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+.

Laying the Groundwork for a Local SEO Campaign

Sep 6th
posted in

Local SEO has the undeserved reputation of being "easy" and "not a lot of work". The competitiveness of keywords might be less competitive than broader keywords but there still is a fair amount of work that goes into getting the campaign off and running properly.

On the whole, keywords targeted in local SEO campaigns are less competitive than their broader counterparts but there are also mitigating factors to consider when determining the overall difficulty of the campaign.

Consideration also needs to be given to how the following factors will effect the overall difficulty of producing a successful campaign:

  • relationship between keyword volume, difficulty, and conversion ROI for the client on both Google and Bing
  • prevalence of Google/Bing local inserts (need to factor in the wonkiness of these ranking algorithms as well)
  • appropriateness and value of setting up and running social media profiles for the client
  • link difficulty (depending on the client's niche)
  • availability of other online traffic generation options (buying exposure on other sites where the target market is)
  • the client's desire to engage in pre-campaign PPC to more accurately determine search volume for a more accurate setting of expectations
  • client's budget
  • your margins

Some of what I mentioned above doesn't really fall into the "difficulty" of ranking for keywords, but ranking is only a piece of the overall puzzle. You should have an idea of how difficult the entire process will be, because it's more than just rankings at this stage (and has been for awhile).

Building the Campaign Framework

There are a number of pre-campaign, post-campaign, during-campaign tools you can use for these kinds of campaigns but you don't have to go nuts. Local search stats can be small enough to make extrapolation without PPC or historical analytics data fruitless with respect to actionable date

When you begin to layout your campaign process you could follow a broader roadmap and adjust as necessary. For example, your specifics might change if you are working with an existing site rather than a new one (no historical data, no initial on-site reviews to do, etc).

While links are still and will continue to be uber-important for the foreseeable future, it is wise to consider the rise of site engagement, social signals, and online PR. This is why when we talk about "local SEO" we talk about things like strategic ad buys, social media plays, and PPC for research purposes.

Local SEO can be a lead-in to an entire marketing campaign as we discussed here, so we'll leave ongoing PPC, email marketing, offline ad integration, etc for those kinds of discussions but just know that once you get your foot in the door the door can open pretty wide. The more you can do and the better you do it the better your retention rate will be.

Keyword Research

The biggest thing to do is set expectations. If you come running in with unqualified keyword volume reports you are really starting from a level of distrust, even if the client doesn't know it yet. If the client isn't interested in some initial PPC then it's in your best interest to clue them in on the potential inaccuracy of various keyword tools.

For an existing site you can pull keyword search data from whatever analytics package the client has as well as from both sets of webmaster tools (Bing and Google). You can cross reference that with current rankings to see where you might be able to score some quick wins.

For a new site, set up accounts on Google's Webmaster Tools as well as Bing's. These will come in handy down the road for more keyword data, link data, and site health reviews.

We've talked about local SEO keyword research via PPC before and on top of that, or in lieu of that if the client isn't interested, you can get some local and a bunch of broader keywords from tools like:

In addition to keyword research tools, you can you a couple of free tools to help generate and populate local keywords:

The second tool combines search terms with local modifiers in a given radius of the area you select.

If you find local volume lacking I suggest the following steps:

  • Start with the targeted town's (or towns) name and/or zip code(s) as modifiers
  • Move up to a bigger nearby town or county if needed
  • If volume is still sparse, move up to state level keyword modifiers
  • Couple those bits of research with what the non-locally modified results show to see if you can find overlapping relationships between core keywords (medical insurance versus health insurance, or car insurance versus auto insurance, etc)
  • Move into Google Trends and Insights to further qualify the broader keywords by region and state
  • If no clear winner emerges, err on the side of where the broader volume is

Site Architecture and Content

Quite a few local sites are going to be your brochure-style sites. Site structure can vary quite a bit depending on the size and scope of the site. Since most local sites focus on a particular product or service (rather than being Amazon.Com) it is wise to keep the following in mind:

  • stay far, far away from duplicate and NEAR duplicate content (if the client is an insurance agent don't have similar pages like acmeinsurance.com/car-insurance, /auto-insurance, /vehicle insurance)
  • also, avoid using the town/city names as the only modifiers where no difference exists between services or products (acmeinsurance.com/town1-auto-insurance, /town2-autoinsurance, /town3 autoinsurance)
  • get the client involved in the content writing, they generally have lots of marketing or product material that you can pull from and give to a writer for topical ideas and industry jargon
  • consider hiring on a well-respected job board like problogger.net for specific content needs (finance, home/garden, food, etc)
  • don't overdo internal linking with keyword rich anchors, especially on navigation (try to keep it broad from a keyword standpoint...Car Insurance vs Providence Car Insurance as an example)
  • use tools like screaming frog and xenu to assess overall on-page health, structural integrity, and internal linking stats
  • microsoft also has an on-page assessment tool available on windows
  • write your page titles and meta descriptions with click-thru's in mind while mixing in broad and local keyword variations to help describe the site rather than simply to keyword stuff

Tools like Google's Page Speed and Yslow can provide you with detailed analysis on potential site loading issues prior to launch. I have found that printing these out before/after is a good way to show the client, who typically is a novice, some of the stuff that is going on behind the scense. Clients like before and afters (when the after is more favorable than the before of course).

Tracking

Tracking is key, naturally, so you'll need to pick an analytics package. There are some decent Google Analytics alternatives, if you aren't interested in dealing with the borg. That said, you can choose from some fairly full-featured packages

For ease of use and feature sets I tend to either go with Clicky, Mint or Google Analytics. I haven't spent much time with Woopra and I find Piwik to not be as intiuitive or as user friendly as the other 3 I mentioned (which is even more important when the client wants/needs access.)

Speaking of tracking, you should consider getting familiar with a cheap virtual phone number vendor (I would recommend phone.com) as well as Google's URL builder for tracking potential adverts and media buys down the road (as well as offline adverts if you end up servicing that aspect of the client's marketing campaign). If you use Google Analytics, another cool tool to use is Raven's Google Analytics configuration tool

I generally recommend staying away from tracking numbers because it can screw up your Google Places rankings and trust but when I use them I typically just make them images on whatever page they are being listed on and I never use them for IYP citations (listings on sites like Yelp, Yellowpages, Merchant Circle, etc).

Planning Out Link Building

For local sites, you'll want to attack link building on two fronts: 1. External links 2. Citations.

Before you get into any of the link planning, you should get the client set up in KnowEm. KnowEm will help get the client on all the relevant social networks and goes a long way in establishing the base for the client to control it's branded searches and branded SERPs.

You can choose from a variety of packages from basic registration to complete profile set up (bio's, pictures, descriptions, etc). Once these profiles are built, you can begin building links to them (and link to them from the client's site) to further the client's domination of their own branded SERPs.

For citations, I would recommend using Whitespark (we reviewed it here). Whitespark really is an essential tool in building citations, tracking citations, and doing competitive citation research. Speaking of citations, each year David Mihm releases the Local Search Ranking Factors and I would highly recommend saving each year's version and refer back to it when designing your citation building plan(s).

As for traditional link building, it's fairly similar to non-local link building with respect to the broader overview of link outreach but can be niched down to focus on locality for both link equity and qualified traffic.

Some of the things you can do at the beginning of the link planning process would be:

  • make a list of the vendors you use, find out if they have a site and would be willing to link to you
  • local papers tend to have really favorable online advertising rates, exposure runs a close second to links and part of how I like to approach the link building process is to be everywhere (online) locally; play hardball for a bit on the rates and you'll be surprised about the relatively cheap, local exposure you can buy
  • set up google alerts for your client's brand and for local topics relevant to their product/service
  • talk to other local businesses about co-promotions on both your site, their site, and your social networks (if available)
  • if you offer coupons and discounts to certain groups or demographics, get those posted on local sites as well; many local sites do not have sophisticated ad serving technology so you often get a nice, relevant, clean link back to your client's site
  • in addition to competitive link research you can pull the backlinks of local chambers of commerce and local travel/tourist sites to find potential link opportunities
  • run a broken link checker on local resource sites, specifically ones that deal with local events, news, tourism and see if there are link opportunities for your client

Infographic ideas for local clients, depending on the niche, can be found fairly easily and can bring in lots and lots of local links and exposure. Every state and many towns/cities have Wikipedia pages which link out to demographic statistics. There is a trove of data available and if you can be creative with the data + your client's niche there are lots of opportunities for you.

For instance, in Rhode Island insurance rates are typically higher than neighboring states (Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, etc). The reasons generally are things like exposure to coastal regions, proximity of towns to city center, accident history, etc. You could easily make a decent infographic about this. Local news and resource sites would probably be willing to gobble it up. If you were able to interview insurance company spokespeople you could find yourself with some pretty good exposure and some pretty solid links.

Expectations and Budget

The reality is that if you do not properly set expectations (maybe think about showing the client how the sausage is made pre-campaign) and you take whatever budget comes your way you will not be able to provide quality service for very long, the campaign will not succeed, and you may do irreparable harm to your brand in your local market.

If you have other results and testimonials to fall back on, as well as a solid plan mapped out (that can be explained to the client), then you've held up your end of the bargain with respect to providing a fair proposal for your time and effort. Sometimes the initial planning is the most time-intensive part of a local campaign.

