SEO Consulting: How To Construct Great Proposals

Mar 1st

Like in any consulting field, SEO is rife with competition. There is only one way to win in such an environment, and that is to set yourself apart from the crowd.

Not in a bad way, of course :)

Here are some ideas on how to construct winning proposals.

Size Isn't Everything, But It Does Count

Large proposals take a long time to do. On the upside, large proposals can look impressive, simply by virtue of their size. Clients often like to see large proposals, but they don't tend to read them.

Proposals can be a tricky balance to get right. No matter how brilliant your solution, most clients will think twice about you if you present it on a single sheet, especially if they have no prior connection with you, or aren't meeting you face-to-face. A proposal of a certain size can appear more authoritative.

What is the ideal size?

One good way of presenting a proposal is to break it into three parts. The first part is a summary, including your client-specific solution and costs. Length can vary of course, but keep it succinct. No fat.

The second part is a case study or two. Again, keep them succinct. It's highly likely that the client won't actually read beyond this point.

Finally, add background information about you, your company, your history and the SEO business, all of which should be aimed at supporting the summary page and case studies. This final part can be generic and doesn't need to be re-written for each client. Clients may only flip through this section, but tend to find it reassuring that it exists.

Contrast this approach with a proposal that is threadbare. It may be irrational, but thin proposals can feel incomplete.

Give Something Of Value Away

In your summary pages, share real information.

Share the type of information that is valuable and the sort of you'd usually charge for providing. Clients are likely to assume that if the SEO is giving a few morsels of valuable information away in the proposal, then even more valuable information will be forthcoming if they sign you. Demonstrate your mastery. If all you do is provide generic information at this point, then your proposal is less likely to stand out.

Some potential clients, of course, may pick your brain and then implement your solutions themselves. Whilst this can happen, it's unlikely. The client already knows they want SEO by the time they're at the proposal stage, and if they could have done this work themselves, they probably would have done so already.

Secondly, you can outline solutions that involve time cost to achieve. Imply that this work must be undertaken by someone who knows what they are doing. Outline the risks of not doing this work properly. The more real work, and risk, there is invlolved in implementation, the less likely a client will be willing to go the do-it-yourself route.

As we all know, there is a lot of real work involved in SEO. Make sure the client is left in no doubt on that aspect.

It's Not About You

Focus on the clients needs.

Nothing loses a potential client faster than an SEO who talks entirely about themselves and their industry. Clients don't care. Clients care about their problems and their industry. In the summary pages, restate the clients problem and propose your specific solutions. Outline time frame and costs.

This exercise is useful for a number of reasons, the main one being that you, or the client, may not know what the actual problem is!

What a client says may not be what they mean. For example, the client may say they want SEO because they're heard that's a great way to get traffic quickly. They may not say it in these words, of course. They may say they want SEO, and they want it asap.

However, if the SEO has asked enough questions, aimed at identifying the problem, the SEO may unearth unstated problems. In this case, a client wants to increase traffic quickly. A solution to such a problem might be a combination of SEO and PCC. The PPC delivers immediate traffic while the SEO strategy might take some time.

Formulate questions aimed at identifying the clients actual, as opposed to stated, problem. They may be quite different. The result is that your solution will be a good fit, which will lead to less frustration, on both sides, further down the line.

You also might discover at this point that the clients expectations are ridiculous, and you'd be better off looking for a more reasonable client. For example, I was once pitching to a large advertising company. Their clients had been asking for SEO, so all they knew is they "needed some SEO".

Great.

Problem was, as I discovered in the meeting, was that they knew nothing about the need to alter sites or web publishing approach. They had told clients they could deliver SEO as a bolt-on-service, a wave of the magic wand that miraculously delivered rankings and free traffic for life to brochure sites.

I didn't go any further with them.

Offer Guarantees (Assurance)

Guarantees are a contentious issue in SEO circles.

Many SEOs - quite rightly - point out that no one can guarantee a ranking position, which is true, but such technical nuances may unsettle a client.

Clients tend to like assurance, and a guarantee can help provide this. So rather than dismissing guarantees, look at aspects you can guarantee.

A fiend of mine, in a different industry, offers a guarantee that goes along the lines of "if you don't feel satisfied after our strategy meetings with you, even after you sign the contract, you can walk away, no questions asked, and no charge.".

That sounds like something substantial, but actually he is just restating consumer law in the country where he lives. The law is that a service must be fit for the purpose the client intended, and if it isn't, the client has a case against the provider for non-suitability of service.

My friend realized he could never afford to contest such cases, and would likely lose, as the consumer law favored the buyer. All an aggrieved client really had to do to win such a case was say the service wasn't fit for their purposes.

He was dealing with firms with deep pockets, and legal action defending against such firms would come at high cost, even if he was in the right, so he decided to restate a consumer right the client actually already had, combined with an economic reality - his inability to engage in costly legal battles - into a form of a reassuring guarantee for sales purposes.

Case Studies Are Powerful

There is no sales tool quite so powerful as a good case study. A case study is a story. People love stories. A case study is also proof of your ability.

Outline the problem. Tell your audience what the problem looked like before you started - very useful if this problem is similar to the problem the prospective client also faces - what you did to solve the problem, and the positive results of your solution.

Stories are very powerful sales tools, and a case study is a great opportunity to tell a few.

Package It Up

Consider printing and binding your proposal, and delivering it.

We receive so many emails these days that they don't make us feel very special. It doesn't feel like there is much effort gone into them. A binded proposal, on the other hand, feels substantial.

In the interests of speed, you can still send an email copy, but try doing both and seeing if you land more deals.

Charging

Don't undercharge. You'll regret it :)

How To Start A Web Business And Survive

Feb 15th
posted in

An SEOBook reader, Josephbm91, outlined a problem many of us have faced: when you're starting out, it's easy for clients to walk all over you.

So let's take a look at strategies for those starting out, be it in SEO, web design, or other small, web-based businesses. Those of you who have established web businesses, it would be great if you could share your experiences and strategies in the comments :)

Making The Start

How do you make the start? You've got a computer, an internet connection, and a few ideas. How do you get from that point to a thriving business, when you have no customer base, no money and no experience?

Yeah, it's hard.

