Quickly Reversing the Fat Webmaster Curse

Jan 1st

Long story short, -38 pounds in about 2 months or so. Felt great the entire time and felt way more focused day to day. Maybe you don’t have a lot of weight to lose but this whole approach can significantly help you cognitively.

In fact, the diet piece was originally formed for cognitive enhancements rather than weight loss.

Before I get into this post I just want to explicitly state that I am not a doctor, medical professional, medical researcher, or any type of medical/health anything. This is not advice, I am just sharing my experience.

You should consult a healthcare professional before doing any of this stuff.

Unhealthy Work Habits

The work habits associated with being an online marketer lend themselves to packing on some weight. Many of us are in front of a screen for large chunks of the day while also being able to take breaks whenever and wherever we want.

Sometimes those two things add up to a rather sedentary lifestyle with poor eating habits (I’m leaving travel out at the moment but that doesn’t help either).

In addition to the mechanics of our jobs being an issue we also tend to work longer/odd hours because all we really need to get a chunk of our work done is a computer or simply access to the internet. If you take all of those things and add them into the large amount of opportunity that exists on the web you have the perfect recipe for unhealthy, stressful work habits.

These habits tend to carry over into offline areas as well. Think about the things we touch or access every day:

  • Computers
  • Tablets
  • Smartphones
  • Search Engines
  • Online Tools
  • Email
  • Instant Messaging
  • Social Networks

What do many of these have in common? Instant “something”. Instant communication, results, gratification, and on and on. This is what we live in every day. We expect and probably prefer fast, instant, and quick. With that mindset, who has time to cook a healthy meal 3x per day on a regular basis? Some do, for sure. However, much like the office work environment this environment can be one that translates into lots of unhealthy habits and poor health.

I got to the point where I was about 40 pounds overweight with poor physicals and lackluster lipid profiles (high cholesterol, blood pressure, etc). I tried many things, many times but what ultimately turned the corner for me were 3 different investments.

Investment #1 - Standup/Sitdown Desk

Sitting down all day is no bueno. I bought a really high quality standup desk with an electrical motor so I can periodically sit down for a few minutes in between longer periods of standing.

It has a nice, wide table component and is quite sturdy. It also allows for different height adjustments via a simple up and down control:

A couple of tips here:

  • Wear comfy shoes
  • Take periodic breaks (I do so hourly) to go walk around the house or office or yard
  • I also like to look away from the CPU every 20-30 minutes or so, sometimes I get eyestrain but I bought these glasses from Gunnar and it’s relieved those symptoms

Investment #2 - Treaddesk

The reason I didn’t buy the full-on treadmill desk is because I wanted a bigger desk with more options. I bought the Treaddesk, which is essentially the bottom part of the treadmill, and I move it around during the week based on my workflow needs:

They have packages available as well (see the above referenced link).

I have a second, much cheaper standup desk that I hacked together from IKEA:

This desk acts as a holder for my coffee stuff but also allows me to put my laptop on it (which is paired with an external keyboard and trackpad) in case I want to do some lighter work (I have a hard time doing deeper work when doing the treadmill part while working).

I move the Treaddesk back and forth sometimes, but mostly it stays with this IKEA desk. If I have a week where the work is not as deeply analytical and more administrative then I’ll walk at a lower speed on the main computer for a longer period of time.

I tend to walk about 5-7 miles a day on this thing, usually in a block of time where I do that lighter-type work (Quickbooks, cobbling reports together, email triage, very light research/writing, reading, and so on).

Investment #3 - Bulletproof Coffee and the Bulletproof Diet

I’m a big fan of Joe Rogan in general, and I enjoy his podcast. I heard about Dave Asprey on the JRE podcast so I eventually ended up on his site, bulletproofexec.com. I purchased some private coaching with the relevant products and I was off to the races.

I did my own research on some of the stuff and came away confident that “good” fat had been erroneously hated on for years. I highly encourage you to conduct your own research based on your own personal situation, again this is not advice.

I really wanted to drop about 50 pounds so I went all in with Bulletproof Intermittent Fasting. A few quick points:

  • I felt great the entire time
  • In rare moments where I was hungry at night I just had a tablespoon of organic honey
  • I certainly felt a cognitive benefit
  • I was never hungry
  • I was much more patient with things 
  • I felt way more focused

So yeah, butter in the coffee and a mostly meat/veggie diet. I cheated from time to time, certainly over the holiday. I lost 38 pounds in slightly over 60 days. Here’s a before and after:

Fat Eric

Not So Fat Eric

I kept this post kind of short and to the point because my desire is not to argue or fight about whether carbs are good or bad, whether fat is good or bad, whether X is right, or whether Y is wrong. This is what worked for me and I was amazed by it, totally amazed by the outcome.

I also do things like cycling and martial arts but I’ve been doing those for awhile, along with running, and while I’ve lost weight I’ve never had it melt away like this.

I’ve stopped the fasting portion and none of the weight has piled back on. Lipid tests have been very positive as well, best in years.

Even if you don’t have a ton of weight to lose, seriously think about the standup desk and treadmill. 

Happy New Year!

My Must Have Tools of 2014

Dec 30th

There are a lot of tools in the SEO space (sorry, couldn't resist :D) and over the years we've seen tools fall into 2 broad categories. Tools that aim to do just about everything and tools that focus on one discipline of online marketing.

As we continue to lose more and more data (not provided) and the data we have access to becomes a bit more unreliable (rankings, competitive research data, data given to us by search engines, etc) one has to wonder at what point does access to a variety of tools start producing diminishing returns?

In other words, if you are starting with unreliable or very, very inexact data does layering more and more extrapolations on top make you worse off than you were before? Probably.

I do think that a fair amount of tool usage scenarios have become less effective (or less necessary) at this point. Consider what were once the cornerstones of industry research and data:

  • Rankings
  • SERP difficulty analysis
  • Link prospecting
  • Competitive link research
  • Analytics

Each one of these areas of data has really taken a beating over the last 2-3 years thanks to collateral damage from broad-reaching, unforgiving Google updates, the loss of actual keyword data, the less obvious relationship between links and rankings, personalized search, various SERP layout changes, and on and on.

I believe the best way forward for evaluating what tools you should be using is to determine what does X best to the point where supplementing it with data from a similar provider is overkill and not worth the extra monthly subscription cost nor the cognitive overhead.

Which Ones to Choose?

Well, this certainly depends on what you do. I'm going to focus on the small to mid-size agency market (which also includes freelancers and folks who just operate their own properties) but for those tetering on mid-large size I'll make 2 recommendations based on personal experience:

If I were operating a bigger agency I'd strongly consider both of those. They both do a really solid job of providing customized reporting and research modules.

For the rest of us, I'll share what I'm using as a basis for my recommendations with reasons why I selected them.

These tools are focused on what I do on a daily basis and are the ones I simply cannot live without. They cover:

  • Reporting
  • Competitive Link & Keyword Research
  • Keyword Research
  • PR and Outreach
  • Advanced Web Ranking

    This is the tool I rely on the most. It does just about everything with the only drawbacks being the learning curve and that it is desktop software. The learning curve payoff is very much worth it though. This tool does the following for me:

    • Reporting for pretty much every aspect of a campaign
    • Interfaces with Majestic SEO for link data as well as data from Moz for link research and tracking
    • Connects to social accounts for reporting
    • Site audit crawls
    • Interfaces with Google Analytics
    • Keyword research
    • Competitor analysis
    • Rankings
    • On-page analysis

    They have a cloud version for reporting and I believe that in the near future a good amount of this functionality will go to its cloud service. This tool is highly recommended.

    Advanced Web Ranking - here's a basic overview of the software from a few years ago, though it has been updated a number of times since then

    Ahrefs

    I remember when this was for sale on Flippa! I find Ahrefs to be very reliable and easy to use. They have added quite a few features over the past year and, in my opinion, they are right up there with Majestic SEO when it comes to relevant, deep link data.

    Their interface has improved dramatically over time and the constant addition of helpful, new features has left other tools playing catchup. I'm hoping to see more integration with them in 2014 via services like Raven and Advanced Web Ranking.

    Ahrefs.com - here's a review from last year (though they no longer offer the SERP tracking feature they offered back then)

    Authority Labs

    The most accurate and stable online rankings provider I've used thus far. The interface has improved recently as has the speed of exports. I would still like to see a bulk PDF export of each individual site in the near future but overall my experience with Authority Labs has been great.

    I use it as a stable, online, automated rank checker to supplement my data from Advanced Web Ranking. It also has some nice features like being able to track rankings from a zip code and showing what else is in the SERP it encounters (videos, snippets, etc).

    Authority Labs - here's a review from 5 months ago

    Buzzstream

    Buzzstream is an absolute must have for anyone doing PR-based and social outreach. The email integration is fantastic and the folks that help me with outreach routinely rave about using Buzzstream.

    The UI has really been turned up recently and the customer support has been excellent for us. I'm positive that our outreach would not be nearly has effective without Buzzstream and there really isn't a competing product out there that I've seen.

    This is a good example of a really niche product that excels at its intended purpose.

    Buzzstream - here's a review from a couple years ago

    Citation Labs Suite

    We use the Contact Finder, Link Prospector, and Broken Link Building tool inside our prospecting process. Much like Buzzstream this is a suite of tools that focuses on a core area and does it very well.

    You have to spend some time with the prospector to get the best queries possible for your searches but the payoff is really relevant, quality link prospects.

    Citation Labs - here's a review from a couple years ago

    Link Research Tools

    While LRT is primarily known for its Link Detox tool, this set of tools covers quite a bit of the SEO landscape. I do not use all the tools in the suite but the areas that I utilize LRT for are:

    • Link cleanup
    • Link prospecting
    • SERP competition analysis
    • Competitive domain comparisons

    It's missing a few pieces but it is similar to Advanced Web Ranking in terms of power and data. LRT hooks into many third party tools (Majestic, SemRush, Moz, etc) so you get a pretty solid overview, in one place, of what you need to see or want to see.

    The prospecting is similar, to an extent, when compared with Citation Labs but you can define specific SEO metrics to prospect filtering as well as base it off of links that appear across multiple sites in a given SERP.

    LinkResearchTools

    Majestic SEO

    Majestic is still the defacto standard for deep link data (both fresh and historical data). They recently launched a new feature called Search Explorer, which is designed to be a specialized search engine devoid of personalization and what not, while showing rankings based on its interpretation of the web graph and how influential a site is for a given term.

