When I got to look at DIY SEO my first thought was: good structure & layout, lets see what is under the hood. But then after opening up the hood I found a car with no engine.
On a score of usability I would give the site a 9 or a 10, but in terms of utility it would be lucky to score as high as a 2 or a 3.
Google AdWords: The Cheapest SEM Strategy for Small & Local Businesses
Maybe there are some small businesses out there who are content being obscure, or who only want to rank for their own business name plus maybe 1 or 2 longtail keywords. But for those businesses I suggest bypassing SEO and buying a few Google AdWords ads.
Low traffic keywords are typically cheap to buy search ads on - because you only pay by the click. If few people are searching for something then there will be few clicks to buy.
Not only are such markets small, but due to their small size they are also heavily fragmented, making the AdWords traffic even cheaper.
If few people are searching for your brand then you can likely spend $25 a month on AdWords and ignore learning SEO.
A Legitimate SEO Strategy Requires Investment
With a paid search campaign, you can use Google AdWords to instantly buy search traffic and gain new customers. SEO is a drawn out strategy & typically requires a much deeper initial investment.
There is little value in investing in SEO unless your goal is to dominate your market, and there is sufficient market scale to justify investing thousands of Dollars (and far more when you consider the value of your time). After all, a single link from Business.com or the Yahoo! Directory will run you $299, and 2 links hardly makes for an effective SEO strategy - but they will set you back $600 a year.
And you don't get those links any cheaper just because your business is small. ;)
Why Does DIY SEO Offer Such a Weak SEO Solution?
When looking at DIY SEO it took me a while to think it through, because I kept thinking "something is missing." Why did they raise funding to build THAT? But then I thought it through. DIY SEO was designed by marketers looking to sell something that would be easy to sell at scale - it was not created out of passion to solve a real problem with the desire to help make a difference in people's lives.
The difference is not subtle.
After all, Andy is the guy who had time to build out hundreds of thin affiliate sites, while being too lazy (and lacking the concern needed) to fix his SEO blog for months while it installed malware on anyone who visited his site. That blog had the tagline Livin' the dream, but that is for him though...you can live with malware. He doesn't care.
Could you imagine a reputable SEO site like Search Engine Land, SEO Book, SEOmoz, or Search Engine Journal delivering malware for months without any care or concern? I can't.
SEO Consulting is Expensive
SEO is both time consuming and expensive. Neither Andy or Patrick offer consulting services because they value their time too much to actually dig into client websites and provide useful, relevant, honest, and effective feedback. Patrick states this on his blog
And as Andy's site states: he no longer sells consulting, and he does not want you to email him
DIY SEO was designed as a high margin automated solution which is so automated that it wouldn't require much feedback or interaction with customers.
But there is one big problem with that strategy...
SEO is *NOT* a Mechanical Process
For anyone looking to seriously compete on the web the DIY SEO tool/system is inadequate, and potentially even harmful. Why?
In SEO, a lot of the potential profit comes from knowing your market well, leveraging new technologies & distribution channels to gain market share, and putting a new spin on old marketing ideas. But they tried to make SEO too black and white...far too mechanical. Anywhere where critical thought & analysis can add value to your SEO strategy, you can count on none of it being done with DIY SEO, just some predetermined path which doesn't really account for everything that makes your business and your market unique.
In an age where the algorithms keep advancing faster and subjective things like branding start playing a role in the search results, mechanical doesn't cut it.
DIY SEO is too prescriptive and limited in nature, and it is a backward looking product. What the phrase "for the rest of us" actually means is "good enough to rank on page 5 of the search results, where you will get virtually no search traffic and make no money."
Paint by Number SEO: An SEO Failure Case Study
Google doesn't always respond to marketing efforts in a predictable way. Consider what happened when Patrick purchased SearchEngineOptimization.net for over $60,000.
At the end of last year he tried to do a 301 redirect to get it to rank, but when it didn't work he asked Matt Cutts about it:
Google's spam czar Matt Cutts never responded (of course), but Patrick ended up having to remove that redirect. Months later that $60,000+ domain name was a "coming soon" page.
And now that the redirect has been removed the original redirected site does not rank as well as it did in the past. So that was certainly a lose / lose scenario.
He would have been better off donating that money to charity!
Advanced SEO? Or Simpleton SEO?
I don't want to share too many examples of how/why/where their program falls short, but to pick a rather glaring one...
Links are the backbone of an effective SEO strategy. Patrick Gavin built from scratch the #1 link broker on the web - Text Link Ads. A few years back he sold that company for over $30 million. Since then links have only increased in importance while becoming harder to get, but if you check out the advice on links in DIY SEO (or at least when I recently checked it out), one of the "advanced" SEO tips was to ensure that you are not engaging in any link buying or selling.