But you'll literally work through it :)

Society Is Testing You To See If You're Serious

Ask anyone in business, sports, music or any other competitive human endeavor how they got recognized in their given field. They'll most likely tell you it didn't happen overnight. Whilst talent, luck and having the right connections play a part, the one trait common to those who succeed is persistent hard work.

In Outliers, a book about how people achieve extraordinary things, Malcolm Gladwell found that to achieve mastery in anything - be it golf, webdesign, programming, music, fashion - takes roughly the same amount of time: 10,000 hours.

Thankfully, we don't need to be masters at running a small business before we start one, else no one would ever do so. But the underlying idea is sound - persistent hard work is the key to success.

Being persistent sends a message to those around you, including potential customers, that you're serious about what your doing. If they see you often enough, doing the thing you say you do, then you'll eventually be recognized for it.

So if you feel you need to prove yourself, you're right. Society actually demands you do.

What Is Worth Getting Serious About?

Many people start businesses because they enjoying doing something. Someone who plays sport may have the desire to be paid a good living wage for playing the game she loves. Someone is good at art, so he wants to be a designer.

Whilst there is nothing wrong with this approach - having a genuine passion for something will help you get through the rough times - I'm sure you can spot the potential problem. There might be a LOT of people who have a passion for the same thing. The more people who want to do something, the more effort you need to put in in order to stand out.

In terms of sport, it's relatively straighforward. The sprinter with the fastest times gets recognized and progresses. Those sprinters with slower times either get better, or go find something else to do. In business, its a little more complicated, but the principle remains the same.

You need to stand out.

Supply And Demand

Think carefully about supply and demand. Ask yourself: is there sufficient demand for what I want to do?

Let's say you want to do web design. Is there demand? Why, yes, the demand for web design services is almost infinite. New companies start every minute, and most of them will need a web presence. Established companies who already have a web presence change their design from time to time, thus creating even more demand.

All good.

Now let's look at the supply side.

How many people want to be web designers. The answer is: quite a few. In fact, it would appear that web design demand is more than met by the supply of web designers. What happens in such situations is there is a downward pressure on prices, because those who create demand have a lot of supply to choose from.

The world is oversupplied with web designers. At least, it's oversupplied by people who call themselves web designers. There's a difference, of course, between someone who owns the tools of production and those who use those tools well to solve business problems. Owning a camera does not make someone a commercial photographer. Likewise, those with the most artistic design skills may make lousy web designers if they aren't focused on business aspects.

Recognizing the reality of the situation might may you reconsider your choice of career, and opt for an area where there is heavy demand and short supply instead.

Another way to face this problem is to differentiate. Can you do something better than other designers? You may be highly skilled in contemporary graphic design, in which case you may choose to place strong emphasis on displaying your portfolio, and target the type of clients who appreciate - and will pay for - this expertise.

You may have, or can acquire, detailed market knowledge in one particular niche - i.e. travel sites, real estate sites, etc. Clients, generally speaking, are a lot more comfortable with providers who understand their area of business. You have an advantage if you can speak their language, rather than just the self-absorbed language of design forums.

Can you focus on a geographic area? i.e. the immediate area where you live. Sometimes, people want to deal with someone local.

What is the thing you can do for which there is a market? If there are too many competitors in that market, then slice that market up until you can find a niche. Aim to be top of that niche. Then put in persistent effort working that niche in order to build reputation.

Chris Pearson gave away a number of popular free Wordpress themes on his site, created designs for popular sites (including Copyblogger & SEO Book), and then created the Thesis theme for web developers, which has since done 7 figures in sales volume. Yes Wordpress themes have become commoditized, but due to his strong marketing and continual increase in product value he was able to differentiate & build a solid business model. In his own words on starting out, Chris wrote:

Before I launched Thesis, I created a few free WordPress themes that became extremely popular. Although these themes defined the early stages of my career, they are really nothing more than visible markers of a learning process that continues today with Thesis.

Establishing Yourself

Once you've decided on an angle, you then need to establish yourself. Society wants to see how serious you are.

It is very difficult to market a business without some form of track record. But every business needs to start somewhere, and they don't start with a track record. So, the most important task for someone starting out - in any occupation - is to get one.

One way to get a track record is to treat your first few jobs as a marketing cost. This is the cost of establishing a reputation, and if you make any money at all from these first few jobs, it's a bonus. The aim is to get referrals and a portfolio of work.

Approach charities or small local business who need a web presence and offer your services for a deeply discounted rate, or for free. It's a win-win for both parties, because they may not be able to afford web design, and you need their testimonials and experience.

Be sure to make it clear that the job is being done at a discounted rate, and let them know what your usual rate it. This way, they'll perceive value, and won't be in for a shock when you ramp your prices up for any future work. Focus on building a positive relationship with these clients. If they are happy with your work, they may well refer you to others.

Once you have a track record, the risk to a future customer of hiring you is diminished. You become a known quantity, which puts you above the wanna-bes.

Is this working for free? Some might consider it that way, but it could also be seen as just another marketing expense, like advertising. Many businesses, including big, established businesses, give away products and services - in the form of loss leaders - in order to help get their foot in the door. People who train for careers pay to learn, whilst as a freelancer, you can potentially learn on the job for free. Clients can teach you a lot about your own business , especially where your strengths and weaknesses lie.

Pricing

It's important not to stay cheap or free, however.

Some think the easiest way to get business is to undercut competitors on price. This can be a self defeating strategy, especially for the sole operator, for a number of reasons:

You get cheap clients - people who seek the lowest price probably aren't placing much value on what you do. These type of clients, ironically, can also be the most demanding. They want the most for the least, and will often push you on the amount of work you deliver.

Someone else can always undercut you. There will always be a competitor who has a cost base lower than you do. From there, you're locked in a no-win race to the bottom.

If it looks cheap, it is cheap. It's human nature not to value something that is cheap, and place a lot of value on something that is expensive. In the book How We Decide, by Jonah Lehrer, the author describes an experiment conducted with wine. Participants were told one bottle was cheap and one was expensive. The expensive bottle got rave reviews from tasters, and the cheap one - not so good. However, the labels were switched. The expensive wine was actually the cheap wine.

Perception counts for a lot.

