SEO Sales Process: Overcoming Common SEO Objections

Nov 23rd
posted in

When you're pitching for SEO business, what objections do you hear most often?

Knowing what objections to expect, and how to handle them will help you win business. Here are nine common objections made by SEO clients, and a few ideas on how to deal with them.

1. Search Engines Will Find Us/We Already Rank

Sure. Under what keyword terms? How much of the site are the spiders missing?

There is a big difference between arbitrary ranking in search engine listings, and ranking for focused keyword terms. Demonstrate to the client the value of appearing under a wide variety of targeted keyword terms, as opposed to this being a random process. It is like the difference between advertising where few people are looking, as opposed to appearing on a string of billboards in prominent locations.

You could do a side by side comparison between the client and a more established competitor using Compete.com graphs. If they already rank for valuable terms, try to get them to track the business derived from those rankings, and show them the upside potential of increasing rank.

2. We'll Have To Redesign Our Site. That Costs Money

Quite possibly.

Try to demonstrate to the client that the potential benefits outweigh the costs. One way to price organic search traffic is to use the PPC prices as a guide. It could also be argued that organic listings have a higher trust level amongst users, making the traffic potentially even more valuable.

So how much is that poor design costing them in terms of lost opportunity?

3. SEO is Expensive

A common objection, usually made because the client can't determine the amount of work required, or the the value added.

Break down the work into separate tasks, and outline how long each task is likely to take. If the client knows your rate per hour, then they will be more able to determine if the cost is fair.

For example:

  • Industry analysis - research industry sector, marketing and sales trends.
  • Competition analysis - conduct review of competitor sites
  • Keyword research - research keyword terms
  • Site optimization, including title tags, meta tags, copy and internal linking
  • Link building/directory submission/social media promotion
  • Monitoring and reporting

Another aspect of this objection has to do with the value proposition. Again, try printing out the PPC bid prices for the same keyword traffic, and show how your work effectively undercuts that price. If you can, try and get information about how much the client spends on other channels, and do a side by side comparison of the relative merits, costs and benefits.

4. Upper management Won't Support It

Perhaps you need to be talking to the decision maker ;)

Ask what upper-managements objections would be? Sometimes this objection is legitimate, but it is often used to avoid having to tell you "no, thanks". The client cites an authority, who isn't present, implying that any further negotiations with the client will prove fruitless.

5. Why Should We Change The Way We Write Just For Search Engines?

This objection is commonly used by copywriters and journalists.

Established writers often use methodologies that don't take into account SEO. One way to get around this objection is to request a trail run on a few test pages. Once you're demonstrated that writing effective copy can result in an increase in visitors and conversions, you'll have more sway when it comes to changing the rest of the site.

Also, appeal to the copywriters vanity. If more people see their work, isn't that a good thing?

Cite "This Boring Headline Is Written for Google", an article about how The New York Times changed their writing practices to accommodate SEO.

"We're all struggling and experimenting with how news is presented in the future," said Larry Kramer, president of CBS Digital Media. "And there's nothing wrong with search engine optimization as long as it doesn't interfere with news judgment. It shouldn't, and it's up to us to make sure it doesn't. But it is a tool that is part of being effective in this medium."

6. SEO Doesn't Work. It's A Scam!

Ask the client why they feel this way. Has the client had dealings with SEOs in the past? Seen some bad press?

Have case studies on hand that demonstrate how you've solved search marketing problems in the past. Also provide recommendations from previous clients who were happy with your work.

Reframe the debate in terms of problems and solutions.

7. We Have A Strong Brand, So We Don't Need SEO

This is true, so long as people only search on the brand.

But what about those searchers who are searching for generic product/service names?

I once had this objection from a well-known childrens' clothes retailer. I ran a few search reports on generic searches, such as kids t-shirt, babywear, etc, and showed the client the traffic numbers. I then showed the client that their site wasn't appearing under any of those terms.

But her competitors were.

Why choose one or the other when you could easily have both?

8. We Like Flash. It's Cool!

Run away. Run fast..... ;)

Seriously though, such objections usually come from designers who place a lot of emphasis on site appearance, or want to play with the latest toys.

In the past, I've approached this in one of two ways. If they want to keep designing in Flash, or other technologies that make crawling and linking difficult, then suggest workarounds that don't affect the design. For example, create a print-friendly version of the site. This is the part of the site that gets crawled and seen by search engines and search visitors, while the designers can still focus on their elaborate designs. Essentially, you create a site within a site.

Show them that their competitors outrank them, in part, by using different technology. Is Flash really worth that competitive disadvantage?

From Google AdWords Blog:

Did you know that 20% of the queries Google receives each day are ones we haven’t seen in at least 90 days, if at all? With that kind of unpredictable search behavior, it's extremely difficult to create a keyword list that covers all relevant queries using only exact match."

It's even harder to capture that traffic using Flash.

BTW: Check out this example. Here is the spider's view of McDonalds.com.

9. Are SEO Services Really That Important?

Compared to.....?

It's an effort vs reward question. Again, if you can demonstrate clear commercial benefits over and above the cost, then "hell yes!". Try to focus on the clients business problems, and be prepared to demonstrate how the SEO spend will solve those problems in cost effective ways.

Those are a few common objections. I'm sure you've heard others. What is important to understand is that not all objections are legitimate. Most are stalling tactics used to delay making a decision. That decision is difficult to make because the client will expose themselves to risk.

Simply by being pre-prepared for objections, you help negate that risk, and can quickly move the client towards make a decision.

Related Reading:

How To Keep SEO Clients

Nov 19th
posted in

In "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we've discussed how to get SEO clients. In this post, we'll look at how to keep them.

In most businesses, a high proportion of revenue comes from repeat business. Because it can be a costly process to acquire new clients, it makes sense to spent time nurturing the clients you already have. We'll look at ways to both structure the offering to ensure on-going revenue, and the simple things you can do to maintain and build relationships.

It's mostly comes down to doing the simple things well.

Structure The SEO Service Offering To Provide Ongoing Value

We've talked previously about SEO business models.

It can often be difficult to justify ongoing billing using a typical SEO consultant model. You go in, you fix up crawling issues, you restructure the site, you change copy, and you build links. Some SEOs may bill on-going for reporting, link building and/or competitive analysis. However, a lot of the value is created up-front, which can make it difficult to build on-going, high value relationships with existing clients. In this respect, SEO is not unlike the web design model. Minor on-going adjustments aside, the job has a clear beginning and end point.

