Why Rank Checking is Still Useful

Apr 20th

rank-tracking-matters

There's not a complex mathematical formula that is needed for one to understand the basic math associated with SEO. It boils down to something like:

Traffic + Conversions = $

That's a pretty easy way of looking at it, and it sort of ignores some of the variables that might go into it like:

  • targeted traffic
  • no so targeted traffic
  • conversion rate
  • volume

However, the basis of profiting via SEO mainly involves getting traffic to your website and converting (or monetizing) that traffic by whatever conversion (or monetization) methods you happen to be using on your website.

There are many means you can factor into the end game of an SEO campaign but at its most basic form it is about getting traffic and monetizing that traffic.

A Small-Minded Approach

The school of thought which postulates that ranking reports or ranking data is either essentially dead, useless, or pointless generally is a small-minded approach with respect to the various ways you can use ranking data and over-dramatizes the effect of changing search results from searcher to searcher. Small-minded simply because you can use ranking reports for more than just blindly monitoring keywords.

If the argument is that you should focus more on conversions than ranking in terms of straight revenue then I can buy that, to a degree, but the problem remains that you can't convert if you don't have traffic and you can't have traffic from search engines unless you rank highly for your keywords.

perplexed-businessman

If the argument is that you shouldn't care because of personalized search, or local search, or different data center results then I would say that you are overstating the adoption and the effect. Sure, there could be a map or products or images in your search results (or tweets or news results) but I believe the idea that search results are so radically different from person to person, so different as to render ranking reports irrelevant, is quite overstated and inaccurate (from reports I've been running over time). All search results start from some starting point!

Knowing where you generally rank matters, watching the trend of your rankings in conjunction with your SEO tactics matters, and watching the evolution (up and down) of competing websites matters. To simply watch analytics data leaves so many opportunities on the table if we stipulate that ranking reports are a waste of time or mostly unimportant. When major algorithm updates or penalties happen, one of the quickest ways to help analyze what happened is to track your rankings before and after for a variety of keywords. That will help you determine things like:

  • is the issue sitewide?
  • is the issue related to a singular keyword?
  • is the issue related to a group of closely related keywords?
  • is the issue primarily impacting your most competitive keywords?
  • is the issue related to a particular market?

Pattern matching is key to learning how algorithms work. Sure some of this type of data may be available in your web analytics, but rather than having to hunt and probe for it, rank checking allows you to quickly get a baseline idea of where the problem may be.

Trends & Measurable Effects

Suppose you are interested in finding out whether certain SEO tactics are working or not working for a particular site. By watching your ranking trends over a period of time, parallel to your tactic testing, you can gauge whether or not those particular tactics are working.

Perhaps you've targeted a keyword which doesn't really have as much volume as you thought it did or what the keyword tools told you it did. If you ignore ranking reports then you are removing a key step in figuring out whether the word is viable or not, rather than looking at your analytics and guessing that it is viable or not based on traffic. Maybe you are ranking #4 for that term but the order goes:

  • competitor.com
  • competitor.net
  • competitor.org
  • yoursite.com

Chikita reported (based on 8+ million impressions on their network) the following percentages of search traffic distribution by rank (roughly a year or so ago):

Traffic-by-Google-Result

Chikita's chart shows that position 2 roughly in the 15-20% traffic range with position 4 around 5% and position 1 around 35%

Here's the leaked AOL chart from a few years ago, discussing the same topic:

traffic-by-rank

AOL's data shows position 1 at 42%, position 2 at 11%, and position 4 at 6%.

So if you were running monthly ranking reports you could reasonably make the assumption that by increasing your rank +3 you might expect north of 25% in terms of increased traffic. If the sites were reversed and you were getting little traffic, it would be easy to see that this keyword is probably not worth continuing to spend resources on since you are ranking #1 and still getting little traffic.

In either the case of potential opportunity or no opportunity ranking reports would work nicely with your traffic reports to help you make reasonable adjustments to your SEO campaign. If you skipped the reports totally, you are kind of flying blind or more blindly than you need to be .

Sales & Marketing Tools

Everything in SEO comes down to balancing risk vs rewards. It is easy to show a short term boost while leveraging up on risk, but showing sustained performance is much harder. Snake oil salesmen *always* have a smooth sales pitch (along with ranking reports for search engines nobody uses, and some go so far as faking traffic to websites using click bots). The more lenses you can provide your clients of value delivered the more you differentiate from those who are playing games of deception.

A client may view an SEO as incompetent simply because Google changes the rules of the game mid-stream. From month to month search can change in ways that seem both uncontrollable and unpredictable. Nothing kills sales like the words "I don't know." The more answers you can deliver the more confidence clients will have in maintaining & growing their investment in search, even if things are a bit unstable in the short run.

Ranking reports are further evidence of proof-of-value delivered. They help take something fuzzy and make it feel more concrete, helping you show the client not only that you are pushing to build relevant traffic, and serving as a baseline to help clients see how they are doing. If the client knows they are at #3 with a $5,000 monthly budget they can easily see the value of increasing the budget to $10,000 to boost their ranking to #1.

Take it One Step Further With Analytics

Let's say you are starting to see all these keyword variations in your analytics for a core term you are targeting. Here's where you can (again) use analytics and ranking reports together:

  • export keywords you are seeing traffic from
  • run them through an on-demand rank checker like our free rank checker or paid solutions like Advanced Web Ranking or Rank Tracker
  • dump the keywords, current rank, and keyword volume data into an Excel spreadsheet (maybe even monkey around with entering a column for potential increase and traffc)
  • add new keywords to target in your SEO campaign

Sugarrae highlighted this tactic earlier this year during an interview with Raven SEO Tools.

The ranking tools mentioned also offer ongoing rank reporting as do the tools from Raven, SeoMoz, and Authority Labs (incidentally, Raven will be using Authority Labs's API for ranking data in the near future as mentioned in the Raven link above).

Now you've got a bunch of new keywords you are already getting some traffic from, along with some predictions on what the potential increase in traffic (and conversions if you have that data from your analytics) might be.

Factoring in Universal & Local Search

Advanced Web Ranking has some interesting features which let you change up the location so you can better track those kinds of results. Google continues to take up SERP real estate so sometimes you run in to situations where you might be ranking #2 for a core keyword but given maps, news, images, and products you could be "ranking" as low as 6 given the SERP layout.

This is another situation where you can use your ranking reports and analytics together to get the most out of an SEO campaign. Perhaps you are not getting traffic, or as much as you though given your research, but you are ranking #2 according to your reports. Using ranking reports and traffic numbers together can help you determine whether to continue pursuing that keyword or maybe use some different strategies (PPC, trying to get into the "universal" search results, etc) to win back the traffic you've lost to universal search.

It's the same premise with local. Can you reasonable expect to rank in whatever position(s) are above the map? Can you get into the map? Is PPC viable for your campaign? Rarely is it useful to go off of one data point. This is another example of how to you use multiple data points together, to more appropriately manage your or your client's SEO campaign.

It's Against Google's Guidelines!

google-scolding

This is absurd in my opinion, more so when it's stated by folks who sell SEO services. If you offer SEO services (which ironically promote the idea of increased rankings and visibility) and those services encompass "Link Building" then the "Google Guideline" stance is hypocritical.

In all fairness, I happen to think that the broad way Google encompasses link schemes is equally absurd (links intended to manipulate PageRank and such). Even Google recognizes the value in ranking data and they have incorporated it into Webmaster Tools.

Not a Singular Solution for Success

Ranking reports shouldn't be used as a single source of success, at all. Simply ranking for a term is not something one should be shooting for unless you are just doing some kind of testing run on tactics.

There is value in running ranking reports and using them in conjunction with your analytics, keyword research, and SEO planning. They are also useful to watch growth patterns of competitors and keyword trends over time for a particular market you might be interested in.

In today's SEO game you can never have enough useful data :)

How to Start an SEO Business

Apr 17th

flying-solo

Pretty basic question for an SEO right? It would be nice if the answer were equally as basic or simple. It's an important question, even more so since a sweeping update by Google knocked out unsuspecting webmasters.

Beyond the stuff we know got hit (some RIGHTLY so), we probably will never know the true ramifications with respect to how many "little guys" had their livelihoods or potential livelihoods destroyed by a heartless, unforgiving, and sometimes inaccurate algorithm.

Evaluating the Risks

I know people who worked their rear ends off and had their business fail, in addition to people who were lazy and failed. Sometimes it's timing, sometimes there's some luck involved (though luck is generally brought about by hard work), and sometimes it's just a matter of working harder or spending more then your competition.

The risks are plentiful for the self-employed and they only scale up if you:

  • have a family to support
  • have a mortgage
  • need to buy health insurance
  • have limited capital to invest
  • can't afford to lose on a few of your bets

Ways you can combat those issues are to:

  • live below your means
  • work a part-time job at night or during the day
  • have your spouse work part-time
  • not buy every single device that Apple makes :)
  • be prepared to work longer hours than you'd like

The problem is that self-employment, especially if you've worked in the corporate world before, has all the allure of the pipe dreams sold in The 4 Hour Work Week (I guess Tim Ferris doesn't count self-promotion as work, even though he does it about 100 hours a week :) ).

self-employment-beach

You might think self-employment is all about working less, spending more time with your family, going to the beach while everyone else is in a cubicle, and all that jazz. While it certainly can be at some point, it is not how you will start out 99% of the time.

Self-Employment Screw Jobs

Start looking around to find an accountant who will tell you what your tax liabilities will be as a sole-proprietor or a single-member LLC. If you really want to take a kick to the shins, get a quote for health insurance and see how much it doesn't cover.

A friend of mind recently pointed out to me that all the individual health insurance plans do not cover maternity costs. You can get coverage for that under a group policy but unless you have employees you are going to be paying roughly 4x the cost of an individual plan for you and your family.

He lives in the US, is self-employed, and has a family. The American dream right? For he and his wife to have a second child, they would need to get a group health plan at least 60 days prior to the wife becoming pregnant. Say that everything works out to be on-time, they are looking about an increased cost of about 20-25k over the course of a 9 month period to have a child in the United States!

All of that is assuming a perfect pregnancy and a 100% healthy baby. The point is to layout just one large, large risk you might be unaware of ( rubbish health insurance ).

Another thing to keep in mind, beyond the health insurance, is that unless you start one there's no retirement benefit, no paid vacation time, and no paid sick time. It is a really good idea to purchase short-term and long-term disability insurance for yourself as well.

It's Not an Either Or Question

staying-out-of-debt

The smartest thing to do would be to starting whittling down your household bills now and start slowly building your business. Keep your day job and work at night, you'd be working 15 hour days if you started from scratch anyway so why not do it now but get paid (with benefits) for your time?

Once you begin to make some cash on the side, see how far you can scale it (reasonably) before you need to make a decision on whether to fully jump in or whether to keep it as a side gig where you can eventually outsource a good chunk of the tedious work.