So if your angle is cheap, make sure your margins are still high enough to sustain you. Only you know how much you need to survive at any given time.

Alternatively, target ruthlessly, either by offering a superior, needed product, more niche know-how, or find some other angle where there is untapped demand. Be prepared to prove your worth by providing case studies describing how you've solved people's business problems in the past.

Got any other tips for those starting out? It would be great if you can share what you know :)

Why Be Fair

Feb 10th
posted in

We've discussed in the past about how our brand is "everything we do".

As an SEO provider, business owner, or service provider, your brand is more than your logo, website and advertising. It's also what you say, what you do, how you act, and how you treat people.

Today, let's look at the benefits of using fairness as a way to add value to your brand.

The Importance Of Reciprocation

We all know about "win-win" deals.

The best deals leave enough on both sides of the deal so both parties can prosper. A deal where one party takes all and the other party gets very little isn't desirable for many reasons, one being it just isn't fair.

Rational business theory often overlooks this point. If a client "wins" by screwing you down to the very last cent, and concludes the deal, then supposedly everything should now proceed through to delivery and conclusion. But humans are emotional. The aggrieved SEO is hardly going to act like a true partner. More likely, they'll look to reciprocate the treatment they've received.

What is the cost of negative reciprocation?

We are social animals. If someone treats us well, and is fair, we feel we should treat them likewise. If someone screws us over - well - they can't expect us to give 110%. What they can likely expect is negative reciprocation, which can manifest itself in many different ways. It's not quite "revenge", but such ill-feeling can end up costing a lot more than any savings the customer made on the deal.

The same is true of your customers.

The Process Of Fairness

It is important that your dealings with customers be:

  • Fair
  • Transparent
  • Honest

If you commit to being fair, and be seen to be fair, you can still get more out of the deal than the other party - win-win deals don't need to be, and most often aren't, 50/50 - but the other party is unlikely to resent you for it if they feel the process by which the deal was arrived at was a fair one. Psychological studies have shown people often care more about how a decision was arrived at, rather than what the final decision actually was.

Fairness of the process colors people's perception of the outcome.

What Does It Mean To "Be Fair"?

Be seen to be fair in the eyes of the person you're dealing with. This can be difficult to make concrete, but if you don't have a genuine intention to be be fair, you almost certainly won't achieve it.

In practice, it means not making arbitrary decisions, listening to all parties and considering their view. It also means making making the rules transparent. A game where only one party knows the rules breeds resentment.

An outcome should be reached where each party can see each step taken, and why it was taken. People may not even like the outcome, but they are much less likely to reciprocate in a negative manner if they feel they have been treated fairly, in a fair process. A sense of fairness runs very deep in our psyche- it's tied up with ego, self-respect, status and recognition.

This attitude of fairness can run across all aspects of business, not just in deal making and sales. It also applies to customer service. If a customer highlights a problem, how do you react? Do you see it as an opportunity to build brand? Do you seek an outcome that will advantage only you, or do you aim to arrive at a fair outcome for all? I'd wager aiming for the fair outcome is the better long-term bet.

But what happens if a customer is being unfair to you?

Of course, this can and does happen. Some people will take advantage. Again, seek to make the process fair and transparent, even though they might not like the outcome you seek.

Hard But Fair

Yes, yes - this all sounds very nice, but it's a shark-fest out there! That may be so, but you can still play hard whilst also using fair process. You've heard the phrase "hard but fair". The fairness makes the "hardness" acceptable. "Hard and unfair" tends to result in lawyers. In this respect, a fair process itself can add value, rather than destroying it by incurring extra costs.

Brand And Fairness

Proctor & Gamble have an internal set of "Ten Commandments" and the very first commandment is "Do The Right Thing". Their employees must demonstrate" rectitude, integrity and fairness". Sure, all companies say that, but the companies that actually do it build stronger on-going relationships, and strong brands. Do you return to companies who you felt treat you unfairly?

Your brand incorporates relationships with all those who you deal with, and may of those people you'll deal with over and over again. Great brands aren't just about the outcomes they achieve. They are also about how the process by which they achieve those outcomes, and if that process adds emotional value, as opposed to destroying it - by being seen to be fair - then your brand becomes stronger.

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Borrowing From PPC

Nov 5th
posted in

Search marketers know that if the title of the ad matches the searchers keyword query, they stand a good chance of getting the click.

This mirroring strategy works for obvious reasons. The visitor already has a psychological attachment to the phrase - after all, they typed it in!

Making Sure You Get The Click

A lot of SEO strategy talks about how to achieve rankings.

Whilst important, the SEO pro knows ranking is only half the battle won. While it's true to say most searchers will click on the top results in preference to results lower down the page, they will also scan across the various titles displayed. All links on the results page compete for the click, and a compelling title may win out over a higher ranking position.

If the user doesn't find what they want when they scan, they will likely rephrase their search and try again. So the way you phrase your title tag is not only important in terms of helping attain a ranking position, it is also important that it stands out.

But how do you know which phrases will work?

What You Can Learn From Adwords

Actually, the answer is right in front of us.

Google rewards top performing Adwords advertisers with the top positions i.e. the advertisers who are achieving the highest click thru rates. The copy and titles you see in the top PPC ads are proven.

If the advertiser has been in that position for some time, it is highly likely s/he is making a positive return on their spend. Their approach is, therefore, working.

That's a lot of valuable information.

Look at the copy the advertisers are using. What words are they using in the title? Try emulating their approach. Emulating their description is a little more tricky as Google uses snippets. However, if the phrase the user is searching for also appears in your meta description tag, Google will tend to display the tag snippet instead.

Of course, SEO's have to balance ranking considerations, too, but if you can get these factors aligned, you're in a great position. Given that most people - estimated to be around 70-80% - will click on a natural search result, as opposed to an advertisment, if you can occupy the top few spots using a similar phrasing as the PPC advertiser, you are more likely to get the click.

Don't stop there.

Check out the landing pages used by the top advertisers. If they are occupying top positions over a long period of time, they are either carelessly blowing through a lot of cash, or, more likely, their PPC campaign is making money.

Whilst it's not advisable to copy exactly what they do - and it's probably against the law - you can use their approach as a guide. How are they structuring their landing pages? Where are they placing their offer? What language are they using? What titles are they using? How is the copy structured?