For the relationship to build, you must create more and more value for the client on an on-going basis.

Bob Massa, one of my favorite SEO commentators, has this to say:

With little more than a glance at many of the more popular SEO hang outs, I believe it is obvious even to the uninitiated, SEO is pretty much focused on traffic generation. Things like conversions, demographics, analytics and increased website revenue generation from upselling take a distant back seat. Were it not so, topics like social media manipulation for the primary purpose of link acquisition and when PR will be updated would not dominate the interactive real estate to the extent that it does.

In this guru’s opinion, too many opportunities for genuine marketing discussions get reduced to yet one more twittershitter to be dug up and stumbled upon.

Serious discussion about honest to goodness marketing often gets buried by linkbaiting headlines that offer little more than a boost to the ego of the master baiter. Why? Because generating traffic is easy. Making money, online or off, takes education, dedication, focus, and even with those assets in place, it does little more than give one the ability to be right more often than wrong.

If you create value for the client, they will keep you. If you continue to add value, you can continue to bill. That has little to do with ranking positions, links and traffic, and everything to do with growing revenue and/or brand reach.

For example, I saw one nice piece of SEO work recently where the client remarked "I don't know what you are doing but we are getting lots of large custom order requests!". The technique was little more than placing some well-chosen keyword terms on the front page, however these words were also a strong call to action for large orders. They appeared in a prominent position. Both the SEO implementation and the business requirement were seamlessly aligned.

Think about ways to grow the the clients business when you structure your service offering.

A few models include:

  • Partnering with clients for a share of on-going revenue
  • Offering integrated marketing services - monitor keyword trends, referal trends, link search keyword to desireable action, provide custom tracking and analytics services,etc.
  • Offering lead generation services
  • Brand development and protection - monitoring competitors, monitoring the search engines for negative/positive press etc
  • Locking in clients with propriety software- Some companies muddy the waters by selling intermediary SEO services that sit between the clients site and Google. Certainly one way to get on-going revenue, but vulnerable to the whims of Google, and it could be argued not in the clients long term interests compared to improving their actual site. One great way of doing this would be to lock-in clients with propriety reporting and tools, sold on a subscription basis, that build - and demonstrate - on-going value.
  • Offering on-going competitive analysis services
  • New content production & promotion
  • Drop SEO and take up PPC bid management - kidding ;)

This list is by no means exhaustive, but these models have one thing in common. They create an ongoing value proposition.

The Soft Side

Once you've got your business model sorted out, and you're in a position to build value for the client over time, you need to nurture the relationship. Business is about people, and people need to be recognized, praised, and made to feel good. How much time do you spend nurturing the relationship you have with your existing clients?

Time Management

In order to spend more time nurturing the relationship, you're probably going to need to free up existing time! Write down your tasks and make a note of how much time you spend on each task you do. Are there any low level tasks you could delegate or out-source? Virtual assistants can take a lot of the drudge tasks off your hands, which frees you up to focus on your clients.

Here are some other tools and services worth checking out:

We've got no affiliation to these services. Honest guv' :)

Analyse How You're Spending Your Time

Are you spending your time profitably? Are you adding value to the relationship? Is it better to go to another search marketing conference, or would your time be better spent going to a confernce that relates to your clients business? How much time are you spending time researching their business area?

Word Of Mouth

Your existing customer base can also be your de-facto sales force. They can provide you with recommendations and references. If they are impressed with you, they'll talk about you to others. This both increases your revenue and cuts your sales expenses. It is much easier to close word-of-mouth recommendations than any other type of sales close. What are you doing to increase the chances of this happening?

Deliver On Promises, Let Them Know Early If You Can't

One great way to increase the chances of word-of-mouth recommendations is to under promise and over deliver. In your proposals, pull back a little from what you'll actually end up delivering. Everyone loves a vendor who is seen to go the extra mile.

Once you get the job, and find you may not be able to deliver, let clients now well in advance. Chances are, you'll get time enough to make up for it, and most clients are mature enough to realise that mistakes can happen.

Keep In Touch

It's often as simple as an email, sending a card, or making a phone call. Don't make every communication a pitch. If the client only hears from you when you're trying to sell them something, it's not much of a relationship. Try to think of ways you can contact your client without being intrusive.

Stroke The Ego

Monitor the press for mentions of your client. If you find good reviews or mentions, flick your client an e-mail. Most clients will be impressed that you're taking an interest in them.

Remind Them How Great You Are

This is a tricky one to pull off without sounding like a braggard, but the client does need to understand how much value you're providing them. Build notification into your process. Tell them what you're going to do. Do it. Tell them you've done it.

Focus On The Great Clients, Cut The Rest

Everyone likes great clients. But most clients aren't great. You'll get people who don't want to pay much, who won't pay you at all, who don't value the relationship, who miss deadlines, and who are never satisfied. Here's a great article on identifying the types of clients you don't want, and what to do about them.

Not only are these clients a pain, but they reduce the time you can spend with great clients. Make a list of your clients and rank them in order of who will provide the greatest chance of regular, high value work. Consider cutting the rest. Are they really worth your time?

Free Search Marketing RFP Proposal Template

Nov 17th
posted in

In response to my post yesterday "The Art Of The SEO Proposal", we had a few comments from readers wanting to see examples of proposals. Thanks for the feedback, guys. It really helps us to cover areas you find most valuable.

I looked back through some old proposals looking for examples, and here's the one that earned me the most money:

Hi (name removed),

It was great to meet up and hear about your plans for (name removed).

As discussed, this email is to confirm the scope of the project.

I will undertake search marketing for (name removed) with the aim of generating new sales leads. The KPI will be based around increasing the volume of verifiable leads per month, and demonstrating these leads came from search engine visitors.

Contract to follow.

Kind regards,

Peter

Feel free to use it ;)

The problem with templates, and why I don't recommend relying on them, is that they aren't specific. There are no magic words that will ensure clients sign on the line. If you're pitching for thousands, or tens of thousands of dollars worth of work, then you need to do upfront research regarding the clients specific business problems, and that must flow through into your proposal.

The exception is if you're taking a "throw-it-against-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks" approach, in which case you just need to swap out a few details. Personally, when I receive such proposals, I bin them, and then make a mental note not to have anything to do with that company again. If they can't be bothered, then why should I?