    As of this writing, Search Explorer is in Alpha but it does appear to be a really solid innovation from Majestic. The other reason for having a Majestic subscription is to get access to it's API so you can integrate the data however you choose to. I use it (access to the API) inside of LRT and Advanced Web Ranking.

    Majestic SEO - here's a review from a couple years ago by Julie Joyce

    Moz

    I use Moz mainly for access to it's link data via Advanced Web Ranking. Compared to the other tools I use I do not see a ton of value in the rest of its tool suite and I also get data from it via my Raven subscription (which is where I tend to do a fair bit of research).

    If you are on a tight budget it's worthy of consideration for the breadth of tools the subscription offers but I think you could get better options elsewhere if you have some budget to spread around.

    Moz

    Raven Tools

    I don't use every single feature in Raven but I find Raven to be one of the most well-executed, stable tool suites on the market. I use Raven to:

    • Manage keyword lists
    • Research competitors
    • Manage and report on Twitter/Facebook profiles and campaigns
    • Track social mentions
    • Automate site crawls
    • Compare various, customizable metrics between sites
    • Google Analytics and Google/Bing Webmaster tools integration

    In 2014 I'm looking to do more with Raven in the content management area and in the reporting area. I still prefer to supplement GWT rankings data with rankings data from another source (Advanced Web Ranking, Authority Labs, etc) but a goal for 2014, for me, is to fit more reporting into Raven's already excellent reporting engine.

    Raven - here's a review from a few years ago

    SemRush

    In terms of keyword, ranking, and PPC competitive research tools SemRush really has moved ahead of the competition in the past year or so. I use most of the features in the suite:

    • Organic SEO Research
    • PPC keyword and strategy research
    • Multiple domain comparisons covering organic and paid search strategies
    • Yearly historical data feature on a specific domain

    I also like the filtering feature(s) that really help me whittle down keyword data to exactly what I'm looking for without worrying about export limits and such.

    SemRush - here's a review from a few years ago

    SeoBook Community and Tools

    Knowledge is power, naturally. All the tools in the world will not overcome a lack of knowledge. All of the specific, unbiased, actionable business & marketing knowledge that I've received over the last handul of years (and the relationships made) is the single most direct reason for any succcess I've had in this space.

    The SeoBook Toolbar is still one of my most utilized tools. It is data source agnostic, you get data from a variety of sources quickly and reliably. Seo For Firefox takes most of the info in the toolbar and assigns it to each individual listing in a given SERP. Both tools are indispensible to me on the research front.

    We also have some premium tools that I like quite a bit:

    • Local Rank - It scans up to 1,000 Google results and then cross-references links pointing from those sites to the top 10, 20, or 50 results for that same query. The tool operates on the premise that sites that are well linked to from other top ranked results might get an additional ranking boost on some search queries. You can read more about this in a Google patent here.
    • HubFinder - HubFinder looks for sites that have co-occuring links across up to 10 sites on a given topic. This is useful in finding authoritative links that link to competing sites in a given SERP.
    • Duplicate Content Checker - This Firefox extension scans Google for a given block of text to see if others are using the same content. The Duplicate Content Checker searches Google for each sentence wrapped in quotes and links to the results of the search.

    Screaming Frog SEO Spider

    This is my desktop crawler of choice for most sites, it's complimented by Raven's Site Auditor (which can be run automatically) and Advanced Web Ranking's site audit tool in my usage.

    Just about anything you can think of from a site architecture and on-page standpoint can be done with this tool.

    Screaming Frog - a few years ago Branko did a great review

    TermExplorer

    A cloud-based tool that processes large amounts of keywords pretty quickly and does a good job of bringing in terms from multiple sources.

    It also offers a competitive analysis feature that I don't use very much as well as white-label reports. It has pretty slick filtering options for keywords and scans for exact match domains (.com and .net) in addition to CPC and keyword volume data.

    Term Explorer

    Avoid Tool Fatigue

    There is going to be overlap across some of these tools and while the idea of all-in-one sounds nice it rarely works in practice. Clients are different, deliverables are different, and business models are different.

    The trick is to avoid as much overlap as possible between the tools that you use, otherwise you end up wasting time, money, and resources by overthinking whatever it is that you are doing.

    I have less than 20-ish toolsets that I use on an almost daily basis. Some of these are not used daily but definitely monthly. At one point I had access to over 40 different tools. The tools mentioned in this post are the ones that I've found the most value in and gained the most success from.

    Creating an Experience for Your Product

    Nov 18th

    In a recent post I talked about the benefits of productizing your business model along with some functional ways to achieve productization.

    A product, in and of itself is really only 1/2 of what you are selling to your clients. The other 1/2 of the equation is the "experience".

    It sounds a bit "fluffy" but in my career as a service provider and in my purchasing history as a consumer the experience matters. I would even go so far as to say that in some very noticeable cases the experience can outweigh the product itself (to some extent anyways).

    These halves, the product and the experience, can cut both ways.

    Sometimes a product is so good that the experience can be average or even below average and the provider will still make out and sometimes the experience is so fantastic that an otherwise average or above average product is elevated to what can be priced as a premium product or service.

    Let's get a few obvious variables out of the way first. It is understood that:

    1. Experience matters more to some people than others
    2. Experience matters more in certain industries than others
    3. The actual product matters more to some
    4. The actual product matters more in some industries

    If we stipulate that the 4 scenarios mentioned above are true, which they are, it still doesn't change the basic premise that you are probably leaving revenue and growth on the table if you settle on one side or the other.

    While it's true that you can be successful even if your product to experience ratio is like a seesaw heavily weighted in one direction over the other, it is also true that you would probably be more successful if you made both the best each could be.

    Defining Where Product Meets Experience

    I'll layout a couple of examples here to help illustrate the point:

    • The "Big Four" in the link research tools space; Ahrefs, Link Research Tools, Majestic, and Open Site Explorer
    • The two more well-known "tool/reporting suites" Raven and Moz outside of much more expensive enterprise toolkits

    In my experience Ahrefs has been the best combination of product and experience, especially lately. Their dataset continues to grow and recent UI changes have made it even easier to use. Exports are super fast and I’ve had quick and useful interactions with their support staff. Perhaps it isn’t a coincidence that, from groups of folks I interact with and follow online, Ahrefs continues to pop up more often in conversation than not.

    To me, Majestic and Link Research Tools are examples of where the product is really, really strong (copious amounts of data across many segments) but the UI/UX is not quite as good as the others. I realize some of this is subjective but in other comparisons online this seems to be a prevailing theme.

    Open Site Explorer has a fantastic UI/UX but the data can be a bit behind the others and getting data out (exporting) is bit more of a chore than point, click, download. It seems like over a period of time OSE has had a rougher road to data and update growth than the other tools I mentioned.

    In the case of two of more popular reporting and research suites, Moz and Raven, Raven has really caught up (if not surpassed) Moz in terms of UI/UX. Raven pulls in data from multiple sources, including Moz, and has quite a few more (and easier to get to and cross-reference) features than Moz.

    Moz may not be interested in getting into some of the other pieces of the online marketing puzzle that Raven is into but I think it’s still a valid comparison based on the very similar, basic purpose of each tool suite.

    Assessing Your Current Position

    When assessing or reassessing your products and offerings, a lot of it goes back to targeting the right market.

    • Is the market big enough to warrant investment into a product?
    • How many different segments of a given market do you need to appeal to?
    • Where’s the balance between feature bloat (think Zoho CRM) versus “good enough” functionality with an eye towards an incredible UX (think Highrise CRM)?

    If the market isn’t big enough and you have to go outside your initial target, how will that affect the balance between the functionality of your product and the experience for your users, customers, or clients?

    If you are providing SEO services your "functionality" might be how easy it is to determine the reports you provide and their relationship(s) to a client's profitability or goals (or both). Your "experience" is likely a combination of things:

    • The graphical presentation of your documents
    • The language used in your reports and other interactions with the client
    • The consistency of your "brand" across the web
    • The consistency of your brand presentation (website, invoices, reports, etc)
    • Client ability to access reports and information quickly without having to ask you for it
    • Consistency of your information delivery (are you always on-time, late, or erratic with due dates, meetings, etc)

    When you breakdown what you think is your "product" and "experience" you'll likely find that it is pretty simple to develop a plan to improve both, rather than beating the vague "let's do great things" company line that no one really understands but just nods at.

    Example of Experience in Action

    In just about every Consumer Reports survey Apple comes out on top for customer satisfaction. Apple, whether you like their products/"culture" or not, creates a fairly reliable, if not expensive, end to end experience. This is doubly true if you live near an Apple store.

    If you look at laptop failure rates Apple is generally in the middle of the pack. There are other things that go into the Apple experience (using the OS and such) but part of the reason people are willing to pay that premium is due to their support options and ability to fix bugs fairly quickly.

    To tie this into our industry, I think Moz is a good parallel example here. Their design is generally heralded as being quite pleasant and it's pretty easy to use their tools; there isn't a steep learning curve to using most of their products.

    I think their product presentation is top notch, even though I generally prefer some of their competitors products. They are pretty active on social media and their support is generally very good.

    So, in the case of Moz it's pretty clear that people are willing to pay for less robust data or at least less features and options partly (or wholly) due to their product experience and product presentation.

    Redesigning Your Experience

    You might already have some of these but it's worthwhile to revisit a very basic style guide (excluding audience development):

    • Consistent logo and colors
    • Fonts
    • Vocabulary and Language Style (the tone of your brand, is it My Brand or MyBrand or myBrand, etc)

    Some Additional Resources

    Here are some visual/text-based resources that I have found helpful during my own redefining process:

    These are some of the tools you might want to use to help in this process:

    • Running copy through Word for readability Scores- Office 2013
    • A Windows tool that can help improve your writing- Stylewriter
    • A Mac tool to help with graphics and charts- Omnigraffle
    • A Windows tool to help with charts and graphics- SmartDraw
    • A cloud-based presentation tool that helps the less artistically inclined (like me)- Prezi
    • Online proposal software- Proposable
    • A text expander for Mac, comes in handy with consistent "messaging"- TextExpander
    • Windows alternative that syncs with TextExpander- Breevy
    • Over 100 training modules, covering topics like: keyword research, link building, site architecture, website monetization, pay per click ads, tracking results, and more.
    • An exclusive interactive community forum
    • Members only videos and tools
    • Additional bonuses - like data spreadsheets, and money saving tips
    We love our customers, but more importantly

    Our customers love us!