Use a similar approach in your SEO campaign.

One thing to be careful of is to understand that SEO and PPC often have a different focus. PPC tends to be driven by ROI and other profit per visitor type metrics. Once a PPC advertiser pays for the click, they try to move the visitor to desired action quickly.

SEO, on the other hand, can afford to be less specific as there is little jeopardy in only appealing to a tiny fraction of visitors who click. SEO can afford to go wide and broad. Engagement and brand metrics come into play a bit more in SEO.

By The Way.....

Because SEO can afford to go broad, and has the added task of ranking for keywords based on the content of your page, Google's Wonder Wheel is a great tool for finding related phrases which you can integrate into your copy.

If you haven't heard of the Wonder Wheel, here is how to find it:

1. Conduct a search. Click on "Show Options..."

2. Click on "Wonder Wheel" (shown on the list at the right hand side)

3. Click on a few of the spokes....

4. Integrate any relevant, related keyword terms in your copy....

I use this tool a lot as it's great for picking up on long tail searches that still relate to your chosen keyword term. If any of these terms prove worthwhile, you can then develop separate pages to target them specifically.

You Aren't Average

Oct 28th

Do you ever think that SEO is "obvious"? "Common knowledge"? "Pretty easy, really"?

Watch this:

In this video, "Scott" from Google asked 50 people on the street if they knew what a browser was.

Less than 8% of people surveyed did.

Many people confused a browser with a search engine. Google Chome - or Google "Crown" as one woman put it - was unheard of.

I bet you're feeling smarter than you did before you watched that video! Fact is, if you're reading this site, you're already waaaay ahead of most people in terms of internet knowledge and how it all hangs together. Pat yourself on the back.

There is a downside, however.

The Distorted Lens Of Familiarity

We see the internet through our own lens, a lens that has been honed over the years by focusing on a specific thing. We study search engines, we experiment with algorithms, we hang on Matt Cutts every word - they should have asked the people if they knew who Matt Cutts was - "Matt Coutts?", we upload sites, we research keywords, we study user behavior, we build links, and more.

Such attention to detail can provide clarity, but can also distort our view.

We need to keep in mind that most people don't see the internet as we do. Most people don't know what a browser is. Most people cannot tell a paid search result from a non-paid one. People certainly do not understand that the site they are seeing in first position may only be there because some smart SEO has helped ensure that happens.

What is "spam" to the trained SEO eye may be perfectly acceptable to the end user, so long as the user gets the answer they want.

normal people can't tell the difference between AdSense style ads and all the other links on most web sites. And almost the same number don't know what "sponsored results" on the Search Results Page are either. It's just a page of links to them. They click the ones that look like they'll get them what they want. It's that simple

Beyond the tiny web-savvy crowd, these people are your market. So it pays to put yourself in their shoes, especially when making decisions about how your site functions and displays information.

According to research conducted by the Nielsen company, the average internet user now spends 68 hours online per month. That may sound like a lot, but it only comes out to an average of about two and a quarter hours a day

You have a tiny window of opportunity. There are so many other activities, and web sites, demanding a visitors attention. The fact someone has even arrived at your site should be seen as something special.

Here a few points I've found to be true.

1. When Designing A Site, Make It Stupidly Easy To Use

Internet users spend less than one minute per page while surfing. You have roughly four seconds to get their attention. The average time spent on a page is falling, indicating that if people don't find what they want immediately, they will go elsewhere, and they can, because the supply of websites is endless. Ignore design rules predicated on the notion of information scarcity.

A user won't wrestle with your site. Web design, particularly navigation, is not the place to get clever. Web design should be no more complicated than book design. You might notice every book shares the exact same user interface. As do cars. As do bicycles. I have no idea how my car works. People have explained the workings of the internal combustion engine to me, and I nod sagely, but really, I don't have a clue. Nor do I need to know. I just turn the key and hit the pedal.

Your website design should ask nothing more of the user than a car does. Assume nothing, other than the user will point and click something obvious.

2. Make The Thing You Do Obvious

Once a person decides your page is roughly what they are looking for, you have a further four seconds to direct them to desired action or get them to continue reading. On the average web page, users have time to read at most 28% of the words during an average visit; 20% is more likely.

If you make your money via Adsense, then place Adsense prominently on your pages. If you make money selling subscriptions, make a huge button that says "sign up for a subscription here". Place it where everyone can see it on their first - and possibly only - visit. If you want people to donate to your charity, make the donate button big and bold and place it prominently on every page.

Pretty obvious, right.

But it's amazing how many sites bury what they want a user to do.

So, decide what is the one thing you want users to do, and relegate - or remove - all other distractions. The exception is a site to which users return to time and again. Make more features available to power users, but ensure there is always a clear, simple path for the first time user.

Language can also get in the way of conversions. Assuming people know everything that you do (including acronyms and industry jargon) is an easy way to passively lose sales every day. ;)

3. SEO - You Don't Need to Sweat The Small Stuff

There are people who spend their life finding and exploiting gaps in the algorithms, gaps that often exist only temporarily. I'm not one of those people. Neither is Aaron.

I think SEO is most effective when approached holistically i.e understanding how the different stages of attracting the visitor then converting them to desired action relate to one and other.

Identify the target market - keyword research and visitor profiling - and work backwards from there.

When the visitor who - and lets remember, s/he most likely doesn't know what a browser is - searches for "lemon law" - what do they really want to achieve? Do they want to find information about this topic? Do they want to buy something? Do they want to compare one service provider with another? What's really on their mind?

Sift through a list of related keywords until you can determine intent. Once you've figured out the intent, give the people the content they desire. Publish crawlable pages addressing that topic and intent, get the pages linked from other pages related to that topic and intent, and advertise your pages anywhere where your target market resides, either by buying space on high ranking sites or publishing your views, and links, on those sites. Read this.

That's SEO in a nutshell. Leave the minutiae to the hackers, unless you are one!

4. The Most Successful Stuff Replicates Something The User Already Does

Email is a killer app because it enables a user to do something they already do more easily - write letters to people.

Search is a killer app because people have always looked for information, and search makes that process more efficient.

The computer games industry is huge because people have always played games.