The "proposal" above, which was just an email, was arrived at after a working lunch. The client came to me by a word of mouth reference. This particular client was the internet marketing manager for a large, international bank.

Over lunch, I asked questions about the clients business, the problems they faced, and what they hoped to achieve. I made it clear to the client before lunch that if I didn't see an opportunity to get them more business using search marketing, then I would tell them so. No hard feelings, and at least we'd have a nice lunch.

It turned out that was the right thing to say for this particular client, as he had a dim view of search marketers - he'd engaged people in the past, and it hadn't worked out - and he was visibly relived when I started to talking about solving business problems, rather than rankings, links and tags.

In this instance, the proposal fit the client. He was already sold by the time I put something in writing, he just wanted to sign-off and get on with it.

However, template guidelines can be useful, especially if you're struggling to know what to say. Proposals are a plan for solving a problem, and they outline the terms of engagement. You need to state what the problem is, explain how you're going to solve it, and explain why you're the best person to solve that problem.

One of our readers, Hugo Guzman, from zetainteractive.com provided a great example of structure he uses, which I'll reproduce here:

1) Clear bullet points on scope of work (details, details, details)

2) Emphasis on three main facets of SEO (site-side, link building, analytics). In many cases, it's our ability to demonstrate link building or analytics proficiency that wins the business.

3) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and social media

5) Emphasis on the tie between SEO and content development

6) Emphasis on our team's ability to work directly with client stakeholders (IT/Dev, marketing, PR, and even legal for some clients)

7) Emphasis on our team's ability to take overall business goals into account (not just being SEO-centric)

8) Emphasis on ROI (explaining how you will justify their monthly spend...again it's all about the details)

9) Emphasis on the idea that SEO is ongoing and not a one-time engagement

10) Emphasis on the importance of "baking" SEO into redesigns, site migrations and even the addition of a single page of content

11) Case studies and client testimonials

12) Emphasis on our efforts to be thought leaders in the space (aka "shameless plug for my blogging efforts over the years")

That's a good a structure as any, and notice how Hugo emphasizes the need for "details, details, details". There are no short-cut to specifics, and you need to understand the clients business in order to provide them. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Most clients will appreciate your level of interest.

Here are a few other template ideas to get you started:

  • Clearly state the problems you will solve. Grab a sales proposal response table to help you map out and address problems. Here's a free response table template from Microsoft
  • Address the customers issues, one by one. Use the customers name frequently
  • Organize the proposal either a) exactly the way the customer has specified or b) by order of issues, from most important to the customer, to the least.
  • Try to articulate benefits, as opposed to features
  • Most customers skim proposals, so use bold headings, graphics, and break the proposal up into themes. White space is your friend.

In terms of structure, SEO proposals typically include the following:

  • Covering Letter - summarizes the main points. Briefly. If there are five other proposals sitting on the clients desk, what is going to entice the client to pick-up your one? Clue: it's about them, not you.
  • Articulate The Business Problem
  • Articulate Measures of Success/KPI
  • Outline Your Solution
  • Specify the work you will do - break it down into tasks. Don't go into cryptic detail concerning SEO minutiae. Keep it broad and general, and pitched in terms the customer will understand without resorting to a Google search.
  • Provide a time scale and budget
  • Provide case studies, recommendations, and outline of your skills and qualifications. In my experience, case studies are pure gold. Clients want to know you're solved these types of problems before, which lessens the clients risk.

There are, of course, a million ways ways to skin a cat. If people have any further suggestions and proposal examples they would like to share, please add them to the comments.

Further Reading:

The Art Of The SEO Proposal

Nov 16th
posted in

Following on from last weeks post, How To Be An SEO Service Provider, we'll now take a look at the art of the SEO proposal.

Pitching and proposal writing is a time consuming business, so ideally you want to put your efforts where they will get the most reward. Here are a few tips on how to land the best clients, and how to avoid wasting your time.

It's Not About You, It's About Them

The first rule when pitching or writing a proposal is to put yourself in your clients shoes.

What would be your concerns? What would be holding you back from handing over thousands of dollars for SEO services? You'll need to anticipate those concerns, and be able to counter them in order to win the job.

In my experience, here are the most common concerns you'll come up against:

  • Will it work?
  • Is my money better spent elsewhere?
  • How does this help me achieve my goals?
  • Am I being ripped off?
  • Will this make me look stupid?

To overcome these objections, it is a good idea to have case studies and references prepared. Use before and after scenarios which demonstrate how your skills solved a problem and added value. Here's a great one by Jill Whalen.

The killer hook is at the end:

"High rankings are great, but what do they mean to a business? We talked to Doctor Bowler from Georgetown Surgical recently, and asked him, was he getting new business from the Internet? He was getting two to four new patients a week with his old website, and he's currently getting 50 to 70 new patients a week. That's a dramatic difference: he was nearly going bankrupt and was close to shutting up shop, and now he has to hire a new surgeon".

Now, who wouldn't buy that!

Demonstrate the value of your services over and above what your service costs to provide. For example, try to show revenue increases, as Jill did. You could also show traffic increases, and value these clicks against the PPC prices for these same keyword terms.

A variety of tools, including Google Traffic Estimator, can help you estimate the value of search traffic.

References are also valuable, because clients often seek out independent verification of what you're saying. Treat every client you have as a potential future salesperson.

If you're new to the game, and don't yet have any case studies or references, then consider doing a few freebie jobs. Theses jobs are essentially a marketing spend i.e. you "spend" time, but in return you'll be able to create case studies and get the references you need.

Don't give away your services to just anyone. The bigger the names, the better. You'll be associated with success. High profile charity organizations might be a good place to start.

Neil Patel got his start by giving free SEO tips to top tech bloggers. Bloggers have a big reach and lots of link equity that can be leveraged, so helping them can work just like helping a charity.

Probably the most valuable thing you can do, in terms of landing a sale, is to make a real effort to understand the clients business. Find out who their competition is, research their market sector, and ask questions. Most business people will appreciate you going the extra mile to truly understand them, and the issues they face.

It's Not About Them, It's About You

The flip-side of the argument is "is this pitch worth your time"?