    Productizing Your SEO Business

    Oct 11th

    If you service clients, it’s quite likely that you’ve faced some of the same pain points I have when trying to design a “product” out of your “service”. The words product and service in our industry tend to be interchangeable as our products are digital products.

    Pricing for SEO, or any type of digital marketing service, has been written about quite a few times and there’s never been a real clear answer as to what the sweet spot is for pricing.

    I actually do not believe there is a clear or semi-clear answer to pricing but what I do believe is that there is a clear path you can set for your company which makes many aspects of your business easier to automate and easier to manage. I refer to it here as “productizing” the business.

    Where to Start

    Some products can be priced more easily than others. If you are selling just your time (consulting) then you can do it by hour, obviously. I think the “future” of the SEO consultant has been here for awhile anyways. Many have already evolved into the broader areas of digital marketing like:

    • Technical SEO
    • CRO
    • Competitive Research
    • Analytics
    • Broader Online Marketing Strategy and Execution

    There are other areas like paid search, email marketing, and so on but the above covers a good chunk of what many of us having been doing on our own properties for awhile and client sites as well. As more and more of us service clients and perhaps start agencies it’s important to start from the beginning.

    This will differ in analysis if you have a much larger agency, but here we are focusing on the more common freelancer and small agency. The steps I would recommend are as follows (this is in relation to pricing/products only, I’m assuming you’ve already identified your market, brand messaging, etc):

    • Determine a sustainable net profit. What do I want to earn as a baseline number?
    • Determine acceptable margins based on desired size of staff and potential cost of contractor work.
    • Determine the required gross revenue needed to achieve your net profit.

    Why Do it This Way?

    I do it this way because net margin is very important to me. I don’t want to become the Walmart of digital marketing where our margins become paper thin as volume goes up.

    Here is an example of what I mean. Consider the following scenario:

    I’m leaving my job as a dairy farmer here in rural Rhode Island and I want to make $1,500,000 per year.

    So, you’re going to pay a little bit more assuming you are a single member LLC versus a traditional W-2 "employee" (again, keeping it very simple) because of the self-employment tax. Your CPA can go over the different options based on your business set up and such but the base calculations are the same as far as determining the core numbers go.

    If you just look at just “earnings” you are missing the bigger picture. What you should want to achieve for short, mid, and long term viability are healthy margins. Here’s an example:

    Jack’s SEO Shop had a net income of $1,000,000 dollars in 2011. Their overall sales were $5,000,000. In 2012 they had $1,500,000 in net income with $10,000,000 in sales.

    Jill’s SEO Shop had net income of $500,000 dollars in 2011. Their overall sales were $2,000,000. In 2012 they had $1,500,000 in net income with $4,000,000 in sales.

    In this case we look at a basic calculation of profit margin (net income/gross sales) and see that:

    • Jacks’ 2011 profit margin was 20%
    • Jack’s 2012 profit margin 15%
    • Jill’s 2011 profit margin 25%
    • Jill’s 2012 profit margin 38% (same net income as Jack)

    Certainly 15% on 10 million isn’t something to necessarily sneeze at but I’d much rather be Jill in the current state of web marketing. A 38% profit margin does so much more for your overall viability as a company when you take into account being able to respond to competition, algorithmic changes, increased cost of quality labor, and so on.

    In this example a conversation about simply “making” 1.5 million per year is quite misleading. Once we have these numbers figured out we can begin to “design” our “products and/or services” to somewhat fit a pricing model by backdooring it via preferred margins.

    Setting Up Your Products

    Many folks in the industry have had exposure and direct experience with a number of disciplines. At the very least, a lot of us know enough about “how” to execute a particular type of service without maybe the specific knowledge of how to go in and “push the buttons”.

    There’s a tendency to do all types of service but a good way to start is to look at your core competencies and determine what makes the most sense to offer as a product. If you are just starting out you can start this from a blank slate, there’s not a big difference either way.

    You will run across a couple different types of costs, direct and indirect. Let’s assume for the sake of simplicity you are a freelancer or just a solo operation. In terms of selling a service you will have 2 core types of cost:

    • Direct (utilization of outside contractors to accomplish a task)
    • Indirect (your time and any other overhead like office costs, insurance, tools, marketing costs)

    There’s some debate as to whether you should include the estimated cost of your marketing as part of a per project cost to accurately determine your margins. I say why not, using it only makes it more accurate in terms of hard numbers.

    Perhaps you whittled down your offerings to:

    • Technical SEO Audits
    • SEO Competitive Analysis Audits
    • Conversion Optimization
    • Content Marketing

    We can assume that you might have the following tools in your toolbelt:

    • Screaming Frog SEO Spider (roughly 158$ per year if you are in the US)
    • Majestic SEO subscription (roughly $588 per year for the Silver plan)
    • Ahrefs subscription (roughly $948 per year for the Pro subscription)
    • Visual Website Optimizer subscription ($588 per year for the Small Business Plan)
    • Raven SEO Tools for competitive research, content marketing strategy and execution, SEO audit work ($1,188 per year)
    • Buzzstream for outreach and additional link prospecting ($1,188 per year)

    There are more tools we could add but at a baseline level you would be able to produce quality products with these tools. Total cost is $4,658 per year or $389 (rounded up, per month).

    The same formula (annual and monthly amounts) would be used for any other overhead you deem necessary but for the sake of simplicity let’s say you are spending $389 per month on “stuff”.

    Knowledge + Tools = Win

    Tools are only 1 part of a 2 part equation. Tools without knowledge are useless. There are a variety of costs one could associate with knowledge acquisition:

    • Building your own test sites
    • Going to conferences
    • Participating in online membership sites

    The costs for knowledge acquisition can vary from person to person. You might be at a point where all three make sense or at a level where only 1 or 2 make sense. I would recommend looking at these options relative to your skill set and determining the cost, annually, of what makes sense for you. Take that number and just add it to the example cost I gave for tools I recommended earlier.

    Breaking Out a Product List

    The next step would be to look at each type of service you are offering and productize it. The first 2 areas are more likely to be your time only versus your time + outside contractor help. Conversion Optimization and Content Marketing will probably incur additional costs outside of your time for things like:

    • User testing
    • Content writing
    • Content design
    • Promotion help
    • Programming for interactive content

    When setting up products I use this:

    • GI is Gross Income
    • Tax is GI * (whatever your total tax percentage is)
    • NI is Net Income
    • GM is Gross Margin (E2/B2)
    • NM is Net Margin (G2/B2)

    In that example I used $150 as my hourly rate and assumed 40 hours for an audit. Now I can play around with the direct cost and price to arrive at the margins I am looking for.

    One thing to keep in mind with indirect cost is usually it’s something that can be divided amongst your current projects.

    So I might revisit my pricing table from time to time to revamp the indirect cost based on my current client list. In this example I assume no clients are currently onboard and no income for my own properties so this audit eats up all the indirect cost against its margins.

    You can design your products however it works for you but I usually try to find some type of baseline that works for me. In the areas I assumed earlier I would try to make sub-products out of each section:

    • Audit based on size and scope of site (total pages, ecommerce, dynamic, etc)
    • Conversion Rate Optimization based on total hours for ongoing work and a few different prices for the initial audit and feedback
    • Content Marketing based on the scale needed broken out into different asset types for easier pricing (videos, interactive content, infographics, whitepapers, and so on
    • SEO Competitive Analysis based on total hours needed for ongoing work and different prices based on the scope of the initial research (or just a one-off overview)

    There are so many variables to each service that it is impossible to list them here but the general ideas remain the same. Start with a market and break them out into “things” that can be sold which cover “most” of your target market.

    Manage Your Workloads More Efficiently

    One of the reasons I mentioned direct cost as being your hourly rate is so you can set a baseline of how many hours you want to work per month to achieve the amount you'd like to earn. Combining what you want to earn with the hours you want to work will help you work out a minimum hourly rate which you can adjust up or down, along with desired revenue, to hit your pricing sweet spot.

    Using your hourly rate in conjunction with designing specific products makes it pretty easy to assign hours required to a specific product. When you assign hours to each product you can do a few things that will help in managing your workload:

    • When a new project is being quoted you can quickly gauge whether, based on current projects in process, you have availability for the project
    • If you know ahead of time you are stretched out a bit and need to bring in outside help you can add those additional costs to your proposal and get outside help ready ahead of time
    • If you take on projects and you find your assumed hours are over or under the amount really necessary you can adjust that for future projects

    Assigning your required hours to each product you sell will help you manage your workload better and give you more fluidity during peak times. Inevitably there will be periods of peaks and valleys in the demand for your service so if you are able to manage the peaks in a less stressful and more profitable manner the valleys might not be as deep for your financially.

    Other Areas Where Productizing Helps

    Custom quoting everything that comes through the door is a pain point for me.

    Post-quoting you have things like contracts that have to get signed, billing that has to get set up, and task processes that have to get accomplished.

    When you have specific products you are selling, it becomes much easier to automate:

    • Proposal templates that get sent out
    • Contract documents
    • Billing setup
    • New client onboarding into a CRM/PM system
    • Tasks that need to be completed and assigned
    • Setting up classes and jobs in Quickbooks to track financials per client or per job

    It can be a pretty lengthy process but making your services into products really helps your business in a number of areas

    How To Think About Your Next SEO Project

    Sep 23rd

    The independent webmaster has taken a beating over the last couple of years. Risk has become harder to spread, labor costs have gone up, outreach has become more difficult and more expensive as Google's webspam team and the growing ranks of the Search Police spread the FUD far and wide.

    The web is still a great place to be and still offers incredible opportunity that is largely unavailable, without much more capital intensive risk, in the offline world.

    There's still plenty of success to be had in the web-based business model but like any strategy we have to refine it from time to time. I thought I'd share the core processes I go through when starting a new site.

    Look for Signal, Look Past the Noise

    Online marketers, celebrities, and brands pretty much power the Twittersphere and the 140 character limit invariably leads to statements full of bluster (and shallowness) like:

    • Links are dead
    • Forget links get social likes, +1's, RT's, and so on
    • Guest posting is dead
    • Infographics are dead
    • SEO is dead

    None of that is true but when folks try to become prognosticators they will just keep saying the same thing over and over, with some slight re-framing, until they finally get it right.

    All you have to do is look at the really ridiculous statements over the years about how ranking "doesn't matter". These statements have gone back to at least 2006-ish, craziness.