Facebook and Twitter are huge because they are essentially txt messaging in another format. Txt messaging is a replacement for calling people on the phone.

Skype. Amazon. Ebay. All the big, successful internet plays took an everyday task the user already undertakes, and puts that task in an online context.

These services don't ask the user to do something genuinely new. Most applications that ask users to do something genuinely new - a lot of Web 2.0 applications, for example - fail miserably for this reason. Most users don't want to do anything genuinely new.

The people who do - radical early adopters - are highly unlikely to be your target market.

Try to frame whatever you do in terms of a task a visitor already knows well. Demonstrate, quickly and clearly, how you make that task easier or more efficient.

5. Even Google Users Are Not Typical

Studies suggest that Google users tend to be wealthier than average, and have more experience with the internet than users of MSN and Yahoo. The longer people have been using the Internet, the more likely it is that Google will be their search engine of choice, are more likely to have household incomes above US$60,000 than people who use competing search engines.

Whilst these numbers are probably getting more mainstream as Google grows their market share, it pays to remember that your target market may not be using Google at all! One of the secrets of search marketing is that the conversion rates from MSN and Yahoo can blow Google conversion rates out of the water, especially if you're in the market of providing goods and services to the average punter.

A good example of this was when Aaron recently shared ad click-through rates per visitor for some large sites...with Bing in the clear lead...nearing double the rate of Google users.

Summary

In summary, the key to internet marketing is to know your audience. Really know them. It is not that people are stupid, it is that they are likely to be unfamiliar.

And remember that the average internet user is not you :)

Social Media: The Need For Measurement

Oct 23rd

Following on from my our "Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless" yesterday, we received the following comment:

On the surface, this seems like a great article...until you realize that it's really just like most tweets--a total waste of time. If you wanted to really provide something valuable, you'd show me how you directly measure your social marketing campaign...Oh wait, you can't. Why? First, cause you've probably never run one and you're just regurgitating what other people have told you. And second, because ROI really doesn't translate for most Internet campaigns. There's just no way to directly measure it because there are so many random variables. And I challenge anyone to prove that it can be

Thanks for the response, Fearless Advisor!

Really, social media marketing is no different to other forms of marketing in that it must eventually demonstrate value and be accountable.

The "Why" Question

One of the points I made in the previous article was that a lot of people seem to confuse the medium with the message. They are using a communication channel - in this case Twitter & Facebook - without first deciding why they are doing it.

Sometimes, the answer might be no more complicated than "because it's new", "because it sounded good" or "because everyone else is doing it". However, if a marketing campaign is to be successful, and repeated, it must be measured. How would you know if it was a success, or be worth repeating otherwise?

The fist step should be to ask "why"? The same question applies to any marketing campaign, be it search marketing, radio, television, or anything else. Why does this website exist? Why am I doing this and what result am I trying to achieve?

Is it to boost traffic? Is it to make more money? Is it to cut costs in other marketing activities by replacing one with another? Is it to grow the RSS subscriber base? Get more links? Grow the mail list? A combination of all these things? And how do these relate back to the purpose of the site?

Without that knowledge, the exercise is one of faith.

Demonstrate Value

The top social media marketers, just like the top search marketers, can create enormous value. And they can show it.

If clients aren't demanding it now, they soon will. Back when I was doing search marketing for clients, I was in a sales meeting with a large mobile telecommunications company. I was doing my best to sell them on the benefits of search marketing and from the nods I was getting, I thought I was doing ok. At the end of the meeting, they said I was the first search guy who had talked to them in terms they could relate to - i.e. I was talking marketing, as opposed to hype and technology.

Social media marketing is going through the same growing- up phase that search marketing did. As search marketing clients got more savvy and gained experience with the new channel, they started to demand more traditional metrics - meaningful metrics related to the underlying business objectives - that could be analysed alongside their other marketing campaigns.

Measurement Ideas

Measurement depends on the aims of the campaign.

Here are a some common measurements used in marketing campaigns, and apply equally to social media as they do other marketing channels. Not all these measurements are appropriate, or achievable, but should serve as a starting point when considering measurement.

1. Increased Revenue

This measurement is straightforward. What was the level of business the client was doing before the social media campaign, and what is the level they are doing afterwards? Has it dropped, stayed the same, or risen?

2. Competitive Advantage

Has the client gained competitive advantage?

Do a before/after comparison against competitors. Is the client doing better in Compete/Alexa/etc than their competitors after they ran the social media campaign?

Have the competitors run social media campaigns? Can you do a similar before/after comparison on their success, or lack thereof?

3. Increased Visitor Numbers

Are there more visitors now than there were before the campaign started? Break the visitors down by channel using referral data. Who are they? Where are they from? Are they the right demographic?

4. Reach/Spreading The Word

Perhaps the most difficult aspect to measure. Research companies, like Neilsen, use Buzz Metrics and Blog Pulse to measure how many people are talking about a brand or company.

Similarly, Google Trends can be used to pinpoint spikes in attention across the net. Is your message/brand mentioned more often after the campaign? Are there more mentions across blogs, Twitter, Facebook, mainstream media?

5. Search Activity

Do more people search on a clients brand after the social media campaign? Do they use queries relating to the clients message, products or services?

6. Primary Market Research

Big companies tend to do this more so than smaller companies. Run field studies, focus groups, and interviews to determine the level of brand awareness.

7. Links

Has the client received more links? This is one of the huge value propositions of social media, especially when combined with SEO. Social media can be such a powerful link building method, second to none.

Yeah, But How?

Perhaps the social media gurus can tell us? :)

These are the types of metrics clients will demand. If I were buying social media marketing services - and might well be in the near future - these are the metrics I'd demand. No one, except the clueless, will be impressed by follower numbers.

There is no one tool that can measure and track all this data. Hey, perhaps there is a market opportunity for someone! But while we're waiting for such a tool to emerge, measurement is a multi-disciplinary approach, combining both tools and techniques.

Consider analytics, behavior tracking, dedicated tracking codes for links, coupon codes that can only be seen on Facebook or Twitter, unique phone numbers used to track just that one campaign, customer surveys after they have bought something.

I'm sure social media professionals have got a wealth of techniques and tools they use. It would be great if you could share your knowledge with the community in the comments :)

Why A Social Media Marketer Should Do This

The end result is that clients will spend more, on an ongoing basis, if they can see demonstrable value.