The unfortunate reality is that some clients are not clients at all. They might be competitors trying to find out your pricing structures and strategic approach. They might be tire-kickers trying to scope the market. They could be bottom feeders who want the earth, yet are only willing to pay a few hundred dollars.

You need to quickly identify these people, for the sake of both your business, and your sanity. Make sure you're only giving away detailed strategy and pricing information if you're close to the sale. To exclude bottom feeders, mention a minimum starting price early on.

In my post "How To Be An SEO Service Provider", I question if it's a good idea to use the SEO client model at all:

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth? If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? "

Unlike PPC, SEO is a strategy that requires significant client buy-in in order to work well. The reality is that the bigger the client, the less likely you are going to get your way until you've proven your worth. It's a catch 22 situation.

Test the clients expectations early and be upfront about what it's going to take. For example, who has control over the website? i.e. are you talking to the right person? How much are you going to be able to alter the website? Why do they deserve to be number one? What are they prepared to do to get there?

It's About You And The Client

The happy medium is to land a client you can work with for mutual benefit.

When I was doing SEO for clients, I wrote up an ideal client profile. If the prospective client fell outside this profile, I wouldn't take the proposal any further.

For me, the ideal SEO client:

  • Has reasonable expectations
  • Runs a profitable business
  • Does not compete in saturated markets
  • Is already ranking, but not near as well as they should
  • Has some knowledge about SEO already
  • Is a known brand

There are exceptions, of course, but clients who fit this profile were a lot easier to deal with, and a lot more profitable than the alternative.

One area I found that really makes a difference is how much the client knows about SEO. If a client has the wrong idea about SEO, then you're going to be spending a lot of your time educating both them and their design teams. This can be a long, costly unproductive process.

One way to get around this is to start with PPC.

PPC is low impact. You can use PPC to demonstrate to the client that the traffic is there, and that s/he is missing out on it. If the PPC spend is high, you can then demonstrate how you can create cost efficiencies by getting that traffic at a lower cost, using SEO. It's a good way to educate clients by showing, rather than telling.

Align Metrics With Business Goals

A lot of SEOs don't do this, and I suspect it's the prime reason the industry has earned a bad reputation.

For example, a lot of SEO is sold on the basis that the client will get an increase in rankings.

So what?

An increase in ranking is meaningless unless it translates to a desired action. Some clients will be fooled by such metrics for a while, but they are unlikely to remain so.

Eventually, they will look at their marketing spend, then look at their traffic numbers. If those referrals from search engines aren't heading up, then you're unlikely to get on-going work. If you're not getting on-going work, then you'll spend a lot of your time on the expensive sales process as you churn and burn your way through clients. Not that this isn't a valid business model, but it can be a difficult way to go about things.

Likewise, traffic can be a poor metric.

It works for a while, but unless the client is solely preoccupied with traffic numbers i.e. sites that sell advertising based on page view numbers tend to focus a lot on pure traffic volume, then you're unlikely to get long term business. The traffic needs to turn into a relationship, a sale, or an inquiry. Marketing spend, in all businesses, needs to be justified in terms of the bottom line. Everything, eventually, comes back to revenue.

If you can help the client increase revenue, then you'll make yourself indispensable. Show how SEO fits into their business objectives, which is why making an effort to understand their business is so important. At that point, you can start to reorient their web strategy around SEO.

Not only does this give you more sway, but it increases the chances of future work. For example, you could turn a brochure-web strategy into a publication strategy, which then opens up more content writing opportunities. The client is not going to be able to change a thing until they talk to you first.

If you're in it for the long term, then that's where you want to be.

Further Reading

How To Be An SEO Service Provider

Nov 13th
posted in

When we asked for questions from our readers on topics they'd like to see covered, we received a few requests on how to set up an SEO agency and position the service.

Here's my take on it:

Don't do it!

OK, I'm being facetious :) But before you run out and sell your SEO skills, let's take a look at the issues, ways to get around them, and how to position your service so you get the greatest reward for your efforts.

I'll also explain why selling your SEO services might be selling yourself short.

SEO As A Career

The news is good. According to SEMPO, pay scales for SEOs are looking healthy:

"Of those respondents with up to one year's experience, 60% reported annual salaries in the $30,000 to $50,000 range. Compensation tracks strongly with experience. At the next level, two to three years experience, almost 34% reported salaries in the $50,000 to $80,000 range. At the more seasoned end of the spectrum, of those professionals with nine or more years experience, just under 40% are earning between $90,000 and $140,000 annually."

However, let's take a closer look at those numbers:

" More than 33% of the survey respondents said they managed both pay-per-click (PPC) campaigns and organic search marketing efforts. Another 35% said they worked primarily in PPC; some 20% worked primarily in organic search"

Most activity in the search marketing space is not SEO. It is PPC.

The reason for this is because SEO is a long term strategy, yet a lot of marketing spend is dictated by short budget cycles. In order to land work, you must be able to demonstrate value reasonably quickly. PPC provides a way to do this. Once businesses are sold on search as a channel, then they'll consider planning for the longer term search strategies, such as SEO.

The exception is when the client is already sold on the value of SEO. This type of client, who doesn't have an existing provider, or hasn't already moved the function in house, might be hard to find.

There is no harm learning both. PPC can teach you a lot a lot about SEO - mainly in terms of keyword research - and it increases your options.

Is Running A Business Really What You Want To Do?

There is a big difference between knowing how to do SEO and selling a service to clients.

For starters, there is the level of competition. Try searching for seo providers. As you can see, the world isn't short of SEO providers! And a lot of them are competing on price.

In an industry with such a low barrier to entry, how will you stand out from the rest? You'll need to give prospective clients a good reason why your service is better than the others on offer. How do you intend to match or better the credentials of established operators? How can you differentiate your service?

Secondly, how do you propose to sell your services?

The sales cycle is a significant cost, both in terms of time and resources. You can put a lot of effort into writing proposals, attending conferences, pitching presentations, and networking. None of this is guaranteed to pay off. And if you do land the work, how much time will you have to both do the SEO work and put in the sales effort required to land the next client? Can you scale up and take on qualified people quickly if that happens?

Thirdly, do you have sufficient cash reserves to live on while you're waiting for your first client to pay up? Cash flow can kill a small business, even those businesses which have a a lot of prospective work in the pipeline. The bills wait for no man.

You get my drift. There are many other considerations before deciding to run your own business, but the takeaway point in terms of SEO is this: determine what you like doing best.