    Or look at the past couple years where we get "social shares are the new link" shoved down our throats despite the data that flies in the face of that statement, at least as it pertains to organic search growth.

    pinnochio

    Yet, years later both of these "industry trends" would have cost you significant amounts of revenue and search share. We don't have to debate the spam links vs non-spam links here either. No one here is advocating for you to build crappy links and you don't need to.

    Establishing Your Portfolio

    It's quite likely, as an independent webmaster, that you will have sites that serve different purposes. I have sites that:

    • are actively being built into online brands (or trying at least :D )
    • exist as pure, longer-standing SEO plays that are cash cows used to fund more sustainable long-term projects
    • are built to initially live off of paid traffic, direct outreach, and/or social campaigns with organic search as a tertiary method of traffic acquisition
    • exist solely to test new ideas or new products before building an actual site/brand

    I also work a select type of client. One thing I found helpful was to set up a spreadsheet with some very basic information to help me keep track of things at a 10,000 foot view.

    So I have a column for:

    • Domain
    • Purpose Tag (one of the areas I described above)
    • Net Monthly Revenue (multiple columns)
    • Rolling 12 month Net Revenue
    • Same monthly/rolling numbers for costs

    From there, I do a quick chart to show what areas most of the revenue is coming from and where the investment is going. Over time, I try to make sure the online brand area (where we are getting traffic and revenue from a healthly mix of multiple sources) is outpacing the pure SEO plays in both areas and we try to shy away from making too many expensive pure SEO plays where no mid-long term "brandability" exists.

    We also like to see growth in client areas as well, but only for the right kind of client. The wrong kind of client can have a really destructive effect on a small team.

    Staying small, lean, and profitable are also big keys to this strategy. If you are up against it on debt and overhead you will probably be less likely to make the proper decisions for your long-term viability on the 'net.

    Considerations When Starting a New Site

    I think most small teams or individual publishers can probably handle 2-3 branded sites at a time (stipulating that a branded site is one where there are just about all elements of online marketing involved). The first step I take is to determine what bucket the site will go in.

    A testing site is easy enough to decide on. I might have an idea for a new product so I'll just throw up a small Wordpress site, a landing page, and test it out via PPC. Part of the initial research here is to determine whether there is any existing "search" demand or if you'll be tasked with creating demand on your own.

    You can certainly build an online product that will be driven, initially, mostly by offline demand if you have the right networking in place. For the most part we try to stick to stuff where there is some initial demand online as the offline networking component tends to involve, in my experience, a lot more initial work, more stakeholders, etc.

    When we look at a "product" we consider the following as "stuff" we could sell:

    • knowledge
    • physical product
    • digital products

    Certainly a site can have any combination of those elements but generally those are the three basic types of things we'd consider selling. From there we would want to figure out:

    • brand name and domain (I prefer one or two word domains here, keyword not required)
    • search volume estimates and the length of the tail for each core keyword
    • if conversations are taking place across the web for the broader topic or lateral topics where we can insert ourselves/product
    • if our product can be a niche of an already successful, broader product offering
    • does the product have a reasonable chance of success in the social media realm
    • if we can make it better than what exists now

    Example of a Product Idea

    So one example, as I also dabble in real estate a bit, that I'll give is a CRM/PM solution for real estate investors. Most of the products out there aren't what I would consider "good". Many of the solutions are either just not very good or require some hook into a complex solution like Microsoft Dynamics CRM.

    There's demand for the product on the web and there's a lot that could be done, more elegantly, with technologies that are available today to help connect all the things that go into an investment decision and investment management.

    This is something I'm kicking around and it's a good example of our strategy of trying to find a successful, broad market where opportunity exists for niches to be served in a more direct, elegant manner.

    We could do 2 of 3 product types here, but would likely start with just the online product itself and maybe hang training or courses off of it later.

    You Need a Product

    product

    If you want to stick around online I believe you need at least 1 product and brand that can sustain the up and down nature of search cycles. You could argue that client work is your product and I'd buy that.

    However, I think client work is still an area where you are more beholden to the decisions of others, in a more abrupt fashion (internal client spend decisions, taking things in-house, etc), than you are if you have your own product or service especially at the price points charged to clients.

    I could also make the case that if you are selling direct to consumers you are beholden to them as well. Yet, I think the risk is better spread out over an SaaS model, subscription model, or direct product model than it is selling to either a handful of large clients or handfuls of large clients that require a large team of people and all that goes into the management of a team like that.

    Opportunity Abounds

    There still is a ton of opportunity on the web, there is no doubt about that. The practice of finding a broad market and picking a niche in there has worked out well for us in the last year or so.

    In some areas we start off with no connections at all. So in areas where we are behind the 8 ball on relationships we will often hire writers from boards like ProBlogger.Net where will we specifically ask for folks who are in that industry with an existing site and active social following to write for us.

    We will also ask them to promote what they write for us on their social channels and site while hooking their authorship profile into the posts they do for us. This helps us, in certain industries anyway, really grow an audience for short money and establish relationships with established, trusted people in the space.

    Sell Something

    Finding that balance between passion and monetary potential is difficult and there's often some level of tradeoff. If you use the items I listed earlier as a guide to determine how to move forward with an idea, or if moving forward even makes sense for the idea, then I think you'll be starting off in a solid position.

    The last couple of years have been really turbulent but that also has created more opportunities in different areas and while it's nice to throw out the word "diversify" it's also good to take a more boots on the ground approach than a theoretical one.

    The core hallmarks of a traditional SEO campaign are still largely the same but there's no reason why you can't stick around and take advantage of these opportunities, especially with all the experience you have in multiple areas of online marketing from being an independent webmaster in the golden age of SEO.

    Finding the Perfect Project Management & CRM Tools

    Aug 27th
    posted in

    pm-crm-header-imate

    Picking the right tools for project management and CRM functions can feel like an impossible task. I've gone through a number of applications in recent years (just about all of them actually). What makes choosing (or building) the right systems so difficult are the variables we all deal with in our respective workflows.

    At some point in the SEO process a checklist doesn't suffice, at some point intuition and experience come into play and these traits require some intellectual flexibility.

    You can build tasks and sub-tasks up to a certain level, but at some point you have to replace the task checklist option with a free form area to capture thoughts and ideas. Those thoughts and ideas can drive the future of the project yet it's hard to foresee what tasks are resultant from this approach at the beginning of a project.

    How to Determine What You Need

    This is hard. You should have an idea of current needs and possible future needs. It really sounds a bit easier than it is. You have to take a number of things into consideration:

    • Your current email, calendar, and document storage set ups
    • You and your staff's mobile devices and OS's
    • Features that you need
    • Features you might need
    • Reporting
    • Scalability of the platforms
    • Desire to rely on 3rd party integrations
    • Ability to manage multiple 3rd party integrations

    Inside each of those items are more variables but for the most part these are the key areas to think about.

    The hardest part for me was thinking about where I wanted to go. At one point or another I fell into the following categories:

    • Freelancer wanting to grow into an agency owner
    • Freelancer wanting to stay a freelancer
    • Wanting to exclusively work on my own properties
    • Wanting to exclusively focus on client work
    • Mixing client work and self-managed properties
    • Providing clients with more services vs focusing on a core service or two

    When you run through those scenarios there are all sorts of tools that make sense, then don't make sense, and tools that kind of make sense. In addition to the categories I mentioned there are also questions about how big do you want to grow an agency.

    Do you want a large staff? A small staff? Do you want to be more of an external marketer or do you want to be more day to day operations? Inside of those questions are lots of other intersections that can have a significant effect on how your workflow will be structured.

    I'll give you some insight into how I determined my set up.

    Putting Tools Through Their Paces

    I do a mix of things for "work". I run some of my own properties, I have some clients, and I love SeoBook. In addition to this I've also been (slowly) developing a passive real estate investment company for a year (very slowly and pragmatically).

    I spent quite a bit of time determining what I wanted to do and where I wanted to go and what made me the "happiest". I've been fortunate enough to be able to take the proper amount of time to determine these things without having to rush into a decision simply based on the need to make a buck.

    So, I decided the following was best for me:

    • Work with select clients only
    • Have a small, focused team of great people
    • Continue developing our own web properties and products

    Invariably when you make these decisions you leave money on the table somewhere and that's hard. Whether it's abandoning some short-term strategies that have a nice ROI or turning away clients based on a gut feeling or just being maxed out on client work, it's still hard to leave the $ there.

    What Are Your Core Products

    After deciding what I was going to do and the direction I was going to go it was a relief to eliminate some potential solutions from the mix. Overly complicated CRM's like Zoho and Microsoft Dynamics were out (fine products but overkill for me).

    Determining the products and services that we would sell also helped narrow down the email, calendar, and document storage issue.

    Sometimes a product is so core to your service that it has a significant influence on your choice of tools. I've been using Google Apps for business for awhile and our use of Buzzstream cemented that choice. We've also used Exchange in the past but it doesn't seem to play as nice with Buzzstream as Google Apps. Outreach is key for us and no one does it better than Buzzstream.

    Our other "products and services" are fairly platform independent so the next big thing to deal with was document and information management. However, before we chose a provider for this service we needed to determine what CRM/PM system fit our workflow the best.

    In my opinion, document integration is a nice add-on but not 100% necessary if you keep things in one place and have a tight file structure. In a larger organization this might be different but a proper client/project folder set up is easy enough to reference without having to compromise on a CRM/PM solution.

    CRM and PM Systems

    A post covering everything I went through would be like 10,000 words long but suffice to say the most important things to me with these system evaluations were:

    • Ease of Use
    • Speed
    • Reliability
    • Task and Project Template functionality
    • Solid reporting features without overkill
    • Backup functionality
    • Scalability
    • OS agnostic

    Compromises will be made when you place any amount of criteria against pre-built solutions. There was a period of time where we might have scaled agency work so I'll mention tools that would have made that cut as well. We ended up settling on:

    Using Asana

    pm-crm-post-asana-logo

    Asana accomplishes about 90% of what I need. It doesn't work on IE which means it doesn't work very well on my Windows phone but I have yet to encounter a situation in 5 years of dealing with 50+ clients and many internal projects where I needed to check in on my phone or where it couldn't wait until I got in front of my computer. I have an iPhone for iOS testing so in a pinch I could use that. Plus, you can have activity data emailed to your inbox so you can see if the sky is falling either way.

    Asana doesn't do backups really well, you have to export as JSON but it's better than nothing. I have a project manager whom I trust so I don't need to monitor everything but I can quickly see the tasks assigned to her in case things are falling behind.