Some people loathe the idea of a boss and that's fine. Even good people have bad days so it's not always going to be peaches and cream but if you are in a spot where there is mutual respect and fairness then I'd say hang on to it until you can financially manage to go out on your own.

Even when you are "the boss" working for yourself if you have any level of success you will soon be "the boss" with employees of your own. And many successful businesses don't have 1 boss, but rather hundreds or thousands of them - their customers.

Maybe it's Not for You

Self-employment is not for everyone. It takes awhile for it to really pay off professionally and personally. When you first start out you may not have enough capital to outsource things like:

  • web design
  • programming
  • link building
  • bookkeeping
  • content creation

Not being able to outsource all that upfront is probably a good thing. Many attempts at outsourcing fail because the outsourcer is not competent themselves in those particular tasks. Having experience in these areas is helpful because if a freelancer or staff member leaves you hanging, you'll be able to keep things running efficiently while you search for another staff member.

Working for a family business or a steady corporation isn't something to be looked down upon by any means. The key to mitigating the risks on both sides (getting laid off for example) is to be financially prudent, continually invest in yourself (earn a degree, start a side business), and be loyal to whom you work for or with. If you do those three things you will typically be ok in any reasonable situation.

Start Off as an Apprentice

work-parttime

Maybe you know someone in the SEO or PPC industry that might be willing to have you work with them for awhile or perhaps you aren't ready to fully go at it on your own just yet. Most employers realize that the best employees sometimes are the more motivated and ambitious ones and with that comes the risk that those employees will look to move up and on at some point.

Starting off this way has risks too (might not be as stable as a large corporation for example) but you can learn a lot about the overall and day to day processes that make that particular person or group successful. I'm not for the idea of building your personal brand on the back of someone else's brand equity but if your brand develops from the hard, quality work you do for someone else then that's great.

I wouldn't go in with the sole purpose of using your position to quickly build your brand and bolt. I'd go in with the purpose of working your butt off for someone who gave you a great opportunity and see what develops from that. Usually the latter will result in both sides being more than happy.

Eliminating Distractions

This part is more relevant if you have a non-working spouse or a spouse who might work part time. Little things that can really add up to time sucks include:

  • paying the bills
  • making the monthly budget
  • dealing with household vendors
  • scheduling and rescheduling family appointments
  • doing the household shopping
  • etc...

You should be focused on your business and the associated responsibilities. If you are doing any of the above, try to transition that to your spouse or significant other. It's not just the hour or two it might take for you to do those tasks but it's the stopping of your business activities and the mind-flow disruption associated with starting and stopping tasks frequently.

Evaluating the Decision

In this weak and unstable economy it is really hard to reasonably project out 5 years on a life changing decision. There are so many variables to take into account that it's difficult to give a tailored answer to each situation.

If you are at the point where you need to make a decision or want to make a decision down the road, there are some key points to keep in mind but financial variables are some of the most important variables in this equation.

It's fine to want to do something and have the drive to do it but if it's going to potentially create a financial hardship quickly then it is really the wrong decision. There are a few really good options for someone who is on the fence for financial reasons.

We covered some of the reasons above, such as:

  • learn and work on your business part-time while keeping a day job
  • see if you can start by working with an experienced person in the field
  • take up a part time job and/or see if a part time job is a good option for your spouse or significant other
  • start living below your means and save some cash for rainy SEO days and for investing in knowledge + small ventures

self-employment-stress

The other elephant in the room is stress. The stress of being the breadwinner is stressful enough, but if you have no safety net or if your business is brand new (thus more unstable than 9-5 corporate stuff) as well then it is really stressful. This is something to keep in mind and something you might want to try and emotionally reconcile before you start.

You might also find that doing it part-time and maintaining a "day" job is a really good fit emotionally and financially. If Google blindly swings an ax, and you get hit, you can rest assured that the sun will still come up tomorrow and will that direct deposit on Friday :)

The point remains that there are many options available to you to help figure out if working for someone else or yourself is really the best fit. In either case, working and studying harder (and longer) than others is a solid base to start from :)

Using PPC for Local SEO

We are all aware of the importance Google has been placing on local search over the last couple of years, we touched on it in a recent blog post.

Google also has some interesting statistics on local numbers pertaining to small business stats and Google's local stats (20% of searches have local intent).

As a local advertiser, starting an SEO campaign in your local market is typically built on the strength of your keyword research. Say you are an insurance agent, do more people use car or auto when searching for auto insurance? Do people use "city/town keyword", "city/town, state, keyword", "zip code keyword"?

Some of these questions can be answered using a tool like Google Trends. Here you can see the results for "Texas Doctor" versus "TX Doctor":

So here you can see that it's pretty close, and volume is pretty close in Google's keyword tool as well:

However, when you get into phrase match the volumes separate a bit:

Overcoming Keyword Tool Volume Concerns

The other thing you'll want to keep in mind is that sometimes these tools can be off on volume, sometimes a lot and sometimes not so much. How do you solve this? You can do a PPC campaign to test a few things like:

  • actual search volume of your chosen keywords
  • conversion rates on keywords
  • additional keywords that trigger your ads via the Search Term Report in Adwords

The beauty of starting your campaign with PPC is that you can not only keep it running if it's profitable for you, rather than it just being a proving ground for keywords, but you are able to discover keywords and keyword groups that are profitable and have enough volume to where an investment into SEO is worthwhile.

Local search, by definition (since it is roughly a quarter of the search market), is on the lower end of the volume pole but in comparsion to a local business's resources and reach the volume is typically relative to that of keywords for a national company pursuing non-local keywords country wide.

Thinking About Campaign Structure

In addition to finding juicy keywords and keyword themes to build on, you can eliminate the poorly performing ones or the ones which have close to no volume from your PPC campaign and remove it from your SEO planning. This not only helps your PPC account grow and mature but also helps you avoid wasting time and resources on chasing irrelevant or unworthy keywords.

As we discussed, sometimes local keywords can use a variety of modifiers like the city or town name, the state name, and the zip code in conjunction with the keyword(s) so making sure you are targeting the right mix from an SEO perspective is really helpful in getting quicker and better results. There is no point in optimizing your on-page content and targeting your link building plans on your keyword(s) plus a zip code if your market is searching by city/town and state (and vice versa). In the interest of time and better results, it makes sense to nail down the correct keywords upfront.

Starting off with Research

Generally, my initial research process goes something like this (we are assuming you've got a live site already):

  • look in analytics to find keywords that you are already receiving traffic for
  • see if there are any trends in that data in terms of language (car vs auto insurance for example)
  • begin broad keyword research to find terms related to the market (exclude local modifiers for now)
  • use free mindmap software or free site planning apps to visualize the main content areas of the site with those keywords
  • use google trends and insights, in addition to the google keyword tool and the free seobook keyword tool to compare data points on core terms (again, like with car/auto insurance or home versus homeowners insurance)
  • make a list of competitors in my area and check the volume on their brand name

So now I should have a good idea of which keywords I want to look at locally and some notes on any glaring differences in volume between closely related terms.

Going Local

Now it's time to "localize" the data. I like the local keyword tool over at PPCblog.com because it does a really good job of working in all the different local modifiers that can be associated with your local PPC campaign.

That is a paid tool, as part of the PPC blog community and training membership (along with a lot of other quality PPC tools), and it's quite robust and easy to use.

If you are looking for a free tool along those lines, with less on the functionality front, you can use this free tool from 5minutesite.com.

Then I move into searching on some of the core terms in Google's keyword tool and the SEObook keyword tool (powered by Wordtracker). Many times you'll find nothing for some of your local searches, in terms of volume, but you should still keep them around for testing in PPC because keyword tools can be off on local searches based on their traditionally lower volume sets. Also, most keyword tools don't or can't allocate resources to capture every single search.

So now I should have a list of locally modified terms where the keyword portions were driven by non-local keyword research and local modifiers were added via a local keyword tool.

In addition, I should have notes and screenshots of data from Google Trends and Insights showing any language differences (of substance) both nationally and locally (locally when available, sometimes no data exists in the tools). I also should have notes as to any language or keyword trends I found in my analytics or tips I received by talking with employees who deal with customers as well as my own knowledge of the industry.

Working with AdWords

There are different ways of attacking your campaign in AdWords. Initially, I am just doing this for testing on an SEO campaign but if you decide to stick with the PPC campaign you can get into removing the local modifiers and bidding on those broader keywords while targeting searchers geographically.

Google has a few different ways of targeting users based on location:

Locations and Languages offer you the ability to target in 4 ways:

  • Bundles - mostly specific countries (United States, Spain, Canada, etc) and regions (North America, Central America, East Asia, etc)
  • Browse - essentially goes country - state - metro area - specific city or town
  • Search - search for and add just about anything (country, state, town, zip code to find towns or cities)
  • Custom - a nifty point, click, drag interfact where you can isolate a specific area where you want your ads shown

You also have some advanced options like the Targeting Method:

Google has a really helpful chart on this here, and below is a screenshot of the information:

I like to leave both on as it helps with gauging not only the potential of your keywords but also the overall level of activity for your services (via keywords) in your market. Plus, the search term report can help you breakdown keywords that trigger your ads and this kind of PPC can help you show for broad SEO terms that you might not have the resources to compete for.

Another advanced targeting option is the exclusion method:

Google has information on this method here and here's a chart showing the relationship:

I like to use this in some cases where there may be towns that overlap. For example, you could live in Maine and be targeting "Augusta" as a modifier but you'll probably want to exclude Georgia from your targeting as that is another area which can produce searches for that modifier. You can also get around that by adding a state modifier, Augusta Maine Insurance or some such, but you may find many folks use just the city or town name. That is when exclusion methods can be helpful.

Starting off on the Right Foot

Now I'll start to build the PPC campaign and pay attention to some of the core principles of trying to obtain a good quality score and good overall performance for a new account:

  • tight ad groups with keywords that are relevant to the ad group and the query
  • quality landing pages which speak specifically to the intent of the query (don't use a generic insurance template for all the different kinds of insurance you sell)
  • starting off with a managable amount of keywords to help focus on quality of traffic rather than quantity, and to help promote good keywords and remove or isolate bad ones

As an example, you might be selling life insurance in a few different towns. I would consider using town-specific ad groups -> keywords -> landing pages as my structure.

You can use helpful landing pages for a specific town by talking about things like average family size in the town, average income, and so on to help residents get a more customized experience when shopping for life insurance.

You can also build product-specific ad groups and group your town/city modified keywords in there if that makes more sense for your specific campaign.

Waiting for Results

In about a month or less I should have a pretty good idea of:

  • search volume for my proposed keywords
  • new keywords that I didn't find initially
  • which keywords convert and which don't
  • will PPC fit into my ongoing marketing efforts?
  • what type of SEO investment does my search volume call for?

We live in a world and business environment where we want things yesterday and sometimes it can be tough to play the patience game. In my opinion, lack of patience is a leading cause of SEO and PPC failure these days.

If you take the above approach with a new campaign or a new idea, you will thank yourself in the short, mid, and long run. There are few sources of advice better than hard data, whether it tells you what you do or don't want to hear.