A company may do a one-off campaign for fun, as an experiment, or because they think it is trendy to do so, but they'll soon move on to the "next big thing" unless social media can demonstrate how it helps them achieve their marketing goals.

Some of the above is easy, some is difficult. It depends on the client and their goals. There will always be intangible rewards when it comes to brand building and raising awareness, but you can't know if you're winning the game if you don't keep score.

I know some social media marketers already do this. Like the top search marketers, they will be the only ones left standing, and prospering once the hype dies off.

And it will.

Google & Bing Annouce Real Time Search Deals With Twitter

Oct 22nd
posted in

Marissa Mayer announces that Google has reached an agreement with Twitter to include Twitter updates in Google's search results.

We look forward to having a product that showcases how tweets can make search better in the coming months. That way, the next time you search for something that can be aided by a real-time observation, say, snow conditions at your favorite ski resort, you'll find tweets from other users who are there and sharing the latest and greatest information.

Hmmm..."product"? Obviously something a bit smarter that simply providing raw indexing and display.

This move follows Bing's recent announcement - today, in fact - they would do likewise.

We’re glad you asked that. Because today at Web 2.0 we announced that working with those clever birds over at Twitter, we now have access to the entire public Twitter feed and have a beta of Bing Twitter search for you to play with (in the US, for now). Try it out. The Bing and Twitter teams want to know what you think.

Microsoft has pulled off a similar deal with Facebook, which has six times as many users as Twitter.

With two competing deep pocketed players signing up, how long can Twitter remain unsold? Will Google build a competing version of Twitter? Much easier to crunch link data and index in real time if you can backend updates with your own systems, rather than making sense of third-party date, like Twitter, which is probably a nightmare. Some cosy integration arrangement is probably part of the deal, of course.

Read-Write-Web made the valid point that Google grew when they signed a similar deal with Yahoo. Now Twitter is doing likewise, serving their stuff to Google's massive audience. However, given Twitters notorious fail-whale flakiness, it remains to be seen if their system is ready for the roar of traffic that will soon come their way.

What Does This Mean For SEOs?

Go where the search engines do. Link to your content from Twitter. Publish excerpts and link-backs. Monitor real-time search trends, using Google's Hot Trends and trend data tools, such as TweetStats. Supply content to match demand.

It will be interesting to see if real-time search, on a Google scale, produces new business models. The traffic bursts should ample reward for being seen first for popular real time queries.

The news business relies on immediacy, and they just got a whole new wave of unpaid competition.

Social Media Guruism: Mostly Harmless

Oct 21st

One of our commenters, WebsterJ, recently made the astute observation:

So Derek calls out SEO as a scam while touting social media - a field that is quickly cornering the market on snake oil. Fast talking social gurus charging boring clients with nothing interesting to say big $$$ to make Twitter profiles, blogs and Facebook pages that will bring in zero return. They just make the client feel like they are "doing social media."

Heh. Indeed.

Social Media Guru Snake Oil

Social media, used as a means to make money, is - mostly - useless.

Now, before a gaggle of unemployed social media gurus accuse me of doing the same thing as Powazek, I'm going to hedge my rant.

But first, let's have some fun.

Why $ocial Media Doesn't Work

Social media - and by social media I'm mostly talking about Facebook & Twitter - doesn't work for many businesses, and never will, because the medium is not the message.

Yet that is how a lot of social media marketing is approached.

Companies are being encouraged to create Facebook pages and open Twitter accounts to announce to the world they have nothing to say. Well, that would happen if anyone was actually listening.

Which they're not.

People aren't listening in the same way they're not reading email newsletters they signed up for a few years back and can't remember why. They'd unsubscribe, only that would require effort.

Highlight. Delete.

Likewise, most Tweets and Facebook entries dissolve into the ether, unread and unloved.

Obviously, just using the medium is not communicating, building brand, or creating engagement. That requires reflection, strategy, focus and having a story worth listening to. If a person or company has nothing to say, then creating a social media channel isn't going to help.

First, they must have something worth saying. Then they must say something people want or need to hear, and say it in a way that resonates with the audience.

The problem is....

Many People Have Nothing To Say And Few People Are Listening

In the past few minutes, I've seen the following tweets:

"Head hurts. Going to bed early..."

"Trying out tweetie2"

"hehehehehehehehe"

Riveting stuff, certainly.

Sure, I'm being facetious. Selectively pulling out the personal stuff. So how about people doing social media business?

If you're a masochist, or a psychologist examining the growing problem of delusions of grandeur amongst generation Y, you could do a lot worse that following a few social media gurus on Twitter:

"Marketing is a vulgarized concept. That's why we see so many brands lacking credibility in the digital world. Windows, not mirrors folks"

Huh?

That's almost as bad as some of mine! And to think, some people are worried that Twitter will get innane when it becomes mainstream.

Here's a good example of implementing a social media channel with seemingly little thought given to the message or the audience: huskerchevrolet.com

Twitter. Check.

Facebook. Check.

Something worth saying? Erm....

There's not a lot of strategy behind much of this stuff.

Show Me The Money

Count up the hours you spend on Twitter or Facebook, then figure out how much money you made for each of those hours of effort. I'm guessing the result for most people is somewhere around zero. Now deduct your hourly rate - and other opportunity costs - for each of those hours.

But wait, I hear some people say. "Social media is about attention! About getting noticed! Getting on radar!"

They didn't really say that. I just made that up. The only person here is me. But it sounds like something a social media guru might say, especially if they were charging by the hour at the time.

People place a lot of importance on getting attention. They point to the number of followers as if that metric means something. It doesn't, of course. The important metric is how many of those followers are paying attention and then engaging in a way that contributes to the bottom line.

How many social gurus are measuring the bottom line, I wonder?

Argument By Selective Observation

But wait, some imaginary social media guru interjects, pausing only to push his sunglasses onto the top of his head:

"What about Spunk2PointZero.com? They killed with their recent social media campaign that netted $1,000,000,000,000 in two hours!"

No matter how inane, publicity stunts can work. Once. Early adopters can benefit from being first - they are remarkable simply because they are first. But once the followers arrive, the stunt is no longer remarkable, and the technique is no longer repeatable. The medium was the message, but not for long.