    We don't assign tasks to other folks (outreachers, designers, programmers, etc), we just let them do their thing. Asana also integrates with Dropbox and Google Drive if you need that kind of integration. Asana also is task/project only, there's no information storage like there is in something like Basecamp or TeamworkPM (for us, that's ok).

    Alternative to Asana = TeamworkPM

    pm-crm-teamwork-logo

    The alternative I would recommend, if you have a larger team or just want to have more granular control over things (and also more reporting functions), would be TeamworkPM. It meets all my requirements and then some. I find it just as easy to use as Basecamp but far more robust and it even makes using Gantt Charts easy and fun :)

    For us, it's too much but it really is a nice product that makes scaling your work far more easier than Basecamp. In Basecamp you cannot see all tasks assigned to everyone and their statuses, you have to click on each person to see their individual tasks. This makes multi-employee management cumbersome. TeamworkPM also has project and task templates while Basecamp only has project templates.

    I like the ability to create task list templates only because many of our project requirements involve specific tasks not necessarily present on every single project, so having just project templates is far too broad to be effective.

    In addition, Basecamp's file handling is poor and messy for our usage because:

    • There's no file versioning
    • You can't delete a file without deleting the conversation attached to a file (so you have to rename them)
    • No integration with any document service

    TeamworkPM integrates with various services and also does file versioning in case you use a service they do not integrate with.

    Using Pipeline Deals

    pm-crm-post-pipeline-logo

    PipelineDeals is dead simple to use. It meets just about all my requirements and it has the most important integration a CRM can have; contact integration with my email application (Google Apps). It also has a nice gmail widget that makes email and contact management between Gmail and Pipeline Deals really slick.

    We use Right Signature for document signing and Pipeline integrates with that as well. It doesn't integrate with BidSketch, which is what we use for proposals but that's ok. We don't do 20 quotes a week so that level of automation is nice but not necessary.

    PipelineDeals doesn't integrate with Asana either. Again, that's fine in our case. We don't need the CRM to speak to the PM. It also does task templates which are a big deal to me and our workflows. Reporting and mobile access are excellent as well, without being overly complicated.

    Documents and Information

    Before I get to what could be a all in one solution for CRM/PM let's talk about documents and information.

    I love the idea of easy information retrieval and not having to think about where to put things or where to look for things. There are a few core choices of document and information management to consider:

    For more robust, enterprise level solutions we also considered Sharepoint. It's pretty complex but very robust and overkill for us.

    Dropbox is excellent except for collaboration. Conflicted file versions are a pain in the butt but if you don't need any collaborative features it's a good solution. It syncs locally, stores native file types, integrates with a lot of services.

    Evernote is a solid tool for textual based information sharing but I don't like it for files because it can't be your only file solution and I'm interested in a file solution that handles all files.

    Google Docs is a wonderfully collaborative document management solution and could handle probably 60-75% of files. However, we do some custom stuff with Excel, Word, and some stuff with videos and not having the native file available for quick editing is a hassle.

    Also, while emailing from Google Docs is a cool feature it doesn't work if you are emailing inside of an existing conversation. If you email inside Gmail you'll share a link to the file rather than the file itself and many times we have to send a Word doc or Excel file so we have to export from Google Docs to the proper file extension and then email.

    Choosing Skydrive

    pm-crm-post-skydrive-logo

    Skydrive does what Dropbox does and what Google Docs does while maintaining the more widely accepted Office formats. We chose Skydrive for this reason. It's OS agnostic and works across iOS, Android, and of course on Windows phone. For iOS and Android you need an active Office 365 subscription. On iPad's you would still access via the browser though I believe an iPad version of what's on the iPhone now isn't far off at all.

    We use Skydrive for project files, reference files, and collaborative files for site/project strategy. This leaves email correspondence with clients as the remaining piece of the information puzzle. CRM email storage is great for pre-sales, up-sells, and billing correspondence but what about project related email?

    Project Related Emails

    Most PM solutions allow you to email a message to a client from your PM interface and continue the correspondence there. This is great until someone starts adding other bits of information to an email (not everyone sticks to the subject line :D) and it quickly becomes unruly.

    Probably the most tried and true solution is to either decide to keep all email correspondence (and notes from calls) in a CRM and label the note appropriately or try and document project related stuff in a project notebook or message. Asana doesn't have this option but TeamworkPM does.

    My preference is to just keep that stuff in a CRM for easy reference but for larger teams I'd go with keeping it in the CRM + summarizing in the PM system.

    There's another solution though. There's a product out there that combines CRM/PM into one app and makes keeping information together fairly simple.

    Considering Insightly.Com

    pm-crm-post-insightly

    Insightly is a pretty robust and affordable CRM/PM solution. It's email dropbox allows you to keep emails stored for quick reference across projects and contacts.

    The reason it can handle emails in this way is due to its unique linking relationships. You can link a contact and/or an organization to a project (and multiple projects).

    You can easily see all projects associated with X but what's even more powerful is you can link vendors to projects too. When you BCC your project dropbox it will also link the email to the participants on the project as well has have a "Email" tab in the project interface so you can see all the relevant emails for that project whether it's with a client, vendor, staff member, etc.

    If we were to move into a more client-facing company Insightly would merit strong consideration for its unique ability to easily keep all related information together.

    Is Automation Overrated Sometimes?

    I like automation, to an extent. I like syncing 2 apps together directly. There's a service out there called Zapier which does a great job linking otherwise incompatible services together. My hesitation here is relying on too many "parties" to accomplish tasks.

    Automation is wonderful, really, but I would recommend sitting down and thinking about what automation do you really need and how helpful will it really be and what happens if a 3rd, 4th, or 5th party goes under.

    For me, an example would be when I was considering Highrise.

    • Contacts sync provided by a third-party
    • Task templates provided by another third-party
    • Document integration provided by another third-party

    I'm hesitant to rely on these extra services for core functionality because these functions are crucial for my business. There could be situations where those services get abandoned, an API changes and you're waiting for a fix, and so on.

    There's plenty of services that offer integration between core apps like contacts, billing, time tracking, quoting, and so on. I just think it's wise to consider very carefully what you are relying on for core functionality and if you have to go outside of your chosen application too much it might be time to consider a new one.

    Compromises and Moving Forward

    If you choose any pre-built solution you're going to probably have some compromises. I have found that structure is really important and easy access to information, data, and task progress are more important than features and "options".

    I think having too many services inside of your operation is a hindrance to being as productive and efficient as possible. Knowing where to look and why to look is half the battle. If you're running multiple project management solutions, multiple document management solutions, and so on then you might want to consider more efficient ways to handle your operation.

    Without going through this process multiple times over the years there is no way I would have been able to stay as lean as possible while being as efficient as possible. Doing both of those things correctly usually leads:

    • Happier clients
    • A more productive work environment
    • A more profitable business

    Authority Labs Review

    Jul 30th
    posted in

    There are quite a few rank tracking options on the market today and selecting one (or two) can be difficult. Some have lots of integrations, some have no integrations. Some are trustworthy, some are not.

    Deciding on the feature set is tough enough but you also need to take into account who is storing your data. Can you trust that person or company? Will they use your aggregate data in a blog post (which is a signal that they are using your data for their own gains) or use your data to out a client of yours? Decisions, decisions...

    What I Use

    I use and recommend 2 services; one is web-based and one is software-based (where I have full control over the data). The software version is quite robust and has many integrations and options (that you may not need). This review covers my recommended web-based platform, Authority Labs.

    I use Authority Labs for most rank checking reports and I find it to be a wonderfully powerful web-based tool that is super easy to use. My recommended software package is Advanced Web Ranking. AWR is what I use for really in-depth analysis of pretty much everything (rankings, analytics, links, competitive analysis, etc.). If you are interested in learning a bit more, check out our Advanced Web Ranking review.

    In-depth analysis doesn't need to occur every day, but overviews of overall ranking health does. Daily, aggregate spot checks will help you spot large-scale changes quickly. Be consistently proactive with your clients and your own sites is quite a bit better than always being reactive.

    Benefits of the Two Tool Approach

    The benefits of this approach are that I get a locally-owned copy of my data and all the options I'd ever need while getting a reliable, hassle-free web-based copy that updates daily and is really easy to report on and/or give clients access to ranking reports if needed.

    Some clients require more in-depth reporting as a whole and you should strive to make yourself way more valuable than just a ranking report hand-off company, but if you are rolling your own reports and mashing data together then Authority Labs can really make your life quite a bit simpler.

    With Authority Labs and Advanced Web Ranking I get the best of both worlds and redundancy. It's a beautiful thing.

    What Does Authority Labs Do?

    It's a rank tracking application, plain and simple. Some of the main features I use most of the time are:

    • Tracking keywords daily
    • Tracking Google, Bing, and Yahoo SERPs
    • Viewing estimated search volume (via a bar graph) for your tracked keywords
    • Selecting a location all the way down to the zip code
    • Viewing daily ranking charts for a selected keyword
    • Exporting PDF reports for monthly, weekly, quarterly, *since added* date, and/or daily comparison reports
    • Comparing rankings against a competitor
    • Sharing a public URL with a client for their project
    • Exporting one domain or an entire account history in CSV format as part of a backup process
    • Producing white label reports

    The local feature is quite nice as well. It will track as if the search is occurring in that particular location (obviously really, really helpful for locally based keywords).

    Another feature that I really like is the "results type" column:

    authority-labs-resultstype-column

    In this column, which appears next to the keyword, it will show you if any of the following items appeared in that SERP:

    • Image results
    • News results
    • Video results
    • Shopping results
    • Snippets
    • Google Places results

    There are some other solid features as well but the ones mentioned above are some of my favorites.

    Working with Domains

    Authority Labs gives us the ability to do a few nifty things with domains. We can:

    • Group domains
    • Sync domains
    • Tag domains

    In order to understand how best to use the domain categorization features we have to understand how domain tracking works in the application. You can utilize specific URL, subdomain, or root domain tracking and also introduce wildcards to track more in-depth site structures.

    Some general rules of thumb:

    • If you choose a subdomain it will not track the root and beyond, only what's housed under the sub-domain structure
    • If you choose a root domain, it will track sub-domains and sub-pages across the root and any sub-domains
    • If you add just a site.com/folder it will only track that folder and down
    • If you add just a site.com/folder/page it will track just that page
    • If you use a wild card like site.com/wildcard/something it will track anything on the root and on any sub-domains that have "something" as a folder or page name preceded by a category or folder

    You can tag to your hearts content but it can get a bit unwieldy so I'd recommended using the solution that works best for your set up.