If you like doing just SEO work, consider joining an established agency. They will take care of all the other details. If you want to build your own business empire, doing so mostly involves management, sales and administration. And, if you still have some time left over, some SEO.

Pay Models

How will you be remunerated for your efforts?

Most commonly, SEOs bill by the hour, or by the job. They set performance metrics, such as rankings and/or traffic numbers, and the job is completed when those metrics are achieved. The SEO might be able to get ongoing work in the form of reporting, or by extending the scope of the SEO project. The upside is that such a deal is simple. The downside is this needs to be sold over and over again. When you run out of hours to bill, you've hit the ceiling on your earnings potential, unless you raise your rates, or take on new people.

If you are confident of your skills, and can provide real value to a company - and that means boosting their sales and being able to prove it was you who made that happen - then consider partnership deals.

For example, one high profile SEO I know operates exclusively this way. He doesn't sell his services by the hour, he looks for businesses he can partner with, he boosts their earnings by implementing a robust, long term SEO campaign, then takes a share of their profit. This provides a healthy on-going revenue stream, without having to sell the service over and over again.

This type of deal requires a great deal of trust and transparency, but it is worth doing if you are sure you can deliver value, and can find a solid, reliable partner.

Some SEOs work on a Pay On Performance basis. This is a risky strategy, unless you are certain you can deliver the desired results. All the risk lies with you, and, really, you'd need to charge in such a way that accommodates this risk. Unfortunately, the type of clients who ask for pay-on-performance SEO deals are unlikely to be generous payers.

The Future

While search engines deliver value, businesses will pay to be seen on them.

SEO sits awkwardly amongst other marketing channels. The search engines will always try to make PPC attractive, because that's how the search engines make their money.

At the same time, they'll try to negate the value proposition of SEO, because SEO competes with PPC. SEOs are only useful to search engines in that they help spread the word about search engines, and they help sites get crawled. But don't think the search engines are going to do you, or your business model, any favors.

This situation doesn't make the SEOs job impossible, but I'm sure many people would agree that offering SEO as a service is a lot harder than it once was. A few years ago, all you had to do was add a few keywords terms to the copy and titles, point a few links at a site, wait one month, run a ranking report, and voila! You're an SEO provider.

Not any more.

SEO has become a much more holistic strategy. It requires a greater level of buy in from clients, designers, programmers, and all the other people who's toes you might tread on.

But there is plenty of life in the game yet. A lot of SEOs do great business, as can be seen from the huge popularity of the conference circuit. A lot of marketing spend is moving from other channels into search. By selling your services to others, you not only have an occupation, you gain insight into how other businesses work, which is a valuable education in itself.

I'll be going into greater detail on the workings of SEO consultancy in the coming months.

Don't do it :)

Here is why I think some of you might be selling yourself short if you sell your hard won skills to clients.

If you can return real value to clients i.e. not just ranking and traffic, but real tangible, value - then why aren't you keeping all that value for yourself? Why not compete with them instead? How about partnering with people so you get to keep an on-going share of their business? If you can position sites in lucrative keyword areas, that is a very valuable skill. Can clients even afford to pay what you're really worth?

If you're really good at SEO, do you really need clients? ;)

Further Reading:

Lots of Marketing Goodies

PPC Stuff

My wife recently put together a PPC strategy flowchart. Check it out and please give her feedback.

Search Engine Land has a good post with interview snippets of Nick Fox about some of the recent Google AdWords changes.

Google announced they are ending the proposed partnership with Yahoo!

The FCC approved the wireless broadband whitespace plan, which in time should make for more online searchers.

SEO Stuff

Wordtracker released a new keyword tool based around keyword questions. The information is quick and easy to export. Ken McGaffin said, “This is a fun tool that is a great source of inspiration for web content writers. You need never be short of creative ideas again." And it is a cool idea - good job Wordtracker!

Majestic SEO did a major update, claiming to have crawled about 52 billion URLs and has nearly 350 billion unique URLs in their anchor index. Here is a list of their top URLs with inbound links.

They also did a comparison between their link counts and those found by Yahoo! Site Explorer and LinkScape. They claim to have more links in their database than Yahoo! is showing, but I have to wonder how they could do that economically, if they are counting more duplicates, and why they haven't bought a site design that reflects how much they must be spending on data.

A few years back search engines were in an ego based contest about who has the biggest index, and I find it a bit ironic that a couple SEO companies will likely be engaged in such a data war...but the marketplace competition should be good for all SEOs.

I recently did an interview with Patrick Altoft about link building for affiliates.

Jim Boykin started the WeBuildPages SEO blog.

In the weird department, have you heard the We Like SEO song yet?

Conversion Stuff

Conversion Rate Experts highlighted 14 cool conversion enhancing tools.

Avinash Kaushik showed how powerful Google Analytics segmentation is.

Content Stuff

The NYT is getting close to where it will be hard for them to service their debt. Who should buy them out?

Funny blog post about economic blog posts

Political Marketing

Obama won the election and gave one of his best speeches. But Seth Godin didn't even wait for the vote to happen before he deconstructed the campaigns from a marketer's perspective. XMCP also discussed the backchannel negative PR campaigns.

The SEO Flow Chart

Nov 3rd

In the past I made an online marketing mindmap that was fairly well received, and I am nearly caught up with work stuff, so I figured it was time to start playing with flowcharts. This flowchart describes the basic SEO process.

Perhaps a bit is lost in simplification, but I think this does a great job of conveying a lot of information in a limited space...a future version might expand the box about building quality signals into a flow chart of its own (and even that could have more sub-flowcharts built from that...online marketing is sorta like fractals).

Some of the boxes are clickable, like the dance like a monkey box. :)

seo-flowchart_img.gif

 

Let me know what you think of the above, and if you want a downloadable version here is a PDF version and here is a gif image. If you have a copy of SmartDraw (free to try, $199 to buy) then you could even edit the flowchart, perhaps to make the current one better, or to use this one as a template for making flowcharts for other industries.

If you find yourself running out of things to write about on your blog, mixing up the format helps give you a new take and fresh voice. And it is more fun playing with flowchart software than it is writing the 917,432nd post titled Learn All About Digg.

SEO for Charity Websites: an Interview of Dominic Mapstone

Oct 28th

This is an interview of my friend Dominic Mapstone, who uses SEO to help influence the media and make social change.

