifetime customer value.

If you run an editorial site it can be a good idea to under-monetize off the start to build market momentum without people viewing you as a competitor, but it can be hard to bolt on a business model if you have spent a lot of time servicing the wrong market segments.

13. Over-Aggressive Monetization From Day 1

Google AdWords

If you are buying traffic there is no problem with trying to monetize it. But most website visitors will not convert.

SEO

Sell in line text links & have pop ups? Is ever other post an affiliate link? If so, why would anyone want to subscribe to an ad stream when there are many useful alternatives to look at?

Recommendations

  • Since most website visitors will not convert to paying customers on the first visit, you should look to establish a relationship with them by giving them a free offer and/or some reason to come back to your website. You can see the offer we make at the bottom of our pages and on our join now page.
  • Existing leading trusted sites that have built up a following benefit from cumulative advantage. If your site is brand new and driven by editorial content it is a good idea to give away more value than you capture. Under-monetize until you build enough market momentum to make your rankings stick even when you do monetize.
  • Consider monetizing some areas of your site more aggressively while not monetizing other sectors of your site, but instead using them for public relations and link building.

14. What Other Common SEM Errors do You See?

How To Spot Keyword Trends

Jun 25th

When we launch SEO projects, we've often got one eye on the future.

We start with a site that ranks nowhere, then we build links and optimize with the expectation that a few months from now, we'll start getting rankings, and traffic. Are the keyword terms we rank for going to be worthwhile over time? Will search volumes in our niche increase? Will they decrease? Are there more lucrative niches we could target instead? What will our market be interested in this time next year? Where is our market moving?

Given that search engine ranking has a long lead time, it pays to think about keyword trends well ahead of time.

The problem with the future is that it is difficult to predict. However, spotting trends is somewhat easier, and gives us an insight into how our niche is likely to develop. Trends typically follow a gradual, predictable pattern.

Let's take a look at a few tools you can use to help spot long term keyword trends.

Trend Spotting Tools

Google Trends is a useful tool for predicting rising interest in keyword areas. Search on your keyword terms, and see if interest in your niche is rising or falling. Ideally, you want to find keyword areas that show an increasing level of interest, or areas where there is significant, steady interest over time.

Likewise, Google Insights For Search allows you to drill down into the data in a variety of ways, including by date, by region, by category and by source. The related terms section is particularly useful for getting new keyword ideas, and analyzing trends. Click the RSS icon at the bottom, and you can keep up to date with this information in your RSS Reader. I use Google's Reader.

Twitter Search is a good tool for trend spotting. Possibly the most useful aspect of Twitter, as far as the SEO is concerned, is the ease of which you can spot keyword trends in terms of everyday usage. Search for your keyword term and make a note of the words people use in conjunction with your keyword terms. In what context does your keyword appear? Integrate these words into your copy.

Also check out Twist which shows keyword trends in Twitter over time, although it is limited to the last 30 days.

Both Microsoft Ad Intelligence and Google Adwords provide seasonal trends, which is especially useful for looking at interest patterns linked to the time of year, an obvious example being gift buying at Christmas.

Paid research tools, such as Keyword Discovery, provide historical data. Also check out Compete.com and WikiRank. WikiRank shows you what people are reading on Wikipedia. It’s based on the actual usage data from the Wikipedia servers, and provides trending data.

Microsoft Bing (I can't type that name without thinking of "Friends") provides XRank, a service that gathers related trend information and presents it on the same page, although the keyword terms it shows any results for seem to be rather limited.

So the takeaway point is to look at both keyword usage volumes and keyword trends over time.

Determine your bread-and-butter terms i.e. the terms that show constant levels of traffic and construct your link building strategy around these terms. Also look at the the emerging terms in your niche i.e. the terms with a rapidly climbing trend graph. Use this trend information as a suggestion list for new article topics. Watch your stats and look for rising areas of interest. Also try looking at keyword research from the opposite direction. Spot a rising trend, then make a list of keywords suggested by that trend.

All grist for the mill :)

Related Resources

The Search Taxonomy: Getting Inside the Mind of the Searcher

May 27th
posted in

Bill from SEO By The Sea published a good article entitled "Writing Content for Small Businesses Online", in which he talks about search taxonomies.

For those new to the topic, I thought I'd go over it, and show it applies to SEO strategy.

I'm basing this article on the study "A Taxonomy Of Web Search"(PDF), by Andrei Broder. Andrei is VP of Search Advertising at Yahoo, although he wrote this report while he was with AltaVista.