    Personally I like the ability to use grouping to group my sites/client sites and competing sites while relying on tagging to determine whether it's a client site, a site I own, and the market it is in (finance, ecommerce, SEO, whatever). This way I can quickly see a client-specific group, my own sites separated out, and then drill down into a particular market/core keyword to see the competing sites and such. Remember that when you sync domains together to track against each other, they reside in their own group.

    I also like the ability to group domains that might not be a direct competitor and tag them as "watch" just to track their growth and then try and reverse engineer the strategy.

    These options offer a lot of flexibility and there's no real wrong way to use them, I just recommended really thinking through how you want to organize things prior to moving things around in the interface.

    Adding a Domain

    Adding a domain is simple. Click on domains and then add a domain in the sidebar on the left:

    authority-labs-add-domain-dialog-sidebar

    From here, you add the domain (or subdomain, page, domain with wildcard, etc) and select what engines to track, what options to show, and what location (if any) to search from:

    authority-labs-add-new-domain

    Next up is adding the keywords to the domain, up to 25 at a time (otherwise you should use the import function):

    authority-labs-adding-keywords-to-domain

    After I add a site my workflow usually is to add tags to the domain, add competing sites, then group them. So here is the ranking interface of a specific domain:

    authority-labs-domain-interface

    You can see in the upper left where you can add tags, the link in the upper right is for the publicly shareable link, the paper icon is for a PDF report of what you see on the screen + time frame selected, and you can see where you can filter keywords by tag or name.

    The time frames available:

    • Compared to previous day
    • Compared to previous week
    • Compared to previous month
    • Compared to 3 months ago(quarterly)
    • Compared to date added

    So then I'd add the competing sites in the same way, except with different tags. Keep in mind that when you want to add competing sites with yours they have to have the same keyword sets (no more, no less).

    If you want to do a lot of specific competitor tracking across the entire breadth of your site's keywords then you can utilize the grouping and tagging features mentioned above to split them off into relevant buckets. Keep in mind that any synced domains will also belong to their own group (the domains that are synced are grouped together)

    When you are in the domain interface you can see average rank based on time period selected (same as time periods above) and filter by domain name and tag:

    authority-labs-domain-landing-page-top

    Here's what a domain looks like in this overview area:

    authority-labs-average-rank

    Overall average rank is 7 for all the keywords and +6 since last week (as that is the time frame selected).

    Grouping and Syncing Domains

    After adding the domains, their keywords, and tagging them you can then group them as needed. Back on the domain overview page you can see my ungrouped domains for this particular review:

    authoritylabs-ungrouped-domains

    To group or sync them just check off the boxes and click group in the left sidebar.

    authority-labs-sync-or-group-domains

    Once they are synced you just go back to the domain overview, click on the group name where the domains are synced, and you get the keywords side by side with the synced domains.

    Working with Keywords

    To add up to 25 keywords to a project just get into the domain and click add keywords on the left. If you need to bulk upload keywords you can click on the bulk upload button and the instructions are there for you:

    authority-labs-keyword-mgmt

    If you click on a keyword the tag dialog comes up on the left. If you have a large keyword list and you aren't using the domain strategies mentioned above, tagging keywords certainly makes sense.

    You can also filter keywords by tags and keyword names (just the keyword itself).

    Another thing you can do with keywords is to click on the graph to the left of the keyword to see a daily history over the course of a month, 3 months, 6 months, and 1 year.

    You can click on multiple keywords to graph them together. This is helpful when diagnosing ranking nosedives (or upticks of signifigance). If you are tracking multiple engines you can switch between them too

    Reporting

    There are 3 types of reporting options available:

    • PDF
    • Excel
    • Shareable URL

    PDF's are available in the upper right of the domain landing page and the report will show the changes relative to the time frame selected on the screen. Again, the time frames available are:

    • Compared to previous day
    • Compared to previous week
    • Compared to previous month
    • Compared to 3 months ago(quarterly)
    • Compared to date added

    If you want to compare a specific date range outside of the above, you'll get an excel download. This is something I hope they can update in the future to be a bit more robust with PDF reporting.

    The excel download is really just an export (as described in the next section) for a specific time period with day by day numbers. So if you exported for a 30 day period you'd get the rank for each keyword on each day in Excel format.

    You can also white label reports, which is standard in just about all rank tracking/reporting applications.

    Importing and Exporting

    Currently you can only import keywords as described above, you cannot import historical data (they did offer a Raven import back when Raven shut down Rank Tracking) from another application yet.

    Exporting is easy, you can choose 1 domain or all domains and a specific time frame:

    auth-labs-export

    Whatever date range you select here will result in day by day ranking positions (the excel report mentioned above). This is one (kind of clunky) way to compare specific dates. In fairness, the date ranges they give you for onsite viewing and PDF downloads really do cover a good percentage of the date ranges you'd need to figure out what was going on. Still, it would be nice to have more granular comparison options.

    Access Levels

    You can do the following with access levels:

    • Add someone to your team (they get access to selected domains in your account)
    • If you add them as an Admin they can manage the entire account
    • Create a new "Team" and give that team access to specific domains only and add people to that team only (great for clients)

    Wrapping Up

    Another great feature is that 1 keyword only counts once even if you are tracking competitors with those keywords and using the 3 engines. This really makes it cost-effective to track pretty much everything you want to track.

    There are some improvements that I'd like to see (analytics integration, link integration, and some more granular reporting options) but for a web-based rank tracker Authority Labs is my tool of choice.

    Give them a try, they have a generous 30 day free trial with rather solid pricing.

    Scaling Your SEO Business in 2013 and Beyond

    Jul 12th
    posted in

    Is "it" over? No.

    For SEO practitioners, it's been quite a bumpy ride over the past few years. Costs have gone up, the broader economy has continued to go south, and margins may have gotten a bit tighter.

    Algorithms have gotten more wild, more complex, and Google has continue to trend towards less transparency while increasing their consumption of the SERPs.

    The evolution of SEO as a business model is summed up nicely by this quote from Walter Elliot:

    Perseverance is not a long race; it is many short races one after another.

    To me, that quote speaks to the vision and willingness to change with the times needed by people not just in the SEO industry but the broader industry as well.

    From a high-level overview perspective, if you practice SEO, you have 2 ways of doing it with respect to revenue generation:

    • Self-Publishing
    • Client Work

    The self-publishing side of the house has certainly taken a much harder beating than the client work side of the house but opportunities continue to exist (and will continue) for those folks going forward.

    It's more difficult for a self-publisher to prudently spread financial risk across multiple sites given the collateral damage caused by some of the more recent, bigger updates that Google has launched in the last few years.

    In the world of make believe (i.e. people who dispense advice without really having any idea what's going on because they are not in the actual game) it's fine to say that a self-publisher should just concentrate on a couple sites, or even just one, and make them "the best site(s) ever!!!"

    Well, for those of you that pay attention you understand that the harsher, longer penalties of the last few years apply to those sites as well. I would say it's more risky to have that kind of model than a more diverse portfolio of sites and/or a combo of sites and client work.

    Is it Too Risky Now?

    Also in the world of make believe are people who will want to chastise you for "relying on Google traffic". It certainly makes sense to develop sites and products that are not solely reliant on organic traffic but to scold folks for having a part of their business reliant on search engine traffic, for an "online" business no less, just doesn't make sense.

    It's a risk, of course it is, but that's what business ventures are. The key question is whether it's an unnecessary risk or not, the answer to that is clearly no.

    As with most things the correct answer lies in the middle. You shouldn't consider your business a bad one if part of it relies on organic traffic but if *all* of it does then yes, you should be very concerned about the long term viability of your business model.

    So to scale your business in the face of all of this where should you start (or perhaps revisit)?

    Productize and Diversify

    If you have had success in the SEO industry (assuming it's more than the point, link, rank stuff of years ago :D ) then you should be able to add other services to your product mix that complement SEO quite nicely. Here are just a few areas you could expand into:

    • PPC
    • Conversion Optimization
    • App Development (iOS, Android, etc)
    • Social Media
    • Email Marketing

    If you don't do any of these things currently I would suggest adding in a couple that make the most sense for what you do and learn from resources that are available to you online and in print.

    The one area that's difficult to "productize" is organic SEO. Some people price by keyword, some have a general retainer, and some just do custom quotes only. I don't see how you could fairly price by keyword given the radical differences in competition, ROI for the client, the actual client, and so on. My suggestion here would be to at least set some kind of floor pricing (Campaigns starting at $999) or whatever.

    If you are just doing consulting on organic SEO that's a bit easier, you can just set an hourly rate. However, given how everything is intertwining these days I think you'll find that, for client work, sustainability will be found in doing the actual work for the client to some extent.

    Determining Costs Upfront

    Once you start adding in hard costs like staff allocated to link building, copy, and so on the ability to package SEO services into a set price becomes exponentially more difficult.

    Most of the other items can be packaged, sold, and advertised at fixed prices. You'll want to take into account what your overall overhead is (staff, tools, office space, and so on) to determine what part of the cost is for each "product" and develop pricing from there.

    You'll also take into account your time if you are involved in the process and if you're not really involved in the process post sale you'll want to make a determination on your cut of the profit (or piece of your salary) from each product and factor that in.

    Establishing Proper Margins

    In addition to setting up your margins, or reviewing them, being a really good idea for your own management purposes another benefit is that someday you might want to sell your business to another company or person.

    One of the first questions that will likely get asked will be "What are your margins?"

    The importance of productizing your business shows up here in this discussion. Without having some element of set pricing and budgets it's going to be harder than necessary for you to scale the sales pipeline. The 3 types of profit margins to look at are:

    • Gross Margin
    • Operating Margin
    • Net Margin

    Gross Margins

    Your gross margin is going to be your sales revenue minus direct costs divided by sales. In the non-online world direct costs, or Cost of Goods Sold, generally refers to things like materials and labor costs.

    So in the online world I generally equate labor costs as staff (freelance or otherwise) and materials as things like tool subscriptions. These are generally fixed costs.

    Generally excluded from this are marketing expenses, R&D, and the variable costs not associated with the production of a product.

    Operating Margin

    Once you start adding in administrative costs, marketing costs, research and development, and so on you get operating margin, which essentially is earnings before interest and taxes divided by sales.