What is the hardest part about marketing a non-profit website online?

  1. Having the client’s permission to divulge confidential information or even a photo of them in non-profit marketing is a big roadblock for all non-profits.


Most have to hire actors or dress a staff member up to pose for a staged photo, and they use hypothetical situations or characters in their advertising – nothing from a real case file.
On our website about homeless people all our stories are real and often include photos of the person and even the place they sleep at night.

At the end of each story you can click through to a forum thread and talk with the person in the story. Except for a homeless man Andrew, he was murdered so can’t really come to the forums right now.

I get client’s permission, give them an alias and am very well respected on the street so they know I will protect their interests. Far and away though, getting content and connections like this is the most difficult factor for non-profit marketing.

If you have permission to use content and record the stories and photos:

  1. Knowing what stories to tell or picture to paint, from a marketing perspective is the next hardest thing. One story on our site is about a homeless girl who killed someone when she was robbing a store to fuel a drug binge.

On face value you wouldn’t imagine a story like that painting a flattering story of the homeless. But get into the context and follow her story as it unravels and it’s an educational and engaging story.

By the end of the page:

  • you are cheering her on
  • you understand homelessness more
  • you have an idea of what I’m about
  • and even know the name of my dog

A lot of people non-profits help aren’t that marketable. So picking the right story to present and knowing what facts to include and what to leave out is difficult. We have 100 stories we can’t use for every one that has potential.

  1. If your topic area is exclusively non-profit, competing with powerful government websites which are usually PR8 or PR7 is to be expected and more recently Wikipedia always ranks well in non-profit topic areas.

Our websites tick a lot of the right SEO boxes, but the one factor we really outperform in is one not widely held as important in SEO circles.

When people visit our sites, they usually have found what they are looking for and don’t quickly click away. A number of people have emailed me reporting they have spent five hours or more reading our content.

With any website, researching what people are searching for in the long tail and in the popular keyword phrases and SEOing for it is important. But delivering on quality content once they find your website, from my experience has paid off.

Maybe there isn’t a ‘time spent on site’ gland that gets tickled at Google, maybe it’s just the old school SEO I’ve done all along.

Maybe the Google ‘time spent on site’ gland works the other way round – if people usually navigate away from your site promptly and revisit search results it’s telling Google a thing or two about the value of your place in their search results.

Either way:

Delivering on what your place in the search results promises for people clicking through to your site is food for thought for all website owners.

  1. The other big challenge is chasing keywords in a for profit market with a non-profit educational website. SEO smarts are really helpful when your competition has a large marketing budget.


In Australia when teenagers graduate high school they head to the nearest beach for a week of partying. It’s a tradition known as Schoolies.
Tens of millions of dollars are spent at tourist destinations around the country so our competitors have a lot of motivation and strong marketing budgets.

Gold Coast Schoolies attracts over 50,000 people and destinations along the Great Barrier Reef such as Whitsundays Schoolies books out entirely.

Our Social Work interest in Schoolies as the most significant youth event in the national social calendar is protecting the interests of the young people and providing a peer education program for them (Schoolies Survival Guide).

Problems such a sexual assault, street violence, alcohol poisoning, drug overdose, and suicide are significant. There are also consumer rights and fair trading issues we get involved in to protect young people.

Maintaining a prominent position in search results has enabled us to engage young people via the Schoolies Forums and give them a voice and place to explore issues they will face at Schoolies.

When did you know that the web was going to be a key part of your strategy?

Back in 2003, I used SEO techniques, and applied marketing principals… to a few websites and then had more unique visitors than I had anticipated and some cash flowing into our non-profit from online sources.

  • Being able to reach a wide audience attracted me.

Unique visitors per month for the websites: homeless.org.au 55,000 and schoolies.org.au 30,000.

  • Being able to earn a passive income really caught my attention.

As an example of online passive income: I wrote a page detailing my experience catching and cooking mud crab. Checking our website stats I was surprised that it got attention online so I put some Adsense ads on it and the page brings in some funds for us every month.

It’s unrelated to our work and on a side website we own, but the concept of providing quality content people want to read and earning some bank from it, while I’m off doing what I really want to do on the streets is great.

  • On a personal note the internet as a creative outlet and SEO as a competitive outlet have been great. Winding down after a difficult day by reading some blogs, getting into forums and updating sites is great for lowering stress.

How many people have you helped over the years? 

I started volunteering with the homeless when I was 17, in 1994. I graduated my Social Work Degree in 1999, and founded a non-profit organization in 2003.

A central philosophy of Social Work is to understand an individual’s situation in the broader context of society; and change society and social policy for the better, not just the individual’s situation.

So while I’d say it’s quite a number of individuals, the real business of it all is to change society and social policy for the better.

My SEO experience behind our websites has significantly increased the number of people I’ve been able to engage with and enlist in community development and social change.

I believe you run a forum to help homeless people. How do you lift up the spirits and give hope to a person who may be sleeping in an unknown location that night? How do you keep the tone positive when many people are struggling to survive?

Unknown location? They are all staying at the Million Star Hotel!

The tone doesn’t have to remain positive. Sure we try and keep a glass half full thing going on, but the fact that people are sharing and exploring their own brokenness with people as open about their own brokenness tends to make it a genuine comfortable place for everyone, even on a bad day.

Our greatest asset in the Homeless Forums is an excellent team of moderators / forum leaders who in the main are current or formerly homeless people themselves so have great familiarity with the problems faced by other members.

Every now and again someone throws a chair, but people understand in that community space, and moderators are expressly trained to be patient (to a degree) and engage members supportively.

A big deal with homelessness is the disconnection from family and the community. So the Homeless Forums enable people with similar life experiences to connect with each other in a supportive way.

A student recently asked in a thread why people visit the forums, here is one reply:

“When I got off the street I cut most of my connections with old friends on the street as I didn't want to slip back into many bad habits i.e. drugs.
I have trouble relating to most mainstream people so for me this is a place I can talk to people who not only understand a lot of my experiences but empathise and don't criticize.
When I'm here I can be myself rather than hiding my past or hiding from it.
Where else could I say hi I'm an ex-prostitute and recovering alcoholic and druggie now turned university student.”

I can take credit for the idea to promote a forum for homeless people, but the 3,000+ members especially the moderators are the ones who have developed it into such an effective gathering place.