What Is A Search Taxonomy?

In summary, a taxonomy is the practice and science of classification.

In terms of search, we focus on classifying keywords into three distinct classes - navigational, informational and transactional.

If you can determine user intent behind keyword queries, you can better target your keyword strategies. For example, if your aim is to sell goods online, you may choose to focus on transactional queries e.g. "where can I buy an LCD monitor....", as opposed to informational queries e.g. "power requirements of an LCD monitor......".

There is, of course, a lot of cross-over between these three types of queries, which I'll address shortly.

The Three Types Of Searches

In the study, keyword queries are divided into three groups.

Navigational

A navigational query indicates the searcher wants to find a specific site.

For example, a search for "BMW" most likely indicates the the user wants to find BMW.com. Navigational queries usually only have one "right" answer. The user either finds the site they are after, or they do not.

Informational

An informational query indicates the searcher is looking for specific information.

For example, "symptoms of cancer", "San Francisco" or "Scoville heat units". Informational queries tend to be broad. The informational query doesn't tend to be site specific.

Transactional

A transactional query indicates the searcher wants to perform a web-mediated activity. For example, "buy LCD TV online".

If your aim is to sell goods and services online, you might focus more on transactional queries than informational queries. The problem with such classification, of course, is that it is narrow. We can't really determine user intent from just looking at the keyword, however this classification gives us a useful way of thinking about which keyword terms might be the most useful in achieving our goals.

Results Of The Survey

There are some really interesting results in this report.

24.53% of people want to get to a specific website they already have in mind. This is a navigational query

This is why brand, and making your brand memorable, is so important. Searchers often type a site name into a search engine, rather than type http://www....etc into the address bar. Optimizing for the name of your site is imperative if you want to catch navigational queries.

68.41% of people want to find a good site on a particular topic. They don't have a specific site in mind. This is an informational query

A lot of SEO is focused on this type of query.

Why did people conduct their searches?

  • 8.16% were shopping for something to buy on the internet
  • 5.46% of people were shopping to buy an item, but not on the internet
  • 22.55% of people wanted to download a file (i.e. image, music, software, etc)
  • 57.19% None of these reasons

What were people looking for?

  • 14.83% were looking for a collection of links to other sites regarding a particular topic
  • 76.62% The best site regarding this topic

Interesting, huh. Site's like About.com and Mahalo capture both these types of queries.

Eye Tracking Studies

Now, with these figures in mind, check out this eye tracking study.

Although the test data is limited, it is interesting to note that sites targeting a transactional query can be further down the search result set than the informational query and still receive attention, if not a click.

When conducting an informational query, if searchers don't see the information they want in the first search result, they will refine their search. The same goes for navigational queries.

If you're targeting the transactional query, however, the wording of your title tag could give you an advantage over those who rank higher than you. When conducting a transactional query, searchers often hunt further down the result page, or across to the Adwords, to see which listing sounds most interesting to them.

How To Integrate This Knowledge Into Your Strategy

So how do you apply this information?

If you choose to focus on one type of query.....

Know Your Users

There are many cues of relevancy left by the market. All you have to do is look for them.

Look at the ads

Google typically only shows AdWords ads above the organic search results *if* they generate a high clickthrough rate (CTR). And since advertisers using AdWords are paying for every click, you can presume that for expensive keywords many of those ads are matched up with strong user intent.

Tools like SpyFu ad history and KeywordSpy can help show you who has been advertising on those keywords for the longest period of time. Those who have been doing it a long time are typically either optimizing their ad copy OR losing a lot of money.

Where Are They Searching From?

Google's keyword tools, Insights for Search, and Google Trends show where a particular search query is popular (and if there is any interesting news that is driving search queries). In addition to seeing the query breakdown by country (or state, or city), you can view ads from different locations by using the Google ad preview tool and/or the Google Global plug in.

Understanding Search Demographics

Google's Insights for Search categorizes user searches for the broad match version of a particular keyword

Microsoft offers a tool to categorize content.


Google's Ad Planner lets you select pre-defined audiences, websites, and keywords to analyze.

Both Microsoft and Quantcast offer similar functionality on a per website or per keyword basis.

What Did They Recently Search For?

Microsoft offers a search funnels tool which allows you to research keywords they recently searched for prior to searching for a keyword, OR keywords they searched for after they searched for a keyword.