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Tracking Offline Conversions for Local SEO

Mar 28th

We have certainly seen a trend over the last one to two years where Google is focusing on more personalized search and an increasing focus on providing local results. As you know, a searcher does not even have to be burdened with entering a local modifier anymore.

Google will gladly figure out, for you, whether or not your search has local intent. :)

Google's Investment into Local

Late last year Google moved one of their prized executives over to local services, Marissa Mayer. Moving Mayer, fresh off Google Instant and a variety of other high profile areas of Google's search development, to head up local is a real strong reinforcement of how much attention Google is putting on local and local result quality (or perceived quality).

If you are a business owner who operates locally, say a real estate agent or insurance agent or really any other consumer-based service, then this presents a huge opportunity for you if you can harness the targeting and tracking ability available online.

Merging Offline Marketing with Online Marketing

A lot of small businesses or larger businesses that operate locally still rely quite a bit on offline advertising. It use to be that business owners had to rely on staff nailing down exactly how a lead came to them (newspaper ad? radio ad? special discount ad? and so on).

While it is still good practice to do that, relying solely on that to help gauge the ROI of your advertising campaign introduces a good amount of slippage and is not all that accurate (especially if you sell something online).

As local businesses start to see the light with SEO and PPC campaigns versus dropping 5 figures on phonebook advertising, a big selling point as a service provider or an in-house marketing staff member will be to sell the targeting of online campaigns as well as the tracking of those results.

If your a business owner, it's equally important that you understand what's available to you as an online marketer.

Types of Offline Advertising to Track

Locally, you are essentially looking at a few different types of advertising options to work into your new found zest for tracking results:

  • Radio
  • Television
  • Print
  • Billboards

Print is probably the most wide-ranging in terms of branches of advertising collateral because you can get into newspapers, magazines, flyers, brochures, banners, yellow pages, and so on.

While your approach may be different to each marketing type, the core tracking options are basically the same. You can track in your analytics program via:

  • Separate Domains
  • Custom URL's
  • Custom Phone Numbers

The beauty of web analytics, specifically a free service like Google Analytics, is that it puts the power of tracking into the hands of a business owner at no cost outside of perhaps a custom set up and implementation by a competent webmaster. All of these tracking methods can be tracked in Google Analytics as well as other robust analytic packages (Clicky.Com as an example, is a reasonably priced product which can do this as well, save for maybe the phone tracking).

Structuring Your Campaigns

With the amount of offline advertising many businesses do, it is easy to get carried away with separate domains, custom URL's, custom phone numbers, and the like.

What I usually like to do is use a good old fashioned spreadsheet to track the specific advertisements that are running, the dates they are running, and the advertising medium they are using. I also include a column or three for the tracking method(s) used (custom URL, separate domain, special phone number).

In addition to this, Google Analytics offers annotations which you can use to note those advertising dates in your traffic graph area to help get an even better idea of the net traffic effect of a particular ad campaign.

How to Track It

Armed with your spreadsheet of ads to track and notes on how you are going to track them, you're ready to set up the technical side of things.

The tracking is designed to track the hits on your site via the methods mentioned, once they get there you'll want to get that traffic assigned to a campaign or a conversion funnel to determine how many of the people actually convert (if you are able to sell or convert the visitor online).

Custom URL's

A custom URL is going to be something like:

yoursite.com/save20 for an advert you might be offering 20% savings on
yoursite.com/summer for an advert you could offer a summer special on

You may or may not want to use redirection. You can use a redirect method if you are using something like a static site versus a CMS like Wordpress. With Wordpress, you could create those url's as specific pages and just no-index them and ensure they are not linked to internally so you keep them out of the search engine and the normal flow of navigation. This way you know any visit to that page is clearly related to that offline campaign.

A redirect would be helpful where the above is not possible and you need to use Google's URL builder to help track the campaign and not lose referral parameters on the 301.

So you could use the URL builder to get the following parameters if you were promoting a custom URL like yoursite.com/save20:

http://www.yoursite.com/savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave

Then you can head into your .htaccess file (Apache) and insert this code:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule ^save20$ /savings.php?utm_source=save20&utm_medium=mail&utm_campaign=bigsave [L,R=301]

When you test, you should see those URL builder parameters on the landing page and then you know you are good to go :)

If you are worried about multiple duplicate pages getting indexed in the search results (with slightly different tracking codes) you can also leverage the rel=canonical tag on your landing page

<link rel="canonical" href="http://site.com/folder/page/"/>

Separate Domains

Some companies use separate domains to track different campaigns. The idea is the same as is the basic code implementation with exception that you apply any redirect to the domain rather than a sub-page or directory off the domain as we did in the prior example.

So you sell snapping turtles (snappingturtles.com) and maybe you sell turtle insurance so you buy turtleinsurance.com and you want to use that as a part of a large campaign to promote this new and innovative product. You could get this from the url builder:

http://www.snappingturtles.com/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=all&utm_campaign=turtleinsurance

The .htaccess on turtleinsurance.com would look like:

(should be contained on 1 line in your .htaccess file)

RewriteRule .* http://www.snappingturtles.com/?utm_source=national&utm_medium=all&utm_campaign=turtleinsurance [L,R=301]

This would redirect you to the home page of your main site and you can update your .htaccess with a sub-page if you had such a page catering to that specific market.

Custom Phone Numbers

There are quite a few ways to get cheap virtual numbers these days and Phone.com is reliable service where you can get a number for roughly $4.88 per month.

I know companies that implemented custom numbers for a bunch of print ads and it was pretty eye-opening in terms of which as performed better than others and how much money is wasted on untargeted print campaigns.

There certainly is a somewhat intangible brand equity building component to offline ads but it is still interesting to see ads which carry their weight with traffic and response rates, as well as being really helpful when it comes time to reshape the budget.

Here are a couple handfuls of providers which offer phone tracking inside of Google Analytics. Most of these providers will require the purchase of a number from them to tie into a specific URL on your site or just right into the domain + help track those calls alongside the pageviews generated.

Some campaigns are wide-ranging enough to where you may want to target them with a custom number or two and a custom URL or domain. Using a spreadsheet to track these measures along with using Google Analytics annotations to gauge traffic spikes and drops offers business owners deep view into the use of their marketing dollars.

Custom Coupon Codes

If you run a coupon code through Groupon you of course know where it came from. But other channels are also becoming easier to track. Microsoft Office makes it easy to create & track custom coupon codes. There are even technologies to allow you to insert tracking details directly into coupon codes on your own website (similar to online tracking phone numbers via services like IfByPhone or Google's call tracking). Some online coupons offer sophisticated tracking options, and Google wants to get into mobile payments to offer another layer of customer tracking (including coupons).

Finding a Reputable Provider

If you are a business owner who thinks "wow this is awesome, how the heck do I do it?", well here is some advice. If the field of web analytics is mostly foreign to you I would suggest finding a certified Google Analytics provider or ask if your current web company can do this for you. Certainly there are plenty of competent people and companies that are not part of the Google Analytics partner program.

If you are interested in a Google Analytics partner you can search for them here. There is also quite a bit of information in the self-education section of Google Analytics.

I would recommend learning how to do this over a period of time so you can make minor or major changes yourself at some point. Also, it helps to establish a business relationship with someone competent and trustworthy for future tasks that may come up, which you cannot do on your own.

If you are a service provider, start implementing this for some of your local clients and you'll likely be well on your way to establishing yourself as a sought-after marketer in your area.

Quick & Dirty Competitive Research for Keywords

Mar 10th

There are so many competitive research tools on the market. We reviewed some of the larger ones here but there are quite a few more on the market today.

The truth is that you can really get a lot of good, usable data to give you an idea of what the competition is likely to be by using free tools or the free version of paid tools.

Some of the competitive research tools out there (the paid ones) really are useful if you are going to scale way up with some of your SEO or PPC plans but many of the paid versions are overkill for a lot of webmasters.

Choosing Your Tools

Most tools come with the promises of “UNCOVERING YOUR COMPETITORS BEST _____".

That blank can be links, keywords, traffic sources, and so on. As we know, most competitive research tools are rough estimates at best and almost useless estimates at worst. Unless you get your hands on your competition’s analytics reports, you are still kind of best-guessing. In this example we are looking for the competitiveness of a core keyword.

Best-guessing really isn’t a bad thing so long as you realize that what you are doing is really triangulating data points and looking for patterns across different tools. Keep in mind many tools use Google’s data so you’ll want to try to reach beyond Google’s data points a bit and hit up places like:

The lure of competitive research is to get it done quickly and accurately. However, gauging the competition of a keyword or market can’t really be done with a push of the button as there are factors that come into play which a push-button tool cannot account for, such as:

  • how hard is the market to link build for?
  • is the vertical dominated by brands and thick EMD’s?
  • what is your available capital?
  • are the ranking sites knowledgeable about SEO or are they mostly ranking on brand authority/domain authority? (how tight is their site structure, how targeted is their content, etc)
  • is Google giving the competing sites a brand boost?
  • is Google integrating products, images, videos, local results, etc?

Other questions might be stuff like "how is Google Instant skewing this keyword marketplace" or "is Google firing a vertical search engine for these results (like local" or "is Google placing 3 AdWords ads at the top of the search results" or "is Google making inroads into the market" like they are with mortgage rates.

People don't search in an abstract mathematical world, but by using their fingers and eyes. Looking at the search results matters. Quite a bit of variables come into play which require some human intuition and common sense. A research tool is only as good as the person using it, you have to know what you are looking at & what to be aware of.

Getting the Job Done

In this example I decided to use the following tools:

Yep, just 2 free tools.... :)

So we are stipulating that you’ve already selected a keyword. In this case I picked a generic keyword for the purposes of going through how to use the tools. Plug your keyword into Google, flip on SEO for Firefox and off you go!

This is actually a good example of where a push button tool might bite the dust. You’ve got Related Search breadcrumbs at the top, Images in the #1 spot, Shopping in the #3 spot, and News (not pictured) in the #5 spot.

So wherever you thought you might rank, just move yourself down a 1-3 spots depending on where you would be in the SERPS. This can have a large effect on potential traffic and revenue so you’ll want to evaluate the SERP prior to jumping in.

You might decide that you need to shoot for 1 or 2 rather than top 3 or top 5 given all the other stuff Google is integrating into this results page. Or you might decide that the top spot is locked up and the #2 position is your only opportunity, making the risk to reward ratio much less appealing.

With SEO for Firefox you can quickly see important metrics like:

  • Yahoo! links to domain/page
  • domain age
  • Open Site Explorer and Majestic SEO link data
  • presence in strong directories
  • potential, estimated traffic value from SEM Rush

Close up of SEO for Firefox data:

Basically by looking at the results page you can see what other pieces of universal search you’ll be competing with, whether the home page or a sub-page is ranking, and whether you are competing with brands and/or strong EMD’s.

With SEO for Firefox you’ll see all of the above plus the domain age, domain links, page links, listings in major directories, position in other search engines, and so on. This will give you a good idea of potential competitiveness of this keyword for free and in about 5 seconds.