Two notable threads include the personal journal of a homeless girl over the course of four years moving out of street life. The thread has had over 50,000 page views helping to educate people about homelessness.

In another thread, a homeless man in London is exposing a disgusting practice of wetting down foot paths where homeless people sleep to move them on. His efforts to confront this degrading policy of the Corporation of London via the forums have been covered by the BBC and other news outlets.

I receive a number of emails from people saying they have spent some time reading the forum threads and that they learnt more about homelessness then they could imagine from a book or university course. So it’s great to hear those interested in learning about homelessness are finding educational reading in the forums.

Shout out to Chicago Homeless, Los Angeles Homeless and San Francisco Homeless we haven’t heard much from you yet.

How do people find your site? What do you do to encourage them to register and contribute?

I’ve optimized the site to return in a number of homeless related searches and invite visitors to the website into the forums.

One of the most effective ways has been to share five stories of homeless people on our website and at the end of each story, invite readers into the forums to a designated thread where they can leave a message of support for the homeless person they just read about and read replies to their message directly from the person in the story.

We also encourage homeless members to print out a flyer promoting the forums and post it at homeless service providers they frequent.

Service providers who provide internet access to homeless people can use a start page I designed for them to set as their default homepage, with search boxes for the major search engines and links to popular email services along with links to sections of the forums: Homeless Homepage.

Do you see SEO growing as a strategy for you? Do you have to have other exposure to do well in search? What core SEO principals should be applied to non-profit websites?

Certainly, SEO has served us well so I continue to follow developments in the industry and invest time in our websites.

Links from newspaper articles are another great source of exposure and bring exceptional SEO benefit. Radio and television interviews are great exposure also. Regardless of if the site is for-profit or non-profit.

The media’s daily hunger for content is so significant as it needs just as much more content tomorrow and the next day as it published today. So there are some great opportunities for exposure via the media.

The most underutilized SEO technique in the non-profit sector is deep linking and the most common mistake is simply trying to elevate their brand, rather than chasing topical keywords or geographical distinctions.

How does your online presence influence life offline? How do you get the media involved in issues?

We get a lot of phone calls as a result of prominence in search results, so I feel like a switch board sometimes, directing people to the appropriate service.

One of the upsides is that the media also call looking for the best person to talk to about the latest news angle they want to cover, so I get first lick of the ice cream and can take media opportunities I’m interested in.

For anyone wanting media coverage:

  1. The best starting point is to read the recent coverage of your topic on Google News and get a good understanding of the kind of news that gets covered.
  2. Then pick out a journalist from these stories. Write a good press release and send it to the journalist.
  3. Note the easiest stories to get in on are industry or other people’s news. You don’t have to be newsworthy, just be able to supply a timely comment about what is newsworthy.
  4. Having a media contacts page listed on your website is a good practice also.

We also get weird and wonderful requests from people who find us online. One lady gave us a whole lamb from her butcher as some kind of offering in memory of her father who died recently.

I had to call a priest to check if it was some weird religious thing I should avoid getting involved with, but he said it was fine, just her way of celebrating her father’s life. So the homeless staying at our shelter ate every kind of lamb cut there is for the next few weeks.

As a non-profit, every keyword topic area we are involved in and dominate online strengthens our Social Work position offline – impacting people’s lives.

Should non-profits buy links? How do they get exposure online when the network is already so saturated?

Rather than buy links I’d encourage non-profits to hire a Masters student or PHD student in to do some writing for them (just call your local university and ask the faculty to recommend a student), or allocate some staff time if you have in-house experts.

Workshop in-house your topic area and ask what’s missing in terms of information online? Have a really quality position paper or article written on that topic, publish it on your website and update the Wikipedia to reference the article.

Consider the reference worthy content you could create for a few thousand dollars and you would now own highly link worthy content.

The document would also be great for long tail searches and the writing style and substance would no doubt register on Google’s semantics quality score.

Quality substantive content needs a lot less link juice to attract search traffic.

Here are some potential link sources free for non-profits:

Non-profit organizations are also forever in contact with each other so use your existing real life networks to make some online linking connections. They are the best contacts to ask for deep links with descriptive anchor text – to programs or events you profile on internal pages, reports or even just your contact us page.

YouTube

  • Google really hasn’t got a handle on YouTube yet; the search function is crap and doesn’t help with misspellings like Google organic search does.
  • At any rate, Google is heavily promoting YouTube videos in organic search results. The potential for SEO’s from all backgrounds to take advantage of this is wide open.

Have you used any for profit sites to help fund non-profit sites? Should non-profit sites consider adding for profit sections to their site to help subsidize the costs of running their website and organization?

I do some work as a Life Coach and feed the funds into our non-profit work. I also do some Search Engine Optimization and increasingly funds are flowing in from this work. In the future I’d like to get more involved in Reputation Management as I know the media and public relations side of it and think there is a growing market for it from a dual public relations and SEO perspective.

It’s not likely that a lot of non-profits are in a position to operate a for profit website on the side as a means of raising funds. But where it is possible it can be a productive source of income.

How to Know if a Link (or Redirect) Passes PageRank/Reputation/Authority

Oct 21st

Due to the rough scale of PageRank, outdated toolbar PageRank scores, hand editing of toolbar PageRank, and a variety of other factors, it is somewhat hard to get confirmation from Google if a link source passes PageRank. The slow way to test is to make 1 link be the only link you point at a site and then let it age for a few months. Then, if a toolbar PageRank score appears it probably passed PageRank.

If you are competing on the competitive parts of the web, building only one link and waiting around for a few months is likely an ineffective SEO strategy. So then what else can be done? How can we speed things up and get the show on the road?

If you control the linking source it is quite easy to tell if that site passes reputation. Simply link to another site with slightly misspelled anchor text, and if the target shows up you know that the link is passing some reputation and authority. For example, someone could link to this site using seoq book, and then if this site started ranking for that then I would assume that the link is passing some amount of reputation and authority. Then you could later go back and fix that spelling error.

If you *do not* control the linking source, then it gets a bit harder to test it. What you could do is add a modifier to the anchor text. For example, if this site did not yet rank in Google for best SEO book you could use that as the anchor text, and see if it shows up in the search results after the linking source is indexed.