Microsoft also has an entity association tool which can be used to find keywords that were co-occuring in the search or searched for in the same session.

Commercial Intent?

Microsoft's Online Commercial Intent tool estimates if search queries or web pages have a high probability of being informational or commercial in nature.

Who is Getting The Click?

Since Google AdWords factors ad clickthrough rate into their calculations, you can presume that the top advertisers are either getting a decent CTR, or are paying through the nose for clicks.

Compete.com's keyword destination data lets you know the relative click volume sites receive for a particular search query.

Further Analysis

Beyond data from the above tools, you can also infer a lot of data just by putting yourself in the mind of the consumer

  • Determine which type of search you're targeting - informational, transactional, navigational - and segment the audience accordingly
  • Align your site to the intent of the user. For example, a searcher who is after information is going to want to see an authoritative looking site. What is an authoritative looking site? It will differ depending on the market you are in, but it is highly unlikely the searcher will react well to a site plastered with advertising. The site will have markers of authority, such as recommendations, perhaps a display of qualifications, and information laid out in an "academic" way (Wikipedia), as opposed to a blatant sales pitch (Multi-Level Marketing). The transaction searcher will want confirmation (e.g. a big logo) s/he has arrived in the right place.
  • Look for emotional angles and user intent targeting strategies that competing businesses are missing. Is free shipping a big deal? Is everyone trying to sell to a person that is looking to research and compare? Find a compelling way to stand out and differentiate yourself from the competition. Even if you are only targeting 30% of searchers you can still get more traffic being the only person doing that rather than the 8th consecutive similar offer.
  • Track user behavior to confirm intent. Get people to sign up for more detailed information, note which pages people spend the most time on, which keyword terms lead to conversion, etc. Feed this information back into your strategy

The transactional user is more likely to forgive ads. In fact, they may even welcome them, so long as the advertising is relevant.

Conversely....

Integrate All Three Search Types

One of the problems with the study, as noted in the study, is that it is very difficult to determine intent just by looking at the keyword.

For example, an informational search could end up being a transactional search once the user is satisfied that with the answer to the information they were seeking. For example, "symptoms of flu" might turn into a purchase for a flu remedy.

That's why it can be a good idea to target all types of query, in an integrated way.

Carefully consider how you word your title tags. Integrate brand aspects for the navigational query i.e. "SEOBook.com - SEO Training Made Easy". Convey the information you provide "i.e. SEO Training" and transactional information i.e. the implication is that people can buy "SEO training". This information is also repeated in the snippet, although webmasters often have less control over this aspect.

Keep in mind that transactional doesn't just mean e-commerce. It can relate to any desired action, such as a sign-up to a newsletter, or a request for more information.

One aspect of web marketing that is getting more important is building communities and tribes. People who will return, in other words. You're unlikely to engage a community of people if all you ever offer is transactions. This is why Amazon integrates reviews and other social aspects in order to hook people in on a number of levels, even though the primary aim is to sell goods. Also check out Bill's excellent "Bills Blues" example.

What approach do you take? Do you narrow in on one type of query? Go wide and try to catch all three? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

How The Small Guy Can Use Trust To Win The SEO Game

Feb 17th
posted in

If only Google would sit still for one moment!

The job of the SEO would be so much easier :)

As we all know, the last thing Google wants to do is make life easy for SEOs, so we'll just have to live with the constant change. One of the biggest changes SEOs have had to adapt to in recent times has been algorithm shifts that reward big players.

For example, Google results heavily feature YouTube (owned by Google, of course) and Wikipedia pages in against almost every search we make.

Let's look at some of the advantages of big business, and ways the small guy can counter them.

Advantages Of The Big Players

Unlike the small business, large businesses have access to significant amounts of capital. They can use this capital, indirectly, to buy position.

They can run large ongoing media campaigns that ensure visitors, links and attention, and all the resulting ranking advantages that provides. Big business can cross promote their properties, which makes it easier to launch new sites. They can buy out competitors (Google - YouTube) and trounce the competition, even though they enter late. They have many employees they can throw at problems, and waves of lawyers to throw problems at others.

What does the little guy have?

An internet connection.

Google Has Devalued Easy Tricks

The low hanging fruit is gone.

Google will always be a moving target. As the structure of the web changes, Google changes with it.

In the last few years, Google have devalued on page factors, they've made link building a lot more difficult, and the playing field is far from level. When the big guys get caught out using aggressive SEO, they're often given a free pass back into the index, because to not have them showing would devalue Google. The little guy is likely to be excluded for some time.