Plan it out correctly from the beginning and you should be able to produce the results required to keep the client and build up your brand in your local market.

Local SEO as a Gateway Service

Aug 1st
posted in

Over the years we've encouraged the diversification of income-generating web properties to help webmaster stave off eventual onslaughts from Google.

Despite popular belief it's not just penalties and filters that cause said onslaughts, but also continued self-insertion by Google in its own SERPs. Not all insertion is bad, from a user POV, but when it consists of scraped content without source attribution it's a problem.

Recently I read about this idea that updates do not affect the best SEO's. So, here we can see what happens in saturated markets. That statement is meant to drive some kind of wedge between different types of SEO's or to somehow convince clients of an otherwise dubious claim.

I mean, what is "best" anyway? Does "best" mean to be so conservative that you never find the edges of your industry? Does it mean ignoring tactics over the last decade or so which could have generated a king's ransom and allowed you to invest in other areas of the business or start a new business or retire or what?

Accuracy Pays Off

If you have never been effected by a Google update then you've been overly-conservative and never pushed the envelope on things. How many of the best of anything get to be the best without pushing the envelope? It's like saying the best employees never call in sick (has nothing to do with talent, really).

It requires to much intellectual honesty and time, apparently, to break things down to risk/reward so things tend to get defined in broad terms (black/white hat). Some tactics die off, some take off, some become more risky, some become somewhat less effective, and on and on and on. What "best" really is, when used as a divisive and self-promotional tool , is high school trophy-ism at best.

Again, in saturated markets folks resort to making outrageous claims to put themselves or their company on a imaginery pedestal for clients to see. Saturated industries can become bubble-icious so it's wise to look for strategies to diversify away from where the bubble might pop.

I've taken an interest in real estate this year and I read an excellent quote in a really solid book by Gary Eldred:

During irrationally exuberant boom times, investors perceive little risk, but real risks loom larger and larger as prices climb higher and higher, rental income yields fall, and unsustainable amounts of mortgage debt pile up - even though rent collections remain too low to cover operating expenses and debt service

You could substitute a few words there and wrap up the current state of a good chunk of web publishing (from the view of a publisher) inside of Google. However, it's still a worthwhile business model to pursue, if you practice good SERP profiling and SERP competition analysis but it's as important as ever to continue to diversify your income streams so you can withstand such bubbles.

Local SEO Services

For web business options, becoming a local SEO provider is still a solid option for diversification purposes and for a business in general. Not necessarily because there are huge money keywords in every locale, in abundance, but because of the other services you can layer on to your SEO service.

Local SEO services are alive and well, as evidenced by our recent interviews with Adam Zilko and Jacob Puhl of Firegang and Darren Shaw of Whitespark.

Why Local SEO?

You'd could also diversify your self-publishing business by working with larger brands, which is a perfectly profitable model, but you'll likely have to scale up on staff and overhead. Again, zero wrong with that but before you jump into that ocean you might want to work with local businesses for a bit (especially if you haven't done a lot of formal client work in awhile) so you can:

  • work on establishing processes (billing, contracts, business processes, project management, crm's, managing information, etc)
  • audition staffers until you find your initial, trusted team
  • learn how to best integrate service offerings
  • have your hands in every aspect of their marketing campaigns, so you are not viewed as a commodity
  • hone your presentation skills by speaking engagements at smaller, local venues

It typically is a bit easier to be a full-fledged marketing agency for a smaller, local business because there is less red tape, quicker time to market with strategies, more willingness to allow you to run the SEO, PPC, social media, conversion optimization, and even offline marketing campaigns for them.

The more success you have, along with the more hooks you have into the business, the more likely the client is to spend more/scale more and recommended you to other business owners in the area.

Local SEO recommendations are *crucial* to success and they can spread like creamy, organic peanut butter :D (quickly and deliciously).

In local markets, trust is critical and it is pretty easy to be the big fish in the small pond, essentially becoming the default, go-to agency for local business marketing needs.

Margins are quite a bit lower out of the gate versus large brand work, but over time I've seen and experienced healthy spend increases once the initial fear of "oh no is this another cold SEO caller selling garbage services" is gone.

The Growth of Small Business as an Option

I suspect that as more and more "normal jobs" continue to either be cut, moved to part-time, or have measly wage increases new job market entrants will begin to start their own businesses, many probably starting out as local, rather than going to work for someone else.

Of course, this could be a few years out but not too far because the education bubble is likely the next bubble to pop and right now new college graduates can't afford to start a new business given the amounts of student loan debt many are saddled with.

Hopefully, this economic disaster will awaken upcoming generations to what's possible without large amounts of debt. This is likely years away though but in the near future there certainly needs to be more job growth at the small business level.

SmallBizTrends, an excellent resource for small businesses, published a post a few weeks back about children of entrepreneurs following in the footsteps of their parents. The post cited a study from 2010 from the Kaufman Foundation which states (among other things):

Nevertheless, the desire to start a business over other careers has risen slightly for young adults (18 to 21 years of age), from 19 percent in 2007 to 25 percent in 2010.

They have stats in there from the 8-12 year old age group, which I think is a bit early, but the overall trends for young adults and adults is trending upward. I can only imagine this will continue to rise as more and more parents begin to teach the new generation about how post-secondary education is largely a rip off when you look at the balance between debt ratios and income potential.

What this Means for You

This is a great time to be in our industry. The diversification options for earning income are wide open and while some models have shrinking margins and elevated risk, there are other pools you can dip your toes into where you can leverage many aspects of online marketing:

  • Create & sell digital products
  • Find private label products and sell them
  • Publish sites and monetize with contextual ads and/or ad space
  • Take on various types of client work if you are over-leveraged on pure publishing models
  • Create membership sites...and on and on

The beauty of all that is these can all be approached individually or layered on top of each other, mixed and matched, etc.

The point of this post being about local seo services further illustrates the wide range of services you can provide once you break the monetization methods I mentioned above down even further.

Local SEO might start off as a discussion about organic and places rankings but it can quite easily turn into a discussion about PPC, social media, conversion optimization, email marketing, and offline marketing as all of these practices tie into the end goal of increasing revenue and exposure for the business you are trying to take on as a client.

  • 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!

Reinforcing the Obvious

Jul 26th
posted in

Search is more complex than it's ever been. There are many factors which contribute to this increased complexity and where more complexity exists, specific advice is harder to find (and rightfully so BTW).

By specific advice I mean stuff that actually works a majority of the time rather than pie in the sky theories which largely consist of Google talking points.

You can find this kind of stuff from people who are not actively engaged in day to day SEO, or haven't been for quite some time. When you hear someone backing up their theories solely on the basis of "I talked to so and so" or "I see X, Y, Z" then you should take caution in clinging to that advice.

Surely there are conversations between SEO practitioners where information is shared and trends are spotted but usually it is a result of (at least) a two sided conversation between 2 people who are engaged in the actual practice.

I mean, would you want a dentist trying to fill a cavity who actually hasn't done it for years (or ever) but had someone tell them how to do it :) ? In almost any profession there is no substitute for experience.

Barriers to Entry

There is a huge barrier to entry to SEO but there is no barrier to entry for folks who want to dispense advice publicly and it makes cutting through the rubbish quite difficult.

The other issue for information seekers is that as any revenue generating model, like SEO, becomes more complex people tend to not share the specific advice which happens to be working for them because if they did it would take away the one remaining, unique tool one has in their arsenal (actual data).

In terms of complexity, the issues facing SEO now tend to be:

  • Faster, Far-Reaching, Less Forgiving (you might need to start over) algorithims
  • Google's continued domination of search marketshare
  • Double speak from search engines, lack of clarity or purpose in their "transparent" communications
  • The increased cost, indirect and direct, of bad advice
  • Google forcing its way into commercial markets
  • A swath of tools which are marketed to be THE TOOLS YOU NEED TO SUCCEED, when in reality most of them are simply also-ran's or essentially half-baked solutions to markets that have already been solved. Time-sucks are dangerous

I've seen quotes like "well years ago I told you social signals would blah blah links" or other beauties like the whole railing against exact match domains over the years.

You do SEO to generate revenue for a particular business in some way, shape, or form.. Having different types of sites that generate revenue in different ways (tools, AdSense, PPC, ad sales, affiliate marketing, and so on) is a great business model.

If you had followed the kind of advice I mocked above, then you left and continue to leave a lot of revenue, data, and experience on the table. This is what I mean by dangerous advice. Mocked in the sense that forgoing years of revenue for what might happen in the future (maybe it is happening a tad now). But again, no need to pick one or the other. Do both!

The truth is many of the age-old underlying tips and techniques are still the cornerstones of successful SEO campaigns, despite all the talk of brands, links, social signals, domain names, content, and all the rest.

By cornerstones I mean things like:

  • Market/Keyword Selection
  • Technical Expertise
  • Link Building and PR

The Matt Cutts Decoder Ring

There is nothing else that shows the desire of bloggers and/or industry people to find some magical way to differentiate themselves than an an update from Matt Cutts. When Matt Cutts says something you can rest assured blog posts and tweets will be flying about, trying to "read between the lines" to find that "ah-ha!" statement which is then bantered about as some type of holy grail.

People please, Matt Cutts is an extremely smart guy who is unbelievably good at PR. Matt generally offers some good talking points which are safe, practical, but are just not a reality with respect to ranking in quite a few competitive markets or outranking sites doing more "creative" things than you would be.