    Net Profit Margin

    Simply put, this is the money left after the costs above and taxes divided by sales.

    Adapting Margins for Our Industry

    You might have a team of 2, 4, 43, or just 1 so the above definitions need not be rigidly followed. For example, you might decide to role in sales costs (sales staff, commissions, etc) into your COGS, which might be perfectly legitimate given that your sales person might also be a link builder, or designer, or yourself.

    I have a small team, but each has a specific role, so it's relatively easy for me to deal with these figures.

    Managing Debt and Expenses

    Frugality is a trait that can help you outlast your competitors even in the worst of times. It's easy to think that way starting out but I could show you roughly 5 agencies that are multi-million dollar agencies that do things *drastically* different.

    Your gross margin should be a good indicator of whether you are pricing things correctly to start; your operating margin should be looked at with an eagle eye towards efficiency and cost-control. Your net margin will determine if the other 2 might need adjusting if, post-tax, you aren't making the kind of money that you want or need to make.

    Stay as lean as possible for as long as possible and you are more likely to survive the ups and downs we all inevitably face.

    Also, when looking at your pricing and profit keep in mind that as expenses continue to creep up (along with your pricing) you'll have to continue to manage expectations properly.

    The client is paying you 10k a month as an example, but if your net margin is 25% then you see them (maybe subconsciously) as a 2,500 per month client. They see themselves as 10k a month and sometimes that can make client relations and results difficult if your margins are too low.

    Tracking by Project

    If you do any business of scale you probably use Quickbooks or something similar. I like to assign expenses to each job being done or each product being sold. So, for one client you might have multiple products. It's nice to be able to assign costs specifically to each project or product (even under 1 client) to make sure margins are being maintained and can easily be reported on.

    Resources and Books

    Some books that have helped me grow stuff:

    For me, SEO remains the foundation for the company and the natural progression into some of these other areas was not as difficult as I thought it might be. Most of the principles are extensions of the fundamentals we've learned by running our own web properties or working on client sites and such.

    We are certainly far beyond just ordering links and handing off ranking reports, have been for awhile (but even that could have made you and your clients a lot of money over the years). This goes back to the quote mentioned at the top, it's a series of short races and twists with some turns.

    Pay less attention to "what I wish the world was" theories and attention-mongering posts about how things "should be" and instead focus on what's working for you and make educated guesses, on the back of your data and experiences, on where the puck is going to be rather than where it is or where others in the industry want it to be.

    If you look at things that way you'll see that there's a lot of life left for quality SEO's and quality SEO work.

    Advanced Web Ranking Review - Website Auditor

    May 30th

    Advanced Web Ranking (AWR) is one of my favorite pieces of SEO software on the market today. It has been indispensable to me over the years. The software does it all and then some.

    I reviewed it a few years ago; you can read that here, most of it is still relevant and I'll be updating it in the near future. In this post I want to highlight their Website Auditor tool.

    Combining On and Off Page Factors

    The beauty of this feature is the simple integration of on and off-page elements. There are other tools on the market that focus solely on the on-page stuff (and do a fantastic job of it) and AWR does as well.

    The all-in-one nature of Advanced Web Ranking allows you to deftly move between the on and off (links, social, etc) page factors for a site (and its competition) inside of the Website Auditor feature. AWR has other tools built-in to go even deeper on competitive analysis as well.

    A quick FYI on some general settings and features:

    • You can crawl up to 10,000 pages on-demand
    • All results are exportable
    • Audits are saved so you can look at historical data trends
    • Complete white-label reporting is available
    • Because it's software it's all you can eat :) (save for the page limit)

    You can also set the tool to crawl only certain sections of a site as well as completely ignore certain sections or parameters so you can make the best use of your 10,000 page-crawl limit. This is a nice way to crawl a specific section of a site to find the most "social" content (limit the crawl to /blog as an example).

    Interface Overview

    Here's what the initial interface looks like:

    awr-site-audit-interface-overview

    It's a thick tool for sure, on the whole, but just focus on the Auditor piece. It's fairly self-explanatory but the top toolbar (left to right) shows:

    • Current site being viewed
    • Update date history for historical comparison
    • Filtering options (all pages, only specific pages (200's, 404's, missing title tags, basically all the data points are available for slicing and dicing)
    • Button for on-page issues to show in the view area
    • Button for page-level external link data to show in the view area
    • Button for page-level social metrics (Twitter, Facebook, G+) to show in the view area
    • Update Project button (to update the Audit :D )
    • Text box where you can filter the results manually
    • Auditor settings (see below)
    • Link data source, Open Site Explorer for now (Majestic is available in other areas of AWR and I'm told it will be available in Website Auditor as another option on the next release, 9.6 (due out very soon)

    The tool settings button allows to configure many areas of the Auditor tool to help get the exact data you want:

    awr-site-audit-tool-settings

    On-Page and Off-Page Data Points

    The on-page overview gives you all of what is listed in the viewport shown previously and if you click on the Filter icon you'll be able to look at whatever piece of on-page data you'd like to:

    awr-site-audit-page-filters

    I did just a short crawl here in order to show you how your data will look inside the tool. The view of the initial on-page report shows your traditional items such as:

    • Title tag info
    • Meta descriptions
    • Duplicate content
    • Robots and indexing information
    • Broken link and external link counts
    • Levels deep from the root
    • HTTP Status Code

    Each page can be clicked on to show specific information about that page:

    • Links from the page to other sites
    • Internal links to the page
    • Broken links
    • External links pointing into the page with anchor text data, Page Authority, and MozRank. Also whether the link is no-follow or an image will be shown as well
    • Broken link and external link counts
    • Levels deep from the root
    • HTTP Status Code

    The on-page overview is also referred to as the Issues Layout:

    awr-site-audit-on-page-view

    The other 2 views are more of a mix of on-page and off-page factors.

    The Links Layout shows the following (for the root domain and for the sub-pages individually):

    • Levels deep from the homepage
    • Page Authority
    • MozRank
    • Linking Root Domains
    • Total Inbound Links
    • Outbound Links
    • No-follows
    • Inbound and Outbound Internal Links

    awr-audit-links-overview

    In this view you can click on any of the crawled pages and see links to the page internally and externally as well as broken links.

    The Social Layout shows the following information:

    • Facebook Shares, Twitter Shares, and Google +1's for a given URL
    • Internal and external links to the page
    • Indexed or not
    • HTTP Status
    • Meta information
    • Broken Links

    awr-audit-social-layot

    This data is helpful in finding content ideas, competitor's content/social strategy, and for finding possible influencers to target in a link building/social awareness campaign for your site.

    Reporting and Scheduling

    Currently you can provide white label PDF/interactive HTML reports for the following:

    • Issues Layout
    • Link Layout
    • Social Layout

    You can also do a quick export from the viewport window inside the Website Auditor tab to get either an HTML/PDF/CSV export of the data you are looking at (list of link issues, social stats, on-page issues, and so on).

    Reports can be scheduled to run automatically so long as the computer AWR resides on is on and functional. You could also remote in with a service like LogMeIn to run an update remotely or use the AWR server plan where you host the AWR application on one machine and remote client machines (staff as an example) can connect to the shared database and make an update or run a report if needed.

    Advanced Web Ranking's Website Auditor is one of the most robust audit tools on the market and soon it will have integration with Majestic SEO (currently it ties into OpenSiteExplorer/Linkscape). It already pulls in social metrics from Twitter, Facebook, and G+ to give you a more comprehensive view of your site and your content.

    If you conduct technical audits or do competitive analysis you should give AWR a try, I think you'll like it :)

    Knowledge, Profit & Love: Sean Dolan of Pushfire on SEO

    Jan 21st
    posted in

    Recently I had a chance to interview Sean Dolan, Chief Operating Officer at Pushfire, about how things are going at Pushfire as well as his history with us here at SEO Book.

    We also included how we played matchmaker for him and Rae (sorta...in a really roundabout way) :)

    In all seriousness though, this is a fantastic read. As Google continues to hammer away at SEO profit margins for smaller webmasters, mom and pop shops, smaller local businesses and so on (through unforgiving and somewhat chaotic, frequent, wide-ranging updates) it's good for newer industry folks, or seasoned webmasters considering a jump to agency services, to see the documented evolution of someone like Sean.

    1. Tell us about how you got started in the industry and what led you to SeoBook?
    In 2008, my uncle sent me a link to the latest of his out-of-the-box ideas, The Extreme Cubicle Makeover: Red Mahogany Luxury Paneled Cubicle with Dark Cherry Hardwood Floors. I was excited to hear his tales of traffic numbers and noise generated by the common cubicle, taken to an extreme every cubicle dweller dreamed of. It was different; it started conversations around the virtual water cooler. It was remarkable.

    At the time, I was over a decade into running my DJ business, built around word-of-mouth advertising the first few years, and in the last few years business flooded in from successful Adwords campaigns. In my first month of Adwords, I spent $800 and booked over $8,000 in contracted gigs. My uncle’s success shifted my paradigm, and got me excited about the potential of SEO and Viral Marketing as an additional source of business. I was filling up my DJ schedule fast with Adwords, but I wanted more!

    I went to the bookstore and grabbed the first book I saw: “SEO for Dummies” by Bruce Clay. The book was printed in 2004, and I was reading it in 2008. As I read more about search engine algorithm changes, I began to wonder how useful the information would be, but I soaked up every word regardless. After I finished the book, I jumped online to find more books to read, maybe something more current. I searched “seo books” on Google, and there ranking #1 was SeoBook.com. I began to scan the SERPs, reading descriptions of each result. Then I realized that if I was going to get information about how to rank in Google, I’d better choose the person that ranked #1 for what I instinctively searched. I immediately signed up as a paid member.

    2. What were your first impressions of the paid SeoBook forums, training area, and tools?

    I wanted the training material bad. My decision to purchase membership was based on the training material alone. Tools were nice, and community was great, but I didn’t see the use for them until after I read all of the training, which I did. I read everything. I couldn’t believe how much actionable information I had. I literally took notes as I read, organizing them into what I would implement immediately, and what I would implement later.

    It wasn’t until I finished the training that I began to sneak around the member forums, saying nothing, but reading everything. Threads went back for years with hundreds of ideas I could still implement today. I realized that while the training got me up to speed, the forums dug very deep into theories and opinions with each person offering a unique perspective due to their industry and level of competition, openly providing real data from their experiments. And every day, there was something new, something I could implement. My plan to purchase a single month of Seobook.com, read all of the training material, and cancel my membership, had failed. I was hooked.