It is typically better & easier to measure the few smaller sites that managed to rank rather than measuring the larger authoritative domains. Why? Well...

Checking Links

So now that you know how many links are pointing to that domain/page you’ll want to check how many unique domains are pointing in and what the anchor text looks like, in addition to what the quality of those links might be.

Due to its ease of use (in addition to the data being good) I like to use Open Site Explorer from SeoMoz in these cases of quick research. I will use their free service for this example, which requires no log in, and they are even more generous with data when you register for a free account.

The first thing I do is head over to the anchor text distribution of the site or page to see if the site/page is attracting links specific to the keyword I am researching:

What’s great here is you can see the top 5 instances of anchor text usage, how many total links are using that term, and how many unique domains are supplying those total links.

You can also see data relative to the potential quality of the entire link profile in addition to the ratio of total/unique domains linking in.

You probably won’t want or need to do this for every single keyword you decide to pursue. However, when looking at a new market, a potential core keyword, or if you are considering buying an exact match domain for a specific keyword you can accomplish a really good amount of competitive research on that keyword by using a couple free tools.

Types of Competitive Research

Competitive research is a broad term and can go in a bunch of different directions. As an example, when first entering a market you would likely start with some keyword research and move into analyzing the competition of those keywords before you decide to enter or fully enter the market.

As you move into bigger markets and start to do more enterprise-level competitive research specific to a domain, link profiles, or a broader market you might move into some paid tools.

Analysis paralysis is a major issue in SEO. Many times you might find that those enterprise-level tools really are overkill for what you might be trying to do initially. Gauging the competitiveness of a huge keyword or a lower volume keyword really doesn’t change based on the money you throw at a tool. The data is the data especially when you narrow down the research to a keyword, keywords, or domains.

Get the Data, Make a Decision

So with the tools we used here you are getting many of the key data points you need to decide whether pursuing the keyword or keywords you have chosen is right for you.

Some things the tools cannot tell you are questions we talked about before:

  • how much captial can you allocate to the project?
  • how hard are you willing to work?
  • do you have a network of contacts you can lean on for advice and assistance?
  • do you have enough patience to see the project through, especially if ranking will take a bit..can you wait on the revenue?
  • is creativity lacking in the market and can you fill that void or at least be better than what’s out there?

Only you can answer those questions :)

Skyrocket Your Productivity by Trimming the Fat

Mar 3rd

If the Google Farmer update doesn't show you the unfortunate amount of low-quality noise in the SEO industry then there is no hope for you young jedi. :)

It's not unlike the unbelievable noise that surrounds an upcoming Apple product launch. In the interest of full disclosure I happen to be an Apple-ite but the coverage is even nauseating to me.

My poor RSS reader and my Twitter stream came under siege these last few days with the ramp up to the iPad 2 launch and the Google algo update.

This inspired me, after hitting the delete button about 432 times in my RSS and scrubbing the Twitter list, to sit back and review how I consume information, where I consume it from, and who is really worth "my time".

Repeat, Re-tweet, Rinse

Technology blogs and SEO blogs are much different in terms of the availability of content that can be churned out on a daily basis, as you know. There is so much more to choose from with tech but there still is this herd mentality which leads to someone saying "The iPad 2 will have a camera" 15 different ways.

With SEO, it is pretty tough to churn out daily content that is:

  • without a lot of conjecture
  • accurate
  • thought-provoking
  • worthy of your time

Sure, SEO changes like any other industry but sometimes you read some of these blogs and you have to wonder how much factual, data-driven information goes into the content? Or is the point stretched to a level where any independent analysis would torch the theory in a matter of minutes?

Show Me The Money!

Something I starting doing a bit before this wake up call which is now helping me whittle down what I am consuming, was to make notes of techniques or tips that were mentioned (noting the source) then implementing those tips while watching to see whether they made any difference (positive or negative).

Also, try and pay attention to trend predictions and industry predictions.

The ones that are usually spot on are probably worth more of your time

One thing I noticed while doing that was some of the information was simply being either re-tweeted, or republished with thin commentary, or referenced with essentially the same content but spun a different way with different industry language.

The problem was that many of the blogs or sites occasionally had a good point or three but the vast majority were just kind of "meh". I don't mean that in a disparaging way but I think if the goal of the writer is to publish frequently then so be it, but it isn't a necessity in my opinion and it can actually hurt the quality of the content if the writer feels like daily or semi-hourly publishing is required of them.

I figure that if you are going to spend time reading or paying attention to someone, you ought to pay attention to how often you skim over their stuff versus how often you actually read it and benefit from it.

Authors That Branch Out

As SEO becomes more and more a part of a holistic view of marketing your business or site, it might be a good move to look at people who can write intelligently about SEO as well as what else goes into web marketing. Things like:

  • tool reviews
  • web design and/or development
  • using popular cms frameworks
  • domain buying, selling, and domain names
  • social media
  • and the many other things a typical SEO or webmaster might be interested in

I'll give you one of my favorite blogs to read (outside of SeoBook of course :D ), Michael Gray AKA Graywolf over at Wolf-Howl.Com. His blog covers many aspects of the web marketing industry and has provided me with some extremely useful advice and tips.

Looking at the homepage of the site today he's covering Raven SEO Tools, How to Choose a Domain Name, a review of a Social Media tool, some Facebook tips for small and local businesses, and a couple of posts on SEO factors.

It's a solid example of a really well-rounded blog which gives actionable information, tips, and strong opinions.

A site that I like as sort of an all in one solution is Search Engine Land. Solid news round ups, excellent guest writers, and a group in tune to what's going on in the world of search marketing.

Many of you might subscribe to these ones already, but if not you should take a peek. :)

Do They Have Something (of value) to Say?

Twitter is probably the worst in terms of noise if you don't engage in some strategic filtering or unfollowing. A stream can quickly get littered with a bunch of RT's with posts about how nice the weather is outside.

Don't get me wrong, I don't mind the personal or non-work tweets (in fact sometimes they are a nice break from the monotony of the day as a webmaster) but if you notice that the person you are following is basically a re-tweet machine then it might be time to move on.

The nature of the web and social media present a way for you to interact with other folks in your industry in a way which makes it seem like you are bosom buddies with your (fill in a number) followers on Twitter, or people you interact within a community.

The hard, sobering fact is that quite a few people have nothing to say professionally that really is of any true business value to you (and why would you care what they are doing over the weekend?).

There are thought leaders in every space who consistently put out good stuff, but thought leaders are few and far in between. We live in a superficial, ME ME ME, celebrity world.

People want to be heard, seen, adored, revered, etc. It's really easy to spot thought leaders but you also have to be able to weed through people who look like thought leaders just because they have a high Twitter follower count.

It's easy to separate out noise though. Pay attention to who you are reading and following and really look at how much you are learning from that person or group.

A Cleansed List & a Productive Day

I ended up cutting my RSS feeds by quite a bit, probably around 70% if I quickly look at the numbers. I follow a few SEO-centric blogs as well as some PPC blogs, a few Local SEO blogs, Google & Bing blogs, blogs specific to tools that I use, and some general business blogs/feeds.

I'm not a big Twitter user, because after the celebs/corporations/internet marketers/bots there is little left. Diversity is good, overwhelming noise is not.

You could spend all day reading theories or re-spun posts instead of getting the information from the cream of the crop and putting that data into action for your business. Some of the spots I no longer read weren't re-publishing houses but they simply didn't bring enough to the table consistently to warrant an investment of *my* time.

What about your time? Are you giving it away to places that do not deserve it?

Small Business SEO Services

Mar 1st

I’m going to tell you why an SEO Book subscription, for many small businesses, is a much better investment than just hiring a firm or a freelancer.

We, as business owners, all realize that we need an online presence and the backbone of that presence is a top-notch SEO campaign.

Whether it be straight out SEO services, or help with Google Places, or help with reputation management, most small business owners realize they need to be “there” but aren’t quite sure how to do that properly.

You’re a small business owner, so am I and so are many members of our community & industry. Our work lives as small business owners are typically filled with parts of various roles like:

  • CEO
  • customer service representative
  • accountant
  • IT manager
  • marketing manager
  • janitor

The problem is that SEO can be an abstract thing or idea for small business owners outside of the web marketing industry to grasp, learn, and implement correctly.

This problem leads to small businesses getting taken to the cleaners by either woefully inadequate (and expensive!) SEO firms, competing business models (like YellowPages & YellowBook) selling their version of SEO services due to the significant decrease in revenue from the phonebook model, or just plain snake oil salespeople.

There are many qualified SEO providers out there, tons actually. There's a lot of noise as well and when you don't have a clear understanding of the business it can be hard to discern one from the other.

Finding a Worthy SEO Provider

So if a small business owner is able to carefully avoid those situations and find a reputable SEO firm, chances are that the price for those services will be out of reach or just not economical from an ROI standpoint for some small businesses (unless the firm is hurting for business or it's a new firm starting out).

There’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just simple economics. If a service provider can sell their services for 6 or 5 figure contracts consistently, then it doesn’t behoove their business interest to sell services for 4 or 3 figure contracts.

A Better Option

Even if we stipulate that a business can afford to hire a firm to handle their SEO campaign, where it makes sense for both the provider and the buyer, we’d like to present another option.

That option would be an SEO Book subscription :) Compared to hiring an SEO company, your SEO Book subscription:

  • is less expensive, resulting an in much higher ROI for your business
  • is more direct and hands on, you get unbiased feedback from hundreds of SEO professionals
  • gives the owner the ability to learn the ins and outs so they can manage things themselves
  • trains the business owner about the industry and best practices so they can intelligently outsource services themselves if they so choose

SeoBook Subscription Options

There are 2 types of SeoBook subscriptions, with different levels of access. The first option is for access to our (over 100) training modules and our premium SEO tool set. The cost of that option is just $69 per month.

The second option is for access to those same training modules and tools, in addition to our community forums. Our community is the cornerstone of our subscription-based membership service.

Inside the forums you have instant access to the most up-to-date, cutting edge information where you will learn from some of the best minds in SEO.

For the purposes of this post I’m going to focus on the option which includes everything.

How Much Would You Invest in You?

When you started your small business you probably thought (correctly) that it was a good idea to at least have a solid understanding of the key concepts related to your business prior to hiring staff to handle day to day tasks.

You probably learned how to operate and troubleshoot equipment, customer service software, the phone system, the coffee pot :) and so on. You likely know who your target market is and you know what type of message you want to convey via print and web design as well as sales copy.

Those are all things that you had to learn in order to grow your business and for your business to function properly.

You Are Your Business

By investing the time in yourself, and by extension to your business, you were able to confidently hire and train staff as well as put together a traditional marketing campaign with the help of local print vendors and maybe your local web design person.

When it comes to something like SEO, where there is no formal education or “certification” (thank goodness), you might have a tough time hiring something to do something you know very little about.