For example, this video in 2010 talks about the relationship between great content and great links. You can skip to around the 1:24 mark where he mentions "bugging people by sending out spam emails asking for links" :

Then he proceeds to talk about how great content naturally attracts links. No, it doesn't. There is an element of marketing involved, you have to "bug" people to showcase your "great" content otherwise you'll be rocking pages 7-10 in the SERPs forever.

This was the mantra for awhile; "Create great content and links will come naturally". This is a pipe dream *unless* you have a built in readership. Getting to that point is a solid goal indeed, but for many new sites or projects it is simply not the case. For people trying to get to that level of built-in branding this kind of advice is poor at best.

More recently, in what I thought was a really solid interview overall, Matt was interviewed by Eric Enge of Stone Temple Consulting (a sharp guy) and the fallout from this interview was infographics possibly being devalued at some point. Platitudes aside, it's likely true but as with most things it comes down to variables.

In the me-first nature of the web, really thin posts starting popping up (presumably as...GASP..linkbait) about infographics being devalued at some point and what this means for the future of SEO. When, if you just read the interview, you'd understand exactly what he was saying.

The obviously shifty stuff will probably get dinged (infographics about kittens pointing to a pet site, later to have its embed code changed to point to a Payday Loans site) but a reasonable person would understand that infographics do have value when done correctly for lead generation, brand buzz, branded links, social signals, and so on.

What it boils down to is the argument between content and links, and there really is no argument. Arguments tend to get created.

Since 2008...

This site, specifically Aaron in this post, has been talking about mixing up your business model as an SEO and viewing SEO as part of a holistic approach since 2008. It's always been a good idea to get your business outside of just rankings in a search engine as part of your business model.

One cannot ignore what has been obvious for the past 4 years...which is this:

  • You can rank not great content with links
  • You cannot rank great content without links (putting aside sites with built in readership)

If you ignored that for 4 years then you left a lot, a lot, a lot of revenue & data on the table and if you continue to ignore the power of links for ranking inside of the largest search engine, which provides super-targeted traffic, then you continue to leave revenue on the table.

Maybe that is a business model folks would rather not pursue, that's cool, but giving people the idea that you have to spend lots of money/time on design, interactivity, promotion, content creation, and so on to rank in search engines, in lieu of links is flat out wrong and dishonest when it applies to SEO.

Link juice matters, anchor text matters, and content matters (to a lesser extent because content is subjective) to search engine rankings; fact not opinion. On the flip side, you can absolutely create great content furthers your business or your client's business even more. Do both, if you have the budget, and you'll be in a great spot.

What is the Answer?

The answer is both. As online marketers, and as marketers in general as online/offline continue to merge, it's important to maximize what works now and what you believe will work in the future when it comes to generating revenue for yourself and/or your clients. It's important up to the point where you want to fork off your business model into one or the other or a mix of both.

Let me give you a recent example:

Over the years I've learned and continue to learn some really cool, effective stuff from Wil Reynolds (CEO of SEER Interactive). I encourage you to follow him on Twitter if you do not already. I wasn't at MozCon but I was browsing through some of his slides and this is where I think some context needs to be added.

One of the first slides I viewed:

Links are a conduit to conversions and many of these other metrics mentioned in his slides when we view it in the context of SEO. Links help ranking, ranking brings traffic, traffic can be worked with to achieve success via the same metrics he is stating there.

Maybe he made those points, I don't know, but I do know that the person going through these slides looking for information from a respected source would get the same idea I did most likely and the idea is somewhat off.

The next couple of slides go through owning a conversion and he uses two of our favorite sites :D

Here the search is for SeoMoz vs SeoBook with a couple pieces of content from the SeoMoz.Org:

Fair points but let's look at some things that both links and product/content helped with:

Now let's circle back, since we are talking about SEO here, search volume for these comparative searches:

So what you can see here is that you have keywords that are way down the tail, likely towards the end of a buying process, and while they are valuable they are dwarfed by the volume of big money keywords. If you win those big ones, very few searchers will bother searching that far down (evidenced by the volume disparity).

This is my point, some link practices are crappy and harmful but links matter, link juice matters. How you acquire said links and PR is a separate discussion and certainly great products and great marketing will help, but so do links.

In the grand scheme of things, no, ranking for a term here and a term there is not evidence of anything other than success with that approach for that goal. Who knows, maybe rankings will change but for now and for a long time this ranking and associated rankings have been quite beneficial to the growth of this site.

The obviousness that I'm trying to reinforce is that it's not one or the other, for many sites and for many clients both practices are needed for long term success and for maximizing success. However, to throw out the benefits of links and link juice (and the algorithmic trust/authority they create) in the face of other metrics that links will help you get to is just wrong IMHO. Well, it's not even IMHO, the evidence is in the SERPs.

As mentioned above, it's been said for a long time here that thinking outside just rankings is a good idea (for years) and that SEO as part of a more holistic marketing approach is a solid move. Part of SEO, the ranking side of it anyway, involves links and their juice. You can utilize both methods together, to provide a powerful approach to SEO, rather than excluding one over the other (especially when the excluded approach still works very well).

The Importance of Determining SERP Competition

Jul 6th
posted in

Great detectives are timeless and now is a great time to start stepping up your SERP sleuthing :)

SEO has long been a process in which instant financial gratification has been hard to come by (especially on a brand new project). I believe the "patience" trait required by the nature of SEO is what causes many projects to fail due to a couple of different things:

1. Many people getting into SEO get sold on "make a lot of easy money working from home" mantras and are lured in by otherwise dishonest marketers.
2. SEO has a lot of upfront cost that may not be recouped for months (or years)

As organic real estate continues to become more elusive and expensive inside of Google (and harder to evaluate thanks to *not provided*) it really has never been more important to appropriately evaluate your competition and your keyword market.

Mistakes now cost more, homeruns are harder to hit, singles and doubles are harder to evaluate based on Google "protecting" keyword data (not on AdWords...obviously).

When you hear the term harder you shouldn't be discouraged so long as you are willing to study, learn, evaluate, and build relationships. "Harder" is good if you are on the wheat end of the wheat/chaff separation.

Furthermore, one needs to approach a new SEO project with an open mind and allow the keyword research & competitive analysis processes to take place in a fluid way rather than coming to the dance with a keyword list you are unwilling to change (data be damned!).

Evaluation Points

You should consider the following points when addressing SERP Competition:

  • Strength of websites competing organically
  • Google's Knowledge Graph
  • Google Maps/Places Inserts
  • Google's Lead Generation Forms (Google Hotels, Google Flights, etc)
  • Google Serving Ads Off of Local Listings
  • AdWords Ads with Social Extensions, Site Links, etc further pushing organic results downward
  • Adding Google Carving via Video Inserts, Paid Inclusion, News Results, and so on

When evaluating a competing website you'll want to look at things like:

  • Domain Age
  • Appearance of Known Brands in the SERP
  • Anchor Text Profile
  • Quality/Size of Backlink Profiles
  • Spammy Link Practices (perhaps this is an industry where spammy links rule, you'll need to decide if you want/can go that route in order to compete)

Once you find a core keyword you can run through the SERPS (logged out, cookies cleared, and so on in order to avoid personalized results) to check it against the metrics mentioned above.

It is advisable to go in with your core keyword and different versions of your core keyword (singular, plural, synonyms, etc) because SERPS can be fairly different for each. Conversely, you might find that not only is the head term uber-competitive but the tail may be the exact same way; whereas this may not be the case for others.

The three type of keywords I usually come across are:

  • Keywords that look appealing based on the numbers (volume, existence of a long-tail, and so on) but are probably money pits based on brand bias + Google bias
  • Keywords that have minor differences which result in huge analysis swings (plural vs singular, car vs auto, broad match vs exact match for example)
  • Keywords with somewhat limited volume but are homeruns because they are the antithesis of the type of keywords described in the first bullet point

"Too Good To Be True"

One of the uglier areas right now is the travel space. So I was thinking of spending the weekend in Boston with my family recently and I thought it would be a fun exercise to use Google for the searches (rather than my usual search provider, Bing).

The keyword [boston hotels] is certainly a keyword that fits into the bucket of being appealing based on numbers. It's quite appealing based on the numbers for the core term as well as the volume and depth of its tail.

As with any major city there are many landmarks that come into play which are quite easy to tailor content and user experience for. For Boston you could get into waterfront modifiers, back bay modifiers, Fenway park & Faneuil Hall modifiers, reviews and so on.

When I evaluate a SERP one thing I do is to consider that at some point in the future, probably the near future, Google will do to the tail what they are doing to the head.

If it's just brand bias then you can probably hang with that to an extent but if it's anything like what I saw with [boston hotels] then you should dig a bit deeper, go lateral, or go somewhere else:

If you follow the green arrows, you'll see quite a bit of stuff that should give you pause about this market:

  • adwords with site links and +1's
  • google travel box
  • big, strong brands
  • google maps and google offers to the right
  • google monetizing their own local listings
  • a total of 3 organic listing

So not only is Google monetizing most of this SERP at the expense of organic listings but they've actually taken away organic listings below the fold.