The advanced tips were not sharing safe & effective link buying techniques. Nope.
The advice was to ensure you were not engaging in link buying or selling.
And, of course, on their own websites they don't follow their own advice.
What Do Effective SEO Campaigns Consist of?
I have no desire to out any of their specific websites (hey I have some crappy ones too), but when you look at the EFFECTIVE strategies that you see Andy and Patrick use in their own publishing efforts, at a minimum they contain strategies like:
buying old websites
buying strong domain names
selectively buying links
providing a bit of grease to certain About.com guides for coverage of new 1 page sites
nepotistically cross linking sites
launching top 100 linkbait lists about trending popular topics
building social media accounts to promote those lists
buying out some blogs to further seed giving legitimate looking coverage to those lists
launching egobait lists of topics like the top 100 ambidextrous hermaphrodite bloggers (complete with running an automated email script to alert people of the "award" they have won, with some people winning multiple awards in the same day - congrats again Nancy P. from Texas on your multiple meaningless awards + thanks for the links...your email address is now in the database, and you will win many more awards as they build out their portfolio of websites!!!!)
... all the clever bits of marketing that go into REAL SEO campaigns that compete on the competitive commercial web ... well that stuff is NOT part of the DIY SEO program.
And it likely won't EVER be, because it isn't paint by number.
We recently reviewed a bunch of competitive research tools, and in that spirit I thought it would be a good idea to review Alexa. It is not that Alexa is the #1 service available, but they do provide one of the better services while being free. Every few years it seems they fall behind and become a bit of a relic, and then every few years they catch up.
Recently when using Alexa I saw they added a good number of features, so I thought it would be worth doing a run down.
What Alexa is most popular for - their traffic rank, is popular because it has been around for a long time and is well referenced. I don't consider it to be a high value tool in terms of accuracy though. I think all these traffic estimation tools have a big margin for error, and its easy to read too much into the base/core number. Having mentioned that, you can try to use traffic data from Alexa, Google Website Trends / DoubleClick Ad Planner, Compete.com, and Quantcast to try to see how well they agree in terms of the traffic volume of a site or the relative volume between multiple sites in the same vertical.
In spite of my lack of faith in the Alexa rank numbers some people do put weight on it. Some investors use it. And when Markus Friend was launching PlentyOfFish he redirected Alexa users away from his site to stay below radar until his site was strong.
Pageviews Per Visit
This is a good hint at how compelling people find a particular website. Sites which are driven by arbitrage efforts typically are not very engaging, hoping to either sell something right away or get people off the site. They also offer a time on site feature which you can use to compare how sticky sites are.
This is basically a flip of the above...people who see 1 page and then are gone. You can see in the yellow area where we tested using a pop up. While the pop up did get more people to register on our site, we dropped the pop up because it was somewhat inconsistent with the rest of our marketing (our core audience of customers tends to tilt torward the expert end) and the types of people who were receptive to pop ups were not as good of a longterm fit for our site as customers.
Downstream Traffic Sources
Who are they sending traffic to? Where do their visitors go after leaving the site?
Upstream Traffic Sources
Who is sending them traffic? In many ways this can be unsurprising, but certain sites end up being more or less dependent on social media due to certain things like if they appeal to younger or older customers, what they are doing offline, if they are producing linkbait relevant to a specific audience which is heavily integrated into social media.
This can also help you locate some advertising locations, figure out how reliant they are on search, and help you see which sites in the vertical they are closely aligned with. DoubleClick Ad Planner also has a pretty awesome traffic affinity feature.
Search Traffic Percent
This shows the percentage of their traffic which comes from search engines. If it is abnormally high, that might mean the site has a search-heavy focus and needs some thickening out in terms of community participation and developing other traffic streams. If it is abnormally low, and you have similar link profiles to other sites that are higher, then it might mean that you are missing some important keywords that you should target. This is where digging in for more data with a tool like SEM Rush or Compete.com shines.
Do they have a membership area to their site? If they host it on a subdomain you can see how active they are. Having anywhere near 5% or 10% of your traffic in the private member's area is quite good if you have a well connected high traffic website. You can also see that our tools subdomain is a quite popular section of our site.
Top Search Queries
You can use this to find some of the most important keywords for a competing site. If some of your best keywords are being revealed it might make sense to publish some filler content on a popular topic that is hard to monetize so that it better shields some of your best keywords from free public viewing.
If you install the Alexa toolbar they will also show you a bit more query data and list some opportunities for that site on the paid search front.
You can see what countries a particular site is popular in.
And you can get more detailed demographic data on a per site basis.