If you don’t know what works and what doesn’t how will you know if the provider is selling you a bag of smoke versus providing an actual quality service? You won’t know, and with what a good SEO campaign from a reputable provider can cost that can cause significant damage to your business.

You Are No Stranger to Hard Work

Investing time, practicing patience, and being willing to learn will reward you and your business many, many, many times over when it comes to the SEO industry. The fact is many people fail because they are lazy and unwilling to learn in addition to having a poor attitude.

You have probably perservered through that and are running a solid business so why not get even more ahead of your competition, lazy or otherwise.

Breaking Down the Costs

Most SEO campaigns can expect to see results in or around 6 months, so we’ll look at the 12 month costs because you should consider SEO (just like traditional marketing) as an ongoing effort to produce results for your business.

From experience I can tell you that a full-on SEO campaign from an experienced SEO or SEO firm for small businesses will likely start at $5,000 per month here in the states. Probably higher for a firm and that amount can flucuate depending on your needs but anything less than thousands per month is unlikely.

When I say full-on I mean the whole deal:

  • keyword research
  • competitive analysis
  • analytics reviews and implementation for testing, tracking, tweaking
  • site structure
  • on-page SEO (title tags, page copy, and so on)
  • off-page SEO, like link building
  • adjusting tactics based on rankings growth or decline (and competitor watching)

If you are new to the SEO space you may not know what some of that means, but you know its important (or else you wouldn't be reading this). You know that your visibility on the web is probably a crucial component of your small business’s long-term success.

Would you really want to outsource that for what it might cost you for an employee or two, without knowing exactly what it is the provider is/should be doing?

Don’t Pay 17x More Than You Need To!

So even being conservative in my estimate, you are talking about around $60k per year and that probably doesn’t include additional money you may need for getting links to your site via branding and such.

Meanwhile, you could be investing just $3,600 per *year* in yourself and your business while learning from quite a few of the thought leaders in the SEO space. Perhaps not the biggest self-promoters in the space but certainly some of the best minds.

My dad always told me to be very wary of someone constantly telling you they are the best at XYZ, usually they aren’t. The ones who are the best are doing the job everyday and doing it well, not telling YOU how great THEY are.

It’s important to keep in mind that an SEO book subscription is going to give you the tools you need, the training you need, and more importantly the knowledge you need to be successful. Have a question?

Just ask it in the community forums and we’ll answer it. In fact, many people will answer it and you’ll get wide range of tips from folks with loads of experience and success.

Membership Format

Now, the membership doesn’t mean that we’ll execute the plan for you but you’ll have a step by step guide on what to do, how to do it, why you’re doing it, and the tools you need to do it.

Plus, you have 24/7 access to the community forum which has hundreds of members and is quite active at all hours as we have members from all over the world.

But I Can Do it For Le$$....

There’s probably someone out there that will say “hey I can do that and do it well for like $2k a month”...ok, but even at that price point it’s $24k versus $3,600 per year!!

If you know what to do with your campaign you can easily outsource the “grunt” work for much cheaper dollars + become educated in a field that is very important now, and will be for the foreseeable future. I not only write this as an employee of SEO Book, but also as a person who was a customer for about a year before joining the site. During that time I helped get our company website squared away and learned how to automate or outsource many aspects of our business: from content, to promotion, to additional link development. And if you need help with any of that stuff, there is a requests forum where you can work with some of our members.

Heck, let's even say someone would run a full-service SEO campaign for you at the absurdly low price point of $500/mo! (not likely, given that some quality links cost $299 per year each). Even before link development that's still approaching *double* the cost of an SEO Book subscription while giving you insight from only one person versus hundreds, no premium tools or training modules, and no access to the latest information in the field as well as you not learning SEO from independent, unbiased sources.

In our community you can not only find out what is working right now, but you can also find someone who can help you get the job done without paying for the markup associated with high pressure salesmen or large bureaucratic firms where 50 folks are taking home weekly paychecks for the work done by 5 people.

Discounts on SEO-Related Products

Your SEO Book subscription also comes with tons of discounts on everything from link management software, rank checking applications, SEO conferences, Pay Per Click communities like PpcBlog.Com, web directories which can help with getting exposure/links to your site, social media monitoring services, and many more solid services.

There’s literally *thousands* of dollars in discounts available to our members.

Time is Money, Money is Time

The benefit in outsourcing anything is the time saved and/or the low cost. However, there are typically significant costs (and sometimes irreparable harm) associated with outsourcing any important part of your business to unqualified providers.

Without having the knowledge of what it is you are actually hiring for, you cannot be certain what exactly you are paying for.

Save yourself a lot of money and headaches, learn from the best, and beat your competition in the search engines.

When and if the time comes to hire an SEO firm, you will be fully prepared to make the right decision for your small business. What else could you ask for?

Shoestring Budget SEO Tips for Small Businesses

Feb 11th

Starting the Process

Cash (lots of it). Work in PJ's from Home. Fame. Fake Twitter Friends. For many folks who decide to give SEO the good ol' college try those are likely some of the major reasons why they decide to dive into the industry.

Those same tenets are typically reinforced by slimy internet marketers most new entrants run across in their travels around the SEO world. They are strong selling points, no question about it, and they hit on the times we are currently living in.

Who wouldn't want to work from home, or work for themselves, or work whenever they want?

Unfortunately, by the time someone willing to do the work and learn about the business reaches a solid source of SEO information they might already have been taken for thousands of bucks by Joe Blow Internet Marketing Guru or Joe Schmo the Social Media Guru. In this economy most folks cannot afford to lose that amount upfront and either:

  • have enough resources to continue
  • have enough resources to continue + enough trust to continue

Or maybe someone really wants to get started in the industry but needs some tips on how to keep initial costs down while getting their feet wet and learning without losing their shirt.

For more on the exploits of some of the more well-known internet marketing folks, I'd suggest visiting the Salty Droid.

Run a Lean SEO Project

So to start an SEO project you need a couple of basic things (assuming you don't already have these and/or a business you are doing SEO for):

  • an idea of what your site is going to be about
  • product(s) to sell either yourself of via an affiliate program

You could also build a site about a topic or specific topics and utilize Google AdSense as a means of revenue.

You can even create your own product based on your knowledge and sell it via monthly e-newsletters, a video training series, consulting, and by sharing your knowledge via a community forum.

This model would likely be a bit more costly based on software needed, programming help you might need, etc. However, it is something you can eventually build towards as you earn revenue from other activities.

Places to Find Products

You can try applying to a variety of affiliate networks like:

Those are some of the bigger ones so you may not get accepted without a site or a referral. No worries though, you can try smaller networks like:

  • Epic Direct
  • Affiliate.Com
  • Hydra Media
  • Neverblue
  • XY7

sidebar: Be aware many of the smaller affiliate networks are known for using their publisher data to compete directly against their publishers. Some also go so far as finding out where the publishers are buying ads to try to cut the affiliate out of the loop that way. Here is a short tip for how trustworthy an affiliate network is: if their leading offers are the types of offers that you will likely see covered by the FTC in 6 to 12 months (like the reverse billing fraud stuff for vaporware "products") then it might be worth skipping them, as any company which is built on pushing scams likely scams business partners as well.

Also, you can use Amazon Associates or Clickbank to find a variety of products to promote.

So far, you've spent $0.00 and you should have an idea of what you want to build a site about and ideas on what kind of products you'll be promoting (or how you will monetize the site).

Keyword Tools

There are a variety of keyword tools on the market. You can utilize a slew of Google tools for free:

Wordtracker is a well-known paid tool and it powers our free Keyword Tool. This can be helpful as an alternative to Google-provided data.

Many keyword tools sold by internet marketers are powered by Google, so all you are really paying for is a different UI and some (usually) useless metrics layered on by the marketer as a way to differentiate their tool from Google.

So now you've got an idea for a site, products to sell, and keywords to target. Your total cost = $0.00.

Domain Registration & Web Hosting

There are lots and lots of choices here. For the sake of simplicity let's look at some common options for both. For domain registration:

Sometimes you can find coupon codes for domain registrars simply by searching for them online. Inside our community forums members routinely share coupons they receive from domain registrars :)

Let's say you went with Moniker for your site, which at first glance offered the lowest initial price of a com as of this writing, and you opted for domain privacy for an additional cost.

Now you are up to roughly $14/year in costs.

Typically it is a good idea to keep registration and hosting separate for the sake of portability and reliability. For web hosting when first starting out you could certainly get by with hosting from reliable shared hosts like:

All these hosts are suitable for a new site that you are going to develop and grow judiciously. As traffic grows and grows you may want to upgrade to a dedicated server or a larger shared plan but for now a basic plan on these hosts is just fine.

Hostgator is a shared host you can scale up with, with respect to dedicated or virtual servers and such. So as of this writing you can snag one year's worth of hosting on their basic plan for approximately $66.72 ($5.56 per month if you prepay for a year).

So now you've got hosting, a domain, keywords to target, and products to sell for your site all for the annual cost of around $80.

Link Research Tools

There are link research tools that sell for upwards of $500 per month! Now, they might be just fine for enterprise level stuff but you can get a fair amount of data from some free tools and free accounts on paid services:

  • SoloSEO will give you a list of search operators you can use to find link opportunities in your niche (based on keyword entered) for free
  • OpenSiteExplorer.Org a intuitive link research tool with lots of features and data points. As of this writing a free trial is available and then it's $99/mo for access to SeoMoz's complete toolset.
  • Yahoo! Site Explorer a free tool which returns backlinks to a url, typically sorted by strongest top to bottom.
  • Blekko gives backlink data as well as anchor text information for free
  • Majestic SEO has perhaps the largest database of links and link data on the publicly available market. Plans vary from starter packages to enterprise solutions.

Naturally, our SEO Toolbar and Seo4Firefox both link through to free data sources within Open Site Explorer, Majestic SEO, and Yahoo!. :D

You can also access Majestic's paid data as part of a subscription to Raven SEO tools (which does a lot more than link research as you'll see).

Since you are starting/running one site you can take advantage of Raven's $19/mo pricing and access a ton of helpful tools and up to 10 Majestic reports (which is plenty on a monthly basis).

Link Tracking

As you build links and acquire links, you'll want to track the status of those links and make sure the ones you've acquired are holding up their end of the bargain (not disappearing on you). You can track link building efforts manually with Word/Excel or through a CRM or through some other method. That gets old fast. Tracking links is something you don't want to do manually (making sure the links are still pointing to your site).

Raven's toolset has both of those bases covered. With their $19/mo plan you can monitor up to 500 links and manage up to 1,000 link records (managing new opportunities, pending links, etc). Raven's toolset is 100% in the cloud so all of the heavy lifting gets done on their servers.

Advanced Link Manager is a tool that is spoken highly of by many members of our community. You can get the basic account for just $99/year and get the ability to track a ton of links from within the program (software).

Alright so let's say you decided that while Advanced Link Manager is a great piece of software, you don't need the full power just yet and you decide to hit up Raven for link tracking, monitoring, and research at $19/mo.