This is SERP is pretty ridiculous but it is reality. Expedia is listed 3 times above the fold, the lack of choice here is apparent and unfortunate. I've used Expedia and I like Expedia but seeing it 3x is a bit much given that 7 other options were completely removed. Condense, monetize, and brand the SERP; these are the ones that would give me significant pause while conducting competitive analysis.

The key point is that not only is your competition fierce (in the top 3 organic listings) but once you include Google as your competition, and you most certainly should, it becomes being close to impossible to consider this keyword at all.

If you were to move down the tail you would see, while not as egregious, pretty similar stuff and one would likely be correct in saying that eventually the tail, especially the juicy part, will eventually look like the head.

Here is [boston waterfront hotels] (excuse the multiple maps, full screenshot on the non-visible part of the browser seems to have picked up the map twice)

Similar stuff but at least organics remain below the smaller places insert.

Here's [boston hotel reviews]:

Again, similar stuff except no Google Travel box (because it's not a commercial search, or as commercial as the other 2) and a total of 3 organic listings on the page as well as an extra AdWords ad (no doubt making up for the Travel Box removal :D )

Similar Keywords, Big Differences

Another group of keywords you will run across are keywords that have multiple versions (synonyms, singular versus plural, and so on) where one of the versions makes up a significant chunk of the search volume for that particular product or query.

Over the years Google has tied together the singular and plural versions of keywords, in so far as similar SERPS, pretty well but they still have a ways to go on synonyms or just similar meanings in general.

Singular and plural versions are easy enough to figure out and there are multiple ways to find related words. You can use:

  • Google's Keyword Tool and toggle the "closely related" option on and off
  • Wordtracker's related search tool (paid)
  • SeoBook's free keyword tool (powered by Wordtracker) and all the tools that you can link to from our tool
  • Online thesauruses and encyclopedia-type sites which give meanings, uses, and AKA's of words you look up and research

You might find situations where 2 similar terms produce significant search volume with similar competition levels inside of their respective SERPS. In those cases, you can use Google Trends and Google Insights to see the trend of each word (is one picking up steam and the other isn't, are they the same, is one better for my targeted region?) to help decide which keyword is more likely to continue to grow and produce volume long term.

Here you can see 2 such terms, car and auto insurance, over "all years" (pretty close)

Over the last 12 months it seems as if Car is trending up, vs Auto:

If you play around a bit with the regions it would seem that the East coast, particularly the Northeast, tends to use Car as do the bigger states in the Northwest/West Coast while the gap tends to close a bit, or go in the other direction in bigger southern states like Texas.

There are many examples like this where the data supports either/or and your decision is likely to be based on SERP competition. In this example, the SERPS for auto and car insurance are fairly similar with respect to brand bias but without the Google monetization built in (like we saw in the travel SERPS).

If went down the tail a bit, into a more commercial term, you can see where the singular/plural makes a huge difference in terms of volume and trends.

Search volumes for these terms are pretty juicy (as is the CPC and commercial intent) but as you can see there is a huge difference between the singular and plural versions:

Digging in a bit further you can see that the trend is certainly towards the plural version and this should help with your decision because all 4 SERPS are pretty strong (as are many insurance related queries).

Also take into account future localization of these SERPS; which is sure to happen at some point based on all the other localization Google is doing in the professional service industry.

Finding More Ideal Keywords

Another type of keyword is one that doesn't necessarily blow your socks off with volume, but upon further SERP evaluation does appear to be a solid target based on a few different factors:

  • Search volume
  • Appearance of Google verticals
  • Presence of organic listings
  • Lack of localization (unless that is part of your play)
  • Weaker sites ranking
  • Deep subpages of bigger sites ranking

Another thing to consider is predicting if your market is one Google will get into (like they do with travel and some areas of finance).

It's likely insurance is one of those markets based on how lucrative it is and Google's previous finance plays) as are other areas of finance and probably broader areas of e-commerce and comparison shopping. I would assume the latter is further down the road than the finance sectors are.

Tech is an area that is likely to (continue to) be a growth area with respect to portable devices and such. Tablets, ultra books, laptops, smartphones, and so on are all areas you could look in to find examples of these kinds of preferred keywords.

After running through some keyword research (remember to use Microsoft AdIntelligence as well!) I paired down my list to the following keywords:

  • ultrabook reviews
  • best ultrabooks
  • best gaming laptop
  • best gaming laptops
  • gaming laptop reviews
  • gaming laptop
  • gaming laptops

In looking at the SERPS, outside of some Google Shopping stuff in the upper right and some authorship imagery (present on ultra book keywords and the last 2 gaming laptop ones) the SERPS are fairly clean.

Lots of deep brand pages are ranking with some being for specific brands only and a couple subpages on weaker sites are ranking as well. Google Trends shows "ultra books" significantly outpacing "gaming laptop" in terms of trend while gaming laptop still has quite a bit more volume.

After evaluating the SERPS I like both markets here. I think the ultrabook market is more of a play for down the road (between the two), though depending on how fast they catch on outside of the MacBook Air it could happen quickly.

I also think that gaming laptops will continue to become popular as better technology will allow gamers to eventually replace the need for a big, beefy desktop to run their advanced video needs.

Coupling these thoughts with the search volume and associated tails, the lack of extreme Google SERP take over (by Google) and the lack of strong, dedicated sites (there is a decent ultrabook site but I think it can be beaten/outdone) to the topic would make me lean towards entering both markets.

Final Thoughts

There are tools out there that do a pretty decent job of evaluating competition from a metric standpoint but there is no substitute for your own eyes, brain, gut, and experience.

These tools ought to add a Google factor so you can see if you are up against multiple instances of Google vertical inserts and self-monetization plays. If you choose to ignore those as currently constituted, or ignore the possible presence of them in your SERPS down the road, you are doing so at your own peril and it's a big, big mistake.

Evaluating SERP competition, and including Google as your competition, should be at the top of your priority list at this stage of the game. All the volume in the world and all the longest tails will not save you if you are battling extreme brand bias, disappearing organic listings, Google lead generation, and ad-monteized local inserts.

If the travel example doesn't give you an idea on how Google feels about organic listings, maybe this does :)....Friday humor.

Local SEO Tips from Darren Shaw of Whitespark

Jun 8th
posted in

Based on feedback we get from time to time, there seems to be a growing interest in the area of setting up and running a local SEO business.

In addition to building local SEO tools, Whitespark also offers local SEO services. We recently reviewed Darren's Local Citation Finder, which is a must-have for any local SEO, and today he was kind enough to answer some questions on the local SEO market as a whole as well as specific strategies he recommends (and uses for his clients).

1. What are you advising your clients to do and how are you adjusting your local seo strategy in the wake of the latest change to Google Places (IE Google+ Local)?

Get active on Google+. You want to start posting content on Google+, and also start circling friends, family, influencers, and other businesses AS YOUR BUSINESS on Google+. If you’re engaging them, they’ll engage with your business and circle you back, +1 your content, share your content, etc. Use your existing Google+ business page if you already have one, as this business page will eventually merge with your Google+ Local page. If you don’t have one yet, then get one here. To use Google+ as a page, look for the dropdown under your photo. Also, now that Google+ Local pages are indexed, it’s a good idea to link to your Google+ Local page. There was no value in linking to the old place pages because they weren’t indexed.

2. A recent WSJ Article outlines an upcoming change to how Google will be interacting with SMB's. It appears to be tying back to G+ (of course) but also presenting a unified dashboard that SMB's can use to interact with all Google products. When you look at the local SEO landscape, how do you present to clients as the importance of singular keyword rankings become less and less important in the face of a more holistic, unified online marketing campaign?

It’s tough because the typical SMB often comes to you with the goal of ranking for particular keywords and doesn’t see the bigger picture. So, when we present to clients we make sure to discuss all the details of our local SEO work:

  • Google Analytics conversion tracking and custom reporting configuration.
  • Keyword research
  • Competitive analysis
  • Google+ Local page optimization (I’m going to have to revise our process now!)
  • Technical site audit
  • Keyword mapping and website optimization
  • Content strategy
  • Link building (developing linkable assets, digging through competitors’ link profiles looking for ideas, guest posting, press releases, interviews, researching business partners for link ops, infographics, videos, e-books, contests, wordpress plugins, selective social bookmarking to our own content and to content we get placed. I find myself referencing this great post by Ted Ives fairly regularly when coming up with link building strategies for clients.)
  • Citation audit and clean up
  • Citation building
  • Review acquisition strategy
  • Image geo-tagging, optimization, and uploading to appropriate sites
  • Video geo-tagging, optimization, and uploading to appropriate sites
  • Social strategy

We’re focused on content strategy these days and try to educate our clients from the start about what will be involved. That means getting a blog installed on their site if they don’t already have one and setting up a schedule of weekly blog posts.

There are plenty of quality writers out there that will write posts at a reasonable price for the business if they don’t have time. We brainstorm topic ideas with our clients, and then sort them into “our blog” and “guest posts”.

We then build out lists of prospects using our sister tool, the Link Prospector, and use Buzzstream to manage our outreach and relationship building. We work on creative ideas that will push our clients beyond what their competition is doing.

For example, for one of our legal clients, we’re creating a kinetic typography video (what’s that? ) about a new law being passed that will mean immediate loss of your license if you get charged with a DUI. The implications of this new law are serious: loss of job, family troubles due to financial strain, etc.