What Can The Little Guy Do?

The big companies have one major problem.

They're big.

Because they are big, they can often only operate in tried and tested ways. For example, there's a Telecoms company that have just wasted tens of millions of dollars on a website that most bedroom SEOs could have beaten in their sleep. The site has recently been shut down.

The site was uneconomic because the only way this big Telecoms company knew how to operate was by using the biggest and "best" suppliers. So that meant hiring in consultants from the big consultancy firms. That meant employing large vendors to do their programming. It meant above-the-line advertising at prime time, and saturation advertising across newspapers and radio. It meant hiring teams of people and organizing them in the tried and tested organization structure.

Because that's how they've always released products and services.

Also consider that a lot of Web 2.0 operations, lauded in the media for the past few years as "the bright young things to watch", are now crashing to earth as their big-money funding dries up. Turns out that was the only thing keeping them going. Meanwhile, a lot of SEO-aware webmasters are enjoying a growing income because they're always had the revenue equation right.

In both cases, the access to big capital was a disadvantage. It meant these companies didn't need to be smart.

So what, specifically, can the smart, little, SEO-aware guy do?

Big Bets?

You can take big bets.

The big guys tend to be conservative, but we don't need to be. We can have a crazy idea one morning, and make it a reality by that afternoon. We can ask ourselves "Is this idea crazy enough!".

The big company finds it very hard to do that.

Big company people often fret about their jobs and reputation, they have to convince a lot of stakeholders, and there's always someone waiting to stab them in the back.

So they play it safe.

Read why Seth thinks "safe" is bad idea.

Small Niche

The big company might not be able to make money out a small niche.

In the Telecoms company example I used above, their bloated structure and operating methodology drove costs way above the potential return. However, a smaller company with lower overheads could have made a success of it.

There are thousands and thousands of small niches the big companies can never compete in.

But you can.

Personal Trust Networks

Big companies have problems personalizing their services and relationships.

The web is about to change again. And when the web changes Google changes, too. The big change is a social one.

Twitter, social media, bookmarking sites are all about "the personal". They're hard for a big company to centrally control. That suits the small guy.

Look to build up a high degree of trust with small, tightly linked networks of people. Use a blog to keep in contact. Not just any old blog - really work it. Make it unique and own your ideas. Have an opinion and shout it loud.

Try to talk to those one hundred people in your little niche who make a difference. Talk to those 100 people who think the same way you do. If they know you and trust you, they'll do a lot of your marketing for you. There remains no more effective marketing than word of mouth.

Ask your friends to help out. Cross promote their stuff. Go into joint ventures. Really work the personal, trusted relationship side, because that's the way the web is going. Trust is being decentralized.

This is one area in which the big guys are going to have a lot of problems competing.

Friendgine - Friend Search Engine

Aaron has a great idea called "Friendgine".

Set up your own, personal Google or Yahoo search engine that includes the sites of all your friends and personal network colleagues. If you ever need to link to an external article, search your friendgine first, and link to your friends if they have relevant content.

This is a subtle way to keep in contact. They'll also likely reciprocate the favor. By creating these mini trust webs you'll make it difficult for other people who haven't established such relationships, to follow. You'll have your own nepotistic closed circle :)

If you want to see a presentation on this topic, check out Aaron's Beating The Big Guy

How To Buy SEO/Search Marketing Services

Feb 5th
posted in

This is the first of a two-part article to help those looking to buy SEO and other search marketing services.

Overview

Unlike traditional media buying, where placement is guaranteed, SEO can appear to be hit and miss.

This is because SEO is a strategic process, whereby the SEO will align your site with the often cryptic requirements of the search engines, with the intent of gaining higher visibility for your site in search listings.

The SEO doesn't purchase placement, rather, s/he will try to earn you that placement. The closer your site is aligned with the search engines unwritten criteria, usually the more successful the SEO campaign will be.

All search marketing services should increase the level of exposure you receive on search engines. The trick lies in measuring the level of that exposure, and measuring the value it provides.

Your Goals

What exactly are people buying when they buy an SEO service? Why are SEO offerings so different? What is the difference between a service that costs a few hundred and a service costing tens of thousands?

Before you consider buying SEO services, step back and assess your goals for your site.

What problem are you trying to solve? Do you want to drive traffic from search engines? Do you want to reduce your PPC spend? Do you want to increase conversion rates? Depending on how you answer such questions, the level of SEO service you require will vary considerably.