So your annual recurring tab is $308 and you've got the following items covered:

  • keywords to target
  • link tracking
  • link monitoring
  • link research
  • links to target
  • domain
  • hosting
  • stuff to sell

Analytics Tools

You can use Google Analytics which is free, save for the cost of your data :)

Some other analytics providers you can use for free or for a low cost are:

Piwik is free and you need to install it on your server, much like Mint. Mint is $30 per site, as a one time fee. Clicky has free plan but it has ads and lacks some of their better features.

Mint doesn't have some of goal tracking and custom functionality of Clicky and Clicky can be had for $29.99/yr if you prepay. You can scale up with Clicky and place more sites in your account as you start to develop more sites and such.

I like the additional features of Clicky and I'd rock either Clicky or Mint when first starting out. You can certainly choose Google Analytics, which is feature rich and free.

As a new site, with likely no branding while trying to monetize, I'd probably wait a bit until I started handing over data to Google. This post on why Google Analytics isn't really "free" is a must read.

As a side note, Raven integrates with Google Analytics in case you decide to go with GA. So now your running an annual bill of around $338 (if you choose Clicky or Mint).

Rank Checking Tools

We offer a free rank checker tool, which is also accessible via our SEO Toolbar, via our free firefox extensions. If you are looking for ways to make graphical charts via the data you get from our rank checker you can follow the tips listed here.

Advanced Web Ranking can be purchased as a standalone program or in conjunction with Advanced Link Manager as a bundle. Both programs are solid but they do have a slight learning curve, however the functionality of the software makes the learning part worth it. The basic packages do not include customized reports but you can easily export the data. The package deal is $149.

Even though AWR/ALM are fantastic options, since we are assuming you are already paying for Raven's suite of tools (and we are being cost-conscious) we can move ahead with rank checking from either Raven and/or our free Rank Checker.

Raven's rank checking runs once per week so it's handy to have another tool to spot check once and awhile (our Rank Checker can be run at anytime). So you are still at roughly $338. :D

Building the Site

Now that you've got most of the back-office stuff set up you can get your site on the web. Wordpress.Org is free, powerful, easy to use, and used by most web marketers that I know. Sometimes free themes can be dangerous so you have to be careful when installing those types of themes.

Smashing Magazine generally has some decent themes and you can pick up affordable themes from a place like ThemeForest.

There are also premium Wordpress themes like Thesis and StudioPress where you can get a single license and theme for around $80. These themes have solid support and strong, built in design and SEO options (which reduces your reliance on plugins to some degree, at least the basic SEO-type ones).

If you are unfamiliar with Wordpress or HTML (if you decide to build your site outside of Wordpress) then you better become familiar with them. All the tools in the world, free or paid, won't help you if you aren't willing to learn how to use them or the underlying engine that drives them.

Lynda.Com has some solid training that covers just about everything and there are free online resources you can use like:

If you go with a free theme, or one that doesn't have SEO controls built in, then you'll want to consider the All In One SEO Pack for your SEO needs.

You can also find competent, affordable Wordpress developers or designers on sites like Elance or Odesk to help design or tweak the design of your theme.

Ok so you found a nicely designed, free theme over at Smashing Magazine and you've got the All in One SEO Pack ready to go. How about logos and content?

Logos and Content

If you want an icon for your business you can look around on a site like istockphoto.com for ideas and icon sets or you can get a ready made logo from the 99 Designs Logo Store for $99, which you can customize or have customized.

It's important to note that you don't have the rights to trademark either of these (or claim them as your own) and as time goes on and you start to brand your site, it would be wise to invest in a customized logo which you own the full rights to, can trademark as a symbol of your business, etc.

You can write the content yourself or use a service like TextBroker or the aforementioned Elance or Odesk.

For site graphics (buttons, icons, etc) you can use GraphicRiver (owned by the same folks at ThemeForest.Net) for nicely designed, affordable graphics.

You could easily budget a couple hundred bucks here for a logo, some graphical pieces, and some content (and even some stock photos from istockphoto.com) and probably have what you need to get started. Assuming that, your current cost for a 12 month period would be $538.

Promoting the Site

In just about any industry you enter, there are many ways for you to promote your site for free (minus the cost of your time of course). Twitter, Facebook, online forums, blogs, and so on are all ways to reach people in your market or niche. Using the SoloSEO link tool we mentioned before, you can find all sorts of blogs and communities related to your niche (by keyword).

You may want to hold off on monetizing the site if you are using AdSense and/or affiliate products until you've earned some semblance of trust within your market. Otherwise, you risk being shunned as someone who is just looking to make money and is not adding value or whatever.

Funny thing is, most people who'd shun you are online to make money too (weird how that works) but I digress. Point is to earn some trust (and links) before you start selling stuff or clicks.

For Twitter, you can use a site like Twellow to find people and businesses by categories and markets.

Time Cost vs $ Cost

Some of these "free" options are free in terms of $ but not in time. That's the trade off and there's no real way around it. You can likely outsource quite a bit of this stuff but then you risk losing the personal touch associated with your site or business that you are trying to brand.

Think of how often you are marketed to in a given day online.....whether its in your email, on Facebook and Twitter, those creepy ads that follow you around the web, etc. If you come out of the gate ready to add value and can hold off on monetizing for a bit (and integrate it smartly when you do) then your ahead of many other people that just want to come online and SELL SELL SELL!

Hopefully you can avoid a lot of unnecessary costs upfront which should help you with holding off on going commercial. We covered most aspects of getting started and ongoing tracking here, with a total 12/mo cost of less than $600!

Clearly if you are going into SEO on a shoestring budget, you don't want to compete for mega-competitive keywords but you can certainly take this approach with less competitive markets and scale up as needed.

Linkdex Influence Finder Review

Sep 20th

Influence Finder is a new link analysis tool that aims to make link research more targeted and less time-consuming while producing better results.

Despite how SEO has evolved over the years one aspect remains crucial to the success of any SEO campaign, links. So just about any tool that claims to make the process faster, smarter, and better quality is worth taking a look at.

Starting a Project

Influence Finder is a web-based tool which has a clean interface and is pretty easy to use. When you log in the first thing you'll see is the project dashboard, where all your current projects are located.

The projects you see there are some templates they provide, however you are free to choose a custom project and name it whatever you'd like. The project options are:

  • Understanding Your Brand - here they recommend you get an index of your own link profile
  • Competitor Profiling - this is where they suggest you get the profiles of your competition
  • Narrow Keyword Targets - this is the recommended report to identify sites that are ranking for a broader keyword associated with your targeted keyword (think "credit cards" if you are targeting "low interest credit cards". So you can get some potential competitor data here as well as additional linking opportunities from sites that link to these sites or these sites themselves.
  • Vertical Media - here they suggest to target influential media sites related to your keyword. This is where you would search for blog and news sites related to your keyword. These sites can turn out to be potential link sources and you can also look at their backlinks to see which sites are linking at them for those core keywords, which can be potential targets for your as well.
  • Interested Media - interested media would be sites or blogs which cover topics related to your topic but are not direct competitors. If you are targeting hybrid cars you can look up sites related to things like renewable energy or sites and blogs which cover environmental topics.
  • Custom - a report you can name anything you want.

It's important to note that the report creation interface is exactly the same whether you choose Competitor Profiling, Vertical Media, or Custom. These initial report types are just there to give the user an idea of what they might want to cover in their research.

We ran through a report as if we were running a "Brand" report so you can see how the system works.

Brand Report

Let's say we work for Waste Management, a leading provider of trash removal and recycling services here in the US. So we selected the first project type in the image above and clicked "go to step 2".

The interface is simple to work with. You can do the following in this screen:

  • Name your project (we named it Brand Report - Wm.Com). Again, you are free to name it whatever you'd like
  • A box to the right gives you the ability to leave notes about the project
  • The next field is where you'd add a URL for Influence Finder to index
  • Once that is added it will appear in the gray highlighted area where you can select the domain links, links to the page (if you have a sub-page), or links to the sub-domain if you are dealing with a sub-domain. You can add as many URL's as you want but since this is our "Brand" report we are just adding ours
  • The last options are whether you want to include or exclude expired links and no-follow links
  • Once you are ready and the URL has been indexed just click "step 3".

Once you move on to step 3 you are presented with some more options. Here you can add keywords manually or via the anchor text they found when crawling the targeted URL's. They will look for occurrences of these keywords in the following places:

  • Anchor text
  • Page title
  • Folder name
  • Body copy
  • Page names

You can choose whether they are brand or non-brand keywords. As of this writing actual anchor text is not available, however I have been told that this will be an enhancement in version 2.

So basically if you choose "trash removal" as a non-brand keyword and "recycling" as a non-brand keyword, then they will be grouped under the "non-brand" keyword data point in the results section.

The second place you can add them is via the keywords found during the initial crawl by Influence Finder's bots (over Majestic SEO's data). They are sorted by frequency.

When they are looking for these keywords they are looking based on phrase match and not exact match. The idea here is that you are looking for link opportunities around a keyword or phrase rather than for specific data about an exact match keyword. So if you have a site about auto insurance you'll get results that will show linking opportunities based on auto insurance, online auto insurance, dirt cheap auto insurance, and so on.

It is based on phrase match and I think the addition of the actual anchor text will be helpful in making this tool both a link opportunity research tool as well as a competitive research tool with respect to competitor backlink profiles.

When you are ready to begin the full index simply click "create index". Above the "create index" tab you can show more keywords from the initial crawl if you want. This can take anywhere from a hour to a few hours depending on the size of the backlink profile.

So here is the results pane for this report. There are 2 panes, the left pane which is for Link Sources and the right pane which are Page Level details related to the domain you highlight in Link Sources (we'll get to the numerous data points in just a moment):

Here is the right pane. When you highlight a source in the left column (Link Sources), the right pane (Page Level) contains the pages within that site that reference either the brand or non-brand keyword (note, these are sites that do and do not have links to the current domain which can be filtered as discussed later on in this review):

When you highlight a page you can see a screenshot and open it in a new tab, as shown above.

For the left-side pane, Link Sources, you have the following data points available:

  • Max Authority - a scale of 1-15, being the highest, that measures the site's authority via PageRank, Alexa data, and link data from Majestic
  • Blog - based on site data gathered by Influence Finder, this shows whether the site might be a blog or not
  • Heartbeat - checks to see if the site or blog is publishing content on a regular basis, bigger publishers show up with no heartbeat and will be given their own category in the next update
  • Traffic Rank - based on global Alexa Ranking
  • Traffic Country - the country that drives the most traffic to the site per Alexa
  • Non-Brand Keyword in Title - percentage of pages where the non-brand keyword appeared in the page title (on pages relating to the non-brand keyword)
  • Brand Keyword in Title - percentage of pages where the brand keyword appeared in the page title (on pages relating to the brand keyword)
  • Non-Brand Keyword in External Anchor Text - percentage of pages where the non-brand keyword appeared in an external link (on pages relating to the non-brand keyword)
  • Brand Keyword in External Anchor Text - percentage of pages where the brand keyword appeared in an external link (on pages relating to the brand keyword)
  • Commission Junction Network - checks to see if the site or page is an affiliate of Commission Junction (or any of the following networks)
  • Trade Doubler Network
  • AWin Network
  • Affiliate Future Network
  • DGM Network
  • Web Gains Network
  • Linkshare Affiliate Network

You have the same options within the Page Level area in the right pane. Both sets of options are available from the Change Filters -> Link Source or Page Level Filters options within the tool.