We’ll be posting it to our blog, doing a press release, pushing it through social, and outreaching to all the news agencies and civilian bloggers in the province. Expecting this to drive some great brand mentions and links for our client. We’re always touching base with our clients to learn about up and coming news in their business and industry that we can leverage with content like this.

If a client isn’t able to invest some time to work with us on content, and providing us with the info we need, we try to assess that as early as possible and not take them on, or end the relationship. It must be collaborative or we’ll have a hard time getting the results, and that frustrates us and the client.

3. Do you think Google's push to centralize these offers for SMB's will actually help local SEO/marketing companies (like yours)? It seems to me that it would, it seems like things will be easier to manage and report on. While Google will be able to make inroads in this market, I still believe that many local SMB's will just be more apt to search for a reputable provider that can manage all this stuff for them. SMB's love time-savings...What do you think?

I don’t know if it will make much difference. The typical SMB client doesn’t have much knowledge about online marketing.

They would be just as lost in a unified dashboard as they are in the current setup, and will look to bring in a consultant to help. As far as reporting goes, we’ll have to see what that unified dashboard provides. If it’s anything like the useless stats in the current Google Places dashboard, I won’t be very excited about it.

4. Local, blended, pack, whatever rankings can be difficult to deal with if you are not the beneficiary of a nearby centroid. Can you walk us through how you deal with this both at the proposal level (quote multiple services, quote more keywords, etc) and in practice?

What are some ways around being an outlier to the centroid of the more highly searched areas? Fortunately, Google has recently dialed back the importance of the centroid. I only bring it up with new prospects if they are way out on the outskirts of the city (can be a bit challenging to overcome), or in a suburb and want to rank in the big city (near impossible to overcome unless they open a new location in the city).

To overcome centroid bias you need an order magnitude more citations, links, and reviews. If your competitors have 50 citations, get 150. If your competitors have 30 reviews, get 100. When you look at cases where a business is way outside of the centroid and ranking well, it’s typically a numbers game like this.

Be sure to also focus on acquiring plenty of locally relevant links and citations from authority sites, but I’d have the same recommendation for any local campaign, not just ones where you’re working to overcome centroid bias.

5. Given the increased complexity of local SEO, and local online ads in general, how are you handling the quoting process these days? Custom proposals for everyone? Packages for some? Do you find, on average, better overall success (ROI and retention) with one method or the other?

I have a pretty standard, all encompassing, package that I use for all clients. If the client is in an  ultra-competitive market, I’ll charge more, but we do pretty much the same work for all our clients and just scale it up based on how competitive it is.

6. How deep do you get into the client's business? Do you get into managing SEO, PPC, online ad buys, email marketing, offline advertising, and so on?

Typically we just do straight SEO. Specifically, local seo. That’s more than enough to deal with right now, and it’s what I love doing. I’m not that interested in anything other than local.

7. Citations are important but what about social stuff and reviews? How do you help clients set up and stick to an ongoing social engagement and how do you get them to be all over the reviews (obtaining reviews, following up on them, and so on)?

Reviews are extremely important and we put together a review acquisition strategy for each client. We get one of Phil Rozek’s Review Handouts for each client. This is something that the business can email or print and give to each customer that provides easy step-by-step instructions on how to leave a review. He’s updating it for the new Google+ Local review process. We also encourage our clients to mix up the places they request reviews from.

Get some on Google, some on Insiderpages, some on Yelp, etc. We always research where the competition are getting reviews and base our recommendations on that. I think keywords in the reviews are a big ranking factor. We ask our clients to tell their customers to mention the service they had completed when posting the review.

Social, well, I don’t push too hard on it. Certainly, the clients that are engaged in it will reap the benefits, but so many small businesses are too busy running their business to bother with it. Looking at David Mihm’s Local Search Ranking Factors, the local SEO experts surveyed don’t put a lot of stock into social factors. David’s just about to release the 2012 version and i would expect to see the same.

8. I know there's always a desire for one to find some magic pill for their problems, and that's no different in the local SEO market. Sometimes though, there are no "secrets" and it's more about leverage, quality of work, and consistency. Let's close it out by giving folks some "must-have" tips on running a local SEO campaign, or company, in the current local SEO climate:

In local, my number one recommendation is to do a citation audit and clean up job. It’s horribly painful work trying to find all the places where your name, address, and phone number are incorrect, but like you noted, there are no short cuts.

Put in the hard work on this one and it will pay dividends. I’ve seen many cases where you analyze the top ranking competition and the business with the best on-page optimization, Place page optimization, citations, links, & reviews is not ranking as well as they should, and when you dig a little deeper it’s because of messy NAP data all over the place.

Consistent NAP is important to your “trust score” in local. If Google is getting conflicting data about your business from multiple sources, it lowers its trust in your data. I’ll be doing a post on the Whitespark blog soon about how we do citation audits. Also, keywords in reviews seem to be very helpful to rankings. See what I said about this above.

Also, citations from city and industry specific sites really help associate your business with the keywords you’re going after. In our experience, local rankings take off after we submit to 30 or 40 of these. For example, for a lawyer in Chicago, get citations on sites like:

Thanks Darren!

How Selling Insurance Helped Me Sell SEO Services

May 29th
posted in

Post-Google update season is typically a boon for SEO providers (good ones and bad ones unfortunately). The industry isn't dead or dying, it's simply evolving. In fact, most things in the business world do not "die", they simply evolve.

I suppose dying versus evolving is a matter of personal preference. I prefer to view markets, verticals, and models as evolving because it helps me accomplish a few different things:

  • learn why certain practices and opportunities faded, or are fading, away
  • learn what is working now and why
  • combine those two basic pieces of knowledge to shape future plans and opportunities

If all you do is bemoan the fact that a particular area of your business is evolving past what may be working now then you'll surely miss the boat on the next wave of success. Even if you don't miss the boat completely you'll be stuck in a self-perpetuating game of always chasing something rather than being out in front of it.

Chasing successful models, rather than creating them, certainly can be profitable but you should strive to have a mix of both in your business. Whether it's a completely new business segment (say PPC if you largely do SEO) or just new tactics (more diverse link building for your own web properties, as one small example) you should be looking behind you, to your left and right, and in front of you.

Diversification Advice

If you are a solo SEO, or mainly run your own web properties, one smart way to diversify your revenue stream is to get into some client work. This can be a tough proposition, it was for me, because many of us who run our own properties are not too keen on scheduled meetings (especially frequent ones) or dealing with some of the timeless issues of client work:

  • billing
  • impatience
  • rapidly changing expectations
  • red tape
  • lots of chefs
  • writing custom proposals

Many of these items can be thwarted by having a clear, frank discussion about what you'll be doing and by setting parameters from the outset. Hopefully you're in a position where you don't have to sell to eat; meaning, running lean and avoiding debt-leveraging is the best way to be able to hand pick your clients (in my experience).

If you have to take on everyone who walks in the door then your results will suffer, your reputation will suffer, and your work will become a big burden to bear. If you have employees who deal with clients in this type of environment then you will likely lose your best people over time and your workplace will become nothing more than a sweatshop with computers.

In addition to all of those negatives, having to sell/sell/sell probably means your margins are thin which directly leads to client's not getting the appropriate service and attention, relative to what they are being billed for.

Selling, itself, might be the biggest hurdle for you. Before I got into this industry I was an insurance agent, Being an insurance agent helped me immensely with being able to sell an otherwise complicated product to folks who didn't have a full grasp of all the relevant subject matter (specific coverages, exclusions, and so on). Hopefully some of these tips will be helpful for you and your SEO sales.

Similarities Between Insurance and SEO

I sold Personal Insurance (car, home, renter's, condo, jewelery, etc) and it was a weird product to sell. It's one of the few things people buy that they hope they never have to use and they have to buy it every year (assuming they have stuff they need to protect). There are some interesting parallels to selling SEO, oddly enough. The serious buyers in the insurance and SEO marketplaces are looking to protect a valuable asset; in insurance it may be their home, car, or life. In SEO it's basically their online presence.

As with any other industry, there are tire kickers and price shoppers. I would caution against excluding price shoppers from a "preferred" client list. They may require a bit more upfront work but just because the might be doing cost comparisons it doesn't necessarily mean they are cheap. In fact, they might be a dream client so avoiding the "well they are price shopping so they must be cheap" argument would serve you well.

Remembering that the sales process is some odd combination of value, facts, and emotion helped me avoid the (very easy to fall into trap) of selling price. I knew many insurance agents that sold on price and did pretty well short term. A more defensible strategy long term, and where agents really make their money, is on retention. If you set the client's expectation that your only benefit to them is price they will leave you, soon, for the same reason.

If you are looking to build a solid client base you have to be able to compete on price but not sell on price. You should be able to answer questions beyond price if you truly believe in the product you are selling.

Before I was an agent I was an underwriter and responsible for the profitable growth of an insurance agency's book of business. I managed anywhere from 50-75 agencies at a time. I can tell you, without equivocation, that the agencies who avoided the trap of selling (not competing) on price absolutely killed it on retention.

In the insurance world, as in the SEO world, retention is mission critical to long term success. If you let price define your business then you'll be participating in a race to the bottom and end up like barely profitable PC makers.

So, how did I compete on price but not sell on it?