You can also use this sort of technique to test 301 redirects & see if they pass link authority. Please note that when using redirects it is best to keep the topic fairly well aligned to minimize the risk that the PageRank might go away.

How Much is a Link Worth (to YOUR Business)?

Oct 14th

Pricing a Link

When trying to understand the value of a link a variety of factors can be considered, including:

  • PageRank / link equity
  • anchor text (if you can influence it to align with your keywords that increases the value significantly)
  • link location (inline links are more likely to be trusted than links in the footer of a page near a bunch of other obvious paid links)
  • direct traffic the link sends
  • site quality & brand exposure
  • endorsement value (if any is given)

Risk Tolerance

Some links (bought links on SEO blogs, paid links near pharmacy/porn/gambling links) are almost certain to get your site noticed in the wrong way.

Large brands can get away with being far more aggressive than thin affiliate sites can.

Many people who heavily rent links still have not exhausted other cheap and easy link building strategies they could be using.

The Bottom Line

In some markets you need to own a billion dollar brand, have an old site, or rent links to compete. In other markets link renting may pose an unnecessary risk.

The most important aspect of link renting is the one people rarely talk about - the actual value to your business. To determine that you need to analyze not only the quality of the link, but also

  • where you are
  • where the competition is
  • what is needed to bridge that gap
  • any potential risks associated with the link buying

Along those lines, I thought it would be good to compare a couple sites to each other, to demonstrate how widely the value of links can spread.

Rich, Average, Poor

$17,000 Per Link

BankRate recently bought CreditCardGuide.com for $34M and it had about 2,000 inbound links on the day of purchase. BankRate may have overpaid for that site, but Rafael David made at least $17,000 per link to his website!

Think about all the crazy public relations stunts you could pull and make money if you got paid $17,000 per link! You could pay an entire town to tattoo your brand on their foreheads...or maybe do something a bit more tasteful than that. Where links are hard to get and lead value is high you can afford to pay a lot for links.

But BankRate was not just buying links, they were buying traffic and rankings...a set of links that fit the criteria needed to get a lot of organic Google search traffic. If Mr. David would have acquired half as many links he might only have 10% the traffic and his site may have sold at a much smaller multiple. When selling a site your base and your growth rate both feed into the multiple you can sell a site for.

In media stories about buying the site, Thomas R. Evans, BankRate CEO, said they bought the site largely because of its Google rankings:

"As an affiliate of Nationwide Card Services, which we acquired this past December, we have worked with CreditCardGuide and have been able to watch their growth and momentum firsthand," stated Thomas R. Evans, President and CEO of Bankrate. "CCG has done a great job of developing its organic traffic and ranks highly in a number of important credit card search terms. Adding more direct, high-quality traffic to our credit card business will grow our revenue and improve the margins in this important category," Mr. Evans added.

Affiliate Rankings: Strong Cashflow or Break Even

Some of my friends have affiliate sites that do anywhere from 0 to 10 leads a day at ~ $30/lead. They rank well enough to get good traffic, then their rankings slip. And they keep bouncing back and forth. Buying just a couple strong links could take a $150/day average earnings and boost it to $300...thus yielding a monthly return of $4,500.

If you are an affiliate selling the same crap that all the other affiliates sells, you will see that most the search traffic goes to the top couple ranked sites. As an example, one of my friends saw their Google ranking go from #3 to #2 for a huge phrase that is most of the site's traffic...and their overall site traffic (and profits) went up 50%. If a company is primarily search driven and is in a high value niche they can see huge returns from just a couple quality links.

When you think about the opportunity cost a site making $150 a day might not be worth running. But every dollar it makes over its baseline is profit that can either be used to reinvest into quicker growth or fund other projects.

$1 Per Link

Some SEO and technology blogs have hundreds of thousands or millions of inbound links. For such authoritative sites the average value of each link might be less than $1.

If the competition has 1 million links and you only have 50,000 you might not get enough traffic for the site to be worth maintaining, especially if it is in a saturated market with limited traffic value.

Example Charts

Across Industries

These values are a bit arbitrary, but this chart does a good job of helping conceptualize how the value of links can change based on your vertical, your business model, and the associated lifetime customer value.

Example Link Values for Various Verticals
  Tech Blogs Credit Cards
(high traffic value)
Porn
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.03 8 10
PageRank 1 .1 25 30
PageRank 2 .3 40 50
PageRank 3 .75 75 100
PageRank 4 3 125 200
PageRank 5 9 250 300
PageRank 6 12 400 risky?
PageRank 7 20 600 risky?
PageRank 8 50 risky? risky?
PageRank 9 100 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 300 risky? risky?

Within Industries

The value of links not only depends on what vertical you are in, but also on how you monetize your website. For instance, a ticket broker can earn more per link than a sports blog can.

Example Link Values for Various Business Models
  Sports Blogs Fantasy Sports
(high traffic value)
Ticket Broker
(few clean link sources)
PageRank 0 0.25 4 10
PageRank 1 .5 12 30
PageRank 2 1 20 50
PageRank 3 3 40 100
PageRank 4 6 75 200
PageRank 5 15 150 300
PageRank 6 25 200 500
PageRank 7 40 300 800
PageRank 8 100 500 1,200
PageRank 9 250 risky? risky?
PageRank 10 500 risky? risky?

Disclaimer: keep in mind that the above charts were more for showing examples of relative values than to offer a formula for specific link prices...every situation, every site, and every link is unique.

Link Marketing Strategy

Survey Your Position (and the Competitive Landscape)

If you don't have any organic links then it is going to be hard to buy your way to the top in competitive markets, especially if competing sites have strong advertising and brand budgets.

The key to understanding link buying is understanding the upside potential and how many links are needed to get there. If you are in a saturated market with limited cashflow and are ranking on page 37 at #362 then should you rent links? Probably not. You would be better off investing into awareness, branding, publicity, and developing organic links first.

If you are in the top couple pages and are in the game then renting a few links could help you achieve an explosive return on investment.

All Advertising Has Some Fat on It

Many links that you buy or rent will be filtered algorithmically and have little to no SEO value. But if they help you achieve a positive return on average within an acceptable risk profile then the purchase is worth it. That is how I always viewed directory links. Before Google whacked them I used to submit to about 100 of them. Maybe only 40 or 50 counted, but in aggregate the ROI was still there. Now I may only submit to a half dozen or dozen directories, but in aggregate the ROI is there.

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