Customizing Your Results

The left pane (Link Sources) of the application is where your results are populated, where the right pane is domain or page specific information (Page Level) based upon what is highlighted on the left (more on that in a moment). The left side has the following options, as shown below:

  • A dropdown for easy switching between projects
  • The next drop down is where you can show domains which link to the chosen domain, or domains that do not currently link to the domain but are good linking prospects based on the brand and non-brand keywords
  • A .CSV export option
  • Change Filter options are where you can deeply customize the output of your data, this populates in the right. Covered in more detail below
  • Custom Sorting options with lots more data points to choose from

They also have a flagging system, which is purely optional:

Flags are color coded, with the following colors available. Use them for whatever system you devise :) :

  • Checkmark
  • Black
  • White
  • Yellow
  • Red
  • Blue

Custom Sort Options

In addition to the data points mentioned earlier (Max Authority, Heartbeat, Affiliate relationships, etc) The custom sorting feature gives you these additional options which you can include in the dropdown referenced above, but in case you missed it here it is again :)

(click the more button to add additional sorting options)

The additional options include:

  • Influence Index
  • Relevance Index
  • Achievability Index
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in internal link anchor text
  • Average Authority
  • Inlinks Count
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in H1 tag
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in Body
  • E-Commerce Site
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in body, first 100 words
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in heading
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in folder name
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in page name
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword as first word in H1
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword as first word in title
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in root domain
  • Brand keyword or Non-Brand keyword in subdomain
  • Majestic ACRank of homepage
  • Links to homepage
  • Domains linking to homepage
  • Unique IP's linking to homepage
  • Percentage of direct links to page
  • Percentage of redirected links to page
  • Frequency of feed update

Clearly lots and lots of options here. Just one usage example could be that you wanted to see sites that are currently not linking to you, but talk about your brand on their site (in key areas like title tags). These could be good link prospects. First thing to do is change the link display option to "no target links found".

The next thing is to change the sorting options to have the Brand keyword in the H1 and the Body, these should be good link targets. They do not link to us, they have our brand keyword in the H1 and/or Body copy.

To show those columns you have to go to "Change Filters" as shown below, so they will show those columns in the Link Sources (Left Pane) if you click the checkboxes on the right as we did with Brand keyword in H1 and Brand keyword in Body:

And here you can see the new columns, noted with red dots:

We can see that Earthtimes.org appears to be a worth link prospect with a Max Authority of 12, possibly being a blog (guest post), has a strong heartbeat, and not only has pages with our brand name in an H1 tag but also has it within the body copy.

When we highlight a domain in the Link Sources area, the right pane populates the Page Level data like so:

What's great here is that now you have pages that are targeted to your content which (most) use your brand keyword in the H1 tag and Body copy. Remember too that there are many, many other filters available as mentioned above. This is just one example of what you can do. It certainly is a pretty targeted way of building links. Now, you know the following:

  • You do not have a link from the domain
  • They have pages specifically targeted to your brand
  • The relative strength of the site
  • How they are using brand and non-brand keywords

You have a whole host of other filters available as well, but this makes for a fairly targeted link prospect.

In order to get custom columns, like we did with Link Sources, you have to go into Advanced Page Filters on the right to select those custom columns (Brand keyword in H1 and Body in this example):

Change Filter Options

We have discussed some of these already as it is used in the normal flow of how you would use Influence Finder. There are an enormous amount of data points available to you within this tool and it's likely that you will not use all of them on every report you run.

The interface for this part of the tool looks like this:

You have 4 options here:

  • Link Source Filters - for the default data points located in the left pane of the interface
  • Page Level Filters - for the default data points that come with the information on the pages of the selected site, these results are in the right pane (Page Level)
  • Advanced Link Source Filters - all the additional data points for your Link Sources
  • Advanced Page Filters - the additional data points available for page level data

These are essential tools for slicing and dicing the data to suit your report needs (link research, competitive research, link prospecting, and so on).

How Does Influence Finder Compare?

Influence Finder has a lot of features. Chances are you have a link tool or two already. As more and more tools enter the online marketing space it's important to consider the overlap and unique features of the tool you are considering and the tool(s) you might already have.

Influence Finder, as we have outlined for you, has a seemingly endless array of filters you can use to target link prospects. The 3 bigger players in the link research and/or management space are typically thought to be:

  • Majestic SEO
  • Open Site Explorer
  • Raven SEO Tools

When comparing tools in the same space it's important to make sure they are designed to do the same things, in this case Influence Finder is unique in its stated purpose. Influence Finder is much more about finding worthwhile link prospects in a very targeted manner.

These other tools are much more about pure backlink research (like Open Site Explorer and Majestic) or backlink management, tracking, and workflow (like Raven, which also has Majestic functionality baked into their research features).

Majestic SEO

Influence Finder runs off of Majestic's data. When you run a report in Influence Finder, their bots re-crawl the Majestic data to make it a bit more fresh and to customize it to your chosen parameters. The key points of differentiation on Majestic's side are

  • Majestic provides strong historical data which can be very useful when doing competitive research
  • Majestic's minimum analyzable backlinks are up to 1,000,000 (on their lowest plan). This illustrates Majestic's position as more of a pure link data tool whereas Influence Finder tends to be more of a link acquisition tool.
  • Majestic does have some strong filtering capabilities which are great for analyzing a domain's backlinks. However, it not as strong in terms of finding link partners across the web which is, of course, due to the fact that these tools mostly serve 2 different purposes (remember, Influence Finder uses Majestic's data).

Open Site Explorer

Open Site Explorer is a solid link research tool from SeoMoz. It doesn't quite have the size that Majestic does but it's certainly big enough to be a worthy link research tool. The UI is top notch and it is very easy to use. Some of the cool things you can do with Open Site Explorer:

  • See linking domains with a variety of filtering options (followed, no-followed, 301's, etc)
  • See top linked to pages on a domain, with domain link counts and http status codes
  • Quickly see a targeted display of the external anchor text distribution for the domain
  • A whole host of other link metrics like mozRank, mozTrust, percentage of internal/external and follow/no-follow links
  • You can compare 2 URL's as well

So much like Majestic, Open Site Explorer is more of a link research tool/competitive analysis tool. Though, with either, you can certainly find worthwhile linking partners off of a competing site and you can look up sites of "influence" and check backlinks that way too.

Influence Finder's core benefits are finding linking partners which are relevant to your brand and non-brand keywords so they are naturally much stronger in this area than Open Site Explorer and Majestic. Conversely, Open Site Explorer and Majestic are much stronger in the area of competitive link research.

Raven SEO Tools

We recently reviewed Raven and Raven certainly sets the standard for link workflow, management, and reporting at the moment. Raven uses Majestic's data in their link research feature set.

Raven is kind of in the middle here. They have Majestic built in so they are part competitive research plus part link management plus part link building workflow.

While Influence Finder is planning on introducing reporting and workflow into an upcoming version, their current tool combined with Raven's link building and monitoring tools make for a powerful link building toolset. So with Raven:

  • You get access to Majestic's data as a competitive link research tool
  • Top notch reporting options
  • Deep, time-saving link workflow management options
  • Affordable pricing

With just about anything you buy, generally you'll get features you either don't need or are just a bit beyond what you need them for in terms of depth. The nice thing with Raven is you get access to a bunch of tools in one spot for a fair price.

Do they have all the features? Nope but do you really need every single option on every single tool? There's something to be said for managing most aspects of a campaign in one spot.

So if you take Influence Finder's unique core features and combine it with Raven for reporting, workflow, and research and/or with another link research tool like Open Site Explorer then you'll have a really strong set of tools.

The point is, none of these tools do everything the other does so it's a good idea to take a look at each of them and weight the features, benefits, and costs against what you "need" for your campaigns.

Workflow and Final Thoughts

Lots of data here, so we'll outline how it all ties together.

You can use this tool for many different purposes and they even give you some guides as to what you might want to use the reports for. I just want to stress that those reports are only exclusive of each other in naming only, the functionality of the tool after you select the report "type" is the same irrespective of which report you choose or if you just go with custom.

We talked about left pane and right pane a lot, here's a condensed screenshot of the interface:

  • (Left pane) Link Sources are located in the left pane, these are domains (even if a subpage is listed, they will show the main domain) matching your initial search parameters
  • (Right pane) Page Level Detail shows the pages associated with the selected domain and the data points you've chosen to show

The left pane also houses the Custom Sort data when selected while the right pane houses the Change Filters options as mentioned eariler.

So this was an example of a report on your domain for one core keyword and some brand related keywords. This is a pretty powerful tool and if they add the actual anchor text where a link exists as well as some stronger work flow (assignments, notes, etc) and reporting features then I think this will be a tool well worth a look for you or your company.

They did tell me the features I mentioned above will be a part of version 2 which they are working on as we speak. When that comes out, we will certainly take a look and post that new information as well as our thoughts. As it stands now this is a really comprehensive tool for link prospecting and link building.

You can find out more at InfluenceFinder.Com.

Alexa Site Audit Review

Aug 24th

Alexa Logo

Alexa, a free and well-known website information tool, recently released a paid service.

For $199 per site Alexa will audit your site (up to 10,000 pages) and return a variety of different on-page reports relating to your SEO efforts.

It has a few off-page data points but it focuses mostly on your on-page optimization.

Alexa Site Audit Review Homepage

You can access Alexa's Site Audit Report here:

http://www.alexa.com/siteaudit

Report Sections

Alexa's Site Audit Report breaks the information down into 6 different sections (some which have additional sub-sections as well)

  • Overview
  • Crawl Coverage
  • Reputation
  • Page Optimization
  • Keywords
  • Stats

The sections break down as follows:

Site Audit sections and subsections

So we ran Seobook.com through the tool to test it out :)

Generally these reports take about a day or two, ours had some type of processing error so it took about a week.

Overview

The first section you'll see is the number of pages crawled, followed by 3 "critical" aspects of the site (Crawl Coverage, Reputation, and Page Optimization). All three have their own report sections as well. Looks like we got an 88. Excuse me, but shouldn't that be a B+? :)

So it looks like we did just fine on Crawl Coverage and Reputation, but have some work to do with Page Optimization.

Alexa Site Audit Overview

The next section on the overview page is 5 recommendations on how to improve your site, with links to those specific report sections as well. At the bottom you can scroll to the next page or use the side navigation. We'll investigate these report sections individually but I think the overview page is helpful in getting a high-level overview of what's going on with the site.

Alexa Site Audit Overview

Crawl Coverage

This measures the "crawl-ability" of the site, internal links, your robots.txt file, as well as any redirects or server errors.