Social media has grown past the stage of being remarkable for its own sake.

Also, what works in one area may not translate to other areas. Wired companies can use leading edge communication channels because that's where their customers are. These communication channels might not work so well if you're selling cheese to housewives. I know this sounds weird, but they probably still listen to the radio.

The rule "go where your customers are" still applies.

Join The "Conversation"

Is it possible to have a conversation in Twitter or on Facebook?

Perhaps, on a superficial level, but mostly it's quick blast of - and I use this phrase loosely - information.

A lot of people who wrote some really interesting, deep, valuable stuff in forums and on blogs migrated to Twitter, used it a bit, then stopped. I think that happened because there was no value in it for the writer. Conversation didn't happen. Relationships weren't being built.

A temporary shot in the dark.

Perhaps that is why people update social media channels so often. Social media only exists in the now, and if you're not posting right now, you don't exist.

But is there anything worse than the compulsive updater? "Going to Reno tonight! Feeling pumped!". Millions of people saying nothing to millions of people who aren't interested.

Unfollow.

Pretending To Work

Social media is mostly a waste of time.

And that's exactly why I have a Twitter account :)

We all do. Why? It's fun. It can be fascinating. Useful, even. But for most people, even most business people, it's not really about doing business and making money. It's about being, well, social and pretending to work.

When Social Media Works

Ironcly, social media works wonders when combined with that other well-known scam, SEO.

Brent Csutoras, in a comment on SEOWorld put it well:

When you have content that becomes popular on sites like Digg, Reddit, or Delicious, you get in front of the largest body of linking individuals on the web. Most journalist, media, and bloggers/webmasters watch the front page of these top social news and bookmarking sites to get current and popular content to use for their own site, magazine, newspaper, or show.

By having your content in front of this group of people, you are likly to get a lot of natural links to your content. Sometimes you can get links up to a PR9 level such as TBS, MSNBC, AOL, Wired, Huffington Post, all of which i have personally received off of successful campaigns.

How many social media gurus talk about this angle?

Ever listen to Chris Winfield speak? That guy can create a brand from scratch. And that is the other area social media works well: brand building.

Much social media theory is nothing new. It's regurgitated brand theory. You create value by recognition and having customers engage and spread the word. It helps get the message out. Driving brand awareness, particularly with youth and wired demographics.

Building brand, and the benefits that come from that - engagement, word of mouth, connection - are where social media can excel if executed as part of a coherent strategy. It's cheap. It's cheerful. It's fun.

All good stuff.

The trick is to....

Measure it

Find out how social media translates to your bottom line. If your social media guru can't demonstrate that, s/he is a waste of space. Social media must either increase sales, or cut costs, or both. If it doesn't, it's not business, it's just time wasting. If it can't be measured, then there's a good chance it isn't happening.

Agree? Disagree?

Do you measure your return on social media?

Abuse, constructive or otherwise, in the comments please :)

News Alert: SEO is a Scam

Oct 14th

Derek Powazek - no, I hadn't heard of him until today either - is, according to the blurb: "one of the top 40 "Industry Influencers" of 2007 by Folio Magazine..has worked the web since 1995 at pioneering sites like HotWired, Blogger, and Technorati".

A designer, apparently.

He doesn't care much for SEO.

The fact we may never heard of him just goes to show that the web is a big place. It is quite common that the rockstars in one niche can be unknowns in an adjacent niche. It is therefore no surprise that those who spend a lot of time in separate niches may not understand each other particularly well.

Derek understands little about the value of SEO.

Read the anti-SEO rant entitled "Spammers, Evildoers, and Opportunists".

I'm sure you'll find it amusing.

If Someone Charges You For SEO, You Have Been Conned

Search Engine Optimization is not a legitimate form of marketing. It should not be undertaken by people with brains or souls. If someone charges you for SEO, you have been conned

Uh-huh.

Well, I'm sure some SEO is undertaken by people without either brains or soul, but the same could be said of web designers.

It is true to say some web designers are clueless about the web, seemingly only interested in crafting pretty pictures. In Flash. They charge clients a fortune for it, and have no idea whether their self-indulgent nonsense will add any value to the clients business. It's barely even a consideration.

That's rather misleading. It might be true, but it's still misleading. Some web designers, just like some SEOs, are pointless. That doesn't mean all SEOs or web designers are pointless. Unfortunately, Derek thinks the entire SEO industry is a con.

Judging an entire industry by what some bad actors do is wrong.

And so, like the goat sacrificers and snake oil salesmen before them, a new breed of con man was born, the Search Engine Optimizer. These scammers claim that they can dance the magic dance that will please the Google Gods and make eyeballs rain down upon you.
Do. Not. Trust. Them

Yawn.

Of course a good SEO can "make eyeballs rain down on you". We do it every day. A good SEO can take a site where a "designer" has indluged in what loosely passes for an adult version of finger painting and get it ranking under appropriate keywords. SEOs do this by identifying keyword traffic (demand) and ensuring pages (supply) meet that demand. We untangle messes made by designers and developers and we implement web marketing strategy where there was none.

Whilst Derek is wrong about SEO on a number of levels, he says some stuff I agree with, stuff we often talk about on this blog.

Make something great. Tell people about it. Do it again.

That’s it. Make something you believe in. Make it beautiful, confident, and real. Sweat every detail. If it’s not getting traffic, maybe it wasn’t good enough. Try again.

Then tell people about it. Start with your friends. Send them a personal note – not an automated blast from a spam cannon. Post it to your Twitter feed, email list, personal blog. (Don’t have those things? Start them.) Tell people who give a shit – not strangers. Tell them why it matters to you. Find the places where your community congregates online and participate. Connect with them like a person, not a corporation. Engage. Be real. Then do it again. And again. You’ll build a reputation for doing good work, meaning what you say, and building trust."

Seth Godin says the same thing. We often quote Seth.

But the problem with "making something great" is that the search engine may not think it is great. This is because a search engine is stupid. It's a machine. And like any stupid machine, it may not recognize greatness, especially if it can't crawl it, or if that greatness doesn't exist in a form it finds palatable.

SEOs help make sure the search engines don't miss greatness.