  • framing
  • basic study of behavioral economics

An example here would be conditioning the client to understand the difference between best price, better price, and lowest price. A stripped down policy that doesn't cover everything they want to cover or need to cover, which is $300 cheaper that what I'm selling, isn't the best price or even a better price compared to my price. It's the cheapest but not the best.

In my experience, most people who have stuff to protect (new cars, homes, boats, jewelry, etc) will spend the extra money to get a quality policy from someone they feel they can trust and whom they feel is knowledgeable and those are the the type of clients you want!

A company or person who values their online presence and marketing initiatives should be willing to pay a bit more for more reputable work from a reputable company. If you have evidence to back up your claims of being that company then you will win more than you lose even if you aren't the lowest price.

Framing the Offer

What never worked for me in SEO sales was pre-packaged offers. I know it works for some agencies but I always felt like I was selling Hot Cakes and Hash Browns rather than an actual service. Plus, as time goes on and the market becomes more complex and sophisticated so do solutions.

Offering add-on services is great for ROI, so if you're an SEO firm maybe you start offering PPC, conversion, and social services. Add-ons make package pricing super-tough if you are doing it at scale. Packages significantly keep pace with increased RFP demand but are you really delivering the appropriate price for each client as well as for your bottom line?

I do not see how you could advocate for packages across the board because the core of the "for" argument would be that you can sell 2 different sites at the same price inside of different verticals. If you do that how are you maximizing value to you and the client? You aren't, it's that simple. Are they in the same vertical? Ok, but the competition is likely different, the search volume is likely different, and so on.

If you just sell a pre-priced packaged you will negatively affect quality in a variety of ways:

  • client being overcharged
  • client being undercharged
  • cutting corners to save margin
  • under-delivering and taking more margin to try and save the account
  • not maximizing the balance between client ROI and company profit

I do like using packages after customizing the quote, this is where the framing comes in. As an insurance agent we were generally pushed to try and get folks to prepay the policy for the year through a variety of methods:

  • full payment discounts
  • increased cost for use of credit cards
  • monthly billing fees

So if you were my client I would frame this as "billing discounts". Take a $1,000 policy as an example:

  • stipulating a normal $5.00 per month billing fee totaling $60.00 per year = 6%
  • most companies give a 5-10% discount for paying in full (cash or check), we'll say it's 5%

The discussion would be something like "We can save you over 10% per year if you pay in full with cash or a check via our cash discount option." Or you could frame the non-cash payment option, which removes the 5-10% discount as a convenience charge of some sort. The information is the same either way, but frame it in that way and you'll have much more success with those kinds of sign-ups.

If you go the custom quote route with SEO proposals you get all sorts of benefits:

  • built-in up-sell opportunities (more keywords/verticals, more competitive keywords/verticals, PPC, social, conversion, etc)
  • the ability to not only cross-sell services but explain the benefits as well. Explaining how PPC can benefit SEO (and vice versa), with examples, at the time of quote delivery is more powerful then just lumping it into a pre-packaged, pump and dump quote
  • paint a better picture in a more holistic campaign, specifically targeted to their business, versus a pre-packaged one (add and remove specific services that might not be needed or relevant after some initial conversations prior to quoting the service)
  • play quotes off each other (offer at least 3 options, shooting for at least the middle option)

Package pricing works far better in the insurance world versus the SEO world. Insurance options and coverages have specific costs to them determined by predetermined risk tables.

In SEO you have to evaluate competition against an unknown, ever-changing algorithm in addition to figuring out potential ROI in the PPC world against CPC's that could be all over the place from industry to industry as well as potential profitability from conversion optimization help you might be interested in offering.

Being able to customize quoting options puts you in a better position to frame your offers versus a more stagnant pricing model like you see in the insurance market (even though you can still introduce framing effectively there). Of course, custom quoting comes with its own issues like spending time of RFP's versus actual work.

One solution to the sunk cost on creating custom proposals is to, after your initial discovery call/feeling out call, charge a fee relative to a few hours of your time (or however long it takes you to do a mostly accurate proposal or even a ballpark figure if the client is comfortable with a range). If they balk at that then they probably aren't serious and they likely do not respect your time. If you have a solid reputation you can probably do this with some success, if you are new and unestablished you might need to bite the bullet for awhile.

What Makes Sense For You

There are so many variables that come into play when figuring out this piece of your sales process. You can have some packaged pricing for sure, many PPC companies offer a percentage of spend as a base fee as an example. With the recent, frequent (and substantial) algorithmic changes it really is important to be able to put together a package specifically for a client based on their situation, goals, and budget. It's going to be hard to base your business on selling SEO as a widget-type process (20 links per month, 10 articles per month, etc) going forward.

Some SEO's are all-client based, some just run their own properties, and I think there is a trend starting where SEO's are doing both. Each business model has its own pro's and con's, as well as many different variables, so one set of tips will likely not resonate or be specific to all. However, I think there are a few overarching points that SEO's looking to diversify into client work or who want to be more profitable on the client side should consider:

  • get to a point financially (cash flow, debt, margins) where you can pick and choose clients ASAP as it is such a beneficial position to be in on a number of fronts
  • if you are currently a packaged product seller start experimenting with custom quotes (and try to put out at least 3 options)
  • try a few different pricing options for the actual proposal work and delivery
  • be as clear as possible when discussing deliverables (my biggest mistakes have been because of this, bad for me and bad for the client)
  • before and during the design of your pricing strategy read Rafi Mohammed's books on pricing

Whitespark's Local Citation Finder Review

May 23rd

Local citations are a critical part of a local SEO campaign. In looking at David Mihm's Local Search Ranking Factors you can see that a majority of the top 10 factors focus on business information structure and links. Half of the top ten factors relate to items which local citations can help with:

  • Physical Address in City of Search
  • Crawlable Address Matching Place Page Address
  • Volume of Traditional Structured Citations (IYPs, Data Aggregators)
  • Quality of Inbound Links to Website
  • Crawlable Phone Number Matching Place Page Phone Number

Making local citation building a part of your local SEO campaign has more benefits than simply "building citations". Think of all the ways it can help with both local search (see factors above) and web search in general:

  • Many of the better citation sources are actually good links (for your domain in general), from diverse domains
  • A good amount of folks searching locally are likely to use apps for searches in addition to Google (you want to make sure you are listed in as many places as possible)
  • Ensuring that your business data is structured in a similar way across the web helps with client communication and Google Places
  • Building citations naturally leads to other business enhancing activities you can offer your clients; things like helping them get their clients to leave positive reviews and provide helpful feedback to the company post-sale
  • A potential client is likely to do research on your or your client's business before they buy. Being represented, in a good way, across the web helps the company's reputation and clout with potential customers

Citation building can be tedious on multiple fronts. Finding quality citations that you do not currently have, comparing citation profiles (yours and your competitor's), and actually building the citations as well as following up on them.

Whitespark takes care of the first two, searching and comparing, quite well and provides the framework for building citations efficiently. Whitespark can also rerun your search queries to check on whether your citation has been completed or not.

Whitespark Pricing

Whitespark has 5 plans:

  • Free
  • 20$ per month - 20 searches per day, 5 projects, unlimited citations per search, comparison tool, monitoring tool, CSV export options
  • 30$ per month - 30 searches per day, 10 projects, and all the features of the 20$ plan
  • 40$ per month - 40 searches per day, 20 projects, same features as above
  • 100$ per month, 100 searches per day, unlimited projects, same features as above

I like how the pricing scales with projects and searches. The pricing is a great value for anyone doing local SEO at scale and there are options to support any size agency.

Setting Up a Project

When you first get inside the tool you'll be able to set up a search straight away. You'll be able to select the following:

  • Country (Whitespark supports over 30)
  • State/Province
  • City or Town (they pull from a database, when you start typing you'll be able to select your desired location)
  • Keyphrase (just the keyword)
  • A drop down to select your preferred search phrase
  • Project Assignment or Creation

Here, I've started a query for insurance quotes in Providence, Rhode Island

When you select state and city/town it sets the location inside of Google. However, sometimes you do need to add the state or state abbreviation to the query to get the best results (in my experience).

You have options on the final keyphrase. The dropdown, seen below, gives you the option to broaden the area, rearrange the order of the query, or create a custom query:

Once you click on that, you can add whatever query you want. In this case, based on my experience, I just added "RI" to the end of the query to help with hyper-local targeting.

Next up is the project creation (or addition). I haven't created a project to store this query in, but it's super easy to do from this page. Click on "Manage Projects" and you'll be able to create a new one:

You are then brought to the create project page. You can name your project and add your phone number (I added one for an agency ranking organically for the term) to check current citations.

*Important* - The formatting of the number is important. You should use (401) 438-8345 or 401-438-8345 as 4014388345 results in far fewer results than properly formatted numbers.

You should add the business name (yours or your client's) as the project name for more accurate citation mapping.

Now just go back and add that query to that particular project on the Search by Keyphrase Page and you are good to go. The tool will email you when the results are ready.

Ideally, you'll want to have a seed list of terms to start out with so you can check your results versus your competitions across your most important local terms. So for an insurance agency I might go with:

  • Auto Insurance Providence RI
  • Life Insurance Providence RI
  • Insurance Agent in Providence Ri

In a perfect world you'd want to do some keyword research on these terms, look at keywords your competition might be ranking for, look at the site's current analytics and PPC data (if available), and so on in order to find the best keywords to target.