Reachability

The Reachability report shows you a break down of what HTML pages were easy to reach versus which ones were not so easy to each. Essentially for our site, the break down is:

  • Easy to find - 4 or less links a crawler must follow to get to a page
  • Hard to find - more than 4 links a crawler must follow to get to a page

The calculation is based on the following method used by Alexa in determining the path length specific to your site:

Our calculation of the optimal path length is based on the total number of pages on your site and a consideration of the number of clicks required to reach each page. Because optimally available sites tend to have a fan-out factor of at least ten unique links per page, our calculation is based on that model. When your site falls short of that minimum fan-out factor, crawlers will be less likely to index all of the pages on your site.

Alexa Site Audit Reachability Report

A neat feature in this report is the ability to download your URL's + the number of links the crawler had to follow to find the page in a .CSV format.

Alexa Site Audit Reachability Report Download Links

This is a useful feature for mid-large scale sites. You can get a decent handle on some internal linking issues you may have which could be affecting how relevant a search engine feels a particular page might be. Also, this report can spot some weaknesses in your site's linking architecture from a usability standpoint.

On-Site Links

While getting external links from unique domains is typically a stronger component to ranking a site it is important to have a strong internal linking plan as well. Internal links are important in a few ways:

  • The only links where you can 100% control the anchor text (outside of your own sites of course, or sites owned by your friends)
  • They can help you flow link equity to pages on your site that need an extra bit of juice to rank
  • Users will appreciate a logical, clear internal navigation structure and you can use internal linking to get them to where you want them to go

Alexa will show you your top linked to (from internal links) pages:

Onsite Links Alexa Site Audit

You can also click the link to the right to expand and see the top ten pages that link to that page:

Expanded Onsite Links Report

So if you are having problems trying to rank some sub-pages for core keywords or long-tail keywords, you can check the internal link counts (and see the top 10 linked from pages) and see if something is amiss with respect to your internal linking structure for a particular page.

Robots.txt

Here you'll see if you've restricted access to these search engine crawlers:

  • ia_archiver (Alexa)
  • googlebot (Google)
  • teoma (Ask)
  • msnbot (Bing
  • slurp (Yahoo)
  • baiduspider (Baidu)

Site Audit Robots.Txt

If you block out registration areas or other areas that are normally restricted, then the report will say that you are not blocking major crawlers but will show you the URL's you are blocking under that part of the report.

There is not much that is groundbreaking with Robots.Txt checks but it's another part of a site that you should check when doing an SEO review so it is a helpful piece of information.

Redirects

We all know what happens when redirects go bad on a mid-large sized site :)

Redirects Gone Bad

This report will show you what percentage of your crawled pages are being redirected to other pages with temporary redirects.

The thing with temporary redirects, like 302's, is that unlike 301's they do not pass any link juice so you should pay attention to this part of the report and see if any key pages are being redirected improperly.

Redirect Report Alexa Site Audit

Server Errors

This section of the report will show you any pages which have server errors.

Alexa Site Audit Server Errors

Making sure your server is handling errors correctly (such as a 404) is certainly worthy of your attention.

Reputation

The only part of this module is external links from authoritative sites and where your site ranks in conjunction with "similar sites" with respect to the number of sites linking to your sites and similar sites.

Links from Top Sites

The analysis is given based on the aforementioned forumla:

Alexa Reputation

Then you are shown a chart which correlates to your site and related sites (according to Alexa) plus the total links pointing at each site which places the sites in a specific percentile based on links and Alexa Rank.

Since Alexa is heavily biased towards webmaster type sites based on their user base, these Alexa Rank's are probably higher than they should be but it's all relative since all sites are being judged on this measure.

Alexa Site Audit Link Chart

The Related Sites area is located below the chart:

Related Sites Link Module Alexa Audit

Followed by the Top Ranked sites linking to your site:

Alexa Site Audit Top Ranked Sites

I do not find this incredibly useful as a standalone measure of reputation. As mentioned, Alexa Rank can be off and I'd rather know where competing sites (and my site or sites) are ranking in terms of co-occurring keywords, unique domains linking, strength of the overall link profile, and so on as a measure of true relevance.

It is, however, another data point you can use in conjunction with other tools and methods to get a broader idea of your site and related sites compare.

Page Optimization

Checking the on-page aspects of a mid-large sized site can be pretty time consuming. Our Website Health Check Tool covers some of the major components (like duplicate/missing title tags, duplicate/missing meta descriptions, canonical issues, error handling responses, and multiple index page issues) but this module does some other things too.

Link Text

The Link Text report shows a break down of your internal anchor text:

Link Text Report Alexa

Click on the pages link and see the top pages using that anchor text to link to a page (shows the page the text is on as well as the page it links too):

Link Expansion Site Audit Report

The report is based on the pages it crawled so if you have a very large site or lots and lots of blog posts you might find this report lacking a bit in terms of breadth of coverage on your internal anchor text counts.

Broken Links

Checks broken links (internal and external) and groups them by page, which is an expandable option similar to the other reports:

Alexa Broken Links Report

Xenu is more comprehensive as a standalone tool for this kind of report (and for some of their other link reports as well).

Duplicate Content

The Duplicate Content report groups all the pages that have the same content together and gives you some recommendations on things you can do to help with duplicate content like:

  • Working with robots.txt
  • How to use canonical tags
  • Using HTTP headers to thwart duplicate content issues

Alexa Duplicate Content Overview

Here is how they group items together:

Alexa Duplicate Content Grouped Links

Anything that can give you some decent insight into potential duplicate content issues (especially if you use a CMS) is a useful tool.

Duplicate Meta Descriptions

No duplicate meta descriptions here!

Alexa Site Audit Duplicate Meta Descriptions

Fairly self-explanatory and while a meta description isn't incredibly powerful as standalone metric it does pay to make sure you have unique ones for your pages as every little bit helps!

Duplicate Title Tags

You'll want to make sure you are using your title tags properly and not attacking the same keyword or keywords in multiple title tags on separate pages. Much like the other reports here, Alexa will group the duplicates together:

Alexa Site Audit Duplicate Title Tags

Low Word Count

Having a good amount of text on a page is good way to work in your core keywords as well as to help in ranking for longer tail keywords (which tend to drive lots of traffic to most sites). This report kicks out pages which have (in looking at the stats) less than 150 words or so on the page:

Alexa Site Audit Low Word Count

There's no real magic bullet for the amount of words you "should" have on a page. You want to have the right balance of word counts, images, and overall presentation components to make your site:

  • Linkable
  • Textually relevant for your core and related keywords
  • Readable for humans

Image Descriptions

Continuing on with the "every little bit helps" mantra, you can see pages that have images with missing ALT attributes:

Alexa Site Audit ALT Attribute Overview

Alexa groups the images on per page, so just click the link to the right to expand the list:

Alexa Site Audit ALT Attribute Groupings

Like meta descriptions, this is not a mega-important item as a standalone metric but it helps a bit and helps with image search.

Session IDs

This report will show you any issues your site is having due to the use of session id's.

Alexa Site Audit Session ID

If you have issues with session id's and/or other URL parameters here you should take a look at using canonical tags or Google's parameter handling (mostly to increase the efficiency of your site's crawl by Googlebot, as Google will typically skip the crawling of pages based on your parameter list)

Heading Recommendations

Usually I cringe when I see automated SEO solutions. The headings section contains "recommended" headings for your pages. You can download the entire list in CSV format:

Automated Headings Alexa

The second one listed, "interface seo", is on a page which talks about Google adding breadcrumbs to the search results. I do not think that is a good heading tag for this blog post. I suspect most of the automated tags are going to be average to less than average.

Keywords

Alexa's Keyword module offers recommended keywords to pursue as well as on site recommendations in the following sub-categories:

  • Search Engine Marketing (keywords)
  • Link Recommendations (on-site link recommendations

Search Engine Marketing

Based on your site's content Alexa offers up some keyword recommendations:

Alexa Site Audit Keyword Recommendations

The metrics are defined as:

  • Query - the proposed keyword
  • Opportunity - (scales up to 1.0) based on expected search traffic to your site from keywords which have a low CPC. A higher value here typically means a higher query popularity and a low QCI. Essentially, the higher the number the better the relationship is between search volume, low CPC, and low ad competition.
  • Query Popularity (scales up to 100) based on the frequency of searches for that keyword
  • QCI - (scales up to 100) based on how many ads are showing across major search engines for the keyword

For me, it's another keyword source. The custom metrics are ok to look at but what disappoints me about this report is that they do not align the keywords to relevant pages. It would be nice to see "XYZ keywords might be good plays for page ABC based on ABC's content".

Link Recommendations

This is kind of an interesting report. You've got 3 sets of data here. The first is the "source page" and this is a listing of pages that, according to Alexa's crawl, are pages that appear to be important to search engines as well as pages that are easily crawled by crawlers:

Alexa Site Audit Link Recommendations

These are pages Alexa feels should be pages you link from. The next 2 data sets are in the same table. They are "target pages" and keywords:

Alexa Site Audit Link Recommendations Target

Some of the pages are similar but the attempt is to match up pages and predict the anchor text that should be used from the source page to the target page. It's a good idea but there's a bit of page overlap which detracts from the overall usefulness of the report IMO.

Stats

The Stats section offers 3 different reports:

  • Report Stats - an overview of crawled pages
  • Crawler Errors - errors Alexa encountered in crawling your site
  • Unique Hosts Crawled - number of unique hosts (your domain and internal/external domains and sub-domains) Alexa encountered in crawling your site

Report Stats

An overview of crawl statistics:

Alexa Site Audit Report Stats

Crawler Errors

This is where Alexa would show what errors, if any, they encountered when crawling the site

Alexa Site Audit Crawl Errors

Unique Hosts Crawled

A report showing which sites you are linking to (as well as your own domain/subdomains)

Alexa Site Audit Unique Hosts

Is it Worth $199?

Some of the report functionality is handled by free (in some cases) tools that are available to you. Xenu does a lot of what Alexa's link modules do and if you are a member here the Website Health Check Tool does some of the on-page stuff as well.

I would also like to see more export functionality especially in lieu of white label reporting. The crawling features are kind of interesting and the price point is fairly affordable as one time fee.

The Alexa Site Audit Report does offer some benefit IMO and the price point isn't overly cost-prohibitive but I wasn't really wowed by the report. If you are ok with spending $199 to get a broad overview of things then I think it's an ok investment. For larger sites sometimes finding (and fixing) only 1 or 2 major issues can be worth thousands in additional traffic.

It left me wanting a bit more though, so I might prefer to spend that $199 on links since most of the tool's functionality is available to me without dropping down the fee. Further, the new SEOmoz app also covers a lot of these features & is available at a monthly $99 price-point, while allowing you to run reports on up to 5 sites at a time. The other big thing for improving the value of the Alexa application would be if they allowed you to run a before and after report as part of their package. That way in-house SEOs can not only show their boss what was wrong, but can also use that same 3rd party tool as verification that it has been fixed.

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