Many sites within the same field will have fairly similar demographic targets, but even things like at work vs at home can indicate if the site is primarily targeting independent types or corporate types. When compared against the above, notice how (generally) SeoMoz has a fairly similar audience composition:
They skew a bit younger (I think sometimes my cynical nature turns off some young pople), a bit more college educated (they go to like 10x as many SEO conferences as I do), and we are perhaps a bit more popular with self employed people. And then for Search Engine Land you can see that they have a similar profile to SEO Moz, but with even more people at work and more college educated people.
And then you have sites which are extreme demographic outliers. Ever wonder who the customers are for those websites primarily marketed through hyped up email launch sequences by affiliates?
Well throw some of those sites into Alexa, and you will find that for many of those sites it appears the target market is: old desperate and gullible men from the US who failed at life, still don't have a good b/s meter, and want to believe there is a silver bullet they can use now to automatically generate wealth. They can't, of course, but there is a crew that will sell them that story and get rich by working over the remaining crumbs in their retirement accounts.
I am betting that part of why our age distribution is a bit more flat than most other SEO sites is because we offer free tools which are recommended to some of the audiences that buy the launch product stuff (or, that is my theory, based on some of them left their member's areas not password protected and sent a bunch of traffic at our site).
How do your demographic profiles compare to other sites in your space? Have you checked out all the features Alexa has added? What do you think of them?
My buddies from Conversion Rate Experts have put together a review site for multivariate software called Which Multivariate. Surprisingly old school in the modern affiliate link filled web, they have made the site vendor neutral and are not planning on ever taking affiliate commissions in an attempt to gather honest reviews. Check it out. Its worth a look!
Many experienced advertisers realize that there are many gotchas in the AdWords system...optimization tools and default setting which optimize to boost Google's yield at the expense of unsuspecting advertisers, who don't yet know what match types are or that their ads are syndicated to content sites by default.
To help new advertisers get past many of the gotchas we created the Google AdWords tax calculator - a free utility which highlights many stumbling blocks that catch new AdWords advertisers.
Given that each keyword market is unique it would be impossible to make a tool that was 100% accurate in every situation, but the goal of this tool was to simply highlight common issues, and help new advertisers address them. Individual efficiency gains may be greater or smaller than the rough initial estimates the tool provides.
Please let us know what you think, as we will gladly iterate this calculator to make it better if you have some great ideas you think we should include in it. Like all of Google's products, our calculator is starting out in beta :D
In the past I have not been a fan of certain outing policies, but of late I have seen that practice has went away...and if it stays that way how could I not recommend the above tool?
Sometimes it is hard to appreciate how spoiled we are as SEOs with cheap to free keyword data, cheap to free great link data, and lots of useful tools to help us organize and make sense of it all. And even lots of charts :)
One area where some of our tools could be better is on the usability front...we tend to presume some level of knowledge and/or the willingness to work through things to figure them out, but the presentation on OSE is very easy to grasp & understand at first glance. Part of this challenge comes from limited resources...and the most limiting one being time. It is so hard to make money servicing the SEO market (because there are so many great free options). As the market continues to open up more with more tools and options, at the same time the SEO *process* keeps getting more complex, with more competitors jumping into the SEO market.
It certainly feels like it will keep getting easier to make money as a publisher rather than a person servicing the SEO market.
But not all forms of publishing will get easier & more profitable. Companies like Demand Media and Aol sharing their results publicly will saturate some segments, but there are many areas where bullshit content won't be enough to compete. And some thin operations will see margin contraction as the investment needed to stay competitive increases.
But we are quite literally drowning in opportunity. If a person can't make money as a publisher with SEO knowledge, it is simply because they are not willing to put in the effort (or they are part of an old bureaucratic publishing company which moves slowly, is debt laden, and has a high cost structure).
I have always avoided scaling as a company, but there is so much opportunity that I might have a resolution for 2010 :D
While some members of the SEO industry encourage outing, it should be highlighted that they are not above duping their customers with launching a "new" tool that is actually a dumbed-down rehash of a tool we have offered for years here.
If you want the full version with additional features please do check out Hub Finder, as it is way better than the hyped knock-off is.
No Hype Required!
Our co-citation tool has way more options than the competition. It is better in every practical way, other than hype...and that is why we decided to make it free for you to test it for the next 24 hours.
Why Hub Finder is Better than the Hyped Knock Off Tool
It allows you to automatically pull in search results from Google, Yahoo!, or both
It allows you to enter up to 10 competing sites
It allows you to mix and match the above
It allows you to select pages that are linking to any page on a site OR pages that are linking to only the specific pages that were ranking
It shows you the exact pages the links came from AND tracks multiple links from a single site even if different pages within that site were linking to multiple resources in your industry.