Search by Phone Number

While we are waiting for those results to come back, let's talk about the search by phone number option. This is a great way of checking your own citations or that of a competitor, or even a prospective client (especially if their citations are a mess or missing).

So I added a competitor, their phone number and saved it to my project. Very simple, very straightforward. We'll let that run and circle back to it once the report is ready.

Working with the Data

It took about 3 minutes for our first query to complete :)

You can go back to your project and view all the searches assigned to it:

From here you can edit the name and phone number of the project, view the searches (I have the 1 keyword phrase search and the competitor phone number search) assigned to the project, and just view the citation opportunities for the business without the competitor information.

There are 2 components to a keywords search report. The first piece displays the top ranking (in places/maps) sites for the query. It allows you to see the total citations for each site and offers links to view specific sources for each site as well as a comparison of those sites:

You can view sources for each competitor or compare them against each other for total citation counts.

The second piece of the report are the actual citation sources. The citation sources have the following data points:

  • Site (the citation url)
  • Link to the submission page, if available
  • OC - number of times the citation source appeared in the SERP during the searches (higher counts are good indicators of domain authority)
  • Discovery - date the citation source was discovered
  • Site Type - the type of site (still in beta), could be social, directory, news, etc
  • AC - Majestic SEO's AC Rank
  • DA - SeoMoz's Domain Authority
  • Got It (checkbox) - used for when a citation is acquired
  • Useless - used when a citation source is not applicable or undesired

All columns are sortable, making it easy to manipulate the data however you'd like to spot the best opportunities.

When you view the report that includes the competition, you can click the plus sign to expand the URL of the citation source for more specific data:

You'll be able to see a spread of co-occurring citations on specific pages. This can be useful in spotting category listing opportunities on specific citation sources (for example, being listed on YellowPages.Com/Providence-RI/Homeowners-Insurance as well as your own listing).

If you have associated the search with a project, then for citations that already were acquired before the search was run, you'll see them as highlighted in green with the "got it" check box already checked:

When you check off one as "useless" it simply gets grayed out.

A cool feature here is that already acquired (citations found by Whitespark and citations checked off by you) carry across other searches in your project. At any point you can come back to the search and re-run it (after a citation building campaign is always a good time) to see the status of your citation profile.

Also, when you export the list it exports (2 options) the following criteria:

(Choosing Export as CSV)

  • Root Citation URL
  • SERP Appearance Count
  • AC Rank
  • Domain Authority
  • Submission URL (if available)
  • Got It and Useless check marks

If you choose "Export CSV (w/URLs) you get all of the above plus the url's of the actual citations.

Choosing the first option makes it incredible easy to hand off to a citation builder.

Darren's Pro Tips

I always like to go directly to the creator of a tool to get their thoughts and tips. Darren was gracious enough to provide his insights for us (see below):

The local citation finder has two main citation search capabilities:

  1. Search by keyword and the tool will find all the top ranking businesses, then find their citations, and present them in a big list for you.
  2. Search by phone number, and the tool will find the list of citations for that particular business. Use this to find your own citations, or a specific competitor's citations.

We use the data in three ways:

  • Use it to find places where your competitors are listed, but you're not, and then get listed in those places.
  • Use it as a competitive analysis tool to identify where the competition is getting citations. This extends beyond basic business directories as the tool will reveal competitor's citations from local blogs, newspapers, event listings, job sites, business partners, etc. Looking at their strategies will give you ideas for creative citation building tactics you can employ in your practice.
  • Use it to find citation sources focused on the city, or the industry

I think the best way to look at the tool is as competitive analysis. You run a keyword search, see who's rankings, then get a big list of all the citations they collectively have. You can click the "compare citations for this business" link to see who's listed where.

A great little hidden feature of the tool is to do a phone number search for your business, plus a keyword search, then in the Your Search Results section, check off the two searches and choose "compare" from the dropdown at the top of the table. This will show you all the places where the competition is listed and you're not.

I also like to use the tool to find hyper-local citation opportunities. Here's how:

  1. Run a LOT of KW queries on the local citation finder in the city/niche and associate them all with a project. So, for a lawyer in chicago: chicago lawyer, lawyers, attorneys, dui lawyer, robbery lawyer, criminal lawyer, etc.
  2. Go under “Your Projects” and ALL the citation sources from all the queries will be listed under “view sources”. Ctrl-f in your browser for “law”, “legal”, “chicago”, “illinois”, etc.
  3. Any niche or location related terms. Copy all the domains that match the Ctrl-f searches into a spreadsheet. These are your hyper local citations.

We found that getting listed on sites that had the city or keyword in the domain provided a big boost in the local rankings. The more you can find, the better. You'll have to pick through the list to pull out actual directories, as many of the results will be businesses with the city or keyword in the domain, but it's worth it.

Thanks to Darren for the insight and for making Local SEO a bit easier :) Give Whitespark a try for your local SEO campaigns, I think you'll like it :)

Citation Labs Review - Here's Why I Use it

Apr 12th

So what are we calling it today? Link building, link prospecting, content marketing, linkbait, socialbait, PR ? Whatever it is and whatever sub-definitions exist for the process of finding quality, related websites to link back to yours is difficult and time-consuming work.

As with most processes associated with SEO campaigns, or website marketing campaigns in general, enterprising folks have built tools to make our lives a little easier and our time more fruitful and productive. A couple of those enterprising fellows are Garrett French and Darren Shaw (from Whitespark.Ca) over at Citation Labs.

Garrett has a suite of link building tools available, many of them complement his flagship tool; The Link Prospector.

Link Prospector Review TOC

To help you navigate to specific sections of the review we've included in-content links below.

Getting Started

Back to Topics

So let's assume I've been contracted to embark on a link building campaign for SeoBook :) It's very easy to create a campaign and get up and running:

Create your campaign:

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Move right into the prospects section:

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Start prospecting :)

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Selecting a Report

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The nice thing about this tool is that it's designed for a specific purpose; link prospecting. It's not bloated with a bunch of other stuff you may not need and it's easy to use, yet powerful, because it focus on doing one thing and doing it very well.

The UI of this tool is right on the money, in my opinion. Garrett has built in his own queries to find specific types of links for you (preset Reports). Here you can see the reports available to you, which are built to help you find common link types:

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Customizing Your Prospecting

Back to Topics

As you can see, there are a variety of built in queries available which run the gamut of most of the link outreach goals you might have (interviews, resource pages, guest posts, directories, and so on). Once you settle on the report type it's time to select additional parameters like:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

Try to make your queries as relevant but broad as possible to get the best results. Searches that are too specific will either net to few results or many of your direct competitors. Here, you can see my report parameters for interviews I may want to do in specific areas of SEO (Garrett includes a helpful video on that page, which I highly recommend watching):

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Using Exclusions

The use of exclusions is an often overlooked feature of this toolset. Brands are all over the SERPs these days so when you have the Link Prospector go out to crawl potential link sources based on keywords/queries, you'll want to make sure you exclude sites you are fairly certain you won't get a link from.

You may want to exclude such sites as Ebay, Amazon, NewEgg, and so on if you are running a site about computer parts. You can put your exclusions into 2 categories:

  • Global Exclusions
  • Campaign Exclusions

Global exclusions apply to each campaign automatically. You might want to go out and download top 100 site lists (or top 1,000) lists to stick in the Global Exclusions area or simply apply specific sites you know are irrelevant to your prospecting on the whole. To access Exclusion lists, just click on the exclusion option. From there, it's just a matter of entering your domains:

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Campaign exclusions only apply to a specific campaign. This is good news if you provide link building services and work with a variety of clients; you are not constrained to one draconian exclusion list. In speaking with Garrett, he does mention that this is an often overlooked feature of the toolset but one of the most effective features (both Global and Campaign exclusions).

Working With the Data

Back to Topics

So I ran my report which was designed to find interviewees within certain broader areas of the SEO landscape. The tool will confirm submission of your request and email you when it's complete, at any time you can go in and check the status of your reports by going to Prospects -> View Prospects. Here's what the queue looks like:

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The results are presented in a web interface but can be easily exported to excel. From the web interface, you can see:

  • Total Domains
  • Total Paths (pages on the domain where relevancy exists, maybe we would find a relevant video channel on YouTube where it makes sense to reach out)
  • TLD
  • LTS - Link Target Score
  • PR of Domain
  • Export Options

LTS is a proprietary score provided by Citation Labs (essentially a measure of domain frequency and position within the SERPs pulled back for a given report).

If we expand the domain to see the paths, using Search Engine Land as an example, we can see pages where targets outside of the main domain might exist for our interviewing needs:

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This is where Citation Labs really shines. Rather than just spitting back a bunch of domains for you to pursue at a broad level, it breaks down authoritative domains into specific prospecting opportunities which are super-relevant to your query/keyword relationship.

If you are on Windows (or run Windows via a virutal machine) you can use SEO Tools for Excel to take all these URLs, or the ones you want to target, and pull in social metrics, backlink data, and many other data points to further refine your list.

You can also import this data right into Buzzstream (export from Citation Labs to a CSV or Excel, then import into Buzzstream) and Buzzstream will go off and look up relevant social and contact details for outreach purposes.

We recently did a Buzzstream Review that you might find helpful.

You can also utilize Garrett's Contact Finder for contact research.