Search marketing is most effective when it increases the level of visitor traffic to your site, that visitor traffic arrives at an acceptable cost, and the visitor traffic engages in desired action. If you keep these metrics in mind, you'll should avoid falling victim to some of the scams prevalent in the darker corners of the industry.

Done well, however, SEO is a very powerful, cost effective channel. A steady flow of new visitors will arrive for years after your initial investment is made.

You Get What you Pay For

Some SEO services deliver a greater level of exposure in the search listings. Other services take a more holistic, marketing-driven approach, which can include conversion metrics and visitor behavior evaluation. Most services lie somewhere in between.

Your selection of vendor will depend very much on your requirements and budget. SEO vendors who include conversion metrics tend to be more expensive, as this type of service requires diverse skill sets, and is more time intensive.

One Time Fee

Generally speaking, the more competitive your keyword area, the more work involved.

One good way to measure how competitive your keyword area is, is to look at the PPC bid prices. PPC bid prices can range from a few cents per click, to hundreds of dollars. The higher the figure, the more competitive the keyword area. The exception is if you have an established, reputable brand. Established sites can often dominate competitive areas with little additional work.

If you're operating in a area that isn't competitive, a one off SEO service might be all you need.

The SEO should ensure your site is able to be crawled and indexed by the search engines, contains appropriate content that aligns with keyword terms, and should build a few links pointing to your site from outside sources. If an SEO does their job correctly, you should see an uptick of visitor traffic from the search engines in your log files. If you are happy with this level of traffic, that is where the service ends.

On-Going

If you operate in a competitive space, the SEO will need to spend a lot of time building - and in some cases buying - links. If you're measuring visitor behavior, and adjusting the site in response, the SEO will need to make regular changes.

Such services are typically ongoing, whereby the SEO charges a monthly fee. The monthly fee also covers reporting and evaluation, with the aim of maintaining your position, or increasing your reach.

Whether you choose a one -off service or ongoing very much depends on your goals.

Common Traps

Metrics Not Aligned With Business Goals

One common metric used in search marketing is ranking. The problem with this metric is that ranking for keyword x may not result in any increase in visitor traffic, because few people search for keyword term x.

If you examine your current log files, you might find you already rank for some keyword terms. So long as the search engine has indexed your site, you'll invariably rank for obscure terms by virtue of having words on your pages.

Less-reputable SEO firms will include obscure terms on your pages, show you a subsequent ranking for these terms, and thus justify their fee. Unfortunately, this is the offline equivalent of putting billboard in the middle of a desert, miles from the road. Few people will ever see it.

Instead, look for an up-tick in search visitor numbers. You may want to go one step further, and measure what those visitors do once they arrive at your site. Do they buy? Do they fill out your inquiry form?

Guaranteed Placement

Some firms offer guaranteed placement, but the reality is that no one, outside the search engine, controls their results. The SEO will attempt to meet pre-agreed performance criteria, and if they do, then the contract is fulfilled.

Sounds low risk?

Guarantees are only worth the backing they receive. Will the firm still be around in a few months? Will they honor your request? Are they located in a legal jurisdiction where you can chase them? Will the cost of doing so exceed the return?

If buying into such a guarantee, be wary of letting the SEO firm establish the metric of achievement. Instead, define the metric yourself, in line with your business goals. The less reputable operators will likely shy away from such an arrangement. They rely on setting easily achievable ranking goals, which, like the billboard in the middle of a desert, seldom offers any real benefit.

Risky Techniques

The relationship between SEOs and the search engines is gray. There are a number of techniques the search engines frown upon, which may result in your site being penalized, or delisted.

If you are risk adverse, ask the SEO company if they work within the search engines guidelines. You can find the Google's guidelines here.

A more aggressive approach, especially in highly competitive keyword areas, might be required, however a good SEO firm should be upfront about the level of risk their techniques involved. Having said that, the risks of getting banned, even with techniques outside the guidelines are relatively low.

The Magic Wand

Another risk might be your own preconceptions.

One of the expectations clients often have is that the SEO will be able to wave a wand and work miracles. Keep in mind that SEO generally requires changes to your site, which might be significant. Designers, developers and copywriters often need to buy into the process. SEO results can also take time to show, as search engines don't reflect changes over-night.

Ask the SEO company to provide time frames, and outline the specific work that will be involved.

Part Two to follow....

Pages






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

    Learn More

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