    3. Can you talk about how SeoBook's community helped with the success of your site?

    Using the member tools, implementing what I learned from the training materials, and the forums, I was soon ranking #2 for “Houston DJ” along with many other valuable terms. The organic leads came flooding in, and I paused my Adwords campaign. A few weeks later I was booked solid every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday for the next 4 months, and had contracts for dates up to a year in advance. I was passing leads to fellow DJs like candy. I was making about as much money as a one-man-show could make.

    4. Privately, you mentioned to me that SeoBook changed your life. Can you expand on that a bit with respect to the initial success, followed by the launch of your own agency, and, of course, how your wife fits into the timeline?

    I quickly realized that in hitting my capacity as far as how many DJ gigs I could handle by myself, the next step would be to hire DJs and manage them. This didn’t excite me. One of my DJs was arrested for a bench warrant on his way to a gig. I had to run out the door and perform, showing up late, and I hated that. I saw so much more potential online, and I wanted to help other local businesses do what I did with my company.

    Late in 2008, my father was laid off from his job due to downsizing. Rather than run right back out to a job in the corporate sales industry he was familiar with, he was looking for something new—and I was just discovering something new. So we decided to join forces and create an agency called Ascendgence, LLC.

    We both knew that we needed more than only my DJ Business as a case study. We needed something big. We needed our own “Extreme Cubicle”; something to get our name out there; proof that we could harness the power of the Internet to produce an intended outcome.

    My father and I initially discussed offering pro bono services to a local business that was failing to help turn them around. Save them. Then, something struck me. On February 7, 2009, I started a thread in the members section, and posted this:

    “Driving down the street last week I saw a very nicely dressed business woman on the corner holding a sign that said "I need a job". Having freshly logged off of SeoBook, seeing the world in terms of opportunity, I thought to myself, "Hell, change that poster to mysite.com and you're hired!" I told the members of the Seobook forums.

    “Well, that grew into a very, very different sort of idea that I will be sharing with the community a few days before we launch this.”

    The feedback I received from the members' forum, equally encouraging and critical, helped shape my project into the success it became.

    www.PimpThisBum.com launched on February 17, 2009. Exhausted from days of implementing the strategies I learned from the Seobook forums in preparation for the launch, we had Tim, a homeless man dying of alcoholism on the street, at the end of his rope, and gave him a sign to hold that said “www.PimpThisBum.com All Major Credit Cards accepted”. As was carefully planned, all hell broke loose.

    Tim, my Father, and I were interviewed by dozens of radio stations, local and nationally syndicated, interviewed on Fox & Friends morning show, featured on CNN, joked about by Jeff Foxworthy on the Rachael Ray Show, featured in 100s of national and international outlets—including The Sydney Morning Herald and Der Spiegel. In 4 very busy months, we raised $100,000 in personal donations and in-kind contributions, put Tim through rehab, and got him off the streets and reconnected with family he hadn’t seen in 35 years. Today, Tim is over 3 years sober and still off the streets.

    Anyone interested in reading the entire thread from day one, can find it in here in the members forum.
    As was intended, this helped our newly formed business. Fortune 500 companies didn’t come banging down our door, but we had a story to tell when we pitched prospects. For Ascendgence, PTB proved that we were loyal, and committed. Tim was our first client, and we followed through on what we promised him, and worked as hard as we could for him to help him achieve his goals. His goals happened to be sobriety and a normal life. The sobriety came, but it took a while for things to get ‘normal’. At one point, Larry King asked for an interview, and Tim decided it wasn’t a good idea because he’d already started rehab. Turning down Larry King for an interview was anything but normal.

    The clients came. Some great partnerships were made. For that next year, I spent every bit of spare time reading the Seobook forums, and rereading the training materials. During this time, there was so much information; I rarely read anything outside of the forums... because the information I found in the forums worked.
    After nearly 3 years as partners in Ascendgence, my father and I came to the decision that we were better as father and son than we were as business partners. As we grew, the business put a strain our personal relationship. We came to the decision that I would buy my father out of the company. Soon after, he took a VP position at Bank of America.

    So, let’s back up to how my now wife, Rae Hoffman AKA Sugarrae, fits into this. I heard about Pubcon from the SeoBook forums, and I was debating on whether to go to Pubcon Dallas 2010 or not. Heather Reisig, known as grnidone in the forums, told me it was a good show, even though it was smaller, and specifically recommended that I spend time in the smoking section, in order to network. I did as I was told. At the first networking event, Rae came out and we chatted about business a bit. She mentioned she was going to the Fox and the Hound after (not to me, just in general). Uninvited, I went to the bar, pounded 3 Jack and Cokes to work up the courage to approach her and offered to buy her a beer. As it turns out, Rae rarely turns down beer. She challenged me to go drink-for-drink the next day. The rest was a blur.

    Rae and I had an instant connection. By the end of PubCon we were making plans to visit each other (she was in Canada at the time; I was in Texas). It really was love at first sight. She was all I thought about—my world—and I love her more today than ever. We got married seven months to the day that we met in November of 2010 and we moved our (now) family to Texas in December of 2010.

    After running Ascendgence by myself for a few months, Rae started having extra demand on the consulting side of Sugarrae. We saw that our two businesses: Ascendgence and the consulting aspect of Sugarrae, had a lot of overlap in services. Not wanting the business to cause tension in our relationship, we were slow to act. We tested it out for a few months and found that we worked very well together, not only personally, but professionally.

    On May 10th, 2012, Rae and I announced PushFire.

    5. There's lots of negativity out and about this industry, but I see lots of opportunity. Granted, costs have risen and Google has trimmed the organic results in some pretty profitable areas, but SEO is still a major, major hub for getting in front of online prospects that are explicitly interested in your service or product?

    I came into the game going up against a smarter Google than those who'd been in the game for decades. I had to start from the get-go with learning more about how to build web businesses with defensible SEO, than exploiting algorithmic loopholes. Long-term strategies, defensible links, caution over greed, the recipe for an agency guy.

    It still amazes me how many large companies don’t know the basics. I’ve experienced billion dollar companies with no analytics, medium sized companies with broken contact forms, and manufacturing companies with nofollowed homepages. Entire websites disallowed by a developer who forgot to change it before launch, and these companies, for years, never knew any better. There’s a huge market for SEO Audits, including some of the largest companies, with not only enormous budgets, but huge gains to be had by fixing these problems. As an agency, you have flexibility. If the future of Google is favoring big brands, then that’s where you pitch your services.

    At PushFire, on a regular basis, we turn down companies we don’t think are a good fit for us. We only work with those we think we can do great things for. This is why I chose the agency life. I get satisfaction out of watching my clients’ businesses grow. I love meeting with them and showing them reports of huge gains. Link Building is another service we provide. We promote the highest quality content, no short-cuts. I love motivating my staff with trips to Vegas or iPads for top performers. I enjoy doing team building events like bowling and laser tag to show them we appreciate their hard work. I enjoy running an agency.

    Now, for those of you who hesitate going the agency route—there’s a lot of room for small, capable agencies. You don’t need to be a known “rockstar” in this industry to have a successful agency. Bottom line is that there are tons of industries where the competition is not ultra competitive, the clients and their competitors are simply uneducated. The client doesn’t care if you can rank for online gambling or which conference you’ve spoken at. They care if you can rank THEM for THEIR topic, in THEIR market, against THEIR competitors. Remember, there are far more companies that can’t afford a “rockstar” than those who can.

    6. There's lots of interest, from folks I talk to, about running their own agency (to some degree). One big hurdle for webmasters who are not used to time structure/resource structure is company infrastructure. How does your company handle stuff like a CRM, project management system, email, document management, etc?

    We use Highrise for CRM, Basecamp for project management, Outlook for email, and Dropbox for document management. Our developer churns out amazing tools for our team to use, as well as for management to keep track of performance and client reporting. Raven Tools has been a major help in organizing our link development. In fact our most used tools are built using the Raven Tools API.

    Find a good partner. Rae and I complement each other. I enjoy client calls, she does not. She enjoys blogging and developing strategy, while I enjoy implementation of these strategies. Her forte is SEO, mine is PPC Management.

    Hire an accountant… it will save you money in the long run. Always have your contracts looked over by an actual lawyer. Once you get bigger, you’ll need someone to manage HR, but you can easily outsource this.

    We exhibited for the first time at Affiliate Summit East. By the conference, we were already booked out months in advance. Preparing for the conference slowed the speed at which we could hire, so at that moment, with 4,600 conference attendees, we couldn’t take on any new SEO clients. We spent those two days referring tons of business to other agencies, which specialized in what the prospect was looking for. There’s a ton of business out there. Many of our clients came to us by referral from other agencies. So, if you are starting out, I would recommend you get to know the community, meet people who do what you do, show them what you’re capable of, and let them know you’re taking clients (this includes us!)

    I have no doubt that we will make more money by giving those clients away than we would have by taking them. Karma is king in this industry.

    7. How did you come up with PushFire? Internally? Hire a branding firm?

    After the final decision was made to join forces, Rae and I sat on our back porch, beers in hands, racking our brains for names. I wanted something to do with fire because that’s how I see ideas spreading on the internet, like a grass fire. GrassFire’s .com, Twitter, and Facebook were all taken. Then we thought about BrandFire–“brand” like in what they use to mark cattle, giving it a bit of Texas flavor, and “brand” as in your company brand. Our logo would look like a cattle brand burned into the header. Checking domain registrants, twitter handles, and facebook, it wasn’t doable.

    We wanted something simple to remember, say, and easy to spell. Then, going through the dictionary and combining everything with “fire” we both loved PushFire—meaning that we not only start the fire, but we have to push it or fuel it as well. We slept on it for 24 hours and then negotiated the purchase from its owner the next day. Maybe that’s not the most romantic business story, but that’s how we got it done in less than 3 days and off of our Basecamp to-do list.

    PushFire’s growth has exceeded our expectations. We are on track to be eligible for the Inc 500 revenue requirements by 2013, but will need to wait until 2017 to meet the time requirements. Everyone has a unique story about how they got into the internet marketing industry, but this is mine and I couldn't have done it without the help of the SeoBook community, Aaron Wall, and the great forum moderators.

    Thanks for the time Sean!

    Sean Dolan is the Chief Operating Officer at PushFire. When he's not managing operations, he's spending time with his wife and children or donating his time to causes such as The Periwinkle Foundation. You can connect with Sean on Twitter and Google+.

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