Creating Your Own Queries

Back to Topics

Another nice thing about Citation Labs's Link Prospector is that you can enter your own query parameters. You are not locked in to any specific type of data output (even though the built in ones are solid). You can do this by selecting "Custom" in the report selection field

In the Custom Report area you can create your own search operators along with the following options:

  • Region
  • Web or Blog, or Web AND Blog results
  • Search Depth (You can go up to 1,000 deep here, but if you make use of your exclusion lists you shouldn't have to dive that deep)
  • TLD Options
  • Date Range (Google's "past our, day, week, month, year, or anytime" options)

One of the tools we mention quite a bit inside the forums is the Solo SEO Link Search Tool. You can grab a lot of search operators from that tool for your own use inside the Citation Labs tool.

Garrett's Pro Tips

Back to Topics

Can you give us some tips on using the right phrases?

One objection I hear from folks who test the link prospector is "my results are full of competitors." This is typically because the research phrases they've selected don't line up with the type of prospects they're seeking. And more often than not it's because they've added their target SEO keywords rather than "category keywords" that define their area of practice.

The solution is simple though - you just need to experiment with some "bigger head" phrases. Instead of using "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" for guest post prospecting, try just "Divorce Lawyer," or even "Divorce."

And I'd definitely recommend experimenting with the tilde "~Divorce" as it will help with synonyms that you may not have thought of. So if you're looking for guest posting opportunities for a divorce lawyer your five research phrases could look like this:

divorce
~divorce
~divorce -divorce
Divorce ~Lawyer
"family law"

The link prospector tool will take these five phrases and combine them with 20+ guest posting footprints so we end up doing 100+ queries for you. And there WILL be domain repetitions due to the close semantic clustering of these phrases. This overlap can help "float up" the best opportunities based on our LTS score (which is essentially a measurement of relevance).

All this said there are PLENTY of situations where using your SEO keywords can be productive... For example in guest posting it's common for people to use competitive keywords as anchor text. You could (and yes I'm completely contradicting my example) use "Atlanta Divorce Lawyer" as a guest posting research phrase along with your other target SEO KWs. The prospects that come back will probably have been placed by competitors.

How do you fine-tune your research phrases?

I often test my research phrases before throwing them in the tool. Let's go back to the divorce guest posting example above. To test I simply head to Google and search [divorce "guest post"]. If I see 4 or more results in the top 10 that look like "maybes" I consider that a good keyword to run with. The test footprint you should use will vary from report-type to report-type.

A good links page test is to take a potential research phrase and add intitle:links. For content promoters you could combine a potential research phrase with intitle:"round up".

I find that this testing does two things. For one it helps me drop research phrases that are only going to clog my reports with junk.

Secondarily I often discover new phrases that are likely to be productive. Look back at the list of divorce research phrases above - the last one, "family law," is there because I spotted it while testing [~divorce "guest post"]. Spending time in Google is always, always productive and I highly advise it.

What tips can you give us regarding proper Search Depth usage?

Depth is a measure of how many results the link prospector brings back from Google. How often do you find useful results on the third page of Google? How about the tenth page? There's a gem now and again, but I find that if I've carefully selected 5 awesome research phrases I save time by just analyzing the results in the top 20.

Your mileage may vary, and the tool DOES enable users to scrape all the way down to 1000 for those rare cases where you have discovered a mega-productive footprint. Test it once for sure, don't just take my word for it - my guess is you'll end up with tons of junk that actually kills the efficiency that the tool creates.

Any more expert tips on how to best use phrases and search operators?

You can addadvanced search operators in all your research phrases. Combine them with your research phrases and try them out in Google first (see tip 2) and then use them as you see fit. I use the heck out of the tilde now, as it saves me time and aids in research phrase discovery when I vet my phrases in Google. The tilde even works in conjunction with the wildcard operator (*).

So if you're looking for law links pages you could test [~law* intitle:links] and then add ~law* as one of your research phrases if it seems productive. It's not super productive by the way, because the word "code" is a law synonym... but I wouldn't have known if I didn't test, and if I didn't test I'd end up with link prospetor results that don't have anything to do with the targets I'm seeking.

Any tips on how to best leverage Exclusions (beyond putting in sites like google.com into your Global Exclusions :D )

If you have junk, not-ops that keeps turning up in your reports, add the domain as domain.com and www.domain.com to the exclusions file. Poof. It's gone from future reports you run.

You can even add the domains you've already viewed so they won't show up anymore. Be careful though - make sure you're adding them to your campaign-level excludes rather than Global.

How often do you update the tool and what is coming down the pike?

If you sign up and you find yourself asking "I wonder what would happen if I..." please write me an email. If I don't have an answer for you I will send you credits for you to do some testing. I will end up learning from you. I have users continually pushing the limits with the tool and finding new ways to use it.

We've added PR for domains, titles and snippets for each URL, blog-only search, and fixed numerous bugs and inefficiencies based on requests from our users. We're also bringing in DA, MozRank and an API because of user requests.

Thanks Garrett!!

Free Trial and Pricing

Citation Labs is currently offering a free trial. They have monthly and per credit (love that!) pricing as well. You can find their pricing structure here.

Review of Jim Boykin's Free Broken Link Tool

Mar 21st
posted in

Jim Boykin recently released a free, but powerful tool, that can help you check on broken links, redirects, in addition to helping you generate a Google Sitemap.

Being a free, web-based tool you might think it's a bit lightweight but you'd be wrong :) It can crawl up to 10,000 internal pages, up to 5 runs per day per user.

In addition to the features mentioned above, the tool offers other helpful data points as well as the ability to export the data to CSV/Excel, HTML, and the ability to generate a Google XML Sitemap.

The other data points available to you are:

  • URL of the page spidered
  • Link to an On-Page SEO report for that URL
  • Link depth from the home page
  • HTTP status code
  • Internal links to the page (with the ability to get a report off the in-links themselves)
  • External links on the page (a one-click report is available to see the outlinks)
  • Overall size of the page with a link to the Google page speed tool (cool!)
  • Link to their Image check tool (size, alt text, header check of the page)
  • Rows for Title Tag, Meta Description, and Meta Keywords
  • Canonical tag field

Using the Tool

The tool is really easy to use, just enter the domain, the crawl depth, and your email if you don't care to watch the magic happen live :)

For larger crawls entering your email makes a lot of sense as it can take a bit on big crawls:

Click Ninja Check and off you go!

Working With The Data

The top of the results page auto-updates and shows you:

  • Status of the report
  • Internal pages crawled
  • External links found
  • Internal redirects found
  • External redirects found
  • Internal and External errors

When you click any of the yellow text(s) you are brought to that specific report table (which are below the main results I'll show you below).

This is also where you can export the XML sitemap, download results to Excel/HTML.

The results pane (broken up into 2 images given the horizontal length of the table) looks like:

More to the right is:

The On Page Report

If you click on the On Page Report link in the first table you are brought to their free On-Page Optimization Analysis tool. Enter the URL and 5 targeted phrases:

Their tool does the following:

  • Metadata tool: Displays text in title tags and meta elements
  • Keyword density tool: Reveals statistics for linked and unlinked content
  • Keyword optimization tool: Shows the number of words used in the content, including anchor text of internal and external links
  • Link Accounting tool: Displays the number and types of links used
  • Header check tool: Shows HTTP Status Response codes for links
  • Source code tool: Provides quick access to on-page HTML source code

The data is presented in the same table form as the original crawl. This first section shows the selected domain and keywords in addition to on-page items like your title tag, meta description, meta keywords, external links on the page, and words on the page (linked and non-linked text).

You can also see the density of all words on the page in addition to the density of words that are not links, on the page.

Next up is a word breakdown as well as the internal links on the page (with titles, link text, and response codes).

The word cloud displays targeted keywords in red, linked words underlined, and non-linked words as regular text.

You'll see a total word count, non-linked word count, linked word count, and total unique words on the.

This can be helpful in digging into deep on-page optimization factors as well as your internal link layout on a per page basis:

Next, you'll get a nice breakdown of internal links and the text of those links, the titles, and the words in the url.

Also, you can see any links to sub-domains as well as external links (with anchor text and response codes):

Each section has a show/hide option where you can see all the data or just a snippet.

Another report you get access to is the image checker (accessible from the main report "Check Image Info" option):

Here you'll get a report that shows a breakdown of the files and redirects on the page in addition to the image link, image dimensions, file size, alt text, and a spot to click to view the image:

After that section is the link section which shows the actual link, the file type (html, css, etc), status code and a link check (broken, redirect, ok, and so on)

Additional Reports

The main report referenced at the beginning of this post is the Internal Page Report. There are five additional reports:

  • External Links
  • Internal Redirects
  • External Redirects
  • Internal Errors
  • External Errors

External Links

This report will show you:

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Where the link was first found on the domain

Internal and External Redirects

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Page the URL redirects to

Internal and External Errors

  • HTTP Status
  • Internal links to the external link
  • Actual link URL
  • Link anchor text
  • Give it a Spin

    It's free but more importantly it's quite useful. I find a lot of value in this tool in a variety of ways but mostly with the ability to hone in on your (or your competitor's) internal site and linking structure.

    There are certainly a few on-page tools on the marketing but I found this tool easy to use and full of helpful information, especially with internal structure and link data.

    Try it. :)

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