Derek appears to think SEO is mostly about crawling and hacking. Competent SEOs know that crawling is one part of the puzzle, and most have never hacked to get links. SEO is mostly about the publishing and marketing strategy that comes out of keyword research. Most designers don't understand this concept and therefore misinterpret how SEO works.

As for publishing content for Google, then - yes - guilty as charged, By making content Google wants, Google rewards you. Don't, and it won't. Content can satisfy both Google and humans. It is false to suggest content that appeals to Googles algorithms isn't what humans want to read. Google wouldn't be a business if their results didn't satisfy humans.

Web Design Is Mostly Unimportant ;)

Here's a quote Derek makes lower down in his comments section:

Also, I didn’t call SEO people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people.

For a "influencer", the guy sure is mature.

Let's try that with web designers to see if it is any less vacuous:

Also, I didn’t call web designer people “fucktards” because that wouldn’t be fair to actual retarded people."

Nope. Still vacuous.

I have nothing against the web design community. I use web designers - good ones - who understand a little about SEO. Good designers who understand a little about SEO are as rare as hens teeth. And even though they do understand a little about SEO, that still leaves the real SEO work to do, which is identification of traffic streams, content creation and link building.

SEO plays, like eHow and Mahalo, attract hundreds of millions in venture capital funding. SEO play About.com sold to the NYTimes for $410 million. Microsoft and Yahoo employ inhouse SEOs to advise their staff and maximize traffic to their content.

Meanwhile, content management systems are free. Great looking templates are cheap. The worlds most valuable web properties don't use "designery" design. They place most emphasis on function. The web is evolving from the crafted, fixed brochure into a platform. Perhaps custom design just isn't as important as it once was. Design has become commodity.

Now, I know that web design is about a lot more than making pretty pictures. It's about structure and interaction. Defining design narrowly as "picture making" is just as stupid as Derek's implied narrow definition that SEO is about crawling, hacking and generating low quality content intended only for Google. Such narrow definitions can lead to false assumptions and conclusions.

Danny Sullivan has also dissected Dereks rant.

Optimizing For Bing

Oct 8th
posted in

How are your referral stats looking? Noticed more traffic from Bing lately?

According to a Nielsen report last month, Bing is growing faster than any other search engine. It was reported Bing had 10.7% of the total search market, up 2% from the month before. Yesterdays report from Hitwise suggests Bing has since dropped to around 8.96 percent.

So, somewhere around 8-10% perhaps.

The new statistics, from internet research firm Hitwise, will make disappointing reading for Mr Ballmer, who has said he is willing to spend as much as $11bn on search. Earlier this week he told The Daily Telegraph: “We’re trying to give Google a little competition in the search business

Microsoft have struggled for along time to make a dent in Google's share of the search market, so it looks like they are beginning to make inroads, albeit slowly. Microsoft have done a ton of marketing to promote Bing. They've introduced cutting edge features like visual search and voice support.

This is not a battle Microsoft can afford to lose, and for search marketers, competition between engines can only be a good thing.

Is Your Site Optimized For Bing?

The thought of adopting different optimization strategies for different engines feels so antiquated now.

Years ago, there used to be a lot of talk about how to optimize for the different engines. Some webmasters would go so far as to serve differently optimized pages to each major engine.

In the past few years, SEO has been about all-Google, all the time, so the rule of thumb is to optimize for Google, and the rest pretty much takes care of itself.

This advice still stands.

Keeping Up With Bing

Google has Google Guy (Matt Cutts). Likewise, the Bing search team regularly reaches out to the SEO community. SEOs should bookmark the Bing Webmaster Centre announcements.

In particular:

NB: You need a Live Id to see those links.

Microsoft released a comprehensive document for Webmasters. Check out page 23 where they address SEO specifically.

Like Google Guy advice, it tends towards the general and is ultimately self serving, but interesting to be aware of, nontheless.

The Bing Difference: Why Bother?

In terms of search engine results pages, the two engines do produce different results. Here's a nifty tool for side-by-side comparisons.

Why should you be interested in Bing at all?

Even though usage is lower, the user demographic for Bing is different to that of Google. Ask search marketers and you'll get anecdotal evidence that Bing/Yahoo users don't tend to be as web savvy as Google users, use the web less often, are more likely to click on ads, and are more likely to be involved in online shopping, whilst Google appeals more to researchers, webheads and geeks. If you're engaged in web commerce, you need to be thinking about Bing.

Bing Ranking Tips

From the Bing Features For Webmasters document:

Because of this new way of thinking about search, some webmasters might initially be concerned that the shortened primary organic listing in the new Bing SERP might render their SEO efforts as less effective. Instead, Bing makes it easier to compete for broad terms because it surfaces more categories automatically, increasing the number of results on the page and generating more relevant content.

In reality, the same SEO strategies you use for Google apply to Bing.

1. Get Your On-Page SEO Right

Nail the basics.

Make sure your content is unique, use H tags for titles, use alt tags for images, use unique page titles and description meta tags, one topic per page and ensure your copy is free from spelling and gramatical errors. Like Google, you can sign up for MS Webmaster Center which will help you spot and troubleshoot problems.

2. Quality Inbound Linking

Bing appears to favour linking from pages that share a similar topic area.

Is Bing a theme-based engine? Think of a theme as a topic pyramind. A themed site would have the topic "cars at the top. The level beneath that would be makes of cars i.e. Ford, Ferrari, Lotus, then below then models, then components, etc. The theory goes that a site should be all on the same topic to rank well, and links should come from sites on the same topic. Themes used to get discussed a lot, but fell out of fashion when people realised Google didn't use themes.

Is Bing using themes? I don't think so. Like Google, the algorithms appear to be largely page based, as opposed to site based. Bing looks at the topic of the page linking to you. If the linking page is on a similar topic, the target page receives a boost. Have a play around with the title tag on the linking page. Try to ensure the title tag keyword on the linking page is the same as the keyword you're targetting on your optimized page.

3. Domain Age

Domain age seems to be an important factor in Bing - the older, the better. Like Google, Bing tries to establish authority, and domain age is one way it does this.

Got any tips for optimizing for Bing? Any patterns you've noticed, particularly in respect to how Bing differs from Google?

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