Shows IP addresses
Offers lightning quick CSV export
Knock Off Marketing
How can a person roll with those sorts of business ethics (clone someone else's work and then pawn it off as their own) and then encourage SEOs outing each other (even after they have read about the caustic effects of outing multipletimes)?
How About Honesty For a Change?
If you are dirty be dirty.
If you are clean be clean.
But no point being one and acting like you are the next.
The web has too long of a memory to play those kinds of games.
Rand edited his post to add attribution, for which I thank him. Had the whole "standing on the shoulders" bit or any sort of attribution existed originally I never would have published this post. But it was the re-packaging something that has been around forever as being brand new (without any attribution) that is inconsistent with the openness some claim to strive for.
Google recently upgraded their Insights for Search tool to include predicted keyword search volumes as well as interactive maps of how keyword search volume changes over time.
There are lots of business implications of the forecast data:
Having predictable trends for a search query or for a group of queries could have interesting ramifications. One could forecast the trends into the future, and use it as a "best guess" for various business decisions such as budget planning, marketing campaigns and resource allocations. One could identify deviation from such forecasting and identify new factors that are influencing the search volume as demonstrated in Flu Trends.
Some business categories are more predictable than other categories
Over half of the most popular Google search queries are predictable in a 12 month ahead forecast, with a mean absolute prediction error of about 12%.
Nearly half of the most popular queries are not predictable (with respect to the model we have used).
Some categories have particularly high fraction of predictable queries; for instance, Health (74%), Food & Drink (67%) and Travel (65%).
Some categories have particularly low fraction of predictable queries; for instance, Entertainment (35%) and Social Networks & Online Communities (27%).
The trends of aggregated queries per categories are much more predictable: 88% of the aggregated category search trends of over 600 categories in Insights for Search are predictable, with a mean absolute prediction error of of less than 6%.
If you were to launch a brand new business from scratch it might make sense to target a less predictable category since it would be more open to new market entrants & they would not appear on the radar of competitors as quickly.
And Google now make their Insights for Search charts embeddable in third party websites via iframes. :) Given that, I just added those data points to our keyword tool below the keyword data our tool returns, which is like having an instant second opinion on the keywords.
This allows you to instantly estimate the seasonality of a particular keyword. And if our search volume seems somewhat inflated and/or you are uncertain if it is accurate then you can look at the search volume graph for more data. If the keywords graph is quite spiky for a non-seasonal keyword (or if it has no data returned) then there is a good chance that there is a bit of noise in the data.
SEM Rush does a great job of comparing sites head to head, but is a bit top heavy in the search results (only searching through Google's top 20 search results).SEO Pivot is more for just looking deeper into 1 site at a time, however it does use a smaller keyword database of 500,000 top keywords. It can help you uncover some broad keywords that you rank better than expected for.
Who knew we ranked #97 for price fixing, #98 for invisible hand, or #32 for dark art? The 3 examples I used were more of an attempt at humor than useful data, but we also rank for other valuable phrases.
Between this tool and SEM Rush I still like SEM Rush way more, but this is another useful tool to add to the toolbox. Look at deeper search rankings for such broad keywords...
can help give you a good idea of how strong a particular site is
help you see the unlocked ranking potential of a site that is currently poorly optimized
perhaps can help you rethink making some site structural changes like promoting some pages a bit harder in your link structure and/or using internal 301 redirects to combine some related pages
WordTracker recently announced the launch of a new free Firefox extension that aids you in doing keyword research while blogging. The keyword tool works with any publishing software, and helps you ensure you work selected keywords into the content. The tool sits to the left of the browser window, and as you type, it will search your post and does an analysis of the text in your content to see if any of the phrases appear.
How to Use It
You can manually select keywords that you think would be highly relevant and then try to work them into the content. And when it is not possible to fit in a whole phrase naturally, you can always try to sprinkle those keyword modifiers that make up the phrase into your post's content. For instance, in the above post I worked in the words software, free, search, and generator into the content quite naturally in only a 4 sentence blog post.
“Bloggers often don’t take the time to do keyword research for each article they write – they just want to get their story out there. Now, bloggers have instant access to relevant keywords so they can easily produce optimized blog posts. That’s sure to bring them extra traffic.” Said Ken McGaffin, CMO at Wordtracker.
A few days ago Google sent me the following email, which somehow sent me keywords for other websites.
Google did a follow up email appoligizing for the first email sending me the wrong keywords and sending me a new list of keywords.
Almost every time I start a new AdWords campaign I am impressed by new features that recommend more keywords inline during the sign-up process. This is sorta where there is great risk in data sharing with ad networks. The more data you feed into the network the more likely that data is to pour right back out into the hands of competitors & higher market prices.